Monday, May 17, 2010

The Long Journey Home

I'm alive. I'm also back in the states. I think that's a good thing, but I'm not sure yet.

The last two days were a trying ordeal. On Thursday morning I was laying on a bed in agony, not sure what I would do in 20 minutes when we checked out of the hotel. Last night we had planned on taking a taxi to Labadi Beach and locating a few surfboards, which would have been amazing. Now I just wanted to know how I would make it through the day without dying somewhere. My friends helped me pack my luggage and we slowly walked to the temple dorms where Marissa would be staying for the next few weeks to work on some projects.
I stumbled into the bedroom and crashed in a heap while everyone else went out for a day on the town. I had to decide how I would make it through two days in Amsterdam and two more days flying. Four days like this...I cried silently for a few minutes. Every shallow breath brought a stab of pain that made me gasp. The dull ache in my shoulder was a constant companion. And for some reason I was starting to feel that glowing itchiness that signaled oncoming hives.
After a few hurried, gasping conversations on the phone with Alisha we decided to pay the $250 fee to move up my flight and bypass Amsterdam. Now I just had to survive 24 hours in the air.
After a few hours everyone got back and we made our way to the airport. I shuffled in line with everyone else and prayed I would be able to sit down, as we braved the third-world equivalent of a ticket-desk queue. Gratefully, no one stopped us to tear apart our luggage or make us deal with customs--we were waved right through and made the plane without incident.
I was covered in hives and panting in pain. A few travelers gave me a wide berth. After we were in the air a flight attendant, probably concerned I was carrying some deadly contagion, politely asked me if I was healthy enough to make the connection. I said I wasn't contagious and had a doctor at home. He said they might have to ground the flight if I got any worse. I said "Where you gonna land everyone? The Sahara? I'm sure the facilities are great in Niger, but I need to get home." He gave me the card for an airport doctor in Amsterdam, said the visit would be covered, and gave me an extra bottle of water.
I found that if I sat in just the right position, with my head at 10 o'clock and pointed up, the pain lessened a little. I also wrapped myself in one of those little blue airline blankets so people wouldn't see the hives. Why couldn't they just dump me in the Sahara and be done with it?
We finally arrived in Amsterdam. The doctor wanted to charge me $50 but couldn't run any tests, so I politely declined. I said a sad goodbye to my friends, who would be staying in Amsterdam, and moped over to the next connection: Detroit. On the way I stopped by a restroom and happened upon a group of Algerian men wearing spotless Shalwar Kamees in the middle of wudu. They chatted pleasantly in their peculiar Arabic dialect while washing their feet in the sink--one of those funny little moments when you realize you're still surrounded by culture.
The flight to Detroit was a little better. The benadryl and ibuprofen started to kick in, and both the pain and itching lessened somewhat. I started to enter this numb, stiff, hypnotic state. I was exhausted, bored, and in pain, but was starting to forget all three. Time passed unnoticed as I stared at the seat in front of me and drifted in and out of shallow sleep. Seated next to me was a gangster kid from inner-city Detroit who had never flown before. He laughed hysterically at episodes of Sponge Bob before falling asleep to a rap album. After a few minutes he put his head on my shoulder and every once in awhile would elbow me in the ribs.
Hour after numb hour, I listened to the drone of the plane. Pain came and went in cycles, but gradually improved. My rash was mostly gone. The antibiotics must have done their job, because by the time I touched down in Salt Lake I was 80% better. I consider it a miracle (or a series of them) that I made it home.
This last month has changed my life forever. I will always be grateful for the experience, and can't put into words how it has affected me. Since Ghana I have felt a newfound drive to get out into the world and change it for the better. I think back often on that beautiful place halfway around the world, and its beautiful people, hoping to return someday soon.

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