Here’s the thing. Ugandans are more willing to look the other way than most people. You can put this down to our friendly demeanor or our desire to make a quick buck… In any case, if it’s the money thing, it kind of makes it easy to smile and drop a hint, “isn’t there ANYTHING I can do to make this go away”. At this point the person on the other end of the conversation will look around and ask you to buy them a soda… or hand you a cream for that pesky STD.
I found out that it was a little different abroad.
The evening before I was due to leave, my friend and I braved the Robbinsville cold to shop for a suitcase. I had carried one from Uganda, but it didn’t make sense to lug something big enough to store a fridge for a 6-7 day trip. After a quick glance, we found the one. A fairly straightforward black one with no drama attached to it, or so I thought.
Turns out size matters.
My ticket allowed me a 22” inch bag, the suitcase was 23”. The lady at the check-in counter took issue with my extra inch and asked that I pay a little more. I imagine back home, a sheepish smile and the word “oops” would have sufficed. $25 and a body scan later and I was in the departure area waiting for my flight.
I’d set off for the airport a little early so I desperately needed to grab a bite. I was a little undecided about what to get, so I settled for a Doctor Pepper and kept pacing back and forth while I waited for the boarding call. I might have also been looking for a clearly marked trash bin.
The flight to Houston was uneventful, allowing me the chance to catch up on some series and parts of movies that I would have otherwise overlooked. For whatever reason, sleep continues to elude me. Every attempt to nod off was short lived and while I would have loved to blame it on stewardesses constantly trying to wake me to grab a bite, I can’t. These silly domestic flights expect you to fend for yourself. So I was stuck with Doctor Pepper…I couldn’t even catch a leak lest I lost even that little. There were offers of juice and water, but no grab.
I had a brief layover in Houston wherein the biggest story there was probably the hunt for a place to charge my phone. So let’s gloss over that and cut to…
My arrival in Austin carried a great deal of anxiety. I hadn’t seen my brother in six seven years and I was really hoping this wasn’t going to be one of those cliché reunions you see in the movies with our eyes welling up, words refusing to form and just generally hugging in a manner that would guarantee me asylum if I ever said I was being persecuted back home.
As my escalator descended, my eyes darted between luggage carousel and the general waiting area, scanning for him. How much had he changed? Was he that huge guy wearing the leather jacket? Was he the brown guy that was walking away, was he the guy sitting nonchalantly on the bench in a striped tee shirt looking at me with a smile…Yep. That was him. I smiled back.
Not so much because it is the polite thing to do, but because I found it was the best way to keep the emotional floodgates firmly shut. We hugged and I started to blabber. Somehow I couldn’t construct coherent sentences at the first try for a while. It soon became evident that six seven years had taken their toll on me, but that too passed.
When we got to the apartment, the first order of business was to free myself of the groundnuts and hard corn from back home. This was a relief because;
- They were contributing unnecessary weight to my one-inch-more suitcase and
- My clothes hard started to smell like a hand me down from the Children of the Corn…before they got unpleasant
A couple of minutes later we were off to the shooting range because, well, Texas.
Buying bullets is ridiculously easy. In fact, I think I’ve had a harder time locating a bottle of juice or the right size of underwear. All we had to do was pop into a store, walk to the back and pick a couple of boxes. THAT. EASY. I am not exaggerating when I say the bullets were sold a little way off from the Get Well Soon cards and I honestly can’t say for sure whether that was a coincidence or foreshadowing. I guess “I MISSED YOU” would be more apt…unless you are Dick Cheney.
There’s a smart marketing opportunity here, I reckon. You can actually place the packs of condoms next to the bullets with a sticker boldly proclaiming, “Serving Suggestion” …. or you could just place them in the aisle “for those who don’t shoot blanks”.
The shooting range was a little way out of town which allowed me enough time to host another bout of ‘not jet lag’. The only difference here was it came carrying its friend, paranoia. Without going into so much detail, I’ll just say that by the time I got to the range, I’d made my peace with the possibility that I could get shot and not be able to do squat about it. I imagined the conversation with St. Peter at the Pearly Gates going thus;
St. Peter: Come on….
Me: I know, I know. But New Jersey gave me hope
St. Peter: I should probably send you to the other place for such misguided faith.
At which point I’d shrug and ask what the layover time would be.
We went over the do’s and don’ts that came with carrying a loaded weapon. Turns out you can not point your gun at your friend… especially as a joke. I imagine the thinking here is, you may remember some shit he said about you Mortal Kombat prowess, pull the trigger and yell, “FATALITY”.
I don’t know what to make of the instructor not picking up on my swaying back and forth. Must have thought I was giddy with excitement… I was just freaking giddy! On the other hand, there must be many people who stumble in and handle guns while trying so hard not to succumb to gravity’s wiles.
You are also supposed to scream “CEASEFIRE” when you want to walk over to the targets and see just how bad you missed. What’s supposed to happen at this point is everyone’s meant to place their weapons in front of them and cuss you out for messing up their fun. Under no circumstances should you pick up the gun and continue.
It’s a very tempting prospect given the number of times you’ve shot at mother nature, you can’t help but think, “this time it will be different, I believe I can actually miss the soil and actually hit the target”.
A couple of shots later and we were done. Or so I thought. We actually moved to an indoor shooting range instead. This was substantially louder (go figure) a fact not helped by a gun that was no doubt a close relation to a bloody canon.
After that we were done. For real this time.
We drove around a bit trying to figure out what we’d eat for supper. For some reason Tacos kept coming up like some undesirable candidate on a ballot paper.
We eventually settled for tacos (bet you didn’t see THAT coming) and called it a night.
I went to bed with a smile, happy about the whole reunion thing and hoping I’d wake up to find that my sentences would have tired of conspiring against me and finally allow me to have a proper conversation with my brother.
Who knew what lay ahead…