Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The adventure begins...and almost ends in Brussels

We had smooth sailing from Salt Lake to Chicago, and we thought from Chicago to Brussels.  Then one of the worst-case  scenarios happened--we lost a passport!  Some place between the gate in Chicago and leaving the plane in Brussels, we lost a passport!  We had the airline search the plane (at least they said they did) with no luck.  We looked through all our luggage, pockets, etc. and couldn't find it.  We went to security and they had no help for us.  (They told us unless we could find it, our only option was to be flown back to the U.S.)  The church even booked a return flight to New York City for the next morning. We were crushed thinking about having to fly all the way back to the US and start everything over.

Everyone was very kind, but not very helpful.  Anne was able to contact the U.S. Embassy in Brussels.  They weren't any help either, at least at first.  Finally, she talked to an American at the embassy.  He was very helpful and told us what we needed to do.  We got copies of her passport from church headquarters, and the embassy fellow talked to security.  (Originally, the only way we could leave the airport was with a passport.)

Here are some photos from our airport adventure.
Personal Study in our "Airport Apartment"
One of many phone calls to get out of the airport and on to getting an emergency passport.

The "balcony" view from our airport apartment.

One of the many steps to getting a passport and visa at the Brussels American Embassy.

After a lot of prayer and a few tears, with the help of a very kind man at the US Embassy, we were able to get an emergency passport (that was Wednesday afternoon).  The next step was to get a visa for Cameroon.  We had to get the Yellow Fever verification from Utah for that.  When we went to the Cameroon Embassy on Thursday morning just as it opened, we had just learned that Salt Lake was able to get us on a flight to Cameroon that afternoon.  (Our flight plans said 1:55, which plays into the drama in a bit.)

The people were very methodical in the embassy.  They finally got us to a point where we needed to pay for the visa.  When we went to the window, they required 200 Euros, in cash, which we didn't have.  We tried to ask for directions for somewhere where they did foreign exchange, and ended up walking blocks and blocks trying to find the bank they suggested.  We found it, but they couldn't help us make an exchange for US dollars.  They gave us the address of a Western Union.  We eventually found it, but it was just an abandoned building with a faded sign out front.  By this time, nearly 45 minutes had passed and we were getting frantic.  We started walking back to the Embassy and finally flagged down a taxi.  The driver was extremely kind and took us to a Western Union back toward town.  He stayed with us until we had the money and then drove us back to the Embassy.  We paid our fee, and then were told to "sit down".  It was an agonizing hour that we waited for them to finish the visa.  They gave it to us, and then we asked about calling for a taxi, which we'd been told on two occasions they'd do for us.  That didn't happen.  So we left with a phone number that wouldn't work on our cell phone, and started walking back toward town.

Another cab driver picked us up, and we explained our plight.  Our flight was supposed to leave in a little over two hours, and we were across town from the airport.  He got us there as fast as traffic would allow.  Once at the hotel, we pulled our bags over to the check in, only to find that the 40 lbs. we could put in our carry-ons when we were coming from the U.S. was only going to be 22 lbs. for this last leg of the flight.  We went over to a scale and tried to combine heavy things into one bag so we could check it and only have to pay 150 Euros for it.  When we got to the counter, another tender mercy occurred.  The girl waiting on us weighed our bags, winked at us, even though they were still overweight, and said, "Have a nice flight."  We were stunned, humbled, and ever so grateful.

By this time, we were ten minutes from the time they were going to close the gate for our flight.  We ran through hallway after hallway, were stuck in long lines going through security, and then literally ran from security nearly a half mile until we got to our gate.  The last security agent happened to be the man who was very helpful in security the night before.  He said, "No problem.  You have plenty of time."  We were both sweating profusely with the physical exertion and stress.  Sure enough, our flight didn't leave until 2:55.  We had almost an hour to spare!

The flight to Yaounde was almost seven hours.  We sat next to a young family who were returning to Cameroon to visit relatives.  Anne became the airplane "grandma" to their two cute kids.  She played the video games they had built into the airplane display with their son for hours.  They received a pass-along card with an invitation to come to Utah in 2016 to visit.

When we arrived at the airport, getting all our luggage took nearly an hour.  It was wonderful to see the Gates, the couple who took over for us temporarily (they're construction missionaries in Kinshasa).  What a fitting beginning to this incredible adventure!

1 comment:

  1. What an adventure! So glad you guys made it!!!