Monday, February 28, 2011

Downtown Switzerland

Today was the day I was to fly to Brazzaville from Zürich. Yesterday I said my goodbyes to friends in Neuchâtel and boarded the train to Zürich with my two trunks, two duffle bags, carry on suitcase, camera bag, and backpack, along with my friend Kathryn who agreed to come along to help with my luggage. After arriving in Zürich and throwing the luggage off the train before it departed again, we found some storage lockers big enough to fit one large bag/trunk each. This was a huge blessing because there is no way we would have got them to the hotel in one trip. Tired and exhausted, we found some dinner to eat and made our way to the hotel. 
My flight was scheduled to depart at 7:30. I thought I had calculated enough time to retrieve my bags, cross to the airport to the appropriate check-in counter, deposit my luggage, and make it through to security. Obviously, I was wrong. First, we ended up not getting the shuttle to the airport we originally intended. Then getting the luggage and getting to the ticket counter took longer than I expected. Finally, the employees of Air France lived up to their cultural stereotype of being overly friendly and helpful (note sarcasm). 

Me (stepping up to ticket counter): Hi. I've checked in online, but I need to check my baggage and have my boarding passes printed.
Agent: (big disgusted sigh) How many pieces of luggage do you have?
Me: 4, and two are overweight. 
Agent: (eyes now as big as saucers, jaw on keyboard) FOUR? Oooh la la. You have to pay for that you know.
Me: Yes, I know. (No kidding lady. I just thought through the kindness of your heart the airlines would let me take 4 pieces of luggage to sub-Saharan Africa free of charge. Really? Really? You don't think I looked into that?)
Agent: Do you know how much that is going to cost you? 
Me: Yes, 200 euro for each extra bag and 100 euro for each overweight bag. (Again, yes, I know it's going to be expensive. But I am bringing them, and I'm paying for them, so what's it to you if that's how I want to spend my money?)
Agent at next booth over: Why are you here NOW? 
Me: Because it took longer to get the luggage from the train station than I expected. (um, cause I didn't come earlier, and I didn't get here later. And your question doesn't change the tight time factor I have now, nor does it alleviate my stress level. Thank you for asking.)
Agent: You need to take 1 kg from your two heavier bags. 
Me: (pulled things from each bag-but now have no idea where to put the things I took out. I have already trimmed down to things I need, tossed out unessentials.) Bags now back on conveyer belt. Weight fine, getting tags on luggage.
Agent: Here is the total for your excess baggage. You can't pay for that here. You have to go over to the ticket counter (points to counter far away) and pay there, and after you pay, you'll get your boarding pass for your flight. 
Me: Thank you. (How efficient. I couldn't possibly pay for the luggage at the same place I DROPPED IT OFF. That would be too intuitively obvious, logical, and rational.)
Ticket agent: Let's see. (Takes LONG look at boarding passes, passport, bill for cost of luggage.) That will be 600 euro please.
Me: Hand credit card.
Kathryn comes over to me: You're only allowed one piece of hand luggage, the agents told me after you left. 
Me: What? I checked Air France website and it stated for flights to Africa I get two pieces of hand luggage? What am I supposed to do, check another bag? (Sinking heart feeling-yes, will have to check another bag) To ticket agent: I don't suppose I can check the bag here, but that I have to go back to the agent, check the bag, come back here and pay? 
Ticket agent: yes, you have to go to the agent to check the bag and come back here. 
Me: (of course I do)

Agent tells me the flight is closed and I can't check another bag. Insinuates that I have missed the flight and will have to pick up my luggage. I go back to ticket window to try to reschedule my flights. Ticket agent tells me the flight is closed for new baggage, but not for boarding. I have 5 min to walk across the airport, through security, and get to my gate. States I can pay there and he will forward me the invoice to check my carry on suitcase at the gate to be put down in cargo hold. Refuses to rebook my flights. Agree to this as I see no other options. Meanwhile, I've broken down crying shamelessly-no sobs, but just tears streaming down my face. I say goodbye to Kathryn, and walk as fast as I can to get to security and gate (can't run with backpack and carry-on). Going through security they ask why my carry on is so heavy. Looks of incredulity on their faces. I tell them it has medical books inside, which it does. Three of them-total weight: 6 kg. Gather my things and race to gate. 

Gate agent: sorry, flight is closed. (though she doesn't seem sorry, but smug.)
Me: (of course it is) 
Second gate agent: wait, what's your name?
Me: (glimmer of hope they held the flight for me) Laura Foudy
Second gate agent: Oh, nope, flight's closed. 
Me: (glimmer of hope dashed to pieces, inside monologue censored) Ok, so what now? Where do I go? Do I have to pick up my luggage?
Gate agent: Yes, you have to go back to the ticket counter.
Me: (of course I do)

I then attempt to find my way back to the check-in/ticket counter, which means I have to go past where I came through security, right? Wrong. I went back past where I went through security, turned where I know I came down the escalator to go back up, but then could not find an appropriate exit. Oh, there were exits. There were the little green men with the arrow telling me, mocking me that I could escape, but all the ones I found are only for emergencies, not regular exits. No signs saying "exit to zurich" or "baggage claim" or any indication you could get out of the airport without getting on a plane. After traversing the length of the airport again, I finally found signs for baggage claim and followed them out, exiting at opposite end of airport from the ticket counter I needed.  Made it back to ticket counter, ticket agent tells me he's rebooked my flight but I have to talk with travel agent to be sure it is all squared away. To get my luggage, I have to go to Terminal 1 to pick it up at the luggage information area. Great. There is no Terminal 1. There is Check-in 1 and Arrival 1, but nothing that actually literally says Terminal anywhere. But I assume correctly (fortunately) he means check-in 1. 
I retrieved my luggage, exited through "nothing to declare". Stopped by customs official.

Official: Where are you coming from?
Me: Zürich. I didn't go anywhere. I missed my flight and I'm picking up my baggage.
Official: But where did you come from today?
Me: Zürich. I didn't fly. I was supposed to fly. Missed my flight. Will be going another day. (This seems a rather straight forward explanation. I thought the first time was rather clear. I spoke slowly and clearly. And I'm not paying customs fees on luggage that only got a scenic tour of the airport.)
Official: (Looking at luggage tags) You're coming from Brazzaville? 
Me: No, was SUPPOSED to be GOING to Brazzaville, but I missed my flight. Simply picking up baggage. I was to LEAVE Zurich today. 
Official: Oh. 
Me: (Ok, guess third time is the charm.)

I put my luggage back into lockers, after getting CHF 50 in coins-you should have seen the lady's face when I asked for change for my CHF 50 bill in coins. Again, incredulous. You'd think since they are across the way from the lockers they would have more people coming to ask for coins. Said good-bye to Kathryn, and decided to start planning what to do next. Notified parents, Samaritan's Purse, and people in Congo of my change in plans. Booked hotel for the next two nights. Finally, by 7pm, I had ensured that my flights have been rebooked for wednesday. I can go to the airport tomorrow and pre-pay for my luggage and get 20% discount. I will have fewer days in Brazzaville to melt in the heat with little to do. God has provided and sustained me this day, though it did not always feel like it. 

I cannot flee His presence. Go where I will, He leads me, and watches me, and cares for me. The same Being who is now at work in the remotest domains of nature and of providence is also at my hand to make more full every moment of my being. -Thomas Chalmers

Sunday, February 20, 2011

One week

One week from tomorrow I will be leaving Switzerland and arriving in the Republic of Congo. Friends and family have been asking me if I'm nervous or excited and the answer is YES. I feel nervous, excited and a little indifferent. I think the indifference is due to not really knowing how I should feel. If I'm honest with myself, I think I'm more nervous than I let on. It's the fear of the unknown that gets me. Sure, it's going to be a great adventure, and I'm a pretty relaxed traveler, but I'm also a very curious person. What it's going to be like? How hot is it really? What am I going to do in the five days between when I arrive and when I leave Brazzaville for Impfondo? I'd like to know now, not wait. I've waited 12 years to get to this point-of being a physician-missionary, fully trained. Technically it's been 20-22 years if you count lofty childhood dreams. So another week won't be so bad.

On the other hand, I can hardly believe it's almost here. The goal has seemed so far away for so long, I'm a little afraid of actually accomplishing it. What if I can't handle missionary medicine? Should I make another goal, another big dream?  There's one I have in mind, but I have no idea on how to accomplish it, nor the skills to carry it to completion. It's definitely a God-sized project. I'll have to wait to see how He shapes my future...

In the meantime, there are things to be done here. For starters, I should probably pack my bags. It won't be as hard as it was when I was in the US, because I don't have nearly as many things. But figuring out how to distribute the weight between the bags is a different becomes a little like a puzzle, and I enjoy the challenge. There are a few things to be done in town-purchasing some swiss chocolate to bring with me as well as one or two items requested by missionaries in Congo, returning my visa to the 'Controller des Habitants' (they don't let you keep it-it's a plastic credit-card sized card), changing my Swiss Francs to Euro's (it will be easier to exchange the Euro for local currency in Brazzaville than Swiss Francs), and dining with friends.

Saying good-byes again will be difficult. I've made some wonderful friends here and feel truly blessed by God to have had the chance to know them. Then there will be the good-byes to my family via Skype. We'll still be able to talk via Skype when I'm in Congo (at least I hope the connection will be good enough for phone calls), but won't be able to video chat. It's been nice to get to visit with my nieces and nephews via video on Skype, and I will miss having that option. Did you know you can play "catch" via Skype if you have an imaginative 4 year old?

So, if you could, take a minute or two to pray for me this week as I prepare to leave. Pray I get everything done I need to accomplish, that I can sleep well so that I may arrive in Congo well-rested, that I make good use of the remaining time here, pray that God will help calm my anxieties as I lift them up to Him.