Day 3 – Flexibility

Day 3 was a learning day for us. We had been told that flexibility was a key to our success while in Africa. We began to learn about flexibility even before we began to train security forces in Rwanda.

Our training session was to take place in a meeting room of the Top Tower Hotel in downtown Kigali at 8 a.m. Our transportation convoy (a Toyota Prado Land Cruiser and a Corolla) was eventually ready to roll from the ALARM Training Center at 8:15 a.m. That departure time put us in the midst of rush hour traffic.

Rush hour takes on new meaning in Rwanda. Pedestrians, buses of all sizes, bicycles, cars, and the ever-present motorcycle taxis swarm like ants on a fallen ice cream cone.

Apparently, stop signs serve only to warn you that there may be vehicles coming from other directions — because you don’t stop. Evidently, the stop sign doesn’t necessarily indicate which vehicle may have the right of way either.  And crosswalks seem to be designed to inform motorists the areas where they should speed up. Those on foot enter the crosswalk at their own risk and then run as fast as possible. Both the pedestrian and the driver bearing down on them seem to enjoy the game.

You also need to know that is apparently acceptable to drive your vehicle in any open space on the road. And everyone uses their horn as a declaration of the assumption of that space.

Yet, we saw little anger or frustration. Perhaps its because this is a culture dominated by flexibility.

District Executive Secretary, Raymond, & ALARM Rwanda National Coordinator, Benjamin Nkusi

District Executive Secretary, Raymond, & ALARM Rwanda National Coordinator, Benjamin Nkusi

We arrived at the hotel about 45 minutes late and then waited another 15 minutes to begin. Why? Because the executive secretary of the district had stepped forward to encourage the security officers. And since he had the floor, our arrival as the training team didn’t seem to dampen his desire to continue. Over the next 2 days, we learned to love this man, Raymond, and all of those who worked for him.

We spent a great deal of time engineering our presentations and the overall schedule. Our event organizers noted that and then worked out the final schedule in coordination with the hotel in regard to breaks and lunch. Then, pretty much, we were on our own to try and fit our materials into whatever time we actually had.

And it went very well.

The participants were totally delightful. In their role as security officers, these men and women walk the streets of the district at night and are the first responders — the unarmed first responders — to any problem. Behind them stood the National Police and, if necessary, the military. But most conflict is handled by these fine folks. And, even though they are night-time workers, they came to the training prepared to listen, to participate, and to learn.

Sixty-seven participants.

Flexible. When breaking for tea and coffee, they stood patiently and happily even though the hotel had assigned only one person to pour beverages. And the breaks were rarely at their scheduled time. Fifteen minute breaks stretched to one hour.

Practicing flexibility. The participants listened respectfully as each word we said was painstakingly translated into Kinyarwandan and just as patiently when what they told us was translated into English.

Whereas our American cultural background would have led us to believe that we had a right to complain, these people simply sat back, enjoyed the moment, and smiled.

One of the biggest delights was coming back from our first break and having the participants spontaneously break into song. While we might have felt a slight edge of frustration from the delays of the day, they were telling us that flexibility and calm would make all seem right.

They were teaching us about peace and the release of internal conflict.

Odd . . . wasn’t that what we were supposed to be doing?

Well, yes. In fact, we were.

Security Training 1And, in fact, we were. We were teaching and they were teaching. We were sharing and they were sharing. In our bonding in a required environment of flexibility we were forming an international bond of peace.

And that’s exactly what we were meant to do.

Flexibility is an integral part of peace. We just about have that part down.

Day 1 – Airplane

When determining the day counts for this blogalog, I set Day 1 as the day that we would finally be in Africa. For a while it seemed like an airplane might stand in our way for that to happen. In fact, a couple of airplanes entered into the equation.

You already know about the first. We learned last Thursday that our direct flight from DFW to Amsterdam had been canceled. No last minute mechanical problem, no real reason. The flight — or perhaps the airplane — just totally disappeared. In the grand scheme of things, the way ours disappeared was much preferable to other high-visibility plane mysteries of the day.

After great work by our travel agent and the fact that our fearless leader, Betty Gilmore, stayed on the phone and on social media for most of the day Thursday, an alternate plan took shape. Dan and Allison would fly to Houston and then to Amsterdam, while the rest of us flew to Philadelphia and then to Amsterdam. The happy reunion was to happen aboard KLM 579 as Aaron, Betty, Malcolm, Robyn and I joined Dan and Allison for our flight to Kigali. At several points along the way, we thought that might be simply a dream long lost.

10635925_924679183919_4084515460219195764_nDan and Allison did well on their end. Flights took off, four-hour layover in Houston, and another four-hour layover in Amsterdam.

But that’s not the airplane story.

The rest of us arrived in Philadelphia just a little late. But we made our way over to our flight to Amsterdam. Once aboard, it seemed we would arrive with about 2 hours to spare. As travel conversations go, we then began the what-ifs of security lines and customs and boarding passes yet unseen. Still, we were on our plane and almost on our way, when the captain tweaked the intercom and apologized for a small delay — a mechanical problem that had not been fully explained to the crew was going to delay us just a while longer.

A while became longer. The attendant crew chief made the next announcement of the good-news-bad-news variety. First for the bad news. The plane we were on, the one fully-loaded and with our in-flight meal in the warming ovens, was not going anywhere. But the good news was that, just a few gates away was an identical plane (sans the aforesaid mechanical problem and the warming dinner) awaiting us. We were told to move quickly to the new gate for reboarding.

2014-09-19 18.48.33Which we did. But the plane wasn’t ready and the time was set back yet another hour. Our new arrival time gave us only one hour between flights in Amsterdam. And again we began running the scenarios and the possibilities. By the time we were on board the new airplane and seated, the pilot had updated our arrival time to be less than 30 minutes from our departure time. Dan and Allison were over the Atlantic. We sent a few social media messages up to the cloud and hoped.

The new plane did fine. Unfortunately, one of our fellow passengers had a medical emergency disrupting the sleep for almost all of us. And when we did land in Amsterdam, we were told that we would have to remain on the plane until our stricken passenger could be removed by medical personnel.

Just in case you think this is all bad news, there was also a follow-up cabin announcement that the party going to Kigali (that would be us) would need to meet the gate agent who had our boarding passes in hand and who would escort us to our new gate.

Aaron and I were the stragglers getting off the plane, which had a little bit to do with the fact that Robyn shouted back for us to grab her bag — it was right above our seats — and a lot to do with the fact that our seats were only 3 rows from the back.

As we made our way on the jet bridge and high-fived the medical emergency guy still sitting in a wheel chair waiting for the medics, Betty called down the long square tube, “Run! Our plane is leaving and there’s not another one to Kigali for 2 days!”

So we ran. I am proud to report that many of our team are quite fast. And I can report that because I saw them disappearing from my view at an alarming rate. Nonetheless, we all arrived at Gate A47, the KLM crew was amazing and helped us through security. And thus it was that we fell aboard Flight 579 and saw, to our great relief, Allison and Dan.

Everything was good and this new airplane was a wonder of technological sophistication. A woman from Uganda even helped me get my personal little TV to work. We were in the midst of our dinner when we, for a few moments, thought that this airplane, too, might not deliver us with the desired effect to Kigali International Airport.

As our Dutch pilot would later explain, he didn’t expect the turbulence that caused our plane to drop what seemed like several thousand feet or the ensuing winds that howled outside and pushed us sideways. You heard me, we could hear the winds howling outside. It was a little frightening. On the bright side, I saved several hundred calories. Because I, along with most of the other travelers, simply put my fork down and vowed never to raise it again.

Another serendipity was the growing relationship I had with the woman from Uganda in the next seat. At each jolt and bounce of the plane, she reached out to hold a wider and wider piece of all things around her which, at one point, became me. While I would like to say it was a bonding moment for 2 strangers facing impossible odds, it simply felt like a death grip on my arm. So another serendipity was that the pain in my elbow made me forget some of the turbulence-related issues.

About the time we entered Grecian airspace, we moved past the turbulence and the captain came on and reassured us that all was well. And, in fact it was. Everything else happened as scheduled — unless you count the fact that my Ugandan friend and I were skipped during the afternoon ice cream service.

Upon landing, we found that our bags that were routed through Philly had not made it on board during our 10-minute layover in Amsterdam. We hope to have those by Monday night because those 4 were some of the supplies slated for the refugee camp next Wednesday.

So, if you want the short story. We took a couple of airplane rides. We arrived. Our hosts from ALARM met us at the airport.

We are in Africa on Day 1, safe and sound.


1 Day and Counting – Inconvenience

When I first opened my computer this morning, I started to make my post for the day. Some time ago, I had selected the topic “Blessings” for today. However, I was distracted and didn’t get right on it. A little later in the day, Robyn posted on our FaceBook group page, “Joey, in case you need a topic for the ‘one day and counting’ blog! I think you found one!” In fact, I had. As the picture here would indicate, our team was being presented with an inconvenience.

Under normal conditions, a notice that your flight has been canceled is a cause for at least mild concern. But when your flight is from DFW to Amsterdam and there are 6 other team members on your flight . . . let’s just say it elevates the inconvenience a bit.

We received this news late this morning. Ever since then, our fearless leader Betty has been on the phone with the airline and with our travel agent trying to work everything out. The last bulletin states that 5 of us will be going to Amsterdam by way of Philadelphia. Dan and Allison will be routed through Houston. Or at least that was the last news I had.

Even now, Karen, our travel agent, is on the phone with the airline still trying to get confirmations. One by one, I’ve seen emails come from the team that they have received theirs. And, since I typed the period on that last sentence, I’ve learned that my itinerary is done as well.

So, for now I’m planning on flying out of Abilene on my original flight and I’m just hoping that neither the airline nor the weather delays the flight. Okay, it’s more than hope. It’s fervent prayer.

Regardless, in the grand scheme of things this will be just one of the inconveniences we are likely to encounter. As I look over at the somewhat regimented pile of stuff by my bag, I’m anticipating that my next one will be when I realize I’ve left something vital behind.

No, cancel that. Latest post from Dan and Allison. Now the airline is saying that they don’t have tickets to Houston. So that’s the next one.

Since this could go on all night, I’m just going to sign off and ask for a simple prayer from all of you. Please pray that Dan and Allison and Aaron and Robyn and Malcolm and Betty and I all have seats on planes that will take us to Amsterdam tomorrow. Otherwise, we might be looking at an inconvenience.

Tune in tomorrow!

3 Days and Counting – Less

With just 3 days left before our peace mission team leaves for Africa and as we are thinking about more and more we have to do, simple acts like “practice-packing” inspire us to think in terms of less.

I’ve been putting off my practice-packing. I haven’t polled the rest of the group, although I suspect that Allison has had several sessions. Several successful sessions. Or perhaps she packed 3 weeks ago and she and Dan just have to remember not to trip over that roller-board bag in the middle of the room. But, more likely, if Allison is already packed, then she also found a place to stow her luggage. Allison is our champion of packing theory and getting things done. That’s one of the reasons why she’s going to have her own action figure some day.

As I’ve taken several looks at my carry-on bag, I’ve tried to imagine what might actually fit inside. Sometime in the next 48 hours, I’m going to have to start moving from imagination to reality. I dread that moment. For, I’m anticipating that not only will I have to think in terms of less, I will have to do with less.

It seems if I take 10-12 days of anything, that there will be entire categories of things I can’t take. It’s true that we will have laundry facilities available to us. So, sufficient supplies of clothes and underclothes and socks can be calculated by simple math. Number of days divided by 2. That is, of course, only viable if I can actually get 5-6 days of things in my bag.

I’ve already chosen shoes that double as kind-of nice dress shoes and kind-of durable trekking/safari shoes. Since I’ll be wearing them on the plane I don’t have to pack them. Or anything else I wear on the plane. So, if I can wear two days worth of clothes on the plane, then I’m down to 3-4 days of things to pack.

Regardless, I know it will work out. I’ve had dozens of people tell me how they spent weeks and weeks living out of a single bag. Those people don’t really make me feel better, either about them or packing. Yet, I do have some hope.

On a more serious note, our team is about to travel to a part of the world where a majority of the people live with less than we think is humanly possible. These are men, women, and children who would consider themselves rich to have the things that could be packed into a 21-inch piece of luggage. Although we will see much need and poverty and hurt, we anticipate that we will also come to know many, many people who exude joy and contentment. In particular, we are already thinking about our time among refugees and the displaced kids from the streets of Nairobi. We will learn much about living with an abundant spirit in the days to come.

For you see, one of the great things about this trip is our opportunity to deal with the concept of less.

Every member of our team is grateful for the many material blessings we have. Yet, within each of my beloved sojourners, I have seen an incredible desire to give, to share, and to walk side-by-side with the folks Jesus would have referred to as “the least of these.” And give and share and walk they will.

There is a beauty to simplicity. An ambience to less. A restful peace. All from letting go of more and embracing less.

Less of stuff. Less of self.

More of God’s children. More of God. More of peace.

23 Days and Counting – Pounds

In just 23 days, our team will be lining up at the Delta ticket counter in DFW International Airport. And for a moment, we’ll all be conscious of extra pounds.

No, we’re not trying to make this about Weight Watchers International. The pounds we’ll be watching are with our checked luggage.

Each of us will be allowed to check two bags with a weight limit of 50 pounds per bag. In those bags — duffel bags — will be our gifts for the refugee camp we will visit in Rwanda. Other posts have shown you the wide variety of art supplies, soccer balls, and sunglass readers we’ll be taking.

My project for the trip was medical kits. Working with an Abilene non-profit, Global Samaritan Resources, I was charged with pulling together a few items that might be useful to medical personnel in the camp. Well, the good folks at Global Samaritan, came up with a little something.

I think it is remarkable that when Betty, Robyn, Allison, Dan, Malcolm, Aaron, and I let it be known that we wanted to take some things to Africa that the outpouring was so great that our biggest problem is having too much to take.

It’s a wonderful, absolutely glorious, problem to have! Thank you!