Thursday, February 2, 2012

London Calling

Blackness.  A surreal calmness and stillness as well as a sense of overwhelming restfulness has taken over my entire world.  And then, after an eternity, I hear a sound in the distance.


At this small noise, my world comes to life.  My mind springs into action and the peaceful tranquility of the previous instant disappears.  Sleep begins to give way to wakefulness in that infinitesimal millisecond between when my alarm clock makes it's first sound of the morning and when the sounds of the early morning radio show waft through the air.  I regain my senses slightly faster than the person laying in bed beside me, and I roll my head to the side and look inquisitively in the direction of my wife, who is going through the same thing that I had experienced only seconds before.  Time to get up, a new day is upon us.

And what a day!  Morning exercises are forgotten as stillness gives way to movement, silence to the sounds of the day, and solitude to family togetherness.  The kids get their own breakfasts together and begin their morning school routine as Karen and I take some extra time to prepare for our day.  I shower, shave, and then look around the bathroom one last time before I walk out the bathroom door, going over a mental list to ensure that nothing has been left behind.  I walk to the bedroom and place the last few objects into my bag, rummaging around through all of the objects that have already been packed as though the things that have been packed may have grown legs and walked off to an obscure hiding place in the few minutes that have elapsed since I placed them there.  They have not.  Convinced that everything is in it's place, I zip my bag closed and carry it to the front door.  Several hours later, the kids have finished an abbreviated version of their school day, every bag has been packed and then hauled out to the van.  The thermostat is turned down, the water heater set to "vacation" (vacation... yeah right) and only one light remains on as a primitive anti-theft mechanism.  I lock the door and shut it behind me.  We're on our way.

As much as we think that we have planned and prepared for the journey that is in front of us, there are still a few things that need to be purchased on the way to the airport.  We do this, and make our way to the Grande Prairie airport (CYQU)  where our journey will continue.  Mom & Dad Derksen are there ahead of us.  They will be taking our van so that we will not have to pay for airport parking while we are gone.  Mom & Dad Schmidt show up a few minutes after us.  They are looking after our kids for the first week that we will be away and are there to say goodbye to us and pick up their grandchildren.  We check in and then say our goodbyes.  Hugs, rather than high fives, all around.  Security is a breeze, and in seemingly no time we are walking out on the apron to our waiting aircraft.  I pause for a second at the doorway and wave towards the upper windows, where I suspect that our children are watching us board.  Just under one hour later we touch down in Edmonton (CYEG), and make our way up and down the terminal once, just to check things out and get the lay of the land.  There's not much to take in.  We buy our last cup of Tim Horton's coffee for a while, and settle in to wait.  We wait...

Several hours later, we lift off of the runway and head for the stars on board a Boeing 767.  Edmonton direct to London/Heathrow.  The light has is fading on the horizon as we climb up to FL 360, and I momentarily amuse myself by thinking about what the pilots in the cockpit are saying to each other at this instant.  Their real life conversation probably isn't as interesting as the imaginary one in my mind.  We level off and the plane shudders as it accelerates and the engines are set up for cruise.  The small TV screen in front of me comes to life and the beverage cart makes it's first appearance of the day.  I allow myself to enjoy the moment, even though for many people this kind of thing is not really something to be enjoyed.  Even though we're now about half way into our journey, it feels like the very beginning of the "next" phase of our lives.

About eight hours later, the sun has been up for several hours and the terrain of Scotland is rolling beneath us.  I notice the snow on the ground and wonder to myself if there will be any at our destination (there isn't).  London finally comes into view, and the plane settles onto the runway a little bit abruptly, but I give the pilot the benefit of the doubt.  He's flown a lot more than I have, and I definitely wouldn't be able to do any better on that aircraft.

We deplane.  Customs.  Baggage claim.  Bus to our hotel.  Check in.  It's now 20 hours since we awoke in our bed, and we are now on the other side of the Atlantic ocean, miles away from our kids, our home, and our families.  I smile.  "Better get used to it, Bucko." I tell myself.  "You ain't seen nothing yet!"  It's 11:00am.  As much as I would love to go to our bed and crawl in and try to sleep for the next 20 hours, I know that to do such a thing would be foolish and would not help our bodies synch up at all.  I'm getting a first hand lesson in re-setting my circadian rhythm.  It sucks.  Karen and I decide that since we are in London and have nothing but time for the next 8 hours or so, we will try to figure out the London Underground and make our way to Buckingham Palace.

Finding our way onto "The Tube" is easy, and in a couple more minutes I understand fairly completely how it works and when we should be getting off.  About 50 minutes later, Karen and I "Mind the gap" and make our way out into the sunlight.  That's right.  Our only day in London and it's sun-shiny!  It is still very cool though, but we are both wearing our Canadian outer wear, and after the cold and snow of Alberta, London feels quite nice.  We find our queen's house and have a look at it.  It's nice.  Really nice.  Some might even call it "Palatial".  They would be right.

At this point, both Karen and I are feeling quite zombi-like, and doing our best to not let it show.  Neither of us have eaten for quite some time, and hunger pangs are helping to keep us awake.  We buy sausages in a bun from a street side vendor, and begin to feel better.  Unfortunately, with our hunger satisfied it becomes even more difficult to even pretend that we are not absolutely exhausted.  Once again, we "Mind the gap" and board the tube for the ride back to our hotel.  By the time we reach our stop, I am doing the "I'm way too tired" head-jerk maneuver about every 25 seconds.  Crawling into bed around 5:00pm, nothing that comes to mind has ever felt so blissful and grand.

Our alarm wakes us up at 7:00am, and our journey continues.  It's back to the tube, minding the gap, then transferring to another tube line, minding that gap, then walking up to the train station.  We have reached the train station with perfect timing, and are able to buy our tickets and, minding the gap,  step right onto our train.  We pull out of the station about 15 minutes later, and after one nights sleep we actually manage to enjoy the scenery as we travel down the rail out of London and into the countryside.  An hour and a half later we pull into the Battle train station.  One phone call later our cab arrives, and 10 minutes later we pull into Ashburnham Place, the location of our time of training here.  We have arrived.

So far the time has been great.  We are surrounded by great people and are learning a lot and being challenged by a lot of cultural things that we have not yet really thought through.  Has it been worth it for us to come here?  Absolutely.  Even only 4 days through the training and orientation we are so glad to have come here to take part.  We are looking forward to seeing our kids again when we return to Canada, but we are very thankful to have had this time of preparation to assist us in getting ready for a move to Uganda.  We'll see what I have to write about next time!

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