Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Kwaheri Nairobi

In 4 hours I leave WYA Africa, so sad! I'll miss scuma wiki (spinach) and Kenyan tea at all hours of the day. Thankfully I was served less matoke (deep fried banana) this trip, so my bum is less large than it otherwise would have been.

Yesterday evening Caroline and her husband, Nick, took all the WYA staff and interns out for Chinese food.  En route we nearly bumped fenders with one of the Matatus (public buses) as they stop randomly whenever anyone wishes to get off. Caroline was so annoyed she rolled down the window to shout at the driver, at the height of her annoyance she shouted "Go Home!" We all cracked up! Go home? Apparently she was concerned he was driving badly as he was low on sleep and thought he should take a rest and be with his family for the safety of other drivers...

Upon arrival at the restaurant there was a foosball table.  Nick and Bissy played Irene and me.  We won, but Nick had the most enthusiasm. We attempted to stop the game for a good 10 minutes, and every time we started to walk away he'd drop the ball and try to score on us. Once dinner was over and we were all leaving he resumed his post for another game!

We had our first chance to all be together and share stories. Irene and I talked of our recent travels and Nick shared the boys' adventures. I was quite impressed as the taxi driver who took us decided to just stay and wait for us to finish rather than going back to his post and returning for us. So Caroline and Nick fed him also - that's dignity!

Today was a no-power day. I packed for a couple hours, then took a freezing cold shower before Irene and I joined Mr. Beauttah for a farewell lunch. Completed offline work this afternoon and now the power's back on! I'm off now to meet with Irene and Hezbon to discuss final details before I head to the airport to catch my 2am flight. That's the hour you get when you fly Turkish Airlines for half the cost of any other airline :)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Maasai Cattle in Nairobi

Kenya is currently suffering from a drought and Kenya's power is hydroelectric. There is power rationing 3 days/week on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, there is no power between 6am and 6pm. Different parts of Nairobi have power rationing on different days. 

As a result of the drought, the Maasai grazing grounds are dried up, so the cattle now wander throughout the city in search of grass and food. It's quite a sight to see Maasai herders and cattle on Nairobi city streets and side roads.

Speaking of animals... Irene, Bissy and I today took a safari tour through Nairobi's National Park. Apart from the huge fee difference for foreigners and Kenyans ($40 vs $5) the visit was lovely. We woke at 5 to be sure we could be at the park when it opened at 6 to catch the animal's early morning activities.

Although the animals are most active in the morning the wardens don't arrive till after 8 nor does the bookshop, which is the only place maps are available, open till later.  So we headed off into the park with our driver, who thankfully had been there before.  We saw a few giraffe and zebra in the distance and one, lone wildebeest.  Then we came across a small herd of greater kudu. They were a bit skittish though we tried our best to get some nice shots, then Irene saw it. Far off in the distance, between two bushes, was a golden brown spot, a lion! It took the rest of us another few moments before we could spot him, and we tried to get pictures of him. He slunk off into the bushes so we drove on. 
We became good at spotting giraffes, no pun intended, or is it... and also saw springboks, gazelle, and later on an ostrich.  The ostrich was running a distance from us across a stream.  We drove along in the same direction and crossed the bridge to get closer.  We were especially hopeful as a number of deer were also running - we hoped from a lion.

The poor ostrich chose to walk on the road in front of us for a good 300 meters.  He seemed bothered that we were following him, but unlike he, we had to stay on the road. He finally veered toward the stream and we left him.  As we returned on the same path, he was also returning from the river and perhaps rather annoyed to encounter us again.
We saw two giraffes fighting.  All those pictures in National Geographic where giraffes have their necks entwined in what appears to be a romantic embrace are misleading - that's how they fight. They twist their necks around each other and then bump with the top of their head either the neck or the body.  It's actually adorable to watch.
At one point we thought we saw a herd of wildebeest in the distance, upon closer inspection it was  a forest of slightly scattered very low bushes.  We drove through it and discovered the jackpot of 4 legged grazing animals. Dozens of zebra herds, greater kudus, springboks, gazelles and even some wildebeest. It seems the wildebeest only gather together for their migration as most were wandering off by themselves in random parts of the park. That was also when we saw our warthog.

I saw the grasses bending coming towards us and could just make out a brown coloured shape. I was convinced it was a lion, until his upright tail, snout and tusks appeared. He was trotting along at quite the pace and seemed so businesslike.  Apparently Pumba is short for pumbavo which means stupid in Swahili. Poor Pumba, at least he had a nice singing voice.
Once through that patch of land we discovered Ostrich central, they were all off by themselves and could easily be mistaken for trees in the distance with their necks down eating. Just brown and black bumps on the horizon.

By then we'd been driving for a few hours and were encountering fewer wildlife.  We were about to leave the park when some rangers drove by and said there was a lion spotted nearby. We turned and headed in that direction but saw no sign of the lion. Apparently no one informed him that when you live in a national park, your job is to be observed by tourists...

Just as we arrived to the gate of the park, we saw two baboons in the road ahead of us. Unlike all the other animals we had encountered, they seemed content to remain there. One baboon ran off and returned a moment later with some food, for the baby we hadn't noticed until then cuddled into his mother's fur. They sat and ate and played in the middle of the road, until another vehicle drove past. They then came and ran behind our vehicle watching.  Although Irene was adamant we shouldn't feed them as they can get vicious when angry, I couldn't resist. I threw an orange peel out the window, and the mother dove for it then ran off. We then realised they were only the forefront of an entire (herd? flock?) of baboons. There were mothers with babies, teenagers and adults. There was even the macho one of the group who was much larger than the others and barked at us before moving on.
We then visited a nearby elephant orphanage.  The elephants are so tiny and wrinkled like ancient old men, I managed to reach out and pat the trunk of one, who then grabbed my hand with the edge of his trunk and tried to eat it - cute! Once the elephants were gone, a baby Rhino came out for a bit. He had the most hilarious gallop and a great deal of personality to fit into his small hide. They're trying to raise him as wild as possible to release him into the park someday as Rhinos are nearly extinct here.

Such a beautiful day, we came back and napped a bit at the WYA office and are heading out in a few hours for a dinner with Caroline's family and all the interns to see me off tomorrow.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Painted Cow Dung

Irene and I are back in Kigali, by this time in our travels it is our second home after Nairobi. Our? I've decided by this point I either have homes all over the world, or I am homeless, I think the first option sounds better.

We had a successful seminar with students in Goma. They were greatly impressed by Irene's talk on Peace and Good Governance, and especially that one so young as she knew so much. They had many questions for her. They were also interested in my presentation on HIV/AIDS and I think it was the first time for them to understand the disease beyond the catch phrase of abstinence, fidelity and condoms - signs are all over the place! There was one young mother in the room who was initially quite upset to hear about HIV being passed from mother to child and then appeared greatly relieved to hear of ways to pre-empt that.

I think I mentioned previously that Goma has high rates of TB, it also has incredibly high rates of HIV infection. I hope that my presentation didn't hurt anyone as I'm sure they all know someone affected. It was difficult to convey anything as they all speak French so I had a translator, whose English was good but it is a tough topic to hear and translate all in one go. Irene and I both reworded many phrases and many witty comments were lost :)

The one thing Irene and I can't get over and are both determined to somehow return and empower the youth to fix is the prevalence of rape. The one woman who spoke up during the seminar mentioned the frequency of rape, and even the men all discussed security and peace as being their number one problem. We both wanted more time to hear the stories of the women there. The things we noted as excellent points were that in the WYA core group of 4, there are two women. We also noticed that none of the men had a problem listening to two women speak and asking us questions. I think they all feel overwhelmed by the situation and haven't received leadership training to address it.

We raced across the Goma/Gisenyi border then took motorcycle taxis to catch our bus 1 minute before it departed. The roads are terrible and I was grateful we were going slow as I'd been given a helmet without a visor or strap, I had to keep shaking my head to keep it on as my hands were busy holding my purse and me on. The bus ride back, 45 minutes in the two backseats cleared out and we both slept for a couple hours. I think it is impossible to appreciate how great our spines are at keeping our heads from rattling until your head is rested directly on a seat. So many times I flew a few inches into the air or had to open my mouth to prevent my teeth from clacking. The closer we got to Kigali, the easier it was to sleep.

Today was a delicious day; we slept in and enjoyed a leisurely breakfast before embarking on our day. Irene wanted to see the Genocide Memorial this trip, and we booked our flight for Sunday to give us a day to complete all our errands. Of course, this day happens to be a national holiday. The memorial is closed. I'd hoped to get some shopping done - half the stores are closed. One opened for us, and we then found a market that is also open.

We stopped at one booth where the woman had some great items, she is a phenomenal businesswoman. She is part of a cooperative where youth, elderly and women do beading, basketry, farming, etc and she sells their stuff. Thanks to that, she was a very tough bargainer, continuously reminding us of the women who benefit from the sales.

My favourite part of her shop was artwork made of painted cowdung! She showed them to us, and we smelled it, and she said tons of people buy it... as Irene put it, that is really entrepreneurship: taking what you have and adding value! She agreed to a picture of her with her cowdung artwork, on the condition that I send it to her so she can use it for marketing. Irene then bought a necklace and earring set and was told to pose with it on, holding another necklace with more in the background for her also to use... I am so impressed by her. She also insisted that I find her more markets as she assumes I have more access than she does.

We'll head back to our Kigali home in a few minutes before departing tomorrow. Our flight leaves at 11, and the Memorial opens at 8. Assuming we're both able to rouse ourselves from bed on time we'll make one last effort to visit.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Wireless in Goma, DRC

Irene and I are sitting outside a supermarket in downtown Goma, DRC where they have wireless. Goma is the city in Northeastern DRC with rebel generals outside and frequent bouts of conflict. It is is home to some of the highest rates, worldwide, of TB and AIDS. They also have a live volcano which periodically engulfs the town.

We are visiting some WYA members here who have arranged for us to speak to a group of University students about peace, good governance and HIV/AIDS. These members really want to spread WYA's message of dignity to more youth, and especially students. We discovered last night that there have been 3000 reported rapes this year since January, as one small indicator of the difficulties faced by youth in this area.

I last visited Goma in February, 2007. At that time we drove over roads composed half of dirt and half of hardened volcanic lava. The roads were incredibly bumpy and the town was in recovery. I was looking forward this visit to seeing what improvements have been made. None. The roads are, if anything, worse and the town looks the same as it did previously.

Coming from Rwanda where it takes only a few months to notice improved roads, more businesses, etc. the contrast is stark. As Irene keeps saying, it demonstrates the incredible importance of leadership within the country. She also keeps suggesting that Kagame take turns as President of each country in East and Central Africa once he finishes in Rwanda.

We spent the last couple days in Rwanda also meeting with members and hopefully we'll have a WYA club at KIST university to work alongside our members at NUR. Alain also arranged for us to speak on Umucyo radio about WYA, the English language radio for Rwanda.

In Rwanda, there are few reminders that it is still emerging from devastation and poverty. One reminder is that you cannot book on their national airline without going in person to the office and paying. There are also few places in Rwanda that accept AmEx or Mastercard, only VISA. As I don't have VISA, I ended up spending the last of my American and Rwandan money to book the flight, paying exorbitant Mastercard fees to get some more out, and thankfully had just enough left for Irene and I to cover our visa fees at the DRC border.

We've been taking the motorcycle taxis each day to get into town and back to where we're staying at night as it is a bit far from the downtown. We'd been lucky to have competent drivers on each of our trips, until the night before we left. I got onto the back of the motorcycle and felt he was going much too fast, but decided to remain quiet rather than get him angry. I finally spoke up when he swerved and nearly hit Irene's motorcycle, then swerved again and nearly hit a car. I asked him to please drive slowly. He would speed up whenever we could, even when we were headed for stopped traffic, then he would stop abruptly and swerve continuously to find an opening. The only reason I remained on is I was concerned if I got off sooner than the destination that he might get angry and I didnt want an argument with him alone at night in Kigali.

Thankfully we arrived safely and also discovered a nearby bus stop to take in the future. For now I must jet, we are off to speak to the youth of Goma. This keyboard is also written in English but set to French so I have had to guess at many keys here...

Thursday, August 13, 2009


Monday morning I had yet another 5am wake up call as Irene and I boarded our 8am flight from Nairobi to Bujumbura. We arrived to discover it is a solid 10 degrees warmer than Nairobi and I had packed completely wrong :p We were met by two WYA members, one who had attended the DDD conference in Nairobi, and driven to the Amahoro youth club. Amahoro means peace in Burundi.

We had a great meeting with the club members, then went for lunch nearby. The club is next door to a hair saloon - coiffure - and the stylists were outside eating lunch. They insisted I join them for lunch so I sat and had some kassava paste with soup and tiny fish, whole! The kassava is really sticky and I was already nauseous from beginning my anti-malaria medication that morning. I focused on so many happy memories to swallow it and remain smiling. They then insisted I go for another one, I'd managed to avoid the small fish up until this point. One of the women then picked one up and motioned for me to do the same. I tried to find the smallest one I could, but still got one which stared back at me while I held onto it's tail. I ate it, thankfully the bones were so small they didn't crunch. I smiled and thanked them for their hospitality. They wanted me to finish the whole meal with them, but I told them I absolutely could not as Irene and some club members were waiting for me.

Thankfully the food we went to eat was matoke (fried bananas), and some stews with which I am more familiar. We then went to the house where we were staying for the night, after booking our bus ticket leaving for Kigali the next morning. We stayed at a little house, about 20 minutes outside of Bujumbura with two bedrooms. One of the guys gave up his bedroom for us and they all shared a room together. We had a 30 minute nap as we were exhausted before heading back into town.

Bujumbura is a little town, and takes maybe 15 minutes to drive from one side to the other, with traffic. Within a few hours of walking, we'd seen most of the sights and were somewhat familiar with the geography. They took us to a little crafts store where we got a few items. We'd understood we would go into town for supper, so neither Irene nor I had snacked before we left.

By the time we got back to where we were staying it was 930 and we hadn't eaten since 1pm. My stomach was eating itself from the pills and even Irene was in dire need of food. We were planning to bust out protein bars and bread in our room, but the tv was in our room and our hosts decided they wanted to hang out with us. They all lounged on the bed, chatting and finally around 10pm we were served some food.

The uncomfortable part of the trip was they were all asking if I were married, engaged, had a boyfriend, when I said no to all three they were horrified and one spent nearly an hour telling me I had to reproduce so I could have beautiful children. I attempted to say beautiful children depends on a number of factors but he wasn't dissuaded from his quest. It's amazing how they all love blonde hair and white skin - Irene and I were discussing the next day all the whitening creams, hair extensions, etc. that people use to attempt to make themselves more fair, and the huge need there is for people to see beauty around them rather than some colonialist version they're currently accepting.

Sunday, August 9, 2009


To keep both Irene and myself alive, we spent the past two days in Nairobi resting before we embark on our travels through Burundi, DRC and Rwanda next week. A number of participants from Nigeria, Rwanda and Ghana stayed with WYA and one participant from Sierra Leone arrived after it ended so was thankfully still able to meet some of our other members and discuss issues. I've used this time to attempt to catch up on some emails, I discovered a restaurant near the Africa office with wifi and have yet to be kicked out :p since the office internet isn't working.  I'll leave the password with Irene for future use!

The jerseys I had donated from 5Ultimate are still stuck in customs.  We've been making daily trips/phone calls/emails to try and get them out, yet each time the requirements change - from an email to an email addressed to a different person, to an import form, etc.  At this rate we could have flown them hot air balloon and they would have arrived sooner...

I was so annoyed that the participants didn't get jerseys, after all the work I'd done to get them donated and the generosity of 5ultimate to donate 100 for the conference.  Thankfully, Mr. Beauttah knows a school in Nairobi where 90% of the students are from Kibera slum, Nairobi's (and possible Africa's) largest slum.  So those kids will get to benefit from DHL's unprofessionalism, and the jerseys will still go to a good cause.  On the bright side, the participants did each get a disc to take home, so they can continue to promote good governance through sports.

Yesterday, I went to the Maasai market on my own as Irene had other errands.  Of course, I was greeted by numerous people willing to "bargain" for me, and receive a lovely sum for themselves in the process.  I've learned that the minute you shake hands or exchange names they become 1000X more persistent in attempting to sell you or not letting you leave, so I refused until I was interested in a person's goods.  A few of the "negotiators" tracked me down even in the market and accused me of rudeness for not shaking hands.  I attempted to explain to one guy that the minute I shook his hand he would never leave me alone and I wished to bargain on my own.  The woman running the stall cracked up when I said that and then helped me to shoo him away. She then also gave me a reasonable price to start bargaining from as I obviously knew how the market worked.

My favourite purchase from yesterday, which I absolutely had to buy, are covers for pots to keep flies away. The edges have a lovely beaded fringe and the material is... mosquito netting! As I bargained the woman down she appeared outraged as she was telling me of all the work it took and she had to buy the materials - buy?  I don't think she buys her materials.

It reminded me of a story I heard where an aid agency was distributing mosquito netting within a region and couldn't understand why the malaria rates were not dropping - until they investigated and realised the girls were hoarding the mosquito netting to make their wedding dresses.  So they gave the mosquito netting to the men instead, yet still the rates didn't decrease.  They investigated and discovering the men were using the mosquito netting as fishing nets. The lesson learned? Never under-estimate the creativity of those you are trying to help.

Friday, August 7, 2009

WYA Africa DDD

WYA Africa finished it's Decade of Dignity and Development Conference entitled Peace: Our Responsibility for Integral Development yesterday. The conference was a great success and we had participants from Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, DRC, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Nigeria and Ghana, we even had one participant from Sierra Leone arrive today - a bit late but he still gets to meet some of the others.

The speakers were all very interesting, and all focused on the responsibility of the participants to take these ideas back to their countries and make them a reality rather than blaming leaders or waiting for others to take the lead. The participants asked tough questions, and there was a real sense of urgency and importance behind each participant and their thoughts. They are all passionate about developing Africa and bringing their countries to be key players at the international level and want to begin working towards that goal now.

What was most incredible is the huge responsibility each one has willingly taken on himself. As the participants spoke with each other they discussed plans to be presidents of their countries someday, to be Africa's leading entrepreneurs, and to rid their countries of corruption through whatever field they are engaged in. When I think of what other youth are engaged in, and the conversations they are having I just hope that these youth are given the opportunities to make their dreams reality - as they certainly have the talents and desires to do so.

The second day of the conference we had a cultural night. A children's choir performed for us, all the children are from a nearby slum and were selected on the basis of musical talent - they initially came for the food and have since perfomed in South Korea and also at the UN. They also perfomed some traditional Kenyan songs and dances for us and were so adorable. Hezbon's sister sings in the choir so they are clearly a talented family!

The next performance was a troupe of dancers and acrobats also from a nearby slum. The dancers were great and the acrobats were incredible. I'm still in shock when I think of what they did. They performed pyramids, handstands, and other structures off each other for the longest time. They did flips, one swallowed fire, just amazing... What was really most remarkable was the duration of time. They did things I've seen in pictures before, but repeatedly! I kept thinking surely it was over, that they must be exhausted and the show continued. The other thing that was so remarkable was the floor they performed on was slippery and they had no safety anything - they would run and jump onto each other's shoulders and into the arms of someone already on top of another person. If they fell, that would be it. I hope someday they become world famous - they have as much talent as some of the performers in Cirque de Soleil.

I also had one Ultimate player join me from Kampala, Uganda to teach Ultimate to the participants. We did two sessions in the afternoons after the conference and finished with a game the final day. Each of the participants received a frisbee to take home with them, and most of them are quite addicted to the game. We've already heard from one participant who had to leave early and didn't take a disc that he misses playing and is wondering how he can get a disc. Many others are excited to return home and either join an existing team or start one of their own :)

What was most exciting was to see the mastery of the game. The first game we played was full chaos with people running around, double teaming and messy throws. By the final game, they were calling their own fouls, arbitrating the game themselves, marking each other and had some flow. We even had a few participants who truly understood Spirit of the Game and Good Governance who would call fouls on themselves as they felt it was necessary.

We had lunch with a few remaining participants today, and some are staying at the WYA office. The conversations they are having are so inspiring. Last night, a few were speaking of how they dream that someday all world leaders, entrepreneurs and people in positions of power will be WYA Alumni, and another seconded that someday in the future every single young person will be a member of WYA and learning how to live and treat others with dignity. They were also discussing their countries' pasts, inclusive of democracy, genocide, conflict, etc and discussing how the way forward consisted of each leader, but more importantly each youth learning about dignity and transforming their countries from that perspective. WYA and Africa have a great future together, I am excited to see what each of these people will do even within the next few years!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Drama at the airport

The check in line at the airport extended halfway through the departure hall.  I waited an hour to get my turn to check in.  I'd checked the weight requirements earlier in the day and had been so excited to see that they'd increased the weight limit to 30kg.  I packed a box full of all my presents and books I'd finished reading to hit 29, practically perfect :)

However, apparently it is 30kg/bag everywhere in the world EXCEPT Africa - yet another example of Africa being shafted... For Africa it is 30kg - 1 bag! So, instead of being 16 kg under, I was 14 kg over. I asked the check in lady for the excess baggage cost and was told 750 PHP - approximately 15 USD.  Not something I wanted to pay, but I really had no option.  I went to pay it and was told it was $700 USD!!!!!

So, I asked what other options I had, if I could bring my carry-on suitcase on board with me as one extra hand luggage, or ask another passenger to carry a few books for me, etc.  The manager just told me my only option was to get off the flight and fly the next day or pay the $700.  I told her neither was an option so we needed to find some other way.

To compress the next two hours of my life.  I spoke with two managers who repeated over and over and over that I had to get off the flight or pay the $700.  According to them, there was no phone the airline had which I could use, there was no baggage storage place, there was no other way to send luggage except for their way, and I am an idiot for assuming on an international flight that I'm allowed to check two pieces of luggage... especially when the airlines is Emirates which advertised online for increasing baggage allowance to 30kg and is not a budget airline.  I should have assumed that it was 30kg total which is a fraction of what even most budget airlines offer!

Spoke is really putting it rather politely, they yelled.  I began by asking lots of questions, then became firm that they must have a phone, baggage storage and options because every other airport in the world does, then resorted to crying and finally gave up and went to use a payphone to call Erika and ask if she could pick up my box.

Magically, as soon as they had won they had a phone which I could use, baggage storage to leave my box in, there were options to send it cargo which is much cheaper, etc!

I left my box there, didn't sign anything, and sprinted towards the gate.  I was the last passenger in the airport and everyone there kept telling me to run as I made my way towards the gate, apparently even the cleaning people knew of my plight. 

I was crying as I got on board and had already vowed never to fly Emirates again despite all previous positive experiences.  The moment I stepped on board all the crew were so kind.  They made me sit down right by them, brought me water, a face towel, juice.  

Throughout the entire flight they kept checking up on me to ensure I was ok. The crew from business class brought me their snacks, mango juice and even a towel shaped like a duck with a red ribbon around it's neck.

I told the crew why I was so upset, and one of them said he wished he'd been there as he could have taken some of my weight for me.  I'd asked the manager earlier if I could request a passenger who was under weight to carry some of my books or something and was told that would put me in prison. So yeah, two hours of lying, yelling managers and now I need to pay to get my luggage back to the USA - thank you jerks!

So, now I just need to track down the two managers and do my best to get them demoted, fired or in intensive re-training courses.  

Leaving Manila...

The last few days in the Philippines were so delightful. Ren and I visited the province of Bataan with the vice mayor who had attended the WYAAP DDD.  He was a great tour guide and we visited a turtle hatchery, sadly the baby turtles weren't hatching at the time.  We also visited a monument to remember the soldiers who fought the Japanese and also died along a "death march" after finally surrendering.  Pretty horrible reminder of the faith placed in the US, and how the Philippines was abandoned for a few years until the US needed a battleground on which to fight the Japanese.

Saturday I slept in, had breakfast with Erika then went shopping in Greenhills, the pearl market and local crafts market to spend every last penny of my life savings - literally.  Ren and I had one final meeting with a professor from the Ateneo university.  He's one of those ADHD geniuses involved in everything.  Our meeting was successful as he really loved what WYA does. Then we went for dinner with Erika and Michelle, we were so loud and it was so good to catch up with Michelle especially as I hadn't seen her yet.

Sunday I went for my last day of Ultimate and my jersey was there! I played a game with the girls, took team photos and had to leave.  The guy whose cleats I'd been borrowing had a game at the same time as my team and I couldn't find anyone else to lend me cleat so played barefoot.  The ground was super muddy and squishy and I was sliding everywhere.  We also took a picture together and the whole team was teasing him about our love and that he should come to the USA with me...

Lunch with Er's family, packing, dinner with Michelle and then it was time to leave.  Erika drove me to the airport and a whole new adventure began.