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.

1 comment:

  1. What a crazy adventure! I'm glad you made it through safely with your sense of humor intact. :)


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