Friday, April 4, 2008

USA here I come... God is good.

I am typing this update from the terminal of the Charles de Gaulle Paris airport. From that you can probably conclude for yourself that I have decided to travel back to the US to visit the graduate schools I need to chose between. Wow, the last 24 hours have been a veritable whirlwind. I think the best way to go about retelling this epic tale is to start with when I woke up on Thursday morning. I woke up at 7:00am and little did I know that in 10 hours time I would be sitting in the waiting room of the Ouagadougou airport heading to the good old US of A! So what all happened in those 10 hours…

What you are about to read will both puzzle and astound you! The hand of God was guiding my every step and it was truly his will that I am where I am right now. Too many things went right… things never go that smoothly, except when you give up control and let God lead.

After getting 4 hours of sleep I got up surprisingly energized and started soaking the few items of clothing I needed washed to bring with me. Then I went to my office to check my email… this would be the moment of truth. I found affirmative responses on travel funds from Stanford and Duke. In conjunction with the support from MIT that was confirmed the night before, those two emails sealed the deal. I immediately contacted the travel agent and arranged to go to the office and buy my ticket before 9:30am. I talked to my Mom at 8:00am my time which meant she got up at 3am to talk to me. Thanks MOM! I wanted to just talk things out with her again and had to get the credit card information so I could purchase my ticket. Oye. We hung up at 8:30 and I went to talk to Professor Wethe to get the okay. He also suggested I talk to the Director’s Advisor which I did. Both Wethe and the advisor were very supportive and gave me the green light. All I needed to do was email Professor Maiga and let him know the plan. He is in South Africa right now so I couldn’t get permission directly from him. Anyway, from there I ran back to my house to finish the wash and hang it up to dry. At this point I was planning on taking an Air Maroc flight leaving at 3am Friday morning. No problem, I had all day to get ready and would still be able to play guitar at the baptism ceremony. The only glitch was I was a bit confused by the itinerary the agent sent me because although he said I would be leaving Friday at 3am the date said April 5th 3am which would be Saturday at 3am. I figured I would get things cleared up when I went into buy my ticket.

I rode my bike to the travel agency feeling like a million bucks. I also thought to bring my bank cards and passport in case I needed them for something. Arriving at the travel agency, as is the norm, there were like 5 Africans swarming me trying to sell me stuff. I joked with them about something Peace Corps and just walked pass and into the office. I was helped right away. The guy helping me was great! I asked him about the itinerary, and I was right I wasn’t leaving until the next day… Not good. What was I going to do for another day in Ouaga. It would have been such a waste, so I asked if there were any flights for that night. He works and works and comes up with one. But it is AirFrace so I figure it will be much more expensive. At first it is because of the Raleigh leaving point and the date of the 16th. However, if I could get back up to Boston and leave the 15th it would actually be cheaper…Wow! I asked if he could add a domestic flight from Raleigh to Boston to the package. No problem. In total, with the connect, flying Air France leaving that night in about 8 hours now would only cost me like $50 more. Well worth it if you ask me. And I was flying direct into Boston arriving on Friday instead of Saturday! Arriving on Friday meant I would be able to participate in the second part of the official visitation day. Great! I would get to meet some of my prospective classmates, very important indeed… So now arranging the flight back I was going to have a 12 hour layover in Paris. Ugh. So I asked if I could extend it to a couple of days and have myself a little mini Paris vacation. Voila. For $30 more, I am staying in Paris for 4 days on my way back to Burkina Faso. I am so excited! I want to visit the Louvre again, walk along the Seine, and take a million pictures with my new camera. I also might try and get to Giverny, the place were Monet painted a lot. Oh, c’est la vie! and I can try out my French skills, yay.

Okay, awesome. The flights are amazing! Flying Air France is SO much better than Air Maroc. The flights were such a God thing. The only bad part was I would have to be at the airport about 6:00pm and it was 10am now. Being at the airport at 6pm also had the other negative ramification of making me miss the baptism and leaving the worship high and dry. I felt bad about this and called and talked to Nancy Burg about it before I took the ticket. She thought if I could talk to Amy or Peter about taking over for me it should be okay, but that I should do what I have to do and Air France is way nicer so whatever.

The ticket was booked and now all that was left to do was pay. I got out the information I wrote down from my Mom. The only problem was the travel agent said he needed the actual card. Doah! I thought this might be a problem. So I said, hold on, and I went to the Bank of Africa across the street. I needed 962,000CFA. I hadn’t been to the bank in a while and didn’t know how much money I had. I figured it should be close that amount, but hadn’t done the math lately with my balance to be sure. Anyway, I got the desk and request to know my balance. Get this… I had 1,015,000CFA… just enough! Another God moment. So I withdrew 1,000,000CFA in cash. If have ever withdrawn that much money before you know it gives a person quite a rush. So now I have $2,000 plus dollars in my bag and have to ride my bike back to the travel agency, and I am in Africa. Great idea right. Well, things went just fine and I paid for my ticket in cash. That was pretty crazy!

Walking out of the travel agency my whole attitude was different. I was happier, lighter and so excited to be going back! I was also very confident I would be ready to go by 6:00pm. Packing the night before and writing all those emails was essential though. My being ready would have never happened if I hadn’t gotten up and spent 3 hours preparing the night before. Again, evidence of divine intervention :)

I left the travel agent at 10:30. The whole thing only took 1 hour, can you believe it? I figured I needed to be back to my office by 12:00. I would buy my domestic airfare and send all my emails, hopefully finish that by 2:30 and then go pack for good. From there I didn’t quite know what would happen, but the plans formed as the day went on.

Well, knowing I was going to the US I immediately thought about bringing stuff back for people. I know it wasn’t necessary, but I have the luggage space now and probably won’t have as much coming back in June. So as I rode my bike back from the travel agent I stopped at the Grand Marche and then the mini village artisanal. I was so on my game. All of the sudden my French was amazing and so were my bargaining skills. I ended up buying 45,000CFA worth of gifts which is a lot of money, but you don’t have any idea of how much stuff I got… I got 5 wooden keychains, 2 pagnas, 2 sets of earrings, 2 wooden guard figurines, a large beaded lizard, 2 mini lizard keychains, a puzzle, 2 leather boxes, 2 necklaces, 2 bronze giraffes, 4 woven trivets, large basket, a calabase jewelry box, 3 painted cards, and an adorable basket with a handle and lid. Again, I had such clarity. I knew what I wanted to buy and was able to bargain very well. I finish at the artisanal and I am riding back and this guy starts riding next to me telling me he wants to sell me some jewelry. I was feeling pretty joyous at this moment and threw caution to the wind and stopped by the side of the road so he could show me the jewelry he had in his bag. I was skeptical, but I was leaving Ouagadougou that night so I have legitimate license to take some chances :) I also have a great excuse when the artisans invite me out the club dancing… oh, no sorry I am leaving! ha! Okay, back to the sketchy jewelry dealings, and btw this was on the side of the major road outside the Presidence so there was like zero risk of personal injury or anything bad happening. The only thing I thought was that it would be exactly the same stuff I have seen over and over. At first it was, but then he brought out these really cool bracelets. Great presents for my friends, and I kind of wanted one for myself too. He originally asks 3500CFA for each! Generally the rule is that you can get any item for about half of the price they tell you, sometimes a little more, sometimes a less. Well, this guy was one tough cookie. I originally wanted 3 bracelets, and was willing to pay 2000CFA each. This was a good price. However, he didn’t like it, but did agree to 5 for 10000CFA. Done. I could give two more of these bracelets as presents and that was price I was willing to pay. Buy this time I am quite loaded down with goods, but my spirits are so high I hardly notice!

I got back to my house at noon as planned and was able to inform the house keeper that I will be leaving that night and will be gone for 2 weeks. Awesome. The office was my next stop and thankfully my Mom was available again to talk. I finally get to share my awesome news about the flight arrangements! It was a tough call sitting there. Spending that amount of money and having to make the final call alone; definitely a growing experience. My Mom was so relieved about the Air France airline carrier instead of Air Maroc. Frankly, so am I. We figures out my domestic flights together and I was able to use my Southwest rapid rewards credits to buy them. Flying Boston to San Francisco, San Francisco to Raleigh would have cost me $600. But I only had to paid $10 and that was for security fees. This all sounds nice, but it was tense for a few minutes because I wasn’t sure if I could use the rewards without a long advance time and they have blackout dates too. Thankfully, again, God directing things… the domestic flights were taken care of. My Mom and I finish up discussing possibilities for her to come visit me in Raleigh. It looks like it will probably happen… I can’t believe it and am so looking forward to it ;) And I am stocked about the fact that I will be spending 4 days in Paris. Love it!

Now that the flights are all booked I sent out all my emails. The whole sha-bang. All that I wrote the night before, as well as about six more I had to write just then. But things were going according to plan and I finish at 2:30. I went home and packed. Given that I did most of that last night it was just physically fitting everything plus all the cool gifts I just bought into my suitcase and carry-on. I worked with awesome efficiency and realized at 3:00 I was done! Wow. From there I went to go write 4 more emails, but these were harder. I had to email Professor Maiga and all the contacts at MIT, Stanford, and Duke to confirm I was coming and to start setting up the details. Most important was to figure out where I needed to go when I landed in Boston. I also needed to give them an idea of who I wanted to speak and request housing for Friday and Saturday nights… My, oh my. So I had to look through the CEE department website and come up with a list of people I was hoping to talk to. This actually took a while as did crafting all these emails explaining my travel details, ect. BUT I did it. I finished at 4:15 and then had to go see the information technology people because they changed the email system on Monday and I hadn’t been able to check my messages since. And being gone for 2 weeks I thought I should check my work email every once and a while… Oh also, Leanna called and we discussed the music stuff. I had called Amy and Leanna talked to Peter so things were taken care of. Phew. And… Leanna offered to take me to the airport! I love her! Not only that, she brought me a take along dinner! Again, awesomeness. She was planning to come get me at 5:30. We needed to walk out the door when she came because Ouagadougou traffic at rush hour, i.e. 6:00pm is a nightmare. Imagine trying to maneuver a car through a sea of motorbikes and other vehicles who may or may not decide to obey traffic laws. Okay, so I left the information people at 4:30 and they have fixed the problem, yay! I went home and worked out. I know, I know, but I felt I needed to get my legs moving since I knew I would be seated for so long… So I worked out for 20 minutes, showered and got dressed to leave. I put the finishing touches on my awesome packing job and put the bags by the door. I had 6 minutes to spare. I run to the kitchen and washed the few cups and juice pitcher. 4 Minutes, I dried my hair. 5:30. I take one more pass through my room and a look over of the house. I locked up my room and walked to the front door as Leanna was pulling up.

Ben came with Leanna which was great becuase he carried my bag to the car. Oh, yeah and as I was getting ready to start working out my old housemate stopped by to get the last of the things they left there. I could have cared less. I was on a mission and in a state of bliss really. On another note, since Leanna was going to the baptism that night and they Grey family would be there I put the mini Christmas tree that has been awkwardly standing in my living room by my front door to send with her. I honestly feel like I have thought of everything. I feel so at peace with leaving which is amazing considering I had all of 7 hours to wrap up my life in Ouagadougou for two weeks. I even remembered to text my French teacher and tell him not to come until after the 21st and to leave Susan’s book club book with someone so she would have it for Sunday!

Well, the drive the airport went fine. We just beat the traffic rush. Leanna and Ben gave me hugs goodbye and then peaced out. I went through all the steps of checking in and could finally sit and do nothing starting about 6:30ish. I waited 45 minutes until they started boarding the plane and then sat on the plane a while because the flight was to leave at 8:15. The dinner Leanna packed me was great and the only real food I had all day, sloppy joe, a roll and pasta salad. I was too busy to stop and eat when getting ready to go!

I didn’t realize this and it didn’t really matter, but we had a stop over in Niamey, Niger. Crazy. I didn’t understand why leaving at 8:15pm we wouldn’t get to Paris until 6:15am when it is a 6 hour flight… Turns out the layover in Niamey is a doosey. We just sat in the plane the whole time. I wasn’t able to sleep sleep persay, but I did rest. The food on the flight actual was okay. It smelled better than it tasted though. I also watched the movie, The Golden Compass. I wouldn’t recommend it… I didn’t think it was all that great. But after the movie I was able to sleep for about two and half hours which was great.

We got to Paris on time and it was great to be in a developed country again; sliding glass doors, garbage cans, paper towels in the bathroom, flat screen flight monitor screens, Prada stores, Rolex stores all in the airport. Hallelujah! It took me a while to figure out where to go in the airport. My flight isn’t until 1:40pm so the gate info wasn’t displayed yet. But I managed. I found the gate and then found the bathroom. The next thing on the agenda was to check my email and hopefully have responses from all the emails I sent to know what to do when I land in Boston. I paid 6euros for 30 minutes and YES! I had all the information I needed waiting for me in my inbox :)

After checking my email I grabbed a quick breakfast of yogurt which I was able to pay for in Euros because I had some leftover and even thought to bring them! After breakfast I walked around a bit and then determined I was took tired to function so I found an empty area and sit down. I then took my roll of clothes I have in my carry on to change into once I arrive, and used it as a pillow. I actually fell asleep asleep for like 40 minutes and was able to rest for an additional hour. This was essential if I wanted to be functional when I arrive at MIT ;) There is something funny, however, about laying down on the ground in plain sight in a very public place like an airport. I kept my arms around my luggage so that wasn’t a worry. OH and you won’t believe this… at the airport they have these great luggage carts. They are kind of like shopping carts, but smaller and sleeker and designed to hold you carry-ons, purses, ect.

Anyway, I got up feeling much better. I went and brushed my teeth, nothing like a clean fresh smile to make you feel like it is a new day and that you have slept… Then I started writing this post and so arrive at the same point in time. I will leave this post again with just a few observations.

1. Flying over Africa at night is kind of freaky. I think I may have mentioned this before when I was describing my initial trip, but it is SO dark. There are no lights to look out the window and see. Unlike flying out of Chicago where the city of lights spreads out like a glowing spider web, Ouaga’s lights were few to begin with and trailed off to nothingness, pitch black within a few minutes. So that is why they call Africa the Dark Continent… well maybe there are other reasons for that as well, but whatever.

2. In Ouaga people will often where the airline eye masks as mouth guards to help keep them from breathing in the terrible dust and exhaust fumes of Ouaga. The first time I saw this I was pretty surprised but it has become a normal sight for me now. BUT the funny thing is a guy on the plane, an African I presume, was wearing it over his mouth instead of his eyes on the plane! I wanted to be like, yeah, um that isn’t what they are really for and the air in this plane probably has higher quality and more filtered air than any you have every breathed before… But I just smiled to myself and was contented to write about it in my blog.

3. Finally, flying into Paris this morning it was still dark out. It was amazing to see the tangles of lights. The roads in Paris look like someone scribbled them in, they are all twisty turny and circling each other. Not at all like the grids of US cities. I also noticed that the lights had different hues. Some were very yellow, others a clear white and some had a bluish hue. This must be because of different kinds of lighting, but it is cool to think of light having different colors. I guess that is why there is a market for products like the GE Reveal light bulbs.

Alright. Over and out. I will write a catch up post for my time for Wednesday March 26th to April 2nd soon.

p.s. my friends in Ouaga tease me about my long blog posts. I think they are just jealous, hehehe…