Friday, January 10, 2014

My recent stay in customs purgatory.

Greetings from Namibia!

We have arrived safely in Windhoek after 50 hours of travel (with surprisingly few delays) and it feels good to be settling into our new schedule.   I am so grateful to be aboard this trip with these students in the Africa Choir 2014, and I am especially happy for the 13 participants who raised their hands in October and said, “Sure, I’ll help the project by toting gear!” 

And tote gear they did.  What a joy it was to hear the five members of the laptop team (who each carried four laptops in carry-ons) explain to various airport security officials why they were carrying so many computers.  A great question posed to a student by a security officer in Johannesburg: “Why do you have too many laptops?”   A question phrased as such could easily trip you up!  But as Matt repacked his roll aboard – systematically placing each laptop back in the bubble wrap – he gently explained the support we are sharing with learners in the North of Namibia.  Nicely done!

In total on this delivery:  21 laptops, 24 TI83 calculators, two microscopes, two sets of 200 (each) prepared scientific slides, suitcases full of Braille books, art supplies, batteries, learning tools, flash cards, Frisbees, and 10 One World Futbols.   

We did have a hitch once we arrived in Namibia getting through customs however. 

Every one and every thing passed through passport control and customs easily except the two microscopes.  I had been fretting about getting these two items packed and safely delivered to Africa due to their exceptionally fragile nature.  In the end I packed them back up in their shipping boxes and sealed them tightly.   With the help of British Airways they were well marked with bright red FRAGILE tags.   So they appear to have made it here undamaged … but they sure did draw the attention of the customs officials. 

It is here that another story begins. 

When Erika Storvick and Grant Goss (the two designated microscope carriers) and I got pulled aside, I was happy to present the customs documents I had secured through the Namibian Ministry of Education and Ministry of Finance.  These forms granted us tax-free passage into Namibia and acknowledged the philanthropic nature of our delivery.    Yes indeed everything was in order said the four officials.  But no, more is now needed.  

They needed to speak with “the agent.”  Once we figured out who this might be and who could help, a quick call to our dear friend Namupa Kafidi Nengola, and we were in business.  During the call this customs official quickly switched to Oshiwambo and she and Namupa were exchanging needed information.  Ericka and Grant proceeded on their way through to join the others and I stayed back with the microscopes.  Namupa, it turns out, would serve as “the agent” and would come to be present at the airport to vouch for me. 

So here I was stuck in customs purgatory.  In Namibia to be true, but not yet free to pass through.

The customs official, a woman I now remember seeing from past entries, apologized for the difficulty.  I said it was no problem and I really meant it!  I told her that I understood the rules and that while we had been here before in previous years and passed through without difficulty, we did want to do this right.

She smiled and said, “We are not without heart.”

I smiled back and said, “My name is Ann.”  She said, “I am Eunice.” 

And so we got to talking.  Looking at our luggage tags, she asked about Empowering Learners.   I told her about the North and the schools, the pastors and our friends – people we love as family.  Eunice said, “Yes, I am from the North.”  And while I did not know her town, she knew the villages where we are doing our work. 

And then she explained.

During the war for freedom, Eunice had crossed the rivers out of Namibia into Zambia and then Angola.  She had become a refugee, leaving her family behind to seek safety and perhaps new freedom and a new life.   From the Angolan refugee camp, lo and behold, she was relocated by the United Nations to North Carolina.   She lived there for some time, connecting with a church home, and then attending university.  Her two sons were born in the United States and she is proud that they can travel to the US with ease using their dual citizenship.  Her one son attends Polytechnique School and will soon graduate.  His American godparents will come for his graduation.  Imagine!  And then what I asked?  She smiled again and said, “He may like to be a pastor.”  

She also told me about her other son where distance and disposition play a factor in their relationship.   I thanked her for telling me about her family.  She asked if I had children and I told her no.   She looked down and seemed quite sad for asking.  I assured her all was completely fine.   She then suggested we go out and sit in the sunshine.   She put my boxes on a cart and out we went to sit outside as we waited for Namupa. 

Namupa arrived, introductions were made, and eventually things got all sorted out.  All totaled the delay took about 90 minutes.  It had been arranged that Namupa would take me to the Hotel Safari.   As luck would have it though … the group was still waiting for the bus to arrive, so no one was inconvenienced by a customs delay.     

As I write this entry, the Africa Choir is rehearsing in the ELCRN Chapel.  How can I not be touched by the words of an anthem by Alice Parker:  Through all the world below, God is seen, all around.  Join the solemn sound all around, all around. 

It seems I had passed through customs purgatory and quite definitely spent some time with an angel en route.   Blessings to you and yours Eunice!

Empowering Learners.      


  1. Best wishes, Ann! You've shed new light on Purgatory-- a place where the glass can be seen as half full. :) I can barely wait to read more. Singing with and for you here, and I'm quite certain others are too-- all around all around, wherever your story of empowering learners has spread.
    John Stender

  2. Feeling incredibly blessed to have my daughter traveling with you on this journey as part of the Africa Choir 2014. I am certain that her experiences on this trip both connecting with the people of Africa and her peers through song, and participating in the gifting visits through the Empowering Learners organization, WILL BE life changing for her. I can already hear in her voice during our recent phone conversation across the globe that this is touching her heart in a profound way.

    Thank you for your guidance and wonderful example to this group of Luther students. May the remaining travels of the Africa Choir group and the Empowering Learners project be blessed abundantly.

    Thanks so much for your post and for a little window on the happenings in Namibia :)