Saturday, October 23, 2010

Right where I need to be...

October 23, 2010

Sooooo, yeah, it's been about 8 weeks since this should have been written and posted. Honestly, I don't know how well I'll be able to remember everything that happened on the last day of the trip. However, I will say that I did indeed start to write this entry on my trip home, and got up to the part where I was sitting at the airport for my first flight. However, somehow when I shut my computer at the end of the flight the entry did NOT stay saved. And after trying everything to get it back, it was nowhere to be found on this silly computer. Hence, I got frustrated and decided to finish it a little later on...which became later, and things got busier, and hey, whatdya it's 8 weeks later, I've gone through the whole OB/GYN rotation I was dreading while on my way back to the states, and I've got some time to be the wife is encouraging me to finish this thing here goes nothing...

August 29th, 2010

Disclaimer: The author of this blog reserves the right to exercise his creative license with any portions of the story that have been removed from his memory since they actually occurred, whether that removal be from government operatives, alien visitation, or simply the tincture of time. Therefore, though this portion of the recounted events should be taken to be actual and indisputable, irrefutable, unquestionable fact, they may not be entirely so...the author is not, in fact, responsible for facts judged to be facts when in fact they are not or are only fractional facts that are thus fractionally or factually factitious. All rights reserved, etc.

So I after a long night out with the PAC docs and friends, I was out like a light for my last night in the Baylor 1 house. Regardless, I set my alarm appropriately for about 7 AM, as I had set myself an agenda for the last few hours I had in Gabs. Of course, just like any other time I try to set a schedule and agenda, it didn't quite go exactly according to plan.
I woke up, got myself showered and dressed quickly, and headed over to the Cathedral. The Cathedral had Mass on Saturday mornings from 8 to 8:30, with Confessions following. I had planned to take advantage of both, seeing as how it was the feast day of St. Augustine, and I was about to take a long, over ocean, 16 hour, plane flight. I surely knew I could use the cleanliness and the graces God was offering that morning. I had not been as faithful going to Mass the previous weeks as I could have been, and in certain ways I had disappointed myself. Regardless, I figured that these two wonderful Sacraments would be a beautiful way to wrap up one trip and start another home.

Timing it just about right, I walked through the streets as they became progressively more golden from the rising sun, and arrived at Christ the King just a few minutes before 8. However, much to my surprise when I arrived I walked up to the door, pulled to open it, and met unanticipated resistance. Locked.

I walked around to the front door, also locked, and finally around to the door on the parking lot side, where I saw only one or two cars parked. Locked again. At this point in time I wondered if there had been some change in schedule regarding Mass. I had just been there the night before, and had heard no mention of a cancellation. In any case, I felt better knowing that at least I wasn't the only one who hadn't heard, since the passengers of the two other cars were kinda standing around wondering what was going on.

As it was a few minutes before 8 still, I figured I'd wait it out and see what was going on. Besides, I wanted to go to Confession (and Mass) doggone it, and as long as I wasn't sure there had been a cancellation I was going to hang around for a bit.

I decided to walk over the the small grotto next to the parking lot to pray Morning Prayer. I took a few moments to look at the plaque next to it, saying it was dedicated to Our Lady of Perpetual Help and that it was dedicated about 9 years previously, if memory serves correctly. I found that rather impressive, as the Church prayed the Novena to her each Wednesday after Mass, apparently for the last nine years and still going! From the grotto where the statue of our Mother stood (behind bars and glass, of course, to prevent vandalism), came two small stone semicircles that almost met but left a small opening for the faithful to walk through. On the stone walls, a few feet above the ground, were old pictures designating the 14 Stations of the Cross. I took some picutes, took a seat, and started the Morning Prayer.

As I was finishing up, I started to hear those people waiting out in the parking lot talking. They were asking if Mass had been cancelled, why, etc. Eventually someone with a key came and unlocked the Church, apparently, but at the same time told us that Mass had been cancelled. I wasn't able to hear why, but I was sad and sort of frustrated. Rather than take the chance to go to Confession (and daily Mass) much earlier in the week, of course I put it off to the last minute and now had missed my chance.

I decided that at least I could go inside, say hello to Jesus in His Gaborone home one more time, and head off to the Main Mall market, as I had planned. I walked in, and one old lady at in a pew in the back of the Church. I walked across the front of the Church, passing the altar, and stopped to kneel at the former communion rail just in front of the Tabernacle. Though there would be no Mass, I was going to get about as close as I could get to Him. I knelt there and prayed for a while, eventually deciding that I could at least pray an Act of Contrition at the end of my prayers. Then, I decided to pray it a second and third time, once for each person of the Trinity. After doing this, I at least felt a little bit better. I knelt a bit longer, looked around, bowed about as low as I could before Jesus, and then stood up.

For whatever reason, I decided not to walk directly across the front of the Church and out the door. Instead, I chose to walk toward the back and then across and out. As I walked down one of the side aisles, I looked to my right at the three doors of the Confessional, sad that there would be no Confession today...

This is the awesome part....just as I was thinking this, the center door of the Confessional opened up, and out stepped the priest! I looked straight at him in awe, and he looked at me, kinda motioning/asking if I was coming or not. I nodded, smiled, and quickly walked over to the door on the right, closed it, and knelt down. I quickly tried to remember all that I had meant to come for, talked to the preist, and a few minutes later, I walked out absolution in hand! It was awesome! Trust me when I say I've had some awesome Confession experiences/stories, but that one is up there. I mean, who cancels Mass but hears confessions? What amazing timing! The Holy Spirit was guiding me there, surely, as God doesn't deal with coincidences, and I was happy to be led that AM. I quickly knelt down, took my time to say my prayers of penance, and left the Church smiling all the way to Main Mall. God is awesome!!

So, I headed over to Main Mall with bit lighter load, walking through and heading to the table where I knew I was going to buy some of the souvenirs. On my way, I of course had to stop at Pie Time! This time I asked for a Seswa pie, which I was told was beef and other long as it was beef and no kidneys, I was good with it. It was indeed yummy, essentially sliced steak, onions, and a light gravy. I gobbled it up before even getting to the booth.

By this time, it was about 9:00 or so. My ideal plan was still possible: I had planned to be in the Main Mall until about 9:30, walk over to catch a combi, get to Riverwalk by 10, leave there by 1030, come home and pack to be ready for Tendai, who was picking me up at 11:30.

However, buying sovenirs took longer than I thought. I tried to decide what to get for each person, then tried mentally checking things off as I went. After standing there staring and looking and such for a while, I finally told the booth owner that I was just going to start making a pile of stuff that I was going to buy on the corner of one of his tables. This made things go much much faster. After about ten more minutes, I had all I wanted, added it all up, and was sure I had enough pula to pay for it. It should have come out to about 320 pula, but after the man added everything in his head he decided on 270. Sounded great to me! I was happy to finally get a slight "discount" that I had heard you were supposed to get if you bought more stuff. I packed everything up and headed out, as it was now about 9:45 already.

Just as I was exiting the Main Mall area, I ran into Ricky from Nigeria again. I said hello and he essentially just started talking to me as I was walking. He kept saying how he was regretting coming to Gabs and was just trying to figure out how to get home. He said he'd been sleeping on a nearby basketball court and just wanted to go back to Nigeria. I felt badly for him, but wasn't sure what I was supposed to do, given the fact that 1) I didn't really know him and 2) I was leaving in less than 2 hours. I was happy to talk to him, as he really just kept walking with me wherever I went (he said he didn't have anything else to do anyway). However, though I didn't mind his company, he was walking SOOOO slowly...and as I was already running late, it was making me antsy. Slowly but surely, we made it to across a few roads and to where the combi would pick me up. Not knowing what else to do, I told him that I was getting on the combi, hoped that everything would work out well for him, and gave him a few dollars, hoping that he wouldn't think I was a jerk. I hopped onto Broadhurst #5 and was off to Riverwalk for the last time.

When I finally arrived, it was just about 10:15. I was supposed to meet Tendai at the house at half past 11. I rushed from the stop (the second one as I had had to change combis) across the street to the Mall parking lot. I ran into the store just next to Spar Plus and quickly grabbed a bottle of Amarula to take back with me to the States...essentially 15 dollars for a one liter bottle....nice. I threw it in my backpack and headed off to buy the few things I had left on my list.

At the other end of the Riverwalk Mall were booths set up with just about anything you could want to, statues, tapestries, etc. I quickly perused one booth that looked like it would have what I was looking for. I asked prices, added things up in my head as fast as I could, and ran back to the ATM on the opposite edge of the Mall...

Ugh...the line! There were about 10 people ahead of me, and I thought I would never get to the front. Fortunately, the line did not take forever...however, by this point in time it was about 10:30 and I knew I'd never make it back in time to finish up packing if I tried catching the combis. So I added 30 pula to my withdrawal and resolved to take a taxi home one last time.

Back at the booth, I still found myself debating on just what to buy, even though I had already decided. Finally, I told myself I had to decide as it was getting WAY later than I had planned. I bought my last few items, grabbed the bags from the nice Kenyan lady (why she was selling things in Botswana I'll never know), and took about ten steps north to the ever-present group of unofficial cabbies standing at the eastern end of Riverwalk Mall.

"Yes, taxi. Gaborone Sun Hotel for 30 pula?"

It was all business...I had to get going and fast. Sure enough, the cabby wound his way through the back streets past the university, around traffic, and had me back on Phiri Crescent in no time. It was just past 11 when I arrived. I was in such a rush I paid little attention to the white car parked in the street outside the house as I rushed through the gate. I walked into the house, greeted my new roommate Meg, and rushed into my room.

In about 20 minutes time, I had stuffed everything into my bags, hoping that I hadn't crushed any of my recently purchased souvenirs...I thought they were safe, but they just had to be fit into my baggage. There was no time for delicate or strategic packing. Making one (okay let's be honest, more like three) final checks through the house, I was sure I wasn't forgetting anything...I think. I waited a couple minutes...11:30, 11:31, 11:32...finally I broke and texted Tendai:

"We still good for 11:30"
"Yeah boss, I'm here waiting 4 u!"

Now I realized why I should have recognized the car outside....Tendai had been early, and as he had been taking a nap while waiting for me, I didn't even see him waiting there in his car. Ready to get going, I hauled everything outside (with Meg's help), and heaved it into Tendai's trunk. I handed over the old, worn house cell phone, the strangely shaped key to the gate, and my house key, and said goodbye to Baylor 1. There was little time to be sentimental...though I was assured we were good on time, I was paranoid about missing my flight home!

Tendai and I hit the road in a flash. Suddenly, it was a bunch of lasts that literally flashed before my eyes...the last view of the old house, the last glimpse of the National Stadium, the Sun where I spent more than a few evenings blogging while drinking Castle and eating free salty snacks, the billboard of the national soccer team that helped me remember what street I lived on, the last drive along the highway that initially brought me into Gaborone.

(November 21, 2010
Okay, so this is now when I really REALLY finished the entry!)

I passed the "Dumela, Botswana" Sign that I had seen on my way into town the very first time, and on my trip(s) to the airport on my way to Chobe. As the long road crossed the Bastwana countrside, the construction laden facade of the airport peaked over the trees, and though i was saddened about leaving what had become my home for the past month, I started getting very excited about returning to what was my true home.

We arrived at the airport, and as Tendai helped me unload my four bags of luggage, I thanked him for being an awesome taxi driver, handed him all the pula I had left in my wallet, and walked up the sidewalk into the single terminal, luggage in tow. Still being anxious from my rush to get back to the airport, I nervously waited in line to check in. Of course, everything went off without a hitch, and soon I was going through security, filling out passport forms and paperwork, and then sitting in the large, open area designated for all of the international flights. I noticed Dr. Andres sitting there as well!

Dr. Gomila was about to head home to Argentina for a month to have back surgery for an injury that had been bothering him for years. Though the surgery would not take long, he definitely wanted to be home with family in a more familiar place during his recovery. Though we were both headed to Jo-burg (seemingly the only international destination out of Gabs...), his flight was on a different plane and scheduled to leave five minutes after mine. Sure enough though, I watched as he boarded his plane from Gate 4, then followed myself a few minutes later through Gate 3 (really just a different glass door about 75 feet to the left of Gate 4 out onto the same tarmac.

By this point in time, I was ecstatic. I was sad to leave, as I took last pictures of Botswana, but I had to fight the urge to skip out to the plane. We boarded the same small plane that brought me to Gabs four weeks prior, but this time the small flight was almost full, compared to the inbound flight that literally had 5 passengers. I sat on the plane, still taking pictures, and clapped my hands silently as that tiny little plane took off for Johannesburg.

Just a short while later, we were landing, catching the shuttle from the SAA Express tarmac to the major terminal, and walking through the airport. This experience for me was much different from that long night four weeks before where I held vigil over my luggage, with only my laptop and an eavesdropped conversation between a local and an Argentinian just released from a prison in Joburg to keep me company.

Truly, this time was different. I reveled in the different shops, the duty-free store, etc. that I was not able to enjoy on my last visit because I was exiled to the area outside the security checkpoints. I looked at all the souvenirs in the large "Africa" store that I wouldn't dare try to buy and take home. I broke down and bought one last souvenir. I strolled through the duty free store, mostly bypassing the candy's and snacks and focusing on the liquor, not buying any but comparing the price of the Amarula to what I paid in Gabs (I should have skipped the store in Gabs and just waited...but no worries).

Finally, I toyed with the idea of paying the equivalent of 25 dollars to spend my two hours in the airport in one of the lounges, where included in your fee were a buffet of food, self-service full bar, and shower facilities. However, I restrained myself and decided it wouldn't be worth the money to pay so much for such a short time, and thinking that I really didn't NEED to pig out on food and drink before my long flight (which also included free beer and wine, incidentally).

Instead, I opted to sit at one of the larger restaurant/bar areas terminal (which really reminded me more of a shopping mall. I journaled as much as I could, sampling a Hansen "Golden Marzen" beer and following it up with a draught Peroni. Both put me in a journaling mood, and I was almost caught up before it was time for me to head to the gate.

Finally, it was time to get going home. I was excited! I waited at the gate, and finally my group was called. As I boarded, I was surely glad that I had asked the woman at check-in back in Gabs if I could choose my seat. Though there were no aisle or window seats left to choose, I was able to select a seat in the front row of a section.

As I boarded, I realized this meant decent leg room, a wall to prop my feet on if I wanted to, and a stow-able TV/movie screen. I was also rather pleased with the flying companions to whom I had been assigned.

To my right was a younger woman who had been working in Malawi working on her Ph.D. in sociology (who had been to and from Malawi multiple times already). She was very nice, and, to be honest and no offense to my companion on my flight to Jo-burg earlier that month, but I was just glad that she was smaller and kinder than the man who stole 20% of my seat space the first time around.

To my left, three people. Yes, three. A very kind man and his wife, along with their son, Dylan. Yes, I know what you might think. An 8 month old kid next to you on a 16 hour flight: horror! However, this kid was GREAT! He smiled, he played, and, for all but about an hour or so cumulative, he slept and entertained himself! He reminded me of John-Paul to an extent, and since I was just hours away, it made me smile.

So lets fast forward, shall we? I don't remember much of the flight, but nobody wants to hear a detailed explanation of how I made the most of the complimentary beer and wine, how I watched about 4 movies, about how I slept, tried to sleep, tried to balance my feet on the wall in front of me, failed in doing so, and then slept anyway. I ate, I drank, I was merry, I slept, I played around with Dylan, and I passed the time on the way home.

As the 16 hours passed, I got more and more excited. We finally finally finally landed on US soil. I walked out into the DC terminal, pulling my phone out, turning it on, and calling Ali on MY PHONE for the first time in a month as I walked past the "Miss me yet?" George W Bush shirts on sale. It was so great to call home, and was a reminder that I was just hours away.

I waited a couple hours for my flight, slept most of the way home, and landed back in Houston, ready to run off the plane. I took off past the gate, through the security boundary, and down the stairs to baggage claim. As I walked over toward where I would get my baggage, I spotted a beautiful young lady in a bright flowery sundress pushing a stroller. I walked over, said hello and kissed her! Then I looked down into the stroller and saw my dear John-Paul, dressed in his best green Polo onesie. I picked him up, held him while we waited for my bags, and reveled in being home. We walked out of the terminal to our car, loaded up, and headed back to our home in Houston. My world had been turned upside-down again, and the real journey was just beginning....