Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The road to home

The other day, I started my way home from the USA to Khartoum. I drove down from Boston and my trip down to JFK was fairly uneventful, at least until I got close to NYC.....Actually, just before New Haven, I realized I didn't have a map and I wasn't quite sure of the route to take down to JFK. The interstates around NYC get pretty complicated and they're double-named as "Parkways" or "Expressways," etc. I can never remember which one actually goes south to Queens and JFK. I stopped at a gas station in Connecticut and the attendant -- who could have easily have sold me a map -- convinced me that I didn't need one: "Just follow I-91 to I-95 and you'll see the signs to Kennedy." Well, it didn't quite work that way and, before you know it, I was deep in a major traffic jam on the top level of one of those 5-decker interstate connections near NYC. Traffic was totally stopped for about 20 mins and I was beginning to panic. So, I called Nate (in California) on my cell phone and, as I suspected, he was at home by his computer. He immediately saw on his computer where I was stuck and he guided me off the interstate and through a rather seedy part of Brooklyn (or Bronx?) and back to another interstate which took me to JFK. Ah, the wonders of technology! In Japan, everyone has Global Positioning in their cars with nifty little screens that show exactly where one is and where one should be. Not so in America! Anyway, I got to the airport OK thanks to Nate.

Twenty-four hours, two plane rides, and some time in a transit hotel in Dubai and I was back in Khartoum. I would have liked to have gone to bed but next door there was a wedding celebration in progress! And, the folks had the band with its loud-speakers blaring into my bedroom. There really wasn't a place in the entire apartment where it wasn't LOUD! And I mean REALLY LOUD!!!! This rhythmic drum (like bongos) under a wailing soprano! In certain settings, it's actually quite an exotic sound but not right when I wanted/needed to get some sleep! It was RIGHT UNDER my bedroom window and I don't think it would look good for this foreigner to go down and ask them to turn it down!!!!

Talk about two worlds! The road to home could not have been longer!

Thursday, February 09, 2006

In the Heartland

It had been a few years since I was last in Iowa but it only took a few minutes to know that I'd arrived. It was the coffee!! I mean, Iowa is one of the only places on earth, I think, where coffee is so weak. Not a Starbucks to be seen in Waterloo. Well, that's not quite true.....there was a Starbucks in the Target store! But that's about all I was able to find. Not that Starbucks is that great, mind you, but at least the coffee is worth drinking. I had forgotten how weak Iowa's coffee is. Twenty five years ago when I was making my parish rounds in central Iowa, pretty much every farm home had a warm pot of coffee. It was the same then.....pretty weak. I guess that's why those farmers could drink so much all winter long and still keep so steady. But in those intervening years, Americans woke up to a stronger cup of java and I found my way back to Europe where they've brewed the stuff for real over the centuries. Europeans who have ventured into the heartland of America inevitably remark on the strange coffee that's served there. The whole subject is a subject of some derision. But, if they've gotten word of it, the people of Iowa could care less and they still keep serving up that colored hot water they all "coffee." With every sip, I knew I was at home in the Heartland.