Take me Home
I got to the airport in Benin, where I pulled my rolling suitcase through the dust, coating it more thoroughly than it already was, and making it extremely easy to pick out at baggage claim later. The woman at the ticket counter was nice, I was feeling giddy. And then I got to security where I had a fight with the security guard about whether or not it was against the rules for me to bring an empty water bottle in my carry-on. Him: “It is not allowed.” Me: “It is allowed.” Him: “It is not allowed and why would you want to bring an empty water bottle anyway? It is useless. I will throw it away.” Me: “You will not throw it away and you may not understand the pain of paying 3 euro for a water bottle at the Brussels airport, but it is not something I am interested in experiencing today. Please let me speak to your supervisor.” Him: “I guess it is allowed.” Success! (This process was repeated again at the inefficient second security screening before I got on the shuttle to board the airplane. I exited the country with my empty water bottle and paid zero euros for water in Brussles.)
On the plane, I felt that I was entitled to my own cultural norms. Don’t ask me why, but I always assume that once on an airplane, we will be following either European or American norms, especially when on an airline based in one of those places. Imagine my chagrin when I found that I was seated next to a Beninese man in a suit made exclusively of burgundy velvet. This suit signaled to me that my seat-mate would not be following my wished-for Western cultural norms. I was not wrong. This man greeted me kindly and then proceeded to elbow me in the ribs and try to move my feet over with his spindly leg. Although he feigned sleep, after about 20 minutes of this, I had had enough. “Excuse me, sir, there is a line between our seats, which you can see easily by following the trajectory of this armrest. Please do not cross this line. It is not appropriate.” IT WORKED! Well, for the most part. He jabbed me in an exploratory way a couple of times (Surely, she wasn’t serious? I’m obviously older and more important than her so I should get more seat space!) but each time I just looked slowly at him and then at the armrest and he would move back.
Then I got to Brussels. I found a couch, I covered my head with my scarf, and I slept for four blissful hours. Ah, I thought, now I am home free. I boarded my new plane, the one carrying me into the arms of America. Imagine the sinking feeling I experienced when I saw that my row consisted of one obese American man and one huge African man, whose combined bulk was taking up at least half of my seat. GAAAA I thought.
The man sitting next to me greeted me and said that he was a pastor coming from the DRC, where was I coming from? Benin, I said. “AHA! And what church do you go to there?” he asked with an enthusiasm that was really excessive considering how much travel we had both already been through and how much lay ahead of us. “I do not go to a church there.” I said. “Oh! You need a church!” “Well, I haven’t found one that I like and I’m doing ok without one.” “Oh! But you need a church!” “Well, you are a pastor. Thinking people need a church is an occupational hazard for you.” “What is an occupational hazard?” “Well, it means that because of the work you do, you are predisposed to think that people need churches.” “Being a pastor has nothing to do with it!” “Ok.” “Well, you do not go to church, but tell me, DO YOU BELIEVE IN JESUS CHRIST AS YOUR LORD AND SAVIOR?”
At this point, I had to make a decision. I was going to have to sit next to this man, literally pressed up against him, for the next eight hours. What would be the best way to react, where he would stop talking to me? I thought for a moment, and settled. “NO.” I said, icily, staring him down. After holding the stare for a couple of seconds, I broke eye contact and wouldn’t look back at him. I was nervous. Would it work?
“You’re a pastor? I’m a pastor too!” Said the American sitting on the other side of the pastor.
Well, there is a God. Because neither of them interrupted my alternate dozing/watching really terrible romantic comedies for the next eight hours.