Sunday, 23 December 2007

“On the eleventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, eleven fragrant flowers . . .”

Today we got packed up, said our goodbyes, and boarded the first of three airplanes that would eventually take us to Arusha, Tanzania. Dirt air strips seem normal now, and seeing cows along the side of the runway is nothing new. The first plane was late, which put the next plane late, and then the third that headed to Tanzania. Before boarding this plane, we were quickly herded past the spinning propellers into a small building where someone checked our passports and we did the necessary paperwork to enter a new country. Again. A man handed us a bag with some sort of snack as we walked back to the plane.

Upon boarding this third plane, which was very tiny, it seated eighteen people, the pilot turned around (no loudspeakers necessary, he just told us from the cockpit) and apologized for the late takeoff. It was due to a plane arriving late from the Mara. “Sorry!” We all piped from the back, to the older, and decidedly grumpier, passengers up front. They turned around, stared a moment without smiling, then faced forward again. Well. Next the pilot let us know that the heat would make the plane ride a “little bumpy”, nothing to worry about. Heather, the mother of the other family we’ve been traveling with, groaned. She gets airsick. Nate, Alayna and I were also feeling a little queasy, so we curled our toes and leaned back as the plane sped across the runway for takeoff.

I had given Nate and Alayna half a Dramamine and taken the other half myself. Nate fell asleep about five minutes into the flight. Big blessing. Alayna put my iPod on and informed me after the flight that she had listened to the same song the entire time, repeating it over and over. It’s called “Don’t Look at Me” by Stacy Orrico, and it is a pretty great song. Maybe not listen-to-for-an-hour great, but it’s great. I would peek behind me during the flight and smile as she be-bopped, her eyes closed, jamming. She was sitting in the back and felt safe from prying eyes. I opened up my bible and read Acts whenever the plane dipped and I started to feel queasy. Air-sickness seems very minor after reading about the stoning of Stephen. Benji, the boy with the iron stomach, happily played his DS game while munching on the nasty sandwich snack his bag contained. It looked like someone had emptied their airsick bag between the pieces of bread.

We arrived at the airport, a nice, clean airport, gathered our bags and met our driver and guide for the next few days. Adam is the driver, and Pascal is the guide. Later, at the hotel, we discovered we had also been assigned a “child coordinator” named Walter. He is a great guy who is basically a buddy for the kids, someone who will take Nate to the bathroom right after we’ve all been served dinner, and gives high fives liberally. We like them all. Benji’s quote about Pascal is nice, he said, “Boy, that guy is really happy.” Pascal has a permanent smile on his face, a booming voice, and lots of stories.

We’ll stay in a hotel for just one night outside of Arusha, tomorrow morning we will get up and drive to Ngorongoro Crater. The drive to the hotel was interesting. We passed women carrying heavy buckets on their heads, balancing them with ease. Even children could be seen with large bundles on their heads. The hotel was just beautiful, there were flowers everywhere and the air was fragrant with them. Lots of hibiscus, bougainvillea, magnolia, more than I could name. It was a delicious place, very different from our places in Kenya, where the only flower we encountered was the “waste-paper” flower. This was a tiny white flower to be seen on game drives, littering the grass and looking just like a piece of scrap paper that had blown out someone’s window.

We had a talk with the kids after talking itinerary with Pascal. It would be really hard to open the Christmas presents Christmas morning, we’ll be getting up early that morning for our only game drive in the crater. So, our best choice is to celebrate Christmas the morning of Christmas Eve, when we’ll have more time. We decided to do this, and only do Santa stockings on Christmas morning. The kids immediately moved into high anticipation gear, and we ready ourselves for the big morning. We’ve been carrying around a copy of White Christmas, and decided we must watch it this afternoon. We all spread out on the bed, pushing aside the mosquito netting, making room for Heather and Rachel, and watched my favorite tradition on Clay’s laptop. We got about three fourths through it before dinner, and decided to save the rest for Christmas Day.

At dinner, they played some sort of Dolly Parton Christmas Album. While we appreciated the attempt at mood music, we were a little puzzled why they would have chosen Dolly Parton. It felt very Texas indeed! Dinner always runs later than it does back home. By the time we got everyone back to the room and in pajamas, it was after nine. We tucked the kids into the room next door and began to set out all the presents sent by relatives and the few meager things we had picked up along the way. We were thankful for all the little wrapped things, the kids will have great fun opening them in the morning. As we go to bed, I am almost as excited as the kids, I’ve been imagining what Christmas in Africa would be like for a long time, and we’re finally about to find out.