I’m going home again but this time, it’s not for rest and relaxation. There are frightening things in the near future including discovering for myself the true ramifications of Tahra’s recently diagnosed illnesses. An ominous appointment with an oral surgeon involving full anesthesia for our cavity-riddled four-year-old at Miami Children’s Hospital. Arthroscopic surgery to repair a torn left lateral meniscus, for me. And after that, but before my 36-hour return trip to Juba, many sad goodbyes to be said in Key West prior to a scheduled interstate family expedition involving a trucking company, the Amtrak auto-train, and a long haul in the Volvo through Virginia and up to New York and Massachusetts, where we’d be moving into TWO different houses – one in each state. To get it all done I cobbled together four weeks off using comp days, my regularly-scheduled post rotation R/R, and both sick and annual leave.
Logistics couldn’t get me a flight out of Juba on the morning I needed to leave, so by happy circumstance, I’m bumped up a day and departed in the afternoon on the hour-and-twenty-minute flight to Nairobi. In Kenya on the way to my hotel, I spotted a giraffe and zebra herd off the highway. I looked over at the driver to see if he saw them too, but he was concentrating on the road. I got in early enough for a light workout in the small gym at the Ole-Sereni Hotel, then treated myself to a long hot shower – much appreciated, since the running water at my house in Juba had been contaminated with diesel oil for a while. Then, a good dinner – my first decent meal in two months, a spicy tandoori platter with naan and most of a bottle of South African red. No one to talk to at dinner so I dug into a Philip Roth novel on my Kindle and found myself reading a saga involving glove-making factories in Newark. America’s greatest living novelist (whose middle name is Milton, by the way) lives in and writes about NEW JERSEY, it turns out.
Next morning I’m up early to finish some briefing papers for a diplomat who is potentially visiting some of our work sites in South Sudan. Big breakfast of eggs and sausage, Kenyan baked beans and potatoes, good coffee and a tall cold glass of fresh-squeezed passion fruit juice. Filled out my time sheets, emailed some reports and spreadsheets to my colleagues to tide them over while I’m gone, and then it was time to head to the Nairobi airport. On this trip I’d be flying through Johannesburg, a much shorter first flight than my usual jaunt to Amsterdam, but it involved a tight connection and would leave me with a whopping 14 hours in the air from Jo-burg to Atlanta, so I was a little anxious, though relieved not to have to fly through Lagos, Nigeria, as I did during my previous trip home. The airport in Lagos has a horrible reputation. I’ve read that airport guards on the tarmac have shoot-on-sight orders due to problems with thieves who’ve stolen luggage by breaking into the baggage holds of planes as they are getting ready for take-off. My suitcase and I made it through ok, though, last time.
Uneventful flight to South Africa. While walking through the airport in Jo-burg to find my connection, though, I strolled by a place I thought I’d never in a million years see again – a little shop where Tahra and I bought a few last-minute things at the end of our big African safari adventure nearly a decade ago. We visited Cape Town and went on a once-in-a-lifetime camping trip in Namibia, where, atop a giant sand dune on the edge of the Namib Desert, overwhelmed by her beauty, intelligence and spirit, I spontaneously pulled her close and asked her to marry me, whereupon she wrinkled her nose and told me I smelled like a Cape Fur seal. I knew I still stunk from our visit to the seal colony that morning, where we incredulously watched jackals leisurely stalking seal pups on the beach, but I really wanted her to marry me and couldn’t wait any longer to ask, and she said yes.