In the car on the way to the Prague airport, my dad asked if he could buy Czech crowns from me. He began explaining something that later, when I could listen, I apprehended was very simple: he would give me US dollars, I would give him Crowns. But before he had finished his question, my brain had completely flooded. I heard nothing but gibberish, or the “wah wah wah” spoken by grown ups on the Peanuts cartoons. I made the time out symbol with my hands. A frustrated look rumpled his face.
Where had I gone? My body was in transit to Rwanda and eastern Congo. My mind had preceded me there.
Africa, like all the trips I take, does this to me. One moment I am in my Prague apartment overlooking this old city’s iconic Vltava River and lovely edifices, and in the next what is in front of me has vanished, and I can only feel an a space inside of me, the space that knows what I will soon be confronting. The pulsing of emotion that infuses and animates the reality of high levels of poverty, concomitant low levels of economic development, relentless suffering, political and social instability (in eastern DRC. Rwanda is politically stable).
For my dad’s sake, I squeezed out a few words. “Congo, Dad. This happens before I go. It comes on unpredictably. Sorry. I’ll be present again before long.” I rode it out, my bag in my lap. Then, as promised, the emotional turbulence passed. I was back in the car, on the seat, in my body. “Alright. What were you saying?” Money changed hands, and I was excited to have more US dollars for any needs that may arise while I am there. It only took me twenty minutes to pack, which I did right before we walked out the door to the airport; I am something of an old hand at these journeys. I had ordered my anti-malaria medicine weeks ago, I remembered to have handy cans of tuna, and to grab a jar of peanut butter. But it hadn’t occurred to me that I was traveling with little American cash and all Crowns, as I have been living in Prague for two months. The fives and tens will be most welcome, both by me, and those with whom I share them.
Dad hugged and kissed me farewell curbside. I wandered around the airport talking to Dario, who is in Scotland washing one of his Ferraris (“I still love the old girl,” he said of his 355). He is preparing for his own trip, his annual sailing race up the west coast of his beloved Scotland. On board my flight, I have the “hot towel” moment, when the flight attendant hands me a clean, warm, damp wash cloth. Black faces blot out the white cloth. A mother, holding an infant, looks either dazed from malnutrition and illness, or perhaps satiated. I can’t tell. The image is from my briefing document, prepared by the International Rescue Committee for my Clinton Global Initiative Lead Cohort with whom I am taking this journey. I also see before me a smiling man, a public health worker with Population Services International, on whose board I serve, featured on our card that discusses local ownership of our grassroots programs.
The flight attendant is still holding out the hot towel. I smile.
Problems. Solutions. Vulnerability. Resilience. The very words that had come to me during my prayer time as I closed my yoga practice today.
I remember I dreamt about Little Black Baby and Percy last night. I consider those dreams — and remember, Percy as my personal Higher Power.
I am ready for my next adventure.