The most I’ve ever asked of Delta. There were three of us traveling out of Fargo – me, my daughter Vika, and our newest board member, Keiko Foss. We arrived at Hector Airport in Fargo with 19 bags and trunks and totes, some oversized, packed with supplies like underwear, washable sanitary pads, books, batteries, lanterns and flashlights, medications, t-shirts, as well as treats like licorice and nuts and, for our travelers protein bars to supplement the sometimes meager meals.
A month ago, the plan was for Keiko to travel with her husband, Jef, board member and ASAH architect. To the shock and sadness of all who knew and worked with him, Jef passed away unexpectedly on April 10 just five weeks before our travel date.
On this trip, he would have seen the fruits of his labor – our school now boarding 34 orphaned girls, sixteen of them in the new concrete block dorms he designed, and he would have witnessed the beginning construction of the kitchen and dining compound that will change the way ASAH cooks prepare and serve food for up to fifty people a day. It was not to be.
How do you think Jef would feel to know that his son, Rygo, chose to honor his father’s memory and to carry out his legacy by traveling in his father’s place. To help defray the costs to carry passengers, supplies, and building materials for our current building projects, Rygo set up a fundraiser on Crowdrise.com. If you want to help ASAH finish and furnish these new buildings, you can find the link to Jef’s memorial here: http://www.crowdrise.com/ASAHJohnEmersonFossMemorial/fundraiser/rygofoss
But I’m ahead of myself. We’re still overweight and overburdened in Fargo, and our gate agents are not sure how to manage the number. There was to be an additional traveler, one of our supporters, Michele Brandt, but an injury the morning of our travel prevented her from traveling. I had hoped to use the allowances for all of our travelers out of Fargo, plus Rygo flying from NY to meet us in Minneapolis, and our traveler from Denver, Jessica Wunderlich, a photographer ad filmmaker also scheduled to meet up with us in the cities.
There was another problem. Michele’s ticket was linked to Vika’s and when she called Delta to cancel her own ticket, the agent mistakenly canceled Vika’s and then was UNABLE to get a ticket for Vika from Nairobi to Amsterdam until 24 hours after the rest of us, which meant she would arrive in Nairobi just as our AIM Air flight was scheduled to fly to South Sudan.
Deep breath. Our amazing Fargo ticket agent – his last day of work for Delta – managed to get Vika a seat with the rest of us. AND – in spite of the tremendous number of bags, he checked them all in. I always check in early early early just in case. Since the plane we were to leave Fargo on was small, the agents sent most of the bags to Minneapolis on an earlier flight.
But he wasn’t able to print boarding passes for the Amsterdam/Nairobi leg. Try in Minneapolis, he suggested. No luck there. Minneapolis said we’d have to do it in Amsterdam. In Amsterdam, we were told we couldn’t get passes until check-in at the gate.
Nine hours to kill. This was the longest layover I’ve had, but the advantage of this schedule, besides the lower cost, was that our long flights fell at our normal night time which made sleeping on the plane slightly easier. Arriving at noon in Amsterdam, we took the train into the city and wandered around and had lunch at a cute little creperie where we watched the world go by from the counter along the front window. We didn’t have enough time to tour the Anne Frank house, to ride along the canal, or to view the red light district, a disappointment to Rygo, who thought he might arrange a longer layover on his return!
At the gate we learned the fully-booked scheduled plane had a problem. The replacement aircraft held 90 fewer passengers. Ninety people without seats. Not that it would make a difference, but I impressed upon the gate agent that we were doing humanitarian work in South Sudan as a team, and we had a charter the next day out of Nairobi. Initially, they managed boarding passes for Vika and for me, but none for Keiko, Rygo, or Jessica. Remaining outwardly calm and patient and polite is important even when panicking, which was the way I felt. I’m a mother hen, and I want all my chicks close by.
While we waited, another agent asked for the receipt showing I’dpaid for the excess bags. I told her I’d checked them through Delta as a humanitarian
group, but she said – you still have to pay. We’re not Delta, we’re Kenya Airways – you have to pay us. It’s a lot of money. She threatened to take the extra bags off the flight. But somehow, with all the confusion over people with no seats, she didn’t follow up and all our bags arrived. No charge. And then, as with all the obstacles we have encountered, the obstacle cleared. Rygo and Keiko and Jessica all scored boarding passes, and my frequent flyer status landed me a business class seat. If I were a better person, I would have offered it to Keiko, but alas, my body and brain endures this long distance travel two or three times a year with reluctance. It’s not the journey, nor the destination. It’s the people that keeps me traveling to this remote and harsh part of the world.
At Nairobi airport, George from Mayfield Guest House was waiting for us. He had to call for a second van because he hadn’t brought the one with the roof rack, and we were overloaded. Mayfield is a mecca for humanitarian groups and missionairies, a lovely home-like respite nestled amongst big shade trees surrounded by grass and flowers just off of a bustling street in Upper Hill Nairobi area near the huge Nairobi Baptist Church. The rooms are dormitory style, with sinks in the rooms and toilets and showers along the halls. There’s a little lobby, a hall with snacks and beverages for sale, a living room, a computer room, a television room, and a playroom for kids. Meals are served at family tables the dining room. Outside there are tables and chairs to relax, read, chat, and enjoy the trees and grass and flowers.
Jeti Leek Alier met us at Mayfield to give me receipts for purchases of electrical supplies for our building projects. We buy what we can in Nairobi as the quality in South Sudan is poor. Jeti is a Sudanese college student whose family came from Duk Payuel. He purchases supplies for us and for the John Dau Foundation Lost Boys Clinic in Duk Payuel.
That afternoon, Rygo and Vika wanted a little adventure, so they chose to take a matatu to downtown Nairobi with Jeti to look around and then watch a soccer game at a restaurant. The rest of us stayed behind for dinner with the Mayfield group, and by the time they returned, we were tucking the mosquito nets around our beds to sleep.