Location: Kampala, Uganda to Brussels, Belgium to Chicago, USA
Monday-Tuesday, May 29-30, 2017
The day has finally come. After being away from home for 15 days, today we embark on the 2-day journey home. First, we’ll drive across Kampala, down the peninsula to Entebbe International Airport. That will take awhile in typical Kampala traffic. Next, we enjoy the time-consuming procedures associated with international travel. Then, a quick hop south to Kigali, Rwanda (not shown on the map due to scale problems, but there’s a zoom-in below). Then, we’ll fly north across the bulk of Africa and the Mediterranean, to northern Europe (Brussels). There, we’ll lay over for a couple hours, then hop across the northern Atlantic to O’hare. Then through customs, back to Trinity in vans, grab my car, and drive home. The total trip will be about 30 hours. Ugh. Here’s how it played out…
It took awhile to get to Entebbe, but not nearly as long as we feared it would, so we had time to stop at a beach resort there to chill for a bit before heading to the airport. Entebbe is a peninsula jutting out into Lake Victoria (the largest lake in Africa), so I enjoyed a beach, fruity drinks, some sugar cane to chew (first time for that), and a good book (getting a head start on some of my theology reading for the fall).
After a relaxing couple of hours on the beach, we packed up and headed to the airport. Two things that I found particularly interesting while getting there…
Where we’re doing, we DO need roads
First, I got a glimpse of the new Entebbe-Kampala Expressway.
It’s not finished yet, so we didn’t drive on it. But we drove under an overpass, and I looked up some pictures of it since I love that sort of thing (and wanted to share them with you). This project promises to be extremely significant and beneficial for Uganda. It’s a direct shunt of modern road (similar to what you might see in the US) which will connect the Entebbe International Airport to Kampala, the capitol and largest city in the nation. It then loops up around the NW side of the city to serve as a bypass around the crazy traffic normally experienced there. It’s almost done, and I think it’s going to be a game changer when it’s finally done! Yes, they’ll get to move freight and people more efficiently on this one road. But I think it will also give them the bug. I suspect people will begin to demand more once they get a taste of this kind of road. We’ll see.
I believe this is the actual underpass we drove through, which caught my attention:
Also, here’s a site with some great pictures of the work in progress.
And here’s a picture of normal traffic in Kampala. So, I’m thinking words like “expressway” and “bypass” could become fast favorites among the Ugandan people.
Second, I was a bit astonished at how much security we went through to get home.
First, on our approach to the Entebbe airport, we literally had to disembark the bus at a gate on the road outside the airport. We then walked through metal detectors and were wanded on the road, while a soldier drove the bus through a vehicle security checkpoint. While we watched the bus drive by, I had nightmares about their dragging all our luggage off the bus and going through it, but they didn’t (thank God!). We then piled back onto the bus and proceeded to the airport.
After we finally got to the airport, we went through metal detectors and passed our luggage through scanners to get into the building. Then we checked our luggage. Then we went through another security checkpoint, where they scanned us and our carry-on bags, and asked us “where are you going?” questions while scrutinizing our passports. We hung out in the concourse until our gate was announced, then we went through another security checkpoint to get to the gate. Then they scrutinized our passports again before letting us on the plane.
When we touched down in Brussels, we disembarked the plane with no issues. Our layover there was a couple of hours, so it provided us with the opportunity to have a bite to eat and jump online to check in with family (though it was the middle of the night back home). But before we boarded the flight from Brussels to the US, we went through another set of “why are you going to the US?” and “where have you been?” questions to get our passports approved. Then of course, we went through customs in the US.
By my count, we went through 8 distinct security checkpoints between Kampala, Brussels and Chicago. Do you feel safe?
Okay, enough of that. Let me rewind and share a couple things about the travel itself…
First, we didn’t fly straight from Kampala to Brussels. We made a quick stop in Kigali, Rwanda, about 50 miles SW of Entebbe. When we got there, those heading for Europe (or on to the US) stayed on the plane while some disembarked, others boarded, and still others vacuumed and cleaned literally around our feet. My first time remaining on a plane while it turned over. Interesting. The entire exercise (depart + fly + land + turn over + take off again) took about about 90 minutes, and then we were on our way straight north to Brussels — about a 9 hour trip.
I was all excited to get an aisle seat, since we were in economy, and back there, anything that assists with legroom is key. But I was less excited when a not-at-all-concerned-about-the-person-behind-her African woman sat down in the seat in front of me, and — even before we had pulled away from the terminal —, reclined her seat as far back as it would go. Not a good sign. In fact, no matter what was happening, whether she was sleeping, eating, talking to the lady next to her, or up out of her seat walking around or in the restroom, she had that seat fully reclined for the … entire … trip. The flight attendants literally had to tell her to un-recline it for both take off and landing. So, all my pandas were sad … and the result was that I was pretty much eating my knees for a 9 hour flight. No laptop … that won’t fit. No way for my legs to be straight … they don’t fit. Hard to eat … cause that doesn’t fit. So, I sat legs-crossed in the seat for the entire flight overnight. Translation, zero sleep, and most of me was sore. International + economy + large (tall or wide, and I’m both) = miserable. It’s an equation I’ve been sadly aware of for many years now. But God is good, and we eventually made it to Brussels — two reasonably interesting movies, two reasonably tasty meals later and several hours of audiobook later.
When I could barely stand up to disembark the plane in Brussels, I decided it was time to move to the adult table. First priority, that Starbucks over there. Oh yeah! Second priority, get through the passport check line the second it opens (which the team didn’t want to do for whatever reason, so I got through in 5 minutes, while they stood in line for a half hour). And third, while the team makes its way through the line, pay United whatever it takes to get into Economy Plus … while sipping Starbucks. Pandas’ moods = restored!
And that was the best money I’ve spent in a while. So, after a quick-but-tasty European breakfast in the concourse and yet another lesson in currency exchange for my young travel companions, I gleefully boarded the next flight, and we were off to Chicago. Another 8 hours, but this time I was in an aisle seat in Economy plus with nobody sitting next to me. Hey, Mr. Guy-in-front-of-me, go ahead and lean back until your heart’s content! Both my knees AND my laptop are good to go!
Another movie, some TV shows I ripped onto my laptop, some journaling, and a bunch of reading later… touch down in Chicago! Honestly, I almost kissed the ground.
Home, Sweet Home … but not for the fruit
Going through customs was easy. I was introduced to the new automated passport scanner ATM-like machines that weren’t there last time I came through (2009?). They literally scan your passport, and give you a “receipt” that you’re approved. I talked to a customs agent, but the conversation seemed VERY perfunctory. He was most interested in the nifty “receipt” from the ATM. Weird. And nobody even so much as glanced at my “port entry” sheet. The most interesting thing in the customs line was this adorable little beagle (wish I could have taken a picture!) who was sniffing out… not bombs, not drugs, but fruit. LOL. I watched this little guy sniff out two bananas in two peoples’ backpacks. Then he came over while we were waiting for our checked luggage at the carousel, he found a bag there that security pulled off the belt and hauled away. We take bananas VERY seriously in this country!
Once out on the curb, we waited for at least 3 minutes for the TIU vans to arrive. We threw in the luggage, and headed back to school.
Once there, we said tearful goodbyes, and headed for home — dropping off one of my teammates and swinging through Chick-Fil-A drive-thru on the way, of course.
Then, home at last!
Then, family hugs and kisses.
Pictures, stories and unpacking in the morning. But for now, there’s no place like home!