2011 Travel to Southern Sudan

I’m in Nairobi. Arrived at Mayfield Guesthouse with Jef Foss, ASAH board member and architect. The trip started out a little rocky at the Fargo airport when I reached in my travel wallet money pouch and handed the agent my passport. She said this, “This isn’t a passport.” Incredulous, I examined it more closely. It was a small black paper Moleskin journal. It resembled my passport in size and heft, and my yellow fever vaccination certificate stuck out beyond the edges. I couldn’t believe it. I’d packed it weeks ago and just that morning, peeked in the wallet to ensure myself of its presence. When Norm asked, “Do you have your passport,” I lifted the wallet around my neck and said, “Got it right here!” I had peeked inside earlier and was rewarded with the frayed yellow edges I saw. Frayed because I’d traveled with it last fall.

As I searched through every nook and cranny, Norm helping, Jef remained as calm as the Delta agent who, as have others in the past, allowed us extra free checked bags for our humanitarian work (thanks Delta). Both Jef and the agent were “confident” I’d find it. Then, my memory flashed to the file I keep marked “Travel Africa.” I envisioned that faux passport with the yellow edges, saw myself selecting it and putting it in my packing pile without close examination. And searching my brain I found NO recollection of opening the safe in our storage room, the safe where we keep important infrequently-accessed things like passports. So Norm and I raced to the car as I gave thanks that we lived downtown only a short drive from the airport and that I’d told Jef to meet me at the airport a full 2 1/2 hours before flight time–never mind that he was on time and I was late.

What happens if you don’t find your passport? You don’t leave the country. The fact that I’m writing from Nairobi tells you I found the little book with the replacement yellow fever certificate Cass Public Health had given me last November when I couldn’t find mine. Hadn’t remembered I had a “Travel Africa” file from the 2007 trip.

We settled into Mayfield Guesthouse after closing hours. The security guard gave us our keys and suggested we whisper so as not to wake the other guests. Mayfield is owned Africa Inland Missions along with AIM Air, who will transport our cargo and pick us up in Bor, Sudan to take us to the village. They cater to missionaries and folks like us doing humanitarian work. The rooms are comfortable and clean, toilets and showers down the hall. Sink in the room. They serve 3 meals with the cost of the room, but you have to tell them if you’ll be there to eat. And meals are prompt. When the bell rings, you move to the dining room, take a seat for the family-style service, followed by prayer and comforting homemade food. At breakfast we sat with a family who have been working as missionaries in Kenya for 17 years, their daughter now visiting from college in London. At dinner, we sat with a young woman from Madison, Wisconsin who works as a consultant for the state government, smack dab in the midst of the fiscal brouhaha. She’s here for a wedding, so I’m not sure how she learned about Mayfield. There was a young English couple, but I didn’t talk with them much because I sat next to an 82-year-old man who was President of World Vision in the 80’s. He built the enormous Baptist church near Mayfield and all the buildings around it. And in April returns to the pulpit there for a period. He’s a Scot educated at Harvard. As sharp as the cliched tack.

But, before dinner, we had intentions of hopping a flight to Juba, the capital of Southern Sudan. In fact, we’d bought our tickets before we left the airport upon arrival. When we went to check in, they wouldn’t let Jef board because he didn’t have a Visa. Silly me. I thought it was like to old Southern Sudan where they were almost optional. On my last trip, AIM got me my visa, and originally we were going to fly in with them, but our plans had changed, and I figured we could get the visa on arrival, the way you do in Kenya. The agent rewrote out tickets for Monday and we left.

Before we returned to Mayfield, we stopped at the local hospital because Mumias, the driver I used on my last trip, was feeling ill. Don’t worry, he wasn’t driving. We all rode with his friend Patrick as the day before our arrival, Mumias was rear-ended so hard his car was pushed into the car in front of him. This is a disaster for a driver, and though insured, the cost to pay the adjuster to survey the damage would equal or exceed the cost to fix the car, which he figures will be about $300, a small fortune. This body work would be thousands in the US, but we visited the car shop and the work is pretty much four guys in white coats with wrenches, crowbars, and paintbrushes.

In the morning, we’ll go to Kenya National Bank to try to open an account–they have locations in Southern Sudan as well, but you’re advised to count your money yourself in front of the teller before exiting. And we will deposit the cost for the GOSS visa and get a receipt–the airport agent gave Jef a contact name there. Take the receipt to the GOSS office–these are all close to Mayfield–and then return to the airport to fly to Juba. So far we don’t have a hotel, but there’s a chance Joseph will meet us there, along with Kenneth, Jef’s Sudanese friend from Fargo, OR we’ll call Jeremy Groce’s colleague John who Jef sat next to all the way from Amsterdam to Nairobi. Jeremy is our board member who worked six years in Kenya and Sudan, starting Sudan Radio Services, the first station to broadcast into Southern Sudan after the war. They broadcast 10 different languages.

BTW, Mumias doesn’t have malaria, his first fear, or any other bad disease. The doc thinks it may be stress, but there’s no rest for the weary. Tomorrow, he has to see if our geodesic dome gets through customs, where it’s been held up. Pacific Domes is helping too. It has to get to AIM to travel with the rest of our cargo on the 24th.

I’ve found these things tend to work out, though not always the way you expect.

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