Thursday, July 21, 2011

Birds on a Plane

For your enjoyment, I would like to take this time to offer you a story of the amazing return journey from South Africa of Ms. Amanda Tompkins and Ms. Heather Nelson...

Our flight was leaving Frankfurt a little past nine o'clock on Tuesday morning, heading for Washington. Everything was on-time, we loaded the plane, and by some random seat confusion that resulted in the mother of a row of screaming children being placed in business class instead of near her very young and out of control children and flustered father, Amanda ended up in the only empty seat in the airplane- beside me and my helicopter flying row sharer who was returning to the USA from 6 months in Afghanistan. All of that previous information is rather pointless, but it sets up the story.

SO, as we are pulling out from the gate and about to taxi down the runway, there are suddenly some strange dancing shadows around the cabin that catch Amanda and a few other passengers attention... Then all of the sudden, a bird appears whizzing down the aisle to our left, resulting in a chorus of shrieks erupting from those on board. The Captain (who somehow magically kept switching between male and female voices) came over the speaker, and after a slew of German words and some laughter,, he translated to us that Yes, there is a bird on board, but we are not certain of what the airline protocol is to deal with a bird on a plane,,, since it has never happened before. They take us to "remote holding" with other dejected planes, and then the Captain announces our plan of attack. Genius idea number 1- we are going to catch the bird. He pleaded with the passengers to please remain seated unless you have an "extreme physical need" so that the crew can better locate the bird. After a few unsuccessful minutes, it appears that the bird has been "lost", but the general assumption is that it is hiding out in first class. So, starting at the back of the cabin the crew steps on boxes and bangs on the top of the overhead compartments with coat hangers to insure that the bird is not hiding out there, and makes their way to the front. When they still can not locate the bird, the air conditioning is turned off so that we can better hear it. So now we are strapped to our seats, without air, straining to hear the small flapping wings of the cleverly hidden bird.

The Captain comes over the intercom again, announcing that unless the bird can be located shortly, they will have to move to Plan B, because they contacted the US, and no, you are not allowed to fly a plane into the USA with a bird on board. Plan B is the exact same plane located right beside us out the right window, which would require all the luggage to be moved, the plane to be prepped by the flight attendants, all the security measures to be restarted, and then the passengers reloaded-- but since we are not allowed to walk out onto the ground there, a bus has to come pick us up, drive us back to the airport, and then bring us back to the plane that is almost within reach. Genius. So since that would take forever, apparently some flight attendant claimed that he/she saw the bird exit the plane through the front door (or whatever you call that thing- a hatch or something), so we could proceed with take off. As we begin to taxi again,,, the bird reappears. Although the Captain claimed that it was a "second bird", none of us were fooled. This time the bird was a bit more rambunctious, I am guessing he was flustered from being attacked with coat hangers... Anyway, he flys down the left aisle, swerves around the back, and comes shooting forward on the right aisle... Amanda and I have our heads turned back checking out the action, when all of the sudden the bird decides to dive bomb straight at us! As I try to avoid the attack, the bird proceeds to ricochet off my face, resulting in one of my god-forsaken screams, and proceeds to fly forward. Dramatic, yes. But the tension is still building. So now the bird swerves back to the back again, but the flight attendants are ready,,, they quickly slide the curtains closed and stuff pillows above to provide no means of escape, and then we just hear the chaos of 6 flight attendants armed with blankets attempting to capture this now psychotic bird. Finally, a flight attendant emerges running with a blanket in her hand and a freshly squashed bird (we think she was too excited, we heard bones crack), and she pumps her fist in the air as we cheer her on... The bird is disposed of, and we proceed on with our flight, 2 hours delayed. Being on African time, Amanda and I were merely enjoying ourselves, and laughing at the ridiculousness of our own lives,, but the other Americans around us were not so pleased or amused by the delay.

If only we had Samuel L. Jackson aboard and a microwave made specially for birds,, then we could have a had a theatre worthy flick. Or maybe not.

~Heather Anne Nelson

Left Behind

I have a theory that goes like this: it is easier to leave than to be left behind.

11 months ago when I left my friends and family in the USA, I was leaving for an exciting and unknown adventure. I didn’t know what was to come, but the unexpected was alluring, and even though I was anxious and a little frightened at times, I was overwhelmingly excited. However, as I flew across the world to be greeted a different people and culture; I left my friends and family back at home. They remained behind, usually leading the same routine lives as they had been when I was present, but the only difference was I had created a void, an absence, in their lives.

Now it has come time for me to return to the USA, and refill that void which I left. However, throughout this year Masealama has become home to me, and the people surrounding me have become family. So when I leave, I am leaving for another adventure, to return home and then attend grad school, but my friends and family here in Masealama will be left behind. Although they did not know me a year ago, when I arrived they opened up their hearts and homes to let me inside, and when I leave I am going to be leaving the same void which I left when I came to South Africa in the first place.

When you have a visitor in your home, your house is suddenly enlivened- you eat special meals, you stay up late conversing, and you busy yourself to make sure everything is clean and orderly. As you watch them leave, they have a trip ahead of them of some sort- whether it is going home, going to the mall, or visiting other family, they have something on the horizon- a destination in view. However, you are left in the same house, only now you are left with a small void where that visitor was. You house is a little quieter, and you have to return to your normal day-to-day routine. It’s hard to be left behind.

When that visitor stays with you for over a year, their departure is even more of a struggle. Although it is EXTREMELY challenging for me to leave my friends and family here in Masealama, I know that when I return I will be reunited with the friends and family which I left behind. I will be leaving with another adventure ahead of me. But I think that it will be even more challenging for my friends and family here in Masealama. I want to be conscious of this fact, and leave with as much grace as possible, to attempt to ease the transition. I feel almost selfish, being the one who LEFT my family and friends in the USA, and now am LEAVING my friends and family in South Africa. I have the easier end of the deal, while I am busy LEAVING BEHIND the people that I love to continue on with my adventures.

Being left behind doesn’t mean that you do not have adventures on the horizon, but they are simply less tangible than those who are leaving. Although I will be leaving again, and will once again leave a void, I think it is better to have left South Africa than to never have come at all.

~Heather Anne Nelson