«Africa Trip Journal 2012 June 21-23 Travel This year trip is going to be much bigger than last year in terms of the number of people going and ...»
Africa Trip Journal 2012
June 21-23 Travel
This year trip is going to be much bigger than last year in terms of the number of people going
and equipment to be transported. In addition to myself there are four medical students from
Ohio University; Corinne Salva, Michael Chambers, Andrew MacMillan and Chris Pluskota.
There is also Janine Steffan, a friend of my daughter Lizzy. There is also a second group from the
engineering department at Wright State University. This consists of three biomedical engineering students Eric Geise, Nathan Adams, Gina Hall and their professor Dr Nasser Kashou.
The engineering group and two of the med students Corrine and Michael left a week ago and went to Uganda first. They are installing a solar electrical system at St Luke hospital at Don Bosco Bombo. Corrine and Michael are also working with Sister Saleth Mary and the other Sisters of Charity at the hospital. They and the engineers will travel to Rwanda and join the rest of the group on Sunday the 24th.
For those leaving Ohio on June 21, we are all traveling by different routes to get to Belgium, but should all be on the same final plane from Europe to Africa. Janine and I leave on the same plane from Dayton to Newark. There is a small moment of panic on the way to the airport when my daughter Lizzy calls to inform me that “Janine is at the Airport and they won’t let her take one of the boxes.” Janine is carrying two 50 lb boxes of supplies. One is a miscellaneous collection of medical supplies. The other is a brand new X-ray machine. My mind immediately jumps to the worst case scenario: that security has pulled the X-ray machine. I remember all the problems I had getting an X-ray machine to the Congo in 2009. One of the main goals of this trip is to install X-ray machines at St Vincent Hospital in Bukavu and the Project Congo Hospital in Goma. We have packed 100s of pounds of x-ray chemicals, film and lead aprons. If they won’t let the x ray machines through, the trip is off to a bad start. In a panic I call Janine and learn to my relief that the box that was pulled was actually a small box of gram stain reagents within the large box of miscellaneous supplies. I am overcome with relief. Maybe the four leaf clover I found this morning on the way to the car is working.
My check in to the airport goes much better. Nothing gets pulled from my stuff and they let me take 150 lbs of gear for free. I had planned on paying 150$ per extra bag, but they wave me off at the counter with a smile and no charge. United Airlines sometimes does that for Mission trips but usually you have to make arrangements in advance.
Janine and I travel to Newark and I revel in the fact that this will be my fastest trip ever to Africa. My itinerary states I have 22 hours of total travel time. My past trips have taken anywhere from 28 hours to 3 days. In Newark, Janine and I separate. She will fly directly from Newark to Belgium, while I, for reasons known only to a travel agent, will fly to Montreal, then on to Belgium. I have tight connections; less than an hour in Montreal and two hours in Belgium. The trip to Montreal goes fine and I make my connection with no problem. On the Canada Air flight to Belgium however, the trouble begins. First we are delayed on the runway for over an hour due to a medical emergency with one of the passengers. The passenger is eventually taken off the plane by paramedics but we are off to a late start. I put my hopes in the fact that east bound flights often get in early due to the prevailing winds and hope we can make up for lost time. No such luck, we land in Belgium with 45 minute to make my connection.
I am still hopeful because my flight leaves from the same terminal, so I should be able to hop off one plane on to the other. As we deplane, Canada Air officials call over the passengers with “less than hour for their connections.” We are then informed that Belgium does not allow international passengers who do not report for their flight an hour before departure to board the plane. That seems crazy, but the passengers who do try to rush to their connections, soon return and confirm they were not allowed to board. Not to worry say the Canada Air officials.
They have new travel itineraries for all of us and a coupon good for a free lunch for our troubles. That does not sound too bad, until I look at my new itinerary. I have a 6 hour wait in Belgium then I am flying seven hours out of my way to Qatar in the Arabian Peninsula. I am to spend the night there, then take a flight the next day to Kenya then on to Rwanda, arriving over 24 hours after I was supposed to. I question the Canada Air official about whether they will pay for my hotel stay and I am told all they can give me is the free lunch coupon, good only at the Brussels airport, and oh by the way I will need to purchase a head scarf in Qatar before I go to the hotel. This sucks! But first things first, I need to get word to Father Pascal in Africa that I will be 24 hours late and the other three students, whom he has never met, and who have no idea I did not get on the plane, will still be arriving on time and need to be picked up. They have no idea what he looks like and he has no idea what they look like. Luckily the airline lets me use their phone. I call Pascal. The airline is able to get word to Janine that I have missed my flight.
Now I have six hours on my hands before my flight to Qatar. Brussels is supposed to be beautiful city, so I lock up my back pack in a rental locker and head for the train station. I get off the train in the center of the old city. It is beautiful. The architecture of the older buildings is a mixture of Dutch and French styles. There are the typical tall narrow buildings with stair step roofs found along the canals of Amsterdam, along with very ornate building more typical of 1800 and 1900 century France. The streets in the center of town are narrow and lined with shops. I go book shopping and a glass domed 1900 century shopping arcade. I find some children’s books there for Dr Joseph’s and Dr Alfred’s children in the Congo. In no time at all it is time to head back to the airport.
Once at the airport I head the Qatar airlines desk to check in, only to find out that Canada Air has not completed the booking process for me and I am not listed on the flight. Other passenger from my Montreal flight find themselves in the same situation. We head back to the Air Canada desk, where initially they try to tell us there are no other flights. They do some looking and come up with complicated solutions that will take us even longer to get to our destinations. I am mad. I have three students currently on their way to Rwanda, none of whom speak French. When they get there I have no idea how they will link up with Father Pascal or what they will do for the next 24-48 hours in Africa without me. Other passengers are mad too.
The lady at the desk pecks franticly at her computer looking up flight combinations and grumbles about us to her co workers in Flemish (she has no idea I can understand what she is saying, since I understand some Dutch and Flemish seems to be basically Dutch with some French thrown in.) Eventually she comes up with a solution that should have been obvious from the start. There are still plenty of seats on the 6pm Qatar Airways flights to Qatar and there is a connecting flight to Uganda just an hour after we land. The connecting flight then goes on to Rwanda and Burundi. Boom, in one fell swoop, you have a solution for all the passengers that missed their connecting flights to Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi. What’s more I will now get to Rwanda at 7 AM instead of 7 pm. The only problem is that it is going to be tight connection in Qatar.
We board our plane and it a large new Airbus. It is more comfortable than the Boeings I came to Belgium on. The stewardesses are very attentive, and seem to spend the whole flight passing out drinks, blankets or things to eat. When we land in Qatar, it is the most efficient airport I have ever been to. It is spotlessly clean. We have to transfer to a terminal fairly far away, but they immediately load us on buses and give us color coded boarding passes for our next flight.
Once we arrive at our terminal we are escorted by attendants wearing colored vests that match our boarding passes. They take us through the fastest and most efficient security check point I have ever been to. They clear everyone from our plane in probably 15 minutes. From there they load us on our plane just in time for takeoff.
At 7am finally, I get to Rwanda and call Father Pascal. He had been expecting me at 7 pm but he lives right by the airport and comes right over and gets me. Things have actually gone well with the students. When they landed, they loaded their 300lbs of gear on a cart and then by their own description sat around “looking lost and confused” all the while pondering if they would be living in the airport for the next 24 hours till I arrived. Their lost looks attracted the attention of a Good Samaritan. A kind lady came up and asked if they needed help. She let them use her cell phone and the called Father Pascal. He had no trouble picking out three colleges aged white people with 300 lbs of baggage in the crowd at the Kigali airport. My worries were needless. Pascal takes me to the hostel were we are staying and everyone is reunited.
1.Arrival in Kigali 2. This is just my gear. Multiply by 10 and you have an idea what we are lugging around We have lunch at the seminary where Pascal teaches and then go to Musha to see the pig project we started last year. We also visit the church in Musha, where the bodies of three hundred victims of the genocide were left unburied for years as a gruesome reminder of genocide. Two year ago the government finally buried the bones in a mass grave and built a memorial in front of the church, but left the clothes of the victims still piled in the room where they died as a grim perpetual testament.
We spend the evening visiting Kigali. I have gone more than 48 hours without sleep and I am exhausted. I am glad when I finally get to bed.
June 24 Giterama Today the plan is to go to Giterama and meet Dr John Bosco and visits the hospital of Kabgiyi, where he works. Dr Bosco is both a priest and a doctor. I have never met him but Father Florent introduced us by Email and we have been in correspondence for the last few months. I had hoped to procure an EKG machine for the hospital, but was not able to do it before our departure from the US. I am interested to see if the hospital could serve as a future rotation site for Global Health students from Wright State and Ohio University. Rwanda offers the advantage of being English speaking as opposed to the Congo or Burundi. It is also much safer and has amenities such as paved roads, a functional electrical grid and internet. Food and lodging are cheap and transportation is readily available. It may not be as adventurous as going to the Congo, but as a place to send students it makes a lot more sense.
Plans are to leave at 9 am. The rest of the group is coming from Uganda by bus today and is supposed to arrive in Kigali around 3pm, so we want to be back by then. As usual however, everything happens on “African time. “ We are supposed to meet Jean Baptist in front of the church at 9am. I am skeptical this will actual happen, so at nine I tell the group the hang out by their rooms and finish their 4 star breakfast of bread and water. Of course Jean Baptiste is not there. Multiple trips back and forth to the church and finally at 10:30 I find Justine there.
Justine is Dr Joseph’s wife and she has come from the Congo to meet us. There is no sign of Jean Baptiste. Justine phones, JB who says he is still on the bus coming down from Rhengiri, but he will be there “any minute.” At 11 we phone him back to find out just how long “any minute” is. The reply is “soon, but maybe we should all head to the bus station, buy tickets for everyone and meet him when he gets off his bus so we don’t lose any more time.” With this new plan, we all head up to the main road to hail motorcycle taxis, to take us to the bus station.
I expressed doubts about being able to find five moto taxis on such short notice. Justine is unconcerned. We just stand at the curb and the sight of her opening her wallet, instantly drew a swarm of moto taxis, like vultures to fresh carrion. Unlike the Congo, the moto taxis rules in Kigali are strict. Everyone has to wear a helmet. Also the rule is only the driver and one passenger to each motorcycle. No doubling up like we did last year or squeezing five on one motorcycle like I saw once in Uganda. Dr Alfred in the Congo routinely takes the moto taxis with three of his children in tow, squeezed between him and the driver.
With the Rwanda safety rules I feel a little better about climbing aboard. We each get on behind our driver, don our helmet and take off. Well, actually not everyone, within the first hundred feet, Andy’s ( A.K.A.Mac) helmet flies off, then he falls off the back of the motorcycle.