The Journey to Angola…
The moment I made the decision to travel to Luanda, Angola to teach English to employees of a local government agency, I resolved to consciously carry with melessons taught by those who throughout my lifetime have had the courage to love me.
And so they came.
Borrowing from the sentiments of Maya Angelou when speaking of her tradition of carrying those who had ever been kind to her with her into certain foreign situations, “There was not a moment when I felt as though I had no help.”
When I left Washington, DC seated in the last row of a very small plane headed to Newark, NJ my father’s grandmother made herself present and I welcomed her. Anxiety reared its ugly head when the wheels retreated but I heard Big Momma’s voice over the sound of the engine hums, “Do what you know, pray,” she said. I couldn’t fashion my own words but, the Lord’s Prayer flowed from me as fluently as it had when I first committed the words to memory at age ten, seated at Big Momma’s feet, reading from the index of her old pocket-sized Bible in Montgomery, Al on Rosa Parks Avenue. In this moment, I was like Rosa Parks. The differences; my bus was an airplane and fear arrested me, instead of a white police officer. The similarities; Parks and I share the same unchanging God, so as it had been for her, freedom was just a prayer away for me.
Touching down in Newark, I couldn’t help but think of Whitney. I stole away from the airport and found myself on the intersection of Sussex Ave and Day St. to spend a brief while under the burgundy awning and brick steps of The New Hope Baptist Church, Whitney’s childhood sanctuary and the last place she stopped by before she was sent home.
I was in her world.
She grew up looking at the same buildings I passed by, walked down the same streets, breathed the same air. I made myself available to notice her presence. I welcomed her back home to share a few moments with me.
There is something about the intersection of spirit and place that can transport me to a different time I’ve never experienced that feels oddly warm and familiar. In a moment it was 1979 and a 16 year old Whitney sat beside me on the steps looking at the view of the New York skyline between the buildings to our right, daydreaming about a future she hoped she’d one day have. If I thought it would make a difference, I’d describe what she was wearing and how her hair was styled, my imagery is that extensive, but the point I hope you get is that I saw her. A lot has changed in the world since she looked at the skyline in 1979. She saw two towers that made up the World Trade Center, I peered at one, but what remains poignantly the same is the ability for the steps of New Hope to cradle dreamers whose possibilities are endless and by God’s grace are indestructible.
After leaving New Hope I braved airport security in Newark International. My mother was with me then as I helped a young mother traveling alone juggle her newborn baby, a car seat and stroller. Her sensibilities toward mothers traveling alone is probably strong considering her experience traveling across the world with up to three small children at one time.
“You are his surrogate auntie” the woman told me as she thanked me profusely.
She was a white woman, so my Trinity Mother, Felicia Allen, was very present when I imagined the historical context of her calling me the auntie of a white child, but her intentions were honorable so decidedly I was not offended.
I was quickly rewarded for my good deeds with an unexpected upgrade to Business First Class – I knew then that my Aunt Rita must be with me. Her spirit breeds first class energy. “Boo, if you’re going to be traipsing around the world why not go in style,” I could hear her say, even before I called her to excitedly share the news. I took a few sips of red wine in her honor, enjoyed my meal, which could have easily been mistaken for an entre’ at Bonefish Grill — dessert included, reclined in my seat until it became a bed and watched Everybody Loves Raymond on the 13 inch television screen – I knew my brother was with me then!
When I touched down in Lisbon, Portugal I was heavily reminded of the life my father afforded me through his military career choice. The landscape and architecture in Lisbon reminded me a lot of Italy where I spent many years growing up.
Riding via bus to the city center, Willie Porter was with me as gazed out of the window at the intricate artwork painted on the sides of the buildings, “Yo that’s fresh” I heard him say.
While walking to a 19th century castle nestled on a hill overlooking the city, I was hit by a car.
The narrow cobblestone roads left very little room between my body and the rearview window of a C230 Mercedes. I immediately wanted my mother, but I had to self soothe and scold myself at the same time, as I knew she would.
“Shae, are you ok?”
“Uh no mom, I just got hit by a car,” I would probably quip back.
“Well you have got to be more careful and pay attention to your surroundings,” she’d probably say.
I got it mom.
Fortunately I was hit in front of a cute tapas restaurant, which created a great excuse to stop.
Christian Iman met me there. I sang the words to her song Clark Kent over a selection of meat, cheese and soup. I may have disturbed a couple of people, but didn’t care, I had my own private Kindred moment.
After a tour of the city I returned to the airport to catch my flight to Luanda, Angola, my final destination on this journey.
Before boarding the plane I realized a few things, (one) I wouldn’t be in first class, (two) I was exhausted and (three) I had been hit by a car. I figured I deserved a decent beer. Super Bock, a Portugal standard was my choice, I was sure my uncle El had never had it. Actually, I probably couldn’t be sure of that, but I could credit him for my ability to be an informed critic. It was pretty good. I probably would have had several more had I known what to expect from the airline I was about to board from Portugal to Angola. It was mediocre at best.
I scarfed down the terrible airplane food, chicken alfredo, with no alfredo sauce, — “What in the world Jesus,” as my Kindred sister would say– and gave up the fight for a piece of the armrest I had to share with a man that clearly needed to buy two seats. I slept the entire flight.
When I landed in Angola I wanted to kiss the ground, but I don’t have healthcare so I decided to save that gesture for another time.