It is difficult enough to work in Niger without the added challenges of just getting there. The saga began with driving all the way to LA airport and getting turned away because of an “unconfirmed” reservation in spite of the ticket in my hand. This ticket had been issued only two hours before because of my checking online to find out my original flight, booked 6 months in advance, had been cancelled due to the Air France strike. So the third attempt: a rerouting was to leave in 30 hours–so home I go and return the next day (another 2 hour drive). Just to be sure I called again before leaving to verify I had a confirmed place on the plane. No problem they said. On arrival at the airport they tell me that Lufthansa is now on strike and even though my flight was not cancelled, the passengers on other canceled Lufthansa flights had priority as mine was rerouted from Delta. They said I could try stand by–which seemed unlikely, but I waited 3 hours and was the last to board–in business class!!!! With this free upgrade, I thought things are really on the right track now!. After a change of planes in Frankfurt and one in Casablanca, I arrive at 2AM in Niamey in time to catch the 6AM United Nations flight to Agadez. We took off on time–going straight to Agadez non stop–very rare–whew, home free I thought. Well not quite…I looked out the window after about 30 minutes in the air to see a big river–there is no big river in Niger except in Niamey–didn’t I just leave Niamey? After landing they tell us we had landing gear problems and had to land–how does that work? So after a 4 hour wait they say we are going to accommodate the customers from our second flight of the day so we will wait another 2 hours and get you to Agadez–direct again. Ok home free??? not quite. As I looked out the window in an hour or so when we were supposed to be landing in Agadez I saw farmed fields below–definitley not the Agadez desert landscape. Without letting us know, they had turned left and landed 400km away in Zinder, on the border with Nigeria. High winds and rain storms in Agadez prevented us from landing there–fortunately for us the same storms were hitting Niamey so we did not have to turn around and go back yet again. After a short wait we determined that it would not be possible to get to Agadez that day so they started looking for accommodations. There are only two possibilities in Zinder, both of which were “full”. After another couple of hours we begged the pilots to sleep in the same room so all the passengers could share the other room which had been reserved for the pilots. There were five of us. The adobe roof fell in during a massive rain storm in the middle of the night–killing no one, but leaving soggy beds. We awoke to bright sunshine and left at 7:30 am for the short one hour flight to Agadez. Not really believing I was actually going to get there, I kept checking to make sure I saw the desert below–
I did finally arrive and am now happily ensconced in my house making frantic preparations for our missions this fall. It was a bit of a let down though when I got there. My crew was tired from waiting all day the day before so there was no one there to meet me. Boo hoo.
But after mega negotiations with various security agencies we are are authorized to leave today.