Thursday, May 31, 2018

We’re going to Africa?! Again?! Didn’t we just get back?!

Well, yes, now that you mention it. But this is a different group. 9 students, not 7, and all female (what am I gonna do without Cam?), and a different place, a different time, a different sort of ministry.

New challenges, new promise, but old, unexpired promises.

Here we go.

Kurt Petterson brings the van and trailer by my house at 1.15 pm so we can load the 8 cases for Tumaini. They’re 50 pounds apiece, and I’d rather not carry 400 pounds from the shed in my back yard out to the street, so I ask if he can back the rig through the side yard and up to the shed. Sure he can.

Here’s the thing. We had a major rain event a few days ago, but I wasn’t here for it, so it never really registered with me. About halfway in, we realize the side yard is really soggy. He stops, and we load the cases from there. Now all we need to do is get back out.

He moves a few feet, and that’s it. Stuck.


I grab some plywood from the shed. He can’t get the rear tires up onto it without digging a deeper hole.

OK, then.

He calls Jake—Jake can do anything—and in 10 minutes he’s there with a 4-wheel drive truck and a puller. Hitch it up, go to town. Moves a little, then spins all 4 wheels. I note that the ground’s drier to left, a little uphill. He inches that way and makes a little progress. Little by little, inch by inch. Eventually he gets his front tires onto the street, and then we’re out.

Of course, the yard looks like the fields of Ypres during the War to End All Wars (that’s a trench reference, to those of you who, unlike me, weren’t there at the time), but we can fix that later.

To my astonishment, we’re only 15 minutes late to meet the crew behind Nell Sunday, the Traditional Africa Team Starting Point. Just 4 (Jana, Annalee, Gabby, Jessica) to pick up here; the other 5 will meet us at the airport. We load their luggage, then I have a few words with the parents, trying to give them the impression that I know what I’m doing, and I note that while we’re in transit, no news really is good news, since wifi is unpredictable. If there’s a real problem, I tell them, oh, you’ll hear from me, all right.

We gather beside the van for a word of prayer, and then we’re off.

Well, after the restroom stop at QT right down the street for 2 people whose names I won’t mention, then we’re off.

The 4 chatter as we head south on 85. Lots to talk about, and they know each other well enough already that the chatter continues for quite a ways down the road.

But before long they’re dozing to the rhythm of the concrete highway.

Traffic is light until we get to Spaghetti Junction, where it picks up considerably. Kurt has a lot of experience at this, and he uses Google Maps to get the fastest route, with traffic advisories. Looks like it’s 9 minutes faster to take the beltway, so we do. There’s a crunch at the merge, of course, but eventually we get going again. Kurt drives patiently and conservatively, unlike somebody riding shotgun next to him, and his approach really seems to work. We’re at the international terminal at 5.15, more than 2 hours before flight time, and that despite hitting Atlanta right at evening rush hour. I’m delighted.

On the way I’ve learned via text that the other 5 team members are all at the terminal and together, so this should be pretty simple. We load the luggage onto carts at the curb and assemble with the 5 near the Qatar Airways check-in counter, where I give them some instructions.

As already noted, we’re taking 8 pieces to the orphanage (“Tumaini,” from here on). That’s not unusual. But we didn’t pack it ourselves, and they’re gonna ask us that question. So the 8 who have a Tumaini piece as their second checked bag will say, if asked, that they didn’t pack the bag, but that the bag contains clothing and supplies that we’re delivering to an orphanage in Africa, and that remarkable handsome man with the white beard over yonder did in fact check the contents.

We line up, with 8 people with 2 bags to check, and 2 with just 1, and up to the counter we go as desks open up. The people I ask say that the agent didn’t ask the security question. Well, that simplifies things. All checked in by 6 pm.

The line at security is fairly long, but it moves quickly. Paige and Jana are at the front of our group going in, but they get shuffled into a long or slow line, or something, and the rest of us all get through before they do. Just ahead of me is a fairly large man giving the agents grief about touching him too hard. He’s getting louder, and they’re trying to de-escalate, but they’re also certainly going to search him via a prescribed procedure. I begin to consider options. If he gets violent, do I help? I do know some judo choke holds that would render him unconscious in a very few seconds. But then there would be a police report and who knows what else. Surely these agents can handle the guy; there are a bunch of them.

But I think to myself, “You’re touching me too hard”?! Seriously? You’re a big guy; man up, dude. Exercise some manliness. Yipes. He’s been holding up the line, so they route us through a different machine, and we’re through in a few minutes. As I pass the last agent, I say quietly, “Hang in there, my friend.” She smiles and says nothing. I guess they deal with this kind of thing every day. We wait for Paige and Jana, then take a bathroom break.

It’s after 6.30; they’re probably boarding for our 7.25 flight. Some of the crew feels a little hungry. I tell them I’m virtually certain that we’ll eat right after takeoff, but they’re a little concerned, so we drop by a little shop where they can get a snack—some yogurt, or crackers, or something. That’ll do.

They are indeed boarding when we arrive at Gate F7, but there’s a long line, so we have a seat and relax. That gives some a chance to charge their phones, so it’s a win. When the line is mostly gone, we step up and get on board with no problems. To my surprise, we’re not seated together; the seats appear to be almost random. That’s unusual for a group itinerary; normally they just seat everybody in the group together.

But I am next to Jana. The seating configuration is 3-3-3; she’s on the left aisle of the center section, while I’m in the middle seat. I’m relieved that she’s next to me; I have Restless Leg Syndrome and tend to be up and down all night on these transoceanic flights, and it’s better when the person on the aisle is a friend.

We’re loaded well ahead of flight time, but pushback is at 7.34, 9 minutes after scheduled takeoff. We entertain ourselves by exploring the entertainment system, which is extensive. I find the exterior cameras pretty quickly, and the various flight tracking features, which are my main area of interest. We both note that you can create a personalized list of movies, so we set that up.

At pushback, I watch the belly camera, and she watches the one looking forward from high on the tail. Highly entertaining.

Wheels up from 27R at 7.54. The cabin crew keeps making announcements on climbout, which blanks out the cameras. More than mildly irritating, especially since the announcements are in Arabic and don’t do us any good.

We cover the 3-hour van drive from Greenville in about 15 minutes and head north to Lake Erie. True to my predication, they start serving the supper meal by about 8.30, although it takes them a while to get to us. I choose the beef option, which is chunks of spicy beef in a red sauce, with diced carrots and a quiche sort of thing with potatoes on the bottom. I’m sure it has a name. I’m told that airlines make the food spicier because your taste buds are less sensitive at altitude. That appears to be the case here. There’s also a slice of Tillamook cheese, Oregon’s best. I notice that Tillamook seems to be a popular option on the airlines I’m flying these days. And dessert is a nice chocolate mousse, very well done. That can’t be easy to pull off in this service environment; good for them.

The passenger demographic appears to be mostly Indian. There’s a 3-year old boy sitting in front of us, and his parents, bless their hearts, are doing their best to get him not to be a 3-year-old boy, but they just can’t do it. He’s jumpy and talkative and unhappy with the unfamiliar circumstances and asking for impossible stuff all the time. I almost feel worse for the parents than I do for myself, sitting here behind him. Almost.

During the meal he stands in his seat and stares at me eating. He places his hands on the top of the seat, and a large crumb-like particle of some sort of foodstuff falls from his hand onto my dinner tray. Jana snorts in amusement. I can’t see exactly where it landed, but I note that there’s no open food in that general area of the tray, so I take comfort in that. Eventually I notice that it has landed on my spoon, which, fortunately, I can do without for this particular meal.

And then I notice that Jana and I are pretty much surrounded by babies and children. More than I’ve ever been in the midst of on a flight. More on that later. 🙂

A note here about the blog’s style. I include details—lots of details. And for a very specific reason: most of the blog’s readers are family members or friends of the team members, and they like details. Especially moms. And especially Gabby’s mom. So details it is. If it’s too much for you, feel free to skim.

After dinner I watch a movie—Murder on the Orient Express—until I get too sleepy to watch anymore. But not sleepy enough to, you know, actually fall asleep, what with the RLS and the crying babies and the shouting children and the general fact that I’m Flying on an Airplane When I Ought To Be in Bed. (I realized earlier this week that from Saturday to Saturday, I’m sleeping in a different place every night, and that 4 of the 7 places are not beds: a bus, 2 airplanes, and the Nairobi airport.) Jana graciously offers to give up her aisle seat so I can get up and move around as often as I need to, which is A Lot. Bless you, my child. For the rest of the night she actually seems comfortable and content with her middle seat. That’s something I simply cannot do.

In my ambulations I find most of the rest of the crew. Annalee, Janis, and Katlyn are in the front row of the section behind us, thus in an exit row with legroom to spare—but no place to stow stuff under the seat in front of them, because there isn’t one. But they seem happy there. Katlyn, who is in the window seat, is propped up against the window, sound asleep, every time I go by. Jessica, Gabby, and Olivia S are in the next-to-last row on the starboard side and seem happy. I run into Paige in the line for the bathroom, but I don’t see where she’s sitting. During the prep for the trip, I had appointed Paige possible team leader in case I didn’t get back from Ghana in time to meet the team, and I’d given her a fairly substantial stack of cash to pay for some significant expenses along the way to Mwanza; we take this opportunity, when each has a moment of privacy in the restroom, to make the cash transfer back. Pretty slick. By dawn I still haven’t found where Olivia V is sitting—they’re keeping the cabin lights dim—but I know she’s on the plane, because I counted everybody on and boarded behind them. I count—to 9, in this case—obsessively on these trips.

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Dan Olinger

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

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