We left the USA via Hartford on July 5th with 9 suitcases and 8 carry-ons. Really, we dislike traveling with so much stuff, but when leaving the States for four years, you find that there are a lot of things on your list to take with you. Unfortunately, I didn’t have room for the parmesan cheese, ranch dressing mix powder and taco flavor powder that we always want to have over here, but there are quite a few other things that needed to come. Ben accumulated an amazing number of toys (purchased with his own money) this year, and since we are moving to a new country, we were pretty generous in his luggage allowance. Toby is headed off to boarding school and I did my best to supply him with enough clothes and shoes to last for two years (allowing for growth), which took up another couple of suitcases. Camping is likely in our future in Namibia (it will be our cheapest option for getaways and they have great campsites there for tourists) so sleeping bags, a tent and thermarests all had to be packed too. We stood at the airport and grimly surveyed the mountain of luggage, then Kevin and boys got busy shifting all of it while I spoke to the lady at the desk. Unfortunately, she informed me that the travel agency had put my name on my ticket wrong, so she would let me through to Philadelphia but that Air Qatar would probably make me buy a new ticket there to go onwards to Nairobi via Doha. This was not the way we wanted to start the journey at 4 am!
Thankfully, Air Qatar gave us no problem with the issue since all of my names were on the ticket, just in the wrong order, and also checked three of our carryons at no charge. Free to roam the airport, we made a last stop at Dunkin’ Donuts (it was 7 am) and Ben made slow-motion videos on my phone to entertain himself. The kids were eager to see what was next on the journey and to get on the “big plane” where there are lots of video games and movies to choose from, and I tried to calm myself as I considered the hectic and sad week before, as well as the unknowns of the journey ahead. Kevin, the eternal optimist, enjoyed himself by looking around the airport and chatting.
13 hours later, Doha airport was lovely and interesting, and we slumped tiredly in seats near our gate after trying to freshen up a little in the bathroom. I wish we’d had time to go out and see the city, built on the water on the edge of what looked like a desert. We’d flown over many oil wells, burning in the distance, as we came in to land. Onwards to Nairobi, only a 6 hour flight in a much smaller plane with a distinct odor of bodies packed in tightly. We landed in Nairobi to find an hour-long wait in the immigration line, despite our pre-purchased tourist visas. Toby felt ill and was pale and grumpy, while Ben was bored and parked himself on the floor near a column. Back in a different world, Chinese passengers tried to get in front of us in line and we shuffled along sweatily in the airless building. At the immigration counter, we asked if we could get a refund for the boy’s visas ($50 each) since we had found out too late that children don’t need visas. The good-natured official laughed at us heartily and said “No, you can’t!” with a big smile. We had to laugh too.
Free at last, we met our ride and guarded the bags while he went to get the van. Our ride through Nairobi in rush hour took over an hour and it was a relief to get to the guest house. It was a joy to see the happiness on the boys’ faces. “We’re back in Africa!” they said over and over, pointing out things that were similar to Mozambique.
We spent a night there, then 2 nights at RVA boarding school where Toby will attend, then a night back at the guest house before heading to the airport to go to Nampula. I was very nervous about checking in at Mozambique airlines, because I had been unable to get our carry-ons down to the requisite 15 pounds each. Many of our electronics as well as our original birth certificates, marriage license and other important papers simply had to come with us. The suitcases were at the absolute maximum. Thankfully, there was an employee hanging around at the ticket counter who smoothed our way. God must have sent him. The lady at the counter was unhappy with our bags, which were each 4 pounds overweight (she said our scale was broken, but I suspect it was hers though of course we didn’t say that) as well as with the carry-ons which would not fit in the overhead bins of the smaller plane. However, this man kept saying “No problem! Let them through. That is fine.” and she grudgingly went along with him. What a relief to be checked in, though I realized as we boarded the plane that I had allowed her to check a carry-on that contained all of our original documents. Bags frequently go missing or are late arriving in Mozambique, and if that bag were lost…. (we did arrive with it, thanks be to God!)
The 3 hour flight to Pemba was quiet, and the kids were excited to be approaching home. Pemba was our entry point to Mozambique, so all of our bags had to come off of the plane and go through customs, and we went through immigration. It was chaos. The security people were doing the best they could, but there was no clear direction for the passengers, and the Chinese passengers kept trying to wander off without being checked. We had to translate for several of them because they didn’t speak Portuguese. Each of our bags had to be sent through an x-ray machine, and several of them opened. We fumbled for keys and Toby and Ben did a great job watching over our backpacks while we trotted back and forth between the baggage arrival area and the baggage search area. One passenger tried to take one of our suitcases away but Kevin saw him and went after it. God really protected us, as we couldn’t always stand right in front of our opened suitcases as they were searched. Security didn’t give a very hard time about any of our belongings, thankfully, or we could have really been delayed. As we re-locked our bags and sent them back OUT to the plane, we realized that one had never arrived.
Two ladies from the airline came to fetch us – “We have to go! The pilot wants to leave!” they urged us. But, to get back out the the plane we had to run our backpacks through the scanner at yet another checkpoint, taking out computers and allowing security to look through the bags. The ladies were panicked, urging the man to hurry, and he replied that he had to do his job thoroughly. Finally he pulled out a little bottle of gold flakes that Ben had bought at Ohio Caverns as a momento and he said angrily “What is this?” Of course we couldn’t say GOLD because it would have been all over for us, so we said it was a little souvenir that Ben bought at a museum (which was true) and the ladies repeated it, asking him to let us go. They started yelling at each other and we watched, just glad they weren’t yelling at us. At that point I realized that the children were gone, and left Kevin to sort it out while I went after them. Apparently another employee had come and taken them away to get on the plane! I could see them across the tarmac, standing beside the stairs to the plane, and as Kevin joined me and we ran toward them, I said “What are you DOING?”. Toby replied that they had tried to get them on the plane, but he refused to board without us. Wise, wise Toby had been so vigilant with our bags, said and done all the right things, and kept his cool despite all the yelling. It sure makes me feel better about sending him on his own to travel home to us in December from Kenya. The gold flakes, by the way, were run through the machine and determined to NOT be metal so they were allowed onwards. In future, those will go in the luggage (or maybe not travel at all).
Anyway, we landed in Nampula after dark and waited for our bags again. All of them came out! The missing one had reappeared, and it seems that nothing was disturbed. Customs made us run bags through the scanner AGAIN and gave Kevin a hard time but in the end they let us go. We emerged from the airport to find a crowd of “helpers” who rushed forward to try to grab our bags and carry them to the car, but some friends who had come to greet us blocked their way and helped us get everything in the back of our colleague’s truck before anything went missing. We were on alert again immediately, in a place where bags are grabbed and disappear almost before you can react.
And that is our travel tale. . . missing quite a bit of details but those are the highlights. I felt weak from relief on our safe arrival at our house, all bags unloaded and safe, after a week of wrestling with packing before, and five flights to get them all to the destination. We are so grateful for God’s mercy in this. I could tell you many, many sad (and true) stories of lost luggage, luggage stolen out of trucks coming home from the airport, bags grabbed through windows, items stolen out of luggage enroute, and long, tense discussions with customs officials and harassment, but our way was SMOOTH comparatively. Thanks, God! – C