Another Day in Entebbe: Trip 6

I woke up today (Thursday) to Kris working his phone and his “guy” trying to find a way to get Peter and Mike to Entebbe today. There is one flight a day from Amsterdam (where Mike and Peter are) and Entebbe (where Kris and I are) and our hope is that we can get the e-visa thing cleared up and get them here so we can get to Gulu and get to work! Turns out, that since COVID the flight is only every other day. We made the decision that we will wait till Friday and if they can’t make it, we drive cross country and go into full scramble mode. It will be lonely for me in the Guest House in Gulu by myself, but I will make the best of it—and probably bother some of the residents nearby! The good news is that they expected my luggage to be on the flight from Amsterdam.

This gives us another day to get the e-visa straightened out. Kris gave the guy some instructions, some money to pay any bills or fines and gave the instructions to “get it done”. I started studying where we were staying and caught up on email. Kris took his vehicle into a place to get some work done. After successfully getting it fixed, we went to the mall so I could get some deodorant and a toothbrush, having decided I can make it in the same clothes another day (that would make it roughly 96 hours with the same clothes on-may have to burn the clothes afterwards!). Fortunately, the spaces have not been over eighty degrees and I do have access to a shower.

Friday is D-day. When we woke up Kris checked on the status. Neither of them had their visa yet. Mike and Peter decided that 9:30 was the deadline on their end. If the visas came through, great. If not, they had booked flights back to MSP at almost the same time as the one to Entebbe. Fortunately, all the TLI flights have trip insurance, so Mike was free to take this approach. It was about 7:45. Texts and phone calls between Mike, the guy and Kris flew back and forth. Kris looked like a general manager on draft day, telling the guy to yell if he must. The problem was the Uganda’s system shut down regularly, so your timing must be just right. I had proven you can purchase a visa once you land, but KLM would have none of it. Nine O’clock came and nothing. The guy said it was not looking good.

It was while I was studying, that I ran into one of the often-repeated phrases from our teaching: that God is sovereign, wise and good. I had a faith decision to make. Either God is sovereign, wise and good (in all things including airlines) or he isn’t. I chose to trust Him and settle my occasional burst of anxiety. 

At 9:20, the text said that Peter had his visa and his baggage (with two of the four totes containing our materials) would be with him. We figured Mike was next in line and we would live happily every after. Turns out, that 9:30 came and went and Mike informed us he was heading for the plane going to MSP. God is still sovereign, wise and good. Now we have a thirteen hour wait till the plane arrives and Peter, who’s never been to Uganda, gets to encounter the mess that I had two days earlier at the Entebbe airport.

The place we were staying at had no vacancies for Friday, so we had to find another place. I took a few hours and wrote two of my previous posts. We went out for lunch and Kris and I started making up a plan for the week ahead without Mike, who is the one we all look to for direction on the curriculum and any adjustments that had to be made. We continued our housing search and found a place closer to the airport. We vegged out. I did some more reading and studying in my new role as the trip leader. I’m not sure TLI, the organization who leads these trips, have had one without one of their staff before. I got a nap in, knowing it would be a late night, with Peter landing at 10:30, getting tested for COVID, going through immigration, picking up the two totes with materials and waiting for his test results before we could take him to our place for the night. 

Ten o’clock came and we headed for the airport. Kris and I went to a place where we could see Peter before he headed up to wait for his results. We thought this would be comforting for him. As we were waiting, it crossed my mind they might let me into the baggage carousel area so I could get my bag. I explained my situation to the first military person I encountered who let me in. When I got to the second person, he took me to a place in the corner and showed a intercom device to call the baggage reclamation folk. He showed me how to push the button and put my ear to the device so I could hear.

I pushed the button, put my ear by the device and nothing. I tried again, same result. I called the man over. I tried it in his presence, and I got an answer. They told me to wait a ½ hour and try again. By this time, the plane had landed, and the carousel started turning. I could see this all from where I was stationed by the device.

Kris and I were joined by a man from Switzerland who was having the same challenge. I taught him to make a call. He received a similarly uninspiring response. We started chatting. He comes to Africa to deal with minerals. When I asked which ones, he said gold. I resisted the temptation to ask for a sample! He said Entebbe was a safer place to land than where he was going. The wait continued and I saw some yellow totes on the carousel. I think I counted seven and hoped two of them were ours. During this time, Peter was in line (a line that regularly changed to his disadvantage) to get tested. He finally got swabbed about an hour and fifteen minutes after landing

Eventually, Peter made his way out the door with someone pushing a cart with two totes and his bag. The first words out of his mouth were “Praise God!”. I introduced him to Kris and I told him what to expect and where to meet us when he was eventually released. Peter left for his wait, escorted by Kris from across a divider. When Kris went as far as he could, he went back to the vehicle to take a nap while I waited for my bag. Every time someone official looking walked through the door, I tried to flag them down for assistance. About twenty minutes later, someone heard my plea and went back to look for me. The guy from Switzerland got his bag and wished me luck. About ten minutes later I saw my bag being rolled in my direction. I signed off to receive it and made my way back to Kris in the vehicle. When I found him, I asked him to take a picture of my bag and me reunited (and it felt so good!). We stacked it in with the totes and continued to wait for Peter. 

There was a long cement runway that people who were cleared for COVID walked down, and we could see it fairly well. What we discovered is that there were a lot of short, gray haired white men getting tested. Every time I saw one, I jumped out of the vehicle, and walked to the exit only to be disappointed by another gray-haired white man. After about fifteen or so, it was Peter. He jumped in and we made the short drive to our place for the night. We got back at around two in the morning, a four-hour affair! We planned to meet at 7 am for breakfast and drive cross country to Gulu.

I have made four posts, written over six thousand words and have yet to make it to our destination! God is sovereign, wise and good.

Larry Szyman

Pastor for Missional Life