Friday, May 31, 2019

… and the Long Dark Night of the Soul continues. Actually, it’s a really short night, because though the trip is long, we spend little of it in actual darkness. Some of the kids are sleeping reasonably well, but others aren’t. That’s no surprise, since airline seats are not made to sleep in.

Over Connemara, Ireland; then Liverpool, then, delightfully, Goettingen, where my daughter just spent a couple of years in school. Then the Balkans, Turkey—right through Cappadocia, if you find that interesting—then over Iran and finally Doha, Qatar, landing on runway 34 at 3.58p, a full 15 minutes early.

Doha is a delightful airport, one of the best in the world. Last year we had a world-class customer-service experience here when we were facing a medical issue. This time they put us through security again, even though we’ve never left the secure zone; that’s a routine practice outside the US, and while I suppose I’m glad that potential bad guys are being challenged, it seems to me that the only real effect of these extra scans is that you lose all the liquid you brought off the flight you just came in on.

But this one is very quick—there are more lines here than I’ve seen in any other airport, anywhere, and I’ve flown through most of the big ones. Then through the high-end shopping district and down the main center concourse, C, to our gate, C20. It’s one of those little ones down an escalator and in a row cheek by jowl with several others, where you board a bus to go out to the plane.

The plane is an A320, which isn’t a wide-body—just one center aisle—but not a regional-size jet, either. As we’re boarding, gate staff tells Kathryn that her carry-on will need to be checked because it won’t fit on the plane. I’m quite sure that they’re incorrect about that, but she has to let them take it, so she does. This will become far more interesting later in the day. 🙂

Qatar 1341 takes off on runway 34, the same one we landed on, at 5.52. I had viewed that as a tight connection, especially anticipating the extra security check, but we actually got through quite easily.

This is a much shorter flight, a little over 5 hours, and almost due south (a little west)—still in the same time zone, 7 hours later in the day than Greenville. This time Cheyenne and Rebekah are both in the front, with the rest of us clustered in the center. A 6-hour flight in the US would be considered quite long, but since it’s less than half of what we’ve just been through, it’s a lot easier to take. We touch down in Nairobi at 11.28p—which sounds really late at night, but it’s just 4.30p back home. Of course, many of us have essentially been up all the previous night, so we’re weary.

All right. My plan is to go to the departure terminal, check us into a Swissport lounge facility with toilets, food, drinkable water, wifi, chairs you can actually sleep in, and security, for just 35 bucks (each) for the night. Compared to sleeping on the floor in the concourse, that’s a no-brainer. (We’re not getting a hotel here because we’d have to get visas, and it’s after midnight, and we’d have to be back here at 6 am anyway.)

I know from last year that even at this late hour, and more than 8 hours before tomorrow’s flight time, we can check in now for the Precision Air flight—at the Kenya Airlines check-in desk. There’s a guy there, and he issues us all boarding passes and confirms my hope that the bags we checked in ATL have been checked in all the way to Mwanza. That’s really good news, because 1) the check-in folks at ATL told us we’d have to collect the bags here and re-check them for the final leg, and 2) we won’t have to wrestle those large bags around all night in the lounge, and 3) we’re likely avoiding extra baggage fees, because the regional carrier Precision Air has lower allowances than the standard international flights.

But he does note that the carry-on Kathryn had to check planeside in Doha has not been checked through, and we’ll need to go pick it up at the baggage area.

OK, no problem, just a brief delay in getting to the lounge. I tell the team to wait here while Kathryn and I go back. It’s a loooong walk back through the departures terminal and through the arrivals terminal to where we first came in. I ask an agent there if we can just pop through that door right over there and get 1 bag that wasn’t checked through. Sure, she says, but you’ll need to get a visa, because the baggage carousels are over where you have Officially Entered the Country, Even though You’re a Transfer Passenger. OK, fine. How much for the visa? 20 bucks each. Great. There’s no line—it’s well after midnight now—so that takes just a few minutes and a set of fingerprints, and we each get an extra country in our passports. All good, right?

At the baggage carousels, there are no bags, but an agent finds Kathryn’s in a locked cage where they keep the stuff that’s left over after all the arriving passengers on a given flight appear to have left, which we did. OK, so we’ve got the luggage. Great. Now we just go back the way we came, right?

Well, no, sir, it’s not that simple, because by getting a visa, you have now Officially Entered the Country, and you need to Officially Exit the Country so everything’s in order. OK, where do I do that? Well, you have to exit the Arrivals Terminal and cross the street to the Departures Terminal to get the exit stamp on the visa.

  1. Follow the exit signs. There’s the door—chained shut, because business is over for the day. Oh, here are some people in a neighboring room with a door outside to the same plaza. “We’re trying to exit, and the door is chained shut. Can we go out that door instead?” No, you have to go out the other door, where the sign is. We’ll call someone to come open it for you.

In a few minutes a man with a large circle of keys comes along. He tries each one, and yep, it’s the last one on his ring that opens the lock.

Out we go, across the traffic circle to the Departures Terminal. Another security check—because this time we really did leave the secure zone—and then skip the airline check-in counters, because 1) there’s nobody there at this hour, and 2) Kathryn’s already checked in, or so I think—and proceed directly to passport control.

There’s nobody there either.

A nearby lady in some kind of uniform says she’ll find somebody to process us out. Which she does. The Official Lady gives us the coveted exit stamps on our visas, the ink to which is still wet from when we entered, and into the gate area we go.

We’re now at the opposite end from where I left the team, so I drop Kathryn off at the lounge and hike over the gather the others. We return, and the desk agent asks for everybody’s boarding pass to check us in. Kathryn says, “I never actually got my boarding pass; when he told me my carry-on wasn’t checked through, he said he’d finish the check-in when we got back.” OK, back down the concourse to the Kenya Air desk, where everybody’s gone home for the night. No boarding pass coming until morning.

Well, Kat, looks like you’re gonna have to sleep on the floor in the concourse.

Well, no actually. We return to the lounge, and I have a speech about we can’t get her boarding pass to night, but I promise we’ll get it first thing in the morning and bring it back here to confirm, and can Kat pleeeaaase stay inside here with us where it’s safe, and the lady smiles and says, “Oh the boarding pass isn’t required; I just use it to get the names.” Well, OK then.

At last, well after 1.30 am, we’re settled in to the lounge, enjoying the food and drinks, camped out in soft chairs—you can push two together to make a pretty serviceable bed. We can stay till 6 am, and since our flight is at 8 we ought to leave about then anyway.

Yeah, I know I’m several hours into Saturday with this post, but I didn’t want to stop the story in the middle.

Now to get some sleep.

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Dan Olinger

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

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