Saturday, July 28, 2007

Taking It Easy

When we began making plans for our trip to the AAMC conference several years ago, we decided to travel the “easy” way…flying. Driving from our home to the coast of Kenya would take 5 long, hard days one way. We decided to save our shillings and buy plane tickets.
Here is the rundown of our easy trip:

We left our home at 8:30am arriving in the capital city at around lunchtime. We grabbed a quick lunch and exchanged money for our trip. We drove the remaining hour to the international airport.
We arrived at the airport well ahead of time, and approached the desk to check-in.
The woman at the computer informed me that three of our family were booked on this flight, but three of the children were booked on the early morning flight the next day.

Um. That won’t work.

Jeff trekked upstairs to ask the “higher ups” if they could help us. Here was the wise advice of the airline manager:
“Just leave the three children by the check in counter overnight and the agents will help them on board in the morning.”

He seriously said that.

My, oh my.

Thankfully the kind women at the computers, thought better of that idea, (especially after witnessing the energy levels our children were displaying) and did everything they could to get us on the plane…together. That night.

We wrangled our energetic young ones for nearly two hours, hoping there would be at least 3 no-shows for the evening flight. Twenty-five minutes to departure we were all given boarding passes and told to HURRY! We rushed to immigration, needing to move quickly to board the already loaded aircraft.


Isaac has a new passport. “Well done, Mom!”… for remembering it would expire this year and securing a new one before traveling to Kenya!
BUT, his new passport had no dependent’s pass stamp in it. (This is the pass the children and I pay for every three years in order to live in Uganda). The immigration lady was not happy. She questioned us. Complained. Huffed. And INSISTED that it was IMPOSSIBLE to allow Isaac to leave the country.
We, amazingly, stayed calm. We assured her, we had not smuggled our 5 year old into the country. That we had in fact paid for his dependent’s pass, just like the other three children, but had neglected to carry the old passport with the proof. We pleaded and promised that we would most certainly pay the visa fee upon return, “WE LOVE UGANDA and YOU, DEAR IMMIGRATION LADY….PLEASE let us on the plane!”

She agreed, albeit grudgingly, and we finally wheeled our 6 bodies, 5 carry on bags and 6 stamped passports on board.

Upon arrival at Nairobi, it was late and our youngest two were very tired and uncooperative. We arrived to a FULL immigration lobby, with long lines at the Visa counter. (We all must pay for visas to enter Kenya.) I began filling in our arrival cards and visa forms (that’s TWELVE forms total) all the while shouting “SILAS RYAN STAY HERE” more times than anyone cared to hear.

We joined the neverending line.

A kind gentleman in an Airport Immigration uniform, paused when he saw me wrestling Silas in my arms…and asked if we were on holiday (the British word for vacation). We nodded and smiled hopefully, also adding that we were going to attend a conference. His helpful attitude dissipated and he said, “Oh, a conference.” He left us standing without assistance.
Having learned our lesson, the next immigration man that paused at our whiny clan received a rousing, “Jambo! We are on HOLIDAY!”

With the magic word leading the way we were escorted around the long line to a special help desk where three men began discussing if they COULD help us since I had written “holiday/conference” in the “Why are you in Kenya?” blank on the forms.

Jeff smoothly convinced them it was a holiday-like conference…and they agreed to help.

After 20 minutes of discussing all the places we had visited in Kenya, how two of our children were born here, and reminding everyone within earshot that “SILAS RYAN SHOULD STAY HERE!”…we were stamped and allowed to walk down the stairs to collect our bags.

We found them all….PRAISE….and pushed on through customs.

We met our taxi driver, loaded up our bags and were just about to head out to the hotel, when another taxi driver approached and began to….shout.

Yep. Our taxi driver was getting what-for from another very ticked off individual. And then the police showed up. Which usually doesn’t mean things are going to get better.

We sat for 20 minutes, while the 5 men pointed, argued and paced. Our taxi driver assured us there was no problem (all evidence to the contrary) and eventually, returned saying there was no case and we could leave.

At the hotel I had to fill out another form, then was given two rooms. The great finish line was near…and the keys wouldn’t work. We were escorted to a lovely waiting area full of glass tables, crystal, large glass windows... and Silas. Good times.

We finally made it into our rooms…slept…woke up early… and went downstairs to meet our driver for the return to the airport for our next flight.

Our driver didn’t show up.

At the last minute we were tossed onto a large bus with Kenya Scouts headed to Amsterdam.

We arrived at the airport and stood in the long security line waiting to check in. After waiting for a half hour, we learned that we were at the wrong terminal… and must go down the road a little ways. Terrific.

We joyfully pushed two carts of luggage and herded our munchkins on a busy road, to the next building. Thankfully, the security line was very short and we were quickly unloading our bags onto the security conveyor belt.

Security personnel began going through Kinley’s carry on bag. They said they had seen something sharp in her bag. While hefting our large bags back onto the carts, I kept my eyes on the hands of the security man, sure that he was after her camera or disc man. He emptied her bag three times, the lady behind him insisting she had small sharp articles in her bag. Finally, having found nothing, we packed her things and moved on. As we stepped away from the security desk, Alex, sheepishly held up his hand full of nails. Nails. “I don’t know how these got in my bag Mom. Sorry.” I snatched them from his hand and quickly deposited them in the nearest trash can.

We checked in and found our “waiting lounge” for the next flight. We waited and waited. The scheduled departure time came and went and our lounge became VERY full. There were no planes in sight.

About 30 minutes after our scheduled departure, the airline employees, shouted into a very poor intercom system, “Please exit the lounge and reenter so that we can re-check your boarding passes.” We were about 175 people at this point and outside the lounge was a space as big as, well, a thimble.

We CRAMMED our mass of bodies and carry on bags into the one inch (or so) that was the area beyond the lounge and laughed very hard, when the airline employees announced they were requiring this ridiculous check, “to save time”.

We finally, one hour after scheduled departure, boarded our plane and took off for the coast.

Our return trip involved a 7 hour delay which resulted in a 3 hour earlier departure…long story that still wouldn’t make since even after I explained it to you…and a late arrival back in Uganda.

Many,many miles...4 waiting lounges…12 luggage carts…3 taxi’s…3 pleading conversations…4 airplanes…4 hotels and 33 forms later…

We arrived back home safely.

The Easy Way.


Aimee Jo said...

OH MY GOODNESS!! I'm tired after reading that, so I can only imagine how you felt going through it!!
It sure gives us a lot to look forward to...and it does make me reconsider my long-life desire to have 4 children!! Maybe Andrew's idea of 3 children max is not such a bad idea! :)

Anonymous said...

I feel your pain...nothing's easy in Africa is it? But, we love it anyway. :) I'm sorry your kids have been sick! Mine are still fighting the cough. You're in my prayers.

Lori Ann said...

"have the children sleep at the counter" that is soooo funny. I can't even imagine.

Jason & Nicole said...

I am friends with Rusty and Laura Campbell and found their blog through yours. I love reading your blog. Thanks for sharing this story - I laughed out loud...not at you...just with you! :) Thanks for your happy disposition! -- Nicole Whaley

Jason & Nicole said...

Well...I meant I found YOUR blog through THEIRS! :)

Randy & Kelly Vaughn said...

This is amazing and I can believe every word of it! What a daily adventure life is in Africa! I love you!


KMiV said...

I promise that I wont complain about American or Albanian airports anymore. You guys are both great to take the kids with you every time. I think this will be one of those great memories where you will one day laugh at what happened.

Or not.

Glenn said...

It doesn't compare with your experience, but we just got our visas to visit Russia. They say that they want tourists, but then do everything they can to discourage you. We started the process about 2 months ago and finally got our passports back with the visas, just one week before we leave. They require what they call an "Invitation," which you get through your hotel if the place you are staying is registered officially. Ours isn't, so we were told that officially we are staying at the ... hotel. (I'm beginning to feel like CIA.) You have to have every day registered in a hotel before applying for the invitation, as well as having your air ticket, so if they turn you down its goodby $. The guy who is suppose to arrange for the invitation has to have his $50 each before he will start the process. After getting his money, he goes to Turkey on holiday - I'm really nevous about getting the visas in time. "Sorry, but I was on holiday with my 5 year old daughter." ?????
When it finally comes we decide to drive to the Seattle consulate so we can get it taken of. We walk into the waiting room full of former Russians. "You want visa?" "Yes, Sir." The clerk who sounds like he just arrived in America, points at some chairs and barks "SIT." In Russian, sit means wait. Finally we are ushered through some locked doors and wait while another clerk reads every line of the application and he says, "$100 each, we will approve in a week." "Can we get them while we are here?" "For $200 each we give immediate service - they be ready tomorrow." OK, we will take a chance on Priority Mail. Oh yes, upon arrival in Russia we must register that we are there - only $40 fee each, using the same guy. We should have skipped the middle-man and gone to Turkey ourselves.

laura said...

The ladies of our Cochabamba team recently found out in our travels to Brazil that South American travel does in fact rival African travel... so we can definitely feel your pain. The redeeming factor you ask? We were traveling to a ladies conference and so that meant no kiddos, which definitely makes things simpler! Sorry the "easy" way turned out to be so crazy but glad you guys are back home safe and sound!

Andrew Martin said...

Wow! I can see it now... I hope that they rest of the "holiday" was somewhat relaxing.

Bless you guys :)

Kim Hodges said...

WOW. I can't even begin to imagine. Except the "Johnathan Kell, stay right here!" part. I understand that fully. So, since you got all of your luggage and children there and back, would it be considered a successful trip? ;)

Joshua and Julie Marcum said...

TIA?! Sounds a little bit like our trip to Brazil! But I'm so glad you got to go. Looking at the pictures of your kids playing at the beach brought back fond memories of many Kenya/ All Africa Retreats. I'm glad you made it there and back with all 4 children in tow!

Roscoe Conan said...

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Sandi said...

Oh, Cheryl -- the "adventures" traveling in Africa brings. The having-the-kids-sleep-at-the-counter is classic. Glad you made it back -- all together, even!

Ben said...

ok Cheryl, where was the part that your luggage didn't make the connecting flight & that the waiting areas you were in were filled with sick people who made you and ALL of your family violently ill for a week after you got home? Not enough room I guess?

I'm praying for you tonight. Trisha & I can't wait to see you all after an "easy trip" back to the US.

Much love, bw