Seat 51C

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Yesterday, those feelings came on me again. Those feelings that hit me every time I travel to Kenya. It was in Amsterdam, Schiphol (pronounced skippol) Airport. I had a four hour layover there, that was deliberate. I wanted enough time to allow for flight delays, maybe a little shopping, enough time so that those feelings of anxiety would not come on me. So I shopped, tried their pickled herring (once was enough for me), sampled some of their Dutch cheese, (once was enough for me, I bought two sample packs), bought a cup of coffee, then proceeded to gate F7, and waited to board my flight to Kenya. Turns out, I could have kept on shopping, as there was no plane waiting for the people at gate F7. Just about 400 or so people waiting for the plane. As they congregated all together, it was reminiscent of the scene from The 10 Commandments when thousands of Israelites were pushed up against the waters of the Red Sea. Another flight delay. That did not bother me too much as this was my last flight, so I had no concern about missing a connecting flight.

Over 400 people boarded the flight to Nairobi after an hour of waiting on a plane to show up. The line moved rather quickly, a very pleasant experience, and soon I was looking for seat 51C. When I found it, it was then that I remembered that I had chosen an aisle seat, next to an escape door, which gives you a little more room for the upper body, and about 10 feet of leg room. The seat by the window was occupied by an already sleeping Kenyan, and the middle seat was empty. Perfect! He woke up while I was “building my nest” (when I travel, I spend  quite a bit of time getting everything that I will need for the next 8 hours right within my hands reach). He said “Hopefully, no one will sit here,” pointing to the empty middle seat. “Amen, brother!”, I exclaimed. As I sat down, I noticed that he drifted off, or attempted to, back into the nap he was enjoying when I arrived.

I noticed a male flight attendant working on a seat that was about 4 rows up from me. The pillow part of the seat head rest had fallen off, or had been ripped off, and he was attempting to put it back on. He worked on that for about 15 minutes until he finally gave up in frustration and said to the Kenyan gentleman whose headrest was like Satan resisting the Lord, “I ‘vill’ find you ‘anodder’ seat.”  It only took him 2 seconds to spot the empty seat, 51B, between myself and my Kenyan row-mate. Immediately, my row-mate jumped up from his window seat, and fell right into the middle seat. For what reason I was totally unsure of at the time. The other gentleman commented to the Dutch flight attendant that the window seat would not do for him, because the emergency door mechanism extended into the window seat leg room area, meaning that the occupant must keep his feet directly under his knees., for the next 8 hours. Now I understand why Jerome (he told me his name later) moved to the middle seat. After several rounds of arguing with the flight attendant about the new accommodations, he was told to take it or leave it.  He took it, but not meekly, and certainly not quietly.

That is when the feelings came on me. Instead of having enough room on this flight to stretch and move around a bit, now I realize I am “sardine #8” in a 32 sardine can. By this time, I was fatigued, I had been awake since 3:00 am the previous morning, my back was hurting, my hips were hurting, my head was hurting, and I knew it was going to be a very long time before we arrived in Nairobi. After sitting there for another 15 minutes, we heard over the intercom someone speaking in Dutch. The Dutch travelers were all sighing and shaking their head in frustration. Then the announcement came again, this time in English. Because the plane had been delayed for an hour, while all the passengers were on and ready to go, the checked baggage had not even been loaded yet.  Another delay. My mind went back to the first Kenya trip I made in 2011. The flight delays, back then, were the beginning of sorrows for me. This led to a series of events that brought me physically and emotionally to a near breakdown, and once I was there, that is when the wolves, spirits, leaped upon me in my weakness, demanding that I leave Kenya. The same spirits tried it again in 2014 while in Migori Kenya. I was already apprehensive and fearful that they would show up again during this trip.

As I sat there, I kept thinking that I was too brittle and weak to be making trips like this. That traveling to Kenya was too hard for me, physically, emotionally. That it was too hard for my wife, her husband, her rock, not there with her. It was too hard for me not having Lisa there, my anchor, my friend, my guardian. This was going to be, if I made it there and back, my very last trip to Kenya, or any other place that separated me from my home and church, anything that separated me by an ocean from the place of my comfort. I just knew God was chastening me for going to Kenya, by traveling to Kenya. I confessed my alleged transgressions to the Lord, promising Him that I would not tempt Him again.

For every minute that went by, an hour went by in my mind. Dutch baggage handlers would take one suitcase, walk carefully from Rotterdam to Amsterdam, gently lay the luggage down, straighten it, level it, fill out a report on a clipboard for it, have a supervisor check the work, initial the report, then submit it to a committee for final approval. Then repeat the process, religiously, until all 900 articles of luggage were safely in the cargo hold of the plane. During this time, I am telling myself that I am done with Kenya, I will never come back, and that is the end of it.

Then, the Lord stepped in, as only He can.  The agitated occupant of seat 51A, after several attempts at finding a comfortable position and resting state for his feet and legs, stood up and demanded a new seat assignment. In our minds, Jerome and I made a motion and a second to accept his request (read “Robert’s Rules of Order” if you are not familiar with this terminology.) After a few minutes, our flight attendant capitulated, giving him a new seat, several miles away, near the back of the plane. Jerome and I shook hands and smiled at each other: the Lord has heard the cries of His people, from the miry clay we were rescued, now we can sing the songs of Zion.

But regaining our former seating arrangement is not what this slightly exaggerated story is about. It is about what happened afterward. That will be Part 2.