This past Sunday, I braved the capital city of my little country. Fighting my way through crowds of maniacal taxi drivers and scores of motorcycle riders that would make Evel Knievel blush, I made my way to the airport. My mission was to pick up passengers for a stay here; however, this particular set of travelers was not our typical volunteer team. They were my parents.
The last time we saw each other was through watery eyes at the Nashville airport, as I passed through security on my way to Africa. Almost a year later, to the day, I was standing in a little airport parking lot waiting on their plane. It was not hard to miss, it was the only plane. Few people ever come here.
The gigantic Airbus flew overhead and took its long drive down the runway. Within five minutes or so, it had taxied back to the only “terminal.” When the plane, pulled up to the gate, it was actually taller than the airport itself, its big tail fin looming over the main building. Some little man in a semi-official uniform rolled a little set of stairs up to the door of the plane and people began to spew out onto the tarmac.
It was almost an hour before my parents emerged from the airport, two of only a few white faces in a sea of Africans. Needless to say, they were not hard to find. Sweaty and obviously overwhelmed, they followed our airport contact across the parking lot. Dodging crowds of people awaiting family members and NGO workers picking up new recruits, my bewildered parents made eye contact with me.
So far, their trip has made for an interesting experiment. To say my parents have not travelled much is an understatement. We rarely took vacations and this was my mother’s first time to step foot on a plane. Nevertheless, they are in Africa. While I write this, my mother is attempting a nap with a fan, both of us using the electricity from our generator while we have it. Lunch this afternoon will be rice with African leaf sauce, fish bones and all.
For my parents, the last five days have been full of new sights, sounds and smells. My parents have entered a world so foreign it cannot be explained in words. They have slept in a tiny African village in the middle of the jungle and watched rice harvested by hand. They have seen the free ranged livestock and the free ranged kids. For the first time in their life, they have tried to communicate in a world where absolutely no one speaks their language. Their stay is not over and I am curious to see how this whole experience influences them.
For me, this is an opportunity for my worlds to collide. Already, I struggle with the coming reality of explaining this life-changing experience to friends, family, or anyone who will listen back at home. Yet, there are simply no words. I will never be able to communicate my time in this little corner of the world and how it has affected me. My hope is, during their visit, however short it may be, my parents will grasp some aspect of what this place is like.
There is no way they will fully understand. Any real understanding does not come from simply seeing a place. To truly know, someone would have to live here. Someone would have to be immersed in a way that does not happen when merely passing through. However, they will see what pictures cannot show and perhaps it will help.
In the meantime, it is entertaining to watch their awkward responses to people’s greetings in a foreign language. It has been a pleasure to see them butcher the language the way I did when I first got here. Deeper still, is the joy I have received from watching them meet eyes with the people who have captured my heart this last year. To see the elders in my little village sitting with my father, finally getting to meet this strange man from America with only one child, to see the smile on the little old lady’s face as she holds my mother’s hand, these are blessings I cannot convey.
Perhaps, when it is all said and done, I will have some stories to share, or at least some funny moments.