Friday, May 31, 2013

So this is the day we almost make it to Tanzania. A rooster outside the guest house wakes me up at 5:30; I luxuriate under the ceiling fan until 6:30. I’m a little worried about what we’re going to do for breakfast; our flight’s at 12:15, and they’ll probably feed us on it, but that’s a ways away. We are planning to hit a pharmacy around 8; several of us are showing cold symptoms (most importantly, including me 🙂 ). Maybe we can find a grocery store along the way.

Around 7, team bodies start showing up; looks like everybody got a fairly decent night’s sleep. Several people take showers in the 2 bathrooms. A little before 8 we report to James in the neighboring house for the escort to the pharmacy (or as the Brits and their former colonies say, chemist). To our surprise, he’s open, and I get the local equivalent of Dayquil, as well as a malaria treatment, so we’ll have one just in case. A few of the kids get some personal items as well.

On the way back to the house, we pass a grocery store, and it’s open too. It’s really nice to shop in a supermarket again, rather than going from stall to stall in the markets. This is a small store by American standards—probably about the size of the produce section in the average US supermarket—but it feels grand.

So we get bread and jam for breakfast. Back to the house, where everybody gets a bite and gathers the luggage for the ride to the airport.

As they’re eating, one of my old students, a Ghanaian named Alfred Adjaottor, shows up to say hi. Haven’t seen him in 5 years or so; he’s pastoring here in Accra, overseeing a Christian school, and conducting children’s Bible clubs all over town. He’s been a busy guy. It’s good to see old investments pay off.

The local pastor shows up with his pickup truck right on time at 9:15. The ride to the airport is routine, as is check-in. We’re flying Ethiopian Airlines; never done that before. Hope it works. I note that check-in and security are all up to US standards. We’re at the gate more than an hour before boarding closes. I love boring travel stories.

Then an airport person comes and tells Abbie that they have a problem with her checked bag, and she needs to go down to customs—all the way back through security, next to the check-in counter. I ask the lady if she would mind if I went along, and she says no, she wouldn’t. So Abbie and I retrace our steps to the very beginning and report to the customs office. Her bag is there, not yet having been placed on the plane. The man asks if Abbie is my daughter; I say no, but I don’t explain the relationship any further. The lady who spotted the problem with the bag—I guess something on the scanner must have been indeterminate—looks at me and says the situation is fine.

Well, that was odd. Did she suspect the college kid had drugs, and decide that the old guy made that less likely? Or were they up to something? I guess we’ll never know.

So we go back upstairs, through security, through the duty-free shop (does anybody ever buy anything in those places?), around to the gate, past the checkpoint, and back into the waiting area. It’s still half an hour till boarding, so no harm done, and some exercise gotten.

A final check of the boarding pass, and we’re down the stairs, onto the bus, and across the tarmac to the Ethiopian Airlines 737. They’re boarding from the rear door this time. Standing on the stairs, looking up at the brightly colored vertical stabilizer, I’m impressed again with how big these things are. There was a time when all I wanted was to fly, but 40 years later I much prefer the path God redirected me onto. Isn’t it always that way?

We take off toward the south on Accra’s sole runway, out over the equatorial Atlantic, and then turn east for the 3,000-mile flight to Addis. There’s a hot meal shortly after takeoff, and while it’s small, it’s not bad. I will confess to having fairly low expectations of Ethiopian, but I’m impressed. The plane is clean and well appointed, the staff is friendly and professional. And on first hearing, I find Ethiopian (Amharic) a very interesting sounding language.

We’re seated together, except for Abbie, who’s a couple of rows in front of the group, and Katie, who’s several rows back. I drop by to check on ‘em every so often. Not as though they need it.

It’s a 5-hour flight across 3 time zones—we’re going from 4 to 7 hours ahead of EDT—so there’s plenty of time to get caught up on reading.  If the flight path is reasonably direct, we’re going directly over Douala, Cameroon, where the team’s better half will be landing a week from today; then over the Central African Republic, where Vern Rosenau, our contact for Africa with Baptist Mid-Missions, grew up as a missionary kid; then South Sudan, the world’s newest country, where lots of my missionary friends—Paul Weaver, Ted Allston, Phil Hunt—are training pastors; then into Addis, right smack in the middle of Ethiopia. Wish we had some time to look around, but we’re just a-passin’ through.

The Addis Ababa airport is small and simple by US standards, but clean and apparently well run. We have about an hour between flights; there’s a restaurant in the main lobby, and they take credit cards, so local currency won’t be a problem; but when I look behind the counter, I see they’re cooking individual meals to order, and I’m pretty sure we won’t have time to get 8 meals cooked before the flight boards, so with regret I tell the kids we won’t have time to eat. Their sad looks make me feel mean, but they don’t complain.

Through security—why do we have to do this?—and down the hall to the gate. We notice that this airport has a few chaise lounge chairs—reclining, non-adjustable plastic seats. Very attractive; I wish more airports had them.

At the last minute they change to the gate next door, and we run down the hall, through the checkpoint, down the stairs, and out onto the tarmac for the bus ride to the plane. I note that they have jetways on some of the larger jets, but we’re boarding a turboprop—a Bombardier, to be more precise—and I guess they reserve their jetways for the big boys.

I’m seated at the front of coach, and by a fluke of floor design, I have the most legroom on the entire plane. Not exactly something I need. I ask Jon if he wants to switch, and what do you know, he does. He’s alone in a 2-seat row, and I’d just as soon have side-to-side room as front-to-back, so I’m good. Then I notice that I’m right next to the prop. Boy, if that thing throws a blade, it’ll cut me right in half. Hey! Maybe that’s why I switched! God’s saving Jon’s life! Nah; they wouldn’t put the prop right next to the passenger compartment like that if it wasn’t safe, would they? Would they? I don’t think I’ve ever heard of one of …

Oh, good grief. You’re overanalyzing everything because you’re in Africa. Stop it.

Back in the terminal, I’d been looking at the boarding pass—Addis Ababa to Dar es Salaam—and thought it was about the most exotic-sounding boarding pass I’d ever seen. The trip itself, however, is hardly exotic. Well, there’s the half moon over the Indian Ocean casting a silver glow on the wings and on the cloud cover below, but that can happen anywhere. It’s mostly just 3 hours of trying to sleep. Looks like most of the kids are succeeding.

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Sometime during the flight we cross the equator and move from summer to winter. For most of the group, this is the first time. At sea they have a big party when they do this, and they haze the first-timers. Nope. Don’t feel like it. Too tired.

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Dan Olinger

Chair, Division of Bible in the BJU School of Religion.

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