When Linda dreamt of travelling the world, she figured it would be only for pleasure; to relax, learn about different cultures, meet several people, make friends out of strangers, experiment with various cuisines, write and then live to tell the tale. As with most dreams, the package was considerably different when it arrived.
Her chance at a London experience showed up in form of a scholarship that she never imagined she would get but that is a story for another day.
Linda’s departure was mostly heartwarming with a hint of pain that was safely tucked away for future reference. She spent time with her loved ones, most of whom passed on a word of advice or a gift and lots of laughter. Others shared something even more precious, time. The distractions were quite welcome as she did not have too much time to think about the changes that were yet to come.
At the airport, she shocked herself when her friends left and no tears welled up in her eyes. Progress, she thought.
She took a corner sit and drank a cup of tasteless overpriced coffee. It wasn’t long before her stomach reacted and begged to be released from that misery. It could have been the anxiety, the terrible coffee or both. She did not care. She needed to be physically prepared for the 15 hours ahead. “Will there be enough leg room, will I manage to catch some sleep, shall my neighbour snore?” were some of the questions running through her head.
When she spotted Maureen*, whom she had not seen in years, she smiled to herself. If Ian had been there, he would have started a long speech about how she knows someone in every part of the world. She walked over to Maureen and tapped her shoulder. Maureen turned around and her face could not hide the surprise. They caught up for a while before an announcement was made. Boarding would begin shortly. They exchanged contacts and Linda caught up with the other two Ugandans with whom she was traveling to London.
Helen* was wearing a ‘kitenge‘ dress and open shoes, much to Linda’s surprise. Was this an attempt to bask in the glory of African heritage in the meantime or did she not have any warm clothing? Linda decided to pose the question as she could not imagine how Helen hoped to deal with the winter upon arrival in the UK. Her fears were confirmed when Helen explained that she planned to shop in Doha during the two hour layover. Linda started to spell out that the prices would probably be outrageous but quickly realised that her counterpart was quite unruffled. She then offered what little garments she had in her hand luggage and went on to scroll through the available entertainment.
The intern was an easy choice as she needed something with a simple story line and a chance for laughs. Alas, the laughs came with tears too. It was difficult to tell if the emotions were entirely brought on by the movie or if it was simply the spur that the heart needed to face its imminent situation.
The hours flew by, laced with drama from the little toddlers sitting next to her,some depressing music from Adele and failed attempts at sleep. The minutes before landing at Doha were a complete delight, everything sparkled like a collection of jewels. All she could think of was the vastness of God’s empire and its boundless beauty.
The two hour layover confirmed the fears about airport prices. Helen found a pair of jeans at $200. She settled for a pack of socks at $21. Linda caught herself a little too late when she started to ask Helen why she had not shopped in Downtown Kampala where things would have been much cheaper. There was really no use crying over spilled milk.
The group grew larger when the Ugandans got to meet the group from Kenya (which is the biggest) and the lone Tanzanian. They were reunited, a year after their first encounter. Odd hugs and handshakes were exchanged as everyone tried to remember each others names and grab a seat pending the connecting flight to Heathrow.
Linda later found a seat further away, prior to boarding. She met Isaac,* a Nigerian who had traveled back home for the holidays and was returning to work in London. He tried to convince her that Uganda had pyramids until they agreed that he must have meant Sudan. He was quick to offer tour guide services when he learnt it was Linda’s first time in London. Mmmhh.
The remaining journey was longer, ‘bumpy’ and did not have enough distractions. Attempts to sleep as late as 3a.m were futile but Linda did not stop trying and frantically looking at the clock. Alas, there was no winning.
At 6.40 a.m, after what seemed like decades, the plane finally landed at Heathrow. This marked the final step, in the beginning of this new journey for 15 East Africans, many of whom are parents, continuing with their Masters’ degree, several miles from home.
In the following weeks, we shall stalk Linda and all her ‘maalo’ as she meets people,discovers places and deals with her very first winter.