Saturday, June 27, 2015

Travel day. Start in summer (or what feels like it), end in winter. Start in a small village, end in a large, modern city. A lot can happen in a few hours.

I wake up a little after 6, with my mosquito netting hanging down the side of my bed and a couple of large bites, one on my leg, one on my arm. Well, might as well end with a bang. I’ve gotten bitten here before, and no malaria yet, so cross your fingers.

The house opens for us guys at 8. Beth and Rachelle have made a pan of cinnamon rolls, which we heat up and have for breakfast. We’ve gotten used to chai at 10, and since we leave for the airport at 9, our eating patterns are going to be a little different today.

Gershon and I strip down our little dorm room, leaving just the furniture and taking all the bed linens over to the house to throw in with the other laundry. Two of the boys come by to help carry the laundry. They’re always eager to help.

We all finish packing in plenty of time, and we make sure the house is cleaned up. No sense leaving a bunch of dishes or whatever for the mamas to do. We write our good-byes in the guest book, and several more of the children bring us notes to take with us.

I spend some time talking with Ferdinand. It’s hard to put into words the depth of my estimation for this man. Managing 55 children, whose behavior is, well, energetic, keeping the details in order, and always with a smile and a cheerful attitude, this is an example of Christian manhood unlike any I’ve ever met before. May God raise up more like him.

And we wait for the taxi, which arrives at 9. Drag all the luggage down the dirt path to the parking space, accompanied by a lot of children. Now comes the time I’ve warned the team about. The children cry, and hug us, and won’t let go. But we have to go. So we hug them back, and cry some, and gently push them away and get into the cars. The luggage and 4 team members in the taxi, and the 5 others with Beth and Rachelle in Beth’s vehicle.

Out the curved drive, with the children running alongside. Out the gate, and down the long, punishing dirt road to The Pavement at Sweya. Through town—traffic is busy this morning—around the traffic circle with the big fish fountain standing on its tail, and out the north end to the airport.

Now traffic isonsurprisingly light. We say our good-byes to Beth and Rachelle—boy I hope we’ve been less trouble than we’re worth—and into the departures door. Must have timed it just right; we’re the only ones in line, so we buzz through the first security check and the baggage weigh-in, where we get the receipt that lets us check in and get our boarding passes. Not one tiny shilling’s worth of excess baggage fees. That’s really nice.

Through the second security check, and we’re in the waiting lounge, more than an hour before boarding. Why is the system always efficient when you have time, but never when you don’t? How do it know?

We hit the little snack bar for something to tide us over for the next couple of hours—I have unexpected shillings to spend, what with the pass on the baggage fees—and then we enjoy the free wi-fi (!) in the waiting area.

Flight’s on time. We take off toward the north, with the Lake to our left, but with haze heavy enough to keep us from really enjoying the view. We’re all seated together toward the front, and in what seems like no time we’re landing at Dar.

There are 2 domestic airlines in Tanzania, which are just, well, awful. You’d think the competition would improve service, but there’s no sign that it ever will. If you’re flying inside TZ, you’re flying on either Precision Air or FastJet, and nobody likes either one of them. (We’re on FastJet, as if that makes any difference.)

One of the things they do badly is refuse to recognize any other carriers—I mean the international ones. We’re on what looks to us like an international flight, but they won’t check our luggage through past Dar. So when we land we have to go stand at the baggage claim, get our luggage, go down a little hallway and through security (for no reason at all), then check in again for the international flight. Then fill out the emigration paperwork, go through the passport check, head upstairs, and go through security yet another time (that’s 4 times—twice in Mwanza and twice in Dar—without ever leaving the secure zone). That’s a lot of times to have to hold your trousers up.

But now we’re at the gate complex for our Joburg flight, and we have maybe 30 minutes to grab a bite. Drop into the Flamingo Restaurant—it has several locations all around the airport—and grab a pastry and a drink before boarding. Get rid of some more shillings, and keep the electorate from deciding to overthrow the emperor.

Up, up, and away on South African. It’s nice to hear the distinctive accent again. I have to remember not to say “Asante” all the time—no more Swahili on this trip. When the beverage cart comes around, I ask for Appletiser (carbonated apple juice), and they have it. Yep. This is South African Airways.

Gershon, across the aisle, sees the Appletiser and is curious about it. I let him and the other 2 on the back row with me—Kyla and Emily—have a taste. A few minutes later Gershon looks over his shoulder (we’re right in front of the galley) and asks the flight attendant for Appletisers for the whole row. I say, “They have Grapetiser too, you know.” He changes his order to that. Then I say, “Ask them about Duriantiser.” If you don’t get the joke, Google “durian.”

As the sun goes down in the west, we have a spectacular view out the right-side windows—a blazing orange sky across the entire horizon. I can see at least 120 degrees of it from my window. If you think about it, sunsets last forever; there’s always one going on somewhere. As a matter of fact, there’s just one sunset, racing around the planet from east to west, at about 1000 mph at the equator. A constant silent but eloquent testimony to the love of God for beauty. There are sunsets where there are no people to see them. What an artist.

We land a few minutes early at Joburg, and as the last 2 rows we’re the last people off the plane. So we’re at the end of the line for everything, but that’s actually good; it means the crush has passed by the time we get there. We fill out an Ebola questionnaire (no problem there) and get through immigration in a few minutes. (No visa is required for US passports in South Africa). We work through the huuuuuuge baggage area—10 carousels, and we’re the last folks to get there, and our baggage comes along in a few minutes. Except for Jess’s. Uh-oh. We go to the baggage desk, and they tell us they accidentally sent her luggage on to the Cape Town flight; she won’t have to take it through customs. Cool.

Through the “nothing to declare” hall and out to re-check the bags, then upstairs to the gate. We have half an hour, so the team points me to a coffee shop (Vida e Caffe), and we all get the first high-end coffee we’ve had in a long time. Sarah looks around for a souvenir shop with something that says “Johannesburg” on it—her last name is Johannes—and can’t find anything. Looks like she’s going to have to deal with Amazon.

The gate’s just around the corner. On we go, and on to Cape Town. We are not marching to Pretoria.

We approach Cape Town from the south, with the Atlantic on the left. The lights show an orderly harbor city, modern and bright. It’s good to be back.

We head for the luggage carousel, and I decide to leave the crew waiting and go get the rental van. I tell them to “meet me at the curb out front.” I walk across the plaza and through the tunnel to the car rental agencies and find the guy at the Hertz counter. Check-in is routine. We have a Toyota Quantum, a 10-seat van with plenty of headroom and aisle/floor space. He kindly offers to drive with me around to the curb; “it’s a little tricky to get there.” And it is; I’d have had trouble finding it. It’s upstairs, at Departures.

Then it occurs to me that I’ve forgotten something. They’ll come out downstairs, at Arrivals, and there’s no “curb” there.

Who designed this airport?

So he stays with the van while I go looking for The Crew. I eventually find them with all the luggage, including Jess’s, wandering the plaza downstairs, trying desperately to make sense of what I told them to do. I apologize and take them up the escalator to the Departures curb.

We squeeze all the luggage into the van and head off into the night, with me sitting on the right side, shifting the manual transmission with my left hand, and driving on the left side of the road. At night. Oh, this will be fun.

One problem with this driving setup is that every time you turn, you accidentally turn on the windshield wipers. Think about it.

I have a little trouble finding the guest house—turns out there’s no exit at a key intersection—but Gershon’s manning the GPS and we finally pull up to the De Keurboom Guest Houses in Kuilsrivier around midnight. Linda Otto, the proprietor, has waited up for us, and she gets us settled. Jessica, Jess, and Sarah stay in 2 bedrooms (with 2 baths) in the main office house, and the rest of us are in the first house across the street.

I’ve used Keurboom with every team I’ve had in Cape Town. I highly recommend both Linda and the facility. It’s perfect, comfortable, inexpensive, and convenient in location. If you’re ever in Cape Town, please, please give her your business.

We’re pretty tired. Find your bed, cover up with the puffy blankets—they don’t heat the houses in winter here, and it’s cold—and go to sleep. Church is at 9 am.

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Dan Olinger

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

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