I hope it’s obvious, dear readers, that I would’ve posted more blogs in Africa if the internet connections had been better (or existent). It was frustrating, mainly because email was the only form of communication I had with family and friends while there.
Once in Kenya and settled in at St. Julian’s Retreat Center outside of Nairobi, I was able to make an internet connection and read email. It was then I leaned that my dear friend Aubrey had passed away in Aberdeen the same night as the crazy Umtata bus ride. (It was Aubrey and his wife Jean that I thought I’d lost when I was in England in October, out of contact and finding out that their house had been sold in Walton-on-Thames.)
Well, the news devastated me. At that point, all I wanted to do was get out of Kenya and get up to Jeannie. I found out about Aub’s death on Monday, March 19, and learned that the funeral was set for Thursday, March 22. Oh, yeah. And then I lost the internet connection (never to return). Also, the phone at the center wasn’t working properly, so I couldn’t call up to Scotland to find out all the details.
What to do? Well, first I just cried and cried. Remembering all the years and fun and talks made me sad beyond reasoning. Fortunately, our missioner who runs St. Julian’s had more of her wits about her than I did. She got on the phone with British Airways, changed my Thursday night Nairobi-London flight to same flight Tuesday night and got me on my way.
Mind, I hadn’t talked to Jean or her daughter, so I had no way of letting them know I was coming or finding out whether or not it was convenient for me to show up. I did go to an internet café and manage to send an email stating my intentions. "Will call from Heathrow," was about all I managed. If I couldn't make my way to Aberdeen, I figured the worst that could happen was to end up in London for two nights, so off I went.
The Nairobi Airport is another yikes-filled experience, but I won’t bore you with that here. (Four security checkpoints and I still made it through with tweezers and nail clippers in my hand luggage.)
All the way to London, I’m thinking “What the hell are you doing? You have no winter clothes with you, you’ve never been to Aberdeen, you haven’t let Jean and Viv know you’re coming – aargh!”
OK. So I arrive at Heathrow and go online to see if any messages have come through. And yes, Viv says come on up, just let us know when to pick you up at the airport. Again online, I check out flights to Aberdeen via British Midlands and British Airways. BMI is a few pounds cheaper – but not much. I paid as much for round-trip Heathrow/Aberdeen as you’d paid for JFK/Heathrow, but it had to be done.
More trepidation as I looked down on Scotland and the outlying areas of Aberdeen to see snow, snow, snow. Oh. Great. I’m in light-weight trousers and sandals. Never mind. Aubrey’s looking down and laughing his ass off about it.
I’d never been to Aberdeen before. Aub and Jean’s daughter and family have a lovely horse farm near Stonehaven, a very picturesque fishing village near Aberdeen. I was warmly welcomed, given sweaters, thick socks and boots (though there was now snow on the ground where we were) and lots of tea.
I absolutely did the right thing leaving Kenya and flying blindly to Scotland to be with Jean. She needed family-but-not-real-family to
listen to her and be there for her. We told remember-when story after remember-when story, laughed and drank tea for a while, then whiskey for a while. I spent the night with a good friend of Viv’s who showed me the most wonderful hospitality.
Aubrey’s funeral was at the local crematorium, and I must say I’ve never been to a funeral at a crematorium, so yet another new experience. I sat behind Jean and tied to stifle my sobs, since I was the only one in a puddle during the service. But when they pulled the little curtain around the casket to – I assume – cremate the body, well. Very hard, especially as the organist was playing “Amazing Grace.”
After the service, we all went to the St. Leonard’s Hotel in Stonehaven for drinks ('natch) and a great meal. I walked in, smelled the fish and saw the plaid carpet and knew without a doubt I was in Scotland. Lots of good talk, then back to the house for more tea and to unwind a bit before I had to hop back to London in order to catch this morning’s flight to New York.
What a strange trip it’s been. Africa to Aberdeen, in one fell swoop. But tonight –my own bed.
Here’s to you, Aubrey Dare, maker of splendid English breakfasts, bringer of tea or double-gin-and-tonics, picker-uppper from the airport or train station, spinner of yarns, fisher of the River Dee. You will live in our hearts as a good man.
Aubrey and moi, 2005