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Saturday, June 26, 2010

Made it, Finally!

Well, a lost bag, a mix-up at the check-in desk in Lisbon and a canceled flight later, I have finally made it to São Tomé!

TAP USA and TAP Portugal had trouble communicating with each other, and the message about my laptops had somehow not traveled from the former to the latter. I had smartly (or perhaps luckily) decided to check in a whopping four hours ahead of time, and well worth it- it took nearly two hours of Skype calls from my computer to TAP USA, a really frustratingly busy supervisor at the check-in desk to Portugal and a series of frantic emails to finally get my computers on the plane.

Of course when midnight (departure time) rolls around, the flight is cancelled due to technical difficulties!!

So now I have a lost bag, a tired ego from fighting with the TAP Portugal officials, and a 24 hour flight delay. Things turn out for the best though- I'm put up in a beautiful five-star hotel in Lisbon, I make a few friends with some Portuguese political campaigners and therefore have dinner buddies, and actually spend a really nice day being a tourist in Lisbon (and showering, arguably the best part).

When I finally arrived in São Tomé, the adventure was not quite over. Waiting at the baggage claim for nearly two hours, my São Tomean friend Kilson came up from behind and surprised me. It was great to see him (and have an extra pair of hands). He's also a smooth talker, which was exactly what I needed as I approached customs.

The uniformed men were kind but firm. They asked me what was in the boxes. I told them I had educational materials for the São João School.

"What kind of educational materials?" They asked.

I took a deep breath. Kilson began to explain, having actually taught a class with me last fall. "They're small computers made for children."

"Yes," I jumped in. "They're used so they have very little value, but they are specially made for children and donated by Americans to be used at the São João School."

"Oh, so they're like the Magalhães?" One of the officer asks, referring to the XO laptop's Portuguese cousin, as we take a computer out and show him.

"Yes!" Kilson and I exclaim in excitement.

"Well, in that case," the officer continued, "they stay here."

Oops. Wrong answer, maybe. But that's ok- I had a backup- a letter from the Embassy of the USA with the official embassy seal, as well as various other letters from donors and other people involved in the program. I showed him the letter and repeated again. The computers are already used, they're not worth much, they're donated to the kids at São João, it's a program that is supported by the embassy, etc. etc. The officers tell me to leave the computers then and the embassy can come and pick them up.

I reminded them that the nearest American embassy was in Gabon, on the mainland. He took the letter and went to his supervisor.

When his supervisor came over we explained again. Then Kilson said the magic word. "They're gifts," he told the supervisor. "We already have a program going and now we're just expanding it. The school isn't paying anything. They're gifts."

The supervisor puts the computer back on our carriage and says nothing. "Let's get out of here," Kilson says urgently, "fast". We break for the door, knowing there's only a short amount of time before maybe the supervisor changes his mind.

Dany, Ned's (the director of STEP UP) driver and my friend, is outside the airport waiting for us. Miguel, the head computer teacher, is there as well. Both of them were there yesterday morning too, before they learned that the flight had been cancelled. It's a sigh of relief when we finally get back to Ned's house, a breeze coming right off his dock onto his porch and windows.

We open up the boxes of computers and they have made it without a scratch.


  1. Why would they want to take your computers?

    Also, I really wanted to hear the story about the Portuguese political campaigners.

  2. They wanted their palms greased.



Please click the button below to donate to STEP UP OLPC to support the São João school's computer program in São Tomé:

Donate $200 and you will be paying for a computer for at least FIVE very special children at São João (as estimated computer life is five years). Thanks so much!

Want your donation to be tax-deductible? Send a check to STeP UP with OLPC in the memo. Then mail it to:

Eric McClafferty
Kelley and Drye
3050 S St. NW, #400
Washington, DC 20007