Monday, June 22, 2009

Travel Misadventures and Miracles

Sunday I came the closest I have ever come to missing a flight. It was probably the most stressful day of my life. I took the 7 am bus to Lagos and that is where the trouble began. The bus was a half hour late to begin with and the roads were a muddy mess after two days of rain. Around Oro we were stuck in grid lock for two hours. We lost a side mirror (on a military vehicle no less) and I saw more than one car bump into another vehicle. The nine hour bus ride turned into a thirteen hour trip. One of the Sisters arranged for me to meet Emmanuel, the driver at the last bus stop. Unfortunately, the bus company recently added a new last stop. So Emmanuel called and asked where I was, turns out he was at the previous stop and it was almost a half hour before we met up. So it was 8:45 when we arrived at the airport and my flight was at 10:10. When Emmanuel and I arrived at the check-in counter we were told that it was closed. I stood there gaping at the woman, wondering what I was supposed to do. Luckily after a 2000 naira bribe (roughly 20 bucks) they agreed to check me in. The next problem arose when weighing my bags. When the woman informed me that the two bags combined were four kilos over weight, I was ready to start coughing up the dough so I didn't have to unpack my luggage. Emmanuel discreetly tugged my sleeve and after a few minutes of us just standing there, they took the bags away, gave me my boarding pass, and nothing more was said about the weight. So I made it over that first hurdle at the airport.

I now had an hour to get through immigration and security before the gate closed but the line barely seemed to move at all. My anxiety and nausea kept increasing as I watched the minutes tick past. It did not help that Emmanuel and Sr. Amarachi kept calling to check if I had made it through yet. With ten minutes left, I finally made it to the front of the line. The officer asked to see my passport, boarding pass, and immigration forms. The first two I had ready but it appears in their haste to check me in, I was not given the necessary immigration forms. The officer told me to go back to the check in counter and pick up a form. By this time I was ready to either cry or throw up. The woman took pity on me and assured me that the South African flight crew had just arrived themselves, I would not have to wait in line again, and I would still make my flight. So I ran back to the counter but not a soul was in site. When I finally tracked down an employee, he told me there were no more forms. By this point I felt certain that I was not getting on that plane. Luckily I spotted an employee for another airline and he helped me acquire the form. I jumped to the front of the line, received my exit stamp, and it seemed as if my luck was finally changing. However after going through the metal detectors, an security guard led me off to the side and told me to open my backpack. He then said as calmly as you please, "you pay me 100 US dollars now." Cops seem to be constantly asking people what they will give them, but this is the first time I had ever seen someone demand a certain amount. If it was 20 bucks I probably would have paid right up but 100 bucks is a lot of money for a poor volunteer. So I used the tactic I have seen the Sisters use several times: don't come out and say no, just stall. So I kept telling that man that I didn't understand. The jerk kept repeating "you pay me 100 dollars." It became a battle of wills and five precious minutes later, he finally gave up and told me to go.

After nearly giving myself an ulcer, I finally arrived at the gate at 10:15 to find that they hadn't even started boarding yet. The flight took off an hour and twenty minutes late but I was on it. So that is how twenty four hours after the start of my journey I find myself sitting in Johannesburg typing away. Yesterday was by far my worst day in Nigeria but just writing down all the wahalla has been very therapeutic and I feel much better. I prayed more yesterday than I have in a long time. The Good God must have been listening because it was a miracle I made it on that flight. And eight hours from now, God willing, I will be in Kenya.

Love from a different corner of Africa,

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