Lift-Off for Africa

Written about 29,000 feet above the Bitterroot Range of Montana moving east at about 651 miles/hour…

OK, so far so good. Andre dropped me off at San Francisco airport almost three hours before my flight’s scheduled departure. What a great friend! He held my hand through the final pre-departure errands: the Malarone anti-malarial from Costco I had to purchase in three batches so the insurance company would cover at least two of them and the giant stack of library books on human evolution and ancient Egypt I had to return to the library before the trip.

I’m flying through London to Addis Ababa. I chose British Airways because their special post-strike fares were less than half those of the other airlines. In the San Francisco airport international terminal, British Airways check-in had a bizarre system of lines where multiple agents served multiple queues with chaotic results and irritated passengers, including me. I managed to get served by hanging out behind the other people the agents were currently serving. I had to sit on the ground to fire up the laptop and check for the hotel contact info in Addis Ababa to put it on the luggage tags. This after I had already checked in online the day before and tried to choose another seat. The system wouldn’t let me change my seat and decided I had checked in even though I hadn’t confirmed my intent to do so. A call to BA customer service didn’t help because apparently once you are checked in the reservation moves to an airport system over which the customer service people have no further control.

The security screening was relatively painless, much easier than the long lines in Portland on the way back from last weekend’s gathering. I purchased a bottle of apple juice at a restaurant past security for a whopping $3.52, basically $4 with a tip. I ate the roll and tofu spread I had purchased at Rainbow Grocery the day before along with the precious apple juice.

The gigantic windows of that part of the terminal overlooked a Virgin Airways plane whose service crew was unloading cargo from the cargo hold of the plane. They have this amazing system of rollers propelled by a guy sitting at a control station while a steady stream of specialty vehicles with rollers onto which the cargo blocks slide when propelled off the portable elevator snugly fit against the cargo hold. The cargo was rectangular and wrapped in plastic on pallets apparently specially designed for air transport.

The most interesting moment so far was a conversation with a young British guy while waiting to board the flight. He was at the tail end of a trip through Australia, Fiji, and the U.S. He talked about changing careers from accounting to perhaps the restaurant business. He asked about my trip to Africa and the book. He had traveled to Kenya and Tanzania last year as a volunteer. He also saw some of the animal wildlife, including his favorite sighting – a cheetah mother with her five cubs. I recounted my travel story of the Esteros da Ibarra in Argentina with the capibaras and the baby alligators. He said he had also traveled to Bangkok. I mentioned I am gay and loved Thailand for the openness and acceptance I found there. I guessed he liked women and he confirmed my impression. Then, as we were boarding the flight, he invited me to come to his row and I chat if I wanted during the flight.

We had a picture-perfect takeoff from San Francisco, with tremendous views of the city from over the ocean. Just a wisp of the traditional fog enshrined the Golden Gate Bridge. And perhaps I spotted my home on Bernal Heights – hard to tell from this height.

Now that we are up in the air, I’m trying not to indulge all my disaster planning tendencies. You know, like what would happen if one of the engines of the plane went out? Or if the plane cracked and the air pressure dropped and it got freezing cold very fast – according to the video unit it’s -58 degrees Centigrade up here! At times like that, and when the turbulence gets nasty, I try some deep breathing, or perhaps white-knuckled armrest grabbing. 😉 With takeoff and landing, I sing a faerie song called “Wearing Our Long Green Feathers As We Fly.?

I’m reading the Bradt guidebook for Ethiopia and I suppose I should be trying to listen to that Amharic CD I brought along. Not to mention writing the novel, the main purpose of the trip.

OK, so I tried listening to the Colloquial Amharic CD created by David Appleyard, Without the accompanying book, I’m having trouble learning using the CD. In fact, I might have problems learning even with the book. He doesn’t seem to follow some obvious methods for learning the language more easily. The Pimsleur series of language learning materials are much better about introducing the basic sounds and phrases of spoken language, although their weakness is the written language, and I don’t know if they even have a CD for Amharic.

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