A Roman Adventure On The Way To Abu Dhabi

Getting to Abu Dhabi the first time was a real adventure.

A lady at the mission planned the trip for me and bought the ticket, because I'd never been anywhere, except once to Chicago. That was the only time I’d ever been on a plane.

So this was my second time ever flying, and my first time overseas.  In fact, it wasn't until I started my nursing training that I had ever been to the United States.

A gal at the mission planned the trip for me, and she said to me it would be wonderful if I could stop in Rome.  Why in the world she wanted me to stop in Rome I don't know.  Maybe she herself had always dreamed of going to Rome, and she thought I might like it too!  Anyway, she said, “while you're going past you can stop in Rome, go on to Beirut, then Bahrain, and eventually Abu Dhabi.”

Friends of Friends of Friends

I can't remember how long the flight was, but I know I stayed in London one night before going on to Rome.  When I got downstairs to check out at the hotel in London, they asked me at the desk if I had left a tip for the maid and I said “no, was I supposed to?”

They told me I had to go back and leave a tip for the maid before I checked out. On top of that, it had to be British money, which I didn’t have, so I had to go to the exchange to get some!

It was all that kind of thing, I was so inexperienced and everything was completely new to me. It was a real nightmare that first trip.

I was going to stay with friends of friends in Rome.  Some friends from home knew someone else who knew someone else who was living there, and they said you should go and stay with them.  So that was the plan.

The friends of friends of friends were supposed to meet me at the airport, but when I landed in Rome they weren’t there.  I waited and waited.  I was alone with all my bags.  I had on my hat, my sweater and my coat and and I sat there waiting, but nobody came. Honestly, I didn't know the people and they didn't know me, so I wouldn’t have recognised them even if they walked right by me.

Finally, I went to the information desk and said “somebody was supposed to meet me but no one has come.  Could you make an announcement and ask if someone is looking for me?” Well, they made an announcement, but still nobody came.

The woman at the information desk said “maybe they were expecting you at the air terminal in the city.  There’s a terminal in the city where people take buses to and from the airport; maybe they are waiting for you there.”  Little did I know that most people went to the terminal in town rather than waiting to be picked up at the airport – nobody had told me that part!

The bus that took the people from my plane to that terminal in the city had already left, so she said, “wait for the bus that will be for the next plane, and take that one.”  So that's what I did.

Alone in Rome

As it turned out, they had been at the terminal in the city, they had been waiting for me there and I hadn't come so they left.  They had left a note saying I should get such and such a bus to their house.  I had arrived at three in the afternoon and by this time it was about six.

The note said that because of the traffic they wouldn't be able to come back again to pick me up, so they had suggested that I check my luggage at the terminal and just take an overnight bag and come to their house.  It said get off at such and such a place, there's a big church and you get off there.

Well, as you know, in Rome there is one cathedral after another, just like the mosques are here in Abu Dhabi.  They are everywhere.  And of course no one spoke English.  I still remember the address – it was 100 Simona Street.  I remember because I tried to communicate 100 by gesturing with my hands, but of course no one had a clue what I was trying to say.  It was the most frustrating thing.

I must have spoken with Veneto (that was the man’s name, Veneto), I must have spoken with him, the must have given me a phone number, because I remember he told me to buy a telephone token and said if you get lost, go into a bar and phone me and I'll tell you what to do. I still have the telephone token somewhere, because I kept it as a souvenir…

Well, I was a new missionary, and one thing for sure, I wasn't going into a bar – no way!  I saw places where I could stop, coffee shops and things, but I didn’t get off to ask. Then some people on the bus who spoke a little English told me where to get off, but once I got off I couldn't see any street names, or addresses, and I didn't know where I was.

By that time it had been raining a bit. I had been traveling for many, many hours; I was so tired. I had on my nice little black hat, and I was in tears. Oh dear, I must have been a sight. All I could think was I’m alone in Rome, and I’m lost! Why in the world did I leave home?

I asked two separate taxis to take me to the address I had, and both times they said: “It’s so close madam, you can walk there.” I mumbled under my breath, “I don’t care if it’s two steps – take me there!” But I guess they didn’t here, or maybe I wasn’t forceful enough… Anyway I walked this way and that, crying and praying that somehow I would find the place.

Scared to Death

My prayers were finally answered when ran into some children playing in the street, and I asked them where to go. I remembered the name of the Bible Institute in Italian: Instituto Biblico Evangelico, and that’s what I said to the kids and they said come with us, we'll show you – or at least that’s what I thought they were saying, because they were speaking Italian, and I didn’t speak a word of Italian other than the name of the Institute.

One thing I can tell you for sure: I never would have found that place in a hundred years, never! But the kids got me there.  It was a miracle that Veneto was still at the Institute. It was Christmas time, so they were practicing Christmas carols, otherwise he wouldn't have been there.

When I finally found the place and him, he said, “Why didn't you call me?” and I said: “what was the use? I didn't know where I was,” but he said: “I could have talked to the shopkeeper,” which I suppose he could have but I hadn't thought that far ahead!

Anyway, he took me home to his wife, who had been waiting all evening - it was about nine o'clock by then.  She had crusty rolls and spaghetti ready and waiting for us.

After we ate they took me to the student dormitory, which was fairly empty was because most of the students had gone home for Christmas.  They turned the key in the lock seven times when they locked the door, and I thought: “Oh my God, it must be very dangerous to live here if you have to turn the key seven times!”

I kept hearing noises in the night, and thinking that someone was coming in; I was scared to death and it was cold.  It was a stone building and there was a little gas burner, which they had told me to use, but I was afraid of turning it on, so I just lay there in the cold with my coat and everything I had piled on top of me to try to keep warm. Needless to say, I hardly slept a wink.

That was one time that I was scared, and when I think back on it now, it really was not very clever of that woman at the mission to tell me to stop in Rome, because it was the first time I had been out of North America.  It was difficult to stop in Rome and only for one night. After all that, I had to leave the next day – can you imagine?

Anyway, Veneto and his wife were very nice, they took me to visit the important things you need to see when you are in Rome: St Peters' square, Paul's prison, and the Coliseum where they had thrown the Christians to the lions!

As it was Christmas time, it was festive and fun, and we visited a street-side holiday market, which I really enjoyed, but what I had lived through to get to that?! Oh my…

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