… And then it’s Saturday.
It’s a funny thing. We were in a big hot hurry, and I’ve been worrying about this connection for several hours now. But now that we’ve made the connection, we really don’t care about any delays or inefficiencies from this point on. We’re going to have a 4-hour layover in Dar, and half of that time we’ll be confined to a fairly inhospitable area, so delays are now kind of a good thing. We’ve been freed to be unfrustratable. Life’s crazy sometimes.
We land late in Dar es Salaam, since we departed late, because of us. It takes a while to get through immigration—the agent I’m pointed to is sound asleep, with her head on the counter—and then to get our bags. In another act of providential grace—it would be astonishing if it weren’t for the “providential” part—all of our luggage made the transfer at Addis. We shoot through the customs “Nothing to Declare” line—they just run the bags through a scanner—and then go down a narrow little hallway marked for transit passengers. The door at the far end is too narrow to get a luggage cart through—hello? system design, anyone?—so we all turn around and go back down the narrow hallway to customs and out into the plaza where you can hail a taxi or hit an ATM or Forex. Since they make you go through security again to get into the check-in area for domestic flights, it really doesn’t make any difference if you go down the narrow little hallway or just exit the whole building and re-enter from outside.
We pass through security with all our luggage and into the departures check-in area. It’s 3.30 am; we can check in for our 6 am flight in just half an hour. This is gonna be easy.
When a check-in agent for Precision Air arrives at the counter, we queue. I’m expecting another baggage weight change and excess baggage fee, and I’m not disappointed. For this domestic flight, baggage is limited to just 50 pounds per person, total. (The standard international limit is 2 bags, 50 pounds each.) We’re not maxed out, but we owe another $360. No, they won’t take US. Run outside to the Forex booth on the plaza and change $400 into over 800,000 Tanzanian shillings to get the 780k I need for the fee. Back to the check-in counter (through security again). Done, receipted, stamped, checked in.
Odd thing here: the Tanzanian shilling is worth very little—over 2,000 to the dollar—but their largest denomination is 10,000 shillings. Imagine if cash transactions in the US were all done with just 5s and 1s. That makes for a lot of very thick wallets.
Upstairs to the departure gates—through security again—and to a little café where the crew gets some breakfast and waits for the boarding call. It’s 5 am, and I feel like I’ve already had a full day. That began with no sleep.
Board at 5:30—another turboprop, one that boards only from the back—and settle in for the 2-hour flight to Mwanza. Shortly after we take off, Jonathan and Jojo interact kindly with a little girl seated with her mother in front of them, and soon she’s laughing more loudly than she needs to—intentionally, it’s pretty clear—and running up and down the aisle. Guess we won’t be sleeping on this flight either.
It’s pretty hazy—wood smoke pollution is common in all developing countries—and although the pilot says that Kilimanjaro is off to our right, no one can see it. It’s the tallest mountain in Africa, and the tallest free-standing mountain in the world. And yes, it has snows.
We land at Mwanza a little after 8. I know because the jolt wakes me up. How about that. Slept a little after all.
Off the plane, onto the bus. Across the tarmac to the tiny little arrivals building, 75% of which is occupied by the luggage conveyor belt, and the other 25% of which is occupied by uniformed porters who want desperately to touch your bags so they can engage you in heated negotiations over how much you consequently owe them. We manage to decline their services and get all our luggage—yep, it’s all here—onto carts and out into the parking lot to wait for Beth and Rachelle, who arrive in a few minutes. It’s good to see these long-time friends again; and Sarah, who’s back for the second time in 3 years, is especially exuberant.
It’s about an hour’s drive from the airport, on the north side of Mwanza, through the city and to Tumaini, which is on the south side. I don’t remember much of the drive, frankly.
When we pull into the compound, I notice several changes immediately. They’re using the center gate as the main entrance instead of the corner entrance by the church, and there’s a nice roadway leading from there to the parking area, which is now under a roof as part of a new laundry building.
But one thing is the same. The children come running, smiling and shouting their welcome. They crowd around the 2 vehicles as we manage some hasty introductions. And when Sarah’s familiar face emerges from the car, they’re delighted. We didn’t tell them she was coming.
The children get right to work unloading the bags and carrying them up to the little office / administration building. Beth knows we’re not going to be able to comprehend much of anything until we get some sleep, so she takes us to her newly screened porch for chai (morning tea) to teach us just 3 words we’re going to need to know immediately: shikamoo (how you greet someone older than you), salamah (peace / good, how you respond to most greeting questions), and asante (thank you). We’ll learn a lot more later, when our brains begin functioning.
We get a quick tour of our housing. The girls will be staying in the Big House, in what’s usually Rachelle’s apartment, but which she kindly vacates every summer (winter, here) when we show up. There’s a big room for the girls to sleep in—4 bunks and a double bed (we’ll see how that gets sorted out), all equipped with mosquito netting—and a hallway with 3 showers on one side and 3 toilets on the other and a sink at the end. Kitchen out front. It’s a very comfortable facility.
The guys will be staying in a newly renovated building that had been 4 dorm rooms with bunks, no water, and no electricity. We’ve handled that fine in the past, especially since we typically spend most of our free time at the girls’ house, which functions as team HQ. But now it’s had a major upgrade. The 4 rooms have become 2 efficiency apartments with toilets, sinks, showers, and electricity. It’s downright luxurious. Mine has a queen-sized bed, and the guys’ room has bunks. We’ll do just fine.
We tend to our biggest need—sleep. We all agree to sleep for an hour or two—enough to get us through the day, but not so much that we throw ourselves into a jet-lag infinite loop—and regather at 4 for a more substantial orientation session and some supper.
After supper we’re dropping off pretty heavily; a few get some wifi, but we have a very brief prayer of thanksgiving for devotions and hit the rack.