Life in the Trees

Shelly’s Note: I have several friends who are gifted writers with incredible perspectives and stories. From time-to-time, I’m inviting them to guest blog on here with me.

Kari Costanza is one such friend. Kari and I met at World Vision in 1996. We were both young women back then. We’re not old women now, but let’s just say that people call us “Ma’am” more often than they used to.

Kari is always traveling the world for work. I suspect she doesn’t have a closet in her home. She just lives out of her suitcase for the few days of the year that she’s there. I asked her if I could share this particular story, fittingly about her luggage. Here’s Kari…

Kari, on an previous trip to Rwanda in 2009

Aug. 6, 2012 – I travel a lot for work and usually everything runs smoothly. My biggest travel decision is between chicken and beef. Unless there is fish. Fish trumps them both.

But yesterday was a different story. The day started well with a sendoff brunch at my in-law’s in New Jersey. If your last name is Costanza, you know how to cook.

I had frittata, waffles, and scrapple—a sumptuous Pennsylvania Dutch pork product I eat once every two years because it takes that long to digest.

We drove to the Philadelphia Airport where I would connect to Detroit, Amsterdam, and finally Kigali, Rwanda.

In Philadelphia the weather literally turned. Sunny skies were replaced by ominous clouds. Still we boarded the plane and prepared for takeoff. As we waited in line to taxi, the pilot came on the radio: “There is a band of nasty weather to the West. All flights have been cancelled.” We waited on the runway for an hour until he said: “We’re heading back to the terminal.”

I waited for my luggage in the jetway. The plane was small and the baggage handlers had taken it from me at the airplane door. When we deplaned, they gave it back—damp, but in my hands.  I waited with thousands of stranded passengers in the terminal, watching a spectacular lighting storm. We oohed and aahed and hoped it would end soon.

An hour later we boarded for Detroit. We sat at the gate, not moving. I grew more and more nervous. I was going to miss my connection to Amsterdam. I did what nervous people do. I bit my nails. I twirled my hair. I tapped my fingers. I may even have twitched. We finally got underway.

I decided to read. I always take books about the country I’m visiting along.  For this trip I’d brought My Father, Maker of the Trees, by Eric Irivuzumugabe, who had survived the Rwandan genocide in 1994. Eric told of losing his mother and siblings during those terrible 100 days. How he’d watched the massacre from the top of a cypress tree. He described the horror he felt, listening to the screams of women and the cries of babies as they died below. How it was difficult to remain in the tree, how the branches dug into his legs and how perching exhausted him. How he nearly gave up and climbed down to die.

My tension level increased with each page. The flight seemed to be taking hours. When we landed, we just sat—again—on the runway. Not moving. Just sitting. With no one explaining why. I was screaming inside my head, Get me off this plane! 

Once in the terminal I learned my plane for Amsterdam had indeed departed. I would arrive in Rwanda late.

I talked with Delta agents, got new flights for the next morning, and settled into a hotel in Detroit. I’d been on the road for more than 12 hours and had gone backward—West, not East.

When I opened my suitcase, I found that everything was wet inside—my socks, shoes, shirts, and slacks.

My first inclination was to feel woe. But then I thought of Eric in the trees. He endured true hardship. This was just a blip. I covered the floor with my wet clothes, creating a small forest on my hotel room rug.

Kari’s forest of wet clothes

Then I climbed into bed, a luxurious bed, the kind that makes you think, “We need a new bed.”

As I rested I thought about Eric. How frightened he was. How uncomfortable he was. How he wanted to give up. But how those branches held him. And about how lucky I was. Mine was an inconvenience. A chance to do what I’m supposed to do anyway—trust in God’s ways rather than my own.

I’ll get to Rwanda. The story will be there. My clothes may smell like rain, but I’m from Seattle. That’s how I’m supposed to smell—like rain. Abundant rain. Rain that gushes from the skies, soaks the earth, and grows sturdy trees with strong branches.

[Kari Costanza is the editor of special projects for World Vision. She has written, photographed stories, and produced videos in 40 countries for the organization.]

Published by

shellyngo

Shelly Ngo is the social media strategist for the King County Prosecuting Attorney's office in Washington state and the creator of www.Citizens ofSeattle.com. She completed her master's degree in digital media from the University of Washington in June 2015. Besides dabbling on Facebook and creating content for websites, she is also the full-time laundress, driver and cook for four kids and a capricious canine.

One thought on “Life in the Trees”

  1. What a wonderful story! I have just been listening to African writers in a panel, discuss why it is so important to write. I often feel so inadequate, but soon, I will follow your example and that of Eric. Quite inspiring! Jonathan

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s