| August 13, 2017 |
I can’t really do much complaining about my travels to Tanzania. There was something comforting about solo travel to a familiar place. Despite the multiple delays from New York to Boston, and Boston to Amsterdam, my journey was still relatively stress-free.
Now contrast this to the 13-hour layover in Ethiopia, and difficulty getting through customs the Stony Brook Student group endured, and I’m CERTAIN I have nothing to complain about…
My journey began in Laguardia Airport, which I’m pretty sure has been under construction for more than a decade. I see no light at the end of the tunnel with the airport’s confusing signs and terminal directions. How they ever can be “new and improved” is beyond me. But I digress.
Since LGA doesn’t fly internationally, I traveled from LGA to Boston Logan airport. Of course, I would’ve rather flown out of the US directly, but I went the cheapest route I could. Miraculously, I found a roundtrip ticket for less than $1,000 to Tanzania (with thanks to Kayak and the assistance of Mama Connolly). I wanted to use airline miles through Delta/KLM, but it was too late to book my ticket and I couldn’t redeem mileage for my itinerary. Thus, I sacrificed convenience for affordability. Last year, I got a Delta Skymiles credit card and saved more than enough mileage, but unfortunately couldn’t use it for this trip. Oh well, maybe if we plan the trip earlier next year I’ll be able to put it to use!
My itinerary looked like this:
LGA (New York) to BOS (Boston Logan)
Original planned departure 2PM. Actual takeoff 5PM.
BOS to AMS (Amsterdam)
Original flight departure 4:52PM. Changed flight to 6:53PM. Actual takeoff 7:32PM.
AMS to JRO (Kilimanjaro)
Departure at 10:20AM. Flight was on time, and so was I. This is the only flight from AMS to JRO through KLM.
Despite the delays in the beginning of the trip, I made my flight from Amsterdam to Kilimanjaro, and actually shortened a lot of layover time. I would’ve had 5.5 hours in Amsterdam, but only had about 30 minutes instead! Plus, all my time waiting for delays was spent in the Delta Sky Lounge. Rough life, huh?
When I landed in Tanzania on August 9, I first noticed the number of tourists was quite different than last year in April. Being that August is the “high season” and most popular time to go on safaris and climb Kilimanjaro, the airport was definitely busier. The line for visas barely moved. It took about an hour to get up to the window, where they asked why I was returning. No further questions, and I was pointed to a cubicle to get another visa printed.
I walk up to the window, they say nothing to me, I put my right four fingers on the screen when it lights up green. I wait with my right thumb on the screen, thinking I was having excellent forethought, but they didn’t need any more finger prints. (Last year, I had to do 4 fingers right hand, right thumb, 4 fingers left hand, left thumb.) I was handed my passport with a new visa and sent on my way!
Asante sana… Karibu…
Finding my baggage wasn’t even a challenge. There’s no turnstiles at JRO, but my two suitcases were waiting for me, and I somehow managed to independently roll 2 large suitcases, one carryon suitcase, and my backpack. I usually travel much lighter, but this year many supplies were brought to Tanzania! Plus, I had to pack camping gear for the Serengeti and (possibly) Kilimanjaro. My bags were scanned without question, and I met Hussein from Edutours to bring me to my accommodations in Arusha for the next few days!
I didn’t even have jetlag. When I showed up at the Edutours office the morning of August 10, I was enthusiastic and ready to begin preparing for the service trip. My peppy self was questioned by Tyler and Adrian (Edutours Tanzania staff), as they wondered when I had flown in, and how on earth I was not exhausted. Excitement got the best of me, fo’ sho.’
Now, let’s hear the journey to Tanzania from the group’s perspective. The slight disclaimer is that the flights were all booked later than we would have liked, and thus the price would have been disgustingly high if they didn’t have such a complicated itinerary. Edutours and I are already discussing how we’ll improve for next year!
First of all, everyone left out of Newark airport, which took about 3 hours to drive to from Long Island, New York, thanks to Friday afternoon traffic. Jamie, who traveled on NJ transit, reports she dealt with inconsiderate New Yorkers while trying to shuffle two suitcases through stairs and construction in the terminal. The group left at 9:30PM on Friday, August 11 and arrived on Sunday, August 13. Per the students, the length of the itinerary wasn’t the issue. The 13-hour layover in Ethiopia wasn’t even the issue. It was the little things surrounding the trip that made it challenging.
The trip itinerary for the remaining 7-person crew was as follows on Ethiopian Airlines:
Newark, New York to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Depart 9:15PM on August 11, arrive 9:25PM on August 12
13-hour layover in Ethiopia
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia à Kilimanjaro Airport, Tanzania
Depart 10:20AM on August 13, arrive 12:55PM on August 13
I’ve never flown on Ethiopian Airlines, but quite I’m jealous of the yellow, blue, and green blankets they got to snuggle with (and Sarah successfully confiscated). The food also looked decent. Here they are!
Once arriving at customs, the challenge to get visas in a crowd of people ensued. Per Meaghan, the mid-day arrival and combination of heat, sleep deprivation, and thirst were reportedly the worst parts of traveling to Tanzania. The customs lines aren’t exactly the most organized. Well, that’s a severe understatement. It’s essentially a blob of people funneling through a hot room toward a visa window. Only one window was open, and two ladies sat at the other window playing on Snapchat. Curious, eh? The group realized they could’ve just weaseled their way to the front around the unorganized mess of people to expedite the process… but this time around, they spent 2+ hours being frustrated and tired.
All the meanwhile, Gabriel and I were waiting outside at arrivals for the group to come through. We arrived at 12:40PM to wait for their 12:55PM arrival. En route, Gab had the brilliant, thoughtful idea to pick up water bottles for the incoming crew. We waited at arrivals holding a “Stony Brook University” sign.
At first, we were excited and holding the sign, scanning each person that came through the exit… fast forward 1 hour and we started wondering where everyone was, and we didn’t hold the sign as enthusiastically. At 2PM, I started getting a wee bit nervous. I asked the security guard if I could scan the visas lines for my “clients,” but he kept telling me to wait 10 minutes… wait 10 minutes… wait 10 minutes. Finally, he let me through at 2:45PM. I walked past the baggage screening area and into the ‘baggage claim,’ and finally saw a familiar face! Sarah – a PT student who I worked alongside during one of my clinical rotations in PT school – was right there getting her baggage! Ryan also surfaced, and I felt a sigh of relief. I ran back outside to Gab, letting him know they were safe!
Then things got interesting.
Ryan came outside to me saying the security needed to speak to who was picking him up, based on the scan of his baggage containing all our donations. There were >20 braces/AFO’s in his suitcase (I had given them to him back in New York), and security was questioning them. I explained that we were donating them to a school, and they asked for a inventory of all the items we were bringing in and how much it was all worth. I explained that the items were all donated, and therefore couldn’t be quantified. This wasn’t good enough. Gabriel was starting to get worried, and explained that the Food and Drug Administration of Tanzania was going to let the baggage pass through tariff-free, but the TRA wanted to tax the materials. Prior to my journey, Edutours had warned me that we may be taxed on our donations. Unfortunately, there isn’t an organized or official system of taxing, so we were dealing with a lot of barganining behind closed doors. They pulled Ryan and Gabriel into the back office at one point, and they asked Ryan what the name of the braces were. He said “foot orthotic,” then noticed the officer began to Google the name to see the price, and quickly corrected to “ankle braces.” We told them all the donations were worth $300, and in exchange they asked for $142 in taxes.
50% tax? You’ve got to be kidding me.
This went on for an eternity, all the meanwhile the girls sat in the lobby hunched over their luggage, exhausted from traveling. I wanted to wrap this up in the best way possible, as quickly as possible.
We were given two options: (1) Pay the tariff now and we can take the donations, or (2) Leave the donations, get a written letter from the school stating they’re accepting the donations + an inventory of the donations, then we’d be appropriately taxed. I felt concerned about leaving the materials, and also wasn’t sure what the correct ‘protocol’ was. When we settled on giving the officers $100 in USD (cash) and were able to leave with the donations, my inkling that there was no official protocol was confirmed. Gabriel was a bit unsettled about the whole agreement (or lack there of), but we decided next time we bring donations we’ll do it in a more organized way. Adrian at Edutours recommends we write up a list of donations and submit it to the TRA before traveling to Tanzania to alert them of our plans.
With all the back and forth conversation, you’d think people’s voices would be raised. But, all conversation between us (Gabriel, Ryan, and I) and the TRA staff was quiet. From watching exchanges in Swahili, you could tell there was some confusion and disagreement, but nobody was yelling. I was thinking about how much more intense it’d be if this was a New York Airport discussion…
Some other interesting compromising also happened through security. Per Sarah:
After a day and a half of traveling, we FINALLY made it to Arusha! The only thing keeping us in the airport was getting through security, which looked pretty simple. I placed my bags on the conveyor belt and quickly, the woman running the machine asked to look inside the small duffle bag I had all of my donations in. I agreeably opened my bag and she asked what the 20 rolls of duct tape were. She picked up a roll of purple patterned tape (which coincidentally match her head wrap), asked what it was and asked to take it. I was very taken back, all that came out of my mouth was “uhhh I guess so” because there was no way I was getting in trouble when I was only feet from being in the African air. She then opened up the box of sharpies, took one out and goes “and one of these?” Took a sharpie and I was on my way.
Haahahah… hahha… ha… Ridiculous.
We gathered our luggage, packed it into (and onto the roof of) the car, and began our journey back towards Arusha. From a distance, we saw a great deal of smoke on the side of the road, and as we got closer noticed it was a car on FIRE! The police and onlookers were just staring, unsure what to do. About 30 minutes later, we passed a fire truck heading in the direction of the car. We drove on Arusha’s new road, thanks to the president, Magufuli, who is pushing for more development in Tanzania.
When we got to L’Oasis Lodge, we had all gotten our first taste of “TIA” – This Is Africa! We settled into our rooms and met for dinner at 6PM. We ordered our food in the lounge, and waited patiently for it to arrive… after over an hour, we were chauffeured to another room to eat. It was all a little confusing and exercised a lot patience when we were ALL very hungry and tired. This was all made better when we were given the dessert option and we all got ice cream. Charli got a chocolate pot, which was essentially chocolate syrup. Mmmmm, mmmm good.
We dragged our tired selves to bed, planning for a good night’s rest after long days of travel…