As an aside, some may wonder how I got to know Paris as well as I do. Including this unexpected layover, I have been in Paris four times for at least an overnight. The first was in 1975 when I got to stay in the city and see a few sights as a teenager just learning French. I was with a short-term team that passed through Paris both coming and going on our way to Marseilles, the second largest city in France on the Riviera. The last time I got to see Paris was when our son Daniel was little (one year old). That year (1990) Nancy and I did some touring around Europe on our way home from Niger. But the reason I know Paris so well is because of the second trip I took there in 1980. I was taking a course from Houghton College during the month of May that year (the same month Mt St Helens blew its top). It was the easiest A I ever got in college. Oh, we had to write a paper in French on some aspect of the city (I chose to write on the history of the metro and trolley systems) and keep a journal (in French). We also had to attend a conversation class at the Alliance Francaise, a French university, taught by a real French teacher. But the best part of the course was that we got to tour the city from one end to the other. We saw all the major tourist attractions and lots of the smaller ones that tourists often don't know about like the Catacombs, the church of the Madelaine, the Pompidou Center, the Monet museum, the opera house, and the Paris zoo. We also learned to use the city transport systems and get around town. I also learned a lot of French during that month. It gave me some great memories. I stayed on in France for most of the rest of that summer and spent some time with AWM both in the south of France (Grenoble, Marseilles, and St. Etinne) and in Algeria. I had many opportunities to practice French, and that's when I really learned it well.
On with the story of our trip:
9 a.m., Sunday, 13 August 2006 (Paris time)
I wake up and rouse my family so we can get down to the zero floor for the hotel breakfast. We fill up on croissants and cereal and return to our room to pack our carry-ons.
We meet the Sauers and Jeremy at the Gare du Nord and use our round-trip train tickets to get back to the Charles de Gaulle airport.
We join the queue (get in line) to check in for our flight to Casablanca, Morocco. It takes a long time to get all our baggage checked, even thought they have it all stored in the bowels of the airport. We are told that all our baggage might not get on, as it's a much smaller plane than our flight from New York, but if it doesn't, the worst case scenario has it coming on the Tuesday Air France flight from Pars directly to Niamey. Then we get our boarding passes for both flights (Paris-Casablanca and Casablanca-Niamey). Finally, we're ready to pass through security.
We pass throught a much shorter security line than we had had in New York and head to our gate. We don't have long to wait.
We board our plane. As we get on, the agent checks our baggage, and all but three pieces are already tagged as being on the flight.
Our flight takes off almost on time with almost no waiting on the runway. (We were scheduled for a 3:30 p.m. take off. In flight we are served a cold lunch that doesn't taste very good. There are no video screens on this flight and no movie.
4:25 p.m. (Casablanca time, 4 hours ahead of EDT)
We land in Casablanca slightly ahead of schedule after a flight of about 2 hours and 45 minutes. We go to the transit lounge and wait and wait and wait. We try to while away the hours by playing games (we had some card games with us), talking, eating, walking up and down the transit area, and visiting the duty-free shops. Casablanca has a nice airport except that there is no non-smoking area. The seats are comforatable, but many of them are taken, at least initially.
Our gate opens up and we move from the transit lounge to the boarding area. We wait some more.
We begin boarding, nearly six hours after arriving in Casablanca. A bus takes us from the gate to our plane parked out on the tarmac somewhere. As we approach the plane, I see our boxes being thrown (literally) in the cargo hold. I pray that all our computer equipment makes it without being broken. (We learn later that everything has come through the ordeal in.)tact
We take off about ten minutes late. Though this plane is older than the previous flight from Paris, I like it better. We are served a delicious hot meal and given a pillow, blanket and in-flight kit which includes socks, an eye patch, and earphones (none of which we had on the previous flight). The flight is more than half empty, and we get to sit in the emergency exit aisle where there is more leg room. What's more, the cabin has monitors which show the progress of the plan across the Sahara. I doze off for about three hours.
3:15 a.m., Monday, 14 August 2006 (Niamey time, 5 hours ahead of EDT)
We arive in Niamey about ten minuets early. We are dog tired. After walking down the ramp, we get in a bus, and it makes a U-turn, dropping us off at the entrance of the terminal (about 50 paces away). We could have walked there faster. We get throught immigration and health checks without incident and enter the baggage claim area. A porter helps us collect our baggage. After an hour, it appears certain that two of our bags are missing: one of the guitars and the suitcase with clothes and medicines for Nancy and I. I have to make a declaration of the missing baggage. Though the line is not long, it seems to take forever, and I can't stand any longer. I lie down on the ground in the missing bag claim area. I am the last one on the flight to declare my missing baggage. The Sauers are also missing a bag and so is Jeremy.
No one has come to meet us at the airport. Apparently there was some confusion about when we would come. Fortunately, someone is there to meet the EBM couple, the Totmans. He rouses some of our SIM people on his cell phone (everyone has cell phones now), and they arrive before we actually clear customs. No one opens our bags and everything clears customs without hassle. Thank you, Lord! We are the last people to leave the airport. We load all our baggage (our 25 pieces and Sauers' 17 pieces) into two vans and a pickup. My legs give out under me in the parking lot, and I collapse. I'm wiped out!
We finally get to bed after a long and tiring night. We have had two 36-hour periods in the past four days with little or no sleep. We are staying in an apartment above our field office. It is a gift from God. We sleep until about 11 a.m. and then hunger pangs wake us. Nancy and Suzanne go out to find something to eat and have to walk back in a heavy rain shower. They get soaked.
The kids take a taxi over to Sahel Academy across the Niger River from where we're staying. They stay all afternoon.
Wednesday, 16 August 2006
First day of school for Daniel and Suzanne. There is an assembly in the morning which Nancy and I attend. We meet some of the new staff and parents. There are some new faces amidst the old, and there are some who have come back after a long absence. This day marks the 20th anniversary of the beginning of Sahel Academy. It is also our 20th wedding anniversary. We go out to celebrate in the evening at a local eatery. The food and ambiance are both good. After dinner, we go out to the airport and check to see if our two missing bags have arrived. They have. We retrieve them and return to Niamey. Our saga has ended a week after it began. Whew! We made it. Now for the hard stuff.
One of our supporters wrote and reminded us of the phrase, "When life hands you lemons, make lemonade". That is exactly what we did on the this day when we were stuck somewhere we hand't planned to be.
9:30 a.m. Paris time (six hours ahead of EDT)
I wake up after a decent night's sleep. Fortunately, I didn't have a drug overdose or a drug interaction during the night after all the medications I had taken (see the previous blog). I thought of that just before going to sleep.
It is raining. When I walk down to the lobby (we are on the sixth floor, or if you live in Europe, it's called the fifth floor), I am told the forecast calls for occasional showers. Not the best day to see the city, but we'll make do with what we get. First, I go and find the Sauers and Jeremy at their hotel around the corner. We go out to find a place where we can exchange some dollars for euros without getting robbed. When I get back to my family, Nancy goes out to a local grocer to find some food.
The nine of us head for the Gare du Nord (train station). We buy an all-day pass (Mobilis) which allows us to ride any of the city transport systems for one whole day. We will use these passes a lot during the rest of the day, getting our money's worth out of them. We first head to the Ile de la Cite (the Isle of the City), the center and oldest part of Paris. Notre Dame is on the Ile de la Cite, but I tell my tourists that the best church in the city is la Sainte Chapelle (the Holy Chapel), a "tiny" Gothic cathedral built in the 1240's for the royalty of France. It is just around the corner from Notre Dame. When we come up out of the metro, it is raining, and we get soaked waiting in line to enter la Sainte Chapelle. The cathedral was built to house the supposed crown of thorns which Jesus wore, but today it is best known for its 13 spectacular stained glass windows (including the rose window), two-thirds of which are original. They cover 6,458 sq. ft. of wall space and tell the story of the entire Bible, including the Apocrypha. The dominant colors are reds and the blues, and the celing seems to disappear in light. No picture can adequately capture the heavenly vision, but here is a shot of one of the windows.
By now the rain has stopped, and we head out of la Sainte Chapelle and around the corner to Notre Dame. Since the line is long, we decide not to go into the cathedral, but instead walk around it and admire the architecture. We also see the Seine River, which bisects the city. Here I am with the back side of Notre Dame behind me.
We reboard the metro and head over to la Tour Eiffel (I don't think that needs any translation). We have to change trains once and take a different line. It is fun trying to find your way around Paris and push your way through the crowds! When we get to our station, we have to walk about four blocks along the Seine to get to the tower. Daniel, Suzanne, Luke Sauers, and Jeremy have the energy to climb the 700 steps to get to the second level (to get from there to the top, you have to take an expensive elevator, and we didn't have the money for that). The rest of us stay at the bottom and rest on the benches in the partly sunny weather. It is cool, but pleasant. We watch the tourists and policemen and pigeons walking around under the massive iron tower. The architect is the same man who designed the Statue of Liberty in New York.
We retrace our steps and board a train for the north side of Paris. We have to change trains again, but this time our first train comes to the end of the line. At the end of the line, you can get out on either side of the train, and the Sauers and Jeremy, riding in the car in front of us, get out on the wrong side of the train. We wait for the next train to come into the station, and they walk on and walk right back off onto the right (left) side to join us. Are you confused? So are we. We board another train and take it to one of the most visible and interesting sites of Paris: le basilique de Sacre Coeur (the Sacred Heart Basilica). The church stands on one of the few hills in Paris and is known by its distinct shape and color (white). It is really pretty in the setting sun, as you can see. We don't walk up the hill to the church as our feet are getting pretty tired (especially those who climbed the Eiffel Tower), and we're also hungry, so we do decide to eat our supper in the plaza at the base of the hill. We find that most delectable of French "fast foods": a croque monsieur (a sandwich with ham in between the slices of bread and French cheese roasted into the bread on the outside). Some of us also have crepes with nutella sauce. We watch the pigeons in the plaza and try our hand at feeding them. Suddenly, a wild cat jumps out the bushes on the plaza and clamps its jaws on one of the pigeons. The pigeon barely manages to escape, but at the cost of losing most of its back feathers. There is an explosion of feathers and the cat is covered with them. We all have a good laugh.
We head back to our hotels just a few metro stops away. We are tired but glad we got the chance to spend some time seeing the city. Jeremy goes out and sees more of the town during the later part of the evening. I wake up after an hour and a half of sleep, but this time I don't have a headache and get back to sleep fairly easily. I don't take as many medications as the night before. It rains heavily in the night.
I will post the last phase of our exciting saga tomorrow. Until then!
Our plane touches down on a runway at Charles de Gaulle airport outside of Paris. We cherish a slim hope that they might have held our connecting flight up for us (it was scheduled to leave at about 11:10 a.m. Paris time), but by the time they bus us from the airplane, which is parked way out in the bush, to the terminal, we read on the departure screen that boarding has closed for our flight. No reason to rush now. We're going to be here a while.
1 p.m., same day
We take the shuttle bus from terminal 2C to the terminal where we were scheduled to depart for Niamey. We have to stop at every other possible terminal, first 2A, then 2B, then 2D, then 2F, before finally arriving at 2E . We find the transfer desk and immediately recognize colleagues Dave and Anora Totman and their two small children, who are with EBM. Dave is the youth pastor at Sahel Academy, where Daniel and Suzanne attend school. They had also missed the flight to Niamey. We are not alone in our plight (or should I say flight?). We get in line and shortly afterwards SIM colleagues Ralph and Meridee Sauers with their two children come into the room accompanied by a short-termer going to Niger with the Assemblies of God. They had also missed the flight. So there are 13 of us in this together. What a relief that we don't have to face this by ourselves. It takes nearly three hours to get through the line. Meanwhile, everyone is tired. Here is Daniel expressing what we all felt at that moment.
Because there are only two flights a week from Paris to Niamey, and because we had so much baggage, it took almost two hours to get another booking for our destination. But we would have to spend two nights in Paris--at our own expense!! At first the airline wanted us to collect all our baggage for security reasons and take it with us to the hotel, but we simply refused to do that and tried to explain how impossible that would be. Finally they relented and agreed to keep the baggage for two nights. We asked if the baggage couldn't go on the next Tuesday flight to Niamey and we go on another flight. They said the baggage had to accompany us. So, after five hours of standing in line and waiting, we are finally booked on an Air France flight to Morroco on Sunday, 13 August, with a connecting flight to Niamey the same day.
Nine of us (excluding the Totmans) proceed through customs with just our carry-ons and proceed out into the main lobby, where we have to make our own hotel arrangements. We elect to go into town because it is cheaper. After some searching, we find two hotels near each other so we can be together. It will just mean a 30 minute train ride to get to the center of town.
We board our train and head into Paris. Suzanne has never made this trip before, but the other three of us have all visited the City of Lights at some time. We find our hotel and check in. It is called the Hotel Metropol. For those of you who know Paris, it is near the Gare du Nord. We leave our baggage and go out to find something to eat.
Due to the latenes of the hour, we decide to eat at a street-side cafe in typical French fashion. We are only a block from our hotel and across the street from the Gare du Nord. We order the menu, which includes a choice of an appetizer, a main course, a drink, and a dessert or cheese. I have tomatoes with a tasty vinaigrette, pepper steak with fries, a bottle of apple juice, and an apple tart. It is delicious and really hits the ravenous spot. Here is a photo of the street at the restaurant.
We head back to the hotel and get ready for bed. We are naturally exhausted. I fall asleep immediately, but after a two-hour power nap, I wake up and cannot fall back to sleep, so I take a Tylenol PM. I have a tension migraine and take some Ibuprofen. I can't breathe due to my allergies, so I take some Nasonex. I am in a panic and my heart is beating furiously, so I take some panic medication. The room is hot and I'm sweaty, so I crack open the window even though it is cold and blustery outside. I have to go to the bathroom. Finally at about 1:30 a.m., I fall back into a deep slumber and sleep the sleep of the dead until 10:00 the next morning.
That was day 2 of the saga. I'll post more tomorrow.
2 p.m., Wednesday, 09 August 2006
I call Air France to check on our baggage. We have 27 pieces that we want to take onto the plane, 19 of which will be going as excess baggage. Even though we pay $150 for each excess piece (maximum of 32 kg each), it is the cheapest way to get the things we need to the field. I have been calling for the previous three days to get the baggage approved for the flight. There is still no confirmation of the baggage going on the flight, and a check with the office in Paris reveals that the Paris office is closed for the night. Panic begins to set in. I call Jim Knowlton, a colleague with SIM, to ask him if there is another way to ship our bags. He says the container going to Niger is full and to ship air freight would almost certainly result in a 65% duty slapped on our goods on arrival. He tries to call the airline without success. I hand the packing list to Daniel to have him look over the contents and decide which pieces of baggage are priority and which could be left behind to ship another way, if necessary. We decide that there are 11 excess pieces that must go on the plane with us, leaving 8 that could come later. The boxes that must go have all the computer equipment and the most valuable stuff in them. I start estimating the value of the contents of each piece that could be left behind. The rest of the evening involves packing.
7:45 a.m., Thursday, 10 August 2006
I am roused from bed by a phone call from Pastor Terry. I had slept in due to the exhaustion from the night of packing, but I was awake. Terry asks me if I have heard the news. I say, "No." He informs me of the plot to blow up 20 planes in mid-air traveling from England to the US. He says the threat level has been upgraded and security at airports has been increased. We must take all liquids, gels, sprays, and medicines without our names on them out of our carry-ons and put them in our checked luggage. Frantic unpacking and repacking ensues.
8:15 a.m., same day
I call Air France. Our baggage still is not approved, but there seems to be some misunderstanding about how much baggage we have. The airline thinks we have 480 kg of excess per person!! Our total excess turns out to be only 550 kg. That's still a lot, but a long ways from what they think we have. Did every agent I call on the previous four days submit a new request for baggage? I call Jim Knowlton again and plead for help. He gets on the phone with Air France. I call Pastor Terry to inform him of our predicament.
Jim K. calls to say that our bags are approved to Paris but not to Niamey. He is still on the phone with Air France.
Jim calls with the word that our baggage is approved all the way to our destination. Thank you, Jim! However, the airline requests that we remove Daniel's BB gun from one of the bags and also take print cartridges out of both printers. More frantic unpacking and repacking. The BB gun is shipped to our headquarters in Charlotte for probable shipment on the container.
We sell our van. This had been a big item hanging over our heads.
The church van arrives to load up our baggage. It goes first to the MRF storeroom where we had been putting our bags after we had packed them. Then it comes to the house to load up the last pieces. Everything fits, and there is even a space between the ceiling and the boxes to see out the rear view mirror.
After final goodbyes and a prayer with those gathered, we leave for JFK airport in New York with Pastor Terry as our driver. We have had enough of goodbyes and are sad to leave all our friends old and new behind. We wish it would get easier, but it doesn't.
We stop at a Subway in Matamoras, PA to get some food to fortify us for the trip. It will be our only real meal for the next twelve hours. Jim K. calls us on Pastor's cell phone to tell us to hurry it up and get there as quickly as possible.
We cross the George Washington Bridge into New York City. Traffic gets much more crazy, and we are getting anxious to get there. We don't experience any major traffic congestion on our way into the airport.
We arrive at Terminal 1 at JFK airport. We quickly find the Air France desk, but getting all our baggage up to the counter is a big job, even though it's not very far. We hire four carts to lug it all, but it takes several trips and a lot of time and effort. It takes us over two hours to check in all our baggage and weigh it, but thankfully the agents at the desk can see the approval for the baggage on their computers and don't question the number of pieces or the weight.
We head for the security line to go past customs to our gate. Predictably, the line is long and slow, and Nancy and Daniel get in a longer line. They discover some things in Daniel's carry-on that he had forgotten to remove, and they confiscate them. We have to take a lot of things out of our carry-ons to show them to the security people. Thankfully, they let me keep my Nasonex spray.
Cleared through customs, we walk to our gate at the end of the concourse. We walk right onto the plane as boarding had started 10 minutes previously.
Our scheduled departure time comes and passes. We wait in our seats in the plane. Eventually the pilot comes on to inform us that there are 20 people supposed to be on the flight who are still trying to get through security. Later, after a count of the number of passengers, he informs us that one passenger did not get on but his baggage did. The hold must be opened and the baggage removed. We pass another 30 minutes waiting.
Still at the gate. By now the sky is becoming black, and it's not because the sun is setting. A tremendous storm is approaching from Manhattan Island, and the wind begins to pick up. We are not cleared to leave the gate. The storm hits with a bang and a shudder at about 8:30 p.m., and we are grounded. Around 9 p.m., the pilot informs us that the airport has been closed. We are hungry and ready to climb the walls of the enclosed cabin. Everyone is getting up to walk around and get something to drink.
We have now been on the plane five hours, but it has not moved one centimeter. However, the storm is blowing itself out, and the airport is reopened. Finally, at about 10:35, we pull back from the gate.
Lift off! We are served a nice meal on the plane, and then I actually doze off for about 3 and a half hours. I never sleep on planes, but I am so exhausted from the frantic pace and all the uncertainties that I do sleep this time. We are fairly certain we will miss our connecting flight from Paris to Niamey, as we are six hours late, and we only had a scheduled layover of 3 and a half hours.
That is just the first day of the journey, and there are still four more to go.
By God's grace the mountain has moved and been reduced to a small molehill. We're only five days away from departure, and the list is slowly getting smaller. Anyone who has made an international move knows what it is like to take care of so many details that it boggles the mind: closing down a bank account, getting needed prescription medications, selling your car, calling the airline about excess baggage (we'll have to pay $150 for each excess piece of luggage beyond our usual two pieces of checked luggage per person), getting visas (a stamp in your passport permitting you to enter another country), filing reports and papers, sending out address changes to those who write you and send you information, writing a last prayer letter, setting up a way to work your taxes while you are gone, cancelling insurance for your vehicles, buying last-minute items, writing in your blog, filling out college applications, and a host of myriad other details to attend to. That's in addition to the chaos of packing and the heart-wrenching good-byes which never get any easier. It's hard to sleep with so much on your mind and lots of details to remember. It's easy to misplace items, and then you pack things you realized later you could have used for a specific application during the last days.
It has been a tough home assignment for us. It's not just the changes we're going through, the changes in our mission, the reverse culture shock of living in the US (which is just now starting to wear off), the reality of having teenagers who have had more needs and more likes and dislikes to accomodate, or the financial matters that have preoccupied us. It's more like a combination of all these things plus personal matters and plans for the future.
Even though it has been tought in many ways, we've all grown, and I choose to remember the good things God has given and done. He has provided all of our needs at the right time. I want to sign off with a few pictures from this year, memories I want to cherish forever.
The first picture is from a hike we took in June 2006 just before I left on my trip to Chicago and before the flood which closed down this park. It was taken in Rickett's Glen State Park, a wonderful, backwoods place in PA that I have come to love. I first discovered it when I taught for three years at a school near Williamsport, PA before going to Niger. We hiked down a trail with over a dozen waterfalls, and here is one of them. At the end of the trail (about 4 miles) we had a picnic lunch together in the park picnic site. It was a fun day.
Another picture is of one of my favorite flowers. It's the state flower of both Connecticut and Pennsylvania. Anyone know what it is? It only comes out in the month of June. Note the bee pollinating the flower.
Finally, I want to publish a picture of my family at Easter. We had a great time with Aunt Jeanette and Uncle Carl (actually my wife's great aunt and uncle), both in their 90's. They are the youngest 90-somethings we have ever known and an absolute hoot to be around. We're going to miss them a lot. This picture includes Aunt Jeanette.
I'll publish some more of my favorite photos from home assignment next time around, probably after we get back to Africa, where it's hot and humid right now. We arrive in the midst of the rainy season, and five days after our arrival, school starts for our kids. Daniel will be a senior this year, and Suzanne will be in her sophomore year. Nancy and I will continue our work in Tera, and our kids will board at the school in Niamey, three hours away from Tera. The school they attend is Sahel Acedemy. Thanks for taking the time to read our blogs.