The trip to Abidjan

Trip Start Mar 30, 2015
Trip End Apr 28, 2015

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Where I stayed
Ibis Plateau

Flag of United States  , Texas
Tuesday, March 31, 2015

I've started another long trip through Africa. I’m thankful that I will have good company on this month-long odyssey, which will take Daniel Harper and me from West Africa to East. We are looking forward to the trip, to visiting many church members in a number of countries who are living in quite varied circumstances.

We are also watching the news and security reports. Several places we plan to go are having some severe internal troubles. The Congo always requires great care even under the best of circumstances. We may not be able to visit Burundi at all this trip, as planned, since there are major pre-election troubles there now including riots and apparently politically-orchestrated murders in the capital. Western governments are counseling care and attention and we are paying both. In addition, al-Shabaab, Somalia’s al-Qaida-affiliated terrorists, have threatened terror attacks inside Burundi which is furnishing soldiers for UN work combatting the group. They’ve shown they’re capable of such things, just yesterday assassinating the lead prosecutor for the trial of accused al-Shabaab murderers in nearby Kampala, Uganda.

The world resembles what someone once asked: "where are we going, and what am I doing in this hand basket?"

We however, shall endeavor to stay focused on the positive, especially the hope carried by the message of the Bible, and especially at this particular time of year.

Yesterday my wife drove me to the airport early in the afternoon. There is so much happening in the HQ office that I had attended a two-hour meeting in the morning to help give some input on the planning for our upcoming June ministerial conference in Dallas. The Work never stops.

After kissing Marjolaine goodbye, the last time for four weeks, I made my way through departure formalities and boarded a flight for Detroit, on which I was pleased to have a free upgrade to business class. For short flights this means the chance to have a wider seat and have a free drink. One really would like upgrades for the long-hauls when they would make a real difference, but that almost never happens any longer. Still, gift horses and all. In Detroit I caught another, an Air France overnight, to Paris. This flight was interesting because it was so heavily peopled with passengers speaking Arabic. All flight announcements were made in English, French and Arabic – on a flight from Detroit to Paris. One large swarthy fellow across the aisle from me methodically clipped all his fingernails as we waited for departure. Toto this isn’t Kansas anymore, or the America in which I grew up.

On this flight I finished David Quammen’s excellent book Spillover, about diseases that “spillover” from animal species to infect humans and sometimes create epidemics. These include the Spanish flu, AIDS and Ebola to name some of the scariest, but there have been many more and almost certainly will be others, perhaps what scientists call “the Big One,” which epidemiologists all anticipate. He’s an excellent writer and the material is fascinating, sobering, not to say frightening.

The flight went without incident, and I met Daniel in Charles de Gaulle Terminal 2E-M. He had just arrived from Atlanta, and I was able to have Daniel invited into the Air France lounge with me. We were able to enjoy showers in two of the cubicles that are available for freshening up. After sleeping in one’s clothes, it’s great to be able to shower and change.

We had time for a quick bite of lunch (it was lunchtime in Paris, though barely breakfast time for us), and we caught up on our news, and planned the days to come. About one p.m. we boarded a 777 for the six-hour flight to Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, our first official stop. Suddenly the travel became much less pleasant, which was doubtless to prepare us for upcoming things on a particular continent which shall remain nameless – in this sentence.

I was given seat 35L, and Daniel the corresponding seat on the opposite side. These are window-side seats in front of a rear section. On paper that sounds great. However, one should know that Air France seats on a 777 are an inch narrower that the same plane with American Airlines livery and an inch and a half narrower than on Delta, so one is rather wedged-in. And these particular seats have no windows next to them, simply wall surface. Windows are pushed father out than the wall surface and the indentations give some elbow room. Our seats had only wall, curving inward as it rose. Neither of us could sit up entirely straight; our shoulders were pushed outward by the wall. We’d have to either lean or twist in order to straighten out, which sounds rather like a congressional justification for some new policy. Possibly if we were shaped more like the average French man, which would mean narrower for me (careful choice of words) and shorter for Daniel this might not have but so unpleasant, but as it was, before too long in this stress position I was willing to answer any questions the stewards might put to me…. I dubbed it the “Iron Chair” after a medieval torture device I recalled from my reading. I’m going to make a suggestion or two to Air France, and possibly the CIA.

Daniel found an empty seat to use part of the time, and while there was another free seat near me, the expressions on the faces of the passengers on either side when they saw me weighing the option prompted me rather to stand and walk around a lot. 

 I followed our course on the flight map, noticing that we flew directly over Collioure on the Mediterranean coast of France right on the Spanish border, a favorite family spot in summers long ago. I recall well the old fortified church and the ancient Spanish castle now used by the French Navy. I recall my young daughters going out hand in hand to buy baguettes, and their first scuba dives at age eight in the clear waters of the Mediterranean.

We flew over the Spanish island of Majorca, now a lovely vacation paradise, once conquered by the Roman Empire and every regional power since. I remember first hearing its name in Ringo Starr's "No, no, no" song, and wondering where it was. Still later we flew over the Saharan city of Timbuktu, that evocative and mysterious place of sand and camels and books, that I mention in my column in the May-June 2015 issue of Discern magazine (don't miss it!).

We finally arrived in Abidjan as the sun was setting, and went through the long process of getting legally into the country. Hand sanitizer was squirted onto the hand of each passenger, our temperature was taken automatically by infrared thermometers as we walked by, our Yellow Fever vaccination cards were hand checked by medial staff, and then we could get into long lines to have our visas checked and passports stamped. After that we could pick up luggage and push it on carts to a scanner, where we ran everything through on a belt, hoping not to have them hand-searched. By the time we officially entered the county it was close to 90 minutes after landing. We waited another half an hour for the shuttle to the hotel. The Ibis Plateau where I usually stay is the last stop, which because of light traffic only took 30 minutes to reach.

Paul met us as we arrived and after we checked in, we talked briefly about our plans for the next days. He’s well and said all is well with the church members in the area. That’s good news. We look forward to seeing them starting tomorrow.
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Marguerite Evans on

Nice to hear about what took place as you departed the USA and arrived in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire. I was surprised to hear that Arabic was spoken in the plane where you were at the time. I did have a few laughs about some things you mentioned. You have a way of writing that is fascinating. Thank you! Keeping you and Daniel in our prayers!

mary on

Hi Joel,
Always a pleasure to read your interesting commentary. The Iron Seat looks so uncomfortable. You should get a discount! It's surprising to hear that instructions are given in Arabic on a flight from Detroit to Paris. We will pray that you and Daniel have good visits and God's protection in your travels.

Famille Vernaud on

Nous vous souhaitons un bon voyage et de très belles Fêtes de Printemps


Thank you Mr. Meeker for making these trips again! Please extend our greetings to Mr. Harper! Our prayers will be for you, Mr. Harper, your families and to all the brethrens that you'll be visiting during these trips! You are giving us valuable insights into a world outside of the US, unbiased! May you all have a wonderful celebrations of the Passover and the Days of UB!

Tatiana on

I like your description of the Air France seats! Also, I think we're due for a trip back to Collioure! :)

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