The day started at 3:15am. Joel is sleeping, but I’ve got to get up and going so I can be at the airport the recommended 2 hours before my flight, which leaves at 6am. After quietly heading out the door, we strap Joel in and I get to spend my last calm moments in the back seat with my two favorite people. My sister-in-law Erin drove, she’s such a trooper! Show up at the airport, but there’s a gate closed that won’t let anyone up to the drop-off area. Weird… A couple seconds later, right at 4am, it opens up and we go in, only to find the United folks haven’t opened yet, and won’t for another half hour or so. So much for 2 hours ahead. As I say goodbye to my family, I realize this is the first time in over 7 months I’ll be gone from them for more than a couple hours, and that only happened a handful of times at that!
United opens finally, but can’t figure out why I’m checking in without my son. I patiently explain our situation, how we had to postpone and change our flights, and I’m flying to Africa solo while he and Sarah stay in the US. He looks at me, confused, but figures out a way to do it. Get through security (where they wouldn’t let me drink my unsecure water because I was past their checkpoint, so the lady walks down the hall to the bathroom to dump it), and my flight doesn’t have a gate.
Finally, hear an announcement on the loud speaker, barely make out a gate number, and check it out because, hey, I still have another hour or so until boarding. Sure enough, my flight was there. Finally board, SCORE!! Exit row! My first time with that privilege. It’s even better than the one time I got Economy Plus! More legroom, and no neighbor! I didn’t get more than a couple winks of sleep though.
In DC, I get to the gate and Ethiopian checks me in and gives me a new boarding pass. Couple minutes later, I can’t find it for the life of me. Ask them, then find it in an obvious place before they print another one. Sit and play with spreadsheets for hours because I can’t sleep. Finally board, ready to crash. No upgrades to Business Class (not like I would pay for it anyways). Praying for a good seat. I get a nice window seat near the back of the plane. No neighbors! Then the last guy they let on the plane comes, looks further down like he should be further back, and plops down on my third seat! He was a nice Ethiopian man from DC.
I am able to get a couple hours of sleep though, somehow.
Anyways, Ethiopia is great, and it was the first time I really saw it during the day. It was beautiful! Lush green hills, farms, factories, wow. A completely different Africa than what I know. Sat in the airport for a while, then couldn’t find my boarding pass. I went to a customer service rep, and he asked for my flight info and passport. Opens the passport, and lookey there! Found it! I just kinda played it off and walked away from the laughing guy. Chatted with a retired French couple going for a Safari, I was reminded just how quickly rust accumulates on languages.
Landing in N’Djamena just before noon (27 hours after waking up), we walk down the stairs and I see several guards that I recognize. I choose one, walk up to him, and say hey. He’s really great about it, plays it off well, but he doesn’t remember me. Then I jump on the bus the airlines pay hundreds of dollars per flight for, we drive our 50-100 feet, and get off to go into the airport. I wait in line at customs, while some Chinese guys on my flight just walk past the customs officers into baggage claim. I then pay the little cart guy 4 bucks to wheel my bags 200 feet to the curb, where my taxi friend Laurent picks me up.
At this point, I’m dying for sleep, so I try to visit my friends at MAF that sometimes let me use a guest room for free, but they’re all en voyage. Thankfully, The Evangelical Alliance of Missions lets me stay at their compound. First things first, I peel my clothes off me and jump in the shower, then I lay down for a 40-minute nap, determined to wake up so I can keep myself tired to sleep at night. Sleep through my first alarm, snooze my way through a second for another hour and a half. Call my beautiful wife to let her know I’m safe.
Then rushing to the bank to get there before they close, I pop in to get my phone reactivated (it still doesn’t work right now 3 days later), that takes 30 minutes, then hit a traffic jam before the market. Get to the bank, and they’re closed, but a guard takes me back to a guy who changes money, so I change just a little. He’s probably not giving me a straight price, but it’s still decent so I don’t fuss. Then get a great klaundo (motorcycle taxi) price to the Mission office, so I go have a nice chat with the SDA President, Wangkel Jacques. I was hoping to be back by sunset, but it doesn’t happen. He walks with me a quarter mile to get me another klaundo. After a short diversion to get food, that guy left, and I had 200m to walk back. Wanting to be prudent, I offer a decent price to a guy driving by, but he says it’s not worth it and drives away. Walk back, jump in the shower again (I forgot how much I sweat in Chad!), then crawl into bed. Sleep!
Wake up at 4:30 the next morning to catch the early bus. Get the awesome front seat! Then some guy comes, moves my stuff away, and takes it himself! Whatever, it’s not worth fighting for. So I spend the first 3-4 hours of our journey with a carry-on between my legs, not able to move my legs more than an inch in any direction. I try to sleep, but can’t, so I just watch the passing landscape. I see a new bird I’ve never seen here before: as red as a cardinal, but black-breasted. Every one I saw had wings that looked under-developed, and they seemed to barely keep themselves in the sky. I’m no birder, but I thought it was interesting nonetheless.
Finally, I figure out a better solution to my legspace problem, I ask some guy to put it beside the door. I can move again! I savor my newfound freedom to move my feet toward each other, backwards. My knees are still solidly against the seat in front of me, but that will never change here in Chad.
We stop for gas, and I pay the published 50 francs to use actual facilities rather than just going on the street, then when I leave a guy tells me I need to pay up. I point to the posted sign “50 francs”, and he starts fussing at me in another language so I just walk away. I somehow sleep a fair bit of the way to Kelo.
Finally, the road to Béré. We should be there in 45 minutes! An hour, tops. But the dirt road is full of puddles. As we drive through them, I enjoy watching the green goop on the surface of the puddles get pushed away by the tires’ ripples. 2 hours later, after the last of 8+ checkpoints, we pull in to Béré.
It’s so empty here, just Olen, me, and our locals. I’m staying at the hospital where there’s electricity, and, more importantly, Olen’s hired cook. The airplane got a good washing, and I just got the battery recharged. I hope to take her for a spin tomorrow.
Everything seems so normal, except that all the expats are gone. Everyone here is as confused as we are about why some say we have to leave. In my opinion, No coup will ever reach Béré, and terrorists would be committing suicide to come so far into the country with no way out. But the hospital is waiting on the General Conference to decide, and we’re waiting on the hospital.
This state of flux would be killing me if I hadn’t already given up. I don’t care anymore. If God wants us here, He’ll make it clear. If not, likewise. And it will be clear. To everyone. I know it because I pray it, and I know I serve a God who answers prayers. I miss my family, but it will only be a short while before we see each other again. Praise God I figured out internet so I can have more regular contact with them!
It’s all part of life in Chad. And we love it. There’s nowhere else we’d be so fulfilled in our work and lives as here, where it all is as raw and unrefined as you can get. It reminds us of our true home, without all the amazing technological marvels we take for granted, and prepares us for the joys of heaven. May that great, dreadful day of the Lord come soon!