Saturday, June 6, 2015

D-Day. Remember.

I’m up at 5:30 with pre-travel jitters. That’s a good thing; we’re moving 3 time zones east today and tonight, and the early morning will help with the adjustment.

Devotions, shower, no shave. I don’t know why. Just lazy, I guess.

Everybody’s up when they need to be. I exhort them to eat whatever food is in the fridge; we can’t take it through security. At 8:30 Sarah, Amber and I go grocery shopping, looking for food that can go through security at the airport. Pretty much limited to cookies and nuts. And powdered cocoa, which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. We stock up on enough to keep bodies and souls together—there’s one lunch and one snack on the flights, and we may be able to buy some food in either Addis Ababa or Dar es Salaam, but because of the late/early hours in each airport, I’m assuming we won’t be.

By 9 pretty much everybody’s ready. We do some last-minute cleanup and wait for the taxis.

They’re on time, and we watch the drivers choreograph the loading of 18 pieces of luggage plus the 7 U-Haul boxes, all carefully calibrated to 50 lbs. Gershon goes in 1 cab with a buncha luggage; I go in another; 3 girls in the 3rd, and 4 in the 4th. That’ll work.

When my taxi pulls up at the international departures curb, all the others are already there, with carts loaded with luggage. We empty my cab and head inside. There’s quite a line for Ethiopian Air check-in. (I know what you’re thinking. You’re wrong. Ethiopian is one of the best airlines in Africa.) An agent tells us that the boxes are going to have to be wrapped in plastic. I’m not surprised; they’re looking pretty beat up, and I’ve learned by this experience that while duct tape will do a lot of things, it doesn’t maintain its adhesion very well in high humidity. At least, not on cardboard. So we run all 7 boxes down to the end of the terminal, where a couple of guys wrap them up for a couple of bucks apiece. Well worth it.

Then back to line, where we sort everything so that each person’s cart has just his luggage on it, and every piece of luggage is tagged. An agent lets us through a gate where our passport is checked and then directs us to the waiting line for the check-in counter. Why they check the passports first is a mystery to me; they’re going to be checked again multiple times before we get to the gate.

When our people start checking in at the counter, everything goes berserk. Apparently Ethiopian has a lower weight limit than the de facto international standard (50 lbs per bag, 2 checked bags allowed); they allow 30 kilos (66 lbs) per person total. So everybody with a U-Haul box is overweight. Ah; that’s how they keep their budget in the black. Excess baggage fees.

Well, there’s going to be a fairly hefty excess charge. I’ll pay with a credit card. Oh, you want to use a credit card? You need to go to the next building, to the corporate office, to do that. I’ll just hold your boarding pass here.

I send the team on to the gate. I hope they’ll have enough sense to go on ahead if I don’t make the flight.

I run outside and up the sidewalk to the next building, where a sign points to the corporate offices of the airlines. Upstairs, down the hall to Ethiopian. Hours posted on the door: 9:00 – 15:00. Nobody there. I sidle down the hall, peeking through windows. Somebody’s sitting at a desk. Bang on the window. Just a minute. Finally get inside, where he asks for my passport and credit card. He photocopies them, then hands them back with a photocopy. Never runs the card. Eh? Just go back to the counter. Ok.

Back to the counter. They ask to see the photocopy, then run my card and hand me my boarding passes. If you can figure any sense to that system, I’d love to hear it.

Follow the departure signs upstairs to an immigration check. (They want to know that you really left.) Then to security, which is crowded and not moving efficiently, but quickly enough. Less than 30 minutes to departure; surely they’re already boarding by now. Fast walk through duty-free—they run you around through the store just to make sure you know that they have lots of overpriced vice supplies—and then back the opposite direction to gate 5. Two checkpoints, one of which issues a plastic boarding pass, because, you know, the one you have isn’t enough paperwork already. Around the corner, and there’s my team, all 8 of ‘em, looking all cherubic as they always do. I ask them if they would have left without me. Of course we would have. Smart kids.

There’s just time to get in line, surrender our plastic boarding passes, and go downstairs to catch the bus out across the ramp to the plane. It’s a 787, fresh and shiny, with big ol’ GE turbine engines. As we walk under one, I wonder out loud if the turbines were made in Greenville. We board at the back, since we’re in rows 36-38, and there are only 39 rows on the plane. Find our seats in short order, and suddenly the chaos disappears, and we’re quietly waiting for pushback, wheels up, and climb-out.

Thank you, Lord.

We take off toward the south, out over the Atlantic. I’m sitting next to Jessica, and I remind her that we’re passing right over the restaurant from last night. (Several climbed out over us as we were eating.) A left turn orients us eastward (pun completely intended), and we follow the coast to Nigeria, then skirt the Sahel, along the border between Chad and the Central African Republic. Lunch occupies the first half of the flight. They have little bottles of sparkling water, which just makes my day. The kids read or doze or watch the in-flight entertainment system. As I write, we’re 247 miles past Moundou, 1305 miles out of Addis Ababa. Oh, and the pilot pronounces it AH-ba-ba, not ah-BA-ba. Try to learn something new every day. 🙂

We land in Addis Ababa a little after 9, delayed some by traffic. When we deplane, we enter the main terminal, where there are shops and cafes. I think about getting some dinner, but I can see down the concourse that the line for security entering Terminal 1 is quite long, and since I don’t know how long that will take, I figure we’d better get it done to make sure we make the flight out to Dar.

I note that in much of Africa, you go through security on every flight. We’re in the secure zone, having been screened at Accra; and in the States we’d be clear all the way to our destination. But not here; we get screened again, and we’ll do it again in Dar. It’s a pain, but it at least gives the impression that they’re serious about security.

We get through with about 45 minutes before the flight out. OK, now we can eat, right? Nope. No restaurants out in the concourse. 6 gates, no facilities but toilets. Apparently it hasn’t occurred to them that if they take those cafes from the center, where everybody feels like they don’t have time to eat, and move them out to the gates, where everybody’s just sitting around, they’d do a land-office business.

We work our way down to gate 1, at the far end of the concourse, and then downstairs to a bunch of break-out gates (ours is 1E). Big seating area without aisles; to get to seats in the middle, you have to wind your way up and down the looooong rows, over people’s feet, for what feels like half a mile. Seriously; who designed this place? We get some seats together, and I hit my backpack for the nifty-difty snacks I brought along for such a time as this. Chocolate-dipped cookies and nuts sound like they’ll work. We pass the packages around and munch.

Ten o’clock. Time to board. Down to 1E. The guy can’t get the doors to open, or something. He marches us around to 1D and through the doors onto the bus. Across the ramp to our plane, what we’d call a puddle-jumper back home. It’s a Bombardier 400 turboprop, and it’s not full. Good; we’ll be able to spread out after we take off and maybe get a little sleep.

Addis Ababa to Dar es Salaam. In 2013, when I first flew this leg, I thought it was the most exotic-sounding boarding pass I’d ever held. It does sound pretty cool, but it’s actually a nondescript flight, and the airports at either end are more irritating than exotic. If you’re thinking of Indiana Jones, you’ll be disappointed.

After takeoff Michaela and I find empty rows at the back and try to sleep. Mildly successful.

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Dan Olinger

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

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