The flight touched down at exactly 1400 hours at Julius Nyerere International Airport in Dar es Salaam. It had taken 12 hours from Schiphol Airport in the Netherlands to be here. This trip couldn’t have been avoided. Jim had to fly down to Tanzania for a 2 weeks review of several world bank-funded projects that had been rolled out in the East African country.
He hated flights but this one was different. His wife Mellissa had traveled with him. She had just returned from a mission in Sierra Leone the previous day and here she was, on another flight back to the same continent. He looked on as she walked ahead of him after disembarking. Pings of guilt drowned his gut. He felt dirty, used and in pain. The past 2 years hadn’t been the best but they had not been too far from perfection.
When Mellisa and Jim met in 2004, she had been on a posting to South East Asia on a relief mission. Then, he was energetic, driven, ambitious and he was just starting his career. He didn’t have much in terms of a financial grounding but he had the hunger, the drive, and an undying ability to dream of a comfortable future for his family. Working for a humanitarian NGO provided him with the basics in terms of food, clothing and a roof over his head. He tried to save some money every time he wasn’t struggling with a project.
Basically, he was comfortable.
Then he had met Mellisa.
She had been a medical doctor working with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). She had decided to take that career path after visiting warring Sudan during her medical internship. The suffering of the people due to lack of medicine and inadequate medical personnel had driven her towards a path, one that had changed the course of her life altogether.
Back then, she had been coordinating the volunteers providing assistance to individuals in need of medical care, food, water, shelter and other basic necessities after the Tsunami. Most of her efforts and those of her organization were concentrated on hard-hit communities in Sri Lanka and Indonesia, with a smaller-scale presence in Thailand, Malaysia, and India.
They had hit it off immediately and despite the fact that they mostly talked about her work and that of her colleagues in alleviating suffering of the affected communities during the aftermath of the catastrophe, he couldn’t help but notice the glow in her eyes as she narrated to him the critical steps they were putting in place to ensure quick and timely response, coordination of relief, medical assistance and restructuring of communities and counseling to help affected communities with acceptance and rehabilitation.
Despite the oversized coat, the medical jargon, the small rimmed glasses, he could tell she was beautiful. She had done a lot to conceal her features and her beauty but it was often said that not even the dark night can stop the day from breaking. She understood her work and she had a passion for helping. As she narrated the suffering of the poor communities, sometimes tears blocked her vision and he could feel her choking on the pain of their suffering. She was gentle, kind, emotional witty and funny. One time she was in tears and the next she was cracking him up with jokes about her upbringing in Chicago…
Sydney and Jim had met during the 6th Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy where he had been the lead speaker on the role of Civil Society in Public Service Oversight and Management . Back then, she had just started her activism career with an inclination to advocacy aimed at stopping political persecution of human rights activists in struggling democracies in Asia, the Americas, and Africa.
Sydney had made him smile in more times than he had in the past fifteen years combined. She had shown him that life wasn’t all about regrets of opportunities not ceased, laughter not cracked, goals and aspirations not accomplished… She had been a breath of fresh air that had lacked from his life in the 7 years he had been married.
When they met, it had been all about sex, fun, exotic secret holidays in the pretense of work conferences but over time she had washed off the clogs from his eyes, making him see and understand how unhappy and unsure he was about everything in his life.
Effortlessly, Sydney had proven to him that his marriage was nothing but a front for pain, unfulfilled promises, broken dreams, and an unsure future. It was a marriage built on straws, characterized by boring clockwork schedules. Sydney never at any one time talked ill of his wife. He could not allow it.
Jim and Mellisa shared a bond that had given them the courage to walk down the aisle on that Summer weekend of 2006. Sydney respected their bond and devotion to their children, and so she stayed off any topic relating to the marriage between Mellisa and him.
But here he was with Mellisa.