Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Travels Abroad

It didn’t even take us to leave the state of Georgia before the adventure began. My travel companion, Lisa Bond and I walked up to the curbside check-in at the Atlanta International Airport. We proceeded with preexisting apprehension hoping our bags we were lugging across the concrete were within the airline’s requirements. Approaching the desk, I searched for the friendliest looking attendant, and I happened to lay eyes on a large African-American woman that had a smile the size of Texas. She grinned at me and said, “Checking your bags here sweetie?” I nodded while inside being glad she said sweetie and knowing that even then there is a chance we may not get beyond this point. Mrs. Bond was checking two bags, and I had one to check. However, our main obstacle was a huge box containing the desktop computer donated to the Sozo Uganda orphanage that I was claiming as one of my bags. An official serious looking man in uniform walked out, and as he measured the box’s dimensions he began saying, “nope, this one is too big...” I knew it. I already started thinking of plan B. There was no plan B. I prayed. As he worked on the box, the woman began weighing our bags. One, overweight, two, overweight, three, overweight. Even after weighing them ourselves at home, every bag we carried was overweight. Zero for four was not a good way to start the trip. The man put on his pilot style hat signifying his authority and started saying it would cost us at least $300 more just for the extra weight, and they didn’t know what to do with the oversize box they can’t check. We smiled and reaching for a piece of hope through empathy said, “This is all going to an orphanage in Uganda…” The pleasant woman smiled back requesting some sort of the same empathy and said, “you take care of your friendly workers, and we’ll take care of you.” Not knowing what that really meant, Mrs. Bond and I exchanged glances and immediately agreed while beginning to pull out tip money from our pockets. We each knew we had an understanding. They talked to each other acting as if they were hiding what they were doing from the other officials working the check-in counters inside. I could imagine there are some differences and tension between the inside and outside workers. “We can’t let them see,” she said, “or you be paying for this thing.” We slipped our new best friend the generous tip as our bags were taken off on a conveyer. She walked us up to the indoor check-in counter to get our boarding passes and last claim ticket. As we talked to the KLM official inside, a box on the conveyer belt behind him slyly crept by unnoticed that read “Fragile – Sozo Children International” Something about beating the system always makes the day more entertaining and left us feeling more accomplished than if they would have just checked it from the beginning. I shot up a quick prayer, “thanks God.”

We boarded the Delta 747 headed to Amsterdam and began to find our seats. I am not sure if people try to carry on every possession they own for fun or just to prove to the airline they can, but today everyone on our flight was trying to squeeze all they had in the overhead bins. They seemed to think the harder you push the better it will fit, as if the back of the bin would break through the side of the plane and allow more space. After breaking anything in the bags that would crush under pressure, people squeezed shut the doors on claustrophobic bags that were trying to burst out gasping for air. We still had to check our carry-on items because of course there was not room for our bags by the time we got to our seats. I sat down and finally began to rest and think about how excited I was to be on a flight headed to reunite with the family I left in Uganda. In only hours I would be there, and until then I thought I would rest without worries. I slowly reclined my chair not to disturb the passenger behind me just when that guy in front of me threw his seat back jolting the plane. He must have been in emergency nap mode, which I can sometimes relate. The flight attendant was dressed in navy blue with a red scarf around her neck and she looked similar to a sailor. She began walking down the aisle offering free newspapers. Quick side note of how I feel about things given away on airplanes: After paying for this flight… anything that they are giving away, I am taking. They say free, but we all know it isn’t free. TINSTASFL. They just want us to feel like we are getting something. I could have bought season tickets to this incredible Auburn season (War Eagle!) for the price I paid for this ticket across the globe. So yes, I will take this item you offer as "free." Anyways, something in me feels like the more I consume or use on the plane the less it actually costs. Or at least I am getting my monies worth, right? Newspaper, drinks, boxed food that taste like plastic, peanuts, wings that pin to my shirt?… Yes. Sure. Don’t mind if I do. Absolutely. And yes again. I will gladly accept it all. I might even use an extra few tissues drying off my hands in the bathroom. After kindly accepting the “free” Financial Times she handed me, I quickly realized Delta does not always live up to their standard of passenger’s comfort being their first priority. I cannot make this up… The front page headline on the newspaper she handed me read… “Bomb Fears Shift to Passenger Aircraft.” Not really the ideal story a terrorist bomb survivor wants to read on the passenger aircraft he just boarded.

I will admit unexpected adventures add excitement to missions, but I as I write aboard this plane headed to Uganda with threatening news articles in my face, I will also admit I am looking forward to the rubber of the tires returning to the asphalt on the runway.  I write this joking about the trials of traveling, but honestly, I am so thankful to be on this plane, even with the conditions. We made it on, luggage and all, and I can’t wait to see seventeen African children smiling, laughing, and playing. God is good. He is always faithful. We are exhausted.  

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