Our final flight path to Niamey, Niger in Africa. One of the planes had an exterior camera too, but it didn’t switch over on approach like it did for us in Paris. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)

Three planes, two days and too many hours (plus an eight-hour time difference) to calculate, we are here in West Africa. Approaching and landing at the airport looked a lot like flying over and landing somewhere near Our Lady of Solitude Monastery in Tonopah . . . lots of open and natural desert (for those of you who haven’t visited the Poor Clares yet).

As soon as you disembark and get outside the airport, that allure of a deserted desert vanishes. You’re swarmed with young entrepreneurs offering you some kind of “deal” on a calling card (along with heat and a little humidity).

The streets are far from deserted too. Cars and motorbikes share a paved, but unmarked road. There are even more young boys and adult men lining the side of the road. They seize any three-second traffic jam as an opportunity to barter with you through a closed window for a calling card.

Women and children walk alongside the road in what we would equate to a wide dirt path. I saw one or two women carrying something on top of their head. Some bring their goats out on leashes as would an American family walking their dog. One large pickup truck had so many goats squished together I wondered if they were alive. Pretty sure they were.

Some other random Catholic and Africa facts from our journey so far:

  • After we stepped through the security checkpoint and gathered our things at New York’s JFK airport, we noticed at least a handful of priests spanning the ages doing the same thing. J.D. thanked them for their service. I noticed another white collar approaching our gate in Paris, but quickly lost site of him.
  • It paid knowing a little bit about the Catholic Church while playing “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?” on the plane. I think I played both from NY to Paris and Paris to Africa. I won some francs or euros (I didn’t recognize the symbol) for knowing that the Gospel of Matthew says it’s easier for a camel to pass through _____ than it is for a rich man to get into heaven. (the answer: the eye of a needle)
    Another easy “money-making” question: The study of religion is commonly referred to as what
    And I had a lucky guess on the game show (after using a lifeline) about S. Africa: A well-known river in S. Africa is known as what? It wasn’t a well-known river for me, but working for The Catholic Sun where I see our orange logo with some regularity, I figure I’ll have a hard time forgetting that the answer is the “Orange River.”
  • When you travel, people tend to ask about the food. Well, several of us (there were six journalists/CRS staff members on the plane… we met the seventh CRS person on Africa) insisted on getting a crosisant in Paris. I waited until our buffet-style breakfast in Africa. I’m thinking it was cheaper.
    J.D. made a good call to get some pizza while in New York. It was delicious.
    The airplane food was good too, especially the soybean salad.
  • Oh, and the hotel bed was far more comfortable than mine at home. And I’m not just saying that because it was a long journey. It’s the truth.