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Back in Africa: Day 1 of Minnesotan’s adventure bringing baseball to Benin, West Africa

Two years ago Gary Tonsager and I made an 8 day trip to Benin West Africa to continue our work bringing baseball to that small impoverished nation. This month we have returned to Benin to continue our work and initiate the first Little League sanctioned season and games.

As we found out in 2016, there is no easy way to get to Benin from Minnesota. Only one flight a day comes into the country so your choices are pretty limited. This year we flew from Minneapolis to Detroit…from Detroit to Paris and finally from Paris to Benin. There is a heavy French influence in Benin which was one time colonized by the French. Air France is the one carrier that comes into Benin. From door to door (hotel door) it was a 27 hour venture. We left My house in suburban Robbinsdale at about 1:30pm (Central time) Thursday and got to our hotel at 4:30pm Friday (Minneapolis time).

In 2016 when we came Gary accidentally left his passport in a scanner at MSP before we took off for Paris and had to retrieve it…I’ve never let him forget the incident. This time it was me at MSP…and I left mine on the counter at Burger King where we ate lunch. Ironically (and luckily) the worker at Burger King had recognized me from my long-gone TV days and she picked it up and brought it to us at our table as we ate. My days of using the 2016 incident against Gary officially ended at that moment.

Our flights were good…we flew business class this time which made it easier on our long, now older legs for this long grueling trip. (I would highly recommend it by the way on any long trip). The end portion of our trip was in the dark on Friday night…and it’s no wonder Africa is known as the dark continent…not many lights in Africa to light up the earth below as we flew over.

Two years ago we encountered all kinds of trouble when we arrived at the airport…We were laughing about that as we landed on this runway that’s only used twice a day for international flights…It’s a very, very, very small airport…as evidenced by the windsock that I saw next to the runway as we pulled up closer to the terminal. I don’t believe I saw any windsocks at Charles DeGaulle. I think the last windsock I saw at an airport was at the makeshift landing strip next to Madden’s resort on Gull Lake near Brainerd (MN).

Again there are no jetways here…you are dropped on the tarmac and you walk down the steps into the get a bus ride to the actual check in point of this small terminal…But unlike two years ago when we waited well over an hour to get processed through customs, we breezed through…they have brand new booths for security personnel and I spotted a new flat screen TV in the baggage claim area…speaking of which, no baggage issues this year (two years ago the airline lost my luggage and it didn’t show up until 4 days later).

As we were walking toward the entrance/exit Gary and I commented that there might not be anyone to greet us…especially nothing as good a 2016 when about 10 or 15 friends and family members of our coaches showed up. Tonight, way different…and better! Around 50 people, including coaches, players, family members etc. I think we held up at least 50 people trying to get out of the airport with our grand reception and photo session. Everyone wants to take photos and be in the photos with us (not sure why, but what the heck…it’s fun to be in demand I guess). Both of our lead coaches are there, Fernando and Arnaud and we lead a large parade of people and cars that head over to our nearby hotel. On the subject of the hotel…something new this year as there is now a metal detector that we have to walk through just to get into the lobby. We”re in with all our equipment, backstops and luggage and we are exhausted. 27 1/2 hours of travel winds up. Tomorrow is another day, and it will be a busy one.

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