Thursday, May 30, 2019

Africa Team departure day has become kind of routine now. This is my 8th summer and my 9th team, and the patterns are pretty easy to see.

The morning is the hardest. I’m up and ready to go, but it’s not time yet. Double-check everything—luggage, paperwork, electronics, pickup time, flight time, financials—and then you just have to wait till it’s time.

We are waiting on a package that the folks at the orphanage would like us to bring over for them, and the tracking site says that it went out for delivery at 8.08 am, but by 12.40 it hasn’t shown up. They tell me it’s not critical for us to wait for it. One last look up and down the street, and my wife and I get into the van and drive over on campus to meet this year’s crew.

There are 10 team members, plus me. Since two of them are meeting us at the Atlanta airport, I’m looking for 8 here. Blake’s the first one to arrive, and he helps me with the luggage as the others arrive over the next few minutes. Two of them—no names :-)—are late, but I’ve figured a healthy amount of flex time into the schedule, so no worries.

We take the traditional departure photo behind Nell Sunday, circle up for a word of prayer, “everybody put your hand on your passport,” and then we head south to Atlanta. Our driver is Dave Versnick, the same driver we had last year. It’s partly cloudy, with bright sun, and 93 degrees, so we’re glad for the comfort of air conditioning for the 3-hour drive. There won’t be air conditioning at the orphanage in Tanzania, but it also won’t be all that hot, though it’ll feel that way on the hikes.

I’m riding shotgun, with the crew all behind me: Blake, Rebekah, and Cathryn in the first row; Kathryn, Abbie, and Cheyenne in the second; and Sam and Peter bringing up the rear. There’s lots of conversation and laughter; many of them already know others on the team pretty well, and it’s always fun to watch the team begin to coalesce and cohere on the trip over, which is physically stressful and so, like any shared suffering 🙂 , brings a group together. And by the end of the trip, they’ll be really good friends.

You’ll notice that I’m giving a lot of details. I do that because my primary readers here are the parents, and most of them want to know everything, so I try to oblige. Feel free to skim if you’re so inclined.

As expected, we hit a lot of traffic where I-85 and I-75 merge in Atlanta, but we’re in the HOV lane, so that helps. We get through downtown Atlanta quite a bit faster than I expected to, and we’re at the International Terminal at ATL around 4.30. (My planned time is 5.45, 2 hours ahead of flight time.) Everybody grab your own bags, and off we go to the Qatar Airways check-in counter.

Processing at check-in is slower than usual, between the fact that we arrive at the same time as several large groups with lots of luggage, and that the agents are weighing even the carry-ons this time. We all come through with no problems—Kathryn has to shift some stuff around between bags, but her desk agent is quite helpful through it all.

Bathroom stop before security. The lines are a little longer than usual, so they simplify some of the procedures—everything out of your pockets and into your backpack while you’re still in line. It takes a while, but we’re into the secure area in plenty of time. Peter and Sam run down to Gate F7, our departure gate, to see if either Shelbie or Michaela is there, and Michaela indeed is. Shelbie’s behind us, still in security; it took her a while to get over from the domestic arrivals side. But by 5.30 all 11 of us are together and ready to rumba.

I expect the flight’s cabin crew is going to feed us shortly after takeoff—maybe 8.30 or 9—but I think we all could use a quick sandwich to tide us over, and the fact that we’re ahead of schedule means we’ll have time to sit down for a bite. The food court has tacos and hot dogs—I don’t recommend either of those just before a long, crowded, overnight flight—but there’s a bistro with grab-and-go sandwiches where we can each grab the one we want. Rebekah and Kathryn both reeeaaaalllly want milkshakes, and I tell ‘em they don’t need my permission. At least Stateside. 🙂

After we finish, we still have 45 minutes before boarding, so I turn everybody loose to hit the shops. Some want neck pillows, and who knows what all else. Be at the gate at 6.45, or we’re leaving without you. Might as well give ‘em a little responsibility test early on.

They’re all at the gate at least 15 minutes early. That’s a good sign. We sit in a group and fellowship until boarding is announced. We end up all on the right side but Blake. I’m on the aisle, across from Michaela. Sam is in front of her, and Cathryn behind her. Cheyenne’s 2 rows behind me, and Rebekah just behind her. Everybody else is a section back.

The A350-900 pushes back at 4.41 and takes off at 4.55 from runway 27R, right into the sun, then a 225-degree left turn to head northeast. In 15 minutes we’re over Greenville, and 20 minutes later over Statesville, NC. That’s pretty good time.

Supper is served. I have the beef in pepper sauce, with diced carrots and a slice of quiche, a chunk of Tillamook cheddar cheese, and a cucumber salad. I give away my dessert and the little block of chocolate. It’s a reasonably good meal, for economy class.

Then we settle in for the 15-hour flight. I’m sitting next to an Israeli millennial—I saw his passport—but I opt not to bring that up, since we’re on an airline from an Arab country, flying to an Arab capital.

These flights are always difficult for me. I have restless leg syndrome, and I usually spend a significant portion of the flight walking around, stretching, barely able to keep my eyes open but not able to fall asleep either. Fortunately this time I have an aisle seat, and I spend relatively little of the rest of the flight in it.

At midnight somewhere south of Iceland, it becomes …

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Dan Olinger

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

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