"What the hell happened to her?” I turned in my seat and asked Sal, the Minnesotan, as we were approaching Ouagadougou International airport. Lauren, the busty. attractive long haired brunette, who in Chicago had a face like her mom was dying, had let out a wail and was sobbing uncontrollably with her head in her hands.
“She just started crying?” I asked Sal, “What were you guys talking about?”
“Nothing,” the round-faced Midwesterner replied. I just said ‘’Yea, it looks like Minnesoooota” and she started crying.”
(I later came to find out why the reason for Lauren’s morose mood at pre-stage. She wasn’t freaked about going to Africa, she had actually been to Haiti and was braced for whatever lay ahead she was just distressed about leaving behind her boyfriend, back in the States for two years).
Of course, I didn't know why Lauren was crying at the time. As it was, we were all tense, questioning our coping abilities, and all this wailing and sobbing wasn’t doing anybody any favors. The Peace Corps had us wound up expecting the worse, and it seemed one person had already cracked even before we got off the plane.
Crazy thoughts started racing through my head. Was I going to freak out too? Was my mind permanently damaged from all those psychedelic trips in college? Was the only reality that I could handle a red white and blue one and found between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans north of Mexico and south of Canada? Was I going to start babbling some crazy shit like I was Jesus or something?I guy knew in college who had opened his doors of perception with what was more than a reasonable recreational dose of acid, and things took a pretty weird turn. We were all sitting around enjoying the trip laughing our asses off about something silly when suddenly this guy spoils the fun and starts crying and talking this crazy shit about a vision of himself laying in the manger in the nativity scene with the three wise men looking at him.
Guess what? He fucking wasn’t the sweet baby Jesus.
As we approached the cabin door I could feel the rush of the intense dry heat. Florida is a hot place in summer, but I had never felt heat like that before, it was a whole different level of hot. Then when I was just about to step out of the plane's port, I looked at the guys busily working on the airstrip and had a crazy thought, Everyone here is black.
That is CRAZY AS HELL! I said to myself, instantly becoming alarmed that the dreaded culture shock was already starting to play sushi chef with my psyche. Wide-eyed and tentative, I made way down the silver staircase fearful that my ego was soon to melt away faster than would a 25 cent Slurpee sitting on the black tarmac we were descending onto. Fighting off the panic, I fought to put aside the nonsensical thoughts as we filed languidly towards the rundown terminal.
However, as we were waiting to be processed at immigration, I started to have some reassuring thoughts.
First of all, I reasoned, we were in Africa, so seeing black people was only to be expected. If I had seen a group of guys with blond hair and blue eyes wearing ski jackets and shoveling snow off the runway, that might be a cause for concern, but that clearly was not the case. These guys were most definitely black.
Secondly, I had noticed the heat, and Africa was a hot place, everyone knew that. That seemed to be an indicator that my brain was still interpreting external phenomena in some sort of logical fashion, and that could only be a good sign. I was starting to calm down a bit.
Then, as I approached the immigration officer, I opened my passport, and much to my relief I saw my own face and recognized my name. It read Lee Leonard, not Jesus of Nazareth, Siddhartha, Mithras or any other psychotic bullshit. Just plain old Lee Leonard. It appeared my sanity was still intact, or at least as much as it was before we had left Chicago. I still anticipated challenges and knew I had a way to go to get my bearings, but from that moment on I knew I could hack it. We had landed in Africa and if I had made it that far, I could go the distance. It was as simple as that. Like the Mercury astronauts, I had what it took to take the ride.