The check-in at the airport was uneventful. However, as soon as we boarded the plane there was a bit of a problem. Due to a mechanical problem of an unspecified nature, the plane’s departure was being delayed and we sat on the runway for over an hour. When we finally took off we did not realize that the two hours we had to connect to our Air Maroc flight to Casablanca, from where we would fly on to Bamako, Mali, had been reduced to forty-five minutes. Once we got in the air the flight was very productive. I measure the productivity of a flight in terms of the time I am able to read. Because I was able to get a good night’s sleep the previous night, I was fresh and read for lmost the entire flight. I was able to complete my Hizb of the Qur’an, and then to finish Greg Mortenson’s bestseller, “Three Cups of Tea,” an enthralling volume detailing the struggles and triumphs he experienced building schools in the mountainous regions of northern Pakistan. It is interesting that I was reading Mortenson’s work as I was about to embark on a trip to
Africa to assist in the humanitarian work being engaged in by Islamic Relief.
As we landed at JFK Airport in New York, the plane could not pull up to the gate, as the earlier delay had caused a problem in the arrivals schedule and the plane would have to wait for a vacant gate. This led to me reviewing my itinerary and discovering that we had half and hour to connect with the Air Maroc flight a couple of frantic phone calls from Naeem Muhammad, Islamic Relief’s point person for this trip, did not help. We finally got to the gate. I dispatched my wife to the Air Maroc counter, located in Terminal One to attempt to buy some time as I waited for our bags at the American Airlines baggage claim located in Terminal Eight. When she arrived there she discovered that the flight had been closed out —and was even leaving a bit early to escape a blizzard that was bearing down on New York. Had the flight been delayed it would not have helped our situation as I would wait well over half an hour for our bags to come out.
Fortunately for us, Naeem had arranged another flight for us on KLM later that night, a ten o’clock departure. We would fly to Amsterdam and from their to Casablanca where we would unite with the other members of our party. The only problem with that later flight is that the snow had started to fall and as a result we realized we might not be able to leave that night as the airport might be closed down due to the heavy snow. We surmised that if we did not leave Sunday night we would probably miss the trip altogether as the group would have departed to there destinations in the field and flights to Bamako might not occur on a daily basis.
That flight finally boarded around midnight. After another delay of about an hour to deice the wings and the fuselage, we departed. We flew on to Amsterdam, and then via Air Maroc to Casablanca. Arriving in Casablanca, we were united with the other members of our party, enjoyed a wonderful meal in the house of Belkacem a Moroccan American worker for Islamic Relief whose family home is in Casablanca. Returning to the airport, we would soon depart for Bamako and begin one of the greatest journeys I would ever undertake in what has been a lifetime of travel.