Killing 33 hours of time

At the airport in Addis I decided to kill the first part of my three and a half hour wait by treating my dusty and scuffed leather shoes to a proper (professional) shoeshine. The one-eyed shoeshine man told me he was studying for his MBA, is a motivational speaker, sells phone cards and rides a taxi. He is one of those jacks-of-all-trades whose entire life seems to be focused on getting his (four) children the kinds of chances he never had as a child. I suspect they will all end up with a degree and do better than their parents.

We had a wonderful conversation. Of course he could have made all of his stories up to impress me and get me to pay more than his stated fee. But when he showed me his crib notes – he had an exam the next day – and talked about Mr. Douglas’ Theory X and Y (referring to Douglas McGregor), and X being more prevalent in Africa, I was convinced he knew what he was talking about. I have yet to have a conversation about McGregor’s theory with a shoeshine man anywhere in the world. I gave him a 25% tip.

The airport was relatively empty, awaiting the arrival of passengers that would fill half a dozen jumbos to various points west and north.  I found a seat at the table of a very extraverted father-daughter couple. They has just flown in from Dad’s ancestral lands (Somaliland, not Somalia) and were on their way home to Toronto. The daughter had downloaded Fire and Fury on dad’s kindle who she said was not a good sleeper and needed to have something to get him engaged and enraged for the long flight home. We drank coffee, then a beer and chatted about the experience she had on her first trip to Africa as a woman in a strict Muslim society. She was wrapped daily in polyester clothes, and a hijab that was never tight enough, by her aunties and cousins. She could laugh about it now; it didn’t spoil the fun in spite of the heat. That too was a wonderful conversation and killed another hour or so.

And then it was time to board the plane for the 17 hour trip to Dulles. It is three hours longer than on the way out, partially because of the trade winds, and partially because of a one hour crew change and refueling stop in Dublin.  Since it was a night flight the missionaries, if there were any on board – I saw no groups in matching T-shorts – where sleeping like most other people. I completed one 1000 piece (electronica) puzzle, finished one of my friend Edith’s mystery books in a series about a Quaker midwife who solves mystery after mystery in 1880 Amesbury, knocked myself out for a bit and watched East of Eden. It was all in all a better experience than on the outbound.

In Dulles another 3 hour wait, which passed quickly once again because of yet another interesting conversation. This time with a fellow development worker who had been in charge of youth employment during the Carter years and is now flying back and forth to Africa and Asia, just like me.

I called Axel who is in New York with Jim and the grandkids to pay their respects and celebrate the life of the husband of Sita’s Brooklyn preschool teacher. He was one of the post 9/11 clean up guys and died with a body riddled with cancer.

Exactly 33 hours after I left my hotel in Bujumbura I stepped into our house where large bundles of flowers from Tessa and Steve awaited me for mother’s day.

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