Here’s a link to a file of most of the locations mentioned in the blog. Download it, then download and install Google Earth if you don’t already have it. Double-click on this file, and it will open in Google Earth. Enjoy the memories.
Here’s a link to a file of most of the locations mentioned in the blog. Download it, then download and install Google Earth if you don’t already have it. Double-click on this file, and it will open in Google Earth. Enjoy the memories.
It’s an overnight flight, and you know how overnight flights go, so I won’t bore you with the details. There’s a beautiful sunrise somewhere north of Albania, and we land in Zurich, with its view of the Alps, a little early. It’s a beautiful day.
During the dry season in Tanzania, it’s always a beautiful day, of course, if you mean a sunny day. But there, you’d really prefer that it rain and feed the rainwater collection system. Here, it’s just a beautiful day.
On landing we learn that our flight to Newark has been delayed by an hour. For all but one of us, that’s no problem at all; we have 3 hours (now 2 hours) to get through immigration and customs, and that should be no problem. But Sarah B has a tight connection in Newark, so we go to the Swissport service desk—remember that nice lady who rebooked us as we came in 5 weeks ago? She’s not working this morning, but the man who is, is equally efficient and helpful. He tells us that we can’t reschedule that flight here, but the folks in Newark will know, based on precisely how late our flight is, how best to reschedule her final leg home. So we’ll take care of it in Newark.
So we have more than 3 hours to just roam around the Zurich airport. There’s plenty to see; it’s a bit like Atlanta, but with just 2 terminals instead of 5. Some of us take the subway and explore, trying to decide which chocolate to buy. One of the guys wants to buy a Swiss Army knife, but surprise, surprise, they won’t sell them in the secure area of the airport.
A few team members go to the gate where our flight is scheduled to depart, and an airport employee asks them to report to a security check nearby. Pretty soon word gets around that all of us need to speak with security and have our boarding passes reissued. Everything’s hearsay, but it seems that there was some sort of a security incident yesterday at the Zurich airport, perhaps a bomb threat, and they’re being extra careful. So we all go through another security interview with the usual questions and get an extra sticker on the outside of our passports. Apparently it’s not related to the delay in our flight, which they insist to the end happened because our plane was late arriving.
But eventually everything comes together, and we all board for Newark, taking off just before noon, nearly 2 hours late. The pilot says he’s going to try to make most of that up. He’ll have to do better than that if Sarah B is going to make that quick turnaround for her last leg home.
The transatlantic flight is on a 767, and we find to our delight that we’re seated in something called “Economy Plus,” which seems to have a few little extras. The seats seem a little wider—it’s a 2-3-2 configuration—and there’s definitely more leg room. There’s a video screen, a USB charging port, and, even better, 110V AC power at every seat.
I make a practice, when flying across time zones, to set my watch to the destination time as soon as we take off, so I’m at least psychologically adjusted as soon as possible. This is a 6-hour pickup, and as a result our first meal, lunch, is served at 7 am Newark time. But since we’ve been running around in the daylight for hours, we manage to deal with it.
We don’t make up all the time we lost, but we do land in Newark less than half an hour late. Sarah B wants to try to make her Charlotte connection, even though I tell her it’s impossible, so I stick with her and leave the rest of the team to take care of themselves. If Sarah misses her flight, as I’m sure she will, I’ll need to be sure she’s set for a later flight today and doesn’t have to fend for herself for a night in Newark.
Through Passport Control and Customs quickly; because the train between terminals is down, we have to take the shuttle bus, which also means we’ll have to go through security again. We do all that, and to my surprise, Sarah misses her flight by just 5 to 10 minutes. She’s booked on a later flight, at a gate right near the one for our Atlanta flight, so she can hang out with us until we leave. We wait at the ATL gate, and the rest of the team dribbles in, more or less. They tell me that Lydia met her parents, so I can quit worrying about her. And Sarah M has headed off to her connection in another terminal, as has Hannah. So there were no formal good-byes—that’s often the case when the team hits the States and heads for different destinations—but we’re all accounted for, and now, for my counting purposes, We Are Eight.
We wait about an hour for our final flight to begin boarding. Oddly, there’s a pigeon walking around the gate area, and occasionally flying over the crowd, which largely ignores him. Soon we board a small jet, an Embraer RJ145; we’re scattered, but 5 of us are in the very back. Most of us sleep most of the way to ATL.
The baggage claim in ATL is no problem, Asher peels off to take MARTA to his sister’s house in Atlanta, and The Seven are ready for the drive home. There’s a little confusion on contacting Paul McCreedy, who’s our driver, but eventually we make the connection and head north. The kids had talked about stopping at IHOP, but since we’re going to be after 11 pm getting in, and our heads are 7 hours later than that, they opt for fast food. For some reason, they’re pretty convinced it should be a Wendy’s. We’ve all been wanting cheeseburgers, and I suppose the prospect of Frosties made Wendy’s the choice. We find one 5 miles up the road. I’m thinking the Baconator might have been a little too intense for my reintroduction to American cuisine, but it is flavorful.
Then back into the van, where we’re all (but Paul) comatose for the rest of the trip. We pull on campus about 11:45, where Kaleigh, Josalyn, Matt, and Nathanael are met by family; we drop Sarah S and Caitlin off at Gaston to get a night’s sleep before they drive home together tomorrow; and then Paul drops me off at my house on the way to drop the van off at Transportation.
It’s a quiet way to end a long, eventful, tiring, and rewarding trip.
Soli deo gloria.
And good night.
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.
Last church service. It starts a little later than usual (about 8:30), but the singing and choir are as good as ever. Matt Gass preaches and is kind enough to announce the text in English for the clueless. After the sermon and the offering, Pastor Samson asks me to say a few words of farewell from the team, and they’re even kind enough to provide Maiwe as an interpreter. If I’d had to stick with Swahili, I’m afraid my words would have been pretty simple: “How are things?” “I love chapati!” And that would be about it. I ask Maiwe afterwards if my remarks were appropriate, and he says they were. He’s probably the best person around to ask about such things, being immersed in this culture but also well exposed to Western ideas.
Most of the team spends the time before lunch either hanging out with the kids or cleaning up the guest house. They’re in the throes of mixed feelings, excited to get home but also realizing they’re going to miss the children, for all their flaws. I note with one team member that this is the sign of a successful trip; you want to have bonded with the people you’re working with, and you want to have a home life to look forward to. What’s there to be sad about if the trip has been successful and home is a good place?
But they’re sad anyway. Good.
Lunch is ugali, cabbage, and beef. Last ugali for the trip; we’ll have supper with the missionaries tonight and lunch with them tomorrow. Seems strange sitting in the kibanda eating for the last time. Until next year, anyway.
The team chooses to spend most of the afternoon just hanging out with the children, making as much of the little remaining time as possible. At 5 we have a goodbye service for Lois and Karen, who are leaving at 6 am. We gather in the kibanda, and each of the children goes by and shakes hands or hugs, and wishes them a “safari njema” (good journey). Several of them don’t want to do it, and it turns out that the reason is they don’t want to face the fact that they’re leaving. Several children are crying, and it occurs to me that we’re going to go through all this again in spades tomorrow, when they say goodbye to the rest of the team.
Supper with the missionaries is chili, a fitting end to an unbroken series of delicious meals. These ladies have really worked hard for us. All the moms can relax.
We have house devotions tonight, since we missed it last night. My group closes out the series with the little ones with a look at heaven and the restoration of fallen creation. I have no idea if they understand it at all, even though I try to put it at their level.
Our last bit of work done, we head back to the Eadses’ house to have our last team meeting. We share testimonies one more time, and Beth wants to know what each team member’s favorite thing is. There’s a lot of diversity. Beth and I share some thoughts about repatriation, and we give some cards and gifts to the ladies, who have worked so hard to keep us fed and otherwise happy. Beth closes in prayer, and I give the Aaronic blessing:
“The LORD bless you and keep you;
The LORD make His face to shine upon you;
The LORD lift up His countenance upon you
And give you peace.”
And we’re done.
Back to the guest house for a few minutes, mostly to distribute the passports and to have one last bowl of popcorn, and to bed.
On rising, Asher comments, “Given the nearness of the end of the trip, I suppose my desire for my own bed is not so much a matter of discontent as of foresight.” Nicely put, my friend.
The first thing on the schedule is our final brunch, prepared by the ladies. At 9:30 we gather on the Eadses’ porch for pancakes with syrup, hash browns, pineapple, and coffee and tea. There are even hash browns without onions and others with. I advise the team to take the ones without if they plan on doing any kissing later today. Nobody even chuckles.
Since there’s no work to do today, we’ve planned mostly free time; we’ll have a nice dinner in town tonight, but nothing official until then. However, most of the team (all but 2, in fact) want to go into town early, get some Wi-Fi, and do some last-minute shopping at the market. We hatch a plan to go fully independent: hire some piki-pikis to pick us up here at Tumaini, ride them to the pavement, and take a dala-dala the rest of the way in. Then we can just meet the others for dinner at the specified time and place.
I ask Abeli to round up some piki-pikis, he sends some texts, and in a few minutes 11 motorcycles roar up to the gate. It’s a little bizarre; here’s a bunch of bikers revving their engines, and 11 wazungu, most of them girls, pick a bike, hop on, and roar off down the dirt road. I suspect that’s a first for any BJU mission team, anywhere in the world. I get on the last one, on purpose, so I’ll know everyone is in front of me, and away we go. I look down the road through clouds of dust at the stream of bikes noisily passing by astonished pedestrians, and I laugh most of the way to Sweya.
Right where the pavement begins there’s a staging area, sort of a parking lot, where the piki-piki drivers disgorge their passengers and the dala-dala drivers take them on. Since this is the end of this particular dala-dala route, we have no trouble finding one empty enough for all 11 of us to get on the same one.
And so 11 team members, 9 other passengers, a conductor, and the driver cram themselves into a 14-passenger van. There are 4 relatively narrow seats across the back; 3 of our girls take the outside 3 seats, an African woman gets the 4th, and Nathanael plants his considerable heft directly in front of her, in what passes for the aisle. I’m just in front of him, with my head tucked somewhere between Lois’s left shoulder and Sarah M’s left knee. Eventually one of the 3 girls slides over onto the lap of the 2nd one, and Nathanael drops into the open space, which is, how shall we say it, narrower than Nathanael by precisely the same ratio as the girl who moved is. The African lady is now considerably more cramped. I look at her, smile broadly, and say, “Pole” (Sorry), and she smiles back. Everybody complains about the dala-dala conditions, but everybody still rides them—which, come to think of it, is why they’re so crowded. For 400 shillings—about 25 cents—you ride from Sweya all the way into town; who’s going to turn that down?
Finally—finally!—we arrive at the downtown parking lot that functions as the main dala-dala terminal for Mwanza, and everybody explodes out the door onto the pavement. We’re all here—I’m counting again—and begin the 10-minute walk to the Gold Crest and the Land of Wi-Fi. There are no available booths, and thus no available AC outlets, but we take a couple of tables and several of the leather recliners in the lobby, order something to drink, log on, and wait for a booth to open up. It doesn’t take long, and soon we’re plugged in and feeling free.
After just a few minutes most of the 11 have gotten the Wi-Fi they needed and are ready for the real reason they came to town, which is to hit the market and buy everything they see. I write down the names of everyone who’s going—to notify the next of kin, I tell them—and away they go, while just a couple of us stay in the coffee shop. I get a lot done, including uploading all the blog material through last night, and catching up on correspondence.
Dinner is at 4. Shangazi has asked us to be at the hotel by 3:15, because a couple of souvenir vendors are coming just for us, and we want the kids to have a chance to buy any last-minute things from these guys, with whom we’ve done business for some time. I’m pretty sure I know how to get from Gold Crest to the Hotel Tilapia, where Matt Gass and I ate lunch (by the pool, remember?) the other day, but just in case, we set off a few minutes early so I have time to recover from getting lost briefly.
Lessee. Down the road to the fish roundabout (there’s a big sculpture of a fish standing on its tail in the center), and then right, past the Gapco petrol station and into the upper-class section of town. We’re there in about 20 minutes, which is early. Good. Better than late.
There are 3 of our people already there, so we relax in the front courtyard and wait for the others. Group by group they arrive, carrying bags and eager to show their purchases. I find the Gasses in the coffee shop; they’ve come a little early to get some time in the swimming pool, and I’m immediately envious. After a few minutes we spot Shangazi down at the dinner location and head down to join her. On the way, we hear “Leedia!” and it’s Lydia’s 2 vendors from the yacht club, who tried so hard to sell her stuff. They remember her, and we remember them.
The hotel is very much upscale, with a high-end jewelry shop in the front courtyard, a Rolls-Royce on display, sculptures around the grounds, and a lovely lawn leading down to the water. There’s a dining room upstairs, a few steps up from the pool, where Matt and I ate before, but also a number of sheltered dining areas down by the water, and one in particular on a platform out over the lake, surrounded by lily pads that rise and fall with the wave action on the shore. It has a sign that says “Teppanyaki Grill,” and that’s where we’re headed.
It’s a Japanese steak house, similar to Kanpai or Benihana, with two grill / tables, enough to see all of our group—the 11 who came in this morning, the 2 team members who didn’t, Shangazi, Karen, Rachelle, Bethany, and the 3 Gasses. Wow. That’s 20 of us.
We start at 4, and the pace is unhurried. Two waitresses begin with the drink orders, and I’m flattered to see that several of the team members follow my example and order bitter lemon, despite the off-putting name. We sit and converse at our tables, enjoying the breeze off the lake and the open-air view of the inlet, punctuated by boats, speed- and not-so-speed-, and any number of birds, marine- and not-so-marine-. Tell me again about how much we’ve suffered for Jesus?
Then the waitresses fill our little sauce dishes with a sweet red onion salsa, about the consistency of applesauce; a peanut-butter sauce; and soy sauce. I’ve noticed that every time I’ve had soy sauce in East Africa, it doesn’t taste like the stuff back home; it’s much more molasses-y in taste, and occasionally almost as syrupy as well. This one is runny, but the distinct flavor of molasses is there.
Eventually the chef appears. Angel is going to cook for both tables, but at ours. I feel bad for the other table, who won’t be able to see the food prep as easily, but hey, I’m not gonna argue with providence. She starts with potato pancakes, and after what seems like several days of smelling them on the grill, we each get one. Use the onion sauce, she says. Good call.
Then the dishes come, one by one. Shrimp, tilapia, calamari, chicken, beef, fried rice with aromatic vegetables. Lots of ginger on pretty much everything. It’s very good.
We’re done. And to my surprise, it’s been 2½ hours. It’s getting dark as we walk to the cars and load up for the ride back to Tumaini. Shangazi needs to drop by the tailor to pick up the last of the clothes we’ve ordered, those of us in the Gasses’ car just head straight back. We’re too late for house devotions; we’ll make them up tomorrow night, our last night with the children. That’ll probably work better anyway.
Everybody who just picked up clothes tries them on, and we have an impromptu fashion show before team devotions. The singing is good tonight; we’ll save the final testimony time for tomorrow night.