I am 35,000 feet in the air, moving at 550 miles per hour toward Lusaka, Zambia. It is -47 degrees Farenheit outside. Although I have been travelling for 27 hours, it is only now, on this final 9 hour leg of the trip, that I begin to seriously contemplate the freefall that is possible from here.  During the first 4 legs of the journey I had been distracted by a missed flight, several reroutes, 2 “flying pills,” and 4 compensatory glasses of wine. But now that I have procured the desired place in the air, I am hit with the realization that I am seriously and dangerously far from everything I know and love.

The other passengers seem nonchalant, even confident, completely unaware of how helpless and absurdly unfit for life we are up here. None of us could withstand the cold temperatures at this altitude for more than 30 seconds, we could not breathe without the pressurized cabin, and there is only enough food and water for a day or two. We are physically incapable of getting ourselves home, both in terms of physical endurance and temporal feasibility. None of us would know the way home anyway.

I am so far away from my children! This thought makes the vertigo the most profound. I try to put down what I feel in my veins, turning my attention to the numbing mechanical buzz of the plane. But the mental and emotional clarity lingers. This trip which I have chosen, not just once but as a regular part of my life, is completely contrary to the instinctual logic, be it maternal, human or animal, that is hard wired  into me. Better to measure things in time than distance, I reason. It is only 10 days. They go to camp for a week in the summer…Going 7000 miles away to a landlocked country in Africa is sort of like that, isn’t it?

I have never been to Zambia, but as I watch the locator arrow move across the map of Africa I am comforted by the idea of getting there. Right now I am in an unnamed space between Cairo, Addis Ababa and Johannesburg. The Lybian Desert and Darfur Mountains are labeled, but other than that I cannot say where I am with much precision. Zambia, a landlocked country the size of Texas,  is still 2500 miles away.  Formerly Northern Rhodesia, the culture is a blend of Bantu and European influence.  It is one of the poorest countries in the world, per capita income is about $1000/year, life expectancy is 41 year of age,the  infant mortality rate is 119/1000 and the maternal mortality rate is 591/100,000.  The economy is showing hopeful signs of growth, with copper and agricultural as principal sources of livelihoods.  Zambia is home to 13 million people, and 3 or 4 of those people are expecting my arrival. I am going to work with a variety of health and social service programs, and visit a village where my colleague Jason worked and lived for two years. I hope to see a hippo and avoid altercations with baboons, and I am going to stand in the mist of Victoria Falls.

I know I will be able to fall asleep soon, and the flight is beginning to feel normal.  I realize that the noplace between places is always like this. God makes a flash appearance, reminding me that this space, so many miles above everything, is something sacred, to be savored. I am the same distance from everything, and from here the world is interconnected and whole. I will try to enjoy how large and small the world is. I will trust sleep and time to take me where I am going, and home again.

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