Thursday, August 7, 2008

Our Travels - How did we get there

As we left for the trip, my lovely wife posted our itinerary of travel on this blog. To reach our final destination it took almost 4 days to get there, and 3 days to get back. Now that it is all done it is hard to believe we really spent a week of the trip traveling.

We first set fourth at Chicago O'hare to fly to Washington DC. In DC we scrambled to reach the Ethiopian Airlines gate in which we got our first taste of how things flow in Africa. Unbeknownst to us the airline had a very restrictive carry on bag rule. Ironically many of us looked online to see if they had a posted policy on carry on's... but no one found it. They allowed two bags, and each had to be under 15lbs's. Well that is what the sign said. But depending on the gate agent you happened to meet, some people had a 20lbs limit, yet other agents didn't bother to check. There was a scale at the gate, but some would use it, others just picked up the bag and sort of guessed if it was too heavy or not. One of our team members had a rolling small suitcase that in all American carriers would have no problem, but the gate agent tried to charge her an extra $135 because it was 25lbs! Thankfully pastor was ready not to be swindled and talked him down to $50, and they checked her bag. The other snafu was they required all of our bag tag's to ensure that they made it on the plane... some people lost them and had to trek back to our gate where we arrived and have them reprinted... After our sub par American meal (at least we didn't have to insist on bottled water) we boarded our flight to Addis Abba via Rome to re-fuel... At Rome we sat on the jet way for about 4 hrs while they found a "part" before take off. As you can see Pastor and Bonnie came prepared for the long overnight flight.

One part that wasn't too much fun in Rome, while they looked for the mysterious part, the flight attendants weren't allowed to serve water or any snacks... so we got to sit and wait. Laura hypothesized that they were waiting for the pilots to get over a hang-over :) Here is a view of the Sahara Desert from the airplane.

We eventually arrived to Ethiopia with all 19 of our bags (Praise God for that), and made our way through customs and eventually to our hotel for the evening. Thankfully the hotel provided a meal, and a place to lay our heads for a few hours until we departed early the next morning. This is a view of Addis Abba from my 10th floor hotel room balcony. It rained the night before. Not quite like the Chicago skyline. The next photo is a an interesting tree outside the Addis airport.

The next day brought another fun adventure in travel. As we boarded our plane destined to Kigali, there was an announcement overhead telling us they were having difficulty on the left side of the plane with the cargo door. Interestingly on the right side of the plane a hydraulic lift truck could easily be seen wedged under the wing, with many men in suits, white coats, technician outfits, and security officials all milling around the truck. Some were even taking pictures of the wing... I took a picture of my own. (notice how the tall posts are up almost all of the way? There's no OSHA in Africa)

Thankfully they eventually announced that we needed to change planes. Now instead of a half full plane, we moved to a smaller plane that was full and with no assigned seats... it was a chaotic scene when everyone was trying push to the front of the line, yet again in Africa no common rule such as a line, if you want to be in front you push to the front... We eventually arrived safely to Kigali Rwanda a couple hours late but Thank the Lord all of our bags made it.

One of the more interesting parts of the trip occurred at the Kigali Airport. As we were getting our bags out to the parking lot where cars were waiting, there was another American in front of the airport who struck up some conversation with our team. He introduced himself as a senator, and as I looked closer you could recognize him as Bill Frist, the Senate Majority Leader 2002-2007! He is a cardiothoracic surgeon and was in Rwanda for a few medical missions as well as a relief group of retired senators. He was very nice and was excited to hear of our trip and was more than happy to have a couple pictures taken. Many thanks to his staff with him who took the pictures!

The last leg of the trip began the next day in which we drove the 6 hrs across the beautiful Rwanda country side, and through the Nyungwe rain forest to end up at the DRC border. Here you see the women carrying their loads on their heads, the typical busyness along the road, the rain forest, and last one of the huge tea fields seen along the drive.

Bukavu is the major city at the border. It is a sharp contrast when you cross the border. I find that words and even pictures have difficulty showing how poor this place is. The roads are mostly in shambles, dust coats everything, thick smoke lingers over all parts of the city. There is constant noise of people, cars, horns, people selling goods, and men / boys selling bottles of pop by tinking on the bottles as they walk around the city. Notice the thick smog of the sky, next notice the typical road of the "nice part of the city", the nice buildings of the city, and last a shout out to a friend of mine who works for food for the hungry (apparently doing some work in Bukavu).Crossing the border Katie snapped a quick picture of the bridge and the lake... a plain clothes officer saw this and confronted her. He tried to incite a crowd of outrage that she would even dare take a picture of the border. A nice welcome to the country. The provincial senator, a personal friend of our group, intervened and informed the man that she did not break the law and that he may be arrested for trying to incite a crowd. It was good to have powerful people going to bat for us. We otherwise were treated as celebrities everywhere else we went in the DRC. We stayed the night in the Hotel Residence. This was one of the best that Bukavu had to offer... at one time I am sure it was quite luxurious at one time, but has been run down along with the city. As it turned out our original reservation was to be at the Swedish Christian Mission compound, but they gave our reservations away without telling us (anyone recognize a theme here?). But speaking of pictures of questionable legality.... (the DRC military compound in

Some slept well in the Bukavu hotel, some (i.e. me) did not sleep much at all. Early the next morning we finally set off in SUV's to Nyangezi. Again nearly no one in the car spoke as we traveled through Bukavu and the impoverished outskirts of run down wood shacks with tin roof's, people everywhere, and the bumpiest dirt road I have ever ridden on (puts the pink jeeps to shame). The roads were literally so bumpy you can only drive close to 5mph, and you get jostled out of your seat, head hitting the ceiling here and there.

The road is only 25km from Bukavu, but takes 1.5 to 2 hrs to get there. We were told there was going to be an official delegation of dignitaries to open the clinic and training center, and to welcome the mzungu to Nyangezi... (mzungu (miz-'un-goo) is swahili for white person). We saw that a photographer and videographer kept leap frogging our group... they would pull ahead and film us traveling on the road, then see him again pass us... then film again further along...

We arrived at Nyangezi and the locals were there gathered, singing praise songs to God. The music is wonderful... I will post a video of some sining soon. Alas we made it there with all of our bags, supplies, limbs, and minds. Needless to say we were ready to start our ministry to the people there.

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