There’s nothing like a trip over the “big pond” to expand one’s Thanksgiving thesaurus as we make our way through this year’s edition of a Thanksgiving Day weekend.
I am already grateful for much and don’t want to diminish a lengthy and cherished litany of grand appreciations, including such staples as moderately good health, beloved family, bounteous feasting and even economic stability. As I slide into my 60s, I am thankful for the added blessings of four grandkids, all four of our children now happily wed and a wife still willing to live with and love her husband of 38 years.
Just prior to leaving for the office Wednesday morning, my bride took a moment to show me the greeting cards she had bought for each of our wee little grandchildren, whose arrival we anxiously awaited. She read to me the delightfully familiar jingle on the cover. Typically associated with another celebrated gathering soon to come, she tuned the welcoming words, “Over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house we go!”
And so it was, a summer ago, that I joined a church-sponsored medical mission trip to a most gracious and hospitable people of a small village atop a mountain in central Tanzania named Lufu.
I could add to my thanksgivings with merely my travel itinerary. The blossoming range of new appreciation first arose as I stepped on the plane that would whisk us over the Atlantic Ocean. My gratefulness cannot be contained for the infrequency of 13-hour airline flights, limited leg room for my formidable frame, next-to-no floor space for my size 17 feet and malfunctioning audio on my personal TV monitor forcing me to endlessly view that slowly creeping jet on the screen arching across the vast blue ocean.
Having temporarily set down in the capital city of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, I took great pleasure in an airport terminal that was lined with more cushioned cots than chairs, which made for the catching of a few legitimate winks possible after more than have a day airborne and sleep deprived.
Following a quick layover in Addis Abab, the final leg brought us into the largest city in Tanzania, Dar es Salaam. As such, I am thankful when I travel with luggage that doesn’t include a compressed carry on accompanied by two fifty-pound duffel bags of medical supplies and equipment.
We didn’t travel far in our threesome of Land Cruisers before I became acutely accustomed I am to a particular side of the road. Yes, Tanzania was first colonized by the British, and they still drive that way! Shortly thereafter, I celebrated that back home we have mostly paved roads, typically obey any “no passing zones” signage, and roadside warning using bright flashing lights rather than large tree branches spewed across roadways calling forth caution.
Though I am not a fan of road construction sites in general, gratitude is in order for clearly marked detours as opposed to the rather dubious cautioning via large boulders spread across the dirt highway intending to prevent a nosedive into some three-foot deep hole in the ground.
One gains great appreciation for the simplicity of pavements, be they asphalt or concrete, as our travel inland took us on roller coaster-like and rutted African dirt made all the more exhilarating by roads littered with basketball-size boulders rocks and that queasy lurching feeling.
As an avid bicyclist, I love motorists abiding the directive to “share the road.” On the other hand, as we constantly came within inches of speeding semis, we were endlessly hemmed in by a plethora of two-wheeled vehicles that sped in any direction along margins of our road. Pedaled or engine-powered, operators could have cargo taxiing up to four passengers, multiple five-gallon buckets of sunflower seed oil dangling from all sides, or a six-foot high mound of sugar cane amazingly strapped to the backseat or rear rack.
Not surprisingly, I am grateful for secure seat belts as our drivers knew one speed only where without them snugly buckled we’d be engaged in some serious “head-banging” the likes of which could be compared to front row attendance at a Led Zeppelin concert.
Whenever crossing a bridge, ascending or descending, gratitude for guardrails is appropriate as we, on a three-hour climb, rumbled and bumbled our way up the rocky and torturous mountain having nothing but nothing preventing a rapid descent down to the mountain’s base.
Finally, while decompressing with a safari at the end of our medicinal venture, though meeting up in northwest Ohio with a buck or doe at some point is almost unavoidable, I thank God that we need not have to veer around a jaywalking elephant, giraffe, zebra, wildebeest or gazelle.
So, may we all give deep thanks this most-traveled weekend, for every safe and sound mile traversing our runways, highways, byways and county roads, as we join together for another Thanksgiving Day weekend with beloved kith and kin.
Ken Pollitz moved to Ottawa in 1991 as mission-developer/pastor of New Creation Lutheran Church. His biweekly column provides insights and viewpoints from Putnam County. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org