We made it to UGANDA!
by Morgan Ditto
Getting ready for a trek around the world, for my third time, to visit the Tender Mercies Outreach Foundation, the staff I respect, the children who have stolen my heart, and the culture and community of Ugandan men, women, and children that teach me how to be a better human, a better Christian, can be overwhelming. We each are able to bring 3 totes of supplies at no charge for our partners in Kayunga Town, Uganda. This usually means packing my one carry on tote and a smaller backpack takes thought and skill I have taken for granted, being a minimalist. Arriving at the airport in Billings early Thursday morning, with my stuffed backpack and 30-pound carry on suitcase, I prayed I would be able to have my additional 2 small yet very important bags with me as well. I had prepared all the tech equipment needed to film and photograph new content for our organization, as it is wanted and needed to continue to build our partnerships and donor base. The kind yet rule following desk clerk left me with no choice. I chose my equipment over my “necessities” and was able to check my small suitcase, no charge.
As we began our trek, we ran into one hurdle after another. One of our travel mates had a complication with their Visa, all due to a scanned photo glare. Thank the Lord for the staff that helped us each time we needed it made miracles happen. 9 out of 10 of us got on the first plane, while 1 patiently prayed and waited to get the final document needed for the big trek and boarded a separate fight to meet us. When we took our second flight to Atlanta, and learned we were being rerouted due to a thunderstorm (which actually was a disastrous case of weather for several areas in the south) we were disappointed, but still going with the flow. A couple hours in Tallahassee (on the plane, raiding snacks from the happy and accommodating flight staff) we finally lift off again to reach our connection to Amsterdam in Atlanta, but that was 2 hours too late.
In Atlanta we learned we had to rebook our flight, along with 200+ other passengers tired, hungry and frustrated. 10 separate reservations, and 3 Delta employees who had put in more than 12 hours of work already that day, we were lucky to have one angel named Felicia who made miracles happen. Hallelujah, she found 10 seats on 3 flights together, that were already “fully booked”. At one point she asked us if she could use the ladies' room, that poor woman had put ALL of her personal needs aside to get us to our destination.
So, an overnight stay was required in Atlanta, and with the 3 hours it took the poor staff to get us rebooked, I jumped online and found the closest hotel, according to Google, without hesitation or sensibility to check the ratings or reviews.
Two Ubers were required to get all 10 of us to our reservation (nonrefundable rooms, keep this in mind, and read on). With terrible signage we found our way out of the airport, and in the wrong spot for our driver to pick us up. I called him to let him know we needed him to come to us, we were tired, and our legs were done working. Over the phone he tells me, “I will make this happen, but you mustn’t let airport security know I am an Uber driver. We are family, ok?” Being the comedian I am, I knew I could rise to the challenge, and become long lost cousins with a man who was neither born where I was born, and whose first language was from another country. He arrived and I shouted, “COUSIN! It has been so many years, thank you for waking up at this late hour to pick us up!”
We arrived at our hotel, we’ll call it the HoJo as I was informed was this establishment’s nickname, after longingly looking at the clean and brightly lit exteriors of neighboring locations. When our driver turned into the worn down, dimly lit, armed guarded building, I knew I had made a BIG mistake. And one I could not get us out of. We checked into our non-smoking rooms in the smoking building, took the scary rickety and very smelly elevator up to the 5th and 6th floors, and hesitantly started to settle in for the night.
The ceiling in the lobby was… under repair.
The decor needed… some sprucing and water (also an update since Christmas was over). Some of us had clean bathrooms, others wished they did. Ordered in some 1am pizza, eating in the lobby together, I discovered paraphernalia in the crease of the chair I was sitting in. All I can say is a returned it to where I found it. We slept, gathered in the morning to head back to the airport, and laughed and laughed and laughed about all we had gone through, without even leaving the states.
What did we learn? God has a plan, all we can and should do is surrender and do our best with what we have been given. The new travelers and the return travelers were reminded that our small yet mighty group must persevere to accomplish our goals as an organization, whether that be the travel required to visit our Ugandan family, or the hard work and long volunteer hours to grow and sustain our efforts to change the world, one child, one water well, one dose of medicine for those living with Sickle Cell Anemia at a time.
But did we make it? We sure did, but not without additional travel hiccups, hurdles, twists, and turns. Stay tuned for part 2, possibly part 3 to the stories from one member of our team, who’s happy to be drinking coffee in Uganda this morning.