This is the day we leave for Africa. Phred came down last night from Camden, Michigan. We are getting up at O-dark-thirty to leave. This trip has been three years in the planning, with intensive efforts for the last year to raise the funds, recruit the team, plan the event.
I’m up at 1:00 a.m. We are out the door and heading for the Indianapolis airport by 2:05. Once there, we park my truck in the Economy lot and schlep several huge duffels filled with personal and program gear to the bus stop, then into the terminal. The others meet us there, all of us present and accounted for by 3:45 a.m.
We are five. I am the Rev. Arthur Collins (Art), formerly Conference Scouting Coordinator, formerly the President of the National Association of United Methodist Scouters, etc. This will be my fourth trip to Africa on Scouting missions for The UMC, but my first time to the Democratic Republic of the Congo; my previous trips were all to Tanzania. Accompanying me is an old friend since seminary days, the Rev. Fred Cain (Phred), my successor as Conference Scouting Coordinator, now semi-retired and living in Michigan; he made the original commitment to this trip during his tenure in office. We are met by Mrs. Nikki Gainey, a doctoral candidate at the University of Cincinnati; she is also one of my former Venturers, and accompanied me to Tanzania in 2006. And then there are Eagle Scouts Dave Elser and Mitch Prather of Troop 227, chartered to Castleton UMC, students at Indiana University and Ball State, respectively. We represent the Scouts and Scouters of the Indiana Annual Conference.
We have an early flight to Washington Dulles. As the plan lifts off at 5:45, I relax, letting cares go, praying for the team, praying for the mission. I leave all the concerns back home in Ellettsville in God’s hands and focus forward.
Our mission is to join up with the Scouts of the North Katanga Annual Conference for a Jamboree at Tenke, DRC. We will spend several days with them, camping and doing the kinds of activities one does at a major Scouting event. Each of us is prepared to teach skills, lead games, conduct leadership sessions with adult leaders, with clergy, with the Scouts. In Lubumbashi, we will meet up with the Revs. Bob Walters and Taylor Denyer (father and daughter), directors of Friendly Planet Missiology, who have been working with local leadership to set this Jamboree up.
Individuals and congregations and districts and other church bodies have donated the funds for our expenses, for the program items we bring (and will either use up or leave behind) and for the Congolese Scouts’ expenses. The five participants have also paid significant fees for our travel costs. The Congolese Scouts will be coming from all over the North Katanga and Tanganyika Annual Conferences, which are presided over by Bishop Ntambo Nkulu, who has been trying to get us to bring a team to Congo for as long as I’ve known him – which is going on twenty years now. This is a very big deal to him, and to all the Katangan United Methodists.
We have a layover at Dulles. We eat brunch at a bagel place. Finally, it’s time to board our Ethiopian Airlines jet for the direct flight to Addis Ababa. It’s going to be twelve and a half hours in an airplane seat. And that’s just for starters. From there, we fly another four hours to Lubumbashi. Then, we have to hop a bus for a four hour trip to the Tenke turn-off, then probably hike in seven kilometers to town. And why are we going so far? Because Tenke is the closest town in the North Katanga Annual Conference that we can get to. Everywhere else is even more remote. The DRC is the home of you-can’t-get-there-from-here. But we’re Scouts, and we’re prepared for anything.
Fred eating brunch at Dulles
On our way at last
Ethiopian Air check-in goes very smoothly. “The boys,” as Nikki refers to Mitch and Dave, are restless; they keep wandering off. I keep reminding myself that they’re all experienced travelers – both Mitch and Dave have been out of the country on mission teams and such before – but we haven’t really gelled as a team yet. There are lots of incalculables right now.
There’s a confused old man in the airport, returning to Ethiopia. Some of the other passengers get him some tea and some kind of fritter from a food stand. I pray for his peace of mind. Several Ethiopians are waiting for the plane home. At the counter and on board the plane, I am struck by the appearance of the Ethiopian staff. Ethiopians are a Cushitic people, unlike the Bantu peoples who occupy most of sub-Saharan Africa. Looking at them reminds me of an elementary school teacher I had long ago who talked about her travels in Ethiopia. I remember what she said about their distinctive identity and culture, but I also try not to indulge in potted ethnology from fifty years ago. Still, I’d like to visit Ethiopia for its own sake. Its Coptic and Jewish influences fascinate me.
Very impressed with Ethiopian Air. The jet is very comfy, the steward(esse)s very attentive. And the food is very good. Throughout our trip over and our trip back, we kept raving about the chow. This first dinner’s entrée was beef and veggies. There was a salad of, I think, cold fregola. Cheese, a roll, a sweet cake, really good coffee (which you’d expect from one of the world’s biggest coffee exporters).
I watch Gentlemen Prefer Blondes -- which I am surprised I have never actually seen before. Marilyn Monroe plays the smartest dumb blonde ever, and Jayne Russell shows she can do a whole lot more than fill a sweater. Between Valencia and Benghazi, I watch Grudge Match. It’s something to do. And still we fly on.
It’s about 6,200 miles from D.C. to Addis Ababa. All told, it’s probably close to 10,000 miles from Ellettsville to Tenke. Meanwhile, the little girl behind me has kicked my butt all the way to Africa. We deplane on the tarmac at the airport in the Ethiopian capital. Mountains ring the city. A shuttle bus takes us to the terminal, and we hasten to get in line to go through security (again). The shops look interesting; however, we made the mistake of getting in line too quickly. We can’t go back and browse. We’ll know better on the way home. The airport itself strikes us as chaotic and shabby.
Changing planes in Addis Ababa
First stop in Africa
Another plane ride. Not quite as long, but we’re already pretty beat up by the overnight flight. Dave, at nearly 6’10”, is too tall and must ask for extra legroom. Mitch complains of restless legs. I’m not small, but Phred is *ahem* extra wide, and I have his elbow in my kidney much of the way south to the Congo. The plane is otherwise comfortable, but it’s not the jumbo jet we just rode over on. Only Nikki doesn’t complain or inconvenience anybody. I take a nap, and when I wake up they’re feeding us again (yum).
We arrive at Lubumbashi and are met on the tarmac by Bishop Ntambo himself. We hand our passports over to a guard and we are whisked off to the VIP lounge to meet with the Bishop, Bob, and Taylor. Bishop Ntambo is also Senator Ntambo Nkulu, so he rates an armed guard, salutes from the airport guards, and the whole red carpet treatment for his guests. Bob and Taylor have never had the VIP treatment before, and they’re a little surprised at Ntambo’s willingness to invest himself personally in our welcome. But this is important to him, and welcoming friends is something Africans put a lot of stock in.
Our luggage and papers appear as if by magic and we are whisked off to Mama Odia’s Guest House, where all the missionaries touring through the country stay when they’re in Lubumbashi. We also meet and immediately fall in love with Tarzan (accent on second syllable), a good old dog in charge of hospitality who pretends to be fierce now and then with passers-by. Phred and I crash with Bob, Nikki with Taylor, Mitch and Dave in a third room. We are beat to a frappe. I left home at 2:00 a.m. on Saturday and landed in DRC at 12:30 local time Sunday afternoon (6:30 a.m. back home) -- over twenty-eight hours' travel, and we're not really "there" yet.
The Bishop says he’ll be back to take us to dinner. Ntambo loves Chinese, so we’ll be going to his favorite Chinese restaurant. He also tells us we’ve been invited to meet the Governor in the morning, so we’ve got to wear all our Scouting bling and be ready to hobnob with the power people.
Dave at Lubumbashi guest house
After more than 24 hours’ travel, a momentary rest
Host doggie at Mama Odia’s