I have trouble sleeping, as I always do when I need to get up early. I’m up at 5:40 and follow the dim light of my iPod across the rocks to the parking area, where the taxi driver is already here, seat reclined, sound asleep. In a few minutes Beth comes up the hill, and a minute later we see Lois making her way from the guest house down the main path to the older girls’ dorm, where her 2 checked bags are. Karen has arrived too, and she and I help Lois carry the bags to the car. We’re mostly quiet, because it’s early, and because we’re sad at the parting, and because the little lake gnats are buzzing around our heads and we don’t appreciate their nutritional value. I tell Lois she was an exemplary team member; Beth and Karen say their temporary good-byes; and the two women climb into the back seat of the cab. It works its way up the drive; I watch until its lights disappear through the gate and then go back to bed.
I sleep better now that that’s taken care of. Next item on the agenda, chai at 10. Up at 8:30, shave, shower—and actually think, “Next shower at home, tomorrow night!”—and begin the relatively simple process of packing, stripping the beds, taking down the mosquito nets, and generally restoring order to the chaos we’ve created in the past month. Asher and I are even jollier than usual this morning, anticipating home and the people it represents, and I suppose the creature comforts don’t hurt either.
Last chai. Tea, chapati, uji. A perfect finish. The guys tote their luggage over to the guest house, and I do a check of the bath house and the guys’ dorm rooms. It all looks good.
Josalyn has made some banana bread to use up the softening bananas and to send us off. It fills the house with the smells of home. By the way, I don’t think I’ve said that the bananas here are about half the size of the ones common in the States. Sometimes you see this kind in the more hoity-toity grocery stores at home, but they’re all over the place here, for pennies. Or shilingi, more precisely.
We have the formal good-byes at 11:30. Many of the children cry, and most of the team does as well. Lots of “We will meet again”s.
Then a final lunch on the Eadses’ porch, cold cuts and potato salad. I manage to get the morning’s blog post uploaded through the mobile hot spot, and I’m as up to date as I’ve ever been. I figure I need to get the parents up to date before we fly, since the access will be even less predictable after that. I hope you’ll check back after we arrive to see the photos that are coming later. 🙂
We’ve hired 2 taxis to supplement Beth’s vehicle for the ride to the airport. They’re right on time at 1:30. We load up, but the children won’t let go of our kids. After several minutes, I realize we really need to get going, and I play the bad guy and tell everybody to get in the vans.
We arrive at the airport without incident and assemble in the departure area. Mwanza advertises itself as the gateway to the Serengeti, and geographically that claim is absolutely justified; but getting out of this town by air is something less than as efficient as it needs to be if this city is hoping to be a major tourist destination. You have to go through security twice, once to get into the terminal and a second time after you’re checked in. At the outside check, they ask for our tickets. I tell them we have e-tickets. They say, you need to have paper tickets. I say, then what’s an e-ticket for, anyway? And the head guy takes me inside to get our tickets printed out. I have to do the usual strip-tease to get through security and then follow him in. We’re not all ticketed together, because we’re coming from and going to different termini in the US; they see only 4 other names on with my passport, while I’m claiming 12 in the group. They decide to let them through the initial security check without tickets and sort it out inside. As each of us arrives at the baggage weigh-in, the agent confirms the ticket, and they make out a paper ticket in writing.
I think I’ve mentioned before that FastJet is a cheap-o airline. They allow less baggage than the international boys and charge you extra for any overage; so everybody’s bag has to be weighed at a separate station, and you pay 8,000 shillings (about 5 bucks) for every kilo over 20, or 44 pounds. We were aware of that, and on average we’re under the limit; but since we’re ticketed separately, they group us by ticket, and one of the groups is 4 kilos over (among 5 bags), so we have to pay about $20 extra, and all the other passengers need to wait in line behind us while the agent sorts it out.
Once we have our “baggage overage paid for” receipts, we go to a second counter to check our bags; that’s where they write out our tickets by hand and give us a boarding pass. I tell the team that we‘ve probably completed the most rigorous part of the journey home, and I just may be right.
Then through a second security check—O, TSA pre-check, where art thou?—and into the small waiting area, where we find Karen waiting for us—did I tell you she’s on the same flight with us to Dar? Then she’ll go to Istanbul, then London and home.
It’s a short wait until we line up (queue up, they would say) for the bus that ferries us to the airplane. This airport has no boarding jetways, and the tarmac where the airliners sit is too far from the terminal to walk, so everybody has to ride the bus. We board the Airbus 319 at both front and rear doorways. It’s clean and comfortable, 3 seats per side, with a wider aisle than you usually see in US airlines. We’re seated in clusters of 2 or 3 throughout the plane, with 5 of us—Josalyn, Nathanael, me, Asher, and Matt—on exit rows. The steward asks me to move up a row, also an exit, and I sit next to a Dane who’s in Mwanza checking on an electric power plant that his company has constructed here. He asks what we’re doing here, and when I tell him about the orphanage, he asks about the power. I tell him we have mostly solar. 🙂
It’s a short flight to Dar—just over an hour—and we land almost half an hour early. It’s a relatively brief wait for the luggage, and it’s all there, despite the frenzy and general chaos involved in getting our bags into the system at Mwanza. I wish we could have checked our bags all the way to Newark, but Mwanza is not an international airport.
In minutes we’re out on the plaza, with 3 hours before our next flight, and it’s supper time. There’s a nice restaurant upstairs at Dar, the Flamingo, run by Indians—as it seems most restaurants in this part of the world are—and I tell the kids we ought to eat there. The down side—we have all our luggage with us, and we’ll have to carry it all up a fairly significant flight of stairs. The up side—since Karen’s flight isn’t until 3 am, she can’t eat with us if we wait and eat inside after check-in. They make the choice without hesitation. We all carry our 50-lb. bags up the equivalent of 2 or 3 stories to the Flamingo.
The first waiter we see jumps right on the need for the 13 seats and takes us to a large table in the back, where we can order either the buffet or off the menu, and where the World Cup game between France and Nigeria is about to begin. We order whatever suits our fancy—chicken, beef, fish, sodas, milkshakes—and spend more than an hour enjoying the meal and one another’s fellowship.
But too soon we need to check in, so we leave Karen with her cell phone and her books and lug everything downstairs to The Room Where You-Know-What Happened last year. Security is routine, and while I’m waiting for the others to come through, I notice a box under a desk with six bottles of rubbing alcohol—the very bottles they confiscated from me 5 weeks ago. I speak to the man at the desk: “Hey, that’s the rubbing alcohol you took from me when I came in last month!” A look of recognition flashes over his face. “It is, isn’t it?! How was your stay?” “We had a fine time at the orphanage in Mwanza, but it’s too bad the children couldn’t use the rubbing alcohol for their cuts and scrapes.” “What’s it for again?” “You put it on cuts and scrapes as a disinfectant. It stings, but it really works.” “It stings, but it really works,” he repeats, thoughtfully. “You should find an orphanage here in Dar, and donate it to them. They would know what to do with it.” He seems to think that’s a good idea. I walk away, shaking my head that here’s somebody who works in a more-or-less modern airport—security, no less—and doesn’t have the first idea what isopropyl alcohol is.
We check in our bags and head for international departures. Fill out the “leaving the country” form and go through Passport Control, with the fingerprint check and the inevitable rubber stamp. Then up the escalator to a second security screening and the gate. It’s got a bunch of little shops, mostly booze and badly overpriced souvenirs. (I assume the booze is overpriced too, but I’m not in a position to know. Even as a groovy 21st-century Christian. 🙂 )
Turns out this flight is making a stop in Nairobi. Makes sense; Nairobi is the major transportation hub for all of East Africa, and that’s where the passengers are. Our Airbus 330 wide-body is pretty much empty out of Dar, and I take the opportunity to find an empty row of 4 seats and stretch out for a 1-hour nap. Once we stop at Nairobi, it’s a full flight.
To my mild surprise, they feed us supper at midnight. Right nice of them. This one leg of our journey is SwissAir, or Swiss International as they’re calling it now, and the service is up a notch.
Since I’ve said the word midnight, I guess the day is officially over.