Greetings from the 505,
Due to my jagged Peace Corps’ application process, I have been holding my breath. Despite receiving a final medical clearance in late August, I was still unconvinced this South African extravaganza was happening. The piece of information that would assure my future status with Peace Corps was the location of staging. Staging is when members of a Peace Corps cohort gather in an American city for final logistics and then fly together to their host country. Based on my limited research, groups serving in African nations stage on the East Coast and 3 cities in that area have reliable direct flights to Johannesburg (New York City, Washington D.C. with South African Airways, and Atlanta through Delta). I know last year’s CHOP group staged in Philadelphia and drove to New York for the flight.
In mid-October, there still was not an established location for staging and since due to particular logistics (more in a minute), I decided to e-mail the South Africa country desk to try and plan. I received a gracious e-mail from the country desk officer who told me that he could not give the information and but to stay tuned for future instructions. True to his word, the staging unit started to send reminders in Mid-November and weekly updates from the country desk in December. I started to consider that staging was a mythical initiation only special invitees attended. One e-mail asked if I wanted a free mocha brown T-shirt and I provided the requested information, unsure if I would ever receive said-shirt in an unspecified location. Yet I still tried to complete tasks, while simultaneously preparing for finals and the move back home.
After a 6.5 hour car ride to move back home, I could finally exhale! Not only did I do unexpectedly well on graduate school assignments, but as of the 18th I have a concrete staging date and location! Staging is on January 20th in Philadelphia and at 2:30 AM on the 21st, the group will travel to New York and fly out of JFK around 10 AM. While I am still getting used to the idea of that time of a departure (hey at least I openly admit that I am neither the nicest nor a cognitively coherent person at 2 AM), I am embracing flexibility and grateful that there is at least a departure! Also, our schedule ends at 7 PM and enables additional sleeping time.
This morning I called the travel agency that supports Peace Corps with travel logistics, to see what would happen with my situation. For anyone who is unfamiliar with air travel in New Mexico, there are only a few daily flights that head East. Most destinations (like Philadelphia or Charlotte where my American parents are from) require a connecting flight. This situation provides additional flight experience (which I have benefited from) but does not work when it comes to arrival deadlines. In the case with staging, I had to be in Philadelphia by noon on the 20th.
While on the phone with the travel agent, I quickly found out that meeting the noon deadline was impossible and I would have to leave a day earlier. Thankfully Peace Corps would pay for an additional night in the hotel and I agreed to a January 19th itinerary. Now, I thought the travel agent was lovely because she was genuine. She got slightly distracted by her coworker’s holiday sweets (she recently lost 80 pounds) and was excited to find out we share the same birthday (which is rare). Shortly after I hung up, I checked the itinerary and saw that it was for April 19th . Oops.
I called back the agency and talked the same agent (who was still being taunted with her coworker’s treats). She rapidly addressed the problem and sent a January 19th itinerary. After 20 minutes, I do not see a January 19th itinerary e-mail on Outlook and decide to make a 3rd phone call. I talk to another friendly agent (who was ready to leave for the holidays), and find out their e-mails were backed up due to a computer glitch. The agent graciously stayed on the line until I had the January 19th itinerary!
Thank you SATO travel for your friendly service and patience with New Mexico’s high-maintenance airline logistics! Sorry for the frustrating technological issues and dessert torture but it made this story more entertaining beyond “Yea I got my ticket to Staging in Philadelphia and I am officially making this South African adventure a reality”.
Although the news is exciting, it is surreal to think that I now have less than a month before Peace Corps. Eish! There is a lot to accomplish before then, but I am so grateful that this long-desired ambition is actually about to happen.
On a side note, I do not have the best luck flying American through Dallas Fort Worth (My family was once stuck in Dallas overnight and another time I missed my flight back to NM, thankfully I caught a later evening flight)…and that is my connection to Philadelphia. The only other option was connecting through Chicago in January, so I will take my chances and give American the benefit of the doubt (all airlines are prone to snafus, not just American). Still any crossed fingers on my behalf for a smooth, finite, 2 hour layover, on MLK Day 2015 in Dallas are much appreciated!
All the best,