Thursday, May 10, 2018

Then begins the long dark night of the soul. I never sleep well on planes, mostly because of restless leg syndrome. I usually spend a lot of time walking or standing and just waiting for daylight. This time I’m in a middle seat, and I notice that both Lauren and Cam have no trouble at all sleeping—nor do the Four across the aisle. So I feel good for them and spend the night trying various positions.

Around 4 am Cam’s awake, so I take the opportunity to get up and do the morning ablutions. It’s not wise to drink the water in the bathroom sinks on airplanes, but we got a small bottle with dinner last night—or this morning—so I use that to brush the teeth, floss, and take the daily Rx. That feels better.

And change the watch to Amsterdam time—10.30 am. We’re still over water—I later see we’re approaching Ireland—but there’s enough cloud cover that we’re not likely to see much coming into the Continent.

An hour later they turn the lights on and bring us a breakfast box of yogurt, OJ, and a little pastry. Seems like a good way to start the day. At 11.30 am.

I suppose it’s time for my annual note about the blog style. I give a lot of details. A LOT of details. I do that because experience has taught me that the team members’ parents want all of it and more. So I try to give you a sense of what your kids are experiencing.

That said, I won’t say anything much about health. If someone is struggling with a cold or allergies or a little nausea or diarrhea, I won’t say anything. If it’s something more noteworthy, I’ll contact the parents privately. But I won’t give any names on the blog, because, frankly, nobody’s health is public information.

We pass just north of London and into Amsterdam from the west, then circle to land from the northeast on runway 24 at 12.32 pm, 20 minutes ahead of schedule. Into the terminal at gate E20.

Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport is less fancy than you’d think, a little dim in its lighting, but it has all we need. Three of the girls say they need coffee, and the way they look gives me no reason to dispute that, so we find a little café—where the 2015 team grabbed a bite—and I buy the necessary coffees. The three cheer up with a little time. You gotta be patient.

We check the gate for our outgoing flight and find to our surprise that it’s the same gate we came in—we’re staying on the same plane. We get our seat assignments and print out boarding passes at the kiosk, and then I suggest a stroll down the concourse to get a little exercise and stave off pulmonary embolisms. We hit a little knick-knack shop, where most of the kids buy a little something to prove they were in Amsterdam. Then down the concourse to the central lobby where things are a little livelier. Nice tulip shop there, with all kinds of colors. But if we buy flowers for our moms now, they probably won’t last the trip (the tulips, I mean). Maybe on the way back.

Back to the gate, where we wait about an hour for boarding to start. Last place where we can trust the tap water, so I encourage the kids to fill their water bottles. I now have a tempting blend of Atlanta and Amsterdam water. Fruity, with a slight bouquet, or something.

There’s a gate nearby boarding for Reykjavik. Boy, that’s tempting.

But we join the long line boarding for Accra instead. I’m happy to see a higher percentage of Africans in this line—obviously—with their brightly colored shirts and dresses, many of the older men wearing black suits, and all of them speaking English with that marvelous African-British accent.

We’re back. Or about to be.

Boarding goes smoothly, and we re-enter the same plane we just left, but sitting farther back. Everybody but Brigitta is in row 39, the center quartet (me, Cam, Karen, Audrey) and the right-side trio (Lauren, Flavia, Kaitlyn at the window—she’s going to make good use of that view on this flight). This time Brigitta is well in front of us.

Takeoff is a few minutes late, but the pilot assures us, in both English and Dutch, that we’ll be early into Accra. South across France, just northeast of Barcelona, and quickly across the Mediterranean to enter Africa near Algiers. Several hours over the Sahara—man, that place is big—and then the Sahel.

They feed us well. A quick snack of smoked almonds—Cam and I really like them—with the first beverage service, then a full meal—I get the fish with tomato sauce, because 1) I like fish, and 2) I’m sick to death of chicken breast creatively herbed to disguise its fundamental inedibility. The fish is moist and tasty. Just before landing there’s another beverage service and another snack—a choice of cinnamon roll or small round pizza. I’m deeply suspicious of pizza served reheated in a cardboard box, but Cam says it was good—so either it was good, or Cam has no culinary taste whatsoever. I get the cinnamon roll, A bit dry, but tasty and not overly sweet.

We enter Ghana at the northeast corner, with Wa within sight—if it weren’t nighttime—off our right wing. Too bad we couldn’t just parachute in. Some turbulence in southern Ghana, but nothing noteworthy. We touch down, our first direct contact with Africa, at 7.59 pm on runway 21. Too bad it’s dark; there’s much to see for someone new to Africa. We’ll get our share of that in Accra tomorrow and on the bus north to Wa.

Onto the bus for a quick ride to the terminal—we have to wait for Brigitta to catch up with us, during which time an entire 747 comes through (that is, the people who were on it come through. Actual 747s are not allowed in the terminal itself in Ghana). Once she arrives, we get an infrared scan for fever (they’re still pretty careful about screening for Ebola) and then show our yellow vaccination cards to prove we’ve gotten the yellow fever shot. Then to immigration. It’s a long line, moving discouragingly slowly, but once they get the first class folks done, they serve us with those two lines, and then when the Ghanaian citizens are done, they let us use all the lines, and the momentum builds as we proceed.

Into the baggage claim, where we all find our bags in minutes. No lost luggage. Believe it or not, that’s actually been pretty common on these trips.

Through customs, which is basically just a wave, and we’re ready to meet our hired driver. After hitting the ATM to pull the max allowable in local currency (cedis, 4.5 to the dollar), I tell the kids to stay inside the terminal, because it’s pretty aggressive out there. I walk out with no luggage and tell half a dozen or so aggressive taxi brokers that I don’t need a taxi, and I don’t need them to call my hired driver. Anything for a claim on some of that good old American green.

After a bit of delay I see a man I don’t know holding a sign that says “BJU.” I figure, what are the odds there’d be two of them? I walk over, extend my hand, and say, “Johnny?” “I’m Paul,” he replies. “I work for Johnny.” We follow him out to a black 15-passenger van and load all our luggage and people into it. It’s after 9; I ask him how long he’s been waiting. “Since 6,” he says, with no apparent desire to make me feel guilty. I don’t quite understand his explanation for why he was here so early, but we’re all glad he waited.

In just a few minutes we’re at the guest house. I meet James Owusu for the first time; he’s taking care of the house while the missionaries who usually do it are back in the States on furlough. James is a kind, good-looking—about my height—Ghanaian who welcomes us graciously.

He shows us upstairs, where he’s given us the whole top floor with 6 bedrooms and 2 baths. Since several of the rooms have twin beds, this is more than we need; we don’t even use one of the rooms. He’s got water in the fridge for us, and we’re all set.

We meet quickly to discuss plans for the next 2 days. There’s been one significant change; turns out that neither bus line has a morning bus to Wa, as they did last year. There’s a bus at 3 pm and another at 7. It’s a 12-hour ride; you do the math. Who wants to arrive in Wa at 3 am?! Then, when Paul picks us up, he says that Timothy recommends the 3 pm, because both lines are often late, and the 3 pm will probably arrive close to 5 or 6. If we take the 7, it may arrive after the graduation ceremony starts at 9, and I’m the commencement speaker, so I kind of need to be there.

So 3 pm it is. We’ll need to leave the house at 2. That means we’ll have the morning to do a little tourism. I think I’ll take them shopping for souvenirs at the street vendors’ shops—that’ll be a hoot—and then to lunch at Papaye Chicken, which is a local institution. Excellent.

The kids are surprisingly energetic, mostly because a lot of them got some sleep on the plane this afternoon. After the meeting most of them take showers and take their time getting ready for bed.

We have one of those wonderful hard rainstorms shortly after 11. The air cools down dramatically, and the lights flicker but never go completely out.

Then to bed, expecting some unexpected tourism tomorrow.

[Since the wifi is working here at the guest house, I’m able to post today’s blog the same day. And since we’re 4 hours later than EDT here, that means that you’ll read about stuff before it actually happened. No, wait; that’s not right . . . .]

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Dan Olinger

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

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