the Congo crew before takeoff. Me, Stephanie, Joan, Anthony and Gary
The First Flight (San Francisco to Washington, DC)
Right now I’m sitting on a huge United Boeing 767. I’m sitting next to Stephanie and as she is reading over some history of the orphanage in the Congo while listening to an episode of The Office they’re showing on the in-flight TVs. I can’t help but think about how in a couple of flights from now we’ll both be smack dab right in the middle of Kinshasa (The capital of the Congo). Everything that we’ve grown used to and everything that makes us comfortable is about to be stripped away and replaced with about 40lbs of luggage a piece and a few carry-ons
To be honest, I feel great — especially considering the fact that I went to bed last night around midnight and had to wake up after sleeping under 4 hours later (I like to call it napping). Mentally I couldn’t feel more on point. Stephanie and I woke up at 3:45am, left our place around 4:45am and met Sharon (one of our mission leaders) at my office in Burlingame at 5:30am so that we could be at the airport at 5:45am. Everything went super smooth and we were all checked in for our flight and through security with still enough time to grab some tasty airport food court breakfast. As we said goodbye to our luggage and to Sharon we all prayed together and thanked God for giving us the chance to go on this mission trip and asked that us, along with our luggage makes it all the way across the world. That’s not too much to ask, right?
Physically my arm is still really sore from that last-minute Tetnus shot that I got at Walgreens a couple of nights ago and it’s also given me a little bit of a fever, but hopefully all of that will go away by the time we make it into the Congo. I need to be on top of my game and full of energy so that Stephanie and I can go hang out in Kinshasa the day after we arrive.
Speaking of arriving in Kinshasa, we’re currently flying from San Francisco to Washington D.C., which is about a four and a half hour flight. We’re all supposed to stay awake for this flight, which is why I’m trying to occupy my time with typing this. After we arrive in Washington, D.C. we’ll hop on another flight to Brussels, Belgium which will be a longer seven to eight hour flight. We’re supposed to sleep for the duration of that flight so that when we arrive in Brussels (where it will be morning) we’ll be rested up and ready to stay awake for a while. We’ll then take off from Brussels and will head to Kinshasa, which is our final destination. It will be around 11pm in Kinshasa, so at that point we’ll all crash at a hostel for the night and will wake up the next day for a full day in Kinshasa.
I’m super-excited for this day in the big city and I’m hoping that Stephanie and I will be able to venture out a little bit and soak up some of the local culture. From what I hear it’s pretty safe, but I’m sure it will still freak me out a little bit at first. It usually tales me a couple of days to adapt to a new place, but even before then I really enjoy the rush of being in such a different environment. I’m getting pumped just thinking about it right now.
Up until this point things have been smooth and fairly uneventful, but I’m not going to get used to it. I know that in the upcoming weeks Stephanie and I will be experiencing things that we can’t even imagine at this point, but until then I guess I’ll just sit here on my laptop and enjoy the comforts of the civilized world for just a few more hours. Now, where’s that flight attendant with my oranje juice?
The Third Flight (Brussels to Congo)
It’s now two flights and about 22 hours later and we’re all flying in a Brussels Airlines Airbus A 330. Thanks to Joan we’ve figured out that our entire travel time to Kinshasa is right around 30 hours and we’ve all been trying to sleep just the right amount so that we’re not completely jet-lagged once we get to Kinshasa. The last flight, which was from Washington D.C. to Brussels, Belgium, was the was supposed to provide us with a good nights sleep as we’d be arriving there in the morning. Thanks to their sleep masks and noise cancelling headphones Gary and Anthony were ready to catch as much shut-eye as possible during the 8 hour flight. I crashed out after watching The Social Network and Stephanie and Joan got some quality nap time in as well. The flight ended up leaving D.C. about two hours later than scheduled, which burned through a majority of the three and a half hour layover we were supposed to have in Brussels. There was something wrong with the gas gauges, which I’m guessing are pretty important? We unfortunately had to skip the big Belgium breakfast and head directly to our next flight, but we were just happy to make it there before it took off (there’s only one flight per day to Kinshasa).
Although we didn’t have much time in the Brussels airport I could still tell that the workers there were much nicer and easy going than the ones that I’m used to dealing with at home. The people who were working security all had great attitudes and seemed to be having fun while working a job that most don’t usually enjoy. The flight attendants on this flight are also really fun and we have had a great time talking to them so far. Also, the food that they gave us was ridiculously tasty for an airline meal and included chicken, mashed potatoes, veggies, a wedge of brie, a roll, a bar of chocolate (Stephanie stole mine) and some kind of desert pastry. It’s probably the first time that I’ve ever cleaned my plate during a flight.
In other interesting news I can’t find my wallet (don’t worry, I still have my passport), my contacts are getting really dry and this flight is full of really interesting people. Some of them can’t speak any English which makes common things like asking how someone’s doing much more difficult than usual. I should probably start getting used to it.
UPDATE: I just chatted with my co-worker Jason and he said I left my wallet in the office on the way out. Sweet!
Our next stop is Kinshasa, which is going to be more different and culturally overwhelming than anything I’ve ever experienced. I’m excited and nervous all at the same time and I’m feeling like I need to get myself prepared spiritually for the environment I’m jumping head first into. It’s getting close to game time and I want to be sure that I’m as ready as I can be.
Next stop, Kinshasa.
Arrival In Kinshasa
It’s a little after midnight Congo time and I’m sitting in one of the apartments at the Methodist/Presbyterian Hostel (MPH) which is located in Kinshasa. As far as hostels go this is really a nice place and it’s got good food, hot showers, air conditioning in the rooms, indoor plumbing and a halfway decent wi-fi connection (which we won’t have much of after today). After 34+ hours of travel it’s nice to be able to clean up and get one really good night’s sleep before waking up tomorrow and heading out into Kinshasa.
The rest of the flight from Brussels into Kinshasa was about as smooth as could be and all I kept wondering about was why the rest of the hundred or so people on the plane were heading to the Congo and what their story was. I’m sure they’re all interesting.
I met one guy named Charles who was Canadian, worked for the UN in Norway and was heading to Goma (which is on the East side of the Congo) to find and detain members of the Congolese police and army who commit sexual crimes. This pretty much blew my mind. The guy was sitting behind me playing Angry Birds on his iPad and for the next six months he’s going to be hunting out the men who are raping women, children and other men as a strategic way to instill fear into the people of the Eastern Congo. I can’t even come close to imaging what he sees and deals with on a day-to-day basis working for the UN here in the Congo. He also looked out for us as we made our way through customs and grabbed our luggage. I feel like I met him for a reason and that God was having him watch over us as we made our way through the madness of the airport. We needed all the help we could get.
Speaking of the Kinshasa airport, I have no idea how that thing works. We first walked down a set of stairs off the plane in muggy 75 degree weather and then took a quick bus ride to customs where we all made it through with no problems. I have no idea what the guy who looked over my customs info was saying, but I swear that at one point he asked me for an American dollar. I politely said no, said ‘Merci’ and grabbed my newly stamped passport from him and headed out with the rest of the group to get or luggage.
On the way to the luggage carousel we ran into Mr. Kuwale who was hired by Texa to be our driver. Texa is a local Congolese guy who traveled to California a few years ago to learn English at our church. He’s now involved in all kinds of stuff and is a great friend of ours. Mr. Kuwale helped us with making sure that no one took our luggage and with getting us everywhere we needed to go in and out of the airport. Once we walked out of the airport with our luggage there were dozens of Congolese guys who wanted to help with us out (for a small fee, if course). Texa and Mr. Kuwale did a great job with keeping them away from us for the most part and Texa even paid a few of the guys who were following us around to help pack our luggage into Mr. Kuwale’s white van. As Texa talked to them in French they did what he said and before you know it we were rolling nine people deep through Kinshasa.
Driving through Kinshasa on the way to our hostel was a trip. The roads are terrible, there’s no real separation of lanes and the buses we passed were literally overflowing with people. As Mr. Kuwale drove us around cars, people and potholes like a seasoned verteran Stepahanie and I checked out all of the Congolese people who were out and about in Kinshasa. It was dark out while we were driving and most people in Kinshasa don’t have electricity so we saw lots of people sitting around candles, car lights and any other sort of light source they could find. Most people seemed to be dressed nice, but I’m still not really sure what so many of them were doing out in the city at 10pm. They were all over the place.
I’m starting to get really tired at this point, but I wanted to make sure that I got all of this written out before I crashed for the night because I’m not sure when I’ll be able to get to an Internet connection again. So far this has already been an amazing trip and God has already showing himself in so many ways and we’re just getting started. Tomorrow we’re going to wake up, eat some breakfast and then head with Texa to the Kinshasa market. Even though it’s usually safe we were told that white people should never go without someone who’s Congolese, which is why Texa’s going with us. I can’t wait to check it out.
Keep on praying for us and I’ll be sure to write up an update again soon with some pictures once we get out and explore. If you have any questions for us along the way, feel free to ask them in the comments and I’ll answer them as soon as I can.