Saturday, June 22, 2019

Time to go. I do the morning ablutions and then finish packing, thinking carefully about what goes in the checked bag and what goes in the carry-on. Both bags are well under weight limits. Strip the bed, put the linens and towels into the laundry basket. Look around—is the place as clean as when I moved in? Yep. Looks good and neat.

Over to HQ at 8. To my surprise, the guys have already shut down their place and are waiting here, and the girls are all ready to go. They’re outside taking photos with the children. Beth has asked us to move the recliner from my place back to HQ, so I call the guys to do that. While we’re at our place, I inspect their quarters, which look good. Then back to HQ for the inspection there. Looks like we’re ready to go. These kids are awesome.

I pull a bunch of stuff out of the team’s first aid kit that they can use here, and leave all that on the counter, then pack the kit, the last item, in my checked bag. Drop off the mobile router. We all officially turn in the 3 house keys. And we’re done. Katie brings by some fresh-baked scones—maple bacon and lemon—and the crew goes to work on them.

At 8.30 we gather on the front porch of the big house for a photo of all of us with the children, Ferdinand, Beth, and Katie. It goes remarkably well; the children are much more cooperative about getting their picture taken than they have been in the past.

Abel shows up with another taxi driver, and it’s time to board. Roll the luggage from HQ down the dirt pathway to the laundry building, with the children helping all along the way. Load the big stuff in one van; Blake jumps in with Abel, and away they go.

Lots of hugs and tears and good-byes. Dan and Jana and their kids come up to join in, and we say our farewells.

“Everybody put your hand on your passport.” Count the crew into the two remaining vans, and it’s time to go. The children wave us up the drive and left, one last time, up the bumpy dusty road to The Pavement, then Mwanza, then north past the mall to the airport. I’m in Beth’s van, where she takes great delight in regaling the crew with the story of how I almost killed them all at Dias Beach at the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa in 2016. I tell her I like her version of the story better than mine.

Regather at the departures terminal. Everybody grab your own luggage. They’re checking in for our flight, so we go through security, get our bags weighed, get boarding passes, go through emigration (fill out another form, I guess so they can be sure we left), and through security a second time to get to the gate. (For the life of me I don’t know why we have to do that.)

There’s a little snack bar at the gate—there’s only 1 gate here—and I let the crew stock up on sodas and samosas and other pastries. 14 bucks for 11 people. I love this country.

This whole process has gone completely smoothly, no wrinkles at all. We’re seated at the gate and munching before 11 for a 12.10 flight. That’s happened before, but sometimes the process here is chaotic, and it’s pretty foolish not to plan for a full 2 hours.

So now the crew is looking at photos and videos on their phones, passing the time.

When the boarding call comes, we all squeeze into the bus for the short ride across the tarmac to the ATR 42/72-500 twin turboprop. The propellers start turning, and we begin taxiing at 12 noon precisely, taking off from runway 12 just 5 minutes later, 5 minutes early. Ah, the good life at small airports.

(I should note that we were notified last week that our flight time, originally scheduled for 1 pm, had been changed to 12.10, which gives us a longer transfer time in Nairobi, which in turn is a Good Thing.)

We’re all seated together in the center of the plane, which has 4 seats across. Kat, Blake, and Peter are just ahead of the wing; Rebekah, Shelbie, Abbie, and Cheyenne are just behind them; then I, Michaela, Sam, and Cathryn are just under the wing.

On takeoff we turn left toward Kilimanjaro, within moments arriving at the north end of the Mwanza Gulf, from where (on the left) we can see—or more correctly, can’t see—how big Lake Victoria, the largest lake in Africa, really is. No end in sight, just like the ocean. We skirt the southeast shore for a few minutes before moving out across the savannah.

It’s a short flight, just over an hour. We can see the base of Mount Kilimanjaro on the left through the haze, but the summit is enveloped in clouds. Not very scenic today.

We land at JRO runway 9 at 1.10. There are no taxiways where we need to turn back to the terminal, so the pilot does a U-turn (reminds me of groceries, somehow) and taxis back on the runway. Routine here.

Our JRO passengers disembark. We stay on the plane, though Shelbie wants to get off when I tell her there’s a hamburger joint in the terminal. Ah, well. Maybe there’ll be time to eat in Nairobi, with the earlier arrival.

After sitting on the plane for about an hour, we restart and take off from runway 9 at 2.25. It’s hazy—the plentiful wood fires put a lot of smoke into the air here—but only 45 minutes’ flight time to Nairobi, where we land on runway 6 at 3.13. We exit at the rear and walk a ways across the ramp to the bus that takes us to Terminal 1C. Up the loooong escalator—we’re not in Tanzania anymore—and through security and the duty-free shop to the food court. We’ve had Katie’s scones before leaving Tumaini, and a light snack at the Mwanza airport, and a little package of cookies on the Precision Air flight, and now it’s pushing 4 pm and these kids are hungry. There’s a Hardee’s—a Hardee’s!—in the food court, where we all get a burger and a drink. 11 people, $168. No, indeed, we’re not in Tanzania anymore.

Down the long arc of the concourse to check in at the Qatar Airways desk and pick up our boarding passes to Doha and then to Atlanta. Gate 9, where, yep, we have to go through security again—what’s with this?! Fortunately, they decide to send our group through the priority boarding line, and we’re in the seating area with 10 or 15 minutes to spare.

The NBO / DOH leg is on an A330. 6 of us—Sam and I, Cathryn and Michaela, Rebekah and Cheyenne—are along the right aisle in the front coach section; the rest are further back on the left aisle.

They serve dinner about 6. I thought they would, but I still didn’t hesitate to grab the burgers at NBO; not doing so would have made our first meal of the day supper, and traveling is hard enough without pulling a stunt like that.

I have the beef with rice and peas, and a nice cucumber and tomato salad with olives and feta cheese.

At 7.30 they take the cabin lights down so we can doze. We’re not changing time zones on this leg, but the early dimming still seems welcome. Sam’s seat is the only one occupied on his row of 4; it’s not long before he’s lying down and sound asleep. The equivalent of a $3000 business-class upgrade. 🙂

We entertain ourselves in the usual ways until half an hour out of Doha, when landing prep begins. The approach pattern is a little convoluted, through the Strait of Hormuz—isn’t that where the Iranians just shot down an American drone?—before we set down on runway 34 at 11.05.

Down the stairs—no jetway this time—to the waiting buses. The front 6 get on one bus, and the back 5 on another, and we rejoin after the usual security screening. I comment that since we had dinner on the plane, I assume nobody needs to eat tonight, and the group unanimously disagrees with me. OK. Off to the food court. 7 of ‘em get something at the Italian place—pizza or stromboli—and 3 go to Burger King. Me? I get a Greek salad without any lettuce or Kalamata olives. But it has feta cheese, so I guess that makes it Greek. It’s mostly cucumbers.

Airport food.

Bellies full, we head over to Concourse B, where there’s a spot before Gate 1 where last year’s team set up for the night. A whole bunch of chairs, but since it’s not a gate, it’ll be quiet all night. Toilets right there, and power plugs in the seats. Armrests, unfortunately, so you can’t stretch out on the chairs. Four of the girls settle down on the terrazzo floor under the seats, as does Blake, with his hat over his face to block the light. The other two guys are on the floor too, but using their computers. I’ve gone with the chair option, knocking out this blog entry.

It’s 1 am now—technically the day ended while we were eating at the food court—but this seems like the sensible place to call the post finished.

See you tomorrow.

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Dan Olinger

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

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