Saturday, 5/24/14

Last year’s overnight stay at the Dar airport was a nightmare; you can read about it here. I decided during the planning for this trip that that was not going to happen again. When I noticed that we were scheduled to arrive in the early evening and leave after noon the next day, I asked some acquaintances with ties to Dar to recommend a hotel, and they all said that the Transit Motel Airport was both close and inexpensive, and “clean for an African hotel.” I’ve been to Africa quite a bit, but I don’t know what that phrase means in practical terms; and the fact that they’re calling it a “motel,” which is, as far as I know, a uniquely American term, makes me wonder. But our travel agent said they had 4 rooms available at $40 each, so I booked ‘em. (Don’t let the price scare you; I know what an American hotel would look like at that price, but things are a lot cheaper in Africa. And no “Book ‘em, Dano” jokes either.)

Because we’ve already purchased our visas, we’re the first ones through immigration, and we find most of our bags in short order. Most of them. Sarah M is missing her 1 checked bag; Lois her 2 (and no, she didn’t overpack: she’s going home to Korea for the rest of the summer after this trip, so she packed for two locations; no snide remarks, especially sexist ones, will be tolerated); and one of the cardboard boxes for Tumaini is missing as well. I go by the luggage service desk, and at 3 in the morning it’s staffed and ready to help. She consults her computer and tells us that all the pieces are still in Zurich. That doesn’t surprise me; we had to hustle to make that Istanbul flight, and I’m surprised the baggage crew there got as much of our luggage on the changed flight as they did.

She tells me they’ll all be sent to Dar. Will they be here tomorrow morning, before our flight out to Mwanza? No. OK, send them on to MWZ. Thanks. By this time the customs staff has gone home, so we sidle on through and out to the plaza in front of the airport. I’ve been here before, so I walk over to the taxi table and ask if I can get a ride for 9 people and luggage to the Transit Motel Airport. They mobilize—at 3 am—and, in typical African fashion at the prospect of a big job, get everybody involved with lots of shouting and waving and finger-pointing, and when it’s all over, we have 3 minivans filled with luggage, with at least 1 male team member in each vehicle. 10 bucks per vehicle. OK.

It’s literally just 2 blocks to the hotel, a gated compound on a side street. The gate rolls open for us, and the desk clerk has our rooms ready. Three are right in a row, and the other is on the other side of the small building, within earshot. Asher and Nathanael, the 2 biggest guys, will go there. Matt and I will take the room between the 2 girls’ rooms. Each room has a double bed with mosquito netting, a table and 2 chairs, a bathroom / shower, and a flat-screen TV mounted on the wall. Oh, and a ceiling fan. That’s good. And a breakfast buffet is included.

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I was expecting to cram 13 people into these 4 rooms, the 4 guys into just 1—very tight, but necessary, since the place had only 4 rooms available. My thinking was that the kids would just crash there for a few hours, and kids can do anything. But now we are only 9, so only 1 room has 3 in the bed. Not bad.

By the time we get in, it’s about 4:30 am. Checkout time is 10 am; our flight is at 2. I ask if we can have the room until noon; she asks for another $50. I offer $40 and she takes it. I ask for 6 bottles of water. She charges me $12. I guess it all works out in the end.

A shower and to bed. I can’t sleep; my mind is racing. How are the 4 girls? They haven’t answered my texts. Should I be worried? I finally doze off about 5:30 and wake up at 7. There’s free wifi here, and I have an adapter that fits the wall AC plug, so I get online and check the flight status. Both flightview.com and flightradar24.com show the flight as not having left Nairobi a half hour after scheduled departure. Flightview says ominously, “call airline.” Uh-oh. I decide to check the airline’s website first. Kenya Airways Flight 480 is in the air and expected to land 8 minutes early. Whew. And I have email from Sarah that confirms that they’re on that flight.

Shortly after 9 I walk over to the airport and wait for them at the arrivals exit point. Soon—too soon—Caitlin arrives, but alone. “We’re not through yet,” she says; “this man escorted me out to talk to you because we need the answers to these questions on the immigration form.” And sure enough, there’s a stern-looking uniformed man. I give her what she needs—poor preparation, I know, but at least I know they’re all here—and she and her escort disappear back into the morass. I can see right into the baggage area, and I was just in there 7 hours ago; I wish I could go in there and help them with their luggage (and have a better view of their progress through the immigration checkpoint). But there’s no way security will let some unticketed guy in off the street to a secured area.

And then I remember the lost baggage. I lean over the barricade to get the outside security officer’s attention. “Excuse me, sir; I arrived at 2:30 this morning, and several pieces of luggage were missing; can I go to the luggage lost and found, and ask if they’ve found the bags?” “Certainly!” He escorts me through the door that says “Absolutely no entrance; this is an exit for arriving passengers and crew.” He asks if I know where lost & found is; I point to it, and he smiles and waves me on. I ask them if my bags have arrived; they have not, of course. And then I turn around and greet the 4 girls as they’re preparing for customs.

I ask how the journey was. They had a great time, though they haven’t slept much. I learn by observation that when Caitlin’s short of sleep, she gets more active, not less. Out we go into the sunshine—in more ways than one—and a grab another cab to the “motel.” Matt and I give our room to 2 of the girls to shower in, and the other 2 go to the girls’ rooms. Thirteen again, safe and sound. Thank you, Lord. I email the parents of the four to explain what just happened; I’ve already notified everybody when each plane landed. I don’t get any angry emails from ex-Marine fathers, so I figure I made the right call. 🙂 I suppose anybody can say that when things turn out well.

We laze around until noon, when the cabs return to take us back to the airport, as I asked them to when they brought us over early this morning. Into departures, through security, and into the Room Where We Spent the Night in Dante’s Seventh Level Last Year. We go through the check-in process with only one problem: the security agent pulls one of the cardboard boxes, opens it, and digs down into the middle where I’ve packed the 6 1-liter bottles of rubbing alcohol that Beth has asked for. He looks at it quizzically, as if he’s never seen anything like it before. “What is this?” “It’s rubbing alcohol, for first aid at the orphanage.” “It says ‘flammable.’” “Yes, it is flammable. But it’s a standard topical antiseptic, to put on cuts and scrapes. It kills germs.” “You can’t put this on the plane. You should have shipped it as cargo.” “One bottle costs 1,000 shillings; to ship it would cost 10,000 shillings. It’s not worth it.” “If you have a friend outside, you can leave it with him, but we must remove it from your luggage.” “I have no one outside. You can have it.” I walk away, wondering whether they’d have allowed 6 fifths of whiskey in the luggage; I expect they would have. A few minutes later, while our luggage is being weighed, they call me over to another station. I’m touched when I realize that the agent who took my alcohol is advocating on my behalf with his supervisor. He says to me, “This is medicine, right?” “It’s first-aid equipment, so yes, it’s medicine, in a way.” His supervisor is unmoved, and we end up leaving the alcohol behind. But I’m impressed with the agent’s attempt to do the right thing.

The rest of check-in is simple, and as I walk the team past the benches where last year’s team huddled like refugees for an entire night, I order them to look on thoughtfully, with respect. Then up the stairs and to Gate 8, where they’re just starting to board for Mwanza. Too bad; I had hoped to buy everybody a snack at the little café there: they have good samosas. But not this time (and it turns out there are snacks offered on the plane, so it’s all good).

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Runway 23. It’s only a little over an hour to Mwanza in the roomy Airbus 319. We watch for Kilimanjaro but never see it; I figure it’s in the clouds. The aforementioned snacks require payment—this is a really cheap airline, which is why I booked it—but I buy for anybody who wants something, and several get to try samosas after all.

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The Mwanza airport hasn’t changed much since last year. Beth’s not here yet, so we let the other passengers get their bags in the crowded luggage area and get ours when everyone else has gone. Everything’s here (well, not the 4 delayed pieces, of course), and as we emerge into the dirt parking lot, Beth is waiting.

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Beth Roark is a former student of mine—she took Systematic Theology in the Seminary as part of her MS in Counseling—who has joined the staff here as director of the orphanage, Tumaini Children’s Home. By all accounts, she’s done a remarkable job. A couple of years ago she expressed some interest in having a team in to help with tutoring the orphans over their winter break (yes, winter; we’re south of the equator here). The team I brought in last summer (um, winter) did an extraordinarily good job (hat tip to you guys), and she suggested we come back, with more people this time. So here we are.

We stuff ourselves into her minivan and a taxi minivan and drive nearly an hour south to the orphanage. It’s hot and sunny, and the African sights, sounds, and smells come rushing in. Dust, car horns, wood smoke, Coke and Vodacom signs everywhere. Now I know we’re back.

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When we turn into Tumaini, the children come running, as I hoped. We hug and shake hands, and I see the faces of old friends. One boy whispers in my ear, “Where is Will?” Good job, Will; you’re the first one they asked for.

The children cart our bags to the administration building while we head down to Dan & Jana’s porch for some orientation. Dan and his wife, Jana, and their children are on furlough; I’m sorry we won’t see them. Dan heads up the Bible college and the network of churches pastored by its graduates. Another family, Matt and Laura Gass and their son Ian, live nearby; Matt is finishing his second year on the field and is thus just finishing his orientation period. Dan & Jana’s porch, in the middle of the missionary residences on the compound, makes a nice meeting place.

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Supper, which is in Dan & Jana’s house, is prepared by Beth’s 2 volunteers: Rachelle, a BJU grad and the daughter of a former classmate and fellow English GA at BJU; and Karen, a Brit who is on her second short-term trip here and plans to return after she visits home for her sister’s wedding; she’ll be flying out with us. Supper is pizza and fruit.

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Let me take a moment here to say that fruit in Africa is way better than fruit in the US. Americans ship their fruit to market, which means that it has to be picked before it’s ripe; it’s virtually impossible to get tree-ripened fruit in the US unless it’s off your own tree. But in Africa everything’s tree-ripened, and it’s delicious. A banana is a transmogrifying experience. You need to experience that.

After supper there’s a short orientation session; we know everybody’s exhausted and unlikely to remember anything, but there are some things we need to do immediately. Tomorrow’s Sunday, and church is at 8. Greetings are very significant in the culture here, and responding in the typical American way—with a smile and a wave, or a simple “Hi!”—would be off-putting. So Beth gives us a half-sheet of paper with 4 or 5 typical greetings and the appropriate responses. This much we can do. “Hujambo?” “Sijambo!”–

Then it’s off to see our housing assignments. The girls, as they were last year, are in the guest house, with one large bedroom, a sitting area, a kitchen, and 3 showers and toilets. Since there are more girls than last year, 2 of them will sleep in a small apartment in one of the girls’ dorms. I stayed in a similar room in one of the boys’ dorms last year, and it was quite comfortable. This year, all 4 of the guys are staying in the college dorm, which consists of 4 rooms with 2 bunks each.

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The girls’ house, which will be our primary area of operations, has 220V electricity—we have transformers and adapters—and indoor plumbing, including American-style commodes, although right now there’s a problem with the city water, so we’re using buckets from the rainwater collection system to flush the toilets, shower, and wash the dishes. The girls’ apartment in the dorm has electric lights but no outlets, and the guys’ rooms have no electricity or plumbing; we have lanterns for light at night, and we shower and use the toilet facilities in an outhouse near the dorm. The girls’ dorm and the men’s outhouse have squatty potties.

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Let me say a delicate word about that. Most Americans think of squatty potties as awkward at best; there is—how shall I say it—hardly a more awkward position to be in, for several reasons, none of which I choose to delineate. But the Africans are similarly astonished that we would actually sit on—in physical contact with—our excretory hardware; and I know for a fact that many Americans don’t, at least in public restrooms. 🙂 So this is just one of many examples of cultural differences where we tend to favor what we’re used to.

First day on location, we’re early to bed.

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Dan Olinger

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

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