A very long day, and night

Trip Start Mar 14, 2013
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Trip End Apr 05, 2013


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Flag of Burundi  ,
Sunday, March 24, 2013

This has been one of those very long African days, where one is forced to accept a schedule he rarely if ever would in the States because other options would almost always be available. Not so here.

The day started on a high note. The heavy rains overnight gave way to a light drizzle this morning as I woke before dawn to prepare for the day. I was dressed for the pool (including a generous portion of mosquito repellent to keep the voracious menaces at bay), at 05:45 as we had agreed. I had said 05:45 hoping they would arrive at 6:00 and they did. We walked out to the gardens where there were not people but the earliest employees and the Loïc and Claude changed in the dressing rooms.

It was a blessing to be able to use the pool; it's not always easy finding places suitable for baptisms in Africa. I wanted some place where they would be at ease, neither of them can swim they told me, so when I mentioned possibly using the Congo River their eyes grew very wide. They current runs very fast near Kinshasa and they said they were afraid they might be carried away. I had in mind a place I know where there are some shallows protected by large boulders that would have been completely safe, but they were quite nervous, so we opted to ask if we could use the pool. The manager agreed as long as we held them at 06:00 before clients would be out and about. This turned out to be the case and the light rain helped keep everyone in bed a little longer.

I asked a blessing on the whole ceremony and then ask them one at a time to join me in the shallow end. After the baptisms we still in the shelter of a little grass roof protecting a table and chairs and I ask God to give them the gift of His Holy Spirit. This meaningful ceremony doesn’t take long to complete; the preparation is what takes some time. Due to my infrequent visits, these young men had been preparing for 18 months.

I congratulated them and welcomed them into the family and then they left to get ready for our service, and I showered and changed and finalized my luggage. I had a quick breakfast at 7:00, and was ready and waiting at 7:45 when Justin arrived with a cab to take me to the hall.

We started our service about 8:15, we had to start so early because I had a mid-afternoon flight to begin my journey to Burundi, and everything takes lots of time in Congo. After hymns and a prayer, Justin gave a sermonette on the parable of the sower. He spoke in a mix of Lingala and French moving back and forth between languages even in the middle of sentences. This was so I could follow along and also so that members who didn’t speak French well could also follow.

After another hymn I passed along greetings from church members in other areas, and gave a brief church news update. Then I gave a sermon about the three spiritual enemies Christians face: the wrong current in the world, Satan, and our own carnal human nature. The Bible speaks explicitly about all three being dangers to us, and this is a timely topic.

We finished up about 9:45 and took some photos and fellowshipped for a while catching up on news. There were several prayer requests for people who are ill or who are facing other various trials.

Finally at about 10:45 the taxi arrived to take me to the airport. We passed the usual fascinating scenes of life on the streets. We passed the monument to Patrice Lumumba the first democratically elected Prime Minister of the newly independent Congo. He was murdered by Mobutu with the approval if not the assistance of the CIA, to prevent the country from entering the Soviet orbit.

There were a few bottlenecks on the road but we made reasonable time, arriving by 11:30. I paid the taxi before we arrived so he wouldn’t have to hang around and attract the tender attentions of the voracious policemen at the airport. He would certainly have been "fined" for something, Justin said.

Justin and I walked a quarter mile from the main road to the terminal. Thus began the travel adventures. I first had to pay a $50 departure tax in cash and get my double receipt. Then I had to show my passport and itinerary at the door to be allowed in; this is where I said goodbye to Justin. I noticed there was a new sliding electric eye door at the airport. This gave me hope that the interior was now air-conditioned. But it was not, or rather so poorly it might as well not have been.

I had to put my bags through the first metal detector of the day. A man in white, but not in uniform, came up and asked for my passport. I asked him who he was. He said “oh you don’t want assistance?” I thanked him and said no. One of the confusing things about some African airports is that officials don’t always wear uniforms; they can be in mufti but still have authority to require your papers. So it can be difficult to know right away with whom one is dealing. Others, who are looking to make a few bucks moving your luggage around and guiding you through a truly confusing process, take advantage of this uncertainty. They will come up at say “passport” as if they have a right to see it, and if you hand it over they consider themselves hired, and it becomes nearly impossible to make them leave you alone: they will be paid!

After the metal detector, I joined the long Ethiopian Airways line, which I noticed before long wasn’t moving very quickly. In fact it wasn’t moving at all. I heard mutters that the computer links were down. Whatever the cause, it took them 1 ¼ hours to check in the 15 or so people in front of me. Tempers grew short in the sweltering heat and there was much jockeying for position and several successful attempts at surreptitious line jumping. This can be raised to a true art form.

After check in we had fill in a departure card and show it, passport and boarding pass to a gatekeeper to the emigration desks. At the desks we had to show everything again, and once through there we had to go through another metal detector, scanner check of our luggage. It was 1:00 by time I made it this far. I checked the little snack bar to see what was available: omelet sandwiches were it. I’d never had an omelet sandwich before, and if I never do again, I won’t be disappointed. At least it was food.

While I waited to board, I walked up the stairs to the old viewing gallery, where I wanted to get some air and watch the activity. I found that it had all been glassed in. In fact, as I looked both ways, I found that the whole façade of this old terminal has been glassed over. From the outside it looks like a brand new terminal building, but it’s really just a Potemkin glass wall that hides what’s behind, which hasn’t changed.

At boarding time, the staff of Ethiopian went through our carryon bags by hand one last time. The airlines don’t trust the government employees. After leaving the shuttle bus that took us to the plane we had to line up to hand in one copy of our exit tax receipt and then again to have our boarding passes torn. Finally we could board the 757, which was already half full. I found my window seat, stored by hand luggage, and sank into my seat, sweaty but relieved. For some reasons some planes have a hard time keep up with the tropical heat. As we waited for the door to close, the cabin turned into a sauna. The weak stream of air from the fans didn’t accomplish much. So there were a lot of sweaty passengers in this plane before we left

The flight to Addis Ababa lasted 4 hours. On arrival we boarded a bus again and were taken to Terminal 2. I then had to wait for another shuttle to Terminal 1 which is the old terminal, used now for regional flights. I went through another scanner and security check with my hand luggage before being allowed to enter the departure area. After a wait of 90 minutes we boarded the smaller prop plane, called a Q400 (I’m going to look that up). It had two rows of seats on each side of the aisle. I had an aisle seat toward the front of economy, which afforded a little more room, but the seats did not recline at all, so it would be difficult to sleep, during the two-hour flight to Entebbe, the airport that serves Kampala, the capital of Uganda. I was able to get a few snatches of sleep during the flight.

We were on the ground in Entebbe for an hour, and then took off again for Kigali. As we rose through the clouds, I could see the moonlight illuminating the cloud tops. It was a scene of great and sober beauty; a stunning study in gray.

As we approached Kigali and started out decent, the clouds disappeared and I could see the earth. Rivers and lakes were highlighted by the moon which transformed them into veins and pools of quicksilver. I caught my breath at the beauty of it.

In Kigali, where I arrived at about 2:30 am, I walked across the tarmac in the cool night air, into the terminal and to the transit desk. After receiving my boarding pass and getting settled in, I had a 2 ½ hour wait. I made my journal current and then dozed in a chair as best I could. The chairs are not studied to make sleep easy. Each chair in each row is separated by a fixed, obstructing arm rest. There is no way to lay down on them. I blew up my little neck pillow which helped balance my head on the chair back. A few African looked at it was what I took to be amazement as I blew it up. I imagined them thinking “what strange things westerners invent – and spend their money on….”

Finally the time came and I entered the departure lounge proper before which I once again had to put my hand luggage through a metal detector and go through a security check. I didn’t go through the check earlier because there are no restrooms in the departure lounge itself; using one would mean yet another security check to get back inside.

The day’s first light was glowing in the sky as we boarded. It was a much smaller plane this time, seating only about 25, and the overhead bins were tiny. My roll-aboard wouldn’t fit, so the stewardess asked if she could put it in the hold. I asked if she would give me a claim check. No, she said I could just pick it up when we arrived. I hoped that would prove to be true.

The flight was only 35 minutes long and the views out the windows were mesmerizing. In the dim light, night mists gathered at the base of hills and mountains like snow. At times it could almost have been a scene from the Alps.

After landing, I approached a hurdle on this trip. Once again the visa agency I use, let me down and only got the visa I needed for Congo, but not for Burundi. Too much hassle red tape from the embassy staff they said. Perhaps. But I never had this problem with the previous one I used, which stopped doing visas and sent all their customers to this new one with which I can’t say I’m impressed. Anyway I was hoping to get a visa on arrival. I had seen people doing this before, although officially Burundi stopped issuing visas at the airport in 2010 and informed the US government of this. But it still seems to be happening. There was an agent behind the visa desk so I filled out a form and requested a transit visa good for 3 days. I will be in country almost exactly 72 hours, leaving the same time of morning I arrived. A transit visa is $40 a standard visa is $90. It was not a quick process, and when the visa finally did arrive, It said I had leave on the 26th not the 27th. I went back to the agent and explained that I need to leave the 27th at the same time of day and that would make three days. “Do like that” he responded not willing to make any changes. I asked if they would let me leave without a problem. Yes, he assured me they would. We’ll see. But at least I’m in the country. Moïse was waiting to drive me to King’s Conference Center, a new hotel I’m trying. It is well rated, and pretty inexpensive, we we’ll see how it goes.

I got checked in, agreed for Moïse to pick me up at 2:00 pm for the drive north for the observance of the Passover tonight. To avoid driving the bad roads and risking security issues at night, if all goes as planned I’ll spend the night in Cibitoke, and be back tomorrow morning. I had a glorious shower and change of clothes and will now sleep as long as I can until just before 2:00.
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Comments

Tess Washington on

Hi Mr. Meeker, I'm glad you made it safely in Burundi. I followed along with you on this long "African day"...wow, truly took a lot of patience from you to continue on. So glad to see our brethrens from Congo and to see Loic & Claude, the newest member! We will remember them in our prayers! We'll also remember to pray about a successful visit to Burundi during the Passover and 1st day of UB. And to pray about an unhindered departure from there on 3-27. Take care and may your sleep be peaceful & sweet!

Mary Hendren on

Hi Joel,

Thanks so much for the update. We're happy that you arrived safely although the travel frustrations seem enormous. We are happy to see the photos of Loic and Claude and the congregation there. The brethren must be deeply grateful that you can be with them for the Passover. We appreciate the continued commentary and will pray for a rewarding visit there.

Mary

Marguerite Evans on

What a long and tireing day you've had! Sorry for all the hurdles you faced. It is obvious that you really care for the members in Africa since you're willing to go back to these countries regularly, no matter what hassles you face each time. So glad to see that Loic and Claude got baptized. We'll be praying that your departure from Burundi goes smoothly.

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