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Friday, March 13, 2009

The life & Times of Louis & Amber - The Missing Day

On March 11th, we celebrated our 1 year anniversary in South Africa. This is one day later than originally intended. We left the USA on March 9th, and it usually is a 17-18 hour trip to arrive in Johannesburg. I won't rehash all the details, but here is a summary of what happened.

On Sunday morning we said goodbye to our families and flew out of Des Moines International Airport accompanied by my cousins, Ellie and Zach. In addition, we were traveling with Team 5 from Point of Grace church. Our flight from DSM to Atlanta was quite uneventful, and Meredith - 2 years old at the time - actually slept for about 45 minutes of that flight. Little were we to know that would be her last sleeping for about the next 24 hours.

We left Atlanta about 3:00 on Sunday afternoon, if my memory serves correctly. The flight to Johannesburg normally stops in Dakar, Senegal for refueling. Unfortunately, there was a large, international Muslim conference taking place in Dakar at the time, and the governments had apparently mutually decided that it would be best that no planes from the US land during that conference. So our flight was re-routed through the Sal Islands - property of the Portugese.

Usually the stop takes about an hour. After an hour and a half with no activity, it started to become apparent something was wrong. Eventually, we were notified there was a problem with the plane and we would disembark and spend some time in the airport. Turns out, we were to spend the next 13 hours in the airport. This was a very small airport with very few seats, although since everyone had been sitting for 8+ hours, floor space was actually more coveted than seating. Periodic announcements would come but no one really seemed to know what was going on.

We were fed some bread and juice at about 8:00am, then around noon we were taken to a couple of different eating establishments for a quick meal. All 13 hours in the airport we had a 2 year old fighting sleep. It seems she knew that if she slowed down for a minute, she would fall asleep. Therefore, she tried to remain as active as possible, keeping Amber & me on our toes as we took turns trying to nap and watch her at the same time.

Eventually, everything was cleared up. The delay was caused by a problem with the pilots emergency oxygen system. After landing they learned there was a leak and the tanks were empty. They had new tanks flown in from Dakar, but they quickly emptied, showing that the leak was in the system itself, not in the tanks. So it was determined that a new plane needed to be flown in from the US. Obviously, this took some time.

About 5:00pm, they transported us from the airport to a resort on the coast. The resort was mostly full, but the few empty rooms were reserved for people with children. Finally, having a 2 year old paid dividends! On the Point of Grace team there was an 11 year old boy, so his father arranged for us to get two rooms because of the two kids. All us guys took one room, and the girls took the other, and we got a chance to change and get refreshed. They served us a great meal at the resort, then about 12:00am they took us back to the airport. 23 hours after landing in the Sal Islands we took off. Finally, on the last 8 hours of the flight, Meredith settled down enough to sleep.

As a result of all this, we really didn't experience too much jet lag. Our bodies were so confused as to what time or even what day it was, that we didn't have time for jet lag. We arrived in Johannesburg a little after noon on March 11th. So for the rest of our lives, there will be one day missing that we can't really account for. Recently, Ellie sent me a picture that she had taken of us in the airport. This is about 20 hours after we departed from DSM, and Meredith only having slept 45 minutes of that time. This pretty much sums up how we felt the entire day.

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