We land in Dar at 2:15 am. As you might imagine, at this time of day the lines at immigration and customs aren’t much to contend with, and we sail right through. Down a disreputable-looking hallway, take a left, and go through security to get into the waiting area for our flight out. I hate to sound repetitious, but why do we have to do that?
As we’re gathering on the far side of security, Keri lets out a yelp. Over in the seating area is Joslyn, who’s joining the team in Tanzania. Joslyn, like Joy, was on my last team, in 2010, and did well. She’s asked if she could join us for two of the locations, and I said that would be great. Made her arrangements independently, and we knew we’d overlap in Dar for a few hours and might find each other. Here she is. Joslyn graduated this year, and she and Keri were RA’s in the dorms together.
And now begins The Long Dark Night of the Soul. It’s not yet 3 am; our flight, according to my itinerary, is at 12:15 pm. 9 hours of waiting.
To my dismay, I see that we’re in the worst possible place for a long layover. There’s a long check-in counter, like those you see at every airport, and some seats, and a bathroom, but literally nothing else. We can’t check in until 2 hours before the flight; that’s often standard practice, but here there’s nothing—no food, no water—until we check in. This is going to be a problem. Food might be OK; we had a nice snack on the flight in, around midnight, and if we check in at 10:15, that’ll just amount to a late breakfast. But water is going to be serious. We haven’t taken our evening dose of malaria medication yet—even being late is a potential problem—and we have to take it with lots of water. But we couldn’t bring water through security, and we can’t buy more until we check in.
I climb the stairs toward the gates, and I can see shops, which appear to be closed. At any rate, there’s another (why do we have to do that?!) security check there, so we can’t fake our way in. I note that I can go back through the previous security checkpoint and directly outside, where there are some shops, but none of them are open at this time of night. Someone tells me that they’ll open at 6:30, but that will still mean we’ll be 8 hours late on our medication.
Well, time to trust providence. I will lay me down and sleep. The seats are metal grate, 3 seats attached, with no armrests, so most of us stretch out and try to sleep. Some do better than others.
I noted when we arrived that on the flight board, our flight number—FN 161—is posted as leaving at 6:30 am. Hmm. That’s odd. But if it leaves then, we’ll have less of a wait. Joslyn’s flight leaves at 5:30, and she checks in at 3:30, so I figure I’ll just try to check in at 4:30 and see if they show me on that flight. If they do, we’ll all get out of here.
At 4:30 there’s no sign they’re boarding, so I go by the FastJet office and ask. My flight number, 161, is posted over there as leaving at 6:30, but my itinerary says 12:15. What’s up with that? They look surprised. They don’t have a 6:30 flight. Or a 12:15. Uh-oh. I show them my itinerary; they look me up online. They find us all, on the 3:15 pm flight. Oh, great. 3 more hours.
I check my old emails, and I find that the time change was reported to me a week before we left. I had forward it to Beth in Mwanza, so at least we don’t have to inform them of the time change. I simply didn’t update my itinerary when the email came in. Dumb, but inconsequential, as it turns out.
About this time Keri takes the initiative to try to make something happen. She walks up to the guard at the upstairs security check and tells him our problem. He takes pity on her and tells her that at 6:30, when the shops open, 4 of us at a time can come in, eat, and go back, even without boarding passes. He comes downstairs with her to pass the word to us, and I ask about credit cards. He says the restaurant upstairs won’t take them, but I can exchange money. I ask where, at 6:30 in the morning? He smiles and takes me outside, back through the security we’ve already come through. He takes me to a place outside that’s open. Remember, this is 4:30 in the morning. I exchange $100. There are 1630 Tanzanian shillings to the dollar, so I get thousands. Never held so many 10,000 bills in my hand in all my life. We head back inside; I start to put my pocket stuff on the belt for security, and she laughs. “You’re with him,” she says. “You don’t have to do that.” Hello? I’d like to ask to take this guy with me all over the world, please? I step through the metal detector, it beeps, and they ignore it.
In the morning, as the foot traffic is picking up and people are needing to sit, I start waking our people up one at a time as seats are needed, and Will takes some doing, let me tell you. Poke. Poke. Poke. Smack! “Huh?” Complete bewilderment.
At 6:30 we go upstairs in shifts of 4. There’s a restaurant up there that has meat pies, an old Welsh miner tradition. Some get sausage; I get chicken, because it’s bigger. When I see they have bitter lemon soda—a British product that’s absolutely the best soda (or “cooldrink,” as they say in South Africa) in the world—I get some. Soda? At 6:30 am?! Hey, my body clock is so discombobulated that I don’t even care.
There’s a small shop there, where I pick up some cookies (“biscuits,” to the Brits) for later. Then back downstairs for the last 6 hours of the wait. The Golden Hour is now 1:15.
Boredom is the worst.
Right at 1:15 we head for the check-in line. A FastJet agent directs us across the room to the office, where we need to have a baggage weighed first. Why? They have a scale right here, like all check-in counters. Oh well; over to the office.
The agent there weighs all the bags and says most are overweight. I note that we were all under 32kg (50lb), the standard baggage weight, when we left Accra. “The free weight is 20kg,” he says. “For an 8,000 shilling fee, you can take 32kg.”
I get irritated, and I push back verbally. “That is not the agreement. 32kg is the standard for all international flights, the arrangement under which we booked the tickets. You can’t change the rules in the middle of the game.” “This is a domestic flight,” he says. “No,” I insist, “this is the final leg of an international flight. You’re changing the rules.”
He looks at me, then looks at the paper. It shows 9 bags to check. We have only 1 bag per person, 8 people. “Where is your 9th bag?” he asks. At first I think it’s a simple error; then I remember that we left Atlanta with an extra package, containing graduation regalia for WABC’s graduation. Of course we left it in Wa.
“Well,” he says, “since you have only 8 bags, I’ll combine all the overages into the 9th bag.” “Will there be a fee?” I ask. “No fee,” he replies. I smile, right at him, and say thanks.
Once again I’m not sure what just happened. Somebody trying to get some extra money out of a group of American tourists? Or did he just bend the rules for me, because I was being a pain in the neck? It occurs to me that I fought about a $5 fee per bag but paid an extra $300 to buy seats on the bus so it would leave the station in Wa. Well, that makes sense; one was my choice and the other, I suspect, was being foisted on us. It’s the principle of the thing.
Finally! Upstairs, eat some more, shop some more, feel good about life again. The flight’s an hour late leaving, but who cares now? We’re free!
The flight heads north along the coast, where I catch a glimpse of Zanzibar, the island and tourist hot spot just off the coast. It’s the “zan” in “Tanzania”; the “Tan” is “Tanganyika,” which is what the mainland area used to be called before the two merged.
Then we turn west and inland. I’m looking forward to seeing Kilimanjaro again. It’s a romantic image, and I believe the tallest free-standing mountain in the world. We’re farther south of it than I expected, and it’s a ways off, but the image is unmistakable. Even the snows.
As we approach Mwanza, I notice the landscape: hilly, with lots of rocky outcroppings. Very different from Ghana, and more interesting, topographically at least.
On the ground, we enjoy not having to do immigration and customs. We grab our bags in the corner of the small lobby and step out the front door into the parking lot. There’s Joslyn, and there’s Beth, the director of the children’s home, our boss for the next 3 weeks. We load our stuff into her vehicle and a taxi and head through town, picking up some pizzas on the way. The kids brighten visibly when we hear the word pizzas.
The compound is several kilometers out of town, in a distinctly rural setting. The property slopes down toward Lake Victoria, with the rocky hills adding interest to the scenery. It’s really beautiful (Google maps link). At the gated entrance is the church; we continue down the long curving dirt drive to the office building and, while the kids unload our luggage, Beth takes us down to Dan & Jana’s house, where we meet Dan and Jana and their children, Silas, Grace, and baby Moriah. We enjoy the pizza, and Dan gives us a brief orientation, most importantly the 5 Swahili words we’ll need to know to greet people in the morning at church.
Then he and Beth show us to our quarters. Beth takes the girls to the guest house, which is attached to the school building itself. Full kitchen, 3 bunks and a queen bed in the bedroom, 3 American-style toilets and 3 showers down the hall. Solar electricity inverted to 220, running water, propane refrigerator. They’ll be quite comfortable here, and the commute to work will be a 15-second walk.
Jon and Will are living in the men’s dorm, which is a block building containing 4 rooms with 2 bunks each, and a gorgeous view over the lake from the front porch. It’s perched on one of those rocky outcroppings. The toilets and showers are in an outbuilding, with running water and squatty potties. Nothing we haven’t seen, and used, before.
I have a room in the older boys’ house in the children’s home. There are 14 boys living there, sleeping in 7 bunks in the main room. I have a private room up at one end, with a single bunk. At the other end of the house are 4 toilets (squatties) and 4 showers; they’ve given me keys to the locked one of each, so I have my own private facilities. I wasn’t expecting that; they’ve really thought this out. A bit later Beth shows up with a step-ladder and says—a little tentatively—that she thought I might have a little trouble getting into the top bunk. 🙂
I spend some time trying to learn the boys’ names; this is going to be really hard for me. I get 5 of them tonight; that’s about all I can reliably remember.
To bed at 9. No ladder. I hear later that the girls stayed up for several more hours getting the last of the braids out of Angel’s and Keri’s hair.
All the bunks have a mosquito net over the top mattress. You pull it down, tuck it in around the mattress, and find yourself in your own little nest. I put my night-time essentials (glasses, watch, flashlight, and, with this cold, handkerchief) in a corner of the mattress; with the netting, there’s little likelihood that they’ll get kicked out.