The Africa Journals
The Long Journey Home
“It is the extra security demanded by America for anyone entering it. Your country has many enemies…”
My seatmate’s words whirl like a tornado in my head as the South African Air airbus A340 lands on the runway in Dakar, Senegal. “…many enemies…many enemies.” Of the various thoughts that jump in and join the frenzy, one speaks louder than the rest: What a shame.
As soon as the debarking passengers clear the aisles, my seatmate says, “Excuse me, I need to stand. My knees are killing me.” I rise and, much to my surprise, after eight hours of the most discomfort I’ve ever had on a long flight, I can stand, and I remain standing. So do all the through-passengers in my cabin.
Uniformed personnel come aboard and validate the "many enemies." Some search over, under, and around vacant seats. They check seat pouches, between seats, under seats, overhead bins. Uniformed personnel with German Shepherd dogs in harness come aboard. They start at the very end of the plane and walk slowly up the aisles, the dogs’ noses twitching as they search.
Another team of uniformed personnel come aboard and walk to the end of the plane. Each holds two aerosol containers over their shoulders and spray as they walk forward. They are spraying an insecticide for yellow fever, I assume. I cover my face.
We are on the ground for at least an hour in the middle of the night. Finally, it’s time for take-off. My long-suffering seatmate finds relief in an empty seat immediately in front of me where he has eight feet in which to stretch his legs.
Someone grabs the empty row across from me, alas. But! I now have two seats to myself and once the plane is in the air and the seat belt sign goes off, I curl up facing the seats, pull a blanket over me, and soon I’m in la-la land for the most of the flight, another ten hours crossing the Atlantic to Washington D.C.
We land at Washington/Dulles International. I clear customs and board a regional United jet for Chicago, where snowplows are clearing snow from the runways.
|Snow in Chicago. Or maybe this is D.C. Pretty rummy right now.|
I’m hungry and Chicago/O’Hare airport is heaven for hungry people. I’m in a different terminal than usual and I find a crowded little restaurant called Tortas Frontera where I order a bowl of corn and poblano chili chowder. It’s heaven in heaven; just what I needed. A City Guide poster on the wall gives it the number one slot in the 10 Best Airport Restaurants.
|Corn and Poblano chili chowder.|
|I wonder when United began painting its planes peach and lime, then realize it's the de-icing fluid.|
Back onto a United Boeing for a four and a half hour flight to Seattle.
|That sure looks like ice on the wing.|
By this time, it’s evening and I overnight once again for an early flight to Alaska the next day, whatever date that is. I’ve flown four flights with more than 27 and a half hours in the air. Three and a half hours to go tomorrow.
I take a shower, go right to bed, and dream of Africa.
Tomorrow, I go home.