Day 22: April 25, 2014
This is it! I'm here at the Dar Airport waitig for my check-in time for my flight. This should be a short entry, though others should have been as well, and we all know how that turned out.
I woke up this morning with the first of my three alarms (which came from my phone plugged in far enough away to necessitate me actually waking up to turn it off) and snoozed it a couple times. All I had to do was get dressed and be ready by 7, and it was only 6. At 6:20, I decided it was finally time to get up for real. I walked to the bathroom and brushed my teeth, then headed back into the room to grab the clothes I had laid out for myself for the day. Everything else (most of it dirty) was in one suitcase, with the other containing clean clothes and souvenirs. Both were stuff to pretty much the max. I was at least able to change at put my sleep clothes and bedsheet into the suitcase, but the pillow I brought was NOT going to fit. It therefore quickly became my "personal item"...I just hoped that people on the plane wouldn't freak out about the CD-sized bloodstain on it from when I was getting IV fluids.
Once everything was wheeled out to the front door, I took my Malarone and ate just about the last bit of peanut butter in my jar. Amelia offered me a cup of coffee, and about two sips in and right after I asked what time the shuttle to the airport was coming, a loud motor and an accompanying horn were heard at the gate. This threw everything into high gear, as we moved briskly to get my suitcases, my backpack, and my pillow to the shuttle. I chugged a couple more sips of coffee on the way out the door, said goodbye and I was off! It happened so fast that I was glad I had packed ahead and was ready to go at the drop of a hat. It still didn't keep me from triple-checking to be sure my passport, wallet, and backpack were with me.
The shuttle ride to the airport was rather interesting. We started by heading out east, and about two minutes into the ride the shuttle driver stopped, shouted out the window, and a young boy in a uniform jumped on board. I imagine the driver had said, "Hey, I'll give you a ride to school." I found it pretty funny and random, and after picking up one or two more passengers the boy was dropped off at his school, saving him a good 1-2 km walk.
We proceeded to make our way out toward Manjelwa and a little beyond, and as I watched the sun-soaked countryside out the window as Mbeya became smaller I didn't even realize that we weren't going in the direction of the airport. We picked up one or two more passengers, and then the driver turned around and started going in the opposite direction heading east. I guess I had been one of the first passengers on their route.
In any case, I was happy to drive by Mbeya one more time, if only from a distance. We proceeded out west in the direction of Ifisi, Utengule (the coffee plantation) and then kept going. Again I was blessed with beautiful views of the countryside and a panoramic view of Mount Loleza, Mount Mbeya, and the rest of the chain in the area. We proceeded over the river I recognized, the old airport we had passed a couple times before on previous journeys, and then the countryside became more familiar in a more distant fashion. I recognized the views from the shuttle as those I had seen three weeks prior on my first ride into Mbeya. It made me think about how far I'd come, how much time had actually gone by, and how I had NO idea what my trip would be like...typical American thinking, "Oh yeah, I've been to Africa, I've got this figured out." Now, that wasn't quite my mindset, at least not consciously. But I guess I figured my previous experience abroad would make things easier...and maybe it would have if it hadn't been for the short stay and the dysentery. In any case, I had had to learn a lot again, and I thought about my previous self heading in a cab in the opposite direction, about to get a lesson in humility courtesy of a new part of a continent too large for me to comprehend even now.
We arrived at the airport, and to nobody's suprise, all of the passengers were standing outside as the Precision Air employees had yet to show up. It was after 8, and the flight was at 9:30. Despite being told to arrive 2 hours ahead, no workers were present, and we didn't even actually start checking in until about 8:20. After going through security, I arrived at the check-in desk and was asked for my ticket.
I didn't have my ticket. It was an E-ticket. I had attempted to check in online on their website the previous day, which was greeted with a "Site Under Construction" page. I figured I was good to go with my intinerary on my phone. Apparently not. They were confused by my itinerary, puzzled by my confirmation number, and asked for my ticket number. THAT'S WHAT I AM CHECKING IN FOR! I didn't get it. They had my passport. They had my confirmation number. They certainly must have had a list of passengers, right? RIGHT? Why couldn't they just check me in. They held onto my passport and asked me to step to the side for a moment, and then proceeded to check other people in. They guy that had disappeared with my passport reappeared 10 minutes later and then proceeded to start checking other passengers in as well. I stood there rather nervously for about the next 15 minutes searching frantically on my slow internet for some semblance of something they would recognize. I found my eticket number. I loaded their own website that had my itinerary on it...surely this will work, I thought. I started praying...Please God, don't let this happen. I do not want to have to go back and miss this one flight of the day, delay and have to fly out again tomorrow. I WANT TO GO HOME!
By now it was about 9. I was starting to tap my foot impatiently and semi-consciously, wondering when they were gonna help me out. Finally one of the workers walked over, I showed him everything I could on my phone (I had about 5 different pages loaded by now, and he looked at maybe one. Then he said, "Okay, let me go print out and I will get for you." He disappeared for about five minutes and then came back and started filling out my boarding pass and luggage tags (yes, by hand). He handed me my ticket, and I was about as happy and relieved as I had been all trip long. I WAS GOING TO GET TO GO HOME.
I celebrated with a Diet Pepsi in the waiting area (trust me, there were stronger options, and I thought about them). Just as I was sitting down to charge my phone, i started to see passengers out on the tarmac. We were boarding...and nobody happened to mention that we were via announcement. Luckily I caught them early and I wasn't the only one, so I joined them out on the tarmac, taking a couple more pictures of the mountains, the airport, etc before stepping onto the plane.
Fortunately the flight wasn't full, and I ended up with a row all my own on the small two-propeller jet. After a few minutes time, the propellers were spinning, we were set, and I got one last look at the mountains as we zoomed by on the runway. In seconds we were above the placed that I had called home for the last 3 weeks, and I got just a little sad. I excitedly took some pictures from above as we headed towards Dar, and as soon as Mbeya was behind us the sadness was pretty much gone and the excitement of getting home was growing more and more!
I spent the flight praying a Rosary and then getting back to my book, Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week by my good friend PEB16 (Pope Emeritus Benny the 16th). I enjoyed some ORANGE FANTA (which having been subjected to only Passion Fanta being passed off as orange for the past few days, I savored...it tastes so much better outside of the States, I promise! And it's just Fanta...I don't see much difference with Coke) and some cashews on the short trip, and in almost no time we were landing in Dar.
Once the plane had landed and I knew we were safely on the ground, I was relieved and happy. If something happens to the flights to Amsterdam or Houston, I was certain the media would cover it and I wouldn't die some anonymous death that nobody would ever hear about on a tiny airline nobody would ever care about. Not that I want to be famous or something when I die...I just had this irrational fear of crashing in a tiny plane and nobody ever really finding out what happened to me or the others on the plane. Which makes you think about how many tiny plane/car/bus accidents we never hear about because they are deemed irrelevant due to their size and location. It's very sad.
Now that that piece is said, I move on.
Then began my marathon. My layover was/is 11 HOURS, and as I knew nothing about Dar and cared about nothing but getting home, my plan was simple. Grab my bags, walk up to the Flamingo Restaurant with my bags, and park there for 8 hours until I could check in. See, at Julius Nyerere (I remembered how to spell it because it's like Bill Nye, then add to RE's) International Airport, you can't check in until at most three hours prior to departure, maybe two (guess I'm about to find out here soon).
I walked into the airport, immediately was at baggage claim, grabbed my bags before someone else could, and walked outside. I declined the offers from the taxi drivers and proceeded quickly to the stairs I knew led to the restaurant. A man who saw me told me how there were safe places to keep my bags, with receipts, very safe, here at the airport while I was in the restaurant. He looked official (badge, airport lanyard, etc), but I had already set myself up to be stern. "No, I'll take my bags into the restaurant, I will carry, no, thank you though. I will carry." Up about 30 stairs with 2 suitcases later, I was ready to park. I grabbed a seat in the small cafeteria area and set my bags next to them.
Initially, I sat at a table in the middle of the area, with wood chairs, not too comfortable, and far from an outlet. A man nearby sat next to the TV at a table wiht chairs with arms, cushions, and in close proximity to the outlet. I wanted his table. So, I watched him. I started killing time as best I could...I ordered a drink, then some food, then read my book then did some crosswords, but I watched him. I think it took until about 2:30 or 3, an a couple exciting moments where "Oh, he's closing his computer!", "Nope, he's still working on that beer." "Oh, he put the computer in his bag." "Dang, another beer." "Wait, he's putting his phone charger in the bag." "Nope, he's just done charging it." Finally he got up, grabbed his bag, and left, and I pounced, moving my stuff in three short trips the 15 feet over. I had my home base for the next five hours.
After acquiring my spot (complete with fan right next to the table...it was rather hot!), I killed time by reading my book, then doing some crosswords (which at about 20 minutes a piece became a great way to kill an hour), then more book, then crossword, then running to the bathroom as fast as possible and arranging my bags in a way so that I'd be certain if anyone even touched them...and 67 seconds and an empty bladder later, no, nobody had touched them.
Then I finished my book, and now I am journaling LIVE! You are hearing it as it happens. so here it is. It's 8 PM. I have been in this airport restaurant for 8 HOURS. I am sick of it. It's time to check in. So long Africa, you're pretty awesome and all, but...
I AM GOING HOME!!! I love you Ali! I love you John-Paul! I love you Jude!! I love you Mary-Teresa! Foooooo-mah and I'll see you all in 24 hours! This trip and this part of the blog is OVER!
I AM GOING HOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!