Larry Minus his Luggage: Trip 6

I am sitting at a delightful (since the power and hot water came on an hour ago!) guest house in Entebbe, Uganda. It is sunny, about eighty degrees and I am in a small restaurant about 75 feet from my room in the shade and a nice breeze. It is a welcome reprieve from the craziness I have experienced until now. The photo for this blog is the view from where I am writing.

Let me pick it up from where I left off for post #1 at the Amsterdam airport. 

We arrived with about three hours for a layover. It goes quickly but we are now so familiar with this airport that we know our way around well. After deplaning and taking care of our necessary biological functions, we headed toward a KLM Airline (Delta’s partner in Europe) counter for our flight to check on the visa situation. We were told in no uncertain terms that we were not going to be able to get on the plane. Uh-oh. We explained that in all our previous trips we could and had gotten visas both online and in person, as recently as August. This means they could not pull the old but we’re in COVID time now, because we had already gotten in person visas during the pandemic. They were not impressed. We asked for a “higher up” to appeal to and they sent us to T-6 (one of the transfer stations) where several KLM people worked navigating challenges for travelers. 

We spoke to a woman (seriously long eyelashes-no, not natural!) who heard our case and proceeded to consult her computer. She shook her head and told us to go fill one out online. 

What I should disclose now is that Peter, Mike and I had all tried and failed to do so online, encountering different problems. I also know from experience that when you apply, the process takes 24-72 to complete so that’s not helpful. I also know that you can simply show up at the Entebbe airport and get one during COVID, which Mike has. We checked with Kris Mobbs, our partner in Gulu who told us not to worry, that yes, you can get a visa in Entebbe. So, filling one online would be a waste of time. 

I texted Kris and told him our dilemma as we headed back to our gate. He did a Face Time audio call and we filled him in. He said he “had a guy” and he’d get back to us. We were seated now in a waiting area and Peter suggested we pray. For the record, I had been praying regularly, but we had not prayed together about this. So, we paused and when we finished, a private jet picked us up and flew us the rest of the way! Not really. We started discussing alternative plans should Kris’ “guy” could not come through. We realized we might need to simply turn around and come back. We could get stuck in Amsterdam till our return flight came through (not a bad place to get stuck) on Nov 6. We could not apply for an online visa and wait a few days because it didn’t work and still probably get there for our teaching assignment.

Kris called back after talking to his guy and a colleague. Since we (Mike and I) had been to Gulu the last week of August and first week of September, our visas were still valid. I got on my computer and found my e-visa I could use this to get through to Entebbe. Mike did not have one because he got a hard copy last trip (proving you could buy one in Entebbe during COVID). Kris’ guy said we were out of luck on the e-visa for today. We decided that I would try to get on the plane and that Mike and Peter would stay behind and scramble.

By the time I got up to the counter, the waiting area was about 85% empty. I presented my documents (passport, COVID test) and held the e-visa on my phone. She started looking up my name and couldn’t find it. Turns out that based on previous conversations they assumed (because we didn’t have visas) we were not going, so they removed us from the trip and pulled our baggage out. I told her we never gave permission to be removed and that I would like to go on to Entebbe. She both agreed and was a bit anxious.  She started working the computer. A few minutes later, two other agents were looking over her shoulder with intrigue. By this time the waiting area was virtually empty. She placed a phone call and while she did, an agent let a straggler in the door leading to the plane and closed it. I know what that is supposed to mean. I informed her that I wanted to get on and the agent on the phone gave her the “hold on” look (not sure there is an emoji for this!). She hung up and a supervisor soon joined the onlookers. She was confused by my visa, but it was good till almost the end of November. She kept looking back and forth between e-visa and passport and eventually handed it all back to me and said follow me and was walking briskly toward the plane. I asked her what would happen to my bag, and she said it would not make the trip and to fill out a report in Entebbe and that is was my friend’s fault (way to go Mike and Peter!). Sounds like the blaming that began in the garden has in fact gone global. I thanked her for her efforts as I walked on to the plane. To think of someone else for a moment, I’m sure it was very stressful for her. Now back to ME!

Everyone else was seated and ready to go. I was THAT guy who held up the flight. I went to my seat, and it was occupied. I showed my ticket to the occupant, and he showed me an identical one. It must have been given to him after I had been removed earlier. I turned and saw an empty seat nearby (good), with an empty seat next to it (better!) and sat down. About two more minutes passed with the pilot welcoming us blah, blah, blah. Then a flight attendant called my name. I was getting ready to do the perp walk for holding up the flight and a confusing visa. She came to me and told me that they had a seat for in comfort plus, which for an 8+ hour flight sounded awfully good. I told her I’d rather have an empty seat next to me than the extra leg room. She walked up to the nicer section, shooed another passenger away (the nerve of not sitting in the right seat!), and motioned me forward. I was placed in a four seat row, with me in seat one and another in seat four (best!). The extra leg room, and as I discovered, the greater reclining angle was appreciated after such a crazy day. I finished a book, watched a movie, started two and stopped and tried to sleep and got about a ½ hour in. 

All this has taken place in about 25 hours…tomorrow I will tell you about what happened when I got to Entebbe. Nothing was normal! I will post again tomorrow.

Larry Szyman

Pastor for Missional Life