Through the night with Anna Babin

Coming back from the DRC, our route was Kamembe Rwanda, Kigali Rwanda, Entebbe Uganda, Amsterdam, and home to Boston. On the hop from Kigali to Entebbe I boarded the flight. There was an older woman sitting in my seat. She appeared to be traveling alone. I told her I had the aisle. She threatened me with a sad story of an overactive bladder. I had intended to sleep as much as possible on this overnight flight anyway so I didn’t mind not having the aisle. I sure didn’t want to get up every 20 minutes. Plus I am cut from the cloth that when an old person traveling alone wants a seat, they get it. I gave in to this tough old threatening bird and settled into the window spot. (Though she only went to the bathroom twice and we were on the plane for 10 or 12 hours!)

I looked this lady over and saw a twinkle in her eye. I asked if she was on her own and she said ‘Yes’. She had a rubber band around her wrist. I said:

‘It takes a lot of moxy to travel through Africa on your own.

She smiled and her eyes twinkled even more. The woman was 76 years old and for the next hour she told me about her trip. She went to three countries, was face-to-face with gorillas and told me about gorilla language. See here for where she went. Also, look here (CNN report) for how recent gorillas are in the path of rebel fighters.

She said:

You better do everything you want to. My one son, a physician, doesn’t want me to travel. Eh, I was widowed 17 years ago. I have to do this for me. Next trip will be the Galapagos Islands, and then maybe Morocco! I can only tell me son one trip at a time though… I’ll have to wait a month or two to tell him about the next one. He’s 50 you know. You’d think he’d want me to live. Ha, I will anyway.

This lady made me laugh, entertained me with stories of her husband, a urologist, told me about volunteering at Lake Sunapee to help wounded veterans and disabled and autistic kids ski with abandon. She told me about having a twisted bowel and emergency surgery in Buenas Aires. Her son had a fit! She said it was the nicest hospital in the world. They even wash the ceilings!

In Uganda, she opens her bag. There is this Teletubby episode where Tinky Winky has a bag and can fit much more in the bag than the size of the bag. This woman had a magical bag too. As we waited on the plane for passengers to board, she gives smuggled bottles of water to this nice French guy, bananas to Erin, licorice to me and then she just keeps pulling  more things out of the bag….making me laugh all the while.

Now this woman bore a striking resemblance to my beautiful grandmother, Anna Babin who passed away when I was in college.

Memere and Pepere Babin

My grandparents were foster parents who loved children deeply and wanted a better life for the kids that crossed their path. While I loved talking to the woman on the plane, what I loved most was as I slept from Uganda to Amsterdam, I’d wake up every now and then. My eyes would flutter and I would see my grandmother. I sleepily saw her glasses, her silver white hair, her hands, that tissue in her sleeve (no kidding). Through the night, as we flew over Chad, the Sudan, Libya, the Mediterranean and so forth, I slept as though I was with my grandmother, like an angel flying through the night with me.


Border Crossing, Airplanes, and Kenny Rogers

So we tried to cross the border from DRC into Rwanda…short drive then we board the plane. We get our passports stamped in the DRC (while watching the immigration folks accept a bunch of bribes.) We get to Rwanda…wait, wait, wait, wait, then get stamps. We have to pay $30 to drive across the border. We had $80 (4 $20 bills). No problem. Except, they won’t take our money. One bill has a 2 millimeter tear. One bill has a pink marker mark. One bill was from 1996 (too old). The final bill? (not sure).

Anyway, we can’t cross. Slight panic as the plane leaves in an hour. Actually, we are quiet. We are thinking of what to do. I am staring at Forex trying to figure out how to get money. But Erin realizes the vehicle can’t cross but we can. So we drag our suitcases across the rocky parking lot, through the gate, and get a taxi. We get in.

The issue here is that I try painstakingly to make sure that I always know my driver in complex countries where the rule of law is compromised, where police forces are weak or not trusted. The border between the DRC and Rwanda is an interesting spot at best. Currently the DRC is accusing Rwanda of training soldiers. Foreign Policy and The Guardian reports that the US is burying a report on this. We are two extremely pale white women. Kidnapping, sexual assault and other crimes are not that rare in these parts. Our team had told us that people are killed for $5.

That said, we buckle up…We want to go home. Our driver (who has no money and can’t help us cross the border) takes the number of the taxi driver. However, our driver couldn’t help us if we needed help because he doesn’t have the money to cross the border after us! I don’t know what police he’d call if he were suspicious. Maybe there are some? Really, no one could help us if we had problems. Our taxi driver starts the engine.

To my delight, Kenny Rogers is blaring from his tape deck. I know we are perfectly fine.

Erin must think I am completely insane. I rolled down the window and with the wind in my hair, in tune with the tape deck, I belted out “You picked a fine time to leave me Lucille….”

Then, it was “Through the Years” and I could say the shimmer of Lake Kivu, but I closed my eyes and I could see my late grandfather, Raymond Morin

Memere and Pepere Morin

and grandmother, Edna Morin dancing at their 60th wedding anniversary.

I can’t remember when you weren’t there
When I didn’t care for anyone but you
I swear we’ve been through everything there is
Can’t imagine anything we’ve missed
Can’t imagine anything the two of us can’t do

Through the years, you’ve never let me down
You turned my life around, the sweetest days I’ve found
I’ve found with you … Through the years
I’ve never been afraid, I’ve loved the life we’ve made
And I’m so glad I’ve stayed, right here with you
Through the years…

Through the years, when everything went wrong
Together we were strong, I know that I belong
Right here with you … Through the years