Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Ethiopia 2 - The (Long) Plane Ride Home

Never before had I needed to leave so much up to prayer and chance.  Some of the questions running through my mind as we packed were: How do I get through the airport with an infant?  How would Feven handle the take-offs and landings?  How were we going to entertain her for 24 hours of travel?  How was I supposed to keep track of her naps and bottles as we flew west through 8 time changes?   

We arrived very early to the airport in hopes of securing bulkhead row seating and a bassinet for Feven.  We got through the initial security and found our carrier's line quickly.  Then - we waited.  Our carrier's desk wasn't even open yet, we were there so early!  It was Feven's bedtime, and she thankfully was asleep.  I was wearing her in the Ergo, with a blanket covering her as was custom for Ethiopia.  This wouldn't normally have been a problem, but we dressed Feven and ourselves in layers for the plane ride.  The poor girl had on socks, pants, shirt, and sweater.  I had on the same.  We were both sweating buckets.  We finally decided to risk waking her up in hopes to take her sweater off and keep her body at a more comfortable temperature.  After we did that, we waited some more.

While waiting in line, we saw a couple whom we had met in the Amsterdam airport on the way to Ethiopia!  They were from the states, and had even lived in Minnesota for a time!  They were adopting 2 boys and were in Ethiopia for their first trip - the court trip.  Both of our families were leaving the country with very different feelings in our hearts.  We were happy and relieved to finally be bringing Feven home, and they had just said goodbye to their two new sons and were parting indefinitely before returning to bring them home.  I think that perhaps we gave them hope that it wouldn't be long until they returned.  It was really nice to see them again and share stories about our time in Ethiopia.  It helped the time pass.

Soon our carrier's desk was occupied by an employee and they started checking in passengers.  We had maybe 10 or so people in front of us and the line seemed to be moving so slowly!  We stood in line, every now and then picking up all our luggage and moving it ahead 2 feet each time someone new got called.  Suddenly there was an airport employee standing next to us on the other side of the rope, and raising the rope up.  "Come with me," he said.  In my head I thought, "Crap!  What did we do?!?"  It turns out that traveling with a baby has its perks.  He was kind enough to see that we were a bit uncomfortable, and so he took us out of the line and moved us to the very front.  We were the next passengers called!

We got checked in, then made our way to customs.  After getting our passports stamped for our exit from Ethiopia (and using a little of our Amharic), we browsed the airport shops and then met up with our friends in a restaurant for some sodas before boarding.  Feven was awake at this time and, well, a little loopy.  She was louder than we'd ever seen her and babbling nonstop.  We were kind of embarrassed by how distracting her behavior was!  Luckily, our friends were gracious and understanding, as they had 4 children at home in addition to the two they were adopting.  This was nothing new to them.

We waited at the restaurant as long as possible before heading to security.  Why, you ask?  Well, on our first trip, we were so anxious to get through all of the checks at the airport, that we went through security as soon as possible.  This was a BAD move on our part because there were no bathrooms and no water on the other side of the security checkpoint.  There were only chairs for waiting.  So we had to wait for a few hours after we had gone through security on that first trip, growing thirstier by the minute and getting more anxious to use the bathroom.  We were not going to make that mistake again, especially with a child!

We cleared security with 20 minutes to spare this time and found our gate.  Feven was starting to get ornery now, her cries seeming incredibly loud compared to the silence of the tired passengers around us.  It was nearly 10pm and the other passengers were waiting patiently to board the plane.  I felt like their eyes were on me trying to quiet Feven.  I felt like they were thinking, "Oh no.  We're going to have that crying baby on our plane.  Why can't that mom keep that baby quiet?"  They probably weren't thinking that...well, maybe a few were, but I did my best to help Feven feel comfortable.

Once on the plane, we were shown to our bulkhead row seating.  YAY!  We were so pleased to have been given these seats.  We had extra leg room, and even a bassinet for Feven that attached to the wall in front of us.  This way, we could put her in there while she slept so we wouldn't have to have her on our laps the whole time.  A stewardess filled Feven's bottle with water and we quickly made some formula to give her for the take-off.  Our strategy was bottles during take-offs and landings, and some in-between as needed.

That Feven was a trooper.  She didn't cry once during the take-off.  She didn't even seem the least bit uncomfortable.  That was the way she handled ALL the take-offs and landings on our trip.  Praise the Lord!

She fell asleep within the first hour of the first flight, and I tried to put her in the bassinet.  Ha!  That did not work.  She wanted to be held, not placed in this strange bed attached to the wall.  To get her to finally stay sleeping in the bassinet, I had to stand up with her in my arms, bend over to place her in the bassinet, and keep holding her in it as though I was still snuggling her in my arms.  It took a long time before I could slowly wiggle my arms out from the bassinet and she stayed sleeping.  Meanwhile, the whole back of the plane got a nice, long view of my rear. 

She slept the majority of that first flight, and had no problems during our stopover in Khartoum, Sudan.  We were not allowed to leave the plane during the stopover and had to remain seated.  She did great.  In fact, she did so great on that entire flight that the Ethiopian man next to us commented on what a well-behaved baby she was.  Way to go, Feven!

As we were getting off the plane in Amsterdam at 7am, a flight attendant tipped us off that there was a baby lounge in the Amsterdam airport.  As soon as we heard the term "baby lounge," we knew we had to check it out during our layover.  We navigated our way through the airport, passing the tulip stand and the giant teacup booths to find the baby lounge.  As we entered the dimly-lit room, the noise from the airport drifted away.  Sheer curtains hung down in circles from the ceiling, creating individual pods for families.  Each pod contained a crib and cushioned seating on either side of the crib.  There was even a nightlight that displayed a changing light show on the ceiling for the babies. 

While we had an overnight flight and got some sleep, we were both still pretty tired.  Zac got Feven to fall asleep in the carrier, then laid her down on the seating without waking her up.  One of us sat right beside her so she wouldn't roll off and we all took naps in the pod!  It was so peaceful - a true oasis in the airport chaos.

When I woke up, I ventured out to get us a Starbucks coffee.  Upon returning, we let Feven walk around for a bit (she made a lot of friends with her sheer cuteness and toddling walk), and then made our way to our gate.  In Amsterdam, you have to go through security right at your gate.  Our security officer was a kind woman who had also adopted.  She asked us a little about our experience and shared a little about hers.  She gave us a few words of wisdom, then sent us through. 

Our hopes were high that we'd have as good of flight the second time as we had the first.  We got to board early because we were traveling "with young children," and were seated again in the bulkhead row.  YES!  Next to us sat an Ethiopian woman who now lives in Minnesota.  She was traveling with her little boy who was just a few months older than Feven.  I felt relieved knowing that if Feven fussed, this woman would understand and be sympathetic.

All in all, the second flight was very good.  Feven stayed busy playing with our packaged food.  She loves things that make a crinkly sound, and I swear she crunched the plastic wrapper of a bread roll for at least 30 minutes.  From time to time she'd get antsy, and we'd switch her to the other person's lap and she'd calm down a bit.  We walked a few times around the plane, or simply stood and bounced her while wearing her in the carrier.  The only time she ever really cried on either of the plane rides was when we were changing her diaper in the bathroom.  Ooooh, did she hate that!  We'd walk in, shut the small accordion door, and then the screams would start.  They would escalate once she was placed on the changing table and only subside after she was back in our arms.  I felt awful being in there with a screaming baby, and could only imagine what others thought who were hearing those shrieks from outside the bathroom!  Zac said you couldn't hear her very well, but I think he was just trying to be nice.

We encountered some turbulence on our second flight toward the end.  We were flying into Minneapolis and there was some severe weather in the area that was making the plane wobble.  I can't remember if I took Dramamine, ate some crackers, or just got lucky; whatever the reason, the turbulence didn't affect me like it usually does.  That little boy next to us, however, was not so lucky.

About 20 minutes before landing, he threw up.  A TON.  All over his mom and almost on me.  That poor kid must have really been feeling sick.  The mom had to try to find clean clothes for both her and her son.  She had on a beautiful hijab that totally got nailed by the puke too.  The little boy smiled so big after he puked - I bet he felt a lot better! 

We made it the final 20 minutes without incident, and soon we were back in Minnesota.  Thank goodness!  I couldn't have asked for a better little traveler.  When we got to our house, we stayed up for all of 3 hours, then we fell asleep for a "short" 6-hour nap!  Nothing beats sleeping in your own bed!

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