We have cold pizza in the morning: Breakfast of Champions! This is our extra day in Lubumbashi, and we are going to do what Americans do the world over: go shopping. I am hoping to find an abacos that will fit me. That’s a short-sleeved suit that I notice men wearing. Kind of an African leisure suit. Alas, we look, but nothing in Africa fits me off-the-rack.
We are in an area with lots of building supply stores. And lots of shops with general merchandise stock generators. Up-country, the power is only on for a couple hours a day; here in the big city, electricity is theoretically available all the time, but the reality is more capricious. Generators are a hot item.
Dave, Mitch, and Phred buy some material to be made into shirts at the Methodist Centre. Nikki wants to buy lots of malachite and artwork for gifts. I have all the African bric-a-brac I could ever need, but I’d like to find a children’s book for my grandsons. Dave lusts for name brand knock-offs he can resell on Craig’s List.
Dave tries to pick up a local girl
She doesn’t seem terribly impressed
Note the store name
While we are out shopping, we are attacked by a gang of pickpockets. They expertly crowd us together and one gets in my face. I realize what’s happening and reach for my back pocket, just as I feel my wallet being lifted. I strike the pickpocket’s arm and reach out to grab him. He has let the wallet go and it lies at my feet on the pavement. The gang decamps quickly. That is too close a call. I move my wallet to my front pocket and am jumpy for a while thereafter.
We buy some more food to cook for supper and return to the Guest House. Innocent takes Dave and Mitch back to the Methodist Center to pick up the shirts. They are very, very late getting back, and I am worried. When they finally arrive after dark, they say that they were shaken down by a couple of security guards near the Governor’s residence and were almost taken to jail. It took a lot of fast talking on Innocent’s part to get them out of the situation. I fret that I should have been with them, but then, you can’t always avoid this sort of thing, even if you do everything right.
I wrestle with the propriety of including these negative experiences in this travelogue. They are not typical of our trip to the Congo, nor are they typical of the Congolese we met. But they are such misadventures as one could get into anywhere in the world, and one must be aware of the dangers and not act like the world is looking out for you. My feeling is that we have stayed on too long in the big city and stand out too much as a group. But it can’t be helped, what with our stay being extended involuntarily because of the airport repairs.
Bring on the snazz
Mitch, Dave, Fred model their new shirts
We meet Casey Stapp, the Pastor for Domestic and International Missions from Church of the Resurrection, who is also staying at the guest house. He’s been doing tech stuff in Kamina. We turn him on to waffle cookies spread with Nutella. And then we teach him Euchre and Up and Down the River. We talk about missions and church.
Casey has a student from AU staying at his home in Kansas. He’s doing an internship. A local visitor dropped by and was talking to Casey’s family and guest about how hard things were in Johnson County, KS – a prime example of what are called First World Problems. The normally shy AU intern replied, “Compared to most of the rest of the world, every day here [in the US] is Disneyland.” The visitor was flabbergasted.
Finally, we are heading for home. We are all packed up, waiting for Innocent to come with a taxi to take us to the airport. He is running late. It turns out the last shirts to be done were due this morning but were delayed being finished because the power went out (again). But we’re all ready, now, and in need of a fast trip to the airport.
Of that trip, all I can say is this. One of the more dubious privileges of being the team leader is that of riding shotgun in traffic. It’s not for the faint of heart. The concept of right-of-way – not to mention lanes -- has no real hold on the Congolese driver’s mind, except where the Robocop presides. We make it, though.
At the airport, all is confusion. Pushing. Noise. Shouting. We pay a fixer to walk our stuff and ourselves through the process. Innocent stays with us all the way to the gate (bless him). I couldn’t imagine doing this by myself. There are repeated bag checks, lots of pat-downs (no x-rays here, everything has to be checked by hand and eye). We were spared all this on the way in because the Bishop showed up and worked his magic for us. Now, we see what the airport is usually like. It’s harrowing. But we finally get on the plane and lift off. We’re on our way. There’s a brief stop in Ndola, Zambia, but we don’t have to deplane.
We return to Addis Ababa. We do some more shopping. This airport, that we thought just awful on our way out, now looks different to us. We think it’s really quite a nice airport. After Lubumbashi, we have a different standard to judge airports by. When it’s time to get to our gate, we do the airport zombie shuffle through the security check. I sing a line to Phred: “When we all get to heaven, I hope that we won’t have to stand in line!” This leads to a conversation about lines and eternal destiny. Maybe we will have to stand in line. Well, we’ll have eternity to do it in. But an eternity standing in line would be the definition of hell. Well, maybe that’s what purgatory is. That’ll preach.
We board our connecting flight about midnight and take off. I sleep a lot. We land in Rome about 4:00 a.m. for an hour, but don’t get off the plane. A new crew comes on board and then we lift off for America. We chase the sunrise all across the Atlantic.
We land at Dulles airport. Customs is absurdly easy. We have a delay over a couple of bags, but they all show up eventually. We have some time to kill. We get something to drink, take our meds. Eventually, we have a victory lunch of sorts at a burger place.
We’ve adopted a new catchphrase. Phred has been saying “verily” as a response to comments for some time. Everybody’s picking it up now.
We board the itty bitty jet for the flight to Indy. We land about 2:00. Families meet us. Luggage shows up on time. We are dismissed. Deanne has driven Phred’s car up for him to take home. She and I schlep our stuff to the truck and head back to Ellettsville. The trip is over and we have done well.
Home at last
Thanks to everyone who made our trip possible