“Good mornin’!” My ears perked up at my first sound of southern hospitality as the pilot greeted passengers with his Texas drawl – a little different than my wake up call of roosters and “morning – oh’s!” from the kids as they stopped for a morning hugs. But still, music to my ears as I boarded my final connecting flight into DFW airport.
I groggily shuffled down the aisle to seat 31 D, my bulky carryon knocking most elbows in its path. An empty seat 31 C was like finding water after a journey through the desert. On my previous 10-hour flight from Ghana, West Africa to US, I had a spotty five hours of sleep and a hard-hearted ‘merican man’s insults to deal with…
Soaking in the last drops of Liberia’s thick air, my heart grappled between angst and gladness as the jet ascended into a rainy sunset, palm trees rapidly shrinking below. I was officially homeward bound. Before I knew it, we landed in Accra, Ghana, where the second-half of passengers boarded Delta 135. I sat gazing out the window of seat 28 A, pleading for my vivid mental images of the LMI kids to come to life. Frustrated, I practiced holding on to the now figments of my imagination instead. My exercises were rudely interrupted when a pot-bellied man stumbled to row 28 – also knocking some fortunately forgiving people’s elbows with his carryon – and plopped into the empty seat next to me.
“And what brings you to Africa, miss?” He slurred.
“I was doing some work at an orphanage and boarding school facility in Lib–”
“Don’t do that.” He interrupted. I was speechless. “Why you wanna help these people?” He asked daringly, motioning to the majority of African passengers. His face tightened as he proclaimed he “doesn’t like blacks.”
Talk about a rude awakening – from forming bonds with Liberians, to hearing this man, from my home state, take pride in his own prejudice. The fire in my chest rose. I changed the subject.
“Is this your first time to Africa? What have you been doing here?” I asked.
He laughed. “No I been comin here a lot. Oil,” he said and then explained, with contempt, his job of training and managing “stupid” African oilrig workers.
My retort straddled the line between utter disgust and sympathy. Somewhere in his life, this man has missed a vital piece of information, or maybe, he has chosen, and for perhaps a valid reason, to ignore this data – that he is loved. Whether this dissonance exists between himself and God, his own heart, or others, I will never know. But listening to him mull over and detest the idea of helping a population of people he called “jungle monkeys,” I got the hunch that his habit of hatred must have started somewhere.
“Yea,” he said, “I been comin’ overseas 13 years.” I don’t like it much but, ya know, I did it, I had to raise my children,” he said as if trying to convince himself. “I raised my children.” He repeated this and other desultory comments about his pet peeves and previous divorce when he wasn’t huffing and puffing about how I was trying to “save the world.” He emanated of alcohol and condescension, and it was about all I could stomach.
Assertively, and with all the patience I could muster, I asked him to please stop talking before offending me any further. Then, of course, I took solace in my iPod and stared out the window holding back a floodgate of tears.
“Seriously?” I thought to myself. “This is the closure I get before my re-entry into America?” Welcome home.
What makes the world go round?
Lips quivering, I wiped tears dangling from my chin. I cried. Right there on the plane, I cried. I cried for the cycle of hatred – the dark dominion of one hateful person toward another, the pinnacle of power a hateful nation reaches and later uses to infect other nations and then, the generations of hate that transpire. Hate breeds hate. Prejudice breeds prejudice. The cycle is very sad and very real – in a country picking up remnants from civil wars, or in a drunk man’s insensitivity toward a young woman’s innocent convictions.
I took a deep breath and pictured the loving community I had said goodbye to just seven hours before. I thought of Serliae, a 15-year-old creative writer and beneficiary at Liberia Mission Inc. She said she keeps writing because countless mentors and staff at LMI tell her to “never stop writing.”
I thought of Willimena, the genteel pre-teen who said she feels “loved when someone encourages” her.
I thought of Zota, the 17-year-old graduate, who said he is motivated by obedience, forgiveness and his passion for football (soccer).”
For them, the messages of love are not buried beneath the rubble of their city’s ruins because they have been swept up by a different cycle – a cycle that has been spiraling from within the small county of Careysburg, Liberia; a cycle that began ten years ago when one man answered God’s call, moved to Monrovia, received 21war-stricken, abandoned children, bought land and planted the seeds of change.
I thought of Darius, the 13-year-old aspiring doctor who exercised each day running countless laps around the uneven football (soccer) field in his sandals. And I thought I was determined. His father who lives on little more than $1 per day like most Liberian citizens, graduated from college the day before I left Liberia Mission. Darius was able to attend the graduation.
“What about America?” My companion grumbled as if he could sense me ruminating. “I see you young people all the time on these planes going to Africa to save the world. But what about your own country?”
I pretended to be asleep and opened my eyes later to find him passed out with an empty mini Jack Daniel’s bottle on the plastic tray table above his lap. The silence between us remained for the rest of our flight over the Atlantic.
Chilling air conditioning, a Starbucks Grande Soy Latte and a Time magazine about the death of Osama Bin Laden are witnesses to my instant immersion back into the US via Hartsfield-Jackson airport – Atlanta, GA.
On my last connecting flight to Dallas-Fortworth, TX, I mulled over the CSI and Navy tactics and possible Al-Qaeda repercussions to come, the tornadoes that devastated my friends in Alabama, the recent flooding of the Mississippi…and the pestering remarks of the last person I spoke to while still on African soil.
“What about America?”
And suddenly, I was sad that I would never be able to tell him thank you.