I don't love flying. I'm not terrified of it, like I was when we went to China (that trip cured me) but I don't love it. And just knowing that we would be en route to DRC for more than 24 hours straight certainly is daunting.
Our first stop was George Bush International Airport. I think half of my anxiety of flying is just getting through the airports. We arrived with our 200lbs of luggage (2 checked bags each), just praying that our scale at home had been accurate. We flew from Houston to Newark and then on to Brussels, Belgium. A nine hour flight to the lamest airport I've ever been in. We got their at the crack of dawn, the place has no restaurants and nothing to do but shop in the duty free store for chocolate. Then from Brussels on to Kinshasa, DRC.
That flight was weird. It was incredibly noisy on board. A large group was traveling together and they were making a party of it. There was somebody sitting a row behind us that had a raging case of BO. Holy smokes the air was thick and stinky! And this leg of the trip was also nine hours long. Now I probably didn't smell like a rose at this point either, but it was distracting to say the least. About an hour before you get to Kinshasa there is a stop at Duala, Angola where everyone stays on the plane and a cleaning crew comes on before the next batch of passengers loads in. Right before you take off the flight attendants walk down the aisles spraying some kind of insecticide throughout the entire plane out of these little hand held bug bombs. That freaked me out. Not exactly sure what they were spraying for but I sure don't have that bug anymore!
One thing I must say about Brussells Air--they have the best airline food, ever!!!
So we finally arrive in Kinshasa. It is 10pm and about 90 degrees outside. It is a very tiny airport so you unload the plane right onto the tarmac and then get onto a shuttle bus that takes you to the one terminal. And now the panic really sets in for me. I am now in a third world country. I am now somewhere that most people don't speak English (and my high school French is beyond rusty). I am now somewhere with armed guards greeting me at the entrance to the airport. And I am so freaking sweaty I can hardly hold onto my carry-on bag!
As you enter the un-air conditioned airport there are two lines--Congolese citizens and everybody else. We get into the everybody else line and we are frantically trying to fill out those enter the country cards (what are they called). But its all in French and even the questions I can read I don't know the answers to. Suddenly we hear someone calling from behind us "Brian Wood--Brian Wood". A man in some kind of official uniform was calling out to us. As if we didn't look conspicuous enough, yell our names across the room why don't ya! In his very broken English he explained that he had been sent to help us through the airport.
HALLELUJAH!!! Our own airport guardian angel. He got us through all the right lines and then pointed us in the direction of our luggage. We miraculously got our bags with no problems and none got lost. Then as we are starting to head towards the parking lot to find our escort (in the dark, that had me freaking out some more) a strange man came up and was insisting on carrying my luggage. Now I had been told DO NOT let anyone help you with your bags or they will quickly disappear. So by golly this guy was not gonna get my suitcase! But he kept pulling and saying his name and "good, good"! No, not good. Get off of my bag! Then, duh, we realized this was the same guy who had helped us get through the lines earlier. At some point he had changed out of his uniform into a dress shirt and tie. He rushed us out into the darkness (no lighting of any kind in this parking lot) where we were greeted by Haven's (and Manny and JoJo's) foster father Papa L, our interpreter, and a driver with his small 4 door sedan.
The 6 of us, plus four 50lb suitcases, 2 carry-ons, and 2 backpacks squeezed into the tiny car and drove off into the darkness of Kinshasa. They call Vegas the city that never sleeps, but they're wrong, its Kinshasa. We drove for not quite an hour through city streets filled with people. I suppose it is just too hot to sleep so you might as well take a walk in the dark. People everywhere walking along side the roads, people sitting at outdoor bars and restaurants, people attending all night revival services. So crowded and overwhelming, even in the dark.
And it was strikingly dark. There were lights on some of the businesses and on the other cars, but it was a dark night with no moon, no street lights, no traffic signals. The smell of smoke was incredibly thick in the air and the road was the bumpiest I have ever driven. But I'm pretty sure that from the moment we got of the airplane until the moment we drove up to the gates of the guest house that I had a ridiculous grin on my face. I was trying to soak up all these sights and sounds and smells, but all I could really think about was in just a few short hours I would finally get to hold my baby boys for the first time!
That seems like a good place to stop for tonight...
Come back for Part III!