All sorts and conditions of men

January 9, 2014
7:10 p.m. Eastern Time
Ethiopian Airlines flight 501
Over the Mediterranean

I used to be a patient person, but that was before I moved to Philadelphia. I just told a new colleague, who was just moving to the city, “You’ve got to say what you want when you’re in Philly. Don’t walk into a store and wait for someone to help you. Walk in and say, ‘Yo, can I get some help over here!’”

Speaking of Philadelphia attytude, I was going through airport security this morning and someone had left a Yankees baseball cap on the x-ray belt. I called, “Did someone leave a cap? A Yankees baseball cap?” And the man in front of me turned around, thanked me, and took it.

Another man — big guy, probably Irish-American, said, “Yankees! You shoulda throwed that on the floor.” Smiling, I said, “I’m just trying to be a good citizen.” He grinned. “You’re not from Philoffia, are you.”

My delayed flight touched down at Washington Dulles Airport, and I still had a couple of hours before my nonstop flight from Dulles to Addis Ababa on Ethiopian Airlines. But at my gate, there was a long queue — maybe a hundred people, and it wasn’t moving.

Did I need to wait in that line? I already had a boarding pass, and my bags were checked through to Addis, and my only carry-on was my small backpack.

I approached the front and caught the attention of one of agents. “Do I need to wait in this line?”

“Yes! You need a boarding pass!”

“But I have this one, see?”

“No, you need a different boarding pass. That one’s no good.”

So I went to the back of the line, which wasn’t moving at all. I struck up a conversation with a young woman who was going on a backpacking trip in Kenya, Tanzania, and Rwanda. She said, “Get used to this. This is so African — waiting in a long line for apparently no reason. Don’t rush. Just realize that you’re going onto Africa Time.”

I left the line and went to Dunkin Donuts. I ate my biscuit and drank my coffee. I responded to some e-mails for work, even though my “out of office” message is already on. And then I went back into the line, which had finally been moving but was still just as long as it had been. And then they called for boarding. “If you have a yellow sticker on your boarding card, you can begin boarding now.” And then, a few minutes later, “If you have a red sticker on your boarding card, you can begin boarding now.”

I struck up another conversation — this one with a big brute of a guy who looked like a trucker. I asked him where he was going. “Djibouti,” he said. “I don’t know why that country even exists. There is nothing there! You’re driving along a road, and you come across a group of men with shovels. They stop you and dig a hole. Then you pay them to fill in the hole and you keep driving. What kind of country is that?”

I said, “I guess the French wanted a port on the Red Sea, so they created one. And now there’s a tiny country there, but all it’s got is a port on the Red Sea.”

“Yeah,” he said. “At least on this trip, the feds sprang for business class. So maybe I’ll get some sleep.”

I wondered what his job was — some kind of government contractor — but I didn’t ask.

I was still 25 people from the front of the line, but there were 25 or more behind me. There were crowds and chaos. The people at the desk were unflustered. The people in the line who looked like they might be from Africa — the women in long colorful skirts, the men in track suits — were unperturbed. The Americans — a soccer team from Slippery Rock University off to do a service project, a church mission team, some aid workers, a few young hikers wearing bandanas, a wiry and spry old Jewish lady who will soon be climbing into high mountainous jungle regions to commune with rare gorillas — these were the frustrated ones.

But we all made it onto the plane eventually. And here we are, a collection of humanity. On my far left, a young man named Jon who works for a Lancaster, Pennsylvania-based aid organization that does microlending. He lives in Brazzaville and loves it, but his young wife wants to move back to Texas, where they are from. I can tell that he’s unhappy about returning to the States. But she wants to have kids, and not in Congo!

Next to Jon, a young Ethiopian man who listens to afropop on his headphones. On my right, a woman who lives in Angola while her husband works in the oil industry. She doesn’t like living in Africa — doesn’t like that one of her kids is at boarding school in the United States, doesn’t like that a head of lettuce costs $20 in Angola. I almost asked her, “Why don’t you eat like the locals eat instead of buying lettuce that’s been flown in from Chile?” But I think better of it. She’s not trying to do what the locals do. She is trying to create a “normal” American life for her kids, and she’s willing to kick against the goads to do it. I almost admire her stubbornness.

I’ve slept some on this plane, but my tailbone hurts now, and we still have four hours to do. I think we’re about to enter Libyan airspace — in fact, we’ll be over Benghazi in just a few minutes. May God grant rest eternal to our American ambassador who died 35,000 feet below me, and to all the people who have died during civil strife, both in LIbya and throughout Africa.

God, grant me safety on this trip. Safety for me, safety for those around me.


I am becoming my aunt

January 9, 2014
2:30 p.m. Eastern Time
Ethiopian Airlines flight 501
Over the North Atlantic

When I was a boy, I spent a surprising amount of time in the old international terminal at LAX.

My beloved Aunt Florence, who was the only grandmother figure I knew, was a missionary to Singapore, and she flew back and forth frequently. Back then, when security was laxer even though terrorist incidents were frequenter, our whole family would drive to LAX to greet her when she returned home from an international trip.

We would glide through security and stand at the gate, craning our necks to look up the jetway so that we could glimpse her as she appeared. Sometimes one of us held a posterboard that read “Welcome Home Aunt Florence.”

She used gift-giving to cement her relationships. An indefatigable gift-buyer and -giver, Aunt Florence would totter up the jetway overloaded with presents small and large. If she’d had a layover in Hawaii, there were leis for everyone. If she’d stopped in Tokyo, she would distribute little games or plastic toys. Sometimes she brought ivory keychains or pens made of coconuts. You never knew.

Seeing Aunt Florence depart from the airport was quite another matter. Usually her friend Elaine Kelly would drive her to LAX, and they’d be late. Aunt Florence was always had multiple jumbo-sized suitcases stuffed with books and papers and all kinds of materials that she used to teach counseling classes at her church in Singapore. She didn’t bring much in the way of clothes — she rotated through the same five polyester dresses for about 15 years — but her bags were so full! She tied them elaborately with plastic twine, creating a netlike pattern so that no one could possibly open her precious bags, and they would never burst open in the bowels of a 747.

When Aunt Florence arrived at the airport, looking haggard, she would tell us that she had been up for 48 hours straight getting ready. I couldn’t understand this — it just seemed like something she did, let getting her hair dyed bright orange at a beauty parlor.

But once Aunt Florence was back up the jetway and on her way to Singapore, she was the happiest clam in the sea. She’d sleep on that plane so that she would arrive refreshed. In Singapore, her other family would greet her at Changi Airport — usually several couples, sometimes with children in tow, who would drape her neck with flowers and welcome her with signs. These were the couples who had been in her premarital counseling classes, and they were fiercely loyal. They called her Mama.

Aunt Florence died 15 years ago, but I’ve been thinking a lot about her over the last few hours. As I was getting ready for my own overseas trip, I pulled a true all-nighter — I never crawled into bed last night.

I worked all day in Delaware and dozed on the train back from Wilmington to Philadelphia. I rode my bike in the subfreezing cold from University City station to Saint Mark’s, where I led the Bible study discussion about Jacob stealing his brother’s birthright. Returning home, I reserved a carshare car, dropped off a spare key at Brett and Geraldine’s place, returned some unused items to Target, and bought saline solution for Kitty, the friend in Africa whom I’m going to visit. I ate a “last meal” at Chick-fil-A — a shameful vice, but those waffle fries!

And then I went home. I had several things on my agenda: Finish packing. Go through the mail that had piled up when I was away over Christmas, making sure there’s nothing that needs a response right now. Prepare the cat litter and cat food for my time away. And write up the minutes for the last church Vestry meeting and send them to the whole Vestry.

This latter was very important — I’m not bringing my laptop on this African trip, so I won’t have access to the notes and templates that I use to write the Vestry minutes. And the minutes will have to be approved at the January 21 meeting, which I will miss because of my trip. I don’t really like the job of doing the minutes, so I always procrastinate. And now I’d done it again.

So I took care of the litter and the cat food, talked to my sister-in-law and Mom, put out the trash and went through the mail. And then I worked on the Vestry minutes, finishing at about 2 a.m. I mailed them to the Vestry, and then I worked on my packing.

Packing was a problem. Kitty has lived in South Sudan for the last 14 months, and it’s impossible to mail anything to where she is. There’s no postal service, no UPS, no Fed Ex. You just can’t get packages there unless someone brings them in.

So when I decided to visit, I offered to bring a suitcase full of things she might need. She sent out an alert to her relatives and friends, and they responded with generosity and abundance. I packed everything that had been sent, except for a few heavy things, carefully arranging everything in my big suitcase. And then I weighed it: 65 pounds. Not good!

So I stuffed everything that would fit into my duffel bag. Forty-nine pounds. And then I put the rest of it into the suitcase, along with my own clothes for the trip. Forty-nine pounds for this one too! My own clothes and shoes were probably 20 pounds at most.

Suddenly, it was 4:15 a.m. and I wasn’t even showered and dressed. So I hopped into the shower, and while I was still dripping, I phoned for a taxi. I threw on my clothes, dragged my mammoth bags downstairs, and sank into the taxi’s back seat at 4:50.

My flight was scheduled for 5:55.

I had become Aunt Florence! I arrived at the airport at the last minute, with giant overloaded bags, having stayed up all night. The only difference: No one was there to see me off, which is just fine with me. I didn’t want flowers, really.

Fortunately, my flight was delayed by 45 minutes, or I think I might have missed it.

Jay’s African Itinerary

NOTE: ET = Ethiopian Airlines

This itinerary assumes that we will be traveling to South Sudan, but it’s looking increasingly unlikely that we will be able to do so. The itinerary from January 21 to 25 will likely change.

January 9, 2014

6:10 Leave Philadelphia on United 3339
(Ethiopian Airlines confirmation code ULCFIO. United confirmation code D1QE2F)
7:10 a.m. Arrive Washington Dulles
10:15 a.m. Leave Washington Dulles on ET0501
(Ethiopian Airlines confirmation code ULCFIO)

January 10, 2014

7:45 a.m. Arrive Addis Ababa
Transport to Bethel Guest Home

Bethel Guest Home

January 11, 2014

Bethel Guest Home

January 12, 2014

Bethel Guest Home

January 13, 2014

Transport to Addis Ababa airport
7:40 a.m. Depart Addis Ababa on ET0122
8:45 a.m. Arrive Gondar
9:15 a.m. Depart Gondar on ET0122
9:45 a.m. Arrive Lalibella

Transport to Top 12 Hotel

Top 12 Hotel

Contact: Eshetu Medane

January 14, 2014

Top 12 Hotel

Contact: Eshetu Medane

January 15, 2014

12:15 p.m. Depart Lalibella on ET0123
12:45 p.m. Arrive Gondar
1:15 p.m. Depart Gondar on ET0123
2:20 p.m. Arrive Addis Ababa
10:45 p.m. Depart Addis Ababa on ET0821

January 16, 2014

12:55 a.m. Arrive Entebbe

Ground transport to
Red Chilli Hideaway Limited,
P. O. Box 40288, Nakawa Kampala,
Plot 13-23 Bukasa Hill View Road,
Butabika, Kampala Uganda. East Africa.

Complimentary shuttle bus: operating between Red Chilli and the centre of town. We have a 10-seater minibus that departs Butabika at 9am, 12pm and 4pm daily and terminates at the Nakumatt Oasis Shopping Mall (next to Garden City Mall) on Kitante Road. Departs town at 10.30am, 1.30pm and 5.30pm, also from Nakumatt Oasis. Please book ahead at reception or by email/phone to avoid disappointment as we can only take 10 passengers on each shuttle. Please note – the driver may not deviate from the set route! Special hire taxis can be arranged on request at any time and are available on site at Butabika.

Office +256 (0) 312 202903
Reservations: +256 (0) 772 509150
Tours Hotline +256 (0) 772 709151

Safari begins

January 17, 2014


Red Chilli Hideaway Limited,
P. O. Box 40288, Nakawa Kampala,
Plot 13-23 Bukasa Hill View Road,
Butabika, Kampala Uganda. East Africa.

January 18, 2014

Safari ends

Red Chilli Hideaway Limited,
P. O. Box 40288, Nakawa Kampala,
Plot 13-23 Bukasa Hill View Road,
Butabika, Kampala Uganda. East Africa.

Ground transport to
Surjio’s Guest House
Jinja, Uganda

January 19, 2014

Surjio’s, Jinja, Uganda

January 20, 2014

Surjio’s, Jinja, Uganda

January 21, 2014

Depart Surjios
6:30 a.m. Check-in at Entebbe
8 a.m. Depart Entebbe on Eagle Air
Arrive Yei

Harvesters Reaching the Nations, Yei, South Sudan

January 22, 2014

Lodging: Harvesters Reaching the Nations, Yei, South Sudan

January 23, 2014

Harvesters Reaching the Nations, Yei, South Sudan

January 24, 2014

Harvesters Reaching the Nations, Yei, South Sudan

January 25, 2014

9 a.m. Check in at Yei
10 a.m. Depart Yei on Eagle air
Arrive Entebbe

Transport to Entebbe Airport Guesthouse

Lodging: Entebbe Airport Guesthouse
Contact: Gina

January 26, 2014

5:25 p.m. Depart Entebbe on ET0500
7:30 p.m. Arrive Addis Ababa
10:15 p.m. Depart Addis Ababa on ET0500

January 27, 2014

2:25 a.m. Arrive Rome
3:25 a.m. Depart Rome on ET0500
7:30 a.m. Arrive Washington Dulles
12:25 p.m. Depart Washington Dulles on United 3333
1:25 p.m. Arrive Philadelphia