Woozy and waiting, I stood along the sidewalk outside the Minneapolis airport baggage claim. Soon I saw my friend Casey’s grey SUV approach and roll to a stop.
I rolled my own worn and torn luggage to his car.
“Hey,” I said.
“Welcome home,” he said reassuringly.
In the 24 hours prior, I had flown out of Nairobi, Kenya at 11:30 PM. I sat next to a hefty, middle-aged Belgian military retiree who told me about the Rwandan genocide and how his Rwandan wife had to escape. Eight hours later, I arrived at Belgium, waited a few more hours in the airport talking with a long-haired Jewish guy about Israel and Palestine, and then boarded another eight hour flight to Chicago. I don’t remember who I sat next to on this flight. I think I slept two hours in there.
In giant O’Hare Airport, I had to run (well, jog at least) to my gate to catch my plane to Minneapolis. But the flight was delayed. So I took a minute to soak in the fact that not only was I back in the U.S. after being away for so long. But that I was sitting amongst fellow Minnesotans: a man with a Minnesota Wild hat, a woman on the phone with the familiar accent.
Yep. I’m almost there.
I woke up early the next morning at Casey’s place. I’d be staying with him until I got an apartment. Wide-eyed from jet lag, I took in all the “American-ness” of my room: the soft, comfortable bed, the bookshelf and books, and light fixture overhead.
I heard Casey turn on the TV in the living room. I walked out to CBS This Morning and Charlie Rose’s voice, “And now your world in 90 seconds.” Ebola, Ferguson protests, all that I’d been hearing hints of was now declared in this room on Casey’s huge flatscreen. It was in fact the TV, the furniture, the woodwork of this home–the American-ness of it all–that was the larger declaration of which these news stories were merely a part.
To Casey, this was just another morning before going to his job at the bank. He told me to have a good one and went about his day. I remained in his house continuing to soak, looking at everything, feeling the difference between it and where I had been–and between how I felt now in Casey’s house now vs. how I had felt every other time I’d been here before I went away. Suddenly everything was noteworthy.
There was little motivation to do. It was enough to just be. But I did have one thing to do today: get a phone.
I walked out of Casey’s house in Minneapolis on that fair, cloudy October morning. I walked to the bus stop–something I would ordinarily have seen as a time-consuming means to an end. In my mode, however, the means was as important as the accomplishment, and I took in the clean streets, the cars lining them, the other homes.
I got to a bus stop not really caring where I went. I would have enjoyed taking in most any neighborhood in town. A woman stood there, and I asked her how much the fare was.
“Seventy-five cents for me, but I’m a senior,” she said. I counted my dollar bills exchanged from my Kenyan shillings and figured I’d be okay.
I asked when the next bus came.
“10:16. Hopefully it’s not late,” she said.
It wasn’t. It came at 10:16. Two days before I rode into Kenya from Uganda on a bus that was two hours late and was from another company altogether because my bus had broken down. Then, this new one didn’t have the amenities promised to me but did offer two giant cracks splitting the window near my seat.
I stepped inside the bus in Minneapolis. Known for being used by people in low income brackets, to me this bus was high society. Smooth ride, smooth stops, clear voice overhead.
It’s good to be back.
Three weeks later, I had my phone, got work with an area school, and had a car to get there. I bought my brother’s old Pontiac. It needed a wash.
So I went to complete the circle, to put the other bookend on my 8 1/2 months in East Africa, to see a man soon after returning home whom I had first met shorty before departing last January.
I shared two-thirds of this story a couple of weeks ago: I met a older Ugandan man at a car wash in Minneapolis just days before I left for Africa. He told me about his sons in Uganda, neither of whom he had seen in 16 years. He gave me their numbers; I took them uncertain of my chances of actually meeting them.
But I did.
Now back home, I went to wash my car hoping to see the Ugandan dad and share of my visit with his sons.
He was working.
I dropped off my car to the attendants and walked up to the tall, greying man.
I had some pictures for him.
I also had some footage. But that came two days later.
On this day, Yusuph and I went to a coffee shop, where I showed him video of his sons’ fish farming operation on Lake Victoria.
He had been in touch with his boys over the phone over the years, but hadn’t seen them.
“Now I know what they are talking about,” he said in discovery of their work. “I never know what they mean when they say they have a cage in the lake.”
For Yusuph it was a reunion of sorts and a thrill that this Minnesotan guy he met at the car wash could actually see his family and return to show and tell about it.
For me, this was the perfect finale to 3/4 of a year spent on an adventure.
I look back and realize this was an adventure defined by the people I met–the way they opened the doors to new experiences, wisdom, and opportunities for service.
I realize I can look back even further and see that this is what shapes all my travel.
I can now see that this is actually what shapes all my life whether I’m on the road or living my regular life back home.
You never know who you’re going to meet, what they can teach you, or where they’ll take you.
In fact, that school I got a job with? They need someone to document their trip to Thailand. I leave April 27.