The dewy weekday morning represented the first leg of a grand adventure to Uganda.
More than 15 bags were loaded like a Tetris game into the back of a Suburban. Prayers were said. The open road and possibility lay before the small delegation that included me, Steve and Vicki Swigert (Steve is an agricultural economist for the Noble Research Institute; more on him later), and Sara, the first ever Noble-Watoto Fellow (more on her later).
The drive from Ardmore to Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport was uneventful. Check in and security were, well, you know. The color drained out of the face of the little guy who checked in our party. We wheeled in a dozen, 50-pound bags which contained personal items and supplies for Watoto. Through a forced smile, he began the 30-minute process of weighing and tagging the bags.
At security, we received our free MRIs and then were off to gate D11, where we were met with a string quartet. You heard me.
Friday was the first day of nonstop flights from Dallas to Amsterdam. Apparently, this is a seasonal happening for KLM, our airline, and it celebrates the opening of each season's transcontinental maiden voyage with some hoopla. They had put out a spread and brought in Dutch vice presidents and, of course, the string quartet.
Since KLM's motto is "On time. Every time." they soon herded us into our giant metal tube, sealed the door and off we went.
The sky bridge had no sooner retracted from the door when "Little Timmy" introduced himself to the plane. Little Timmy was (in my non-parental estimation) 3 or 4 years old, a toddler at best. He had jet black hair and tanned skin. He was about 2 feet tall, and he sat right behind me for almost 10 hours.
Little Timmy, as it turned out, was not happy about today's flight. He was not happy, and he was determined to make sure everyone knew he was not happy. Little Timmy whined. He bawled. He wailed. He screamed. He squawked. He whimpered. He wanted mom, then dad, then no one.
The helpless flight crew inquired about Little Timmy's well-being. No earache. No fear of flying. No real source of distress except that Timmy was not getting his way.
(Here would be a good time to mention that it is roughly 4,000 miles from Dallas to Amsterdam. That's like flying from New York to L.A. and then partway back to New York.)
It's a cliché to have a crying baby on a plane. We've all experienced it. No problem. Sometimes they settle down. Sometimes they don't. But Little Timmy was the Picasso of suffering, and he painted his masterpiece.
For the first several hours, the passengers followed the social contract. Everyone smiled and nodded their heads in understanding, but then Timmy became mobile and physically terrorized others. He ran up and down the aisles, trying to collect food from other people's dinner trays. (He had already thrown his on the floor.) He emitted nonstop squeals in increasing decibels as he went. The lackluster response from the parents left a lot to be desired by the other passengers.
I don't have children so I can't imagine the stress of flying internationally with them, but assumed grace was in order. My bachelor solution to this problem would be, of course, considered bad parenting. Strap him in. Turn on a movie. Slip him some NyQuil. Problem solved.
At one point, the father leaned forward to me and offered an explanation: "He's a kid. He's going to make noise." Noise? A herd of elephants draped with gongs running through an air horn factory would make less noise.
The plane's collective patience ran out somewhere over the north Atlantic. According to the flight tracker on the 5-inch TV embedded into the headrest of the seat in front of me, we were right about where the Titanic sank.
The lights finally went down and the cabin settled in for a movie and a little rest. Little Timmy was having none of it. He added a new weapon to his arsenal and began tap dancing on the back of my chair like Fred Astaire in a rainstorm.
Another hour passed. I finally leaned my chair back, gaining those ever so valuable 2.5 inches of comfort, and found the perfect position. Eyes sagged. Reality stretched away. I was so very close to sleep when Little Timmy let out a squeal so deafening that dogs in Greenland swiftly looked up.
Two and a half hours passed, and soon the lights came back on. The crew served breakfast. Timmy screamed a few hundred more times. When we landed in Amsterdam, I turned to see that Little Timmy was ... sound asleep.
This entire trip to Uganda will undoubtedly be educational, both culturally and spiritually. I'm anxious for the life lessons, to see the world anew. Apparently lesson No. 1 is patience, and I struggled to master it.