The Long Way to Africa

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12-13 February 2015

An early morning start to our looooong journey.
Check out those classy bags from the Salvation Army!











We took a delay out of Great Falls, which when you fly with Delta means you get lots of snacks and drinks to appease you so you don’t get cranky with the airline. The gate agent didn’t want us to starve in Africa so she loaded us up with beef jerky, Pop Tarts, Cheez-Its, bottles of water, granola bars, even a 2 lb bag of m&ms, which we agreed to save for the children. As we were checking in I asked the girls if everyone had their yellow fever cards which Sandy immediately remembered she forgot at home. Luckily her husband John was waiting there so he ran back to get it. Thankful for that delay! We tried to weasel our way into business class for the inconvenience and because we’re on a medical mission, but to no avail.

We’re on a mission. For free food.

Six hour layover in MSP where Sandy’s brother, a first officer, met and stayed with us while waiting for his own flight. We sat in my favorite area, in the food court next to the fireplace and I tried not to notice everyone eating Taco Bell around me. A Warcken always goes as many days as possible without spending money on food. A Warcken also never leaves an airport without all electronics fully charged but I insisted on keeping my watch on GF time so I could see for sure how long our journey would be and neglected to get to the gate and start my usual charging process on time. I was forced to board with only 30% of my laptop battery charged. I was just beside myself. Luckily the Delta A-330 from Minneapolis to Amsterdam had chargers at every seat so I was able to juice up during the flight.

Speaking of Delta’s flight to AMS… I have a rule never to fly economy over the ocean on a domestic airline. Trust me- it’s just not worth it. However, I was very impressed with Delta’s economy class to Europe. The seats were comfy, the leg room spacious, the meals delicious, and the entertainment entertaining. Granted, I haven’t flown a domestic airline over the ocean since 2012 so maybe all airlines are improving, but I know I wouldn’t hesitate to fly Delta again. I fell asleep during both ‘The Princess & the Frog’ and ‘Joe’, but I thoroughly enjoyed re-watching episodes of Walking Dead I had watched the day before, and my favorite episode of Game of Thrones (s4e9) that made me cry and cry like it always does.  God I miss Greg.

We got to AMS around 6:00a- Adessa’s birthday!- and didn’t leave until just after 10:00a. To celebrate, Adessa’s husband Gene treated us all to breakfast from across the pond. Bread! That’s where we ate- Bread! Thanks Gene! Thanks Bread! Our long layover allowed us time to freshen up, shop, and even visit the airport casino! Adessa tried her birthday luck at roulette but Friday the 13th lost her €5. I put $5 in Spin the Dreamcatcher/Bison/Warrior slot. Other countries sure love their Native American slot machines. Irony? Pretty sure they were Blackfeet warriors and pretty sure they took all my money.

Once we were checked into our gate a young man approached me and said “Hi, are you Jamie?” I instinctively told him to shut up, then asked how he knew that. He told me Dustin, one of Greg’s coworkers, said to tell me hi. In Amsterdam. Isn’t that fun? He’s off to mission in Kenya. When I asked if he’d ever been to Africa he said “I’ve never been further east than Glasgow.” That’s Glasgow, Montana, people- not Scotland. Isn’t that fun? Looking around the gate area I’d say our flight to Nairobi was about 90% white folk, and about 98% of them were on various missions. I saw t-shirts for water missions, religious missions, ear/nose/throat surgery missions. Apparently we missed the mission t-shirt memo.

Our KLM flight to Kenya was on a 747 which I was very excited about flying as I couldn’t remember the last time I had been on a 747 and it was my first time on KLM. Well between the two I’d take Delta again. That plane was not built for large folk. The seats were small, the leg room rather un-spacious, and the entertainment not great. But the plane itself was huge. In economy it goes three seats, aisle, four seats, aisle, three seats, and we were in row 61 if that tells you how big those planes are. Standing next to one is just amazing. We shared the middle four seats with a Kenyan man who, as it turned out, had been living in Tulsa for the last four years with his oncologist wife and babies. He told us he was going home to Nairobi to see his mother who he hadn’t seen in ten years, and that his father who lived in the States had 37 children by ten different women. I asked the obvious question “Has he figured out what causes all those babies?” He was a very nice man, quick to laugh. When he found out we were staying the night in the Nairobi airport he offered to give us taxi money and pay for all our Kenyan visas so we could get a hotel in the city and wouldn’t have to sleep on the floor. We thanked him for the offer, and assured him we were adventurous girls and that we’d be fine. As we were disembarking I asked him to eat some Taco Bueno for me when he got home. God I miss Taco Bueno.

I had read mixed reviews about sleeping at the Nairobi airport, but we were willing to give it a whirl. After landing we went all the way through the enormous customs line only to be turned away at the desk with instructions to go back the way we came in and take a shuttle to the Transit Gate, wherever that was. We asked about retrieving our six checked bags chock-full of surgery supplies and medication, but were told we’d have to obtain visas to walk the 50 ft to the luggage carousel to get them but that KLM would automatically transfer them for us once we checked into our next flight at the transit desk. Naturally suspicious but not wanting to argue or pay for visas we left customs and went back to find a man watching the door leading back onto the tarmac. When we told him what customs had told us he said “That’s weird” then left us to go speak to someone outside about it. He came back in and let us know a shuttle would be coming for us, but we could walk to the transit gate if we really wanted. We didn’t want. It was a long, dark shuttle ride across an active tarmac to get back to transit, and I’m afraid if we’d tried to walk it I may have ended up bashing my own head in with a bottle of nitroglycerin before we ever got there.

We got to the transit gate around 21:30 and the Kenya Airways gals working the desk assured us any unclaimed bags at baggage claim would be held aside until we checked in for our Ethiopian Airlines flight the next morning, at which time Kenya Airways would transfer the bags over for us. I asked the obvious question “What’s to stop someone from just taking our bags off the carousel?” Apparently in Nairobi you must present your baggage claim ticket in order to take your bag so it’s impossible to take a bag without the ticket holder’s knowledge. IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE: Don’t ever throw out your baggage claim ticket without first retrieving your luggage! The gals told us to come back around midnight to check in for our 5:35a flight to Addis Ababa so we went to settle in and let our husbands and Dr. Cattaneo know we’d made it, but we all agreed it was best not to let Cattaneo know we weren’t exactly sure where all our supplies were just yet.

We went to the end of the long departures hallway next to a huge charging station (:)!), plugged in all our phones, flipped some benches around to face each other and settled in for a short African nap. Don’t let fool you- the airport was nice and quiet and no one disturbed us or our belongings. There were tons of people sleeping on benches and on the floor behind the benches. And just sleeping in the airport in Africa is terribly exciting. I love watching the people, I love the tourism posters with lions and elephants, and I love to imagine somewhere out in the night hyenas are stealing a carcass from a leopard. Oh Africa! Land of adventure! God I miss Greg.


We got up around 1:00a to check in for our flight, but were told to try again at 2:30a when the Ethiopian counter opened. When it finally opened what a cluster it became. Sandy checked in fine, but they required the credit cards Adessa and I used to book our flights originally. Well you know I travel with a full arsenal just in case, but Adessa had left her card at home. IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE: Don’t travel without the card you booked your travel with. Adessa explained to the nice Kenya Airways lady she didn’t have that particular card, but she had another card they could use to verify the transaction. She just scooped up all our passports and luggage tickets and went to investigate. When she returned the real fun began. She again told Adessa she needed to see the card she booked her flight with, and she told me I had been booked on a flight to Lagos.

Kenya Airways Lady: You are booked into Lagos (pronounced like Legos).

Me: What’s that?

KAL: Your flight is booked into Lagos.

Me: I don’t even know where that is so I assure you I did not book a flight there.

KAL: It’s in Nigeria.

Me: Nigeria?! Look, I’m sure Nigeria is lovely this time of year, but I’m going to Ethiopia.

KAL: I think the two of you will need to come to the office with me. Bring your reservations and the credit cards you used to book your flights.

She gave Sandy her passport back but kept ours. We left our things with Sandy and asked her not to leave us and followed Maci (Kenya Airways Lady) downstairs to the Ethiopians Airlines office. On the way she asked what we were doing in Africa so we told her about the valve replacements and she asked if we could come to Kenya to do them as well. She told us she had a 25 yo friend who didn’t know she had a bad heart until she started gaining weight and they did a scan on her chest. She said the valve replacement went well but for some reason she died three days after surgery and she didn’t know why. 25 years old. Who knows what actually happened but it made me so sad that she asked us to come help Kenya. In the States we hand out new valves like hot cakes and in Africa children and young adults are crying for help. That’s it! I just want to do mission work from now on.

When we walked into the office there was an obviously distressed man trying to work out his own flight. I asked Maci if I really had to go to Nigeria and she pointed to the man and whispered “That’s where he’s from.” I said “Oh, he can just have my ticket then and I’ll go on to Ethiopia.” You know what I love about Africans? The same thing I love about Australians- they love to laugh. We finally got to sit down with the lady in charge and she assured me I didn’t have to go to Nigeria, but still insisted on seeing Adessa’s original credit card which was snuggled in her safe at home in Great Falls. I don’t know how many times they asked to see it and how many times Adessa had to tell them she didn’t have it. There was no way to get the card number from Gene because he was out of state without the card. She tried getting on the card’s website to see if the info would show up there but all it showed was the last five digits. We were at a standstill. Adessa again offered the card she did have with her and the lady finally took it, but assured Adessa that if any charges came back they would find her through her home address and charge her again. Okay then. We both got cleared to fly and Maci got us all three boarding passes, escorted us past customs, then ran to find our luggage and get it on the Ethiopian flight in time. Adessa and I just laughed. Traveling is the best.

To be continued! In Ethiopia.

3 thoughts on “The Long Way to Africa

  1. Everything about this trip…….challenging, adventuresome, thrifty, appreciated, intense, fly by the seat of your pants, and very purposeful…….perfect for you Jamie! Happy that you were able to make a difference at the end of a day!

  2. Not many people can go through all that and still say those last two sentences! Well done ladies, you have conquered the most important aspects of travel: patience and laughter!

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