Saturday, June 23, 2018

Extraction day. I wake up at 6.30, with the birds—it’s amazing how precisely they start singing at 6.30 every morning—and set about the process of getting out: wash, brush, read, pack the last few things, strip the bed, take the laundry down to Rachelle’s and the trash to the incinerator. A last look around—Rachelle’s brother, who arrived yesterday to spend a couple of weeks, will move in here today. Leave it as you found it, or maybe a little better.

One of the children meets me on my porch and offers to drag the suitcase for me. It’s a courtesy I can’t refuse, though the sight of her dragging a suitcase that’s nearly as big as she is makes me feel like I really ought to be doing it myself. Jana tells me the girls’ place next door is ready for inspection, and it looks good.

OK then. Up to the main guest house at 8.30 to find that they’re pretty much ready to go as well, with just some minor cleaning to take care of. The children have been up for a while, of course, and they’re gathered around the house, ambushing every girl who comes out, holding hands, hugging, delivering letters. One girl makes bead bracelets and has one for each of us. Several children give me letters to deliver to members of previous teams. Pretty sure I can make that happen, though the one guy who’s in Cairo now may be a bit of a reach.

The daladala we’ve hired to take 6 of the group to the airport arrives on time at 9. The other 4 of us and our luggage are snug in Rachelle’s vehicle. I tell everybody to get in the van, and they just keep hugging thee kids. I say it again, and realize I am completely irrelevant to this process. After 3 pleas, all in English, there’s one person starting to get into one of the vans.

Time to be the bad guy. Somebody’s gotta do it. In the vans we go, and up the drive to the gate for the last time for this crew.

On the drive through town most of the crew is reading letters the children have just given them. Just north of town a policeman waves us over for a routine check. All the conversation takes place in Swahili; when it’s over, I find that I’m about to get a ticket for not wearing my seat belt. 30,000 shillings. Well, how about that. Always did like this town. I leave the cash with Rachelle; the worst part of it is that she’ll need to go to a bank to pay it. Adding to the missionaries’ burdens is not part of my plan.

At the airport, we all grab our own bags and head in. We’re returning Beth’s two bags to her as well; I take one of those, and Annalee takes the other, since she’s one of just 4 of us returning to Greenville. Through security to get into the terminal, then line up to get the luggage weighed. To my shock and surprise, there are no excess baggage fees, even with the 2 extra pieces; Annalee’s bag and mine are light enough that with Beth’s largely empty pieces added in, we’re still under the limit. Cool.

Boarding passes in hand, through a second security screening to get out to the gate. The whole process has taken just a few minutes; in previous years it’s been fairly chaotic. So now we’re ready to fly, and with an hour to wait.

There’s a little shop at the gate that has sodas and snacks, and it’s chai time, so everybody gets a little something to munch on while we wait. And there’s free wifi (free wifi? At Mwanza?!) So the crew’s immersed in their phones.

Right on time the boarding call comes, and we line up to cross the tarmac to the shuttle bus. The plane is the same kind we came in on, a twin turboprop that loads from the rear. It’s a relatively brief hour-and-ten-minute flight to Kilimanjaro, and we’re able to see the mountain on the left as we approach.

The Kilimanjaro International Airport is a bigger operation than Mwanza, but today, oddly enough, it seems less efficient. We collect our bags and are directed through a baggage scanner, which moves very slowly. Then around the corner to the street exit, where we need to go outside and drag our bags 100 yards or so to the departure terminal, where we stand in line for an identical baggage scanner.

I’m the last one through, and the team is nowhere in sight. I see signs for “international departures,” so I head that way and eventually see one of the crew on the other side of a partition. One problem: they’ve apparently just walked through departure control with no paperwork and with no one stopping them. A staff member asks me for my boarding pass—none of us have them yet—and then says I need to get one. I ask, “Then how did they get over there?” She rolls her eyes, we call them back, and we all go to follow SOP.

Back to the check-in counter, which again seems slow, and then back to departure control, where we fill out the paperwork this time and go through the Official Process, with fingerprints and all.

Into the gate area, where I’m looking for a restaurant since we haven’t eaten anything all day except for the little snack at the Mwanza airport; we’re all starving. There are no obvious restaurants, but at the back of the terminal we find a little café and get a sandwich. Pretty much everybody gets either a cheeseburger and or guacamole burger, which is predictable; on returning to Western food, team members pretty much always go for burgers. Or pizza.

Through security and out to the gate as boarding starts. We walk across the tarmac to the Qatar Airways A320. It’s not a widebody; I suspect you can’t get a widebody into the Kilimanjaro airport. About half of us are seated in the middle of the plane, and the rest are in the back row. And we find a special providence. One of the team is a little queasy—if you haven’t heard from your daughter, it’s not her—and she’s in the back row, window seat. A teammate is on the aisle and trades with her so she’ll have quick access to the bathroom, which is literally right next to them. And then after takeoff, the three team members across the aisle decide to move to a couple of empty rows further forward, and consequently Queasy has an entire row where she can lie down and sleep for the duration of the flight, and she’s right in front of the restroom if she needs it.

Thank you, Lord.

Takeoff is toward the north, and we head across Africa, quickly leaving Tanzania, crossing Kenya just west of Mount Kenya, delightfully in view, and then over solid cloud cover as darkness falls. Dinner is served shortly after takeoff; I have the beef, with a Mediterranean salad with real goat cheese, a small round of Baby Bell (more cheese!), a chocolate torte, and a little piece of Godiva chocolate.

Life is good.

By 7.30 they’ve darkened the cabin, and several of us take the opportunity to sleep.

Queasy is still unsettled when we land in Doha at midnight. With the kind help of the cabin crew, I get a cart to take us to the very good 24-hour medical clinic here at the airport. We bypass all the usual red tape and see the doctor immediately; he prescribes some things by IV. So here we are in mid-journey, with a fully qualified medical clinic in an airport, and all night if we need it before our next flight departs. Excellent providential timing.

 

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Dan Olinger

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

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