Sunday, June 2, 2019

There’s nothing like being completely exhausted to help you sleep. 🙂

One of the things I like about being at Tumaini is the way we wake up. We do it the natural way.

Oh, you can use an alarm clock if you want to, but there’s really no need. Nature wakes us up.

Sometimes it’s just the lightening of the room. Sometimes it’s the birds. Maybe the cows. Or maybe the people who get up very early to begin the day’s tasks. But this morning, like most mornings, it begins with the crowing of the roosters.

The first one today is at 3.45, then at 4.30, then again at 5. I don’t find this troubling at all; it brings you up to consciousness in stages, progressively, naturally. I normally get up at 5.30 and often wake up a few minutes earlier than that. Today, with help from the Alarm Rooster that God’s providence has graciously provided, I get out of bed at 5.20, refreshed and (temperamentally) ready to get going.

Of course, going to bed around 8 pm will do that for you.

As you know, our days typically begin with the morning ablutions. Here too, but the process is a little different, for a couple of reasons.

First, as in most of the developing world, the tap water is not drinkable, and while some will use it to brush their teeth, we recommend the safe route. Your drinkable / brushable water can come from two sources. You can buy it bottled (least expensively in those 5-gallon jugs that you see on office water coolers), or you can filter it. We’ve used both sources here, but filtering, which is less expensive, is a better regular choice. We have a filtering system at my place, which all the guys use, and at HQ, where the girls live. It’s a simple siphoning system; you put tap water into a 5-gallon bucket, like the ones contractors buy their plaster and paint in, and run a hose through a filter into an empty cooler jug, which sits lower than the bucket, and physics does all the work for you. At regular intervals you clean the filter by forcing filtered water through it in the opposite direction.

From the filtered water in the jug we fill our water bottles as well as pitchers that we keep in the fridge, and we have to remember when we brush our teeth to use the water bottles rather than the tap. (That’s a lot harder than it sounds; people are usually on autopilot when they brush their teeth.)

The second difference in the ablution ritual is that the tap water is less reliable than back home. We’re using city water from Mwanza, the second-largest city in Tanzania, but every so often the taps go dry, and we have to rely on collected rainwater or have a truck come by to fill our rainwater collection cisterns if they’re empty. Right now the city water’s down for maintenance, but they say it’ll come back on Monday. (Historically, their promises have been … unreliable.) One year, we had no tap water for the entire 5 weeks that team was here.

So in each residence we have large tubs—similar to the trash bins many of you put out on the street on trash collection day—that we fill with unfiltered water from our cisterns. For however long the outage lasts, you use a contractor bucket to dip out water for bucket showers, for flushing the toilet, and for transfer to the filtration system for drinking.

Whew.

You know, the whole world lived this way for millennia, and much of it still does today.

Anyway, the day begins with brushing your teeth from your water bottle, and taking a bucket shower.

Refreshing. The bucket water is obviously unheated, and even when the tap water is on, the water is only as hot as the sun heats it while it’s sitting in the cisterns (some of which are black plastic tanks that sit above ground).

And no, I’m not complaining.

After the ablutions, I do my daily Bible study and devotional time.

Today’s Sunday, of course. Church is at 8. I’m glad that this first Sunday here we’ve gone to bed very early Saturday night. Most of us don’t do an 8 am church service at home. 🙂

The church building, on the northeast corner of the compound, seats maybe just over 100 people on its backed wooden benches, but we always squeeze in considerably more than that. Men on the right, women on the left. We begin with singing, some of it to canned music, and some of it a capella, much of it with clapping. The people sing beautifully, in vocal patterns I’ve not heard anywhere outside of Africa. Our kids spread out around the room, sitting with the Tumaini children. There are testimonies, prayers, several choir numbers, and a sermon from Pastor Samson on the church as a covenant relationship, followed by the offering. (You know why the offering’s after the sermon? So that the latecomers will be there. 🙂 ) The offering box is at the front of the room, and each person goes forward and places his offering into a slot in the top of the box. We each give 1000 shillings, about 50 cents.

You might wonder why we give so little. That’s a fairly complex question, but let me summarize it by saying that many Westerners believe that the problems in developing countries can be solved by money, and they simply can’t. Very often throwing money at a problem only makes it worse. If you’d like to explore the subject more deeply, read When Helping Hurts and Toxic Charity.

After the offering there’s a dedication service for 3 babies, and we’re done. It’s 11.20 am; church lasted 3 hours and 20 minutes today, and that’s not even close to a record. And it was all in Swahili. Which is not to say that we were wasting our time; we talk afterward about what we’ve learned, and the list is substantial.

After church we have chai, which is our term for midmorning tea. You may have noticed that it isn’t mid-morning, but that’s because on Sundays we wait until after church. Weekdays it’s at 10 am.

You probably didn’t notice that it also isn’t really tea. At least, not always. Most days it’s a pastry—either mandazi, essentially a cake doughnut but as a misshapen cube rather than a torus, or chapati, basically a flour tortilla pan-fried in oil—and a liquid, either uji, a liquid porridge (or what Dickens would have called “gruel”), or a very sweet lemongrass tea that some teams have thought tastes like Fruit Loops™. Today it’s mandazi and uji, and for all the team members except Rebekah (who’s been here before), both are new experiences.

As we start chai, it begins to rain. This is technically the end of the rainy season, moving into the dry season, and we get rain only rarely when the team’s here in June; I can recall only 3 or 4 rains in the 5 previous times we’ve been here. This a strong rain, so pretty much everybody stays in the dining hall in the Big House rather than going out to the kibanda (gazebo) that serves as the social center of the compound.

Since chai was so late, lunch is delayed until about 2. As the rain continues, most team members hang out with the kids in the dining hall. The guys take turns arm wrestling the boys and each other, while most of the girls are getting Swahili lessons from the Tumaini girls. One of the girls braids Abbie’s and Rebekah’s hair. The room is abuzz. I think the rain providentially helps our team members to spend time with the children in ways they otherwise wouldn’t have.

Lunch is rice and beans, with watermelon for dessert. Both of those are quite common here. The beans are well flavored; some people hear “rice and beans” and think “Ecccchhhh,” but these are tasty dishes, as well as being healthful, filling, and inexpensive. That’s what ministries like this call a good deal.

By the time lunch is over, it’s time for our 3 pm meeting with Dan. He talks with the group about motivations for missions, and particularly the fact that our motivations should be larger than what benefits (educational, cultural, even spiritual) we’ll accrue; he encourages us to think through how what we’re doing here will benefit persons (including God) besides ourselves—other stakeholders in our time here—and to proceed with those motives as primary. He then talks about the history of the ministry here and the purposes and philosophy underlying it. It’s highly informative, punctuated by outbursts of discussion as various issues (e.g. polygamy) come up.

A little free time after the meeting—lots of Frisbees being tossed around on the soccer field, with the rain having stopped. (And by the way, here as in most of the world soccer is called “football,” because unlike Americans, these folks think that something called “football” should actually involve, you know, your feet.)

At 5.30 a brief meeting with Beth about policies at the orphanage, some driven by its child safety policy, and others just simple consideration of the culture (e.g. minimizing public use of smartphones). We ask lots of questions and gain a better understanding of how we can minister in ways that best help.

Katie Roukes has prepared a great supper of spaghetti and meat sauce, with a salad tray contributed by Laura Gass. Salads are a lot of work here; since it’s raw, you have to wash everything that goes into it with a solution that renders it safe for human consumption. (We use a commercial product called VeggieWash.) Nobody goes hungry. Then we retire to Dan & Jana’s house to sing and pray together. Along about 9 we call it a night. Staying up till (almost) bedtime these first two days has helped a lot with jetlag, but we’re still feeling our need for sleep.

After the crew leaves I work on my connection problem. Oh, you’ve noticed that it’s Sunday, and I haven’t posted anything? Yeah. I’m having greater connection issues this year than previously. I won’t bore you with the details, but I think I’ve made a little progress here tonight, though I still can’t post anything.

I’d assure you that I’m working diligently on it, but since I’m not posting, you wouldn’t be able to read it anyway.

Maybe tomorrow.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

I wake up after less than 2 hours of sleep but feeling surprisingly refreshed. A couple of the others are awake too, but the rest appear to be sleeping fairly soundly. Our $35 gives us the run of the place until 6 am, which is about the time we’d want to head out for the 8 am flight anyway.

I get my daily Bible study done and starting wrestling with the wifi as the others begin to come to. I can connect with my phone and tablet, but not with the laptop, which is where all the blog writing and posting software is. Never do get that issue solved, which is why you haven’t seen the initial posts yet. They’re written, if that helps. 🙂

There’s fresh food out for breakfast, where the crew queues up as they become reasonably aware of their surroundings. By 6 am everyone’s ready to go, with the toilet necessaries done (no showers here, unfortunately) and the place looking as good as when we found it. Excellent.

Down the semi-circular hallway to the security check-in for our gate, which goes routinely. I go through last, which is my practice; in case any of the others have a problem, I’ll be available to help. A man behind me says, “Dr. O!” And wonder of wonders, it’s my old friend Sandala (Sandie) Mwanje, who was a student at Central Africa Baptist College in Zambia when I took a team there in 2010. He’s still there as part of the school’s administration and faculty. He’s in Nairobi with Tim Murdock, who has joined the CABC faculty since the team was there, but he’s been a missionary in Ghana as well, so we have plenty to talk about. I’m in Nairobi going to Tanzania, and Sandie’s in Nairobi headed back to Zambia from Uganda, and what are the odds we’d run into each other in the security line at 6.30 on a Saturday morning? Especially since his flight isn’t until 2 pm, but he came in early because a colleague, Andy Matoke, is heading out to South Africa for a conference this morning?

I mean, really?!

I introduce him to the team, and we all stop by Java House for a cup of coffee and fellowship. Tim in particular spends quite a bit of time talking with Peter, Sam, and Shelbie. (And no, he’s not Dave Ramsey.)

All too soon it’s time for us to head to the gate next door to board our 8 am flight. We say our good-byes and head down the hall, through the abusively priced “duty free” shop (why does anybody buy anything there, ever?) to Gate 15. Since there’s just a short line, we’re checked in and seated in the waiting area in plenty of time. Soon enough the agent calls us to the doorway, where we descend a flight of stairs to the waiting bus for a ride across the tarmac to our plane for this, the shortest two legs of the trip. I say two legs because our flight is making a stop at the Kilimanjaro International Airport to let off a few passengers and pick up a few others. We’ll have a chance to see the Big One.

The plane is an ATR 42/72, a high-wing, twin-engine turboprop. Some of the kids express a little nervousness about riding on a propeller-driven plane, but I tell them that that technology works just as well as a jet, though usually not as fast.

Just two seats on each side of the center aisle; we’re clustered together in the middle rows. Soon the props start turning and then become a blur, and we leave the ramp a half-hour late. Runway 6, on which we landed last night; wheels up at 8.35. So long, Kenya, until we catch you on the way back.

Double layer of overcast today: a very low broken ceiling, then a solid ceiling at about 5,000 feet or so. Above that, it’s clear—so we should get a good look at the Mountain. And half an hour later we do, the massive cone rising off our left wing, still sporting its fabled snows here in summer. The tallest mountain in Africa, and the tallest free-standing mountain in the world. It’s an impressive sight. We all lean against the port windows and snap away.

We descend into Kili airport, landing on runway 9 at 9.15. Through passengers—that includes us—stay on the plane while about half the passengers deplane and about an equal number come aboard. Then a short taxi, the roar of the turboprop engines, and away we go again, departing at 9.55. Just an hour later—actually 11.05a—we touch down in Mwanza, our final destination. Runway 30. Straight ahead is Lake Victoria, the largest-area lake in Africa. You really can’t miss it.

MWZ is a much smaller airport that Nairobi, or even Kilimanjaro; the contrast is stark. As the bus drives up to the terminal and disgorges us, it all feels a little like Podunk, North Dakota, with that fashionable ramshackle vibe. But appearances are deceptive, in a couple of ways. First, this field is surprisingly busy, being the closest airport to the western Serengeti National Park, which has a global draw. And second, the staff here are really quite eager to help. After we fill out the usual immigration form and get scanned for body temperature at the health department, the customs guy waves us on, and we’re immediately surrounded by porters eager to get our luggage for us (and the consequent tip, of course).

Out in the parking lot we’re greeted by Beth Roark, Tumaini’s longtime director, and Katie Roukes, her assistant. Beth usually has two assistants, but the senior one, Rachelle Miller, is on furlough at the moment. They’re here with 3 vans. The third one, a taxi, will take all our luggage to TMC immediately, so it will be waiting for us when we get there. Half of us will go with Katie to do one errand, while the other half go with Beth for a distinct mission. I end up in Bath’s van with Blake, Abbie, Rebekah, and Kathryn, and we do some last-minute supply shopping at U-Turn, Mwanza’s favorite grocery for expatriates, since it has a whole bunch of things from home that you often can’t get anywhere else. We pick up some produce, some toilet paper, and other stuff we’ll need.

We arrive at Tumaini a little after 1 and gather on Beth’s porch for a light lunch—pasta salad, veggies with ranch dressing, and various fruit.

I say this every year, but it’s worth repeating. Once you have eaten African fruit, you will never be satisfied with American fruit again. We pick our fruit unripe so it will ship with less damage, but tree-ripened fruits have a sweetness and complexity of flavor that the mass-produced stuff just doesn’t have. When you pick just what’s ripe today and sell it at the local market the same day, you get something many Americans have simply never seen. It’s delicious.

After lunch we take our bags to our houses, get a quick tour of said houses from Beth and Katie, and then get busy unpacking and moving in. As usual, the girls are in the Big House (at the bottom center of the link above, south of the round gazebo), which is the west end of Tumaini’s main building. All 7 of them will sleep in a single bunkroom next to a hall with 3 showers and 3 toilets. The front of the house will serve as team HQ, with a sitting area and a kitchen. Since it’s right next to the kibanda, or “gazebo” that serves as the compound’s social center, it’s perfect for a headquarters.

The guys will be in a small dormitory building closer to the lake on a rocky outcropping (at the center here). Their room on the west side has two bunkbeds, a bathroom, and a sink. My mirror-image apartment on the east side has one bed, plus some kitchen appliances such as a propane stove and a refrigerator.

We need to stay awake until bedtime—that’s how you beat jetlag—and I’m having a terrible time with it. I guess I’ve had about 4 hours of sleep in the past 48 hours, and most of the others are in similar condition. We have a meeting at 4.45, just before supper, to discuss Sunday plans. Beth keeps it very basic, but I’m having to fight to keep my eyes open (it’s not you, Beth), and I know others are too.

We have supper at Dan & Jana’s house. (The missionary housing is just north and a little west of the men’s apartments.) Dan is the team leader here; he and his colleague Matt Gass oversee the Bible college here on the compound and the network of churches pastored by its graduates. Dan & Jana were on furlough last summer when the team was last here, so it’s nice to see them on the field again.

Jana, Dan’s wife, has prepared a high-volume feast for us: self-serve tacos with ground beef, beans, white chili, guacamole, fresh salsa, and shredded cheese. I have two large helpings before I even know what hit me. (By the way, we call them tortillas, not tacos, because the Swahili word tako means “buttock.” Cross-cultural ministry is always interesting.)

While we’re eating, Dan catches me up on news from the local church network and related successes. It appears to me that very good things are happening.

After supper we have a quick introduction meeting with the children. They’re always a bit shy at first, but that’ll change very quickly once they start spending time with us. One special factor is that Rebekah was here before with a group from her church; the kids are delighted to see her back.

By 7.30 we’re all pretty much done. The girls lock up and go to bed; the guys head for home and presumably do the same; and I putter around my place a little bit to do some final organization. But I’m in bed by shortly after 8.

I should mention security here. The compound is surrounded by a fence, which has never been breached. Each house has iron bars on the windows and a barred iron gate outside the wooden door. There’s a night watchman who patrols with a pack of dogs that like us a lot but are hostile to intruders; anyone coming on the compound uninvited will be leaving of his own volition, and a lot faster than he came in.

There are other security measures as well, which I won’t describe here. In sum, your kids are safe.

Good night. 🙂

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.

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 …

Here We Go!

Well, today’s the day!

At 1 pm, all but 2 of the team (that would be Shelbie and Michaela) will gather behind Nell Sunday residence hall on the BJU campus to load our luggage, pray for grace, and hit the highway toward Atlanta airport. I expect to arrive ATL by 5 pm–barring major traffic issues–where we’ll check in and go through security before joining the 2 team members who are flying into ATL separately.

We plan to depart ATL around 7.45p on Qatar flight 756 to Doha. That’ll be an all-nighter. Just over an hour transfer time in Doha, so pray for an on-time arrival there.

My plan is to post each day’s journal entry here on the blog either at the end of the day or first thing the next morning. (Keep in mind that there’s a 7-hour time difference between EDT and Tanzania.) But internet access can be unreliable, especially when we’re in transit, so #freakoutthounot if you don’t hear from us right on schedule. If there’s a serious situation, we’ll contact the parents by text or email–so no news is good news. 🙂

Prayers appreciated.