Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Feb. 6, 2008 - The Beginning

I headed to the airport accompanied by the absolute limit of what airlines allow a family of 14 to bring aboard, assuming I’d have my own transport plane towed closely behind. Apparently most airport personnel have seen lot of cute toddlers running around, crying parents hugging departing children, and men outweighed by their luggage by 6 to 1. But a big 140-pound Ridgeback approaching anyone to be petted was anomalous in the sleek vast halls of Dulles. I have never seen as many Northwest staff focused on one being as they were on Dexter. The lines snaked with traveling families 40 deep, yet three Northwest Airlines staff attended to make sure Dexter was cared for. Bodie was laughing and oblivious of what was in store, clinging to a tearful Grammy.

As we went through security, Bodie, Dex and I settled in for a nearly 24-hour journey that would take us to live in Dar-es-Salaam, on the coast of Tanzania.

Hillary had landed a position with a NGO called Technoserve, helping small farmers improve quality, get access to buyers, and move out of poverty. It was her dream job. I decided after 8 years of running a social enterprise consulting firm that my energy was flagging and a change was needed.

This sounded like the adventure we all needed.
But before adventure, a significant obstacle needed to be navigated. Never mind renting the house, selling cars, getting vaccinations, changing accounts, leaving family, friends and community. The prospect of 23 hours of one-on-one economy travel with a two-year old was beyond any feat I had yet attempted. As with training for a marathon or any significant physical feat, I trained. I loaded up a bag with books ranging from Thomas the Train to Richard Scary, Dora toys, a leapfrog computer, assorted diggers, bulldozers and cars, and of course, blankie. I practiced accessing the right thing with my eyes closed and one hand holding a dirty diaper. I knew that seconds counted.

Bodie has inherited his mother’s extroversion. Like Hillary, he absorbs energy from those about him. Which can be good, say, when going to a party, but not necessarily as helpful a trait on an overnight flight with several hundred other passengers. After a few hours, while everyone else was tucking in blankets and pillows, settling in for the overnight flight to Amsterdam, Bodie thought running up and down the aisle, poking dozing people to ask, “are you sleeping?” was the right approach.

The difficult part of the trip comes after Amsterdam (where with the depressed dollar, a coffee and a sandwich took most of Bodie’s college fund). The flight goes directly to Kilimanjaro, in the northern part of Tanzania. Most passengers depart there for safaris or hiking. Eight of us stayed onboard to continue to Dar. We sat for an hour and a half on the runway before our 50-minute flight, stretching landing in Dar to 24 hours from when we had taken off. I had met two board members of KickStart, an innovative NGO, traveling to a board meeting in Dar, who covered a few Bodie shifts during the flight. Dexter, who I had been assured would be walked and fed in Amsterdam, apparently wasn’t. We could hear his barking in the hold below.

At Dar, after negotiating customs and getting a visa, I went to let Dex out of his crate. He bounded out like, well, he hadn’t eaten, peed or pooped in 24 hours, which I guess he was entitled to. His initial jump somehow dislocated my left ring finger, which started swelling and waggling at a 45-degree angle from all the other neatly parallel fingers, porters scurried while I chased him around the small airport.

Bodie was riding on the baggage conveyer, overseen by porters, while Hillary helped me navigate customs. It was good to see Hillary, who had left 5 weeks earlier, both because I missed her, and I needed to pass Bodie on to someone quickly.

My hand out the window with my finger throbbing, we drove through the gate to our large 4-bedroom house, a sprawling garden with a huge tiki hut in the middle, and a separate guesthouse. Hillary had a small mattress on the floor inside, and an office conference table set up in the dining room (no chairs). While we didn’t have any things yet, she had made sure to supply a few crucial things to make it a home: a ball and some toys for Bodie, dark chocolate and wine for us. The house is really beautiful and will make a wonderful home and base for us. Currently, it is ideal for kicking Bodie’s soccer ball up and down the long hallway.

With my finger encased in frozen vegetable patties, the one American-style veggie food that Hillary could find to stock up on, she insisted we find a clinic to get my finger fixed. It was swelling up and I envisioned having to have my wedding ring cut off, an inauspicious beginning on the first night of our new life in east Africa. I thought, what do real men do? Men in Africa probably perform surgery on themselves, and certainly take care of their own dislocated limbs. If I succeed at nothing else, my epitaph can now read, he yanked and relocated his own finger.

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