I never liked airport goodbyes.
Or airports in general, for that matter.
Airports themselves are unexceptionally unexacting, unhappy, unsanitary, unpleasant places of waiting. That’s all travel is, really: waiting. You wait for the ride, you wait in line, you wait to get frisked, and wait for the plane. Then wait to sit down, wait to take off, wait for the cocktail, and wait for the family-friendly-but-still-censored-B-movie-romantic-comedy to start so you can forget about waiting to land so you can wait to dispatch the plane and wait for your luggage.
Many goodbyes are said at airports, but airports by design are not conducive to farewells. It’s on the curb amongst security, parcels, baggage, no parking, no unattended vehicles, abhorrent architecture, and the white zone is for immediate loading and unloading of passengers only. There is no stopping in a red zone.
As much as I like traveling, the airport is worst part.
So my parents planned a safari.
I had thought all along that it was a, “let’s do a safari and maybe see our second born,” sorta thing.
But it was really the other way around.
While I hadn’t been outta Sudan in nearly 4 months, in one day my mom managed to arrange it (mother to mother, I think) with our travel agent. I told my employees I had some important business to which I had to attend. My credibility woulda been totally shot if I said I had to go see my mommy.
So there I am, flying back to Nairobi and meeting up with the folks. It just so happened that Beard, a client of mine, was flying the same day. He’s American, got a distinctive laugh, and a fantastic client to work with: he actually seemed understand how much I worked. He’d always buy me a beer before I could offer one myself. On the turbulent prop plane flight we talked a little about his family Florida, and then I must’ve passed out. I apologized, but he shrugged it off. We said so long and caught our respective cabs.
It was a fantastic 27 hours or so. My parents had been waiting at the airport despite my explicit instructions that they meet me at the bar at the hotel. They showed up and we had a beer by the pool at the Fairview and I heard all about their trip. I didn’t do that much talking, and was happy to listen. I’d made reservations at The Norfolk, but I was sure to make some time for my first hot shower. I got a little side tracked since I stopped off in the bar at my hotel and ran into Speedo and Tin-pusher, two airline guys from Rumbek. After volleying no-what-are-you-doing-here’s, we had a beer, exchanged cell info and said we’d party later.
I met the folks in the lobby and we headed to the Lord Delamere Terrace at the Norfolk. We had a bottle of a deliciously punned Goats do Roam chardonnay (Normally I wouldn’t drink chard with anything, but my mom likes it) and the cab blend to follow.
The food is pretty good in all our camps. I’m convinced we provide the best western meals in the whole of South Sudan. But tearing into a tandori chicken caesar—I had no idea how much I missed lettuce—and looking down at a steaming plate piled high with four massive grilled Indian Ocean prawns and extra pili pili sauce might as well have been a bastion of hope for mankind and civilization; a salvation of all in the flesh of a crustacean. Topping it off with a fresh lemon sorbet followed by an irish coffee, everything seemed right.
Everything was right.
When it comes to dinners, Pops is an ace at picking up tabs. Everyone else reaches for their wallets but a check is never produced; the little embossed booklet is nowhere to be seen. He actually has the uncanny ability to transport platinum cards from his wallet into the hands of waitresses meters away using the power of his mind.
It’s quite impressive to experience.
But this time, I was able to blindside him with funny stories and ‘what’s gonna happen to in the near future’ discussions and surreptitiously pay the bill.
The old man never saw it coming: the young cho dan bo sparring and defeating the sa bum nim. The hostess wasn’t exactly smooth about it, as I had asked her to swipe the card while I went to the bathroom she was no where to be seen upon return, only to re-appear and hover around me just as I sat down.
“Uh. I have to go to the bathroom. Uh, again.”
I think it took a moment for geriatrics to realize what I had done. Though both parents were equally displeased and vocal in their distaste for my underhanded settlement of a bill, a handshake agreement for the old guy to get the next one and it was all good. We jetted off in a cab to Club Havana for a Stella, but just as we ordered our first round, PonyTail walks in the door with a dreadlocked pal.
PonyTail is a walking dichotomy. He’s a pseudo-hippie from New Hampshire providing technology solutions to Rumbek and happens too look fantastic in little black dresses. His business card should say:
Resident Bad Ass
I had no idea he’d be there and he had no idea I would. So him and his buddy Z, who professionally provides ambiance, sit down for a drink and we shoot the shit. We talk about the infamous Monsoon party in Rumbek, and PonyTail says something like, “weren’t you supposed to meet up with with your parents?”
Not 10 years ago, being seen by a friend at an establishment with my parents would be the equivalent of being seen at the mall wearing headgear and a cat sweatshirt, but I was also impressed that the AARP card-holders were up to the challenge of changing to scotch and still partying at 2:00 AM.
I couldn’t sleep past 8:30 the next day, since I’d been up early everyday for the past four months. So we met up early, had some tea, reviewed my folks’ safari pics, and went out to the Village Market so my mom could do some shopping. There was one store in particular my girlfriend really liked, and I knew my my would love it. We must’ve spent an hour there and many thousands of shillings. I apologized to my dad. I stopped in the Nakumatt and got a new phone (thanks for that Raleigh. . .I’ll just add it to the life bill) and a new sim card since I had no idea where my old one went (new phone number up on Facebook)
We returned to the hotel for more tea and took a walk around downtown, shopped some more, and I fended off offers from my mom to buy me new shoes. “I like my Pumas. Besides, It’s nothing duct tape can’t fix, mom.” They bought an sweet carved elephant for the new mansion and I got my brothers some souvenirs: a painting for Matt so he has something besides illuminated Star Wars posters to decorate the new place, and a hand carved knife to satiate Steve‘s unhealthy obsession with sharp objects.
We packed up their luggage and new purchases and went off to Carnivore to get the whole tourist experience. We had a dark and stormy for an apertif, and strategically avoided the salad, bread, and soup like champs. For a few hours, we gnashed on beef, turkey, chicken, pork, ostrich, and crocodile, and washed away the impending departure with a bottle or two of pinotage.
It was a fine meal.
Since we had only had a few hours, I went with them to the airport directly after Carnivore. We talked a little international politics, and but I ended that topic. I get enough crap for being American from all the Eurotrash out here. And Canadians. We rounded the corner into Jomo Kenyatta
And the Airport goodbye.
A little help with the luggage out of the Land Cruiser. A nod of my head upon completion. Hugs and smiles were all around and they waved at me as the car drove off.
I waved back, looking forward once they were out of sight.
The time we had couldn’t’ve been better. My parents and I actually did very little during our few hours together. We mostly told stories, argued, postulated, laughed, drank, and ate; all things that keeps our family as close as it is despite the sizable geographic disparity.
On the ride back I got a call from Ponytail about Z’s ambiance party and agreed to go along. I knew it would be a good time. On the way back to the hotel, I made some small talk with the driver and coerced my tired brain to get ready to get obliterated at Mi-Loan with some local expats.
All I really had to do was wait to get back to Sudan.