No Longer Locked Down in South Africa
Booking a flight when the international airport and land borders closed is difficult. We had to wait until the US Embassy announced repatriation flights. At the end of June, the US Embassy released a list of flights through mid-July that included a July 11 flight to Amsterdam on KLM. We initially tried to book the flight out of Johannesburg but was too late. By the time I could talk to Sheila about the flight, it had sold out. The other option was from Cape Town. Again, after prayer and discussion we decided to add another leg to our flight and go through Cape Town. All in all, the flights were okay. KLM treated us as if we had Ebola and refused to interact with passengers on the plane. They provided a box meal with no options and only water. Theycame back through the cabin two hours later and gave us a bag of snacks, water and a Coca Cola and told us that they would not be coming back through the cabin. The cabin was packed and just uncomfortable. I think at the end of the flight, Sheila and I both thought we had COVID19. The Delta flight from Amsterdam to Atlanta was worlds apart from the KLM flight. The flight attendants were warm and friendly and even commented on my Auburn attire. The flight was half full so Sheila and I got a row of four seats to ourselves. The flight attendants came back and forth through the aisle serving food, drinks, snacks and more snacks and drinks. After the KLM flight, it felt like we were in first class. By the time the flight ended, the flight attendants and I were on a first name basis and we were sad to leave the flight. We rented a car, Sheila spent thirty minutes wiping it down with disinfectant wipes and we were on our way to Alabama. A social distancing stop in Montgomery to visit my brother, sister-in-law, niece and new nephew and then we were off to Mount Vernon, AL. We entered quarantine in my uncle’s former house and prepared for our two week isolation.
It’s really hard to write blogs these days. The more responsibilities I take at work, the more challenging it becomes sitting down at my desk and sharing my life with the family members and friends that follow our lives around the African continent. And then add COVID19 to the mix and writing for my blog is like a second job. A lot has happened since my last report. Sheila and I are in the United States of America. With rising reports of COVID19 cases in South Africa and a desire to be next family as we wait out the pandemic, we decided to return to the US. It was a challenging decision to make as we had developed quite the routine in Johannesburg and had created a ‘firewall’ for ourselves against the virus. The idea of getting on a 24 hour flight (20 hours actually in the air) to the US was daunting. However, after much prayer, discussion and loneliness, we decided to pull the trigger and book a flight.
Flash forward to August 16, 2020. In addition to writing a blog in COVID19, it’s also difficult celebrating your birthday in the age of COVID19. Today I turned 41. My 40th year was a challenging one where I had to come to grips with middle age, sickness and death. In addition to COVID19 holding us hostage in Johannesburg before we were able to establish a routine or meet friends, we have experienced a number of deaths this year that have left us stunned and reflective. In February, we lost one of my favorite uncles. Uncle Dan, as he was known went off to fight in Vietnam in the 1960s and came back a changed man. He never really talked about his time in Vietnam but it was clear to his nieces and nephews that he came back with some lingering issues. Anytime we fired off fireworks he was quick to leave the scene. But he was nothing but nice to me and he will be sorely missed.
In July, just as Sheila and I were arriving in the US, my dad’s twin sister passed away. She and my dad looked nothing alike but they were both kind hearted and friendly. It’s difficult to lose your twin sibling so her death has left a void in our family. Two weeks later, we got the news that we had been hoping and praying would not come. The beautiful soul that was Sheila’s grandmother, her last grandparent, breathed her last breath and entered eternity. She was an amazing strong woman having survived civil unrest, life in a refugee camp and the Rwanda post genocide adversity. She loved Sheila and by proxy, loved me. She often talked to me as if I could understand what she was saying and didn’t hesitate to cram food down my throat. She couldn’t understand how I was so big but yet always politely turning down her food offers (she didn’t understand Americans). She will be greatly missed.
And then, just the following day of digesting grandma’s departure, we received the news that another relative of Sheila had passed away after a lengthy battle with cancer. Ambassador Kamali Karegesa passed away on August 11. He served in many positions in the Rwandan government including High Commissioner to South Africa and Uganda. While in Uganda, he and his wife would often provide Sheila with rest break from university. For our traditional wedding, he filled the role of my uncle (umusazamukuru) because, as an American, my dad would have no clue what he was doing. He was successfully able to negotiate a good bride price and send Sheila and me on our way into marital bliss.
It has been a difficult year celebrating my 40th year. But at the same time, I am thankful that each of the individuals entered my life and left an imprint on my journey. Someone once said, “Middle age is the way you would feel about summer if you knew there would never be another spring.” A positive situation of this pandemic is that after being away from Mount Vernon, Alabama, for nearly twenty years, I have been reacquainting myself with my hometown, spending time with my parents and showing Sheila around the town. A lot has changed but upon closer inspection, a lot has stayed the same. Happy Birthday to me!