This will be my last installment in the saga of our journey to Africa. It was quite a trip, but after a nice time in Paris, we still had half the journey to go.
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.
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