We all made it just fine, and all in one piece.
(Ok, five different, human-sized and shaped pieces.)
Late on Friday night, packed into a van cab that still contained a dozen balloons from an earlier birthday party drop off, the five of us—Ashley, Hans, Mark, Megan, and I—made our way to Pearson airport. We stopped just before check-in to unpack and repack mosquito nets, strong sunscreen, and malaria meds to meet luggage weight restrictions and security fluid rules. No one lost a Swiss Army knife, or a canister of bug spray going through security (though I did receive the extra attention of a random search—ah, those friendly airport folks).
Twelve hours later (six for the time change, six for the flight) we were out roaming the bicycled streets of Amsterdam. Yes, we checked out a few coffee shops. No, Mom, I didn’t light up (though, that’s not to say the ambient smoke didn’t have an effect). Through no fault of our own, we found ourselves in the red light district. (My inkling is that every street originating from the train station we arrived at eventually funnels into it.) We took our time finding our way out. After lunch, we found a coffee shop that sold actual coffee, where we found an incomplete set of Jenga blocks and played a couple of intense rounds before making our way back to the airport to be early for our connection.
It was on Kenya Airways that we arrived in Nairobi. It was likely the point at which things became noticeably different: Hans pointing out Mt. Kenya, an all-African flight crew, African patterned upholstery, and a continuously updated on-screen map of our plane passing over the Mediterranean, then Tunisia, then the Sahara desert and even further on south. (Could it really be? Was that pixilated airplane really us?) We touched down (not so smoothly), taxied, and then sat in a humid, but not too hot, terminal waiting a little over an hour for our final connection.
After leaving Toronto late Friday night, we arrive mid-morning Sunday in Lusaka, Zambia: our final destination. The five of us ask a passing Kiwi to document our successful arrival on the tarmac of Zambian International Airport. Next is the visa line. I realized then why the passengers were in such a rush to exit the plane: the line, even divided into fourths (one each for Zambians, government and VIPs, some NGO with a particular four-letter acronym, and visitors—us) is excruciatingly long. After successfully attaining semi-legitimate holiday visas, we found the luggage carousel to hold all of our bags, save one: Ashley’s jam-packed, navy backpack. And so, finally, after notifying the airport baggage claim, we found our welcoming party, Monica Rucki, still so patiently waiting to pick us up, loaded our bags into a pair of taxis, and we drove, past the parking gate, past maize fields, past people on foot and on bike, farther and farther away from anything we had known before.