Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Trip That Went South

How quickly the relaxation and rest of a beautiful respite can be snatched away!  There we were, all four of us, flying off from Nairobi, having just enjoyed the beautiful Kenyan weather and landscapes for a week.  We were headed back to Niger looking forward to one evening at home before jumping right back into teaching the next day.  We changed planes in Addis Abba and made our way south to Abuja on the comfiest plane we had been on throughout the whole trip. 

We had received a good warning from a colleague in Niger about what would take place in the Abuja airport as we made the transition from Ethiopian Airways to Asky Airways in Nigeria.  Thus, none of us were surprised when around 2:30 in the afternoon our passports, tickets and baggage claim slips were collected.  Those whose names were on the manifest (us) stayed upstairs while they took all our paperwork downstairs along with all of those who were not named on the list.  And we waited.  Over an hour later one man emerged carrying passports with boarding cards which were distributed to those waiting.  Two of our party received their passports and boarding cards, A and I weren't amongst those.  We were told to wait.  They were coming.

So we waited again.  After quite awhile we heard the call for Asky passengers to Niamey to begin boarding.  We told our two colleagues to go ahead and we would join them.  We continued asking about our passports and we continued to be told they were coming.  Finally, someone appeared with our passports but no boarding cards and told us to follow him downstairs to the Ethiopian Airways ticket office.  It was packed out with angry people, none of whom had boarding passes.  It quickly became clearly we were part of an unhappy club, those without a seat on the plane.  The airline representatives were close mouthed.

After a time of arguing back and forth, they finally began to fill out vouchers for hotel rooms only to take them away shortly thereafter saying that Ethiopian would only protect certain passengers.  They sent us off to the Asky office to take it up with them as they claimed it was their responsibility.  And back and forth it went.  We were getting the...

  (Please excuse the spelling error...the creators were tired!)

Finally, a cool headed guy who had been a pilot went searching for and found a man who is basically in charge of making sure the airlines are following established protocol.  This official named Joshua came to the Ethiopian office and looked at everyone's tickets.  Three or so more individuals were given hotel vouchers.  There were five of us left and it was determined that it was Asky's responsibility to care for us.  Joshua took us to his desk where we began the official paperwork for lodging a complaint against the airline.  "But what shall we do tonight?" we asked him.  Living out the movie The Terminal has never been a personal goal of mine and I feel fairly confident that even Tom Hanks would have had trouble surviving the Abuja Airport where the only food available was now in an area restricted to us.

Somewhere in the midst of all of this we asked about connecting with our luggage, after all we were going to be spending two days waiting.  Joshua went to find out if we could have our bags.  But instead when the imigration official found out about our predicament she decided that not only was it impossible for us to have our bags, it was also necessary to relieve us of our passports.  In fact, she didn't even want to let us leave the airport but again Joshua took her away and talked her into letting us leave the airport with our passport numbers and names written on a sheet of paper.

By this time both the offices of Asky and Ethiopian were closed.  It was about 8:30 in the evening  Joshua began by calling the managers and telling them to come back.  They refused. So he called their superiors and threatened to close down their office. That was apparently just the pressure they needed as they quickly returned - first the manager of Ethiopian and then the manager of Asky.  The Ethiopian manager wrote us vouchers for the Pauliham hotel.  With great hope, we followed them outside to the taxi line.  By this time, it was about 9:30 in the evening.  We had had nothing to eat and only some water to drink since lunch on the airplane.

The services of a taxi man were engaged and it was confirmed with the fellow several times that he knew the location of the hotel.  We packed into the taxi.  Four across the back and one in front and off we went. It was about 10 pm.

Not five minutes down the road our taxi man began to call/text his associates asking in Hausa if anyone knew where the Polyon hotel was. On and on he drove us, right into the heart of Abuja.  Apparently, all his texting and calling had produced little information so he began pulling over and asking random strangers for directions, each time mispronouncing the name of the hotel.  No one seemed to have heard of said hotel.  At one point, we pulled into a hotel called the Belingo - someone thought it was the Pauliham and had directed him there.  It was not our hotel.  We piled back into the car and headed out again.  By this time it was about 11 pm.

A call to Joshua located the neighbourhood so we headed out in that direction.  Upon reaching that neighbourhood the taxi had run out of gas.  We had to stop there by the side of the road and wait for him to buy some black market gas.  Two of our travelling companions were getting quite frustrated.  "Take us back to the airport!" they yelled.  He refused.  On and on he drove, occasionally stopping for directions.  But despite the fact we had finally gotten his pronunciation of the hotel name correct none of the ten or more people asked knew where the hotel was.

Having been up for almost 24 hours, we were exhausted and wanted nothing more than to crash.  The writing seemed to be on the wall...we weren't going to find the Pauliham Hotel.  Finally, it was decided that we would return to the Belingo Hotel and pay for a night's stay there, trusting that Ethiopian would reimburse us.  So back we went into downtown Abuja, another 30 to 45 minute jaunt.  Now it was nearing 1 am.  

One night's stay at the Belingo was listed at $222 dollars.  That was a bit of a problem for A &; I.  Between us we didn't even have that kind of cash.  The men talked the receptionist down to $154 dollars.  We still didn't have enough.  Within our group of five, there was a parent of a student at Sahel Academy (so like God).  He had the money and was willing to pay for our room.  We were so thankful, knowing that if we did indeed get stuck with the bill, we would have some way of connecting with him to pay.

Our hotel room did not come with towels. The light did not work in the bathroom and the door was falling off its hinges.  But none of that mattered at this point because falling into bed was about the only thing on the agenda, except perhaps a drink of water.

The morning after and we were still completely wiped out.

After breakfast the next morning we headed back to the airport to take up our case with Ethiopian.  When we got there and the manager heard the story of the taxi man who drove us around at night in a strange city for three hours he wondered at the injustice of it all. "It's not right!" he exclaimed.  Ironic. 

Anyway, we were packed into a new taxi with clear confirmation that he knew where he was going and off we went only to actually arrive at the Pauliham hotel.  Wonder of wonders! 

The rest of the day was spent coming off of the stress of the night before.  We enjoyed a walk

with a view of the city

and flame trees and later we enjoyed a rainstorm (A big deal for two Nigerian born kids!).

Wednesday morning around noon we headed back to the airport.  Was there anything else that could go wrong?  We collected our passports - a definite relief and headed off to the Asky office.  And the run around began again - they wanted us to go back to the Ethiopian office.  Finally, Asky checked the manifest for our names.  Nothing!  As they looked into it further, they discovered that our names were still listed on Monday's manifest.  They didn't seem positive at all that we would make it on to the plane so we camped out right outside their office while they worked.  Then they moved us upstairs to the transit lounge.  Finally, four hours or so after arriving at the airport we were presented with our tickets.

What a relief to arrive home and find our luggage had made it and everything was intact.  That's not something you take for granted when your luggage has been sitting in an airport for three days away from your watchful eyes.

I'm not going to lie.  This is not an experience I want to repeat but I will say that...

was clearly evident.  Two of us were together when it could have very easily been the case that one of us had been left behind.  When we needed a phone, someone let us borrow theirs multiple times.  There were people on the other end of that phone who cared about us and worked hard to get us phone numbers and help in Abuja.  God provided the pilot who had knowledge of the right airport official to help us.  Joshua, that airport official, truly advocated on our behalf and even on Tuesday morning said that he didn't sleep very well because he was worried about us and our situation.  When we were without money but in need of sleep, God provided one of our Sahel student's father who had money and was more than willing to help us.  Tuesday morning after our exhausting night, I opened the Gideon Bible on the night stand and Psalm 94:12 caught my eye. "Lord, when doubts fill my mind, when my heart is in turmoil, quiet me and give me renewed hope and cheer." That was perhaps the greatest evidence of God's presence - quiet hearts in the midst of the turmoil.  And so I'm thankful for all the adventure and for another opportunity to trust God and find Him faithful right in the middle of a trip gone south.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Rift Valley Academy & Beyond

The actual ICEC conference was held on the grounds of Rift Valley Academy.  This school, with over 100 years of history serving missionary kids and their families, is located in Kijabe, Kenya.  To get to the school you had to descend down a steep road with lots of sharp switchback curves. (For my family:  Imagine the road between Franklin and Harrisonburg and then fill it with potholes!)  It's one thing to navigate those kinds of curves and potholes in a small van or car but a large bus is an entirely different matter!  I was happy when we rolled to a stop in front of this building Wednesday evening.

The school is built on the side of the mountain going down into the valley and as afternoon faded into evening the wind began to blow down the mountain.  Kijabe means "place of the wind" and I would say it was aptly named as the wind howled all night.

Thursday I participated in a pre-conference workshop on Biblical integration.  Thursday evening was the official start of the conference and by Friday morning there were over 250 teachers, administrators, dorm parents and other school personnel on site participating in workshops of all kinds.  It was encouraging to network with others, to ask questions and find out how other schools are working through problems that we also share.  It was also good to be reminded that no matter how green the grass looks on the other side (and the grass does look mighty fine in Kenya) there is no perfect school!

While at RVA I enjoyed the beautiful views of the Rift Valley, the huge variety of plants in varying colors and the wonderfully cool weather.  It was refreshing.

We even got to take in a little Masai dancing which was very interesting.  Here are the dancers prior to their performance.

And a little bit of video of the action.

Sunday morning after church we boarded our bus and headed back to Nairobi but not before we took one more group picture.  

In Nairobi we were given a short tour of Rosslyn Academy, another christian school serving families in Nairobi. It also has a beautiful campus.  It was a former coffee plantation and this administrative wing was part of the original plantation.  

Other buildings including their high school building were built with rounded sides to mirror the architecture of the original plantation buildings.

From Rosslyn we visited a mall and then we headed back to Mayfield to rest for the night before beginning our trip home and what a trip it was!  Actually, before I get into that, just blogging about all of the things that we got to see and do in a few short days is a really good reminder that I have so much to be thankful for even if the trip did take a turn for the worse.

The Elephant Orphanage

After visiting the Nairobi National Park, we headed over to the Elephant Orphanage.  These babies were cute as anything.  The littlest three (about 6 months old) came walking down the hill following the keeper.

They each received two bottles of milk. After they finished eating, they roamed around and the keepers began to shovel dirt on them.  They were were trying to teach them to enjoy the mud and dirt.

A few minutes later the 6 to 12 month olds came charging down the hill.

They wasted no time in getting their milk and they weren't afraid to try and steal someone else's either.  This group definitely had some personality!

After 15-20 minutes of eating and playing they left and were replaced by elephants that were over a year old.  This group still got milk but they enjoyed chewing on branches too.

They were definitely all about the mud pit.  Basking in it and slinging it far and wide.  Good thing I didn't stand close to the mud pit!

After all the babies returned to their home, our group headed back to Mayfield to prepare to go on to Rift Valley Academy for our conference.  Here we all are together on the steps of Mayfield along with A's friend who really opened the way for our last minute adventures to take place.

Front Ends

Well, every tail end comes with a front end and we did see our fair share of those too on our trip through Nairobi National Park. But before we get to that, here's just a little perspective in regards to the closeness of this park to the city of Nairobi.

The first thing we saw as we drove into the park was a group of about 7 lions.  We didn't have to do any searching at all.  They were right in the middle of the road and they were quite content to be there.

I loved these funny looking birds.  We all agreed that surely Dr. Seuss must have drawn some inspiration from them for some of the funny creatures in his books.

We spotted this guy moving down a hill.  Interestingly, he appeared to be quite far away from any water.  He was definitely aware of us and he was moving at a very fast clip which was surprising.

Apparently it is rather rare to see rhinos in the Nairobi National Park.  So we were privileged to see four altogether both white and black.  This along with the zebras were the animals I really wanted to see.  

There were lots of deer like creatures.

I forget the name of these little guys but they loved to sit on rocks and they weren't the least bit afraid of people.  We saw them halfway through our trip when we stopped for a bathroom break.

We also took a picture of our selves from our perch where we could see all the wildlife.

Then it was on the road again where among other things we finally got to see our zebras.  They were having fun rolling in the dirt.

We get to see lots of giraffes in Niger but I had never seen any fighting.  It looked like they were trying to knock each other down by swiping the legs out from one another with their long necks.  

On our way out of the park we passed the lions in the same spot.  They had really settled in for the day and were all enjoying a mid-morning nap.

This was an amazing experience and definitely a highlight of the trip.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Tail Ends

Day two in Nairobi began around 6:15 in the morning when we headed down the road to Nairobi National Park.  It's crazy how close to the city of Nairobi this park is located.  This trip had to be the highlight.  Everyone headed out hoping to see lots of animals that we had never seen before. But in the wild, you never know what you will actually get to see.

It might just be a whole lot of ....

tail ends!

(Okay, so that last one wasn't actually in the wild.  But as it was the inspiration for this post, I couldn't not use it!)
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