This Lavatory Is OCCUPIED! (Africa, Part 1)

Written Monday, December 5, 2011 Now, you may be confused by the title of this post, and rightfully so. It seemed as though last Thursday, I opened my eyes, and we were in Africa. Ok, so it wasn't that easy. The trip takes around 22 hours (17 on three airplanes). There were many hours of reading, sleeping, and playing Tiny Tower (my new addiction on my cell phone...)

But following all of these ways in which I entertained myself (and the "child" I always seem to travel with), I found myself in an airport halfway around the world.

Most of those around us did not even know that the Reverend and I had planned this trip (think, our house/dog sitter). Chance spent some time in Sierra Leone about six weeks ago, but it was NOT in my plans to follow him there so shortly after.

But, God sometimes has other plans.

Let me tell you more about our trip, and then I'll share our actual reasons for going.

God has been moving since we stepped out on faith and booked this trip. We made our reservations just days after Chance returned home the first time and we've seen His fingerprint on all of our plans. We received time off, financial blessings, and perfectly coordinated plans (not our own doing!)

Take, for instance, this journal entry I wrote on the day we left:

We picked up Tyler [a close friend who accompanied us on this trip], did some last minute errands in Lincoln and headed to the Peoria airport. We drove to the "drop off area" so Tyler could run inside and ask if we were allowed a second bag. Tyler had packed an additional bag full of food, supplies and Bibles that we would love to bring, but we weren't clear on the airline's policy.

The clerk for United said that the new policy was just one bag per person. We were prepared for that possibility, but hopeful for two bags.

We unloaded the bags and began the check-in process. A United worker (probably in his late twenties) was helping check our luggage. Chance and I's bag was two pounds over the 50-pound limit, so we began shifting our personal things into the suitcase we brought full of supplies and things for Rick and Paula [our missionary friends in Sierra Leone, Africa]. Tyler then threw his suitcase onto the scale. It was only forty pounds, so he started brainstorming the idea of running back to the truck and getting some of the bibles and things from the other bag.

When the United worker heard that we were bringing Bibles, he told us that he's not supposed to allow anyone to add anything to suitcases after they've been weighed, BUT he'd allow us to do it anyway.

Tyler quickly ran out to the truck to grab a few things, and while he was out there, our United worker (angel?) double-checked the number of bags we were allowed (because, according to him, "If you're bringing Bibles and rice, you ought to be able to bring as many bags as you want.")

As he got checking, he realized that we bought our tickets RIGHT before the airline's regulations were changed. He began to frantically say, "Tell that guy to bring all the bibles and supplies! All of them! Call him!"

So I did.

And now, we're checked in, waiting at our gate, and bringing four bags of our necessities, bibles, rice, and food.

Before we turned to walk through the security checkpoint, our United worker asked for us to write down our names so that he could pray for us specifically.

God is good.

Now, God is still good, but the second chapter to that story is the headache that one of those four bags caused us...

Upon arriving at the airport in Freetown, we sailed through customs (because of a contact we gained on the airplane who had his own security guard) but then we were forced to wait in a VERY crowed room while our luggage was unloaded.

We waiting, claimed a bag, waited, claimed a bag, waited, claimed a bag, and waited some more.

Eventually, our missionary friend, Rick (much more on him later), made his way into the baggage claim area, and realized there was a problem. Chance and I's personal bag was no where to be found. The Christmas gifts that Rick had ordered - had arrived. The rice, Bibles, and supplies - had arrived. Tyler's clothes and personal items - had arrived. But C and I's stuff had not.

We reported the bag missing on the day we arrived (last Thursday).

Tonight (Monday), we were finally reunited with our bag.

We inquired about the bag at two different times in two different locations, only to find out that it would arrive in Sierra Leone on the day that we were leaving.

Of course.

Thankfully, Rick and his wife, Paula, were able to piece together the essentials that we needed, but being "poor" in our personal care items made us feel truly African.

Tonight, as we arrived at the airport we inquired about the bag, again. It would be arriving on the 6:30 PM flight, and the airport employee would come and notify me when it was here. As unbelievable as it sounds, she surely did. Although, she just came to say that the airplane that was supposed to be carrying my bag was here. Not specifically my bag!

Thus began the wild goose chase that about gave my sweet husband a heart attack at the young age of 27...

I followed a few airport employees through the airport (bypassing security checkpoints multiple times) to the dreaded baggage claim area. I was to stand there (by myself - security had refused to allow Chance to accompany me) and claim my baggage with the other passengers from the arriving flight.

I did happen to be the first person in the room though, so I planted my feet as far apart as possible and spread my wings/elbows. The airport employee gave me funny looks, but then commented on the crowdedness later. "Yes, sir. I've been in this baggage claim area once before..."

Bags started getting dizzy around the conveyor belt, but none of them were mine. My employee escort became frustrated by all the people and he pulled me out of the chaos. He then escorted me outside where the skinny, but strong men were unloading all the luggage from the airplane's containers. They told me multiple times (in multiple languages) to watch for my bag.

Our bag is new, grey, orange, gigantic, and soft-sided. We just bought it before we left for Bulgaria. Like, the night before... I knew I would recognize it from a mile away. Nevertheless, if I even glanced around me or away from the conveyor belt, the men began shouting, "Watch yo bag!"

So I watched, and watched, and watched. For almost an hour. By this time, I hadn't seen Chance, Rick, or Tyler in ages and our airplane had begun the boarding process (which I only knew because I took my eyes of the bags for one second to look. Heaven, forgive me.) Buses full of people were being driven the length of a football field to board the plane that would eventually take me home.

And I still had no bag.

But, by golly, I was "Watching yo bag!" the best I could. Twenty containers full of 30-40 suitcases each were unloaded before my eyes. They were steered to a conveyor belt, their contents were removed, and they were taken away.

This might have caused a small panic in me. A small, small one. Ok, maybe a big, big one. (Rick and Paula, like my use of Krio?!) My plane was minutes from leaving, who knows where my husband (and passport) were, and we still hadn't located my bag!

I started to panic and pray. Finally, the second-to-last container was opened, and my bag was surfaced.

When I saw it, I shouted, "THAT'S MY BAG!"

I grabbed it and turned around to see that Tyler had boarded one of the buses and was shouting that Chance (and airport security) were frantically looking for me! We brought the bag inside, met up with Chance, and begged the employees to give me two minutes with my bag. They began to protest, but at that moment, I shouted, "You lost my bag and I haven't had clean underwear for a week! Please let me get some!"

Now, before you permanently block my blog, please understand that I did actually have two sets of undergarments, but Africa-clean (hand-washing clothes on the washboard) is a whole new standard of clean for me. And while I was rather patient and tolerant during the trip, my patience had just run out.

Security finally agreed, and Chance and I tore into the bag as if it contained gold.

While we had it open, we pulled out about 10 bags of rice that we had planned to leave for Rick's ministry. We begged the airport workers to deliver them to the "big, white, bald guy with a beard." (It's Africa, those were the only descriptive words needed before the workers knew exactly who we were referencing.)

We're hoping and praying those bags made it to Rick - not only to feed some bellies, but to encourage him in the fact that C and I had been reunited and our luggage had been found. The last he knew was that Chance was hopping security gates in a frantic search to find his missing wife.

After grabbing some undergarments, Chance and I took off in a mad dash across the runway and arrived at the airplane. Tyler stood at the bottom of the steps, holding our carry-ons and saying, "I swear, I'm never, ever traveling with you two again!"

After we were safely on the plane (and in seats that weren't actually assigned to us - you kinda get to pick when you show up that late), I shared my crazy adventure with the boys.

After we'd all caught our breath, we took turns retreating to the lavatory to freshen up. We had actually flown and landed again before it was an opportune time for me to clean up. We were on the ground getting more passengers and refueling, when I took my fresh clothes and some baby wipes to the bathroom. While in there, I was taking my time and savoring my cleanliness when someone had the audacity to bang on the door. Twice. So twice, I shouted, "This lavatory is OCCUPIED!"

When I finally finished, I was fuming. Isn't a girl allowed to get cleaned up?! I'd not seen my own personal possessions for a whole week, and someone was too impatient to use one of the other eight bathrooms on the plane?! What's up with that?!

As I opened the door, I was face-to-face with an elderly, sweet-faced African man holding a stack of paper towels. Evidently, he was attempting to restock the plane's supply before take off...


(This was part one of a series on our trip to Africa.)

Ricky and Frank (Africa, Part 2)

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