By air and by sea

On Sunday we had our little SOLA reunion and the first face to face encounter between a student and her Skype auntie. It was wonderful and moving.

The two Afghan girls had completed their intensive English language program at Salve Regina college. They had done well in their final presentations to host parents, skype moms and dads and other well-wishers, and had been whisked away to Maine. There they mingled with the natives, played banjo, learned to kayak and the basics of swimming, and ate blueberries until they popped. They were as far from Afghanistan as they could be.

Sunday afternoon they pulled up at our house. Axel hadn’t seen the girls since May 2011 and I hadn’t seen them since my departure from Kabul last September. We could not have imagined they would be at our house one summer later. And here they were.

On Monday Bill had graciously responded to my request to take them up in the air by organizing an aerial view of Boston. We followed route 1 south  at 1500 feet, circled over my office and the Charles River and Fenway Park and then flew back the same way we had come. It took 20 minutes round trip, a little faster than my daily two plus hour commute.

Flying past Logan the Skyway traffic controller requested us to move a little to the side to make way for jets coming and going. We gladly obliged and then made our way to Manchester to circle over our house. The steep banking made Z. reach for the little plastic bag and soon the blueberry breakfast was out of her stomach and sloshing in the bag. As a result we didn’t see Paula in her (Dutch) orange tee-shirt waving at us from the house. We headed back to base and to land before the bag filled up. Before we had gotten into the plane Z pronounced that she wanted to be a pilot. After the trip she retracted that.

From the air we moved to land and then to sea on a whale watching tour. By the time we reached Stellwagen Bank  we had seen one harbor dolphin, one minkie whale and one humpback. By the time we returned to Gloucester we had followed a mother and her calf and seen a few other whales feed and dive deep, and feed again in one series of long gracious moves. Seeing these giant mamals up close was another first for the girls.

We ended the day that had been full of wonders (wonderful) with a restaurant dinner. The girls got kid menus while we adults feasted on more adult fare.

On Tuesday we stayed close to home. The girls pulled out the kayaks while the tide was low and there was no chance of getting in over their heads.  The dress for the water adventure was unusual: one wore a chiffon dress while the other had each part of her body covered, except for hands, feet and face. It didn’t seem to cramp their style. Never has the cove seen such happy faces as they paddled along, singing Afghan songs in loud voices that carried their joy over the water to us adults who stood watching at the beach while our hearts went pitter patter. We would have held back the tide and stayed there, if we could.

In the afternoon real life came crushing into our idyllic reunion – separating the girls as one headed back to Maine with her skype mom and dad , ending our wonderful time together, and sending me back to a work assignment that was due before the end of the day.  Two days from now normalcy will return to lobster cove as Skype auntie Jo will take Z. back to her Rhode Island host family where she will remain until the start of the school year. She will say goodbye to her Skype auntie and resume the distance relationship that has created a bond no one could have expected over a year ago.

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