Cape Town or bust

I thought I was a genius when I was planning our trip to England and I realized that we could squeeze in a trip to visit our friends in Cape Town for only a few hundred dollars more. A genius, I tell you! Our friends Daisy and Ed had just moved there and would only be there for nine months, so we Had To Go Now. Obviously. Cape Town is only a little further than Ethiopia, and the kids made it to Botswana last year! Let’s do this!

I was a genius until about three days before we were going to leave, when my friend Rob posted something on Facebook about snow on the day we were going to leave. Snow. Lots of snow. FEET OF FRIGGING SNOW. The biggest snowstorm in years! Maybe ever! Snowcalpyse! You get the picture. So, I called Virgin on Thursday, the day before we were going to leave, to find out what I should do. The highly charming Irishman on the other end told me that all their flights were scheduled as normal. Given that he was so charming, I believed him. (I am prone to doing that with Irish people. It’s a problem, trust me.) Two hours later, I got an email saying that my flight was cancelled.

I called Virgin immediately. I spent hours listening to Pachelbel’s Canon, over and over and over again. I finally got someone, who kept putting me on hold and then coming back. She could get us out on Saturday night. Um, no. She could get us on Trans Aero Airlines. What the fuck is Trans Aero Airlines? Hell no! Finally, at 4, after two hours on the phone, she tells me she can get us on the 7:50 flight to London.

Nothing in the house is packed, except Peeta’s bag, which I had casually been throwing clothes into as I waited on hold. I called Bucket, told him to meet us at the airport from work, and I turned into a hurricane of packing fury. Almost everything we owned went into our bags (South Africa in summer and England in winter, people). I am a maniac. I end up with two huge bags, which sickens me (we are generally very minimalist in our packing), but I Just Don’t Care. I have five minutes to take a shower, and I use it.

And then the cab is late. Ten minutes late, which is not ideal when you are trying to haul ass to the airport and you only had 90 minutes to pack for more than two weeks for four people. Guy shows up, and tells us all about the Very Bad Traffic and tells me it will be $50 to the airport. Sure, dude. Just drive. I cling to Noodle in the back seat as we almost get in a crash AT THE END OF OUR STREET. We weave through the back streets of Cambridge, with Noodle yelling, I love this taxi! And Peeta asking, Where are we GOING? We make it to the airport 45 minutes later (usually it takes 15-20), and Bucket greets us. He had arranged for a taxi that takes cards, and surprise! Shady driver does not! He throws $50 at him and we sprint inside.

We make it onto the plane. Four seats in the middle, kids in between. Children sleep. I do not, knowing it is going to be disastrous, but I am still high on adrenaline and they keep serving drinks. And I like drinks. And I like movies. And I like when the children are quiet.

We get to Heathrow, and go to the desk as instructed, to see if we can get a hotel for the night before our flight out on Saturday. Woman behind the desk is a total frigid bitch. I am standing there, exhausted, with two children squirming, and she coldly looks at us and says no. There is no note in our file. I tell her that the people on the phone told us to check if we could get a hotel. She says no. She calls someone on the phone, sighing loudly and talking intentionally so I can hear her, saying, They want a hotel, because they’ve got KIDS. No. She can put us on a flight through Jo’burg tonight that will arrive tomorrow, but we can’t get on the direct flight to Cape Town and if we want to wait for our original flight, we can pay for our own hotel. Out of the kindness of her heart, she will put a hold on our seats while we try to reach Daisy.

I glare at her and tell her we don’t have Daisy’s phone number (this always happens when we travel and I don’t know why we never learn) and we will have to email her. She glares back and tells me there are computers upstairs. We trudge upstairs, and these are the things I say: I Hate This Country! This is why I moved from this godforsaken hellhole! Fucking England! If I had a knife, I would cut a bitch! God forbid anyone in this miserable pocket of the earth tries to be helpful ever! We should have left you to the Nazis! (I didn’t actually say that one, but I wish I had, because English people hate that shit.)

Most of these things are said quietly, so the children do not hear. Many are not.

We get upstairs, and of course the stone aged computers cost something like two pounds a minute and we have no change. Bucket goes to get change while I contemplate going back down and pulling the woman’s eyeballs out with my bare hands. He gets back, and I get online. By online,  I mean that the computer turned on. I do not mean that the internet worked at any kind of remotely reasonable speed, which cued more comments about British inefficiency (which is one of my favorite topics) and how England is like a third world country, with nasty, evil crones in charge, and why the FUCK does everything cost so much? I may have kicked things.

At this point, the children are withering before my eyes, Bucket is ready to strangle me, and we still haven’t reached the hotel we booked before our travel to see if we can switch our daylet room. We reach them after 47 phone calls (that each costs about a pound each) and yes, they can switch our reservation to today so we can rest before our flight tonight. I love the Holiday Inn. The woman tells me which bus to take, and we go back downstairs to The Bitch.

The Bitch is busy, so we have to deal with another, younger Bitch. Clearly, this one has done very well in her training, because she is as bad as the first, despite being 30 years younger. At one point, Original Bitch leans over to Bitch 2.0 and says loudly (without looking at me), They want a hotel, BUT WE AREN’T GOING TO GIVE THEM ONE. I consider leaping over the desk and kicking them each in the head, but I am too tired from the flight. Bitch 2.0 gives us our tickets and we walk to the bus.

The bus we are told to get is driven by a hideous, greasy man with long hair and the foulest, most disgusting teeth I have ever seen. He looks like the love child of Mr. Burns and a Roald Dahl villain. He immediately gets right in my face when I tell him we are going to the Holiday Inn. Which one? he keeps yelling, and I tell him the Heathrow Holiday Inn (which, by the way, is the official name of the fucking hotel). There are four Heafrow Holiday Inns! he yells back at me. I tell him the woman told me that we needed to get his bus, at which point he starts pointing his filthy, long-nailed finger in my face. At this point, I walk away. I can no longer deal with anyone at Heathrow, which is quite obviously The Worst Airport In the World, even worse than the ones we’ve been to in India and Africa. It is possible I make comments about British dental hygiene and politeness. Bucket takes over, and we get on the bus. Our hotel is the last stop, on the street I told him it would be, and is called (guess what?) THE HEATHROW HOLIDAY INN.

We walk into the hotel, and I immediately ask the beautiful desk clerk if she has our reservation. She does. I almost kiss her. She gets us our room immediately, and then looks at Peeta and asks where he’s from. Ethiopia, I tell her. She is Eritrean. She is happy we have adopted Peeta. She tells us God will bless us. I think that God has already blessed us by getting us out of that hellhole airport and into this wonderful hotel, where kind and lovely Eritreans help us without shaking fingers in our face or exposing us to their horrifying teeth and nails.

The room is clean and has two beds. We sleep from 10 to 2. We get up and watch TV and eat snacks. We reach Daisy, who tells us to come. Life is good again. We get the bus back to Heathrow, and it is driven by a clean, young man who has seen a toothbrush. We check in. We go through security. I am chosen for a random security check. A stranger puts her hands down my pants. I laugh. Heathrow is funny now. We buy the kids chips and candy and get ready for the flight. We are in seats of two, which have more leg room. Despite the leg room, I still take the opportunity to complain about the Fucking Useless Desk Women Can’t Even Put Us Together and How This Used To Be A Good Airline and If I Ever Meet Richard Branson, I Will Slap His Face. And then, we fly.

I don’t remember the flight, which means it must have been okay. Or else I blocked it. What? No! I didn’t drink so much that I blacked out. I wish! (Wait! I remember! I drugged us all! No, I am not joking.) We arrive in Jo’burg and have to go re-check our bags. We wait in an interminable line with a bazillion people until we finally reach the desk. Children are floppy at this point, and suddenly Peeta turns green and starts covering his mouth. Of course. He is going to spew. I pick him up and run through the people to the bathroom, where he pukes. Because hey! Why not? We take him and feed him some leftover candy and Coke and he perks up.

We get on the flight to Cape Town. I share a row with Peeta, Bucket with Noodle. I fall asleep for a while. Saturday at 2pm, 37 hours after we left Boston, we arrive in Cape Town and poor Daisy has been waiting for ages because the braindead whores at Heathrow gave us the wrong arrival time. Despite my guilt at making Daisy wait, I have never been so happy to arrive anywhere. It’s raining in Cape Town for the first time in months, but I don’t care.

We get back to Daisy’s and her kids have put out all kinds of snacks for us. The sun has come out, and Ed makes us tea. We sit and talk for ages while the kids run around, and then they take us to the cafe down the road for dinner. I eat a salad with green things in it and we sit outside and life is glorious.

I love South Africa already.

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My baby is a terrorist

Some of you may remember that on our last trip to Africa, we discovered that Noodle has been flagged as a terrorist. While we feel that she terrorizes us at home, it seemed a little extreme to put an eight-month-old on an international watch list. So I wrote to our good friends at Homeland Security to see if we could appeal and get her off the list so that we could get on a plane without having to stand around like criminals at the gate while they desperately run our toddler’s name through the computer to try to get us on the flight.

I just heard back from them. They can neither confirm nor deny any information about her. It was most likely caused by the similarity of her name to a known terrorist (which, unless there is a two-year-old terrorist with a Welsh-English-Irish-English name combination, seems unlikely), or as a result of random screening. They regret the inconvenience and may have made updates to her file that might assist us in future misidentifications.

Oh, and they gave us a redress control number that they want us to carry with us whenever we leave the country, and to add to her flight information every time we book her on a flight. Apparently, FOR THE REST OF HER LIFE.

Thanks, guys. That was super helpful. I’m so glad you guys are out there, watching out for toddler terrorists everywhere. Now I can sleep at night.

Know what? Warthogs.

Out of all the amazing, beautiful, wondrous animals in Africa, my daughter fell in love with the warthog.

In the field behind our Botswana hotel, there was a warthog family who would wander around, digging holes and rolling in mud, rooting around for food, and generally being kind of unappealing. And Noodle loved it. She and Peeta would sit in the restaurant, waiting for them to come, and if they didn’t, she would yell, “WARTHOGS!” If they did come, she would blow kisses.

I kid you not.

And now we’ve been home a month and they’re still all she can talk about.

If you ask her what animals we saw in Africa, she will tell you warthogs.

If you ask her what she wants to drink for dinner, she will tell you warthog milk.

During conversations, she will yell out, “WARTHOGS!” for no reason whatsoever.

At toddler time, when we’re singing Old MacDonald and they ask for animals, she shrieks, “WARTHOGS!!”

And, she has a new joke she’s telling all the time. It goes like this:

“Know what? Warthogs. Just joking.”

It started out cute and endearing, but now I’m starting to wonder what this obsession says about her future mate. Hairy, toothy and dirty do not sound attractive.

South Africa, the promised land

After leaving Ethiopia, we got a flight to Johannesburg. A long flight that Noodle did not care for, thank you very much. Somehow, we managed to make it through the flight with her slapping us and shrieking and trying to drink all the juices we had. Take note: Ethiopian Airlines has terrible food and no in-seat movies. This is not a great combo for travel with small children.

We made it, and were greeted by the friendliest immigration officer in the history of time. He was a beautiful man who saw me by myself because I have a different name than the Bucket and the kids. He made small talk about how hard it is to fly with children and waved me through. I loved South Africa already.

But then I remembered that we were in Johannesburg airport, hotbed of crime and danger, according to TripAdvisor.com. We had to get to the hotel bus depot, which apparently involved leaving the airport and being led to the parking lot by people who supposedly worked for the information desk, who would then jump you and steal your valuables! I got directions from no fewer than two information desks, because simply following the directions printed on 439578394875 signs, or listening to just one information giver would surely lead us to certain death.

And so, we began our trek out of O.R. Tambo airport (which I must say is very shiny and nice), out INTO THE SUNSHINE! AND ACROSS THE STREET! AND PAST A HOTEL! Fortunately, we made it. It seemed like a very dangerous place for the whole three minutes we were walking. After all, there were only dozens of people walking around in broad daylight, probably just waiting to attack us and steal our Ethiopian knickknacks.

The van arrived just as we did, which was fortunate, because we would have surely been attacked and killed by all the seemingly upstanding travelers milling about. Our driver was a charming man who kept asking us to take him to America. Bucket gently tried to tell him that America isn’t all it’s cracked up to be for immigrants, but he didn’t buy it. Damn you, Hollywood!

We had no South African cash for tips when we got there, which was terrible because the bellhop was a charming fellow who talked to Peeta for ages while I was checking in, and let him ride on the bags up to the room. I made Bucket go back to the airport and get cash later so we could tip him, but he was already gone. Yet another reason I’m going to hell. And yes, I still feel guilty. Thanks for asking.

The hotel. Oh, the hotel! It was clean and shiny and you could flush your toilet paper! There was a pool and a restaurant and a bar and satellite TV and the beds were so big and lovely.

We arrived just as they were finishing lunch in the restaurant, so they put us in the bar, where I realized I forgot to check the exchange rate. As I calculated it, the burger I wanted to get for lunch was $50. That sounded high, but I was hungry, damn it. We decided to suck it up and just have snacks for dinner. Later we realized the burger was something like $12. This, people, is why I did not major in math.

Peeta and Bucket went swimming in the very scenic but also cold pool for a little while as I lay around with Noodle, trying to figure where we could move that would let us have a garden like that. Then we all went upstairs, watched TV, ate snacks from the airport, and fell asleep.

In the morning, we had the world’s most glorious breakfast buffet. I only wish we had more time for me to chow down there. The waiter was charming, like all the other staff. The strange but unifying theme at the hotel was that the entire staff was charming, and the entire staff was black. Do white people not go into hospitality in South Africa?

We went back to the airport where the Air Botswana woman was stunning and lovely, and she gave us our tickets, but then we couldn’t figure out how to get to immigration. Turns out OR Tambo airport is a little too modern for us. We finally got through, the immigration guy was a dick (which I’m pretty sure is a prerequisite) and we waited a while for our flight. A Chinese woman took a picture of Noodle, because she thought she was cute, and we took a 47-mile bus trip to get to our plane.

And then, like a dream, it was gone. And now I need to go back to South Africa.

On Ethiopia

I’m not going to talk too much about Ethiopia, mostly because it was work related, but also because I don’t feel as if I have a whole lot new to add that people haven’t already heard.

I went on a home visit with our friend who runs the orphanage, and it was heartbreaking. The house we visited was owned by a woman with four kids (no partner, as seems to be the norm with so many of these families). Her oldest son is 14, and he wears a size 4T. Bucket saw him and thought he was 6. Her oldest daughter is about 10 and she spends her days in the orphanage and goes to her mom at night. There are two other kids in the family, both of whom live at the orphanage.

So we went to the house, where I was supposed to take photos. Just to be clear, I hate that part of the job. “Hi! I’m a rich white American here to document your poverty! Put on your sad face! I’ll be gone in five minutes, and you’ll be stuck in this one room shack for the rest of your life! Click!”

She lived in a one room shack with a single bed that was about 10′ x 10′. She sleeps in the bed with both the older children. She had some posters of Jesus on her walls, some pots and pans, and a picture her kids had given her. She beamed with pride when I told her it was nice. She was shy and clearly ashamed of her situation. I was told later that she is an amazing mother and is totally committed to her children.

She pays $20 a month for rent. She can’t cover it, so her older son goes out at night after school to tell gum on the streets. $20 a month. For one room with one bed that she shares with two children. She had to send her youngest two children to an orphanage so that they can get food and education and medicine, because she can’t provide it.

This is how people live in the rest of the world. There are women out there who can’t pay $20 a month for rent, who have to send their children to orphanages to see them thrive, who have to send their son out at night to make money. And compared to so many others, she was probably doing well.

That’s about it. I don’t have a lot more to say. I probably think about her (or the other women whose homes I’ve visited) every time I bitch about how hard my life is. Oh, Noodle woke up in the night! I’m sleepy and no one’s life has ever been as hard as mine! Waaaaah!

I have it so easy and it’s good to be reminded. That’s all.