Sunday, September 9, 2007

Part One

Have you read the Poisonwood Bible? It’s a story told by the wife and four daughters of Nathan Price, a fierce, evangelical Baptist who takes his family and mission to the Belgian Congo in 1959. They carry with them everything they believe they will need from home, but soon find that all of it – from the garden seeds to Scripture – is calamitously transformed on African soil.

“We came from Georgia bearing Betty Crocker cake mixes into the jungle. My sisters and I were all counting on having one birthday apiece during our 12 month mission. Before we left, our mother went to laying out in the spare bedroom all the worldly things she thought we’d need in the Congo just to scrape by. In addition to the cake mixes, she piled up a dozen cans of Underwood deviled ham; Rachel’s ivory plastic hand mirror with the powdered-wig ladies on the back; a stainless steel thimble, a good pair of scissors; a dozen number 2 pencils; a world of Band-Aids; Absorbine Jr; and a fever thermometer.

And now we are here, with all these colorful treasures safely transported and stowed against necessity. Our stores are still intact save for the Anacin tablets taken by our mother and the thimble lost down the latrine hole by Ruth May. But already our supplies from home seem to represent a bygone world; they stand out like bright party favors here in our Congolese house, set against a backdrop of mostly all mud-coloured things. We also brought over a cast-iron frying pan, ten packets of baker’s yeast, pinking shears, the head of a hatchet, a fold-up army latrine spade, and all told a good deal more. This was the full measure of civilization’s evils we felt obliged to carry with us.”

I arrived at Tim Horton’s at 5 am on Friday loaded down with 7 pieces of luggage for my 10 day Missions Trip to Mexico. I hadn’t packed any Betty Crocker cake mixes but I did bring along a laptop, printer, digital camera, power cords, attachments, accessories, plus enough clothes so that I could change everyday. Of course, I also packed my complete Neostrata facial cleansing system and the fourteen pots and brushes needed make my face halfways presentable. And for my hair? Shampoo, rinse, mouse, hairspray, and a butane curling iron. And for all the free time I anticipated having, I packed 6 books, 3 of them being hardcover novels. For the rain that was predicted to fall, I packed a waterproof jacket. For the thoughts I was going to record, I packed a journal. For all the trips to the bathroom I assumed I would be taking, I packed 4 rolls of toilet paper. For all the germs that were dying to attach themselves to my hands, I packed 4 containers of sanitizing lotion. For all the ailments that were certain to visit us, I packed fourteen different over-the-counter drugs. And for the nights when I knew wouldn’t sleep I had a prescription of little blue pills tucked into the front pocket of my carry on. And if I had thought I’d have the opportunity to make brownies there, I would have packed the mix.

Clint, Max and I had stayed up all night on Thursday; Drew passed out at 3. We woke him up at 4:00, left for Abbotsford at 4:30 and got to Tim’s a little bit exhausted at 5:00. The bus driver suggested I put all my electronic treasures on the charter bus in the overhead compartment near where I planned on sitting. So I put my carry-on bag (on overstuffed backpack) on the window seat second from the font, put three bags containing computer paraphernalia in the overhead bin and joined all the others in the parking lot to wait for instructions.

The instructions were surprising. Instead of telling us (Murrayville folks) to get on the charter bus, as expected, anticipated and required, we were advised that the smaller group from South Langley would be traveling on the big bus, and we would be divided up; some of us taking the leftover seats on the bus, the rest of us were to settle into seats on the smaller handi-dart-type bus. While Charlotte continued to talk about trip details, Drew shuffled over to me, white-faced and sweaty.
“Mom. I’m going to pass out. I feel sick.”
“Here, sit down and take a deep breath.”
“No. I don’t want to go. Take me home.”
“Sorry hon, I can’t do that. You’ll be OK, just si…”
“NO. I want to go home. Take me home. I’m not going. I’m sick. I’m going to throw up.”

While I’m attending to him, Charlotte has told everyone get settled on the buses, and thinking that I had a spot reserved on the big bus, I didn’t join the mad line up beside it.

“It’ll be OK, Drew. For the first part of the trip, you can share a seat with me at the front of the bus. You’re mostly tired…”
He hissed at me, greatly annoyed, “NO. Just take me home. I think I’m going to faint, It feels just like that time when I got my shots…”

I get him calmed down and we walk over to the bus. Charlotte was there, informing me that all the seats are taken. “There will be seats for you on the mini-bus, this bus is full.”
“But I’ve got my stuff on this bus.”
“Well, get it off. You’ll need to sit on the other bus.”

I walk up the stairs and see that my bags on the second-to-the front- seats has added to the chaos that is reigning supreme. As I grab my two overhead bags I see that Max has settled in half-way back and my heart feels a jab of longing. I won’t be traveling with him.
“Mom, why are you taking you stuff off?” Clint asks. He’s in the aisle and sees me head back down the stairs.
“I guess there isn’t room for me or Drew on here. Which bus are you on?”
“I’m on this one. Do you want to trade?”
“No, Drew’s not feeling very good right now. I want to make sure he and I are at least on the same bus…”

I step back down off the bus, and put my arm around Drew.
“OK, lets head over to the other bus. You can sit beside me and I’ll get something for your light-headedness.”
As we walk across the parking lot I’m hoping that the two seats that are left on the bus for us, will be near the front.

We are the last ones on, and as we enter I quickly scan the situation, looking for our seats. The bus is crowded. Really crowded. Stuff is everywhere.
“No seats for you!” someone good naturedly calls out.
“You’ll have to use the bunks” someone else suggests.
Drew turns to me and with huge eyes and a stark white face and again asks me to take him home. I’m carrying way too much stuff and haven’t slept in 24 hours.
“Really? No seats at all?”
“Nah. There’s one seat left. You can sit next to Larry.”
“And Drew?”
“No seats. He’ll have to use the bunk.”
Feeling absolutely sick about the way things are going so far, I pull back the black curtain, and tell Drew to crawl in. I put one of my backpacks on the feet-end next to his, and squeeze his arm. He doesn’t respond and I know he’s mad at me. His friends are all sitting together at the back of the bus, and he’s stuck at the very front, behind the driver in a stuffy, dark mattressed hole.

With a heavy heart I take my place beside Larry, and realize that I am sitting on a vehicle very similar to a airport shuttle bus or a mini school bus. The non-reclining seats are upright, the head rests are non-existent, and my knees are jabbing into the metal backing of the seat in front of me.

“God? Uh, remember back in June? When I went on that field trip with Drew’s class to Science World? And we drove in on school buses? And my knees were bruised by the end of the day because of all the pressure on them from being wedged between the seats? And I prayed, and thanked you that Stoney Creek had bought a charter bus so that I wouldn’t have to ride for days and days on a school bus? What’s happening? Why am I on this bus? Why is every adult on this trip on this bus? Every single one of us is here. And our senior teens are all on the other bus. Why couldn’t I be with my boys? Glen and his son are together on this bus. Dave has both his girls on this bus. Carmen and Eric are here together. The Ab’s have all their kids on this bus…”

I feel sorry for myself.
And then I look at the bigger picture and realize how inconvenient it is for our whole group to be separated.

“God? Why couldn’t the entire Murrayville team be together? You know we were planning on practicing our skits, learning some Spanish songs, organizing ourselves on the drive down. Now what? Carmen’s here – but most of our kids aren’t. This just doesn’t make sense.”

I suck back my doubt about the travel arrangements as we prepare to cross the border.
“So,” Larry asks, “are you the same in person as you are on your blog?”
“Wha? My blog? You’ve read my blog?”
“Yeah. I took a couple hours and read abit.”
“Oh my goodness, there could not have been anything interesting on there for you.” I say, embarrassed, while racking my brain to think back if I’ve blogged anything too personal lately.
“Well there were a few things I read that caused me stop and say, I can’t believe she wrote that!”
“ ‘K now I just feel sick …but to answer your question, and by the end of this trip, you’ll be able to answer it yourself, yes, I think the blog version of me is a decent reflection of the real me.”

We talk for a while, maybe a few hours (?) before the lack of sleep catches up with me. I look longingly at the bunk Drew is horizontal in and every cell in my body desires to lie down beside him. I’m craving sleep in the worst way, and all I can think about is getting out of the uncomfortable seat I’m in and stretching out on a mattress.

Drew is not having that at all. He’s still mad.

So I give in to my exhaustion and with my mouth open I’m sure, I allow myself to nod off. Pictures were taken.

We stop for a quick lunch break in Kelso, WA and it’s apparent that Drew has slept as well. While he’s not well-rested, he has at least got some color back in his face. When we get back on the bus, I ask him if I can lay down beside him and he growls at me. “No way.”

I guess I understand. Not cool to be 13 and have your mom take a snoring nap beside you. He ended up sleeping for another couple hours in his little nest before he got bumped out by a long line of kids wanting a turn to stretch out.

Conversation on the mini bus is light and fun. Games are played, songs are sung, Pee stops are made. I see Clint and Max again for a few minutes when both buses stop for dinner and I make peace with the way things are.

At 10:00 or so, I asked Dave if I could swap seats with him. He’s had a window seat with Drew beside him on the aisle for awhile, and I really, really, really needed to relax about not touching the person in the seat beside me. He graciously moved into my aisle seat beside Larry and I settled into his spot. Drew was oh so not pleased. “Why are you doing this? I don’t want to sit next to you…” he hissed.

“Because more than anything I need to sleep for a few hours. I can’t go another day with getting some rest tonight. We’re going to be at Six Flags in 9 hours.”

“Sleep in that other seat.”

“I can’t. I’m going to take a sleeping pill. And I’ll probably fall asleep and then tip over to lean on something. I cannot lean on Larry. And I don’t want to fall into the aisle.”

“You’re making such a big deal…”

“I know, and I’m sorry. This way, though, if you want to fall asleep, you can lean on me.”

“I am NOT going to touch you. No way am I going to lean on you.”

He grumbles and squirms but I take a little blue pill, rest my head on the pillow that is against the window and pray.

“Dear God,
So far? Not so good. This is exactly what I was worried about. The seats on this bus are wickedly hard. With no overhead storage, or leg room, there’s no space for ‘stuff’ … Drew is bent out of shape. Maybe he was too young? Maybe this whole thing wasn’t a good idea? Maybe I’m too old? Definitely too fat. What have I gotten myself into? God please calm my fears. Fill me with your peace. Give me wisdom as to how to handle Drew. Give me strength. Help my breath not to be too bad in the morning. Help me figure out how to wash my face and reapply my makeup. Help my hair not to be greasy. Help this sleeping pill to work. Help Drew to relax and lean on me. Why isn’t this sleeping pill working? God, please … Drew? You know what he needs. Help him to stop being so mad at me. Let him get some rest this evening. Let him just put his pillow on my side and lean … help this sleeping pill to work once already. Help me not to snore when it does. How come these pills make everyone else fall asleep immediately, but not me? Is my mind stronger than drugs? Should I have taken two? God? Drew? Just tip him over, OK? Just have him rest his head on my shoulder. And if I’m not going to sleep tonight, can you give me something to else to think about?”

I feel Drew’s body relax beside mine, and a short while later with his pillow wedged between us his head drops onto my shoulder.

“Thanks God…”

“Mom. MOM! Close your mouth!” Drew is shaking me.
“Was I snoring?” I ask, all embarrassed and groggy. It’s morning.
“No, you were breathing in anti-freeze smoke. The bus is broken. We just pulled off the road. White smoke is pouring in here. Dave said not to breathe through our mouths, it’s dangerous. Mom….”

To be continued …

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