Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Bread, Ice Cream and Gin

(Read, Trip Interruptus, N'doto Seized first)

Our time in California was both tough and nurturing. My niece Teresa let us stay in her backyard cottage amongst apple trees and pear trees and hummingbirds. Every morning we walked a few feet through her garden to a cradle of comfort food, her kitchen. During our stay she baked apple pie and 10 (TEN) loaves of homemade bread. Not bread machine bread. Real, fed from starter for several days, hand kneaded every 30 minutes for 4 hours, delicious, made with love, topped with Irish Butter, good for coping, Italian bread. She brought home chutney made by her colleague at Yahoo! “The French lady” and was inspired to create her own chutneys. We sat around Teresa’s coffee table tasting 3 variations with Brie or Gorgonzola or triple cream Cowgirl Creamery Red Hawk. Some twilights we had a Gin and Tonic and every night we ate ice cream -- pumpkin, chocolate or mint flavored.
We also received incredible support and much appreciated distraction from my family. They understood why we were home and made no demands on us. My brother Sean made everything easier when he lent us his truck for the duration of our stay. My comedienne niece Clare drove all the way up from LA just to see us. (Not really, but I like to think that she would even if she didn’t have a gig in San Jose. I love her to pieces.) I had BLT’s with my brother Joe who lent an ear and made me laugh. My nephew Kevin and his bride Stacie offered love, food and wine, and I was able to visit with my sister-in-law Ann and see that in 7 months my nephew Colin has become even more handsome and kind-hearted. We had “Pizzeria Night” at Teresa’s with my gorgeous and fun-loving niece Briget and her sweet Otis with his charming children all. Dear neighbors opened their hearts and homes to us and listened to stories of Africa and of loss until it was time for us to go. It felt very strange to be home, yet not really back.

Most every day Scott made the drive from San Jose to Fremont to sit by his mother’s bedside asking her if there was anything she needed, or he’d read to her – letters she had written while living in Mexico for 10 years, or passages from a favorite book ­­­until one of his incredibly tireless and doting siblings replaced him. Then, as is no doubt true for every mother the world over, Jane, all her children about her, sort of perked up. She began to eat a little and smiled when told she was loved. As the days and weeks went on Jane’s condition became so unchanged that one-day, after almost 4 weeks of vigil, John returned home to Texas and Scott came home and booked return flights to Africa. “Jane is a very strong woman,” said the nurse. Lindy and Brian, who live near Jane, would continue attending to their mom as they have been for the last year.

We made our way back to Lusaka on four flights. We missed our last connection, the one that was supposed to get us to the Zambian Customs office at noon. Instead we arrived at the Lusaka airport 3 hours late, sure that everyone would have left work, or “knocked off” as they say here, by the time we would get to Customs. It was Friday afternoon and rush hour had begun. Scott was having kittens. We finally found a taxi driver and as much as we wanted to get to the office as fast as possible, the last thing you want to tell your driver in Africa is, “make haste!” so we just said, “We must get to the Customs Office before it closes.” Scott sat beside Abel staring at the road, with each slow kilometer becoming more anxious. I sat in the back looking out the window and commented how beautifully green Zambia had become since we left. “Yes, the rains have begun,” said Abel.  “Don’t worry,” he added. “Office workers wouldn’t knock off until 5PM, even on a Friday.” and we drove into the Customs Office parking lot with only minutes to spare. We looked anxiously into the lot behind, “the warehouse” where all the seized vehicles were parked. I swear, the sun came out from behind the clouds. The Range Rover was still there watching over N’doto! I cannot describe the relief we felt. Abel parked under a tree and helped me carry bags to our Landy while Scott, stamped copy of our letter of understanding tightly clasped in his hand, went inside. I peeked in the windows and saw that everything was exactly as we had left it. Even the GPS charger still lay on the front seat. I had a set of keys so I opened the rear door and explored. The stuff in the secret place was there. Even the stuff in the super secret place was there. I took out one of our camp chairs and sat in the shade of a seized semi truck and waited. Twenty minutes later Scott still had not appeared. I walked around the lot, exploring how we would drive out. In front of N’doto was a moat. No kidding. A moat. And behind N’doto was a Toyota Corolla parked almost directly across her stern. I looked for something to span the moat, something strong enough to drive a Landy across. There were some huge pieces of concrete lying about but there was no way I could have lifted them. So I found the Windex and started cleaning the windows. I had just moved on to buffing the headlights when Scott came across the lawn with a stack of stamp-laden paperwork and the keys. Success!
“Hooray!” I said. “You were gone so long I was starting to get worried.”
“I had to go to several offices. Each time I was directed to another office they’d say, ‘but they might have knocked off by now’. Fortunately everyone was still there. And they all remembered us. They said,  ‘Oh yes. The medical emergency Landy.”
“There’s one little problem,” and I pointed to the Corolla blocking our escape.
“Arrgh!” Scott clutched his head in both hands. As I had done, he briefly looked for something to span the moat. “I’ll ask them to move the Toyota,” he said hesitantly. Going back in felt risky. We had the keys. We had the stamps. We were in the clear! If Scott went back inside, someone might think of a reason the Landy had to remain seized or say, “Come back Monday.”

Scott soon reappeared followed by Alfred, a customs official who had come to examine the problem. “The man with the keys has knocked off,” said Scott.
Another man came out to see the trapped Landy. The three men studied the gap between the Corolla and the back end of the dark blue semi truck in silence as if working a puzzle. “It is not possible to move this blue truck. Keys do not exist for this truck,” Alfred said. He moved to the Corolla and spread his arms to measure the gap. He stood back and pondered.
 After a time Scott said, “You know, if we had enough guys, we might be able to ‘bounce’ the Corolla over a few feet. We used to do that all the time at my fraternity where I lived at University,” he added. 
“If you do that, I’ll video it.” I said and for some reason this made solving the dilemma more interesting to Alfred.
There followed a lot of discussion, and pointing, and measuring, and arm waving, and casual weight testing of the Toyota.
Then Scott, beaming with the satisfaction of a man who has come up with a brilliant idea, began wind-milling his arms like a preacher inciting fervor from his flock, said again with more gusto, “If we can get MORE GUYS, I think we can bounce this car over!” Alfred left to get more men.

Soon there were 5 more men (pedestrians on their way to the long distance bus station next door) gathered around the Corolla. All were keen. The first attempt fell flat due to the fact that the Corolla had one. A flat. “Okay, so we must pick (peek) it up and move it.” Alfred was in charge now. “One, two, THREE!” (thrrree) and they all heaved at once. “Again!” commanded Alfred. The female security guard left her post and came to help. “Again! Once more!” Then the tape measure came out and all could see that there was just enough space now for the Landy to back out. All it took was 6 heaves.

I got behind the wheel while the men, hands spinning chest level as if they were at the helm, directed, “Madam, now turn (tun) your wheel all the way. Turn it. Turn it. Now, straight, straight. Strrraight!”
“Zicomo! Thank you!” I exclaimed when I was finally through the narrows nearly shy one side mirror. Scott wanted to show his gratitude. “Thank you so much! I’d like to buy you all a beer, or a Coke.” But when he held out a large bill, the only denomination we had, no one rushed to take it. It amounted to around $3 for each man. Were they hesitant because they would have trouble breaking the bill and dividing it fairly? Did they think they would be in trouble with Alfred for accepting the money?  Alfred took a few steps back and threw his hands in the air; he didn’t want part of anything that looked like a bribe. Finally one man reached out with a smile and accepted the cash. They moved away as one body, strangers joined together by a Toyota Corolla and twenty dollars.

Around midnight on November 17, two weeks after we arrived back in Zambia, Jane, hopefully comforted and gratified that all her children had come to say goodbye, passed peacefully away.

It’s strange to be back, but not really home. 

Ndole Bay Lodge, Lake Tanganyika, Zambia

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