August 21, 2012

Breaking Down in Ndola


We arrived in Ndola – tiny, dirt roads in and around the airport, one, tiny building for the entire airport - around noon on Sunday. It was great to finally be on the ground and we didn’t have any problems making it through immigration.

Then we waited for our luggage. And waited. And watched other bags arrive. And finally realized not one of our eight bags had made it to Ndola with us.

Definitely a moment of panic, then I headed off  in search of a place to inquire about “lost” luggage in such a small airport. It was honestly like a bad B movie. The guy didn’t speak very good English. He asked lots of questions about the color, style and size of our bags. None of which we knew very well since we had simply packed any and all available suitcases for the trip. Finally he tells me they will contact me – even though my cell number doesn’t work in Zambia and I don’t have any one else’s number with me – and let me know when my bags arrive.

Knowing we don’t have toiletries, a change of clothes or even clean underwear . . . and we’ve been wearing the same clothes now for three days . . . I asked where I could get money to cover those expenses while we waited to hear about our bags. Now I do have to admit that it was a little awkward asking this man about money when just by looking around the airport, you can tell our family probably lives in great wealth compared to the people living and working in the airport. And yet, I paid thousands of dollars for our plane tickets and not arriving with any luggage was NOT part of the deal.

I was ushered to the Air Kenya office where a competent lady took the information and issued us $80 US per person.  Okay, so that might get us through a couple of days, but probably won’t buy an entire week’s worth of clothes and toiletries for four . . . not to mention the other 6 suitcases that were full of items for the missionary family we were meeting.

Determined to make the best of it, we went to get a drink and sit at the curb waiting for our ride. After a good amount of time, I was curious what time it was. Our plane was supposed to arrive at noon and we had come in a bit early, so I was thinking it might be just now around 12:30. When Joey asked we were shocked to realize that it was 1:30 p.m. Clearly taking care of the baggage issue had taken more time than I realized. Hmm, that was a bit odd. We had been planning for almost a year for this trip, we had been talking by email over the past week and the family we were meeting had already picked up a friend a couple of days before (because I had booked his flight on the wrong day, if you remember).

Well, this is Africa and things happen slow sometimes so probably nothing to worry about. Another 15 minutes went by, 30 minutes. The parking lot is virtually empty. There is hardly any traffic coming in or out of the area. Butterflies started stirring way down deep in my gut. What was wrong? Where were they? How could this have gotten mixed up?

At 2:30 p.m. I walked back into the small Air Kenya office and asked if I could get access to their wireless internet to check email and see if there was some sort of change of plan email I had missed. They didn’t know it but offered for me to try to check email on their computer. No emails from anyone. I did finally pull an email that had the phone number for Shane – the McB Daddy. The incredibly nice Air Kenya lady gladly called it multiple times to no avail. We sent a text message. No response.

Now I’m getting slightly frantic. We are stuck in a foreign country with two small boys, no luggage, no working phone numbers for the people we are meeting and apparently no ride. At 3 p.m. local time, I finally resorted to calling my best friend from home. No answer on her cell which is probably not all that surprising when you consider it is just now 7 a.m. in Texas.  But I’m not giving up, I don’t really feel like I have a choice so I try her husband’s cell. He answers and the connection isn’t great, haltingly we make our way through the conversation but I’m not sure he quite gets the direness of the situation. Our ride is THREE HOURS late. We can’t reach anyone. I don’t know what to do. I could take a taxi to their village, but if they’ve already headed this way or had to make some unusual detour it could just be a further delay when we both arrive in the other place and realize the other ones not there.

Again I check email. My mom has emailed me to tell me there is an offer on our house already. It has been on the market only about 24 hours. Now, I start crying. That’s great news, but I can’t be happy because I’m pretty sure I’m stuck in Zambia with no ride, no vacation, no luggage and no way to fix any of those problems.

My husband is not nearly as flustered as I am. He is confident it will all work out if not exactly on the timeframe or in the way we had originally intended.

We begin to call the few numbers we have on a rotating basis, hoping someone will answer or have a resolution. At one point a bus pulls into the almost empty parking lot, I barely glance up. We’re not waiting on a bus, we’re waiting for one large van or two smaller vans.

But wait, those people are waving us down.

Oh my! That is the McB family and Thabo our friend.

You have no idea the feeling of relief. It was well past the time any of us wanted to be on the road, so off we went headed across Zambia to a much needed vacation for all of us at this point.