So this is not the post that I had expected to write when I first sat here after getting back from this visit to Uganda. But this is the post that needs to be written first. Mostly because someday (10 years from now? Maybe longer.) I hope to look back and be able to laugh at this trip. But that day is not now.
|Waiting in the truck with the kids|
Monday morning in Gulu. I'm up a 5am because I want to get a quick run in, finish packing, clean up the guest house and still have a bit of time with my niece and nephew before we need to head to the tiny Gulu airstrip at 8am.
At least I got plenty of extra time sitting in the car with them playing cards while we waited for the MAF plane that was nearly two hours late.
Finally the 8 seater prop plane landed in Gulu, unloaded a few people, loaded me and my regulation 25 pound bag and we're off. But this is a shuttle plane. It has two other stops futher north before we can head to upcountry to where I'll catch my international flights home later in the evening.
|Trying to show the mud and potholes|
The first tiny dirt runway that we need to drop an aid worker off at looks very muddy and full of ruts and mud puddles from the air. We buzz it again at a lower elevation and it doesn't look any better. But on the third pass the pilot goes for it and somehow managed to keep us upright and not slide off the end into the brush. Thought that landing was not for the faint of heart or weak of faith getting back off the ground proved easier. Until we got to our third stop. Picking up three physicians from the very remote Kalongo hospital in Acholi. Getting onto the ground there was the easy part. As we buzzed the run way to clear the cattle off, hundreds (not exaggerating) of children ran to the airstrip to watch this event that only happens a few times a year.
|Too many hours in this tiny tin can|
As we prepared for take-off the pilot chased the kids away from the plane and began to taxi. But the kids quickly crowded back onto the airfield to watch what was going to happen. So he slowed back down, rolled to the far end and tried coming back at it from the other way. But there were children crowding onto to the airstrip from one end to the other, all trying to see what was going on. He didn't have a clear runway. So the plane was shut down, and he got out and tried chasing them all away again. But by now they thought it was a hilarious game and just keep crowding closer and closer and it was obvious that it just wasn't going to fly. Literally or figuratively. One of the passengers called up to the hospital and they send down and ambulance and several men with whips who finally "convinced" the children to stay back while the plane took off. But the whole mess took an hour or more. Finally on our way to Kampala across practically the whole length of the country north to south.
Even though my plane was hours late landing in Kampla the driver was ready and waiting for me. He drove me the two hours (stupid Kampla traffic!) to Entebbe.
This isn't even when all the actual adventure started. The car hire dropped me at a restaurant to fill the little remaining time before I needed to head to the airport (btw uganda friends, Faze 3 has a free shuttle). At 9:30 pm I arrived to the KLM gate to check in. Cleared immigration, then security. At 10:30 the plane arrived at the gate. At 1130 they announced a delay but at midnight we began boarding. Unfortunately, what felt like moments after everyone was on, we had to collect our stuff and get back off. It was explained that when the plane put down in Kigali the landing gear broke. It got worse when they landed in Entebbe and now the maintenance staff was unable to repair sufficiently to land in Amsterdam. They had a few other things they wanted to try but we had to disembark before they could try further repairs. Back to the waiting room. At 2am the announcement came over that the plane would not be fixed tonight.
|Luggage loaded into bus windows|
|Passport check lines, AGAIN.|
It felt strange to be stranded in Entebbe all by myself but I had not had hardly any down time the whole trip to it was a nice opportunity to have some quiet time to pray and journal and just sit quietly. It was actually very cool and rainy all that day. I was feeling pretty exhausted but blamed it on our terrible night and the very full previous day.
Around 7pm most of the passengers started regathering in the lobby to head back to the airport. We knew the shuttles would take a while and our directions said check-in at 8pm. Well, at 8pm at the airport it quickly became obvious that the airport staff had no idea what to do with us. Entebbe airport is international but still tiny. Their regular flights were still going out and we were told to “queue up!” over and over again but the room was packed, 100+ degrees and there was really no where for us to go. We all stood around until at least 10:30 pm when they finally started checking us in. At this point, I was feeling nauseated and dizzy but thought it had to do with standing for hours without anything to drink or eat. Finally checking in. Back through passport control. Back through security. As soon as the other midnight KLM flight left they directed us back into that waiting room that we had spent most of the previous night in. It has a bathroom and plastic chairs but nothing else. Then we sat. And sat. At around 1am people started demanding an update. We were told "technical difficulties". 2am an airport staffer came out and explained that the part they thought they needed came on the 10pm incoming arrival from Amsterdam and had been installed but wasn’t ready to go yet. It was also about this time that it became rather obvious to me that I had malaria. I’ve been around this block before and when the joint aches, nausea, and stabbing head pain all merged at the same time all I could do was pray. I was laying on the ground trying to not vomit on myself or anyone around me. The bathroom is still a third world bathroom and not somewhere I wanted to hang out. At 3 am still no sign of boarding. And no more info was forthcoming.
People were getting beyond restless and angry. This is a huge international flight. We were not allowed to leave this waiting area. We had all been at the airport since 8pm today and also 12 hours the previous night. Around 4am an actual mob started to form. I was WhatsApping with my brother Nick at the time when people started yelling, grabbing the security guards that were blocking the door, and demanding water, information, to be allowed to leave. Within minutes military police started crowding into the room with their large rifles and military gear. They started yelling to us that this flight was completely canceled, we had to leave. To find different ways home. There are probably 10 flights a day that leave this airport, only about 5 that go to places that would have connecting flights (Like the flight to Juba or Mogadishu are useless to us). That is 700+ people, learning at 4am that they need to get a flight to Nairobi or Addis Ababa or Cairo in order to get another flight into the developed world. There are not words to describe the feeling in the room at that moment. The military police presence was actually necessary.
Personally, at this point I was barely hanging on. My fever was higher that it had ever been. I couldn’t think. We were being directed back through immigration, security and baggage one more time. Back out to the parking lot for buses. One might think that as this is the second time this has needed to happen in two days that it might even be smoother the second time around. They would be wrong. This time it was nearly 6am. The busses that were free the day before at 3am now had other work to do. We had seen no KLM representatives since they checked us in a 11pm the night before so they were not making arrangements. The upside was the hotels were ready to have us back. They had almost finished cleaning all our rooms when they began to check us back into them.
At this point I had a major dilemma. I knew I needed a malaria test and treatment. I needed hydration and fever control. I also had not slept more than three uninterrupted hours since Sunday night and it was now 7am Tuesday morning. I set an alarm to wake up in a few hours to get a boda ride out to a pharmacy and get malaria test and treatment. For better or worse it was good that I didn’t sleep too many hours Tuesday morning because when I work up at 10 I had a message from KLM that I could be on the early afternoon flight to Johannesburg if I wanted it. I managed to connect with their service representative to arrange the additional connections from South Africa, back to the US, Atlanta, then on to Detroit. That seemed like it was all going to work. Now to deal with this fever, headache and incessant nausea.
|Boda to pharmacy|
I dragged my achy, feverish body out to the road and onto a motorcycle. At least the pharmacy was near. Got the malaria testing kits, which are supposed to take 20 minutes to read and I had a positive within 5 and got a course of treatment.
I rushed back to the hotel,
tried to eat something with my first does of Artequin and promptly threw up. I wasn’t even really keeping down fluids
which meant I was now 12 hours since last being appropriately hydrated. But it
was noon so I had to check out of the hotel and head back to the airport.
Getting more than a little sick of that place. Back through security for what felt like the
100th time. The SA flight agents were confused when they pulled up my flight
information but I managed to explain the whole situation to them. Then the
immigration officer wanted to know why my passport had been stamped and cancelled
so many times. He held me for nearly 20 minutes while he waited for his
superior. They had a conversation in Lugandan
which I obviously didn’t follow but was finally allowed through.
|Positive for malaria|
Hit a personal rather low point while waiting for the gate which was not yet boarding my flight. I hurt so badly that I had to lay back down on the floor. My chills had reached the point that my teeth were chattering and I couldn’t stop shivering. I had friends in Uganda encouraging me to stay and get further treatment. It was not necessarily bad advice but none of them were all that near to Entebbe. Which meant if I stayed that I had to cancel all the flight arrangements I’d made, figure out how to get my checked bag back, have ANOTHER conversation with passport control, find a driver to get me to a guest house but by now I was out of shillings which meant I also needed an ATM. And all because of my Ugandan sim card situation I could only use my phone when there was wifi which is surprisingly limited in most places in Uganda. It wasn’t a bad suggestion, but it just seemed impossible to manage by myself. I needed the path of least resistance and as I was on the floor in front of the gate to board the SA flight that was it. Amazingly that flight was announced on time. We took off and I immediately fell asleep. I don’t remember hardly any of that 8 hour flight and I woke up as we landed feeling slightly better. But realized just how dehydrated I was becoming as I tried to stand and between the dizziness and overwhelming fatigue thought I was going to faceplant while coming down the stairs to go into the terminal.
I did manage to navigate that airport, though it is cloudy in my mind. I managed security again and somehow found my next gate. I got some juice and tried but was completely unsuccessful at keeping it down. At least the toilets in Joburg are nicer than in Entebbe.
I know this story is already too long but we are getting near the end. Mostly because it is at this point I had a pretty steady delirium going on. I know at some point I discovered that this flight I was about to board was 16+ hours long and I cried real tears which was a waste of precious fluids but I just didn’t feel like I could do it. But I boarded the plane. Then threw up practically minutes after sitting down. The up side of that is the flight attendants took on look at me, had a conversation in Afrikaans, then asked me if I would move closer to the bathrooms. At least this got me an aisle seat. They did bring me lots of water and sprite, little of which I kept down and plenty of warm blankets. I did manage at some point in this flight to get down the second dose of Artequin. And mostly slept. I honestly don’t remember Atlanta at all. I had to have been there and found my gate to Detroit. I even had to clear customs, collect my checked bag and recheck it because it is here now, but I don’t remember it. Then a few more hours on a plane. Finally 11 am on Thursday morning I arrived in Detroit and was picked up by my parents. A few hours drive back to Grand Rapids with me prone in the back of the van. After leaving from “home” in Gulu 8am Monday morning and including factoring in 8 time zones that is 52 solid hours of travel. I tried to re-hydrate Friday and took my last dose of Artequin but still was too sick. Tried to get my PCP to write a prescription but sadly ended up in ER for a few liters of fluid and some meds anyway.
So that’s it. I’m home now. Headed back to work today….. someday I’ll process all the rest of the trip but I think I’m still just recovering from this portion first.