The day we both feared
Friday 6
th October 2011

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"Hello Nannie" shouted Rory. "Hello Nannie" followed Tyler. "Hello Nannie, Hello Nannie" they repeated again and again. Our two grandsons were trying to wake us up. They weren't actually in the room with us but were instead shouting at us via Julie's favourite ring tone on her iPhone. Alarmed by all the commotion we woke and began the day I feared would never come and which Julie feared it would.

We were about to embark on an adventure of a lifetime into the heart of Africa, the dark continent, to Rwanda a country traumatised by horrific scenes of genocide less than twenty years ago. As we sat down for breakfast our emotions could not have been further apart. I was trying hard to contain my excitement whilst Julie found it difficult not to show her overwhelming apprehension.

For her the journey had already been long and arduous. Struggling against her anxiety and concerns it was quite remarkable that she was still by my side this morning. She was here for me, not for herself. In the last few weeks she had seriously doubted her ability and willingness to overcome her fears.

All along I had been promising Julie that Rwanda was now a safe and stable country that had put all its troubles behind but it seemed that from the moment we paid our final balance East Africa suddenly wobbled. Every other day there was some alarming news from the region. Dangerous prisoners escaped in South Kivu, Congo; a grenade attack killed 28 in the capital of Burundi; our internal flight suddenly has a scheduled stop in the capital of Burundi; a British tourist is shot dead and another kidnapped from a beach resort in Lamu, Kenya; a ferry sailing from Stone Town Zanzibar sank killing hundreds; Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya was experiencing a severe drought, people were dying.

There was a constant reminder that this area was no stranger to suffering. With all the tragedy unfolding around them no news was good news from Rwanda.

The breakfast at the Hilton was delicious, made even more tasty as it was complimentary.

We had arrived late last night and the only room they had left was a "smoking room for smoking people" as the Eastern European receptionist told us.

As compensation for sleeping in an ashtray scented room we were given the equivalent of £60 of extras, a free drink each, a complimentary breakfast each, no charge for the internet in the room and the extra day parking (which we would have had to paid for) was waived. That was great customer service!

Eager to check-in we made an early start wheeling our suitcases along the connecting walkway to Terminal 4. After some searching we eventually found a Kenyan Airways information desk but there was no one there, only a small sign that read "We are closed until 3pm."

We had three long hours to wait until then.

Apart for a Starbucks and a small selection of shops there was nothing to occupy us. Ten minutes were spent drinking coffee. With two hours and fifty minutes to go we put our cases on a trolley and went for walk.

On a mezzanine level in between departures and arrivals we stumbled across a bar and a Yotel. (Only by accident really because it was on the way to the toilets!)

We were very tempted to book a room in the Japanese inspired pod hotel as they were available per hour but we decided instead to park ourselves on comfy chairs in the Wetherspoon's Castle Pub.

With a good wireless internet connection we spent the next few hours browsing the web on our iPad. The first news we came across was that Steve Jobs co-founder of Apple and inspiration behind the iPhone and iPad had died today.

Our long wait was eventually over, although the Kenyan Airways check-in desk didn't open until 4pm in the end.

Finally liberated from our suitcases we made our way through security where I had an over familiar frisk and Julie had her fluids sniffed. We both past the close inspection and were allowed through shop side.

With every passing minute the flight was getting nearer and Julie's mood was increasingly tense. She distracted herself with some retail therapy buying a Mulberry silver heart key-ring with money her mum and dad gave us for our 25th Wedding Anniversary, with which she was very pleased.

Another distraction tactic was to have our supper but we couldn't delay the inevitable. At 7pm we made our way over to departure gate 7.

A cocktail of wine and diazepam may have dulled her senses but nothing could take away her fears. This was unbearable for her. She phoned her sister Christine and our daughter Hannah as if it were for the last time and broke down in tears. A consoling hand on her shoulder was all I could offer. It was too late now for words of encouragement. She was absolutely petrified.

"The plane's got a Special K on the tail fin" I said "I didn't realise we were flying Kellogg's Airways". She couldn't find a smile.

The gate opened and they began calling us in blocks of row numbers. Julie took a deep breath, stared blankly into the distance and followed me to the gate. Each step she took the earth shook. She could hardly walk so crippling was her fear. It was a miracle that she managed to follow one step by another.

She could hardly remember boarding the Boeing 777 but somehow found herself sat in seat 22A preparing for take-off. Rigid and lost in a catatonic stupor she jolted out of it only as we hurtled down the runway launching ourselves into the darkness. It was too late to turn back now.

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