Monday, January 29, 2018

At some point you’ll close your eyes, wonder if the whole thing is real, if you’re really doing this—moving to Africa.

But by that time, you’re already in mid-air.

You’re in mid-air watching the plane icon on your screen steadily advance over land, then over sea, over rivers and deserts and cities and woods, and it doesn’t seem real. It’s just an icon on a screen; you can’t really be moving at 546 miles per hour toward a continent on the other side of the globe.

You can’t really have just done it: packed up your whole life—rented out your house, sold your car, put everything you thought you’d need into 13 absurd pieces of luggage, hauled your two kids and your whole life onto a plane headed for a country you’ve never even seen.

You race against the turning of the earth. Then suddenly sunlight floods the cabin of the plane even though it’s the middle of the night by your watch.

This is how you’ll know it’s real. You can’t fake a sunrise.

But even though it’s real, nothing solidifies or begins to take shape. The plane icon blips over the continent. Beneath you, everything is still just a gray haze.

Where is it you’re going? The destination is printed on your tickets—Kigali, Rwanda—but the letters are a meaningless jumble. You read them; they swim.

Kigali, Rwanda: What does it mean?

In the period of before, you tried to find out. You Google image searched, looked at pictures of the skyline, the markets, the people. You read statistics about crime and pollution. There were bar charts and graphs.

You pored over maps, trying to make sense of a city by walking your fingers over its network of streets that reminded you so much of criss-crossed arteries and veins. You made little red balloons pop up on your points of interest:

Here, the library.

Here, an art gallery.

Here, a church.

You tried to imagine walking from one place to the next, but even your imagination—your absurdly overactive imagination—fell short when it came to sketching what came in between.

You read blogs and asked around. People told you that Rwanda is a land of endless summer. That the expats who live here love it (except when they’re hating it). You can see rainforests and savannahs and lakefronts. You can see Jane Goodall’s chimps. You can see some of the nearly extinct mountain gorillas.

You can see the genocide memorial sites. No one can say “Rwanda” without thinking of the genocide, like a scar slashed across the nation’s face.

Anyone your age who grew up here will have been old enough to remember it.

How can you know what you will find?

Friends and friends of friends told you: It’s quiet. It feels small-town, even in the capitol. Everything takes a long time.

They told you that you will find friends. That you will find help. That you will not find cheddar cheese.

At church, your pastor gave an illustration about walking to the edge of a diving board, looking down, and seeing a pool without any water.

“Jump,” God says. “I’ll fill the pool while you’re in midair.”

And then after a few weeks, you’re literally in mid-air, and the amount you do not know staggers you. The graphs and charts, the photographs: Everything was two-dimensional. The plane icon on your screen is two dimensional.

But when the sun rises, it casts shadows on the landforms below, because they rise up from the earth in three solid dimensions.

Soon enough you’ll be standing there, and maybe the sun will light your face, or maybe you’ll be living in the shadows.

Jump, God says, and you close your eyes and hold your breath in case there turns out to be water below.

Then your plane touches down and you walk down the steps to the tarmac, and your feet touch the soil in the country you’ve committed to sight unseen for the next three years.

The sun flies out from behind the clouds, and the air rushes to greet your lungs.

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