It pours rain on the day of our flight to Congo. The trouble begins at home. The storm knocks out our modem/router in mid-morning so we can’t even check whether our 4:33 flight from South Bend to Chicago will be on time, delayed, or cancelled.
Fortunately Vic is able to dash out, get a new router, and install it by noon. We check flights. All on time. Nevertheless, we have our housesitter take us to the airport plenty early. Two and a half hours early.
At the airport we learn that all flights have been delayed by the continuing downpour and some cancelled. Our flight is in the delayed category, too late to get us to Chicago for our 6 pm flight to Brussels. We have two choices: a shuttle bus or an early flight that is so late that it might get us there about the same time as the bus. Might. We choose the bus. But it leaves in 30 minutes and our two fellow travelers aren’t there yet. I ask the harried young agent to tell them we’re taking the bus. I have no confidence that he will do that, so after we lug our bags to the bus stop, I stroll back to wait for Sandy and Paula. Fortunately, they show up just in time to get their vouchers and join us on the bus.
The bus driver tells us the ride will take longer than we thought and get us there barely an hour before our international flight. Is this enough time to check in, check bags, check passports? We hope.
In Chicago the agent checking us in is puzzled by our visas. Are we sure they take effect when we arrive and not when they were issued? We are, but he isn’t. He disappears for 15 precious minutes. When he reappears he says, “I have to find someone who can tell me exactly what this visa says.” It is written in French. Vic and I offer to do that and fortunately, he trusts our translation.
By then it is 35 minutes to flight time. Fortunately, the agent accompanies us through security. Unfortunately, not all the way–just to the tables. A dozen people are ahead of us and the line is very, very slow. I am frisked. TSA makes me take off my cloth money belt because all that cash around my belly might explode.
Fortunately (do you see a pattern here?) we make it to the gate as boarding is beginning. We meet a third member of our party, who has made it from Kansas. Sandy and Paula report later that they also met the fourth member, a Congolese-American man named Christian. (Unfortunately, that was not Christian. He thought they were asking about his faith, not his name.)
Unfortunately, we sit an hour and a half on the tarmac because the weather requires a change in flight path. Our connection in Brussels will be tight.
Fortunately, I sleep a little. In the morning I go around the plane, asking every African man if he is Christian Mukuna. Unfortunately, none is.
We have an hour to find and board the plane to Kinshasa. Unfortunately, I forgot to warn Sandy, Paula, and Amanda that the sign to transfers to African flights is very confusing. Fortunately, Amanda makes the right turn. Unfortunately, Sandy and Paula, who are ahead of us, do not. They make the same mistake I did last time and have to go through security. Fortunately, they make it with 15 minutes to spare.
Ok last flight. We can relax, and we do. I wish I could double over and sleep the whole way, like the young woman across the aisle, but I settle for a French movie about infanticide in Benin. The heroine is white, but the story is not entirely one-sided. We watch the Sahara unroll down below and then suddenly end in clouds and green. I ask an attendant to check the passenger list for Christian’s name. He is not on the plane.
We land in Douala, and many people get off, including the sleeping girl, but nobody gets on. An hour and a half to Kinshasa. We land after 7 in the evening, 25 hours after we left our house in Michigan in a rainstorm. It is dark.
A man from Jeffrey Travels, a local agency, meets us outside of customs, holding a chalkboard with our names on the sign. Christian’s name is not on it. Jeffrey guy assures us that he will retrieve our baggage for us. We are doubtful about this arrangement but he insists so we hand over our tags and go to Jeffrey’s lounge to wait. Men carry in our bags, piece by piece. Soon they are all there except one. It happens to be a bag we carried for someone else, Pastor Joly, who had visited the US a month earlier and acquired a great deal of used clothing to carry back home. Reluctantly I agreed to take it. I couldn’t think of a good excuse although I have had problems before with lugging other people’s baggage back and forth. Tracking down a missing bag that belonged to someone else was a new complication, however, that I hadn’t thought of.
I spend the next 30 minutes racing around the airport with Jeffrey guy, first to the baggage claim office and then to find the official who should have been in the baggage claim office, and back to the office. In the racing I fall once on the slippery floor and bang my knee but nobody notices and I am ok. I register the claim, get a phone number to call the next day after 11, and then we board the Jeffrey van to drive into the city.
Fortunately, the drive takes less than an hour. Miraculously, the airport road is almost fully reconstructed and is no longer the 2,3, or 4-hour nightmare that it was last year. Our rooms at Ste. Anne guesthouse are ready, the showers work, and the beds are comfortable. We are in bed by 10:30, sleep well and wake exhausted.
Among the stream of visitors who greet us the next morning is Pastor Joly. He calls the airline and learns the bag has arrived, which seems impossible, since international flights aren’t that frequent. But sure enough, when we go to the airline downtown office that afternoon, it is there. Someone else had picked it up by mistake and returned it. It is hard to understand how that happened because the blue duffel with white flowers is rather distinctive. Nevertheless, the contents seem intact.
Our close calls and frustrations with this trip have all ended well, but still no Christian. We attend the ordination on Sunday., which I wrote about in my last post. The next morning, Christian appears at our breakfast table. His travel tale includes not one but two missed flights, switched airlines, and not one but two missing bags, which, at that moment, are still missing. He makes a call. His bags have miraculously arrived. We all go to pick up Christian’s bags and to buy our tickets for the next leg of our trip, which is a week away. That takes most of a day but ends in success all around. We can forget about traveling for a while.
Yesterday we went fabric shopping and three of us ordered dresses to be made. Maybe I’ll write about that later. Lots of fun. We were due for some.