Woody, my roommate while I’m here, had the same flight into Malawi as I did. We met at Dulles airport early Tuesday morning, and took a 14 hour flight to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. There we had a short layover before heading straight to Lilongwe, Malawi. But we missed our flight.
Here’s the story of my first bonehead move during my time in Africa.
When Woody and I arrived at the airport in Ethiopia, we stretched our legs and talked about the different ways we spent our time on the flight. Both of us agreed that 42 was the best in-flight movie that Ethiopian Air had to offer. We also agreed that sleeping on planes is impossible. So we found our gate, set our clocks, and fell asleep impressively fast on the incredibly hard airport seats. But…my slumber was stirred by my almost roommate who told me, in panic, that he thinks we missed our flight. According to the overhead flight screens, he seemed to be right. We gathered our things, went up to the front desk, and politely explained that we actually haven’t missed our flight and we would like to get on the plane as soon as possible. The flight receptionist politely explained back that the plane, in fact, had already boarded and getting on would be impossible. Apparently, Ethiopian time and Malawian time are off by an hour….what a ridiculous world we live in! Our emotions escalated as we slowly comprehended what had just happened.
Woody and I traversed downstairs to the transfers department, and learned that only 1 plane flies into Malawi a day, and the next plane was not leaving for 24 hours. They gave us our new boarding passes, we traversed back upstairs, and rushed to the internet cafe to let our contacts know we won’t be there with the rest of our luggage. In retrospect, it seems silly to have rushed through that whole process because we only killed about 1 hour before we sat down and realized that we still had 23 more to go.
Sitting on those airport chairs, we felt embarrassed and defeated. And cold. Woody stood by our stuff while I went through the airport shops looking for some sort of garment that could keep us warm. After a few shops, I met Samuel. He proposed to sell me a blanket for only $35. The nice ones were $55. I just left, found Woody, and we posted up on some lounging chairs. We spent a few minutes convincing each other that we would soon look back on the experience and laugh. Unfortunately, neither of us were being very persuasive. Things were looking pretty dim…
And then, as we sat there, Samuel came out of his store to take a break. He sat down next to us, quickly learned of our situation, and then ran back into his store to go get us 2 blankets free of charge. We just had to promise we would bring them back the next morning. He also got us some water bottles since it was unsafe to drink from the tap there. Samuel continued to ask us if there was anything else we could do but we assured him he had already done more than enough.
We felt like new men. We sat for another 2 hours in the warmth of our blankets, and then we went back downstairs to talk to the transfer department. They had been kind to us before and we were optimistic that they might be willing to hook us up. They gave us a lunch voucher, and then we somehow managed to get unrestricted access to the first class lounge for the night. We went to a restaurant called “London Restaurant” where they served nothing but Ethiopian food. We then pranced over to the “Cloud 9” first class lounge and spent our remaining time at the airport eating from the complimentary buffet and taking extended naps on the couches. Every time there was a shift change, we had to re-convince the new employees that we actually were allowed to be there. I sympathized with their suspicion.
Next morning we boarded the flight, and I’m now safely typing away in my Malawian bedroom.