(Continued from last week.)
And then, just like that, it was time to go home. I took my last photos, bought a few souvenirs, and headed for the airport in Entebbe, Uganda. I discovered that there was a $20 fee to leave the country and, eventually, we boarded a flight on Uganda Airways.
It was an old plane, doubtless a hand-me-down many times over. When my seat broke, prior to take-off, I asked the flight attendant for another seat. She disappeared into the cockpit and a man came out with a tool box. He asked me to stand, took off the cover plates, tinkered a bit, and replaced the cover plates. It was fixed. I thought, “Either the pilot is cross-trained to fix seats or the plane is being flown by a seat repairman.”
I think we flew to Kenya and then caught a flight to Amsterdam. My memory is a bit foggy. We arrived early in the morning in the Netherlands. With a long layover before departure, several of us decided to go into the city and see the sights. So, we rented a locker, stowed our non-checked bags, and caught a train. Hardly anything was open at that early hour but still we wandered and took in the sights,
We had breakfast at a sidewalk cafe, talked about our adventure in Africa, and decided it was time to head back to the Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, informally known as Schipol Airport, nine kilometers away. We headed to the train station and realized we had a problem. Not one sign was in English. Which train to catch? It didn’t help that the employees apparently didn’t speak our language any better than we spoke theirs. Other local travelers looked strangely at this gaggle of men wearing priests’ collars stopping total strangers and asking for directions. Finally, using hand gestures and looks of desperation, a friendly police officer pointed to a train. On blind faith, we boarded.
We arrived at the airport only to realize that we had another problem. Our tickets were in our carry-on luggage which was stored in a rented locker on the other side of security. At least a few of our group had left their passports in the lockers as well. The man keeping us on the wrong side of the gate spoke English, but rules are rules. With less that 45 minutes before our flight left I said to the gate keeper, “Please help us! We’re Americans and we’re stupid.”
With a look of surprise, followed by a laugh, he opened the gate and allowed us in. Apparently he agreed with my assessment but took pity on us anyway.
On the long flight home, I had time to think about the people I met, the sights of a beautiful Africa, the memory of the smell of campfire smoke that was everywhere in the countryside, the beautiful and vibrant colors of African attire, the easy spirituality of African Christians, and the hospitality of the people we met.
There were less pleasant memories: the terribly sad look on the Kenyans who had seen the U.S. Embassy destroyed just weeks earlier by Al Qaida, killing over 200 Kenyans and injuring 4,000 more. The search for bombs under our vehicles each morning; the constant feeling of being on the alert for dangers by terrorists, snakes, and bandits; the remembrance of Ugandan clergy joyfully processing over a mile in a tropical downpour, their red stoles staining their white robes, as they marched singing toward the place where their bishop would be consecrated; the face of a young mother lying on a dirt floor in a small hut terribly ill with malaria; the encounter with a group of young Asian nurses who were in Africa to serve and who stitched up the head of one of our team when he bumped it and split it open; the impossibly packed roads and sidewalks of the major cities, so thick with people I wondered how they could breathe; the emptiness of the vast countryside filled with visible prey and hidden predators; a soccer field filled to capacity with worshippers who, it seemed, never wanted to leave; my own bout with heat exhaustion, and the Ugandan clergy who scrambled to find cool water to ease my plight, in this place on the equator.
Most of all, I experienced gratitude that I had been allowed to partake of this experience for a few weeks. I hadn’t wanted to come. My bishop told me to go on this trip and, only because I took vows of obedience, I complied. I had a great roommate for the trip, David Monroe, a fellow priest who was a welcome and near constant companion. Now, here we were going back to our world.
The trip also deepened my appreciation for our own country. I have been privileged to spend time in 44 states in this great country in addition to Washington, D.C. I have been to Australia, Canada, Mexico, Ireland, the Philippines, the Virgin Islands and now, on this trip, Kenya, the Netherlands, and Uganda. They are all beautiful in their own way. But there’s nothing like coming home.
With all of its warts and blemishes, and being thankful for all the people I’ve met and the places I’ve traveled, I must confess that I unashamedly love the United States of America. I know that some people hate us and want to see us destroyed; the embassy in Kenya was ample evidence of that. Some people don’t believe that America is a great nation or even a good nation. That’s for others to judge.
I do know this: In many countries of the world, I would not have the freedom to write an opinion column such as this. In some places, to express an opinion is to court retaliation, financial ruin, imprisonment, physical assault, or death.
For me, America is a great place with a unique role in world history. Against all odds, this land has survived and thrived. We have had, and still have, our issues. Right now we are a divided and polarized people and we have done that to ourselves. But I’d rather live here than anywhere else.
If only we can keep and preserve what we have been given by our ancestors (who all came from someplace else), we will have given a great gift to our descendants.
[David Epps is the pastor of the Cathedral of Christ the King, 4881 Hwy. 34 E., Sharpsburg, GA between Newnan and Peachtree City (www.ctk.life). He is the bishop of the Charismatic Episcopal Diocese of the Mid-South which consists of Georgia and Tennessee and the Associate Endorser for the Department of the Armed Forces, U. S. Military Chaplains, ICCEC. He may contacted at email@example.com.]