A Longest Day
Trip Start Apr 02, 2014
33Trip End May 07, 2014
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We drove north was under blue skies and sunshine, which was what we had hoped and prayed for since there were baptisms to perform. The 90-minute trip passed without incident, and we arrived about 09:30. We didn't stop at the hall; instead we drove straight to the baptism spot which takes close to half an hour from the church hall.
After drying off, the newly baptized joined everyone else in making our way back to the center of the village, where we were able to begin our service at 11:00. Nathan made some welcome comments, and Daniel and I were given the chance to say a few words of introduction and pass along our greetings too.
This is all done in joy, to praise God and add to the service, but it takes away from the time available for the main part of the service, which is to learn from the Bible so we can improve our lives, and better please God by the way we live. By the time the first message – a split sermon by Daniel – began, the service had already lasted an hour, and I could see some heavy eyelids in the hall. Under direct sunshine and the tin roof, it had become warm enough in the hall that my shirt was soaked through. I could understand how people would be drowsy. We need to continue transitioning to shorter pieces of music and fewer of them, so we can put more emphasis on learning. After the service, I encouraged Nathan and Moise to keep working on this.
Daniel gave a split-sermon version of the sermon he had given in Rwanda. The I did the same with my sermon, we both kept to about 25 minutes including the translation, which is actually more like a long sermonette than a sermon as far as material covered is concerned, but that's what fit in the time and situation we had. I spoke loudly and strongly to help people pay attention and used large gestures, even pantomime at times to help the member maintain attention through the phrase by phrase translation process.
After my sermon, there was a final hymn and I asked the closing prayer, including a request God's ongoing blessing on this little flock, in this very remote area of the world.
Moïse and Nathan arrived back about 7:00 pm; we drove just down the road to a little restaurant that serves excellent mukeke, Nathan’s favorite dish by far.
Moïse brought his little daughter who, he said, loves mukeke. This is a relatively expensive dish by local standards, though certainly not for us. Moïse shared a mukeke with her, as we all enjoyed this special dish, and this night it was particularly good. Nathan and Moïse agreed, saying it must have been caught this day for it to taste so fresh and good. It was the best mukeke I’d ever had, although I certainly hadn’t tasted nearly as much as they.
After dinner we drove back to the hotel, and did our accounting. We went over what expenses we had, essentially a tank of gas to get us to Mugina and back twice. We went over what had been spent for transportation and food to allow the church members to come for the counseling and for the Sabbath service. I rounded out the accounting and gave Nathan $100 that had been contributed by members in the north east US, to buy Bibles. Nathan and I had discussed setting up a reading room in the church hall as soon as we get the windows put it. Some village people had begun attending services with us in Mugina and in the other church areas, but as soon as they were given a Bible, they were tempted into selling them for the little money they could get for them. This was upsetting to Nathan and other members who were outraged at this duplicity. A kinder interpretation would be that subsistence farmers here as so poor, that even a small amount of hard cash can be a temptation. They have so few chances to raise any. So to avoid this temptation, we decided we would open the church halls at set hours during the week and anyone would be free to come and read the Bible and copies of Church literature which would be on display. No one would be allowed to take them home, but they will be able to freely read when they come. This $100 will purchase about 10 Bibles in Kirundi, and will get the reading room program off to a good start.
Finally we said goodbye to Nathan and Moïse after what had been a shorter visit that we would have liked. I told them that if all went as planned, I’d be back in July to see them again.
Then Daniel and I went up to our room to wait out the time to head to the airport for our 01:25 flight out. Daniel showered, and then stretched out on the bed to try a nap. I worked on my laptop catching, up on my journal of records for this visit, on this travel blog, and a few other items. I also settled our accounts with the hotel and ordered a taxi for 11:00 pm.
Daniel managed to sleep half an hour or so, and felt refreshed. The taxi was ready to go on time, so we loaded up and drove through the quiet city and onto the nearly deserted road to the airport. We checked in right on arrival at 11:30, and passed emigration where I was not questioned about my visa. This was slightly anticlimactic since I was primed with all my arguments, documents, and calculations of 72 hours. In the event the agent just grunted and stamped my passport.
Then came security. When I asked the agent what I needed to separate for the scanner, he said: "laptop." I took my laptop out, put the bags through the scanner and walked through the metal detector, none of which had alarms go off. As I walked through to the other side, he looked me over and said: “shoes and watch.” I protested that nothing had beeped in the metal detector. “Shoes and watch” he insisted. So I went back through and took off my chukkas and watch and walked through again where, surprise, once again no alarms went off….
We waited in the departure lounge and I showed Daniel the best seat in the little restaurant bar, in which to wait. The seat has table, a good view of everything and a plug to connect a laptop to electricity. It’s the only seat of its kind in the departure lounge. It also is right by the toilets which means there is always a small cloud of mosquitoes waiting there, biding their time….
As is pretty often the case, the Kenya Airways flight was early and so we boarded almost an hour early without any boarding announcement being made. We walked out into the cool east-African night, across the tarmac and up into the cool Kenya Airways Embraer. We were only about 15 passengers, the flight was about a third full mostly people going to Kigali where we would make a short stop.
The flight was too short to doze, so I finished reading Theodore Rex, a thoroughly satisfying book, and started on a Patrick O’Brien fiction called The Golden Ocean. He’s the author of Master and Commander which spawned the excellent movie, and his books always make part of me want to join the Royal Navy, in the early 1800s…. While the more mature side of me is very thankful that’s not possible.
After half an hour we landed in Kigali, where passengers disembarked and our turn-around time was about 45 minutes. Then we took off again and flew 90 minutes to Nairobi. I nibbled on the snack they offered and didn’t may have dozed 15 minutes.
In Nairobi we disembarked, walked into the cool air of the Athi plain of Kenya, across the tarmac and into the airport. Daniel and I walked to the Kenya Airways lounge, where I should have been able to have a guest enter with me. But the agent explained that since the big fire last year, they have little lounge space. This lounge, the only one now in the airport for Kenya Airways was only open to people actually flying business class. People with lounge rights because of status level (that’s me) were to order what they wanted down at the coffee shop by Gate 4. Bus since that coffee shop was not open, I could enter the lounge but Daniel couldn’t. I told Daniel I’d grab a snack and some water and see him soon. I stayed long enough to check my e-mail on the wifi, have a snack and water and get a bottle of water for Daniel and came back out to find him sitting on a chair nearby. We walked all the way around the broken circle of the departure lounges to the Java House where I pulled out some Kenyan Shillings from my ready supply of African currencies, and ordered a double espresso for him and a café latte for me.
We sipped our coffee as the sun began to lighten the sky outside, and watched the amazing parade of people from Africa, Arab and other Islamic countries, as well as European tourists mix in a great a colorful swirl of humanity. Women in voluminous black robes – only their eyes visible, paunchy men in white robes, carefully manicured French and English women in stylish safari shorts accompanied by their expensively dresses men, an occasional American family heading home from safari, bushy bearded men fingering worry beads, tired white backpackers slumped against the walls trying to sleep, amazingly thin people stretched out under a line of chairs sleeping on the grimy floors, crowds of Chinese workers wondering around surprised, always in groups as if for defense, and in the middle of this, your humble servants sipping their coffee and trying keep their eyes open, after a night with little or no sleep.
After finished our coffee, we walked the length of the departure area again to gate 4, where with my Delta card, I was able to get more coffee for free. “Anything up to 700 shillings” said the Kenya Airways employee after writing down my card number. Anything up to $8.50; that’s not too much, but it’s better than nothing. We decided to be original, so Daniel had a double espresso and I had a café latte….
At 7:30, with an overcast morning looking it at us through the windows, we filed onto the 767 bound for Kinshasa. I was surprised to see half the plane full of east Indians, I didn’t think there was that large a population in the Congo, the other half were Congolese people doing business, with their faint, survival-of-the-fittest pride and sometimes, arrogance. In the Darwinian soup of chaotic Congo, those who rise and keep their heads above water often project the feeling that they’re a cut above the masses, and in some ways that’s true. It other ways, when they project their superiority at you, it can be really annoying….
When I arrived at my aisle seat, a burly Congolese fellow was sitting it in. Without speaking, I smiled and showed him my boarding pass. He tilted his head to say there was some mistake, and pointed for me to move on past him and take another seat. I smiled again and showed him the boarding pass, and nodded my head to say I insisted. He thought for a moment and then got slowly up moving farther back. The woman sitting in the window seat next to me sighed and complained “Jésus!” She was letting me know she spoke French and giving me the opportunity to respond if I understood; which offer was declined. She might ask me to change seats or want to start a long conversation, neither of which would be helpful. So I remained an inanimate, speechless mzungu.
We departed on-time at 08:30 bound, in a very full aircraft, for the other side of the continent. As we settled in to our seats, another large Congolese person used my seat back as leverage to settle into his seat then let it snap back, shooting me forward when he was done. This is one of my pet peeves when flying in Africa, rather than use their own armrests for support, some folks appropriate my seatback and use it as they see fit, often violently…. It only happened twice on this flight, so I let it pass.
After 24 hours, almost without sleep, had no trouble dozing for an hour after takeoff, until breakfast was served. As soon as he had finished his breakfast, the big Indian fellow in front of me reclined his seat without warning, then bounced on it hard several times to see if he could get it to recline further. This pushed my food tray into me and slopped some food around. I gently pushed on the seat back to remind him I was present. He bounced again, I pushed again, and he looked around surprised to learn there was someone behind him. He moved his seat forward one notch, which was very kind of him actually, that’s not really what I was requesting.
I dozed during the rest of the flight, probably sleeping 90 minute, until the place began its descent. The woman next to me woke up and sighed heavily “Jésus!”
We landed on time on the uneven runway of Kinshasa. Daniel and I deplaned together and waited in line to have our passports checked. He told me later that when he unbuckled his seatbelt and stood up, a Congolese woman pointed to the overhead bin and with a grunt and come-down-here gesture, ordered him to get her bag down. She was so shockingly rude about it, he decided to just step back and let her get her own bag. I’ve done the same on more than one occasion, often with a beatific expression of incomprehension on my face. I’m quite happy to help if asked, even if not asked particularly nicely, but being ordered about by people who take themselves for übermenschen, not so much.
When our turns came, we stood in front of the glass barrier window to be asked some questions by the agent through the small holes cut in the glass. Of course it was impossible to hear with all the noise in the room, so the agent would lean forward to the hole and ask a question loudly, then I would lean down to the hole and shout something back: what was my profession?, where would I be staying?, how long would I be in Congo?, and so on. I saw next to me that Daniel was going through the same process.
Our passports duly stamped we showed our yellow health cards to prove we had been vaccinated against Yellow Fever. It was a purely perfunctory check because the agent never got as far as my Yellow Fever vaccination, just glanced at the first page that came up, Typhoid, and waved me on.
I walked into the chaotic baggage claim room and began waiting for my suitcase. Daniel’s showed up quite quickly. Mine did not. We waited 30 minutes, then 60 minutes; nothing. A fellow showed up and asked if I were Joel Meeker. Yes. He was an emissary from Justin and Victor waiting outside wondering if everything was alright. I explained the situation and he disappeared to take them the message. This fellow as a fixer, a man who however he did it, had free access to pass inside the airport and out and provides services and knowledge for a price.
The suitcases stopped and cargo bundles and boxes started popping out. This was not a good sign. There were still many passengers waiting for luggage. A group of Chinese workers lost patience and two walked on the moving carrousel through the little door to the outside area where the luggage was placed on the belts. They were chased back inside by a big uniformed policemen who pushed them sharply and yelled at them in French, which they didn’t understand. The room erupted in shouting, with luggage agents taking sides and shouting and gesturing at each other. The room was hot and patience was wearing thin. Another 30 minutes passed. Finally an policeman came through the baggage door on the caroussel and made a gesture rather like “safe and home plate” which meant, as porky pig would say: “that’s all folks.” It took an hour and to learn that my suitcase had not arrived. I went to an office marked “baggage services.”
The agents looked at my tag and said “No not here, Kenya is over there” waving to the other side of the room. I looked and saw nothing. The fixer showed up again. “This way” he said. We walked out of baggage claim, passed customs agents who didn’t stop us, and outside of the airport. Then we walked to the front of the terminal, in a side door, around the check-in room, up a stairway, around another curved corridor to the Kenya Airways Office. It was full of people in chairs waiting to give make their lost luggage claim.
The fixer got me a chair and we waited. When the next opening came, the fixer told me in French “OK boss your turn” I stood and walked in, followed by a group of people who didn’t agree that it was my turn. Now what to do? I let the Kenya agents sort it out, and in the end they agreed it was my turn.
I filled out the form, answered the questions and was out in about 3 minutes. Justin and Victor took us to the vehicle, an asthmatic grungy SUV on its last legs. I gave the fixer a five dollar bill, with which he was pleased. He’ll remember me and look out for me next time I’m through the airport. These fellows have great memories for good tippers….
The SUV wheezed and coughed and had a hard time rattling up to more than 30 mph, but it did get us into Kinshasa to the Hotel Invest. I paid the driver $25, about half the going fare for a sound vehicle, and we made our plans for the next few days with Justin and Victor. Then we thanked them and let them go about their business.
Daniel and had lunch in the garden, spaghetti bolognaise for him and penne with mushrooms for me, which both took an hour to arrive. This meant it was about 2:30 pm by the time we finished lunch. A male peacock that lives in the gardens came to beg some food. I hand-fed him a couple of noodles as we finished up. He was quite polite about it.
We both decided to sleep several hours, get up for a while to make sure we’d sleep through the night, have a light dinner and go back to bed.
I set my alarm for 05:30 and slept 2 ½ hours, dragging myself from bed with some difficulty. I worked for a few hours, and then at 7:00 rang Daniel to see if he were up. No answer. I knocked on the door, again no answer. He had decided to sleep through.
I had a light dinner and will now stay awake as long as I reasonably can to make sure I’ll sleep through the night, and hope my bag will arrive late tonight or tomorrow morning. This has been one of those longest days in African travel; almost every trip over here has at least one of them, sometimes two or three.
Tomorrow will be a very busy and joyous day, even more than if my suitcase arrives.