We got to the Kigali airport yesterday and were greeted by a Ethiopian Airlines agent, informing us that our bag didn’t arrive. So we boarded our flight to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. When we arrived into Addid we were informed that our bag had been sent to Kigali. What?! This morning as we came back to the Addis airport to head on to Gambela (Ethiopia), it was confirmed that our luggage had arrived Kigali the morning we left. It apparently we were at Kigali airport at the same time. So Ethiopian baggage staff here in Addis wanted to send it to Gambella. NO!!! we said. Send it back to Addis and leave it here – we’ll pick it up when we come back through Addis in two weeks. The saga continues. Stay tuned…
Archive for November, 2009
Day seven without my luggage. Ethiopian Airlines still has no real clue as to why my luggage hasn’t made it to Kigali even though numerous Ethiopian Air staff have made requests over the last three days. No one is taking responsibility. We are leaving Rwanda today.
Off to buy some clothes…
Our first Thanksgiving together is in Rwanda. Wow, what a blessing.
To all our family and friends,
Cara and I are keeping a list of things we miss from back home and without a doubt on the top of the list is written, “Friends and family.”
We want to take this opportunity on Thanksgiving Day to tell you that we are profoundly thankful for you. Deep is our gratitude for the way in which you bless and enrich our lives. And while many miles separate us from you, you are very close to our hearts (sidenote: that cheesy Hallmark card sentence was for our moms).
The world is a small place. Thanks for joining us on this journey. We thank you for your love, support, and prayers.
With much love,
Casey and Cara
Safari [suh-fahr-ee]: A journey or expedition to explore.
We explored Uganda. Murchison Falls National Park to be exact. Here is a short photo safari for you.
It can be astounding how small that our circles can be. Only six weeks into our RTW and we have already stayed in 3 homes that have been opened up to us by strangers who have either never met us, or only met us once. Amazing really. I can’t remember the last time that I opened my home to a complete stranger where I fed them and showed them around my own city and country, often dropping my normal plans. I certainly hope that we will have this honor in the future, and I already have many schemes to make that happen (Lord willing) in the future; from housing foreign exchange students in our home, to hosting couch-surfers needing to stay a night or two in San Francisco. So I guess my point here, is that one of the many lessons that I have learned on this trip is that hospitality seems to run freely in this world. Not only that, is that the world is often much smaller than we thought.
- We stayed 3 nights in a home in Kampala with a couple of whom had never met us. Jim and Esther were friends of a friend that I went to grad school with (Sherri), who opened their home to us after they received an email from Sherri telling them that we would be in town for a few days. The best part of this connection, was that they shared their home with us during our worst bout of traveler’s diarrhea we have had as of yet. Let me tell you from experience how much of a treat it is to have a warm shower, a flush toilet and running water at your disposal when you are dealing with explosive diarrhea every 15 minutes (things we take advantage of at home, but make a serious difference in Africa). We were so thankful to have a real home to be in during a time in which we were both pretty ill…
- Just a few weeks before we left on our RTW, we happened to stumble upon a darling couple from Germany in the middle of Yosemite National Park during a camping trip. We liked them. And apparently they liked us too, because about 3 weeks later we were staying in their home in Munich, Germany. Mathias and Tanja.
- Thanks to my dear colleague and friend Beth Schulz, we were connected with Mark in Uganda. Mark once worked for my former employer some 10 years ago or so. Now Mark had never met us before, had probably received one email telling him a bit about us, and then we exchanged two measly emails before my husband and I showed up on his doorstep at 4 a.m. about a week ago. Talk about hospitality! He housed us and fed us for a few days, while we rested up from our traumatic Egypt experience, and then we did a bit of exploring the countryside on a safari on our own for some time, only to return to his home for a few more days at the end of our trip. Mark has a beautiful home overlooking Lake Victoria in suburbs of Kampala, an incredibly darling son named Giovanni, lovely Ugandan friends, and, he works in HIV/AIDS prevention and care (Which of course peaks my interest – For those of you who don’t know me as well, HIV/AIDS prevention work, particularly in Africa, is something I am passionate about. I hope to be more involved in this area in my future, though I’m not exactly sure what that might look like). So not only did our new friend Mark open up his home to us, but he also offered to take us to his local district to see some of the HIV prevention projects that he manages. What hospitality!
All thanks to connections that we’ve found around the world, I am reminded not only of how large our world is, but how small it can really be.
Attached are a few photos from our visit to the Kayunga District to see some of the MHRP PEPFAR programs, which includes a male circumcision HIV prevention project. Very cool!
When I was a kid I was a voracious reader of children’s mystery books about a young boy named Encyclopedia Brown. He was sort of a Sherlock Holmes and he would solve all kinds of mysteries that would confound adults. The storylines went something like this: something mysterious happened, it created anguish of some sort, no one could figure out what had happened, Encyclopedia rolled up on the scene, Encyclopedia faced stonewalling or some kind of hardship, utilizing the best of Enlightenment logical deduction Encyclopedia would crack the case, perpetrator was apprehended or mystery solved. All these stories started with something like, “Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the…” I have one for you Encyclopedia Brown. Let’s just call it, “Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Missing Baggage.”
Five days ago we arrived into Kigali, Rwanda from Entebbe/Kampala, Uganda. To some that sounds pretty exotic and far away but in reality that’s less than 200 miles and a non-stop, 45-minute flight. These are two of the smallest countries in Africa that border each other. You get the point: not very far.
So when Ethiopian Airlines lost my bag, I was incredulous. I mean, we checked our bags in together; they rode down the conveyor belt right next to each other. How did Cara’s bag make it and mine did not? It is baffling. So when we waited for my baggage until the baggage claim carrousel stopped, we immediately went to the lost baggage room and filed a claim. That in itself took about an hour and a half. That was five days ago.
Every day since my baggage “went missing” I have called the Ethiopian Airlines baggage people multiple times a day, the airport itself, and even went down and sat in the airport Ethiopian Airlines office until the baggage manager helped me out by calling Entebbe and sending some emails. The guy was actually trying to help me out, so I was thankful for that. Customer service is a steadily taking hold in Africa and depending on where you are, “service” sticks in varying degrees. Luckily, Rwanda is on the up and up in relation to other African countries.
So for the last five days I have been (figuratively) banging on the Ethiopian Airlines door, feeling very fortunate that we’re in Rwanda where our friends the Urquharts live. Even more fortunate for me, Greg is about my size and has generously offered me access to his wardrobe. Otherwise this would not have been pretty. I can’t imagine being stuck like this in Cairo or Addis Ababa.
But I found the key. Email. And email to the higher ups. Yesterday I went to the Ethiopian Airlines website and found the customer service email. Not only this but I found the Kigali Ethiopian Airlines email. And, as I can do when necessity calls, I sent a classic Casey “diplomatic” email to the airline’s headquarters and local Kigali office stating my situation and how I know they value customer service but that for some reason I was getting no real assistance from the airlines and was stranded without my clothes, toiletries and other important personal belongings. And that I was surprised that this was acceptable to Ethiopian Airlines considering the value they place on taking care of their customers (which I read off their website looking for any leverage I could find).
This touched off a maelstrom of emails between Entebbe, Kigali, Addis Ababa and the airlines headquarters. It even got to the point where Kigali was accusing Entebbe of mismanagement and potential theft, with one email stating, “this is not the first time a baggage carrying valuables has gone missing originating from Entebbe.” Not necessarily what I wanted to hear but I was thankful at least that someone was kicking up the heat. Until the emails started flying around there was an overall sense of complacency. This all changed when a senior officer for customer service got involved. So for me it was fun to watch people (finally) get moving. What was it to me that they were stumbling all over themselves because headquarters was now in the loop?
Encyclopedia Brown may have used different tactics but I got the results I was looking for. Amazingly my bag has been (tentatively, I say) found. Where has it been you may ask? Accra, Ghana. For those of us not up on African geography, that’s a long way from here. I’m in East Africa – Ghana is in West Africa. We’re talking about a distance something like London, England to Kiev, Ukraine. Far. How it got there I have no idea. And I don’t get a sense that Ethiopian Airlines does either. But I will say they responded to my plight after five days by giving me $75 as compensation so I can buy some clothes, to which the woman handing me the money said, “I think this may have been your fault, as you should have notified us sooner and not waited for five days.” Needless to say I looked at her long and hard and then lowered the boom. What I said to her was generally speaking, nice. But suffice to say she sounded pretty apologetic about the whole affair by the time I got up and left.
Come tomorrow afternoon I am supposed to be reunited with my luggage. Whether or not it actually is my luggage, and if it still has our camera in it, is the wildcard. Cara’s take is that someone in Entebbe took the camera and tossed the luggage into a bin marked for Accra to get it lost and hide the evidence. That’s a pretty dire read on the Entebbe baggage guys, but even Kigali thinks they’re shady so it’s probably not too far off. Others here in the house think it will return to me unmolested, while others (myself included) think it may not be my bag at all. The heat from headquarters can make some people say anything. So we’ll see. I’ll let you know sometime tomorrow when it’s supposed to show.
If it doesn’t, I’m calling Encyclopedia Brown.
On this trip I have learned (again) how simple it can be to use less than what I think I need – and certainly less than what I think I’m entitled to. How simple and easy, that is, when necessity requires it. My life in the States doesn’t require me to do frugality very well.
Simply put, I live in an environment of plenty. Most of us in the US have a tremendous amount of resources at our disposal without even thinking about how it got there or what goes into maintaining it. And for those things we don’t have immediate access to (things like fresh vegetables and the latest Esquire magazine) we can easily secure them via the internet or special order service. The infrastructure that has been developed to get me whatever consumer good I want in as timely a manner as possible is staggering. If I want something all I have to do is enter my credit card number on a web page and push a button. It will show up on my front door in two business days.
Not so when you are traveling around the world, and certainly not when you are traveling through the developing world. There’s nothing like having your only suitcase go missing to remind you how dependent you are on the little you actually have and one’s ability to go without. There may be some inconveniences but life goes on just fine – as long as your attitude keeps up.
But before the mystery of how Ethiopian Airlines lost my bag on a non-stop, 120 mile flight that took 45 minutes, I had begun to learn a frugality in the simplest things. Let me give some examples:
My “special” facial scrub (as Cara likes to call it). Sharps facial scrub, to be exact. This company called Sharps makes some really good men’s products and their facial scrub is the best I’ve ever used. After washing my face I feel clean, refreshed, sparkly. So needless to say it’s a key component of my daily regimen. And to boot you can’t just go down to Safeway and grab some more should you run out. You have to plan for this stuff. So knowing I have to make this scrub last as long as I can, I started using a lot less of it. Not that I wouldn’t use it everyday but I would squeeze less out of the tube. And you know what – it still works great and gives me the same clean face even though I’m using about a quarter of what I’m used to using when I’m home. I’m not in an environment of plenty and so I’m required to ensure what I have goes farther. My life hasn’t changed one bit when it comes to getting that clean, sparkly feeling.
Dental floss. I can’t say I was much of a flosser before but flossing everyday has been one of the personal hygiene disciplines I committed to while on this trip. I’m realizing I like it. Maybe it’s a feeling clean thing or knowing my teeth are a lot healthier because of it. Either way it’s something every dentist since I was eight years old has told (sometimes browbeaten) me to do. So if my dentist is reading this, you’ll be happy to know I’m on the straight and narrow. But what I am coming to pleasantly realize is that I don’t need two feet of floss to clean my teeth. Because I’m trying to conserve the floss I have (because I really like it) I use it sparingly – and voila!, 10 inches works just as well. Imagine, saving 14 inches a day of floss equates to a total of 140 feet of floss saved over the 120 days of our trip. That equates to another 168 days of flossing. Now that’s a lot of additional dental hygene.
Water. This is a biggie. Whether it’s water we drink or water we use to bathe, using just enough to get the job done is very doable I am learning on this trip. In San Francisco water is everywhere, and fresh, clean, parasite-free water comes out of the tap for a long (and as much) as you need. Conserving water when it is so “plenty” is hard to do. In the US I haven’t had to be very mindful of how much water I was using – there just hasn’t been a perceived need to. But this perspective is changing as well. When clean water is at a premium it’s intrinsic value skyrockets and you take stock in how much you use/consume. In my Summit Adventure/mountain guide days, I boasted that I could fully wash and rinse my body using less than a half a gallon of water. I can’t say I’m boasting like that anymore but I can use a lot less now than I did at home, and my quality of life hasn’t decreased at all. If anything it’s gone up knowing I am doing my part to conserve one of our world’s most precious resources – a resource hundreds of millions of people don’t have access to.
The point in all this, that I’m making most to myself, is that life is still great when I use just enough. In many ways it is an even better way to live than what I lived at home because it deeply resonates with my values and convictions. And I’ve found that it is so doable it’s embarrassing that I didn’t do it at home. Be it facial scrub, aluminum foil (which I’ve learned to reuse at least five times), or whatever it is I am consuming, I need less than what I think I do. The question for me when I get home is: can I live like I’m in an environment of scarcity (which is reality) in an environment of plenty (which is not reality). Or simply put: can I live realistically? I certainly hope so.
You should never speak too soon. I learned this lesson today. I’m not sure where the phrase or wives tale came from to “knock on wood” when you say something you’re thankful for, but the moment I return to an internet connection I will make sure to google it. As I type this blog entry now, I am sitting in the Kigali International Airport (Uganda) hoping that our plane will arrive and not be canceled for the second day in a row. Our friends, Kristen and Greg, are sitting at the Kigali Airport in Rwanda waiting for us to arrive. They have likely been sitting there for a few hours now. This morning I shared with my husband, “I have been surprised at how ‘on-time’ Africa has been so far.” I should have knocked on wood…
I spent about 6 months in East Africa as part of a college exchange program in 1995. I was in Kenya, just one country northeast of where I sit now. I learned some of the best (and challenging) lessons about life during this experience.
I learned a lot about me personally, and grew leaps and bounds in my faith. Mostly though, I fell in love with the developing world, and have always had a draw and yearning to be back in the place of beautiful dark faces and glorious white smiles in this part of the world. I am not sure why it is. I have asked and wondered many times. But my heart yearns to return here. And here we are. I am so incredibly thankful to be here again, and honored to experience it with Casey for his first visit here.
The first and most important lesson that I learned in East Africa back in ‘95, is that our idea of time in the American culture looks incredibly different from that of African time. In fact, the phrase that best describes just about anything that goes wrong here is, in fact, “Africa time.” Africa time means: expect it to happen…sometime. Or simply, nothing happens on time. In Latin America, this can also be described as a “manana attitude.” Everything will happen tomorrow. I don’t say this to be disrespectful of this culture, in fact, many of my African friends will use this phrase themselves! It is a given here. So upon my return to East Africa a mere week ago, I was fully expecting a lot of waiting around.
So by day 7, when much of everything has happened as planned and on-time in Uganda, I felt compelled to share that surprising piece of our Africa experience with Casey this morning. Fast forward about 4 hours and things had changed a bit… our taxi driver who was hired to take us to the airport showed up a half-hour late, then proceeded to run errands on the way to the airport in downtown Kampala (grabbing groceries and phone cards and whatnot along the way) delaying us further, and then was pulled over by the police for having broken brake lights for a good 20 minute affair of arguing. We were dropped at the airport a mere one hour before our international flight, which made me very nervous in Africa. But as he said, “it’s ONLY to Kigali” – a short 45 minute flight to Rwanda that most people take a 6 hour bus drive to instead of all the white folk who choose to fly it. So safely to the airport in time, we proceed through security and to the check-in counter where Ethiopian Airlines is unable to find out reservation. We have no tickets! We have to leave security area with all our bags and go upstairs to the airline office and try to sort it all out. After sorting (yes we did have tickets), they hand-write us a few boarding passes that have no seat tickets or flight number or anything written on it. Totally ghetto. Hilarious. We proceed back through security, check our bags (luggage tags also hand written – no bar code on these things) and get to the immigration booth where they barely glanced at our make-shift boarding passes and have us fill out ARRIVAL cards (the same ones we filled out when we arrived to Uganda). This never would’ve passed in some countries. Love it. We then walk up to look for our gate
with about 15 minutes to spare before our flight was scheduled to depart. Phew!
We notice a group of wazungu (white folk) who gathered in a group and are asking about our boarding gate. They seem a bit exasperated. We get their story. They were in this very exact situation yesterday at the same time, for this same flight – Flight 811 to Kigali on Ethiopian Airlines. A few minutes before their departure they were told that the airplane had technical difficulties and to wait a bit while they try to sort it out. This group waited 6 hours in the airport before they were told that the flight was canceled and that they had to come back the next day to take the same flight. Most of these individuals were never given their luggage back for the night because they were unable to locate them! Hmmmm.
As quickly as we learned their story, we were then told the exact same story for our plane by the airline personnel. Our plane had “technical difficulties” and would likely be arriving late. Casey and I looked at each other and said, “Well, where else do we want to go in the world”? We can go anywhere! We looked on the departure screen to see what flights were leaving Kampala during the day and there were a few flights to Kenya, one to the DR Congo, one to Mozambique and one to Dubai. All places that we want to visit! But we couldn’t get permission to leave the boarding area to look into a change of flight so we decided to sit it out a bit. We also have friends waiting in Kigali for us, of whom we can’t wait to see, so ideally we’d like to get there today.
The problem for me now, is the likelihood of experiencing what these other wazungu experienced yesterday is incredibly HIGH. Do I really want to sit in this airport for 6 hours and get my hopes up that our flight will show up? Do we want to spend another night in Kigali, and now without our luggage (since it is already checked in) and have to spend another $60 round trip in taxi fare to get us to and from our friend’s house to the airport? Not
only that, I forced us to spend every last Ugandan shilling today without any in reserve because we were leavi
ng the coun
try (No one excepts credit card in Africa – cash only. It costs us $5 every time we use an ATM, there are cash limits for withdraw every day [no more than $200 a day], and if we leave with Ugandan Shillings we lose tons of money trying to exchange it to the next currency). Even if we wanted to find an ATM and get more Ugandan shilling for our air
port visit, there are no ATMs on this side of the airport immigration. They do however, except US dollars but all of our US currency we had brought with us on this trip was stolen from our bags back in Turkey (about $300). So needless to say, we feel a bit stranded here in the airport.
This culture shift forced me to slow down. To be content with waiting. To go-with-the-flow. To have patience. Sadly, it has been 15 years since I learned this, and right now I don’t feel that entire content sitting in it. Part of the joys of the experience I take it. We shall see what transpires…
Update five days later: we made it to Rwanda! And for African time, it was only 4 hours late.
However, we then waited another 45 minutes for our baggage to arrive, only to have to accept the fact that Casey’s bag is missing! This is now our fifth day in Rwanda and they have been unable to locate Casey’s luggage. It has our big Canon camera in it, and of course all of his clothes. Today they think the bag is in Ethiopia. Who knows? Of course we have been taken care of though. We are staying with the Urquharts, and thankfully, Greg and Casey are
about the same size, so we have twins walking around everywhere.
Greg shared with us a new saying last night; “Americans have watches and no time, while Africans have all the time in the world and no watches.”
I have faith that Casey’s bag will make it soon. Knock on wood (of which I am literally doing this moment)! Call me superstitious, and I’m perfectly fine with it.
At 3a.m. this morning, we arrived in Uganda. East Africa. Walking off the plane I was welcomed with a familiar climate, familiar smells, sounds and words (in Kiswahili). I let out a sigh of thankfulness. This feels like the Africa I fell in love with almost 15 years ago.
Though Egypt is technically on the African continent, it felt more like the Middle East to me. But this… all I can say (insert smile), is that it is good to be back.
Americans tend to use their horns sparingly in my opinion. My experience is that our horns do not go off unless we feel like we’re in danger (we might get hit), someone has cut us off, or when we’re simply upset with another vehicle and occasionally engage in road-rage. Things we want to say with our horn: “WATCH OUT!” “HEY, I’m right here” or “You $!@#*%”. And quite honestly, I don’t hear a horn that often in my own country.
Now my husband has already experienced the horn-honking culture shock while he studied in Israel back in 1992. I have not – at least not until my visit here in Egypt, Cairo especially. It would be impossible to travel the length of a block in Cairo without honking your horn a minimum of 6 times. When an Egyptian honks their horn it can mean a wide variety of things. From letting someone know that you’re on their left, on their right, you want to turn, you are going to run them over, that you are tired, happy, you want to say hello, you are cool, or maybe, just because you want to. It is a clear form of communication while driving in Egypt. No need to signal with our blinker here, just use your horn. No need to wave hello to someone, just honk your horn. No need to sing aloud to a song on the radio that you like, just honk your horn to the beat! Some honk quickly, some honk longer. They mean different things of course. For instance, when we’re all sitting in traffic and not moving (most of the time), you may hear a honk that is long and loud. Usually that means someone is angry.
I decided to go for a run one morning during our “boat-el” visit. The only place to run was along the road. Aside from the multiple strange looks I received from virtually every person I passed (oh, and the police car who put it’s lights and siren on me twice), I endured so many honks along that road that I finally surrendered. I thought I was going to die.