Saturday, June 25, 2016

Travel day. I’m awake at 6:30, clean up, post the blog, send a couple of emails. By 7.30 the guys are awake and getting their stuff together, and by 7.50 we’ve stripped the beds, straightened up, and exited our housing to take the luggage to the pickup spot at the laundry building. Several boys are waiting outside our house to carry the bags—even the ones who have been the most difficult behaviorally.

I check the girls’ house, and they’ve cleaned it up nicely. There’s a bag or two of stuff that they brought along to use here and then leave behind for someone else to use. I look in corners for anything out of place, and it all looks good.

The children are gathered in the laundry building to say good-bye. It’s less emotional than last night, fortunately; I wonder, frankly, how much of the earlier weeping is a show, or at least conformity to an expected social standard.

One of the taxi drivers called last night and said his vehicle had broken down, so Beth has pressed her own vehicle into service as the primary luggage carrier. The second taxi, a Toyota sedan, has a trunk full of bags and 4 people besides the driver; we put 4 more people in with Beth, and the 9 of us are ready to go.

Out the gate, to the calls of “Good-bye!” from the children, and down the bouncy road to Sweya, then Mwanza, then north along the lake to the airport. Traffic is heavy, but it’s mostly daladalas. At one point a motorcade comes by and waves us to the curb; we have no idea who is being transported.

At the airport without incident, check-in without incident. Because we’ve left the footlockers and some stuff for Tumaini behind, we’re traveling a lot lighter, and the excess baggage fees are just 100,000 shillings, or $50, instead of 780,000 as on the way in.

I’m really impressed with the ability of these kids to travel light. They’re in Africa for 8 weeks, in climates ranging from uncomfortably hot to uncomfortably cold, and they’re carrying less than 50 pounds each (plus carryon, of course). That’s impressive. Could you do it?

Through security twice, and into the waiting area an hour before flight time. I don’t mind the double security; in fact, I’m grateful for it anytime I’m overseas. They screen everything coming into the building—that would have stopped the Brussels airport bombing—and then again before boarding. Good for them. And I suppose I could be upset about sitting around for an hour in the waiting area, but in fact that means that we got through the check-in process an hour faster than we allowed for. So good for the local crew. This airport is quite small for the second-largest city in the country, and when it’s busy it can get pretty chaotic. Today the traffic is light, and that’s nothing to complain about.

I buy the Crew a snack at the little duka in the waiting area, a drink and a pastry if they want it. Savory samosas, sweet breakfast rolls. Makes sense to get rid of the remaining shillings.

Soon the call comes for our flight, and we realize with delight that most of the people in the waiting area are there for another flight; our relatively few people board the bus for the inevitable ride across the tarmac to the waiting turboprop, which we board at the rear. No highly energized little girl this time.

It’s less than 2 hours to Dar. Because Mwanza is not an international airport, we couldn’t check our bags to an international destination there; so we have to collect our bags at the domestic baggage claim, load them onto carts, go out into the plaza (remember, that little hallway is too narrow for the luggage carts) and then re-enter from scratch. Passing a duka in the plaza outside, I see a string of Tanzania football jerseys and call Jojo to check them out. He’ll probably want more, and we have time.

His business concluded, we queue up for the passport check and the initial screening outside the terminal. We’re through in just a few minutes, and it’s close enough to flight time that we can check in immediately.

This is our first flight with South African Airways this trip. They’ve been judged the best airline in Africa, and they appear to deserve it. We get through a paperwork check and then line up for the check-in counter to check our bags. It’s relatively slow going, but we all get through and regather for the walk upstairs to the gates. We pass first through emigration, where we find that there is only 1 departure form in the entire place; every other form is an arrival form, which of course is completely unnecessary in this part of the airport. And to complicate matters, the two forms have identical designs—black type on white card stock, with the only differences being the words “arrival” or “departure” in the title and the specific questions being asked. I fill out the 1 departure form, and everyone else fills out an arrival form, ignoring the questions that are no longer relevant, such as the address where you’re staying in Tanzania. Then through the slow lines to be approved by the agents, none of whom make any comment about the arrival form.

One more passport check before going upstairs for the second security line before entrance to the gate area. The international departures side has better shops than the domestic side, and a few of us get some small things before the flight. Then out to Gate 5 and onto our plane, where most of us say “asante” to the greeters rather than the Afrikaans “dankie.” Ah, the switch to a new language. Number 5 for this trip.

We’re seated in a cluster, about 4 rows back in coach on the right. We settle in, trading seats if we feel like it. This will be the longest leg of the trip, at more than 3 hours, and it will include a time change back an hour to 6 hours later than EDT rather than 7.

We have a meal on each flight. The Crew raves about the quality, especially of the beef cubes and mashed potatoes in white sauce, complete with a wedge of cheese to go with the crackers.

The sun sets as we’re descending into Johannesburg. Sunsets from altitude are even more impressive than they are from ground level; they cover perhaps 150 degrees of the horizon, seeming to go on forever.

Landing in Johannesburg, we step from grassland villages into a highly Westernized, developed culture. It’s completely different from what we’ve experienced before. Some team members say it looks like America; no, I tell them, it’s an African version of modern development, not simple copying of America. They’re gaining a new appreciation of the cultural, economic, and social diversity of the peoples on this great continent.

Nothing dark about it.

We have to go through immigration and customs here. The line for immigration is impossibly long, and they have far too few agents to process everybody. They shuffle us around some but don’t seem to be making any headway. Finally our agent simply starts glancing over papers and waving us through. It works out well for us, but I’m not too pleased with the significant lowering of security in the process.

Johannesburg is a very large airport. It’s a long walk to baggage carousel 7, but we get all our bags and then head for customs, the “nothing to declare” line. They mean what they say; there’s not a single desk or even lectern here for any oversight at all, just a long, empty hallway culminating in a counter where you check your bags back in to continue your journey. That line is long and slow as well, and it’s compounded by a roaming facilitator who’s trying too hard to be helpful; he ends up getting in everybody’s way and creating chaos. We’re relieved when he decides to go help some other people.

Finally upstairs to the gate area for the long walk the length of the terminal for concourse D and a final time through security. I stop at an ATM to pick up some rands—I happen to know there’s a good coffee shop on the other side of security, and we’ll have time to pause there—and then through security, up the ramp, and left to “caffe e vida.” We start something of a rush—a lot of people show up just after us—and when the counter crew realizes they have a jam, they go into overdrive, in the process putting on a show for us, calling orders, dancing through their processes, making a game of it. It’s a pleasure to watch.

After our beverages—several of the Crew get frios, not having been outside long enough to realize that it’s winter now—we have just enough time to walk down the concourse to gate D5 and board. Perfect.

This flight is just 2 hours or so, with another meal, just as good. The Crew is really impressed. But we’re also about out of energy for the day. We land at Cape Town just after 11 pm, which is midnight in our heads, which are still back in the Mwanza time zone. Baggage claim doesn’t take long, but we have our first real problem of the day: Beth’s single piece of luggage isn’t here. Seems impossible; we all rechecked our bags in Joburg together, and she was in the middle of the pack. How would that one piece get separated from the others? To make matters worse, it’s late, we’re tired, we still need to pick up our rental car and drive to the house and get moved in. Who has time for this?

But no bag. We file the form and head out to the street. Walk a block across the plaza to the car rental strip mall, find Budget, go through the paperwork to get the vehicle. The agent announces, with some pride, that this one has an automatic transmission. I’ve never seen another one here; I’ve always driven a standard, which requires some concentration because you’re sitting on the right side of the vehicle, shifting with your left hand, and driving on the “wrong” side of the road. This will greatly simplify the number of variables to process while driving.

Sign Beth on as the second driver, just in case. Twenty bucks for the additional driver for 2 weeks. No-brainer. Rent a GPS—you’d be crazy to drive here without it—and then roll our carts to the far corner of the Budget lot to our minibus, as they call it.

The website said it was a 10-passenger vehicle. We have 9 people. It has 9 seats—really 8, but it squeezes a 9th seat in front, crowding the driver and with virtually no legroom between the seat and the dashboard. So, 8.5 seats for 9 people. I’m not happy, but they don’t have a larger vehicle, and it’s The Next Day. Let’s just go home.

Fire up the GPS and exit the airport. One brief moment of confusion about which side of the road we should be on—oncoming headlights will straighten out your thinking in a hurry—and then onto the N-2 (interstate) and out to Kuilsrivier in less than 15 minutes. Not much traffic this time of night.

We arrive at the guest-house office—I’ve already apologized to owner Linda Otto for the late arrival—and she graciously gets us moved in, the 6 girls into one of the houses and the 3 guys into a 3-bedroom, 2-bath collective on the first floor of the main building. We’ll all be very comfortable, though a bit chilly; it’s 50 degrees when we land, and they don’t heat their houses.

Tell the kids to be ready to go at 8:30 am—that’s about 6 hours away—and head for bed. Sure hope Beth’s stuff shows up.

Avatar photo

Dan Olinger

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

Related Posts