Monday, June 30, 2008

Kinshasa-Leaving

The wedding nail polish and bug bite scars are almost gone, but I’m not finished yet! My Congo adventures didn’t end with the wedding. My relatives were leaving the next day, but I had a flight out a few days later.

When we were reserving the tickets, I wanted to fly AirFrance because there would just be one stop, in Paris. Flying with another airline would mean having a long layover, possibly overnight, or simply changing planes 3-4 times. I decided that I would rather spend a few extra nights in Kinshasa than spend the night somewhere in Europe by myself.

Now that the wedding was over, however, and my parents were leaving, and my tonsils were becoming more inflamed with every hour, I wasn’t so eager to be stuck in Africa. However, maybe I would have been too sick to fly that first day and it was actually a blessing in disguise.

After my parents had been picked up for their evening flight and I had had dinner with my uncle (leaving the next morning), I tried to boil some water to gargle with. Unfortunately, the tea kettle was the wrong voltage, and I melted the power strip. This meant that I wouldn’t be able to plug in the laptop that my brother had left for me, so I only had 4-5 hours of battery life to work with.

I got on the Internet and reconnected with some people, so that made me feel better. Then my brother called to say that Hortense had to go to her university the next day, so he was free to hang out.

After spending a few hours on the Internet catching up with things, I took a hot bath in the luxurious tub (I had been switched to another hotel closer to downtown), and then got in bed. I made the pleasant discovery that the air conditioner had a remote control, so I would be able to adjust the temperature without getting up. However, I couldn’t figure out if I was hot or cold. I think that I probably had a fever at this point. I turned the air conditioner off. No, I was hot. Turned it on. No, I was cold. Back and forth, all night.

In the morning, after my uncle left, I checked out of the hotel and was picked up to go hang out at my brother’s office. They showed me a desk where I could use the Internet. After a few hours, my brother came to pick me up and we got milkshakes before he took me to the home of some missionaries, where I would spend my last night.

The missionaries lived on a school compound. There were kids who lived in the dormitory and also other neighbors constantly dropping by. I finally got to boil some water to gargle with. I slept a little better that night.

In the morning, I got ready to go to the airport for early check-in. Before I left, my hostess asked if I needed anything. “I think I need to see a doctor,” I said. She got on the phone with a doctor and described my symptoms, and he prescribed an antibiotic. They recommended starting the course immediately, even without an examination, because it could get worse on the plane and the antibiotics would mean I wouldn’t be contagious. Normally I wouldn’t take antibiotics “just in case,” but I just wanted to get back to Russia alive.

My airport man came to pick me up, and it was the same Seraphin with the gold glasses. I wondered what check-in involved that I needed a guard. Seraphin had also been told that I needed to stop at the drugstore for antibiotics. Check-in was interesting. In the first few steps everything was hand-written, which made me nervous. Seraphin had told me he would wait outside because he wasn’t allowed to go in. While I was waiting in line, his friend (who had also been in the car with us) walked by. Then Seraphin himself squeezed past and into the check-in area. I wondered if he was doing anything related to my case or if he was just staking out the area in general. Then he walked by me again, towards the exit. “It’s okay,” he said, flashing a smile. Why wouldn’t it be?

Everything seemed fine until I got up to the registration desk. They put a label on my bag, but didn’t give me a boarding pass. And they only spoke French. I was not leaving without a boarding pass! “Ou est le boarding-pass?” I asked several times. And they answered me in French. Finally I figured out that the printers weren’t working and I would have to get the boarding pass later that evening, at the airport. The check-in place is in a different location from the airport. So I had to say goodbye to my suitcase and just hope that everything would work out. When I got outside, I told Seraphin what had happened and he confirmed that I would get the boarding pass at the airport later.

After stopping at the drugstore to pick up antibiotics, Seraphin and his driver took me back to the missionaries’ house. I still had several hours until my flight, so I had lunch, took various medications, and konked out on the couch.

Eventually I got up and joined my hosts and some guests at the table, where people were snacking. Valerie Shepard and her youngest daughter were among the guests. It turned out that the Shepard's were on my flight that evening. They were finished with their assignment in Congo. My introduction to the Congo had been their farewell.

It felt surreal to be sitting across the table from Valerie Shepard. Just weeks earlier, I had been rereading "The Savage My Kinsman," which includes photos of Valerie as a little girl, with her missionary mother in the Ecuadorian jungle. And here she was in Africa, serving with her husband and three of her children, passing on the missions legacy.

Their car came earlier than mine, and they said teary goodbyes to everyone and left. Then the other missionaries remained around the table, thoughtfully reflecting on how the Shepard's had helped revive the International Church and been an example to others in the missions community.

Then it was my turn to leave. But for me it wasn't so teary. Of course something in the Congo had touched my heart, but it was time to go back to Russia.

I got into the car and there were not one, not two, but four Congolese men accompanying me. I had my own special army of "angels!" It made me wonder how complicated things were going to be in the airport if we needed so many people.

We let one guy out along the way to the airport, apparently he wasn't going with us. Seraphin and henchman #1 came into the airport with me, while the driver stayed with the car. First was some kind of check-in and getting boarding passes. Seraphin instructed me to give my passport to the first agent. Then I had to move down a line while my passport got passed along to the different agents. It made me a bit nervous not knowing who was actually holding my passport at a given moment.

Finally, I had my boarding passes, and henchman #1 filled out my departure card. Then we headed into the control area. There were lines going straight through to an inspector and other lines where you had to stop at a booth and answer questions. Seraphin put me in the express line. Then he wrote down his phone number for me to call him in case something happened, as he couldn't pass beyond a certain point. I took the number, not telling him that I had no phone with which to call him.

When I reached the inspector, he said "You have no stamp!" and told me to go back to the beginning and this time go through the slow line, getting the stamp from the guy in the booth. Suddenly Seraphin showed up and hurried me along, saying, "No, there are too many people!" And he took off back through the airport, with henchman #1 and me following. This twist suddenly made me wonder if I would make my flight. I decided not to look at the clock.


Seraphin led us outside and into the parking lot, and then we entered another passport control area. This one was VIP. Henchman #2 took my documents, said something to the officer, and then they told me to go and wait in the lounge. I didn't really want to leave my documents, but I had no choice. Right outside the lounge was the tarmac. Seraphin came into the lounge and said everything was "okay" and then disappeared again. My flight was leaving soon and I had neither passport nor boarding pass. Nor telephone.

Finally henchman #2 came out and handed me my passport and boarding pass, both of which had been stamped. I wondered how they had handled the negotiations. Then Seraphin came out one more time. He told me to be very attentive about the boarding calls (which are practically non-existent). The key was to listen for AirFrance and not Brussels. So I hurried over to the door as soon as I heard something related to AirFrance.

Before we got on the plane there was a security check out on the tarmac. They were checking bags and then frisking people with wands. The bags got placed on the ground behind the tables, and you couldn't retrieve them until you got frisked. But the frisking took longer than the bag-checking, so your bag lay abandoned on the ground until you got there.

I got on the plane and was reunited with the Shepard's, who were sitting across from me. The flight wasn't as empty as I had hoped.

My flight from Paris to St.Petersburg was late, and as soon as I got off the plane in St.Petersburg, my ride called to see where I was. I told him I had just gotten off the plane and still needed to go through passport control and collect my baggage. "How long will that take? 20 minutes?" he asked. "Umm, sure," I said, trying to sound optimistic and pushing thoughts of a 2-hr passport control-line out of my head. But as it turned out, a miracle happened and I was already outside in 30 minutes, baggage and all.

Then I headed out into the bright sunshine of a June evening in St.Petersburg.

The end.

1 comment:

Note: Comments aren't proofread, but I will delete them if they seem inappropriate.

You’re welcome to leave a link to your own blog here if it's relevant to this blog.

Please make sure that your comments are 1) relevant and 2) respectful (i.e. no cuss words, attacks on individuals).