Thursday, January 17, 2008

Seven Connecting Flights Later....

I’ve got a new favorite quirk about Mozambicans: they congratulate you on getting fat. We’ve been back in Mozambique for three days now, and every time I run into one of my native friends, it’s always the same thing.

“Oi Doutor Kelvin! Fique gordo!” (You got fat!)

This is not abnormal conversation in this part of the world. First of all, most folks mispronounce my name in the same way, inserting an l. Secondly, they almost always assume I'm a doctor, as all the other people in our organization are. Thirdly, obesity is celebrated, and they are not at all afraid to talk openly about it. Usually, the Portuguese word for "fat" and "strong" (forte) are used together to describe people.

So I put on a few pounds over the holidays? So what? I hadn’t had any of my mom’s desserts for five months, so she made all of them for me over the break. It was fabulous. Combine that with Peggy Bratcher’s Thanksgiving extraordinaire to make up for our being out of the country and I’m lucky to have escaped McMinnville with only ten extra kilograms (don’t do the math).

We arrived in Quelimane around 3 p.m. last Thursday. None of our luggage did. None. In an incredibly convoluted effort to save some money, we took two round trip return flights to get back to Africa. We started out in Nashville with fours bags and a plane that was an hour and a half behind schedule. Only by the grace of God did we make it to our connecting flight in Philadelphia. Twelve hours later we’re in Paris at the luggage carousel looking at Lara’s red rolling suitcase, wondering Ought that not be on a plane? Unfortunately, we decided to leave it.

We flew to Vienna where we had to check-in again (this was the end of our first round trip return) with only two of our four bags. Lara’s red bag was still in Paris. I’d decided while I was home that four more months without a bass of some type would be unbearable, but I may have seen my Epiphone for the last time when we checked it in in Music City.

Down but not out, we headed onward. We had to fly to Frankfurt to get on a plane to Johannesburg. I’d barely had time to examine the seat back pocket in front of me when weariness finally caught up. I was on another intercontinental trip. Needless to say, the fourteen-hour trip to Johannesburg had me crossing my eyes, plus we arrived late there and had to run to catch another plane to Maputo.

With three days’ worth of dried sweat, we finally landed in Maputo, only one more flight to go to get to Quelimane. I don’t remember if we spoke Portuguese or English to the customs official. The luggage carousel in the airport was tiny, and only a few bags had come around before they announced that most of the bags were still in Johannesburg. All we had for five months in Africa were our laptops and a backpack full of books and Christmas candy.

We went to report our lost luggage. I can assure you that nothing seems more futile than dealing with a Lost & Found agent in a third world country. I told him about the bags in Johannesburg which he assured me would be sent on the next flight to Quelimane.

It was 11 a.m., and our flight to Quelimane was scheduled for 2 p.m. Eduardo, the driver for the FGH office in Maputo, met us at the airport to give Lara some lab supplies and pick up some things we needed to get to Maputo.

Eduardo fills an interesting role in our lives here. He is the yardstick for our Portuguese skill. When we first came here, he was the first person we met that didn’t speak English. Conversation was difficult but manageable, and he was a very patient teacher. Promises were made that we’d be a lot better when we came back through in December, and those promises were filled. Now, however, after a month away, we were all surprised how we struggled for words that we hadn’t used to. I try to keep telling myself that it was because I was exhausted.

Eduardo was kind enough to pass by the Lost & Found desk to ensure our requests had translated, and he left. We checked in for our flight to Quelimane and went through security into the gate area only to be greeted by what was left of Maputo’s Christmas decorations. They have the most precious and pitiful Charlie Brown Christmas tree you’ve ever seen at Gate 6, complete with precarious lean and insufficient tinsel. You can’t say they didn’t try.

On to Quelimane, where for the first time in my life we didn’t have to wait at the baggage claim. We were ecstatic to see Lourenço, one of FGH’s drivers, waiting for us in the parking lot. He drove us back to the office to pick up the key to our new apartment, and we dizzily hugged everyone. An hour later (around 5 c’clock), we were asleep in our first home as a married couple without a roommate. Pictures of the apartment to come soon.

I promised myself I would never say this after I started this blog, but here it goes: sorry I haven’t posted more recently. I’ve got a backlog of stories to tell a mile long in my journal, and I’ll be trying to get some of them up, as well as whatever else happens over the next five months. Thanks for reading!

2 Comments:

Blogger Laine said...

Well, if I ever go to Africa, I pray that I don't have to go through what you did.
Samantha went to Africa a few years ago. She flew to Miami, and then straight to Cape Town.
Hope that you recover your luggage. If not, I guess you will be dressing, which would be a rather interesting development, like the natives. They probably have dressing for their climate down to an art. It was really good to see you guys Christmas. YOU LOOKED FABULOUS! Africa seems to agree with you.
Take care.

January 17, 2008 at 8:11 AM  
Anonymous Phil said...

Enjoyed your story.
I still don't like to hear people compliment me on gaining weight even after so many years here & knowing they are trying to be nice. Besides, I don't want to be reminded that I have once again shown I have enough financial resourses to "waist" them.

I switched to the Portuguese equilvalent of my name. Worked wonders on the pronuciation problem.

Phil
Quelimane
PS. Good luck on your luggage. You'll need it!

January 18, 2008 at 2:22 AM  

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