I adore living overseas – so please take everything I say with that in mind. Our home away from America-home is breathtakingly beautiful, the people are fantastic, and I’m not lying when I say that the food is the best food I’ve eaten anywhere in the world. EVER. FULL STOP.
But I also love going home to visit America. It’s awesome – have you ever toured a Target after 18 months of shopping in various African markets? I mean, Woolworths is fantastic – my favorite store overseas (and also Marks and Spencer, whose chicken and stuffing sandwiches make my year, no lie), but there is something about having seventy-six types of salsa to choose from, as well as fourteen aisles of sugary delight cereal and milk available by the gallon that just makes it easy to relax with fast internet and the largest Netflix offering in the world. SO MUCH NETFLIX, OMG. How does anyone in America get anything done with so much Netflix available?
But there is one thing I dread about visiting America. One thing that I can say, without a doubt, is a level of horrid that I encounter in no other developed countries.
And it has. Rather than just going away, people are now more willing to listen to others’ complaints about customer service and strong-arm tactics. Airlines have their defenders, yes, but even those defenses often just serve to fuel anger. Is there a valid reason for enforcing a no-one standing while the plane is in line for take-off rule? One hundred percent yes. But what happens if you just can’t hold it? And what happens if you have to go, but the line to the hopelessly overextended bathroom area which services 75 other passengers stretches down the aisle and turbulence happens? I noticed, to my horror, upon disembarking a flight from Frankfurt to Johannesburg that one of the adult passengers had actually wet himself. That should *never* happen. But it does. And many people are afraid it might end up being them. Fear, dread, and total loss of control – combined with a multi-hour uncomfortable smoosh-fest with gross food – does not lend itself to happy and easygoing passengers.
If anything good comes of this, it will be that US-based carriers up their game and remember that customers are paying them for a service, they are not doing customers a favor by taking their money and abusing them. And airlines are making the right noises about change; whether they follow through or not remains to be seen.
There are some very good books coming out of West Africa, though – books that really capture life, culture, and a world that people outside of Africa often don’t get to see either in person or in print. With one of my newest favorite authors, Aminatta Forna, Sierra Leone is firmly represented on that growing list.
So, I’ve got to give a shout to the fantastic flight crew of our Johannesburg to Madrid Iberian Airways flight, because my family really tries to be no trouble at all, but we always end up with an issue.
This time it was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad combination of things: (1) we’re traveling to countries with strict medicine laws and I had to make a choice to leave my migraine medication at home, (2) we had a day tooling around Johannesburg and it was ridiculously hot and dry, causing my body to do it’s best impression of turning into biltong, (3) our rental car had the guts of an eighty-year-old man with lifelong asthma and a 2-pack-a-day cigarette habit and could not drive AND run air conditioning, and (4) I let myself get fairly severely dehydrated (see aforementioned biltong comment) because the issue of bathrooms on airplanes is fraught with peril when you have to pee NOW along with thirty other people and there is only one bathroom for you all to split – especially if you throw a few potty-training toddlers, Gerard Depardieu, and people with limited mobility into the mix.
Five hours into the 10+ hour flight I had the mother of all migraines and no way to treat it. However, the flight attendants kindly allowed me to drink an entire big bottle of water (the one they usually split between several people in the shotglass-size plastic cups) and looked the other way while I rummaged through baggage, desperately hoping I had missed a blisterpack or two of my meds. I had, we medicated and hydrated just in time, and a crisis was averted. They were a pretty awesome staff, indeed.
All this kept me from reading my usual amount, and I was only able to finish two books on the flight. I feel like I have failed a bit.
Can we just discuss for a moment here the fact that a picture of someone reading from the Kindle app on their iPad is nowhere near as artsy and appealing as a picture of someone reading an actual book?
In 2012 we decided to do our first “giant” trip that involved planes, trains, and automobiles, multiple weeks, and multiple countries in Europe. We started out in Brussels, headed to a fifth floor (EUROPEAN fifth floor, so really sixth floor. Don’t let them try to fool you) walk-up with narrow curlicue stairs in the Gambetta in Paris, then went off to Madrid, Barcelona, and back to Brussels before flying back to Zambia.
There are many things you can’t plan ahead for while traveling, no matter how dedicated, resourceful, and thorough you try to be. Like, for instance, a rotovirus outbreak.
You can’t plan for a rotovirus outbreak, people. YOU CAN’T PLAN FOR THIS.
As promised – because I’m all about fulfilling promises – I’m about to give you the keys to the gates of culinary paradise. A recipe so profound, so life-changing that I had to translate the recipe into English from the very alphabet of the Heavenly Angels. A recipe that is the actual Platonic ideal of macaroni and cheese. A recipe that epitomizes everything that is good about pasta, bourbon, cheese and bacon by mixing them together.
The thing about being an expat living in Africa is that everyone brings you booze for every occasion. Plus there were all those times you passed through the Duty Frees in various transit airports (Pro-Tip: Big 5 Duty Free in Johannesburg’s OR Tambo. You can thank me later). And don’t get me wrong, a lot of it gets properly used in the imbibing process. However, it is inevitable that there will be a move that will come around just when you have reached maximum booze collection density .