?Natural Phenomenon?

BOOK: Still wading through We Are Water. It is one of those things where quitting does not seem to be an option. I am not sure what I am waiting for?

SONG: There is a temptation to go for Charlie Rich singing Feel Like Goin' Home, but that declares failure and I did not fail, so I go with The Rolling Stones and Going Home.

Thought for the Day: There is no city in which I will feel “home” – I am a village girl.

I am pretty sure that no one reading this has not seen at least a trailer of footage about an ocean wave colliding with a slow-moving lava flow. It is historic footage from National Geographic! So it is, with that image that I invite you to Pipe Creek and the re-convening of Peter and me and our life in Pipe Creek after my most recent adventure in Sierra Leone. If you have not seen that hot lava-breaking-wave footage, just think of how you might test hot oil in the wok with a droplet of water sprinkled into it…just to see if it is going to react.

I arrived home Wed around noon and it is Sunday and I am wondering how high on the priority list I need to put a haircut. I am a low risk person this time in the Ebola “contagion/threat level.” I do not have to stay out of the way of all human beings. I need to keep those who are fearful of what they do not understand regarding being in my presence and thinking the next step after me breathing on them will be a tortured and painful death with diarrhea. I also need to try and blend back into my own surroundings and the surreal feeling that comes over me after returning from a short or long trip seems to make that a pretty complicated effort. The travel was long, the involvement in the work was tedious rather than traumatic, but it takes a while for the blending process to really work, regardless of the situation. Fortunately the 30-plus years Peter and I have spent together have made things bit less threatenning. We will hit our stride. My manic qualities will converge with his cautious and contemplative approach. We have taken the firrst and most meaningful steps in our walk on the Guadalupe River this afternoon and a little nap, topped by fresh pineapple and a double shot of rum, we are both reminded that the process is the process and no one will be maimed or injured in the process.

The final leg of the trip home was fortunately done in stages. Sierra Leone to Geneva with debrief time and dinner with friends. The entry into the US was not quite so amenable. Geneva to Germany to Chicago was a long time. It was a late arrival into O'Hare and the connection time was not optimal for the general population…make yourself a returnee from West Africa/Ebola, specifically Sierra Leone, and you have a whole new picture. Europe thought I was not a threat. Would Chicago be as forgiving? Not so much.

The twinkle in the border guard's eye turned dark when he asked me about where I was coming from. Before I could finish my answer he saw the Sierra Leone Visa. Somehow the impact of seeing it in writing and hearing it spoken from the mouth of the silver-tongued she-devil in front of him, changed it all. I was – in the flash of a nano-moment – handed a blue mask and told to step to the side…”No, over there ma'm…” A cock of his head and a twitch of his mouth brought the next guy over and I was instructed to walk behind the new guy and please move quickly. I was taken into a 15' square foot, curtained space and instructed to “sit down.” New border patrol person goes into the back room and comes out with his own mask and tells me that he will have to make a call. “Do you have a connecting flight?” “Yes sir, in 30 minutes.” “OK, you will not be on that flight.”

Now he begins to shuffle through the papers that direct him to the red-alert arrival of death and destruction in the form of a white-haired woman who by all accounts should be at home reading a nice story to her grandchild. He advises his co workers, and the ensuing discussion has a lot to do with who has the seniority to get out of this situation and go home. It is change of shift. There is whining in the ranks. Eventually the loser emerges and has to sit with me and ask me questions and figure out what to do with my luggage and how to get me out of his space. His wife has dinner waiting…late as it is. He tells me that while he does not have to be back to work until noon tomorrow, he really hates to eat so late. It is hard on his digestion. He does, however, have to wait until the guy from the CDC who left an hour ago, has to be called back in to take my “official” temperature and decide what level of treat I pose at the body temperature level. I tell him that the CDC has certified me as Low Risk. That however is not an internationally posted factoid and my word is not a player.

I am wearing a cute little Target dress and tights and have a sweater with me, but it is cold in Chicago and drafty in the luggage collection area. The Border Boy does get my luggage out of his space and does, kindly, make a reservation for me on the earliest direct flight he can find into San Antonio. If the CDC guy finds I have a temperature, he will at least be able to leave me with him. His responsibiities are limited and I can see that he is grateful. There was amoment when he had to leave me with his more volatile work-buddy who dissolved quickly from light banter into a real rant on how “those people” who want to do this kind of thing, should be set out on a boat somewhere for 21 days and not make it such a problem for the rest of the country. I am not sure, while he is proceding through his rant, if he has suddenly forgotten who he is actually talking to – perhaps he just doesn't care nd really wants me to know he thinks my activity is stupid and more than worthless. I am not feeling warm and fuzzy. Fortunately, the other guy comes back in and tells rant guy that he can go on home. Rant guy leves, and I am ever so much better. It is the samll blessings.

Kinder-border-guy does tell me that regardless of the CDC outcome, I will have to stay in the airport overnight. He expects that I do not have a temperature. He apologizes. I ask if it means I will just need to sleep on a chair and he nods. I wish I had a few more clothes. CDC guy comes in and in less than a minute, tells me that I do not have a temperture and we can all go home. Easy for him to say.

I go up to the ticketing level and see the lighted sign for the Hilton not far away. For my month's salary I might be able to get a room. I approach the ladies waiting for the last arrivals and ask about the Hilton. “Oh, honey! There are no rooms in any of the hotels all the way into the city.” Well, my salary is safe. She follows quickly with “Go on in thru the TSA checkpoint and on the left there are cots with pillows and blankets.” Never have so few words meant so much. I go in and there they are, all the other stranded travellers, gathering and gazing at the way they will be spending the night – not with the loved ones they were expecting to see who had soft clean sheets waiting on guestbeds in so many places. For me, it was something to cry about with big tears of gratitude. I did not do so. Instead I honed in on a conversation between a sad lady and a night service airport person. There were places open for 24 hours in the airport. A Mc Donalds, a Dunkin Donuts and a Hudson News. My fleet-of-foot award was renewed. I asked for directions to the Mc Donalds and within half an hour I was seated on my cot, sucking the special sauce off of a quarter-pounder and eating fries out of the other side of my mouth.

I had charged my electornics on the plane, and I put my iphone under my pillow next to my thyroid medicine and sleep came instantly on that skinny little airplane pillow. I set the clock for 6am – the ticket was for 7:40am and my gate was about 50 yards from the cot station. No alarm was needed however. At 4am the clean up team comes thru and starts waking us all up so they can get the cots out of the way before the early fliers start coming in. We all start moving around, and the lines begin to form at the rest rooms. My dress is wrinkle free. I have no eyebrows and have long-since decided that they can be let go…anyone who notices and has the courage to mention their absence will be in serious trouble, but I will deal with that in its own time.

Dunkin donuts is on the way to my boarding gate. A hot Dunkin Donut is a rush for my sugar-deprived system. I can also buy some “treats” for the plane at the Hudson News. I am in the land of dollars and have some. I do not have any credit cards. That is probably a very good thing, given the nature of my compullsive response to stress…buy shit and it will all go away!

And 6 hours later I am on the tarmac in San Antonio. Peter picks me up and we begin the journey home.

This is being written now a good week after the start of this writing. I gave up completely on the novel as I finally realized that I still had 50% of the book to go and it would only go downhill. The topic was pedophilia and the imapct on a couple of generations of family members. It was not something I could put into my psyche. I had hoped the subjects and characters would open up more, but they were only becoming more and more fragile. Enough. Spy thriller now in progress. CIA dysfunction is more readily understandable for me. I have made it through the weeks without hurting Peter too much. My moods have been a bit jagged, but he has been good at stepping away from the fire. Interestingly, with only 5 days left of isolation, the low risk categorization has made life much more do-able. I have gone out to lunch and supper, shopped for groceries – all the while avoiding crowds when I went on these adventures – and soon, I will not have to phone in my temperatures twice a day. I still dream about incomplete issues from the SL world…what I did not get to do is a recurring dream, but I wake up and tell myself that I do not have to actually do this or that thing as the time for all of it has passed. Sierra Leone (MSF's work in Ebola there) will officially close next week. The Survivor clinic will have completed its work and I have not given a time frame for any further missions for at least a year in my debriefing processes. Formally closing the door does not have words yet. There are very strong feelings and over time, words will come to address the next steps for anything of this sort.

Age has offered many complaints. I will listen to them. I will figure out my part in the next steps in my life. It is all a growth process. In the meantime, Peter and I are looking at the possibility of getting a hard-body trailer for some Fall travel in the US. The projects for the house are all on the list. The trip east comes up in July. And the sound of the creek still comes up to the porch – the Spring rains have been a huge relief to TX. Peter's last show is this coming weekend, and it all moves along.

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Surreality

BOOK: We Are Water by Wally Lamb (usually a favorite author, but it may be mindset and all that is going on here, but it I am not swept away by the story as with his others)

SONG: Give Me One More Night, Phil Collins/?Genesis. (As with the song, it just keeps going on and on and sort of gets stuck in your head…or reality as the case may be)

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: It's not over til it's over

It is sort of confounding to go back and sort through the past several days. But I will do it anyway.

Last weekend, I missed the beach trip on Sunday (our day off) since I was at morning meetings. I would not have gone in the water, having been out in the field at the fishing wharfs for quarantine surveillance. I know about tidal waters and having seen Moa Wharf in the light of day is best described when you ponder how difficult life REALLY can be and how human beings can make that work. The sense of delight in a possible “beach day” never made me all that excited anyway. When I got home a few of the team were still here. The Human Resources person, Bernadette, is the one in charge of all of us…the housing, movements in and out, etc. Being nice to her is on the “must do” list. The other one is the Finance person. But Bernadette buys your ticket home.

There are not a whole lot of ticket choices in and out of West Africa since Ebola blew in. The really good one is booked so far ahead that you have to really want to stay long to get onto it. For the rest of us it is Royal Air Moroc. I can't even think of a comparable US airline. Seedy is sort of the key word that comes to mind. We have other descriptions too, but they are just so coarse! And the airport in Casa Blanca sounded so exotic until the first landing there. Oh my. And the layovers are long. Really, really long. About 7 hours coming into Africa and a mere 4 on the way out. Ibuprofen is required. Many go to the duty free shop and buy some overpriced alcohol, but there is something that makes that a poor solution even beyond the alcohol thing…it is the idea of getting onto one of the planes without having your full faculties to focus on the well being of things in the plane. I just like to be able to be clearly focus on things that should be feared in my surroundings.

Ok so back to the weekend. I was originally scheduled for departure May 10. Based on the downgrading of activity, I could be moved up and happily said I could go with that. Bernadette called me in my room and said I could make a couple of choices…May 1 or May 6…oh yeah…go for the 1st!!!!! So she says that will be a go and I will return with our temporary field coordinator who is one of the really delightful people in this mission. Very cool. I am happy. I am gloating a bit as the guy who came in with me has become like my little brother and everyday we share some jibes and I always give him half of my sandwich. Thinking of him makes me smile…and likewise he seems to twitch at the corners of his mouth when I come rushing into the administration dept for some critical need. There aren't many critical needs of any kind, but every once in a while we like to feel like it is so. He was going to still have to leave the 6th, but somehow they told him he would get a flight out on Brussels Airlines…Cadillac vs our broke-down Datsun of a Morrocan plane. We were even at least. Sort of.

We leave for our flights at about 11pm. There is a boat crossing to get to the Sierra Leone Airport and the. A long wait for each of those transport points. The flight doesn't actually take off til 5am, but timing is not too well set up. April 30 I was all set up. Got all my shit in piles for return to each proper new coordinator, etc. Spent much time with the team as we had an activity that day and it was is first stage. Usually the ofc gets locked when we leave the floor, but in all the relaxed state we had gotten into, I just left it open. Unfortunately I also left my small pack in there and in clear view from the door. When I was getting ready to leave, I realized that I did not have my little green travel purse in it. I dismissed it because I had taken it out the night before to change out the money etc. It would be on the bed. Or not.

With the amazingly huge assistance of several expats, we went through everything and place I had been in that day. I could not “see” the moment when I had actually put the greenie into the bag, but eventually I did remember that it was there when I put my snack in before I got in the car in the morning. I was supposed to be in my vehicle to the boat with Nathalie by 11pm, but the hours between 5 and 11 slipped away as we went through the vehicles, my office and my already packed bags. My passport, credit cards, ATM card, drivers license and $500 in Swiss Francs and American dollars were gone.

Someone gave me a beer finally and we made plans for me to go to the US embassy in the morning to apply for a replacement passport. I figured about a week at least. There wasn't even an inclination to cry…it was just shitty, sucky, crappy and awful, but I did not have Ebola and everyone I love is still alive…so I went to sleep.

Passport came through that day. If you pay promptly, things happen and I had a staff person in finance at my side and he kept me upright as we moved from one event to the next. There was an issue of a work visa, but Bernadette had to take care of that separately because it is an MSF directed activity. And then she searched for plane tickets once we knew the papers were really in place. It went from next Monday to a few other options, each one canceling the other out as we emailed between the U.S., Geneva and Royal Air Moroc. Last night at 7pm I got the hard copy of my e-ticket and I leave all by myself tonight at 11pm. I am just a tad nervous about the going alone thing, especially out of here, but I will just keep showing up at the next point and hope with all my heart I don't end back up at the New Brookfields Hotel.

The projected reality has me arriving in Geneva Sunday afternoon at 4:30 pm. I will go to the hotel. A friend is meeting me there and we will go out to supper. Monday morning I will debrief in the ofc and at noon I will head for the airport and a flight home with stop in OHare for my customs check. Word has it that I won't have to be isolated insanely. No big crowds or movie theaters or bowling. I can go to the grocery store early in the morning and eat in a restaurant in the down times. I have not had any direct contact with the field in the past 21 days so they consider me low risk. Contact or not becomes the decision of anyone who might feel uncomfortable with my having been in West Africa at all.

Since my last day in the work arena was April 30, I am not permitted back at work. So I have been here in the hotel. I have fast-walked the perimeter of the enclosed parking lot about 10 times and have done Yoga and we got a movie connection, so I have seen a whole lot of moderately crappy to really gruesome movies.

There are only 7 hrs til I get in the truck to leave. I feel like I am in virtual reality since all the staff is working and won't be back until about 5:30. I will eat with them. They are going to a party at the MSF Spain house around 7:30 and I have opted not to take all my shit over to their house for a beer and then have to get into another vehicle to get to the boat on time. Way too much chance-taking in that little scenario.

I will be home soon, and how I get there is likely to continue as the adventure it has been. Somewhere along Nathalie's trip home, she got mis-routed to Brussels instead of Geneva. Needless to say I have checked my ticket several times and nowhere does it say Brussels…I have nothing against Brussels, but I am not looking for itinerary expansion. I want to be home in my house and have my husband hug me and tell me it is just wonderful to have me at home. Sounds pretty simple to me.

Survivor's Clinic Staff

Outreach health promoters and mental health support team

In spite of my best efforts to avoid goodbyes, they ladies pictured went out and bought me a dress. The staff was sorely disappointed at not being able to make a very grand Sierra Leone party..

I will be in touch again when I get home. I have gotten a few pictures of my staff and the people we invited to a party after we laid them off. Talk about surreal. This is the small core staff. The party haste profile of the ones who got to stay. We went from about 50 to 20 since I started. Next weeks it will reduce again. Maybe bynJune it will be done!