Another "longest day"

Trip Start Apr 12, 2011
1
12
17
Trip End May 01, 2011


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Sunday, April 24, 2011

Yesterday (Saturday) afternoon began a trip of around 24 hours. The flight from Bujumbura to Nairobi actually left half an hour early. This has happened several times before when I have flown from Bujumbura to Kigali or to Nairobi. In this case we flew first to Kigali, through some amazing thunderhead cloud formations. The pilot wove his way between the thickest of them giving the passengers some surreal views of a lightning storm from the inside. It was beautiful and sublime at the same time.

We arrived in Kigali about 17:00 and sat on the ground to disembark and embark passengers. As we waited on the tarmac the tropical sun set, quickly as it always does. And suddenly it was night. After takeoff we flew on to Nairobi, arriving at 21:00, and I began a long layover. My ongoing flight to Ethiopia wouldn't leave until 03:00 (!), and we would board after 02:00. This was the only flight schedule that would allow me to be in Lomé for the last day of Unleavened Bread. And this didn't allow me enough time to leave the airport and go to a hotel; there are no hotels very near the airport in Nairobi. By the time I would get a transit visa, take a taxi to a hotel, check in and get a room, I’d have time to sleep one or two hours at the most before having to come back. So I rested in the departure lounge as well as I could. The one real restaurant in the airport, at first full of tourists taking late night flights to London, Paris, and Amsterdam, cleared out by midnight. I sat in an empty booth and lay my head on the table, which actually works pretty well in a pinch. I was able to sleep about 2 hours, and then picked up my boarding pass for Ethiopian Airlines, and went aboard the plane bound for Addis Ababa. I dozed a few minutes during the 90-minute flight.

We arrived without incident, close to 05:00, about an hour before sunrise, and I began my next layover, of four hours. Walking off the stairway to the tarmac, I was struck by the cold. Addis is not far from the equator but is on the Ethiopian plateau about 6000 feet (2000 meters) high so it is cold at night!

I’ve been in this airport several times before and knew of a restaurant where I could find a table with a power outlet nearby. The restaurant was closed, but they leave the door open through the night, so I went in, went to the table and got set up and connected to the airport wifi system so I could call my wife on Skype. We chatted for a few minutes. It was early for me and late for her, but it was great to be able to catch up on news, and hear each others' voices. Afterwards, I got some work done on sermon preparation and other duties until the restaurant opened. Many of the staff members sleep in the restaurant overnight. I watched them getting up from behind counters and little screens they make for themselves with tables and chairs. They carried away the little foam mattresses that they slept on, put them away somewhere and did their morning ablutions and changed clothes, coming back looking fresh and welcoming. I wondered how many days off a week they got and how long their "shift" was in the restaurant.

I had a wonderful cup of coffee. Ethiopia is where coffee originally came from, and my morning cup did the country proud, or perhaps I just craved the caffeine! Afterward I browsed through the duty free shops and gulped at the high prices I found. So much for bringing home a souvenir or two.

At 08:00 I went to the departure gate which was a large, confused holding center for passengers destined for several different flights. It was so cavernous that the PA announcements were incomprehensible which meant one had to wait for airline staff to walk through the attentive crowd yelling things like "Maputo, all passengers for Maputo!" or finally “Lomé, all passengers for Lomé.” The herd moved forward in a rush and was funneled into the chute defined by roped corridors, so our passports and boarding passes could be checked. We finally boarded the 767 which left about an hour late, and we started our five-hour flight to Lomé, which would then go on to Ouagadougou.

I had a middle seat, the least comfortable, and saw that on either side of me were two very tall Burkinabes. Not wide, thankfully, but very tall. They seemed to have an extra knee and elbow each, and very little idea of a personal space envelope, so we quickly developed a great sense of brotherhood and community, whether I wanted it or not…. We were all tired, so we managed to sleep off and on through the flight, waking up at least long enough for lunch.

We arrived in Lomé about two hours late, I thought, the flight crew announced that it was 14:00 and that was what I figured mentally too as I reset my watch. Actually we were both wrong, but I didn’t find that out for a while.

In the airport I want to the visa application line. To get a Togolese visa in the US costs upwards of $150. On arrival one can get a visa for about $30 and a little extra hassle, if one is staying less than a week. Its' usually worth it, and I had planned on it. The agent behind the counter kept my passport papers and money and told me to go get my suitcase, since the process would take a few minutes. I did so.  My suitcase did arrive, which was a minor relief, and I had my visa within half an hour.

The customs inspectors asked openly for a gift. “What have you brought in the way of a gift?” they began. “It’s Easter today so you should be more generous than usual” they continued. At least they asked for it openly and didn’t try to force anything out of me from under a cover.  I told them I was a pastor and I would pray for them. They accepted that, with a proviso: “You must pray for us personally, for special blessings” they insisted. I will pray for you all, I said (and I did) with a smile and they waved me through.

Pierre Kloutsé and Guy Ahialegbedzi were both waiting patiently for me as I exited the restricted area. They drove me to the little hotel I’ve begun using, the Côté Sud, and I checked in. We then had a cold drink in the hot breeze on the upstairs terrace and caught up on all our news, and we planned for the next few days. It was very good to see them again and I enjoyed our talk. Then they left me so I could rest, after we agreed to have a 9:30 service the next morning.

I showered and changed; a wonderful feeling after about 36 hours in the same sweaty clothes. I was able to call Marjolaine and talk to Tatiana as well; more refreshment.

I worked on my laptop to keep my eyes open until about sunset, had a wonderful dinner of a mixed salad with vinaigrette, broiled grouper on rice with a delicious spicy sauce, and a glass of rosé. The Frenchman who owns and runs the hotel is also a very competent chef, the grouper was fantastic, and I was hungry!

It was a very long and tiring day, but all went well and it ended very well. Tomorrow should be a very joyous day, my second to last one on the African continent for this trip.
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Comments

Ted Franek on

Mr Meeker,
God has given you much "true grit" as they say in John Wayne's western. You not only endure being away from your wife but you have to endure the travel hardships. I thank you for all you are doing to help the brethren. It is a great experience for all of us as we "travel with you".
Our prayer's are with you and the brethren.

maryhendren
maryhendren on

Hello Joel,
We're glad you had a safe flight without any difficulties other than long layovers. It seems catching what sleep you could made the coffee and food taste great. You gave such an appropriate answer to the customs inspectors. What a blessing that they agreed with your offer. We trust that services went well and that you experienced some joyous fellowship with the brethren there.

Regards,
Mary

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