Friday, May 15, 2009

Departures and Arrivals - chapter i: walkin' down the line

We left Toronto on the 13th after an amazing bon voyage party.

Toronto to Amsterdam

… and we’re off. The captain’s preflight speech is but a distant murmur – a mere whisper unable to phase through the internal anticipation. It is lost amongst the outwards excitement. The words linger but are not heard; we’re finally leaving on the first leg of our journey. A sudden acceleration and the airplane begins its ascent driving upward and defying gravity. Toronto becomes tinier and tinier as it fades into the distant grounds below.

So we’re finally off to Zambia/Malawi – we’re finally off. Since November when I found out I was selected to be the U of C’s JF this moment has felt to be unreachable. All the questions and excitement revolving around me leaving Canada created such an insurmountable divide between where I was throughout the year and departure. Even on the last day of predep departure felt like it was an eternity away. Until actually leaving the ground the idea of saying “fare-thee-well” to Canada was intangible, incomprehensible… an enigma. But as flight happened (and I say happened because aside from getting onto the plane flying is beyond my control) the idea of going to Africa entered the realm of the real and tangible. As the plane takes off a mind full of questions and a heart full of passion wait patiently for arrival. Farewell Canada.

Amsterdam to Nairobi

The expansive desert is unlike anything I have ever seen. For hours of flight it felt as though the plane lay suspended amidst the clouds; stationary above the eternal scene that lay below – endless deserts carved by winds and scorched by the sun. The desert was awe inspiring from the safety of the airplane as we soared at a pleasant altitude of 11900 m above sea level - frost on the airplane windows and not a drop of water to be seen on the ground. Down below there is a world of uncertainty; endless oceans of sand, a parched world so foreign to me…, a world so far outside of the realm of my understanding. An under booked plane was the luck that granted me a window seat, and a window seat is what granted me a looking glass into the world below. Amidst the dunes shaped by wind forever and forever what life blossoms? The static calm of the scene was abruptly disrupted by the occasional streaks – great snakes coiling through the desert – cutting their way between sand swept dunes. Who made these roads and where is it that they go? Further shapes would appear: great circles seen from above. What are these shapes in the sand? What are these concrete-grey compounds that occasionally appear below?

When imagination is granted a bird’s eye view into the unknown excitement and passion ignite. But as I watched from the safety of the airplane cabin I had a nose bleed. Nose bleeds normally aren’t a big deal; this wasn’t quite your ‘garden variety’ bloody nose, it was in fact a little worse. No problem. But add in some heavy turbulence coupled with the fact that I had only one napkin (it came with some apple juice) and an airplane nose bleed can be quite the experience. No Kleenex and no way to stand. It took about twenty minutes of nose pinching and turbulence before I was able to stand up – after this twenty minute span I was able to get some Kleenex and clean up. (to my friends at the Ucalgary chapter: aside from this experience and a slight cold no injuries or sickness yet! No malaria. No broken bones. No worries, right?)

As the flight from Amsterdam to Nairobi trudged on and on the desert was suddenly lost amidst clouds and more clouds. As surreal an experience as it was to look out of the plane and see the same landscape stretch as far as the eye can see it was almost more so to see the landscape vanish in an instant. Eventually once more the clouds would break, only this time a different landscape lay below. Lush green. Green everywhere. Forests? Jungles? I can’t tell for sure but green jumped off the ground and into the plane. Mountains and rolling hills could be seen as well. The foreign red sand of the desert had been replaced by a sprawling world of green. Soon we arrived in the Nairobi airport; where as Amsterdam's was synthetic Nairobi's had a quiet and subtle liveliness to it... And lots of book stores...

Nairobi to Lilongwe and Beyond!

Walking around the Nairobi airport felt electric to me. Despite my travel fatigue and a slight cold I had bounds of energy and a million thoughts racing through my head. Even after two long flights the energy of the group and within my heart was undeniable. Only moments after landing it finally hit me: "we're in Africa!". But not the part where we were all headed for. We still had time to kill in the airport - hackey sack was the culprit, time was the victim - the crime? murder one.

Walking in the open Kenyan air to our flight was another point of illumination - WE ARE IN AFRICA. The excitement diffused through the air. You could taste it - every face carried its own story of excitement.

The flight was an odd one - we flew from Nairobi to Lusaka before Lilongwe. The plane was practically an EWB flight both ways; a few other customers but around half of the fliers were EWB jfs. Upon touchdown in Lusaka I felt a desire to jump out of the plane and run to Ndola! The excitement of being so close after so long was unbearable. But in country training in Lilongwe was also an exciting prospect and so the plane once again began to sail the starlit sky to the warm heart of Africa: Malawi.

After thirty one hours of travel thirteen JFs landed in Lilongwe... Next stop the welcoming faces of the OVs and then the Golden Peacock. We landed at one in the morning and didn't arrive at the golden peacock till a bit later. On the way to the peacock - jammed into taxi cabs I was overwhelmed by the fact that I was finally in Malawi. My first sight of Lilongwe was a police blockade on the road - officers in tow with automatic rifles. Definitely something I have never seen.

The golden peacock is a please\ant rest house in Lilongwe; beautiful trees surround the house along with a green grass lawn which is apparently an oddity. There are showers! Hot showers... Tomorrow begins in country training - after a good sleep and a shower of course - but what awaits us on May 15th?


  1. Bloody nose on a plane during turbulence...??? That seems like a pretty rough start to the placement... I guess you'll just have to see how it goes, eh Patrick?

  2. Haha I forgot to mention the migraine :)