Tuesday, February 06, 2007

I'M A LEAVIN' ON A JET PLANE


It was exactly 33 years ago today that Pat, Reesha and I left behind the "old" world for the "new"--kind of like my Norwegian ancestors had done. We didn't know what awaited us, had only hearsay knowledge of the man who would be "our boss", our linguistic skills consisted of a two-month intensive course in Portuguese that had ended six months previous, and we had never laid eyes on the land we would soon embrace as our own. Sound scary? It sounds scarier now than it did in l974 because in l974 I was young, ignorant, and ready for adventure!

We left Minnesota on a cold February afternoon on a small 737 jet plane. And there was no big farewell at the Minneapolis International Airport as the occasion would seem to demand--just my parents and Dick, one of Pat's older brothers. We avoided conversation that would evoke tears, and in those last minutes before boarding talked about nothing of value, heaped our winter coats on top of Dick and laughed as we took pictures. We said goodbye the best we could, hugging and kissing one another, trying not to wonder if this would be the last time to see each other, letting Grandpa and Grandma have one more squeeze from Reesha. And then we disappeared inside the shiny, silver cylinder waiting to whisk us away. I settled in my seat, surprised at how small the 737 was inside and looked out the tiny airplane window. It was then I saw my parents--their faces pressed against the airport windowpane, hands shading their eyes from the glare of the harsh winter sun, and like an Apocalyptic revelation, I suddenly realized what I was putting my parents through. For a brief moment, I felt their pain sharp and quick, and a cry rose deep inside me, then died quickly as I denied it expression. The 737 slowly backed away, and my parents cast a lonely figure, like sentinels at their post, never wavering or flinching from duty, until they shrunk to tiny specks and were lost from view, but etched forever on my heart.

We hip-hopped from Minneapolis to Rochester to Chicago (circling O'Hare for two hours while a snow storm raged below), then landed in tropical Florida. There we boarded Brazil's Varig airplane, and hearing the tanned Brazilian stewardesses speak Portuguese, I suddenly realized I had crossed an invisible line into another culture. Florida's night had fallen as the plane lifted off into the blackness. I refused to take my eyes off the flickering white lights of Miami as they grew smaller and smaller until the last blink of my culture and identity was blotted out. We were being propelled through the icy black night that surrounded and engulfed us toward an equally obscure and unknown future.

We continued hopping--to Caracas for a fuel stop at 2 a.m. and a few hours later, Manaus. We looked spellbound at the mighty Amazon River flowing below us, discharging more water into the ocean than any other river in the world. We witnessed the dark, crystal-clear waters of the Rio Negro unite with the Amazon's muddy, yellow waters, called white waters in spite of their murky color. For miles and miles the black and white waters flowed side by side in separate, clearly-defined streams before they finally intermingled. It seemed a fit description of the meeting of my own American culture with the new Brazilian one. Like the rivers, our differences would remain intact for a time, flowing side by side. Not until 600 miles down the coast, when ocean currents agitate these rivers, do the waters finally intermingle, consummating the marriage. And it would take a long time before the waters of my American culture intermingled sufficiently with the waters of the Brazilian culture for me to say "we", not "me" and "you." Then we hopped to Brasília, where we went through customs, and finally, after a long layover, arrived at our destination--Belo Horizonte--where we were swept into a blur of happy, white, welcoming missionary hugs. We had arrived safe and sound!!

4 comments:

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Casa dos Lebedenco said...

Oi Nedra!! Thanks for sharing this with us! Você precisou de muita coragem mesmo pra fazer isso!!
When I left to USA in 2001 was different because I knew that it wouldn´t be for too long. I was back here in 2002 and after that every year up to 2006! I miss MN a lot!
We need to meet!! How hard is that!
Best to you...
Eduardo and Aline.

jon dugan said...

Nedra, reading your mussings of your first trip to Brazil 33 years ago brought back memories of our frist trip to Japan 22 years ago. The difference is that i had lived in the Philippines for one year and I was married to a Japanese which softened the transition greatly. For us it was more like moving from my world to hers. I first stepped foot on Japanese soil in the southern island of Okinawa where we spent 2 weeks with Hiromi's family, Since then we have started two churches, rescued about 120 people from cults and rasied three kids. Also, since then, my wife's father and younger brother have died. These days, with Lydia about to launch out on her own and Rebekah entering her last year of high school we find ourselves talking about, what now? We would like to move south, back to Hiromi's hometown in Okinawa and spend time with her mother. But who knows. Life seems very much in transition now. Alas, middle age!

Diane Dahlen said...

Wow. You've got a terrific memory and really captured the emotion of that day so long ago. Poignant events have a way of remaining lodged permanently. Question: Where in the world were Steve and I on that memorable day? Not at the airport I hear! I do remember the incredible sadness I felt at your departure. We must have said our goodbys in another setting. Anyway, you guys have certainly remained faithful to your calling. Blessings!