Day 14 – Fr. John’s Tanzania Mission Trip

Monday, Jan. 30


Once again I awoke before my alarm went off, this time at 5:00 a.m.  I made my coffee, said a few prayers, and did some more journaling.  When time came for me to start getting ready to leave, I checked for an Internet connection once again via Malaika’s Wi-Fi, hoping to be able to send out some more of my daily journals, which I hadn’t been able to do since we had left the Lenny Hotel in Geita on Thursday morning.  I was a bit disappointed but not surprised to find yet once again that I had no Internet connection, so I brushed my teeth, took my shower, dressed and did my final packing.


At 9:30 a.m. I was downstairs at the hotel’s front desk to check in.  Scott was the only other member of our group there at the time.  I checked out, and then the other members of our group showed up in short order.  We were quickly finished at the hotel and loaded into two taxis for the five-minute trip to Mwanza airport.  We got there too early and had to wait for twenty minutes to enter the terminal which we had to do immediately through security.  As we waited in the outdoor waiting area, I watched some nature programs on a TV monitor showing a crocodile digging into a nest of crocodile eggs and eating the baby crocodiles as they hatched.  (Nice, huh?  The circle of life?)  Fr. John went to an ATM there at the waiting area and tried to get some cash, but the machine was malfunctioning and ate his ATM card.  This was a problem for Fr. John, who needed to have his card back before we would leave Tanzania.  He started making come calls to his Tanzanian bank and was hoping someone could come and rescue his card.  When it was time for us to enter the terminal, Fr. John stayed outside waiting for word from his bank about what could be done about his card.


We had to go through the security screening at the entrance to the terminal, including removing my laptop and others’ iPads from our carry-on bags, emptying our pockets, taking off our belts and shoes, etc., and putting all our bags, including those to be checked, on the conveyor for the scanner.  My bags and I all got through the scanners without setting off any alarms, but I was still frisked front, sides and back after getting through the people scanner.  I put my laptop back in my carry-on bag and put back on my hiking boots, which were my main footwear throughout our trip, and tied the laces.  Then I had to take my large bag that was to be checked to the scale adjacent to the desk where we checked our bags.  I was told it was three kilograms too heavy, so I opened it and removed my hip pack, which I use for hiking 14ers and doing other day hikes, and which was packed with such items as binoculars, first-aid kit, outdoor toilet stuff, etc.  I had taken it with me to Africa thinking I would use it on the safari, but I hadn’t needed it on the safari and had never used it.  (The same was true with my wide-brimmed hat.)  I put the hip pack in my carry-on bag, and when they weighed my large bag again, it complied with the weight restriction.


Then I learned that we had to go through yet another security screening, which required me again to remove my shoes but not my laptop.  I put my shoes, my carry-on bag and my backpack on the conveyor to the scanner.  I got through the people screener without a problem, but the screener who inspected the x-rays of my bags had an issue with my carry-on bag.  So I had to take it myself to a table where another security person asked me to open it.  He then asked me to remove my hip pack and open it.  When I did, he seemed interested only in what was in my binoculars case.  I told him it was binoculars and removed them, and once I did, he was satisfied.  I speculated that maybe the screener thought that the two tubes of the binoculars looked like bottles of something.


The waiting area we entered after clearing both the security screenings was un-air-conditioned, and it was hot.  There was a large oscillating stand-up fan that could have competed with some of the gulf-coast hurricane winds I’ve experienced over the years.  So I had to avoid being too close in front of it.  I took a seat behind it, got out my laptop and resumed journaling.


I took a break to go to a vendor in the waiting area and buy a cold Coke.  (Those who know me know well are aware that my soft drink of choice is Fresca, but not surprisingly Tanzania doesn’t seem to have Fresca, although it has Coke, Diet Coke, Pepsi, and Sprite).  Fr. John had not come through security when the rest of us had, and when I didn’t see him in the small waiting area, I asked about him.  Jill told me that he was still outside hoping to get his ATM card back but had told Jill he would definitely make the flight.  We still had about an hour and a half before our flight was scheduled to depart at 12:10 p.m., so he had time yet.  As I continued journaling, I looked up a bit later and saw Fr. John come through security.  He told me that the bank had informed him that for security reasons it couldn’t open the ATM at the airport but would cancel his trapped card and issue him a new card in Dar es Salaam.


The time to board came and we boarded the bus to the plane and then the plane itself and had an uneventful flight to Dar.  At the Dar airport, interestingly, we had to have our bags scanned again as we came into the terminal.  (Fr. John later told us that all the redundant screening at the Tanzania airports was due in part to the government’s concern for drug smuggling.)  We had learned earlier that the two bags with fabric that turned up missing when we first arrived in Mwanza and Geita were now at the Dar airport, so after we got through the luggage scanner, Fr. John and Jill went to the baggage lost-and-found area.  They were able to get ahold of the bags, which for some reason had been mistakenly routed to Mt. Kilimanjaro and were still sporting luggage tags with the large three letter code “JRO” for the Mt. Kilimanjaro airport.  But when they tried to make arrangements to send the bags to Mwanza for Fr. Matthew to retrieve and take to the Geita Diocese, they ran into some red tape, because none of us had the claim checks for the two bags.  Both bags had name tags with Jay’s name on them, but that wasn’t good enough for the baggage claim personnel.  It took a good 45 minutes but eventually Fr. John persuaded the airport personnel to put the bags on a plane for Mwanza and alerted Fr. Matthew to be on the lookout for them.


Dar es Salaam sits right on the east coast of Africa, on the Indian Ocean, and as a coast city near the Equator, it’s very hot and humid.  It was 97 degrees and extremely humid in Dar when we arrived at about 2:00 p.m., and the Dar airport terminal buildings are not air-conditioned.  So as we waited for Fr. John and Jill to make the arrangements to ship the newly recovered bags of fabric to Mwanza, I was already sweating freely.  That just became worse when we went outside the terminal building.  Outside, Fr. John met our driver, Victor, who I presume works for the Dar diocese.  (I didn’t confirm that, and Fr. John didn’t tell us what Victor’s capacity is.)  Fr. John was of the opinion that the one vehicle that Victor was there with, which Fr. John said was a large vehicle, would accommodate us all and all our luggage.  I was skeptical, and I was proved to be right.  Victor’s minivan wouldn’t hold everything and everyone, and as we stood outside in the airport parking lot with no shade and waited for Victor to go recruit another car and driver, the sweat was pouring down every part of my body in many rivulets.  How much fun was that!  Oh well, it was just another part of the journey, and I tried to accept it stoically.  Eventually all our luggage and we were loaded up in two vehicles and made the 30-minute drive to the Archdiocese of Dar es Salaam’s Tanzania Episcopal Conference Center (“TEC”), which was located just off Nelson Mandela Road in an industrial area of Dar close to the ocean port, which was jam-packed with trucks of all sizes maneuvering into and out of facility driveways off Nelson Mandela Road in early rush-hour traffic that rivaled anything to be seen in any large U.S. city.


At one point in our drive to the TEC, as we neared it going east on Nelson Mandela Road toward the ocean and the port, Victor, to my amazement and startled concern, intentionally veered illegally over into the opposite side of the road, which was designated and marked for west-bound one-way traffic (primarily 18-wheelers and such) coming from the ocean and the port.  He did so in order to make a right-hand turn off Nelson Mandela Road onto the small road on which the TEC’s entrance gate was located.  If he hadn’t done so, he would have had to go quite a way east on Nelson Mandela Road past the TEC entrance road, which didn’t intersect with the east-bound side of Nelson Mandela Road, in order to make a U-turn and come back up the other side of Nelson Mandela Road legally.  Fortunately, no other vehicles came towards us before we could turn off Nelson Mandela Road.


The TEC is a rather old facility, and its overnight accommodations, which are called a hostel, are not in the best shape.  The building in which we all checked in for our room assignments had rooms on the first floor, three of which were assigned to Fr. John, Scott and Christine.  The rest of us, Jay and Jill, Eleanor and myself, were assigned and escorted to rooms on the second floor of another building.  We got to that building, which wasn’t air-conditioned, and in stifling heat and humidity carried all our luggage up the stairs and into a long hallway.  Jay and Jill had been assigned a room at the near end of the hallway, Eleanor had been assigned a room near the far end of the hallway, and I had been assigned the last room all the way at the far end of the hallway.  When our escort opened my room for me, he couldn’t get either the ceiling fan or the air-conditioner started.  This was more than I could bear, and I left my bags in the room, locked the door and went back to the building with the front desk.  I wanted to find Fr. John, but I didn’t see him.  I remembered what Scott’s room number was, so I went to his room and knocked on his door.  When he answered my knock and opened his door, a wave of cold air hit me, as his air-conditioner had already cooled his room down to a wonderful temperature.  I told him my air-conditioner didn’t work, and he said I could bunk with him, if necessary, as his room had three single beds in it.  I thanked him and then went to look for Fr. John, whom I fortuitously saw just then heading back to the lobby.  I told him what my issue was, and he went with me back to my assigned room in the other building.  He too was unable to get either my celling fan or my air-conditioner to work, so he took me back to the check-in desk, and, after some discussion with the clerk, arranged for me to have a room like Scott’s in the same building with Scott, Christine and him.  I went to that room turned on the a/c and ceiling fan and then went back to get by bags from the first room I had been assigned.


Once I was re-located to my new room, I went outside to an open air bar on the premises, where a wonderful breeze was blowing, and found Scott, who was already there enjoying a Kilimanjaro.  I took off my quick-dry shirt, leaving only my quick-dry tee-shirt on over my torso, and hung my shirt on the back of one of the chairs, hoping it, my tee-shirt, and my not-so-quick-dry torso would dry quickly by evaporation in the breeze.  I purchased a Kilimanjaro for myself, and as Scott and I sat there chatting and drinking our beers, Fr. John came and joined us.  We moved to the perimeter wall of the TEC where the bar was situated, looked out at the environs outside the wall, talked about many things, and by the time we decided to call it quits, I had drunk three Kilimanjaros, which was the most beers I’ve drunk at one time in probably 40 years or more, trying to wash away the memory of my suffering in the heat and humidity that afternoon.


I went back to my room, unpacked my bags, was disappointed to find no electric outlets that would accommodate any of my adapter plugs, and so couldn’t recharge my laptop’s battery, my iPhone battery or my portable iPhone battery charger.  I resigned myself to having no opportunity to work on or send out my daily journals, showered in the small bathroom with a good shower with hot water (although I used cold water by choice this time), dressed and at 7:00 p.m. joined the rest of the crew at the TEC’s restaurant.  We had more of the same types of food we’ve had throughout the trip, and by about 8:45 p.m. we all headed off to our rooms, after agreeing to meet at 6:00 a.m. at the TEC’s chapel for daily Mass.  By 9:15 p.m. I was in bed in my cotton pajamas, enjoying the cool temperature of my room and the air being blown on me by my ceiling fan.  I set my iPhone alarm for 5:00 a.m., said a quick prayer, and looked forward to a good night’s sleep for a change.


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