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Dulles Day One (Part III - Whoa)

The plane was ginormous but slowly filling up. I was under the false impression that on a regular old Tuesday there wouldn’t be a lot of passengers headed to Ethiopia. It didn’t take much longer for me to accept that I shouldn’t expect a row to myself as I had hoped. The plane was a 777 with probably 50 rows of 9 seats, 3 right side, 3 middle and 3 left side. It is possible that all the seats were occupied by the time we were ready to taxi. My row was full and I am thankful that I selected an aisle seat on all of the flights. In a perfect world, I want a window seat (can I get a window seat? EB), but only for shorter flights, preferably the kind where my row is not full. The middle seat neighbor was very friendly and started talking to me once I settled in. Her skin was a churned caramel, with brown curls mixed with blond highlights and she appeared genuinely sun-kissed. One of the first things she told me was that she didn’t like the middle seat. Uh nobody does. But because of her charming smile, I didn’t take this a ploy to lure me out of my aisle seat. It was quite obvious that my legs were much longer than ones on her petite stature. I only took it as a disclaimer for any wacky behavior that may occur on her part. She asked me if I was going to Ethiopia. I explained that my final destination was Zanzibar. This trip to Ethiopia was a return to her home country. She lives in the Bay Area of California and flew in the day before, staying overnight in D.C. She said she will visit home for a few months since it had a been a while since she was last there. There were more babies and kids on this flight than usual; certainly more than on any flight I had been on in the past. From the moment I observed the line at the counter, it was obvious that this was a family oriented batch of travelers. Also this is perhaps the most I had seen this much father and child interaction among a large group of people where mothers were also present. The children were all beautiful with brown fat faces and curly coils. On the spot, it made me reconsider my desire to become a mother. I could see myself in many of their faces, more than I had in any other children. Unexpectedly, this became pretty overwhelming as I sat in my seat. Although I am in the middle of this documentary that has been time consuming and has me financially obligated, at 41 years old, the idea of having children continues to be a wavering thought. This might be a surprise for some people - I imagine I haven’t oozed the urge to have children, but it had never been off the table. Call me old fashioned, but I have this romanticized idea of being a parent and this is part of the reason why I am childless. When I envision my life as a mother, there is a father involved, if possible, a husband. As an undercover hopeless romantic, this is still what I want, or some realistic variation that includes a dedicated partner and that is the component that comes first and is missing. This is not a judgement of all of the single parents who have done this a thousand times over. I grew up with a mother and father and this is my model. I have thought deeply about this and I have to be honest with myself, my desire to have a companion in life is still much stronger than the desire to be a mother. Times are different and mothers are having children later in life. Janet Jackson had a baby at 50, and I still feel pretty youthful, but know I am logistically still behind the eight ball. In my heart of hearts, I like to believe that what is for me will be, and there are other ways of becoming a mother, including adoption if the urge goes unfulfilled for me naturally. Anything can happen. Because of the early rise, I had not had the biggest of breakfasts. Thankfully the first meal wasn’t too far behind. There was a lot of food. Pasta, couscous, a roll and a brownie. You wouldn’t go hungry or thirsty on this flight. Between the drink service for the meal and the tea and coffee after, you were set. A few hours later, roast beef sandwiches came our way with another thorough round of drink services. All the drink you could want. If I were a in a different kind of space, I would have taken full advantage of the free wine and beer, but I was trying to be responsibly hydrated. By the time we were crossing major time zones, we had our last meal which was dinner/breakfast with triangular hash browns, sausage, beans, croissant and fruit. During my onslaught of meals and drinks, and watching kids running up and down the aisles with parents casually strolling behind to prevent them both from losing their minds, I partook in the inflight entertainment. Many know that I am severely behind on my pop culture movie watching and this was a good time to catch up. I decided watch Skull Island because King Kong never gets old. I also watched Interstellar, even though I had actually seen this movie before. It is a deep movie, questioning the definition of time and space. That's how I felt when I went from wanting to naturally go to bed around 11 pm Eastern Standard Time to having the sleeping blanket swiped out from under me like a magician pulls the tablecloth out from beneath the dishes. It was literally a new day in Africa. I guess I tried to sleep somewhere in the middle and went to the restroom and stood to stretch my compression socked legs. The 13 hours came and went and wasn’t a horrible experience. The thing that suffered the most were the curls. All the women suffered from headrest hair, including me. It's nice to not be the only one for once that went from a full circle of hair to a flattened basketball.

Our pilot came over the PA system to say that the landing was delayed a little because of the bad mix of clouds and rain. Yet somehow we still ended up arriving on time. The pilot was not exaggerating about the weather because I couldn't see anything. This is what they must mean by “flying blind.” I didn’t want to know how they managed to pilot when it was nothing but whiteness all around. We arrived at Addis Ababa and it took a while for everyone to deplane. Here was the true test, seeing this airport with my own eyes. I didn't know exactly what to expect of the airport because of the reviews that said how ridiculously chaotic it was. It was not bad at all. The YouTube video was for real, not for fake. I found a seat in a less crowded part of the airport after finding the restroom. During my 2 hour layover, I relaxed, I ate snacks, people watched and looked at the large planes outside in the rain. Eventually once my time eked away, I moved closer to my gate. The one downside of the airport is that if you have a layover, there are no food options or stores on this side of the gate. In order to get consumer action, you had to go through the security check, and I was pleased with myself for being prepared with my own snacks to prevent having to do so. While I was reading the Oprah magazine in my new seat, a person sat next to me and asked me in English if I was going to Zanzibar. This is not a question I get asked often. Why yes I am! Sure enough he was a travel mate from Indiana. One of the thoughtful features of the travel organization is that they set up a FaceBook group of those traveling together. We introduced ourselves and talked until it was time to board.

Ah, here was the rub. The gate was changed close to boarding time and this caused a bit of commotion with hundreds of us boarding. The quiet wait changed to a mad rush as we navigated towards a set of stairs going down that you couldn't see from eye level. Either way, it still wasn’t unacceptable for an airport, only unanticipated. We all found our way to our flight to Kilimanjaro Airport in the mainland of Tanzania. The passengers on this flight were much more diversified. The plane was newer with nicer and newer touch screens for inflight entertainment. My travel mate and I parted ways and went to our seats. When I sat down, I was pleasantly surprised that I was soon joined by a young black couple from the states. It was a head scratcher because I know how random it was that I was on this flight going to Zanzibar. They were headed there too. For a minute, I tried to scan my memory of the other travel mates from the FaceBook group,and I didn’t remember there being a “couple,” in the group. I never outright asked if they were with the group, which could have saved me some brain power, but I didn’t want to seem unenlightened by being surprised that they were going to Zanzibar on their own accord. I dozed in and out while watching a tv show here and there. Our flight was considerably shorter than the first at 2 ½ hours. Kilimanjaro was a stop for some passengers but it also served as a service stop to Zanzibar. Most of the White, European and Asian travelers got off. I imagine they were going to Mount Kilimanjaro or on safari. Passengers continuing to Zanzibar were to remain on the plane for an hour. Since the majority of the passengers got off at Kilimanjaro, it was fairly empty on the plane. Those who remained stood about, walked around or laid down. When it was clear that there were now plenty of empty seats for this last leg, I moved closer to the front of the plane to have more leg space when it was time to take off.

Officially 7 hours ahead, and my future self officially met my past self. One hour flew by and we began our descent into Zanzibar. I eagerly looked out of the window I gained on the seat change. Below were tin roofs of blue and red and one - off asphalt roads outnumbered by many dirt roads. I was excited as we landed in Zanzibar because the moment had come. It was less chaotic when the remaining passengers gathered their belongings and walked out and down the stairs onto tarmac. At the doors of the one story airport, we were greeted by airport staff directing nationals to one side and internationals to the other. My travel mate and I were asked for our yellow book/card that recorded our immunization records. Neither of us brought one because as a US citizen, proof of yellow fever immunization was not required. Since we stopped in Ethiopia, she questioned us both further. She asked repeatedly if we were together. It was a complicated question, but we told her we are going to the same place but we are not "together." After we talked some more she asked me to come into her office. I was not happy but went willingly. Clearly there was miscommunication about the layover in Ethiopia.

I answered the questions and tried to reiterate that I was only in the airport and had not left the premises. After we managed to clear it up, I left and she asked my travel mate to come in. He was in for a long time and I waited outside the door. I wasn't sure where this was going to go. And although we just met, I felt obligated to make sure my travel mate was ok. Another group of travelers from the states must have been pulled over by the airport staff as well. They were waiting to go into the room as she continued interrogating my travel mate. We began speaking and I shared my story after one of the waiting travelers asked if I had been pulled aside. The interrogator’s colleague grew impatient with her lingering question asking coworker, as we both took turns peeking in the door. I wanted my travel mate to know I was still there. Eventually they both came out. I wouldn't want him to get forced into paying money or whatever the resolution would have been. Next we had to fill out forms for entry and luckily we both had applied for and received our visas before our arrival. Fingerprints of both hands, picture and we were finally through. At this point, there was only one thing left to do - get my luggage, but I went to restroom first. Please be there, please be there. Brown with pink polka dots, standing quietly, it was there. My luggage made it. We both made it, and I was happy.

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