One of the things I was least looking forward to about going home was the epic journey that is required when you travel from Africa to North America. Especially when you are anxiously awaiting to see people you haven’t seen in almost a year, and surprising your mother! That was me on Sunday, June 22nd at Entebbe Airport, dreading the 40 hours of airplanes and airports that would be happening in the next days of my life. Unfortunately, science hasn’t come as far as being able to teleport people to and from places, but I must say that the countless hours on a plane or in an airport was so worth it.
The challenge was not enduring the multiple airplanes and airports on multiple continents; the challenge, however, was keeping this a secret to my mother, who by the way calls me multiple times a week. With the help of my wonderful father, sister, a few friends, and travel agent, the secret was kept for over 6 months from my mom. After a while, I was beginning to think that in the last few weeks I would be the one to blow the surprise. The closer June 22nd got, the harder it was for me to talk to her and not yell “MOM!!!! I’m coming home in a week!”. Finally, after months and months and months of planning, June 22nd was finally here and I was sitting in Entebbe airport, trying not to freak out with anticipation.
So there I am, at the airport at 5pm waiting for my plane to depart for Amsterdam at 10pm. Five hours to wait. I knew mom was going to call me at some point during the day, but I was just hoping it would be earlier so I wouldn’t get stuck in the predicament of having to lie to her about my whereabouts. Sorry mom, but you called too late and I couldn’t tell you exactly where I was! The conversation went something like this:
Mom: Jeez Nicole, it sounds really loud…where are you?
Woman on loudspeaker at the airport: all passengers flying to Nairobi on Kenya Airways, please proceed to gate number 5
Me: Yeah, I know, it’s really loud here. I’m on a taxi. The radio is on and there are a bunch of people talking.
Me thinking in my head: SSHHIIITTTTT!!!!
Luckily, mom was pretty clueless. We ended the conversation with me telling her not to call me for a few days because I was ‘really busy with work’, and that we would talk later in the week. Little did she know that she was going to be seeing me two nights later!!
The only plane delayed the whole entire trip was the one from JFK to Syracuse, of course. It was scheduled to depart at 10pm, but didn’t end up departing until 12am. I’m on American soil…so close, yet so far away. Finally, the 30 minute plane ride was over, and after a Starbucks Frappuccino, my heart was racing and my hands were shaking. I’m not sure if it was the excitement or caffeine overdose or both, but I was about to see my friends and family for the first time in almost a year!!
It was quite the extravaganza, I learned, for my Tracey, and my brother’s girlfriend, Rachel, to get out of the house to pick me up at the airport without my mom being suspicious. She usually goes to bed early on Monday nights because she does ‘perpetual adoration’ every Tuesday morning from 2am until 3am…it’s a catholic thing. Anyways, she was not going to bed! For some strange reason, she felt the need to stay up way past her bedtime and the girls needed to leave! They both had to sneak out of the house in order to be on time to pick me up at the Syracuse Airport. I guess luckily, my plane was delayed! Finally, I arrived in Syracuse at 12:30am, and Tracey, Rachel and Lindsay were patiently awaiting my arrival. Hugs and screams were definitely in order (and definitely happened)…but we all had one thing on our minds, surprising the momma!
Dad met me in the front yard, where we park the cars (now, Pam, Linds, Tracey and Rachel are all there). One of the first, most unexpected things I noticed that I missed after living in Uganda for a year was grass…freshly cut by the lawn mower kind of grass. Yeah. I snagged some up and took a big whiff! I think I hugged my dad first, but it’s all kind of a big blur at this moment!
At this point, we still had no idea how we were going to make the big surprise happen. And as we plotted how to execute the plan, I was overcome with excitement. We finally decided how I was going to surprise her. Just before her alarm was about to go off, at 1:45am to get up for adoration, which dad got her out of going that day, I JUMPED in bed with her and screamed “MOMMA!!! I’M HOME!!!!” With pictures flashing, lights turned on, and 7 people plus a dog around her bed, she had absolutely no idea what hit her. Thankfully she didn’t have a heart attack or pee her pants; she just held her face and asked if she was dreaming. There we all are with a successful 6 months of secrecy finally out in the open! And we were all ready for a cold drink!
Now, ‘why surprise your mom?’, you ask? Let me tell you why I decided to travel half way around the world and not tell my mom about it…
First of all, before I left for Uganda last year, I told everyone that this was it…I’ll see you in 27 months. In my mind, I was determined to be gone for the whole two year service and not come home. Well, as time went on, things changed.
A little background before I finish the explanation: At some point during training, my mom first expressed an interest in coming here to visit me. I remember talking to her on the phone and her saying that she can’t go two years without seeing me and if she has to come to Uganda, then she was coming to Uganda. Naturally, I was thrilled that she (or anyone for that matter) would want to come here to see me. And after training, once I came to my new home in Mbale, I wanted her to come and visit even more to meet my co-workers, see my village, and my life here.
So back in December, I started thinking in my head about coming home, just for a little vacation to see everyone…let’s be frank here, two years is a long freaking time to go without seeing my family, friends, and America in general. I was debating when a good time to come home was. I first thought about the holidays, and then I remembered winter in Upstate NY. Going from African winter to Syracuse winter probably wasn’t the best idea, and plus, holidays are always so busy. Then I was thinking about a wedding. Summer wedding/summer fun…why not, right? Was I totally nuts? I had to ask to be sure. Tracey was the first to get the ‘am I crazy?’ email. And to answer your question about why I would surprise my mom by traveling 7,000 miles across the world is this: I couldn’t risk the chance that if she knew I was coming home, then it would ruin all of her ideas of coming to Uganda to visit me. Because why would she need to come here if I was coming home? Until she received her passport in the mail and a receipt for the plane ticket, only a few select people could know. Then, after all that happened and she was definitely coming to Uganda whether or not she found out, it was just a free for all. Like a game: how many people can we tell without mom finding out?...almost everyone.
Ok, back to the drinking. Nothing like an ice, cold, frozen, fresh strawberry daiquiri to start the night off right after traveling for two days straight. Everyone was up all night, and luckily, almost everyone had the next day off…Pam, you’re such a trooper! A celebration was definitely in order, and mom still didn’t know what to think. She just kept staring at me and wondering if it was really me.
The next 13 days were amazing, and crazy and overwhelming and so many other indescribable emotions. I was in America, and I couldn’t believe that I was back after living in a different country for a year. Surprisingly, or maybe not so surprisingly, nothing seemed to change too much. Good old Oneida was still the same as I remembered it. Some of the highlights were hanging out with family and friends, boat rides, constant electricity, seriously hot water, blue cheese and pizza, racino, Saranac Pomegranate Wheat, Madison Hope, driving, driving on the right side of the road, crazy new wii games, real muzungu haircut, safe tap water for drinking, taking an uncountable number of pictures, and not sleeping under a mosquito net [for medical reasons ;)] ...you know, my same old American life.
One of the craziest things about being home was talking about my life in Uganda. Still, even after one year of living this life, sometimes I have to pinch myself to make me realize where I am and what I am doing. I loved all the questions people had about Peace Corps, Uganda, my work, and my day to day life here. I felt so special that people wanted to know about it. At certain times, I would get caught up in the moment and forget that it was me; I felt like I was talking about someone else’s life in Uganda. As I was saying things about what I do and how my life is, I had to really think about it, and at one point, it hit me, and I said to myself, ‘wow that is me, and it’s pretty awesome!’.
Life back in the village is just how I remember it. I had a great vacation home, and it was great to see everyone, but I definitely missed it here. My work, my home, and my life are all here, in Uganda, for the next 14 months.
Lastly, before I end this blog, I want to thank everyone who was involved with the planning, organizing, and most importantly, keeping of the secret with my trip. I especially want to thank Mary Anne for organizing my trip and communicating with me and dad via email throughout the whole process. I appreciate the promptness with getting back to me with all my questions, and also for keeping it a secret the whole time when mom was planning her trip with you to Uganda! Of course, my wonderful father who made the whole surprise happen, thank you for organizing everything on that end! And Tracey, for calling me multiple times a week during the last few weeks when I was freaking out about coming home…or should we thank mom for putting the calls on her tab?? To everyone who took time out their busy American lives to spend time with me, thank you!
And one more thing…CONGRATULATIONS to Sarah and Grant, and Tara and Jesse, the newlywed couples!