*It turns out that we couldn’t connect to wifi strong enough to upload blog posts while in Rwanda so I am going to be posting now about the events that happened during the trip
Oh boy. Looking at my last blog post I can’t help but start laughing almost hysterically. We all thought that we only had a change of flights and everything would continue as usual. We couldn’t have been more wrong. A short recap of what happened:
We got bussed over to JFK airport from Newark Airport – hoping we could get checked in on time. We weren’t in too big of a rush because we still had plenty of time. Instead of going to Brussels we were now being taken to Istanbul. This new route was going to get us to Rwanda a few hours later. We were fine with that.
We got to JFK airport and stood in a long line to check our baggage in.
We got through the entire line only to find out that U.S. airlines had not actually transferred us to the new flight.
We tried to talk to the people at the help desk to actually get us on the flight
Half of us were found in the system and went back to stand in line again
We got all the way through the same long line again to check our baggage
Come to find out we actually still were not being found. Hope began to get lost
We went back to the help desk
Time was now getting short
We were told again that we should be in the system now. We have heard that before…
We walked back over to stand for the 3rd time in the same long line to check in our baggage and get boarding passes
IT WORKED!! (but only for some of us – and we couldn’t leave without everyone getting on the same flight)
We kind of bullied our way into getting everyone on the flight
We only got one boarding pass – (We didn’t know this at the time – but this became a HUGE problem for later) If there is something I have learned about flying – make sure that you have ALL boarding passes before you leave on your first flight.
The plane was now about to leave. Stress levels were very high. We still had to go through the long line of security.
Security was taking its time
Those of us in the front of the security line ran to the gate to tell the flight attendants to wait and not close the gate
The flight attendants at the desk said we had to get on the plane NOW
We tried to talk to them for an extended period of time about why we couldn’t get on the plane until everyone was through security. Stress levels were through the roof for everyone.
Whew, everyone made it onto the plane. Another crisis everted. We thought we had smooth sailing. We would be in Rwanda soon. Boy, were we wrong.
Finally arrived in Istanbul. We left JFK in the dark and arrived in Istanbul also in the dark and rain. Would we see day again?
We had to ride in buses from the plane to the airport. Some people had small heart attacks because they were separated from the bigger group and didn’t know where to get off of the bus because there were a couple of stops.
Luckily, we were all reunited
We had minimal time to jump onto our next flight.
Before we even got into the actual airport we were asked for our next boarding pass. We didn’t have another boarding pass. They tried to look up our boarding pass for us. They couldn’t find boarding passes for anyone.
We were sent to just about everywhere in the airport. We were looking for a desk that seemed to be nonexistent. Stress levels were high. Boarding was happening now and we didn’t have our boarding passes.
Dr. Renner ended up going to another gate and asked the lady working there if she could find our boarding passes. The rest of us huddled in a circle trying to stay out of the way of everyone.
The moment of truth arrived. Stress levels were high.
He came back with good news – for half of us. Terrible news for others. Seven of us were found in the system. Seven of us were not. There was no time to figure out what to do with the unlucky seven because by this time boarding was about to be closed. Dr. Renner ran with seven of the class to the gate. They all got on. They were headed to Rwanda. Luckily we had a teacher from Rwanda as part of our group which is why we could separate.
I was in the unlucky seven – later nicknamed the United Seven. We got close.
I could write pages upon pages about what happened in the next 12 hours, but really the only people that can really understand what happened were the seven of us that were there.
To put it briefly we waited in line upon line to get help – many lines we had to rewait in multiple times. We could not be found in their system. They told us we didn’t exist. Yet, there we were, standing in their airport. The language barrier did not help our case.
They wouldn’t give us a boarding pass to Rwanda or anywhere else in the world. It is not a good feeling to be stuck in the barren wasteland part of the Istanbul airport, never knowing when we would get to leave.
Our professor was separated from us to try and get things figured out. We didn’t have cell phone service or wifi in order to communicate with him. We had no clue what was going on for 8 hours. We couldn’t go anywhere because we never knew when our professor would come back to save us. We sat for 8 hours on cold hard concrete.
We had no food. We had no water (they didn’t have something as simple as drinking fountains or vending machines). It was now 2am in the morning. Waiting.
Just about 24 hours earlier we didn’t know each other well or if at all. Now, we knew each other very well. We had plenty of time to talk. We found out that two of us had birthdays on the same day even.
Caitlin (one of the girls in the United Seven) decided she would text our professor to get an update even though each text was costly.
He ended up telling us he finally got us tickets and we needed to meet him at Gate 22. We had a problem. To get through security to then get to the gate we needed a boarding pass, which we didn’t have. We also needed our passports, which we also didn’t have because our professor had to take them in order to try and get us boarding passes.
We were told to wait for a man in a grey sweater. We waited. And waited. Our plane finished boarding in five minutes. Stress levels were high. No man. Was that text a code for something else?
We had no other choice – we kind of bullied our way through security. Hey – they let us through. (Whatever happened to the man in the grey sweater is unknown. He never showed up.)
We sprinted through the airport. It was like from a movie. Some of us were taking people out left and right with our suitcases. Whoops. I led the pack. I got to the gate just in time to run into the flight attendants leaving. They closed the gate just 5 seconds before we got there…We did everything we could to get there and yet that wasn’t enough. We were sad for a good minute and then we had to get back to business.
We had hope. We now had the golden boarding pass. We had to leave the inner airport (where there is food and drinks) and go back out to the barren wasteland part of the airport to get our flight changed.
Somehow we still weren’t in the system. They said they couldn’t help us. One person sent us to another person who sent us to another person. It was aggravating.
Dr. Renner ended up having to leave us again to go to an area of the airport the rest of us couldn’t go to. More waiting. And even more waiting. At this point we were tired as it was around 4:30 am and we still hadn’t been able to sleep. We had been sitting on cold, hard concrete for almost 12 hours straight. We had not eaten anything or drank anything in about 12 hours. We were slowly dying and hope was at an all-time low (because I must say – we all did a nice job keeping a positive attitude through this whole process).
We decided we had to find a way to get water and food. Again we didn’t have a boarding pass or passport but we talked our way through security yet again. We got water and food. We were happy again. We were re-energized to wait.
Our professor finally seemed to work out that we will now be going to Kenya tomorrow evening. We are excited. Anything to get us out of this airport. We have to keep our excitement to a minimum though because when we get too excited and hopeful, things go drastically down-hill.
It’s now 7am. We didn’t sleep all night. Our adrenaline reserves are emptied. It’s time for a short nap now (from about 7am to 11am). We will then begin our day exploring a bit of Istanbul.