Fasten Your Seatbelts—Rough Ride Ahead (By Marcia Thomas)

Clear air turbulence is unpredictable, since it comes out of the blue. Unless a plane ahead of you encounters and reports it, you do not have any warning until you hit it, as was the case on our flight from San Francisco to Kansas City in August of 1976.

My flight partner and I knew each other well. In fact, we had learned that we were born on the same day—November 7, 1945. She was named Marcia Kathleen (Kathy) and I was Marcia Darlene. We worked well together.

When a plane hits an air pocket as we did, it drops, becoming weightless, and everything that isn’t strapped down floats upwards. Our first indication of turbulence on that trip was a huge and unforeseen air pocket.

Kathy was serving coffee in the aisle. With a tray holding cream and sugar in one hand and the coffee server in the other, she didn’t have a free hand to latch onto anything. She said that her feet hit the ceiling along with the coffee, which rained down on the passengers beneath. I grabbed the handle of the parked liquor cart, which probably weighed 200 pounds, and in spite of our combined weight, the cart and I rose at least eight inches before setting back down. Fortunately, the passengers were fastened in their seats. Otherwise we would have had a lot of extra trouble.

Eventually things clamed down and we landed safely in Kansas City. The plane and flight attendants were going onto Washington D.C., with a fresh crew of pilots boarding at the gate.

The second officer is responsible for a “go around” in which he goes through the cabin and walks down on the tarmac to inspect the exterior. When he finished, he returned to the galley, where we were setting up for the flight. With a puzzled look on his face, he asked, “That older gentleman standing in the aisle back there, is he half-crocked or something?”

I looked back, turned to the second officer and said, “No, I don’t think so. Why?”

“When I went back there he asked me if I wanted some coffee, which was strange as it was. I said, ‘No,’ and he said, ‘Well, if you do, it’s up there.’ Then he pointed to the ceiling.”

“Oh,” I giggled. “You weren’t on that last flight. We hit severe turbulence.”

Kathy came out of the galley and joined our conversation. “Oh,” she said, “That was the guy who was sitting around where the coffee hit the ceiling and rained down on everything. There wasn’t anything anybody could do about it.”

The next week we were in the galley when the turbulence hit again. I grabbed hold of the counter railing, and watched as the coffee in my cup made a nice arc through the air and landed on the first flight attendant. I was very apologetic, but of course it wasn’t my fault. You never know when turbulence is going to hit.

Tears in Africa by Joan Wahl Countryman

“You can’t go to Africa on your own, Mom” my daughter, Deirdre, exclaimed when I showed her the brochure for “Wings over Africa.”

“To see Kenya has been a dream of mine for as long as I can remember. Now that you and your brother Tony are all grown up and I’m alone, I feel drawn to Africa. The travel agent has worked with me, helping me use my air miles, and finding the very best trip for a widow traveling alone,” I assured her. Everything would be fine.

Landing in Nairobi in October, 1994, I began to have second thoughts about my decision. Maybe I am biting off more than I can chew, I thought. What if I get sick or even die? What if the kids are right and I disrupt their lives due to this dream of mine? The airport looked shabby and everyone was coal black. I wondered, would I understand the language? Fear took over. Then, right in front of me stood a tall, handsome, African man. “You must be Joan; I’m John from Abercrombie & Kent. I will get your luggage and take you to the bus,” he said. His dark grey well-tailored suit displayed the A&K name tag with John’s name on it. His English and communication skills put me at ease. Now I could begin to relax and enjoy the experience.

On the bus, John introduced me to the three American couples that would join me on the trip. Everyone seemed very enthused except for one man, Mr. Negative. He informed all of us, “The only reason I’m here is because my wife wanted to see Africa.”

I took the front seat in the van next to the tour guide. “Didn’t your husband want to see Africa?” she questioned. “He would have loved to,” I replied, “but he died a year ago from lung cancer at age fifty eight.” Silence reigned in the back as the newly acquainted travelers searched for something to say. I took a deep breath and swallowed hard. Someone in the back made a comment about courage, which went over my head.

After a night in a hotel in Nairobi, we flew in a small plane to Amboseli. The next day we went out in a Land Rover type vehicle to view herds of elephants on a preserve. We stopped along a grassy area and were asked to be quiet out of respect for the animals, as a very large herd approached. The lead elephant, a female, stopped in her tracks, looked into our eyes and refused to continue until the driver backed the vehicle out of their path. Her message was: this land is mine.

Flying over the Great Rift Valley on the way to the Masai Mara, we could see great herds of wildebeest on the march for water. Viewed from the air, they reminded me of ants. When we got closer to the Masai Mara, an occasional spot of red and some cattle appeared on the ground. The spot of red was a Masai herder watching his flock.

The Masai, a very tall regal people, greeted us. We were treated to native dancing and a craft show in their round house, which was made of dung and straw and large enough to hold fifty people. I noticed a little boy who was half clad with bare feet and a snotty nose. Flies flew around him. Oh, how I wished I could take him home and give him a bath. As we left the round house and took the path for the bus, the little boy walked up to Mr. Negative, took his hand and gave him a big snotty smile.

Waving goodbye from the bus, Mr. Negative turned to us and with tears in his eyes said, “That little boy was the highlight of my trip to Africa. If I live to be 100, I will never forget him. He made this whole trip worthwhile.”

Next stop, Nanuki. Flying over the dry savannah we saw an occasional acacia tree giving shade to a few wild animals. The tour guide pointed to a heard of African antelope, known as eland, taking shelter. Our next stop was the Mount Kenya Safari Club. This luxury hotel at the foot of Mt. Kenya promised experiences one could only dream about.

Along the road to the Mount Kenya Safari Club, I saw coffee plantations and an occasional village of painted huts, some with galvanized roofs. Children played outside among the colorful clothing hanging on the lines to dry. With my nose pressed against the van window I saw a woman who was carrying a huge bale of wood on her back. Bent over almost in half, she put one foot in front of the other as the road rose in front of her.

“What is that poor soul doing with all that wood?” I asked the tour guide.

“She is collecting wood to build a fire to cook the food for her family,” the guide replied rather matter-of-factly. “I wish she could have a bike to carry all that wood,” I said to no one in particular. “These people can’t even afford a wheelbarrow!” the guide replied.

I was shocked and saddened thinking of my own wasteful habits.

The hotel was luxurious. Mount Kenya was snow capped and majestic. We were greeted at the entrance with a cool fruit drink while the guide registered the group. I was escorted to my own cottage by a nice soft-spoken gentleman wearing a brown uniform. I wanted to tip him but did not understand the exchange rate. I pulled out a bill, which, when I saw the look on his face, I realized it was much too little. Later he knocked on the door around 4:00 pm with a cup of tea and biscuits. By this time, I had figured out the exchange rate and was able to give him a decent tip. “I will be back in a little while with wood to light the fire in the fireplace. Don’t miss the sun as it sets behind the mountain,” he offered.

This is really being spoiled, I thought. He came back and lit the fire. I settled in with my cup of tea. All alone with no one to share the moment, I watched the smoke and flames rise as the picture of the poor soul trudging up the road, bent under the bale of wood, filled my heart with sadness. Her image was all I could see in the flames. My tears could not change her life in this vast country, where life seemed so unfair.

When the sun went down, the night skies were very black. A buffet table displayed an array of salads and fruit to choose from. I took a seat at the table with our tour guide and another couple and enjoyed the meal, the wine, and the talk about what we had seen and what was to come. A guide with a flashlight helped me back to my cottage after dinner. Animal sounds played like music in the night air. Mount Kenya Safari club members and many famous people from around the world finance the rescue of injured wild animals that can no longer survive in the wild. The animals are adopted, living out their lives in this great reserve where well-trained, caring staff and volunteers make them comfortable.

Our next stop was The Ark in Aberdares National Park. The Ark had the feel of a tree house, overlooking a water hole and a salt lick, which were floodlit at night. The staff rang a bell in the rooms at night to let everyone know the animals were at the water. I got up and joined the other guests on the deck to watch a black rhino drinking from the pool. The next day a large stealthy leopard walked right by the window in the lounge where I sat having a drink. Amazing!

The roar of the male lion waking from his afternoon nap, the speed of the cheetah on the chase to take down an eland, the sounds of the exotic birds and the sight of other wildlife took me to a place where I hadn’t ventured before, emotionally or physically. My broken heart opened up to my new reality.

In the dark of night, on the edge of the Masai Mara with a chorus of wild animals calling out to one another, I sat outside my tent and cried like never before. I cried for the lost moments, the unshared thoughts, the love never voiced or put off for a better time, and the many things left unfinished. I had to go to deepest, darkest Africa to share my sadness with the animals.

Arrival

By Treva P

My husband David, my daughter Stephanie and I disembark from our first-class Pan Am flight shuffling into a stark gray building where we present our passports and then wait to be picked up by the driver of my husband’s new boss.  New boss, new job, new city and new experiences to come in this my first trip and move to Sao Paulo, Brazil, circa 1976.  The city and the sky are gray, not attractive.  It is August and this is their winter.  We are quickly whisked away to a downtown hotel in the middle of the city where we will stay until we find and rent a house. 

Our first obstacle to overcome is what to do with our dog.  We had snuck Liza, our small, adorable black Lhasa Apso dog, on board the plane in a black carry-on bag.  It was astonishing how well she did on that long trip traversing thousands of miles from Pasadena.   Once we settle in for the flight, she peeks out from the bag munching on treats and slurping up water.  But now our need is to figure out how we are going to keep her in our room when dogs aren’t allowed in the hotel.  This is going to be challenging, especially taking those necessary twice a day walks.  David is assigned that duty.

Stephanie is a real trooper behaving perfectly and adjusting to her new surroundings.  She turns one year old this first week we are in the hotel.  A cupcake and a celebration will be in order.

Upon recalling our arrival in Sao Paulo all those years ago, I cringe to think about how naïve we were.  Taking a dog on the airplane? Moving with a one year old?  At the time, living and working overseas seemed adventurous and seemed the right thing to do for David’s career.  It eventually was good for his career but that first year in Sao Paulo was a tough one in many many ways.   For a couple of months after we moved into a rented home outside the city, I was isolated because we didn’t have a car or a driver.  And, once we were given a car, we discovered that finding our way around was annoyingly difficult – we were always losing our way.  That first year there was an emergency room visit late into the night, a second pregnancy and an appointment with an obstetrician who didn’t understand the term ‘natural childbirth’, a large rat in the back yard, our maid was as lonely as I was since she had no one nearby with whom to talk, and then there was my less than adequate Portuguese language skills.  The difficulties continued.  David wasn’t given the position for which he was hired so he became very despondent and miserable with his job and his boss.  You can only guess what it is like to live with a man who is so torn, disappointed and discouraged.  For a year I tried to console and emotionally support him.  After those excruciating months, David was hired by a competitor bank for the very position for which we had moved in the first place.  It was then time to move to Rio de Janeiro.

On the Road to Vermont

By Nahide Craig

Mid August 1964: After a very long and bumpy flight from Istanbul here I am in the USA. I landed in New York and yet with another flight I am in Hartford Conn. My friend met me at the airport and we started to drive to Vermont to his parent’s summer home. The 4 lane highway had a heavy traffic even in this late night and incoming lights on the curvy highway looked like a four strand diamond necklace. Traffic was orderly and the roads were impressive. After an hour or so we were in the narrower country roads, so dark and also beautiful.

Even the darkness of the midnight one can discern on this two lane road the land forms, orderly fences signs for entering and exiting different counties and states. After three hours of drive, we were almost in middle of the nowhere, he suddenly stopped at the road side by an unknown structure to me. I asked him why are we stopping and what this thing is. He said “a Coca Cola machine! Aren’t we thirsty”? I started feeling like I was really in America.

Now, after almost a half a century later, I am driving with my husband from Hartford to Vermont to visit my friend who picked me up in Hartford. What I see now in this four lane highway is a traffic jam; what happened to the four strand diamond necklace? The road to Vermont is still bucolic, beautiful, and long. The coke machines on the road now have many more beverages also beef jerky and even ice – cream bars. I am sure I am in America!!

If Only

By Edna Coulson Hall

Even now, as a far removed elder of my rural Ohio home-based family, I enjoy a reputation that tinges on myth. I was the one who left, the one who sallied forth in the midst of a fierce blizzard to see what it was that lay south of the Ohio River and west of Cincinnati.

My journey began in January 1964: South to New Orleans where the original plan for a three-day stopover stretched to three weeks. Finally heavy rains and a flattened wallet convinced me to turn westward.

Texas was a half week crossing. Next came New Mexico. I hardly blinked. In Arizona I saw my first road runner, my first desert palm. I stopped at a roadside trading post just east of the California border.

Inside I was drawn to a table piled high with rugs I thought of as Navajo despite being told I was in Yuma Indian Territory, I checked my not-so-ready cash. I could sleep in a motel with abundant delayed maintenance and call a sleeve of soda crackers and jar of off brand peanut butter dinner or I could buy a rug. The store owner hovered.

“Pretty one you got there. All made local. No two alike. You won’t be sorry. Good price. Let me lay it out for you.”

“No,” I said. “I don’t have the money. Really. I’m pretty much broke.”

“Hell, Little Sister, you need a job? I can help you with that.”

Little Sister? Was that Arizonian for Miss? And a job? What was the man talking about? I looked around. I was the only customer in sight. Clearly the man, Big Brother(?) didn’t need help. I stepped backward toward the door. “Just a sec,” he said and disappeared behind a burlap hung doorway.

In my attempt to escape I knocked against a row of little papoose style dolls and was trying to set them straight again when the man reappeared waving a torn scrap of yellow tablet paper. “Lookee here,” he crowed. “I gotcha a job interview with Colonel Oakley himself at the First National downtown.”

I held a papoose in each hand and stared at him. Appointment? Oakley himself? Where? “Ah, where?” I said.

“Straight on down the road to Main. You can’t miss it.”

He took the dolls from me and set them on the counter and clapped his hands together. “Best get a quick move on,” he said. “I told Col. Bob you’d be there in ten minutes.”

I hardly remember the rest, but the following Monday I was officially made Secretary to Col. Robert Oakley, grandson to the famous Annie-Sure-Shot Oakley, Trust Officer of the First National Bank of Arizona, Yuma Branch. I worked there until September when I had saved enough to resume my travels. I eventually settled in San Francisco.

People still ask how I had the nerve to make that long, long trip all alone. My question went to my mother. “How could you let me go that awful blizzardy day? Didn’t you think about hiring a couple of people to kidnap me and haul me off to some obscure location where wayward teens were reprogrammed via Tough Love.”

Mom said, “Because I thought if I asked you to stay, you would say no to me and leave anyway, and that would break my heart.”