First post from Cameroon! Hurrah! Things are going well here. We've met someone who may be able to help us with our immigration formalities, we have a few houses that we are considering, we've met some friends, and handed out our contact info, we've been pretty busy the few days that we have been here. We will share more about our first few weeks in Cameroon at another time though... for now, let's look back to see how we got here... at which point the screen gets wavy as we take the reader back in time.
It all started on a brisk January Wednesday morning, January the 11th to be exact. We, the Hostetter crew of Jeremiah, Brittney, Hannah and Jonathan, along with the Thomas crew of Rhys and Sharon, bundled into two cars and headed to a McDonald's, where we would meet a shuttle bus that would take us to the first of a planned four-flight trip, to go from Kansas City to Dallas. Everything went smoothly on this flight, as well as the next two, from Dallas to London, and from London to Lagos. We were even able to enjoy a leisurely breakfast in the London airport before boarding our flight to Lagos, Nigeria. Little did we suspect the chaos that awaited us. Even when we arrived in the Lagos airport, we had no idea of the upcoming challenges, as we cleared immigration and waited for our bags. The plan was to check in to our next flight, which was to be the next morning at 11:35 and then spend the night in one of the lounges, thus avoiding dangerous, expensive Lagos, Nigeria.
Only when we saw the mob of fighting, shouting, surging people in the departure lounge did it begin to dawn on us that something was wrong. We had heard nothing on the news, been told nothing by the airline, seen nothing on the internet which to alert us to the fact that their was a full-blown strike on all transportation and public services in Nigeria going on, mass demonstrations and protests, riots and a number of people dead. We only found this out when we went to inquire about our continuing flight. "There is no flight," was our answer... not that the flight was delayed, or has been rescheduled, or that they will put us on another flight to Cameroon... "there is no flight." That was the final answer from Air Nigeria. What about a hotel? Connections? "You will have to see to it yourself. Maybe next week, the strike will end and you can go, but that is not even certain." So there we were, stuck. The airport was absolute madness, armed soldiers crawling all over to try and prevent the protestors from attacking again, fights breaking out, no air-conditioning or fan, and hundreds of people packed into a small space. What were we going to do? Well the first thing was to rely on God. We had hundreds of prayers at our backs, and knew that, whatever the outcome, God would be with us. We did not have a promise that it would be easy, but that God would be with us, and that it would work out for good.
So, it was late at night, the airport was crowded, noisy, and dangerous, so we decided to find a hotel and get some rest, and then figure things out the next morning. Praise God, we had enough cash with us at the time, since no one in Nigeria could accept a credit card because of the strikes. We went to the hotel and prayed that things would work out the next day. The situation seemed pretty grim. Because the president had raised the price of gas from 65 Naira a litre (which is less than $2.00 per gallon) to 141 per litre (which is about $3.89 per gallon) by removing the subsidies that the government had been supplying, the people of Nigeria had responded with violent protests and a national strike on transportation and many other businesses. This had in turn led to a huge spike in the already extreme crime rates in Lagos, further worsening the situation.
Things looked fairly grim. While the international flights were available, it would mean we would have to turn around and head back to the United States. We tried calling the US Embassy the next day, but they could only tell us that the situation was extremely dangerous, and advised us to get the first possible flight back to the United States. When Jeremiah went to the airport the next morning to check on whether or not there would be a flight to Douala, Cameroon, he was told that there would be no flights to Cameroon at all that day. On the way back from the airport, a group of hoodlums stopped the hotel car and threatened to bust their windows if they didn't give them some money. We finally decided that we needed to get out of the country as soon as possible. The only possibility was to go to Ghana, and from there, we were told by Air Nigeria, there would be a direct flight to Douala Cameroon. Would Air Nigeria refund our ticket, or give us new tickets less the price of the originals? No. Praise God, we had just enough cash to purchase our tickets to Ghana. However, we again hit a roadblock... Jeremiah did not have a visa for Ghana. Usually they would not allow me to fly on this flight. However, because of the extreme circumstances, for a fee, they finally decided to let me on. So, we checked our luggage in, paid an excess luggage fee, and then went through security to board our flight, after almost 5 hours in the worst airport you can imagine.
We knew though that many, many people were praying for us, and it showed up in many ways: the man who allowed Jeremiah to fly without a visa, the lady who only charged us half-price on our transit visas, the friendly and helpful hotel manager who did the best he could to help us, the lady who let us get in line in front of her because we had kids, the fact that the demonstrations were put on hold for the weekend, long enough for us to get out, and the fact that we all had the strength to lug around 7 bags weighing approximately 40 pounds each, plus 8 carry-ons and 2 kids, all the while keeping our attitudes and not cracking under the extreme stress and pressure of the situation. We had just enough money for the flight that we needed, leaving Nigeria with less than 200 dollars in cash. In so many other ways, things worked out in Nigeria. Next blog post, we'll share about the second leg of the trip, in which we visited Ghana, Togo, went back to Lagos! 8-0 and then finally made it to Cameroon. More prayers were answered, and God really did accomplish some positive things through this difficult situation. For now, here's some pictures.Will try and post a short video clip later.
Thanks for all the prayers guys, they are crucial!