Africa was great. Kampala, the capital of Uganda, is lovely in February, and any tourist will be assured a splendid time if, after landing at Entebbe International Airport, he catches the shuttle bus to the luxurious Kampala Serena Hotel, a five-start resort to compare with any in the world. (If you're down at the poolside lounge, your waiter might be my friend Robert. Tell Robert to bring you a cheeseburger and a Bell Lager, the preferred beverage of famous international correspondents.)
I didn't go to Uganda as a tourist, but as a professional journalist. My services had been contracted and half the fee had already been received. Getting the other half is contingent on the publisher getting 70,000 words by May 1. That should be no sweat, honestly, though when worried friends would warn me about the dangers of my intinerary, including a planned visit to Sudan, I'd play it off with a joke: "I'm not worried about the Sudan. It's the deadline that I'm worried about."
People don't always get my jokes, which is why I nearly didn't get out of Heathrow International in London ("random search," my foot!) and why Her Majesty's government provided security all the way to Dulles International, where I eluded their cordon to reach American soil, thus regaining my rights as a U.S. citizen including, thank God, my Fifth Amendment right to remain silent.
As bizarre as that may sound, the reality was even weirder. Perhaps an old Cockney joke summarizes it best:
Q. What's the difference between crazy and eccentric?I'll try to update later to explain. For now, I'm just trying to decompress and recover my emotional equilibrium.
A. 'Bout 'alf a million a year, I'd say.
Thursday night, Feb. 21, I was present as veterans of the Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA) held a send-off party for Sam in Kampala, prior to his return to the States. It was a warriors-only tribal celebration, and the two Dinka tribesmen present for the party asked Sam (whose father was half-Cherokee) to share his own tribal customs.
So next thing you know, I'm the civilian eyewitness as Sam is war-whooping and doing a Cherokee dance, while the Dinka are doing their thing, the Acholi are doing theirs ... it was a stone-cold gonzo moment.
If you want to learn more about Sam's work -- among other things, his ministry runs the largest orphanage in Sudan -- check out his Shekinah Fellowship World Missions site. If you want to help with Sam's work, I promise you'll be blessed if you write a check (even if it's only $10 or $20) payable to "World Missions" and mail it to:
World MissionsToday, if I understand correctly, Sam is out in Los Angeles. He's about to be hugely famous. Like I told Sam at breakfast one day last week, "Dude, you're going to be an action figure by Christmas." That may sound like a joke. It's not. I can easily picture the boys and girls telling Santa to bring them a Sam Childers action figure (complete with a classic '47 Harley) for Christmas.
P.O. Box 131
Central City, PA 15926
Trust me. In college, I majored in drama (shout-out to my Alpha Psi Omega brothers and sisters at JSU!) and when it comes to method acting, Sam could give Lee Strasberg some lessons, because Sam never has to ask himself, "What's my motivation?" He's 100% about the job, he's always focused on completing the mission, and he has a low tolerance for distractions.
UPDATE TUESDAY 6:20 AM:
I see my good friend Jimmie at The Sundries Shack has linked -- thanks Jimmie.
I got 7 hours sleep yesterday, which is the longest stretch of sleep I've had in weeks. Looking back over the past several weeks, I realize I have been running at full-throttle overdrive since at least mid-January. The valves were starting to rattle a bit, frankly.
Anyway, after sleeping from 3 until 10 p.m. yesterday, I got up and checked e-mail and Facebook for a while. Then at 2:30 p.m., I hopped in my car (the black KIA Optima I call my "Korean Jag" because its lines look vaguely like a Jaguar) and ran to Wal-Mart with a shopping list of supplies I'll need to organize this book project.
With the copious notes and recordings I got during the Uganda trip -- plus the first drafts of four or five chapters, totalling about 20,000 words, and piles of printed notes by Sam -- we should easily hit this deadline on time and under budget.
Seven hours sleep and a bit of time to unwind have restored my confidence. I have an appointment today at 9:45 a.m. with Dr. Cantone, who said he wanted to see me when I got back to find out if I had any problems with the medications he prescribe me for the Africa trip.
Short answer: Hell, yes.
I was taking the anti-malaria medicine once a day as prescribed, as well as the antibiotic (since I had a respiratory infection) and the pain pill (because the cough was painful). When I got off the plane at Entebbe, I felt stressed-out from a nicotine fit, but as Sam later said, he thought I must be on some serious drugsThe situation became weird beyond words on the return flight to London's Heathrow Airport, where we missed our connecting flight and were laid over until the next day. To say that the Brits are security-conscious about their aviation is to engage in a classic English understatement. But I'll say no more about that, except to say that when I finally made it through customs at Dulles and headed for the exit, I felt like what Jethro Bodine would call a "double-naught spy," having made a narrow escape.
(MUSIC CUE: Johnny Rivers, "Secret Agent Man")
Shaken, not stirred
Not only was my wife waiting for me at the international arrivals gate at Dulles, but she had with her our pastor, Vladimir Corea. Hugs were exchanged, and we headed to the pastor's car.
My checked baggage hadn't made it to Dulles with me (just a coincidence, I'm sure), but Sam had warned me about that possibility, so everything essential was packed into the large nylon flight bag I'd purchased in the duty-free shop at Entebbe. (Yeah, I kept the receipt.)
We rolled out of the airport, with my wife in back and me riding shotgun. I mentioned what Sam had said about the potential hallucinogenic side effects of the anti-malaria medication. Pastor Corea said, "Oh, yeah, that happens all the time. We've had missionaries completely trip out on that stuff. It can be bad, man."
Right. It was as if I'd been through what Tom Wolfe once called "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test." And I'd passed the test.