Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Just In Case You Wanted to Visit

It was Monday, 6:31 AM, Yohanna Musa, recent graduate of Gideon Theological College knocks on the door and with as much patience as he can muster says, "Is Eli ready?"  I groggily peak out onto the porch and tell Yohanna that I meant 6:30 Sudanese time, not foreigner time (Sudanese time means 30 minutes after any mentioned time).  However, today, Yohanna was getting a ride back to see his family after two years of studying at the college so perhaps his impatience is forgivable. 
I was given the task to drive Yohanna and the Northern Sudanese students along with Bishop Raymond, the graduation speaker, to the airport and bus station which was forty five minutes away.  This is not a simple task in rainy season (ask Nate Kidder) but it has not rained in a month so the roads are dry and recently a grader has smoothed them so we were off and flying down the road at 7 AM. 
I should have known.  This was not going to go well.  I fly right past Bishop Raymond as he patiently waited outside our neighbor's guesthouse.  Yohanna politely informed me that I just covered our graduation speaker in dust and would now need to reverse and pick him up.  This humble pie is going to be eaten one piece at a time. 
The rest of the day seemed to go well.  I dropped Bishop Raymond at the airport, dropped the northern students at the bush station, purchased 11 tickets for people going away for Christmas (including our family) and was on the way home when Bishop Raymond called and informed me that he was not on the flight.  Hmmmm.  I made some calls.  "There are two flights today, he is on the second flight," came the reply. 
I travel back to Melut and get a call at 3PM.  No 2nd flight is coming: "Technical Difficulties".  Bishop Raymond needs to come back to Melut to spend the night.  He is catching a ride with some other people, so don't worry, you don't have to pick him up.  Not so bad.
The next 9 hours are a blur as our teammate's child takes a turn for the worse and needs immediate medical attention and evacuation in the morning.  That is for a different blog post (Praise God, as I am typing this the child is safely in Nairobi in a great hospital and his family is with him). 
Tuesday begins at 6 AM to deliver the family to the airport and Bishop Raymond has found a separate ride there, no worries.  The plane comes for the family, (Thank you Samaritan's Purse) and as I am coming out of the airport, there is Bishop Raymond!
"Bishop!  So glad to see you, how was the night?" I asked.
"The night was fine but they have cancelled my flight today," the bishop responds.  "The 'Technical difficulties' are now being labeled 'Administrative Difficulties'".  Now what I am about to tell you comes seventh hand but it turns out that the oil company decided not to renew the contract with the airline that flies their employees from Juba to our airport near Melut.  Did they have another airline in mind?  No.  Did they inform anybody about this?  No.  Did they continue to take bookings on these flights even though they did not have any airline to fly?  Yes. 
I looked around.  100 or so upset people surrounded the airport manager demanding to know what was going on.  All he could offer that was when a new contract was signed, those who missed yesterday's flight would get priority and then today's passengers would be next.
"When will they sign a new contract?" an astute passenger petitioned.
Silence from the airport manager.  Hmm.  Not a good reply. 
Oh, No! I remember the purchased tickets for our flights out to spend Christmas with Bethany's parents.  That's right, five tickets with a non-contracted airline.  Oh and yes, I purchased 2 tickets for our staff and 4 more tickets for the Boland family.  I thought it was a little too easy to buy all those tickets yesterday! 
In Kenya, the proper response about now was to look around for an old tire and some gasoline.  However, such mob justice has not found its way to our area and the people wandered back to their seats and waited.  Bishop Raymond and I sat for an hour, went and had breakfast for an hour and then came back to see if there were any developments.  None.  We had an inside man and he came out to tell us that we were better off just going home and checking in tomorrow.  We got the phone number of the airport manager and were just about to leave when Bishop Raymond prayed that God would sort this out some how.  I wondered what God could do at this late stage: Oh Me of little faith.
We turned to get in the vehicle when I noticed the fire engine.  The fire engine always starts up and goes out to the runway when there is a flight coming in.  "Bishop, let's wait a few minutes and see what happens," I say.
A couple minutes later, a massive Russian-made Antinov lands and it is followed by a second.  These are cargo planes but were commonly used to carry passengers during the war. 
We rush back into the airport and people are lining up, obviously thinking the same thing.  The airport manager comes out and solemnly tells everyone that these planes cannot carry any passengers and that we should all go home.  No one moves.  People are desperate. 
A man named Dick Otto once told me that I have two passports in Africa.  One was my paper passport and the other was my skin color.  For good or worse, he is right.  I was going to try and use the second one now.  Russian Antinovs are usually flown by retired Russian or Ukrainian pilots who are crazy enough to fly these planes that are banned in European and American airspace because these planes have not been properly maintained.  I had to choose my target carefully.  I found a crew member that was wearing a cross (remember, I am trying to get a flight for a bishop) and asked, "Captain?" pointing to him.
"No. Captain does paperverk," He responds and points up at the tower.
"I have a friend. He is a bishop in the church.  Can he fly with you?" I ask.
"You Military?"  He asks.
"No.  I am a teacher.  I will stay here.  The bishop will fly to Juba," I respond.
"You have I.D.?" 
I show him my GTC identification card and then he says, "I talk to captain". 

My heart is pounding.  This might work!  I run back inside to tell Bishop Raymond the good news.  However, we have to be careful how many other people find out about this.  We go and wait outside under a tree near the Antinov and a couple other curious passengers follow us out (Bishop Raymond brought his bag).  Nuts!  Airport security spots us and comes over to find out what we are doing.  I try to explain to them that the Bishop might be able to get a seat on the flight...They cut me off.  There is no way.  The airport will not allow people to fly with them.  Go back inside and sit down with everyone else.  Dejected we turn and walk back inside.  Bishop Raymond seems surprisingly buoyant.  Oh Me of little faith. 

The first Ukrainian/Russian man I met returns with another man who is the captain.  The captain asks, "Vare you go?" 
"I am not going.  The Bishop is going to Juba.  Can you take him?" I point to Bishop Raymond.
"Bishop is black," came the response. "Vee only take white people." 
Shocked, I turn to Bishop Raymond.  He is calmly taking in the fact that he cannot fly because he is a Southern Sudanese but I can fly because I have "the second passport".  The captain explains that the company has a policy that they cannot take on nationals as passengers for insurance reasons but somehow Europeans (I didn't argue when he called me a European) don't worry the insurance company. 
I explain to him that we work together and that there won't be any problems but he was quite insistent.  All he would do would be to call his office in Juba.  I sat down dejected a second time.  Bishop Raymond...well, we don't have to go over that again.  He was fine.  He then told me an incredible story about waiting in the Khartoum airport for an entire month trying to get a ride on one of these planes down to Juba during the war time.  Me and my FWPs. 
An hour later, the Antinov is all unloaded (they had a brand new Toyota Land Cruiser in there) and suddenly this man comes up to us.  He is wearing a yellow reflector vest like some of the airport security staff and he points to Bishop Raymond's large wooden cross on his chest, "Bishop?" 
Raymond nods.  "Come with me," yellow vest says. 
I decided not to follow because I drew the wrong attention from airport security before.  Raymond disappears out the doors and towards the plane.  A couple minutes later, I get a whispered phone call from Bishop Raymond, "I am inside."  He hung up.  What! I couldn't believe it!  Amazing.  What happens next, I will have to ask Jesus when I get to heaven because it doesn't make sense to me.  A couple minutes later the captain comes in to the airport and pulls me aside.
"So sorry friend.  Juba says we no take Bishop.  You ok but Bishop no."
Thoughts are racing through my head.  I decide to chance it.  "I think the bishop is in the plane.  A man came and took him."
"No," replied the captain, "I just come from plane. I know Bishop face.  He not inside." 
I think I was catching on to Bishop Raymond's faith because I didn't feel very dejected when the captain said all this.  Was Raymond inside or not?  I didn't have a clue but somehow this was going to work out.  I thanked the captain for trying and exited the airport.  I didn't want the captain or the airport security to be able to find me if they found out that Raymond was on board. 
I walked to the truck and sat inside, watching the plane taxi and then take off, watching it all from the rear view mirrors.  Ok, time to check.  I got back out of the truck and then strolled through the airport, looking to see if Bishop Raymond had been found and kicked off.  Nope.  Didn't see him.  I looked outside where some other passengers were attempting to get on the other Antinov.  He wasn't there.  I tried his cell phone.  Didn't go through.  Hmmm.
I drive back to Melut and as I am sitting on my porch, drinking a cold "yucky water" (that is what the kids call it when I put Oral Rehydration Salts into water) and then my phone rings.  Bishop Raymond was in Juba safely and on the ground...no problems!  They didn't ask for a single bit of money from him...well, they didn't see him at all! 

Anyone care for a visit?

2 comments:

Sandy said...

Oh my word! What an incredible story!

Helen Daniel said...

Wow! What a story... reminds me of times in Ed Daein (is it coming, is it not? Am I on the list, am I not?)
I hope you can all get on a plane when it is time to leave for Uganda.