I’d been on some long flights before, but the flight from Johannesburg to JFK was the worst flight of my entire life.

I had been looking forward to going home; I had spent five weeks in Africa with my amazing volunteer group, and was ready for a hot shower. All that stood between me and home was a series of flights: Livingstone, Zambia, to Johannesburg, South Africa; Johannesburg to JFK; and JFK to Denver. My voyage was a total of twenty-four hours in the air, and forty-four from hotel to house. Nothing short of an odyssey.

The flight from Johannesburg to JFK was sixteen-and-a-half hours long. I was at first seated next to a guy who had been on my trip, but I traded with another girl who liked him. I ended up sitting by a nice stranger from Zimbabwe. But, as it turned out, the girl with whom I traded seats had been given someone else’s seat assignment. This man acted like a four-year-old, pouting and shouting at stewardesses about his seat. He was moved far up in the plane, but spent ten minutes glaring at me from the crew area before he was finally ushered away. This incident was an omen.

The day before the flight, we had been given a free gourmet buffet. We had been late to the meal from our excursion to Victoria Falls, and the food had been sitting out a while. As ravenous college kids, we didn’t care. I thought nothing of it, until I was on the plane and we took off. My stomach flipped a bit as we gained altitude—lifting, dropping, lifting, dropping—but when we finally leveled out, my stomach didn’t settle like it usually did. As a matter of fact, most kids on my trip felt ill too. Food poisoning. If there is one place to never get food poisoning, I’d say it would be on a plane. Of all the flights in the world, I got food poisoning on one of the longest. Stewardesses cast worried glances at us as my group seemed to shuffle in and out of the restrooms like clockwork. I got no sleep—nobody did.

This was in early August, right when Miami was hit by some hurricane. So when we got near the Caribbean (we flew over the Bermuda Triangle, just what we needed) we had to fasten our seatbelts for turbulence. For four hours. I am a person who normally sees the seatbelt sign as law: I’m afraid of being tossed around an aisle like a ragdoll. But some things matter more than avoiding a few bumps, bruises, and awkward moments in a stranger’s lap. Despite the glowing sign, I still went to the restroom. All of us did. And not one stewardess said anything.

I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to go on that flight again. Africa was amazing, but getting there—and more importantly getting back—was not something I would do again without some heavy sleeping pills. And maybe a bottle of Pepto Bismol, just in case.

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