Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Out of America...In to Africa

There is one thing about traveling internationally that I love above all other things. That is the gradual transition from blatant majority in my tiny town, to a little more cultural flavor in the US airports, and then it hits the moment you begin the first international leg: suddenly you cannot tell if you are a majority anymore. The stewardesses have accents giving away the country to which the plane is headed and suddenly you feel it: Cultures mixing, lives crossing, so many people from so many places making their way across the world. This transition was just beginning and it was exciting.

KLM...the royal airline, or so they say. They treated us nicely indeed. Gave us a bulkhead seat with a bassinet, checked on us often, and goo gooed over Ollie. As expected, the flight was long. What else would it be? I do remember sleeping some, but more than that I remember wanting to sleep. The books we had packed proved useless and were abandoned as they required some sort of mental activity. We instead surrendered to the personal entertainment systems which popped out of the armrest. There were good times and bad times...some fussiness (which thankfully was not noticed due to the fact that many other people were enjoying the personal entertainment systems (a great invention when babies are on board. Plug in and tune out the screaming child two rows down). We found, for some reason, that it was much more fun to play the same movie at the same time so we would attempt to push "play" at the same second in order to watch together.

Eventually, the snail plane figure on the route tracker began to show land. People started to stir and stewardesses once again began to make rounds...the tell tale sign that we were close. The seats become a little more bearable and the tiredness in my eyes lifted with excitement. Not so much excitement for the end of the trip...just a change of pace. We were still hours away from Africa. It was now the morning of the 8th. I think. And finally we were in Amsterdam.

Have you ever flown into Amsterdam? If you do, be prepared for a trip once you land. I have never seen such a long taxi from landing to terminal. It was a mini-tour of the outskirts of the city or something. And you know the feeling...once you land, impatience sets in and people already begin vying for the "quickest exit" position. On this leg I could care less. Nothing was awaiting us here.

It was something like 9:00 in the morning. It was the middle of the night back home. We had heard that there was a Starbucks in Amsterdam and had been given money from friends specifically for that cause. We had heard that it was an amazing airport. Well, I suppose it was pretty great with it's art gallery and shopping and such, but when you are anticipating a Starbucks and can't find it...after hours and hours with no sleep...the ranking goes down a few notches. So we walked here and there for awhile, and then took turns with Oliver to browse the gallery (really quite amazing), and finally ended up at the terminal. There was a coffee shop of sorts so we payed 5 euros a cup for somewhat normal coffee. With nothing else to do, we sat down and waited.

Oliver was more than glad to get some "down time" on a blanket on the floor and didn't notice as I did the disapproving glances directed his way. We did slip some socks on out of respect...though that was not in his mind necessary. As we looked around, and the seats began to fill, we noticed that we were not only the minority in culture and language, but we were the minority in skin color. We were on our way to Africa! We met and talked with a man flying back "home" with his family. They lived in the states and he had not been back for years. It was time to show his family his country. They were the only one around who seemed to speak our language.

Seats filled even more and people began to loiter next to the check in gate. We decided we may as well loiter along with them so we made our way towards the makeshift line. We heard our names called and looked back to see two white people...WAIT! It was K. from the agency and her husband! I knew they were going to be there picking up their child, but what were the chances!! I have to admit the comfort I felt just knowing they were there...foreigners...westerners...who had been there before. I had the same feeling talking to a missionary couple who was returning with their 4 month old daughter. If someone is living there with their infant, than despite the questions I got from people about taking Oliver...he will be just fine. And yet even though I reassured myself over and over, I knew inside that it was the stress of everything that had caused my milk to dry up leaving Oliver hungry and cranky.

It didn't look good for getting a bulkhead. There were a couple of people with babies and who will really want to give up the extra leg room? However, we asked a steward anyways. I will say, I have never had a better advocate in the form of an airline steward. The man, indeed, did not want to give up his seat. Yet, with the persistent, rather cunning, talk of our friend, he succumbed to a nice isle seat happy that he was far away from a potentially fussy baby. (thank you for that reasoning, nice steward man!) This leg would prove indescribably helpful to make the seat switch for we went from the back of the plane to the very front. We would understand later why, if we ever return, this would be our strategy.

The flight started out rather rough. The air was perfectly smooth, but the little one in our care was less than amused to find his food gone and even more upset when he found a bottle in his mouth with some not right liquid substance coming out. Not a formula kid. Eventually sleep overcame him and I found myself giving in as well. Our whole traveling troop was asleep...for a short time at least.
The following is an excerpt from my journal as we were refueling in Sudan.

"So here we are, refueling, waiting, laid-over on the plane for an hour...but here we are - in Africa at last! My nervousness at the unknown of what is to come is thankfully manifesting itself in an excited, happy mood...

...Still, my nerves are on end - will the directions be enough for the taxi driver? Will he be able to understand us? Will we be able to exchange money at this time of night? Buy water? Will I be able to keep what I need to keep out of my body and away from Oliver? Will my milk come back? Boys I sure hope the guest house is still open...will we have to knock on doors to find someone? There are the questions for the next five hours. Tomorrow will certainly have its own......In a few short hours we will be driving through cattle ridden streets, hearing, seeing smelling what we have so long anticipated. But for now, Oliver sleeps in daddy's arms and only stirs when tiredness causes Josh to drop his arm onto Ollie's head. I feel as though this final plane is my final little bubble where I do not have to worry about sanitizer, water, mosquitoes and a general feeling of the unknown."

The skies began to darken. We began our decent. I hoped to see the country side from the air, but all I saw was darkness...perhaps a few lights...but mostly darkness. Being at the front of the plane, it was very easy to find a place among the first to exit. We looked at each other, and walked toward the door of the plane. We were there.

To be Continued...


Sheri said...

it doesn't seem like it can be a year ago and yet have we ever been without Noah?! Travel on.....

Katie Rose said...

This is SO great! I want more I want more! :) but seriously I was sad when I came to the end.
You are a brave, amazing woman! -and a GREAT writer... you should write a book.
Blessings- Katie

sawheeler said...

Love it! Thank you for sharing - now I need more... I wish I could find a way to do this for Noah!