Monday, April 20, 2009

Back in the USA

I'm blogging from Austin once again. We left Zambia on Thursday for our furlough in the US. It's been almost a year since my cancer diagnosis, so we're back for my doctor's visits and checkups, as well as reconnecting with and reporting to our sponsoring congregation at Brentwood Oaks.

We arrived in Austin on Friday after having an adventure or two on the trip. At the Atlanta airport we had gone through immigration, reclaimed and rechecked our luggage, and had just gone through security when another passenger stopped us. She was an elderly lady in a flowing, tie-dyed African dress and head wrap. She held out her passport from Senegal and a boarding card and looked at us with fear in her eyes. "Help me?"

I tried to find out what she needed, but it was obvious that she didn't speak much English. She did say "Washington D.C. and Baltimore." We got the attention of one of the security workers and asked him what to do. He said he had to finish what he was doing and then he would help her. He told us we could go on, but we didn't think our new friend was ready to navigate the Atlanta airport on her own, so we stayed. The security guy looked at her boarding card and told us she needed to go to gate B31. We were leaving from B28, so we decided we would just take the lady with us. We gathered up her tote bag and rolling carry-on and took off. I told David I'd lead the way and he should come behind her.

The first hurdle was the escalator. It was obvious she had never been on one and didn't know what to do. She had a long flowing scarf around her neck that dragged the ground, plus her over-sized dress, so we had to make sure none of that got caught in the escalator steps. She watched me and cautiously followed us. We navigated the tram using hand signals and lots of "It's okay. Just wait" types of comments and gestures. Off the tram and up another scary escalator, we emerged in Terminal B. Gate 31 was at the far end, so we headed down the crowded corridor. At one point she stopped us, "I tired!" We were almost there, so we urged her on, finally arriving at gate 31--where passengers were about to board for Orange, California, not Washington and Baltimore. Turns out we got her there at 10:00, and she had already missed her 9:55 flight. The agent at the gate rebooked her for the 11:19 flight--which was to leave from Gate 4--at the opposite end of the terminal. We only had 30 minutes left before we were to board our flight, and I wasn't sure our new friend could stand another long walk. The gate agent advised us to wait for one of the motorized carts to come by and pick her up. After a few minutes of waiting, I asked the agent to call for one of the carts and she did.

We waited another 10 minutes, and no cart came. The original agent was now busy boarding the Orange flight, so David went to another counter and got the agent to call again. And we waited. The lady from Senegal began trying to communicate. In monosyllables and broken sentences we managed to tell her we lived in Zambia. She said, "My name. Write. Senegal." So I pulled out my notebook and pen and she wrote down her name and address in Dakar, Senegal along with three phone numbers. "You come to Senegal. You stay with me. I cook for you," she managed to say. I thanked her, and she went on, "You come. You good. Your husband good. Thank you."

Still no cart. At 10:20 I went back to the second agent and told her that we needed a cart quickly, so she called again. Nothing. By 10:25 I was stopping anyone who looked like an employee of the airport and asking for help. Five minutes later I went back to the first agent who had completed her boarding duties and told her to please get some help for this lady because we had to get on our flight. She called again, and said the cart was on its way. I looked down the corridor and saw the blinking light about 10 gates away, and it wasn't moving. Motioning to our friend to wait again, I sprinted down the terminal to the cart and told the driver to please get moving so this lady could get to her gate.

At 10:35 the cart finally pulled up and we settled the lady in the cart and gave instructions to the driver to make sure she made it to the gate and was taken up to the counter. Then we waved goodbye and the cart rolled a few feet as we turned to head toward our gate. The driver called after us, "Wait! She wants to talk to you!" So we turned back. "Your name! Your name! " our new friend wanted to know. "It's Linda," I told her. Then she held her hand up to her face with the gesture of talking on the phone and said, "You call me! Say Linda! Come!" I smiled and waved her on down the corridor as the cart took off.

I had to smile thinking how the phone conversation might go if I ever did try to call my new friend in Senegal!

We thought our excitement was over for the day when we made it onto our Austin flight, but we were wrong. There were thunderstorms all over the southern part of Texas on Friday afternoon. We had to divert to Houston to get more fuel and sat on the runway there for over an hour. Then just as we were about to take off, the captain got word that the Austin airport had closed due to the storms. He pulled us over the gate and we got off the plane. A couple of hours later, we lined up to get back on, but we could tell the sky in Houston was turning black in a hurry. Sure enough, just as the first passengers headed down the breezeway, the captain called them back. The storm from Austin had moved to Houston, so we had to wait it out. Our flight that was supposed to be in Austin at 12:30 finally landed at 6:30.

Even with all the delays and adventures, it wasn't a bad trip. We're already over the jet lag and enjoying our time with friends and family. We're here until June 5, with a few side trips along the way.

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