My first day back in the West didn’t turn out too well.
The day started out fine. I awoke in Entebbe about 4 a.m. anticipating my long flight to London, preceded by an unpredictable trip to the business office at the airport.
But it ended in loneliness, as if I didn’t exist.
Joseph, my Ugandan driver, arrived about 25 minutes before our agreed upon departure time of 6 a.m. He told me he had trouble sleeping…he was concerned about getting me to the airport on time.
Joseph impressed me. He would have gone to any length, short of giving up his life, for me to complete my business and check in successfully and on time this morning. Then again, he may very well have given it all for me.
The flight out of Africa was smooth, uncrowded, a piece of cake.
Once I got on the ground at Heathrow, the obstacles came fast and furious. I called my friend, Rob, with whom I’d be staying, at work. He was incredulous over the fact that I arrived. “We weren’t expecting you until Friday.”
Really? A half dozen or more email were sent back and forth. They weren’t ready for the American invasion so I told him I’d get lodging for the night.
Got my bags, but they were both bulky and heavy, and difficult to transport along with my two handhelds through the Heathrow labyrinth. Why would that surprise me?
Trying to walk London streets at rush hour with about 100 lbs. of luggage became an ordeal. My mission was more difficult as I had no reservation for a room. I hailed a taxi, who recommended a hotel near Paddington Station.
At 5 p.m. commuters are out in force, so travel was slow. The hotel was booked. A Hilton Hotel was suggested, a two-block walk…not a simple task with the anvil-like baggage I was pulling. It was hard work for this mzungu, just in from the jungles. I stopped frequently before I was told, again, “we’re booked.”
A second taxi ride dropped me in an area close to Rob’s house, a fact that should win me some points.
The small hotel had a double room…upstairs. I lugged my weighty western excess up the stairs then set out for a supper.
There was a classic British pub nearby. Football was on the tele. Beer was flowing, food served. I had a beer, sat down, reviewed the menu…and waited. A second beer (hey, a long day!). Watched the game. Forty minutes passed without a waitress stopping by. I left.
A pizza oven nearby was full of young urban professionals. It was busy and I sat near the kitchen and waited. Gave it fifteen minutes without a look. Time to go.
After receiving care and feeding from those who struggle to provide for themselves, my inability to get a room, as expected, or consummate a dinner deal confused me.
Hardship suddenly showed up alongside, a stunning contrast to the glorious months just past. How do people see me now? Do I appear different? Am I here before you or am I invisible?