Remember the days when air travel was glamorous? Those days are long gone. Air travel has become an endurance test. I departed from Richmond Sunday around 5:00pm enroute to Yaounde, Cameroon, an itinerary involving three flights and over twenty-four hours in planes and airports. In Cameroon, I will be meeting with our ITEM lead team as well as serving as the keynote speaker for the Cameroon National Baptist Minister’s Convention in Bafoussom.
People Watching and What to Wear on a Plane
From Richmond it was on to JFK in New York where I had a six-hour layover. Normally, if I have a long layover like this in New York, I will jump on the train and head into the city and walk around Times Square for a bit snagging some authentic New York pizza or some street food along the way. However, I decided to stay put and just hang out in the airport tonight. If you like people-watching, then JFK is the place to do it as people from all over the world pass through this portal.
I’m particularly fascinated with what people wear on planes. The most popular clothing item for women is undoubtedly leggings and for men it would have to be t-shirts. I’ve learned two things about clothing for air travel. First, wear clothing with your destination in mind not your departure. Second, wear layers. I personally find airports and planes to be cold during the summer, except for those times when you are sitting on a plane on the tarmac and the air conditioning is not on and it becomes blazing hot like what I experienced on the way from Paris to Yaoundé. But more about that later.
At any rate, I have a habit of feeling like I’m always dressed wrong for the occasion. This trip is no different. I had chosen a fleece V-neck pullover to wear not thinking about how difficult it would be to pull it off sitting in a plane seat and how hot fleece can get. Oh well, chalk it up as another lesson in school of life.
Good Food at JFK and On Air France
Another huge plus at JFK are the number of interesting eateries. While walking to my gate, I came upon a restaurant offering authentic Turkish food where I immediately stopped and ordered a Gyro. It was one of the best Gyros I’ve ever had! It was then on to Paris on the redeye.
We arrived in Paris late and so once I found the gate, the flight was already boarding. Once we boarded and started taxying toward the runway, the plane stopped, and we remained on the tarmac for about forty-five minutes before we were able to take off. It very quickly became blazing hot on the plane, and I realized the fleece pullover was not a good idea.
On the bright side, Air France tends to consistently have the best airline food. Once again, their culinary fare did not disappoint. One thing you can always be certain of when flying on Air France is that cheese will be served with the meal. No one does cheese like the French. After a good meal and a few hours nodding in and out of sleep, we finally arrived in Yaoundé around 10:30pm local time.
Getting Through Immigration in Cameroon
But the endurance test was getting ready to enter its most strenuous phase: passing through immigration. The entry requirements for Cameroon posted online from the U.S. Department of State and Cameroon Government stated that fully vaccinated travelers having a negative PCR Covid test would not need to be tested upon arrival. Nevertheless, having deplaned we were herded into a small chaotic waiting room where no instructions were given, only grunts. Having been given a note with a number on it and seeing a nurse at the front of the room barking orders in French, I assumed we were being tested for Covid. So much for the correct information given on the Cameroon government and U.S. Department of State webpages!
Upon figuring out what was happening, I pushed my way to the front of the room having no idea what number the nurse was calling since it was all in French and hesitating to ask if she would translate into English since she didn’t seem to be having a good night. After standing around for about twenty minutes, I was called in, got the swab, and then had to wait another twenty minutes or so for the result. Then it was on to the final hurdle: immigration.
After standing in line for another thirty minutes, my passport was stamped and I was like a horse released from the stall, although an exhausted horse. Another 20-30 minutes waiting on the baggage, and I was finally able to exit the airport.
The Incident of the Luggage Cart
Unfortunately, my host was not able to enter the airport parking lot and was forced to wait at the main gate, which left me at the mercy of the many taxi drivers and airport handlers who troll the sidewalk looking for someone to make eye contact with them so they can force your bags from you, take them to your vehicle, and demand a tip. It is quite a racket. I’m normally able to escape, but not this night, as one man literally took my luggage cart away from me with me yelling the entire time, “I don’t have any money exchanged yet!” It did no good. Soon his partner came up behind and pulled out a wad of local currency wanting me to exchange money right there. Fortunately, my host intervened and after a heated discussion that ended with the man getting a tip (sigh), we were in the vehicle and headed for the hotel.
A not so quick 45 minutes later, we arrived at the hotel. By this time, I was so tired all I could think of was being able to lay horizontal on a bed. When I travel, I always ask my host for three necessities when it comes to lodging: hot water, Wifi, and air conditioning. This hotel I was assured ticked all the boxes. Of course, when we walked into the room, it was stifling hot because the air conditioner wasn’t blowing out any air. Additionally, there was only tepid water, and no working Wifi. I was 0–3. But at least there was a bed. After over 24 hours of travel, I’m just grateful to the Lord for a safe journey and the cool night air coming through my window.
I endured and now sleep is my reward . . . hopefully. Until tomorrow!