Canada To Kenya: Chapter 1
Canada to Kenya Adventures
"I'm sorry, I can't check your bags through to Nairobi, you have too many transfers for our computer system to handle." Can you imagine that this is how my trip to Kenya begins? Actually, it began months earlier when I was offered the opportunity to write for, and join, a field school in Mombasa, Kenya. This is the story of my amazing flight adventure from Canada to Kenya.
All photos and writing are copyrighted by Me - Teapixie! :)
With my 1 year old daughter securely belted into a transformer-styled backpack/stroller it is time to negotiate the travel of my 5 bags. I can manage my daughter, who is already strapped to my back. Attached to my front is a backpack that transforms into a wheeled travel bag (I look like an enormous bug) and is acting as my carry-on, filled with diapers and baby food, but I can't manage the three other enormous duffle bags. I can't travel without any of them: portable play pen which will operate as a baby bed, bag full of baby food and hand wipes, and a bag full of diapers and our clothing.
I begin to plead with the check-in counter staffer. "You can see my situation. I am not able to carry bags from one plane to the next - it's physically not possible." She just stares at me as if I am not speaking her first language. I am in Canada, people do speak English. It is 7:30 in the morning and I am already losing my patience, which isn't good. I've been preparing for this trip for months. My daughter and I have had every travel shot necessary and I've been reading books and attending talks about travel with a baby. I've also been gathering these bags and their contents, and there is no way I will travel without them.
I finally get a manager who arranges for an "Angel" to meet me when I land at Heathrow. This Angel is supposed to take responsibility for getting my daughter and I to our next plane, but most importantly, will get our bags sorted for the next transfers in our flight. I've never heard of anything like this! I am so grateful that I want to kiss the manager's feet - is that appropriate?
After I kiss everyone goodbye (excluding the manager's feet, that is) - everyone who thinks I'm crazy to travel with my daughter and has worry written all over their faces - I am about to clear security and I begin to cry. What am I doing? Am I nuts? I've begun to second-guess myself about doing this trip. It's a chance of a lifetime, I can't pass it up - that's what I kept telling myself the whole time I was preparing. Now, I'm not so sure, but I carry on, none-the-less.
Necessary For Travel
I was extremely careful about what I packed for this trip because I didn't have a great deal of space, but I would not travel anywhere without wipes. These are not just necessary for children, they are necessary for anyone who travels who is trying to avoid contracting illness or passing on an illness they've contracted.
I can't stress this enough: when one person gets sick the chances that everyone in the group will get sick are high. Using wipes regularly while travelling will help limit your ability to contract illness and help keep you from passing on any illness you may contract.
If You Had The Chance To Fly...
To Kenya With A 1 Year Old, Would You?
If Travelling With A Kidlette
A portable play pen is a convenience worth splurging on when travelling to countries with limited conveniences. While travelling on the train this served as a baby bed and, with a blanket for shelter, also provided security from objects that entered the cabin while in transit. (I'll write that story for you later!)
Additionally, this bed operated as a space for my little one's naps. It is wonderful that play pens like this can be folded away into a portable bag. Magic!
Travelling In Canada
Our first flight, between Vancouver and Toronto, is extremely noisy and there are other children onboard who are stressed. A couple of hours into the flight my daughter begins to act up. People have been complaining quite loudly about the other kids on the flight so I am really nervous about my daughter's changing attitude. The bed I made for her on the floor is not adequate so I transfer her to a nest I make on our seats and I sit on the floor. She continues wriggling all over the place and then progresses to perform extreme back-bends while screaming at the top of her lungs. I'm trying to hold onto her. We can't land soon enough.
The plane lands and we are exiting; one of the couples who complained about the other noisy children rushes over to me. I gulp, in anticipation of a berating, and am met by their smiling faces. "You have such a lovely child, and so well behaved! You are to be commended for her behaviour."
My daughter is only 1 year old, so it's pretty hard to take any praise on her behalf, especially as I realize my little kid is smiling with an extra tooth. Of course! Her back-bending screams were accompanying her cutting a tooth. How could I ever have known? Obviously, her screams were less screamy than the other kids. ;)
If you are travelling with a small child, I highly recommend that you research a convertible backpack/stroller. These gizmos transform from being packs into light-weight strollers. It's very important that you actually try out such a system in-person before buying one online to ensure that your child fits safely into the backpack when it is attached to your back.
Carry On Wheeled Back Pack
Holy Smokes. I couldn't live without this on my trip. Travelling for 36 hours, I needed lots of baby food, diapers, toys, wipes, and baby clothes. I had to pack for carry-on as if our luggage would not arrive, so having space and an expandable bag was a necessity. Amazon offers a number of different bags of this style, but this one seems to be the best.
Fits as carry on
Can be worn as a backpack (or frontpack in my case)
Transforms into a little house when you need accommodation - nahhhhh, just kidding! ;)
Heathrow Here We Come!
The flight from Toronto to London seems pretty uneventful in comparison, and I am delighted to be served scrambled eggs and toast for breakfast. Still nursing my daughter, I do so under one of the cotton feeding blankets I've brought along. Miraculously, my little baby was potty-trained before we left on this trip, but all of that training was left behind on the ground. Can you imagine what it's like for a wee little kid to have to use an airplane toilet? Just the sound in those rooms makes her scream with terror. While I am stressing about the loss of all that training, I am happy I packed diapers because this trip is already changing our patterns.
Nervously, we disembark the plane in Heathrow and I am wondering how I will identify the Angel. The Angel approaches us with an enormous smile and assimilates herself into our family as a second adult. I am shocked. "How did you know who we were?" I ask. The Angel just laughs. We've got Mary Poppins - now this the REAL English experience! She whisks us past line-ups, onto buses, manages all of our bags, even my carry-on, arranges the transfer of our bags for the rest of our flights and stays with us until we are on our next flight from London to Bahrain. My baggage fiasco, back in Canada, was a blessing in disguise.
What is "I Dream Of Genie" and who is "Mary Poppins"?
I Dream of Genie was a crazy television show set in Cocoa Beach, Florida and the leading female character was a Genie dressed in a gauzy belly dance costume complete with genie pants and a fez-like miniature hat festooned with a gauzy scarf.
Mary Poppins was the best-ever nanny, created on the silver screen, that every mother would want for her children - except that she flew around with an umbrella!
Flying To Heathrow?
Flying to Heathrow airport can seem daunting. Why not get acquainted with the services and facilities ahead of time? Don't worry, you won't be expected to fly with an umbrella like Mary Poppins. ;)
Where's The WC?
You should know that I had no idea how many transfers I would be making nor what airlines I would be travelling on. My flights had been arranged through the field school and I was told my ticket would be at the airport. Each new destination is a surprise to me. I am now laughing to myself because all of the airline stewardesses look like the woman from "I Dream of Genie," with scarves that cover their faces which are attached to little tiny Fez-like hats that are secured to the tops of their heads; this is a middle-eastern-based airline. As we ascend to our flying altitude, all of the women tuck their scarves away - when they're not on the ground, they're not subject to the laws of "the land" which are also known as dress codes.
The seatbelt light has not yet turned off, but I have to use the bathroom. Have to. The stewardess is pretty casual about it all and agrees to watch my baby. After a marathon visit I realize I am sick, really, really sick. I get back to my seat and begin to feel like I'm about to pass out. Strange feeling. I appeal to the stewardess to take care of my baby because I am losing consciousness. I think she can see it - she smilingly takes my child and disappears as my world goes black and I begin to 'dance with the fairies'.
Four hours later I wake up and panic strikes - where is my daughter? Why do I feel so sick? I stagger to my feet, feeling very disoriented, and start searching for the stewardess, but I have to detour to the bathroom again. Holy cow, am I ever sick. But I have to find my baby. I get up my courage and go into the curtained area at the back of the plane. Male and female stewards are bouncing my daughter on their laps while smoking and drinking because it's a party! It's not just the dress code that is lax, this is one casual flight. The airline staff smile at me as I thank them for watching my daughter, and then we return to our seat. The two of us are not in one seat, I am in a seat and in front of me, attached to the bulkhead, is a basket that she is stuffed into. The basket that is a wee bit small; her arms and legs are sticking out and she's uncomfortably kicking up a storm. But we are in Bahrain!
Come With Me
Wobbling down the stairs and onto the black tarmac with my kiddle on my back and pulling the carry-on bag, I can feel the heat of the sun. My stomach is doing flip flops and I am about to discover security in the Persian Gulf.
Moving through these airports is all about patience. Everything is a long, slow lineup and there are men with machine guns stationed irregularly along the routes. At random times, a female security guard approaches me, puts her hand on my arm and demands, "Come with me." The first time this happens I almost lose my hair - what??? Where are we going? We end up in a little tiny white room with a desk. No one speaks to me. What have I done? They pull out a security wand and start quizzing me about the contents of my baby back pack. "I've got a baby in there." I keep saying. I can't imagine how I could get anything else inside, but they seem to think I've got something else. After much evaluation, they put me back in the line up. Each time this happens, I get a little more comfy. It's not a big deal, it's just for safety. It makes complete sense to me, even if it's performed in a way that feels alien.
When Travelling With Kids
Kids need to be busy. They will not act like seasoned flyers. Us parents, our job is to prepare ahead. I learned that bringing old toys and new toys and slowly introducing each toy was the answer to the flea-like attention span of a child.
The Persian Gulf to Nairobi
We have transfers in 3 more destinations: Qatar, Abu Dhabi, and Dubai. In these countries nursing under a blanket is not acceptable and I have to find special quarters where I can feed my daughter. Strangely, the mother's room is part of the toilets and is filled with smilling grandmotherly-type women who are delighted to see me nursing my daughter. Who said we don't speak the same language?
In the regular area of the airport, I see very few women. The men are smoking cigars and wearing traditional garb or suits. I am wearing a conservative dress to ensure I am covered enough, so as not to attract attention. I had no idea what countries I would be passing through on this trip, so I decided to dress for what I thought might be the most challenging environments, and I am thankful I did. When it comes time to board, in each of these countries, a stewardess announces, "Women and children board first," and a huge rush of men push to get onto the plane. I am learning quickly, I just wait until everyone is boarded and then we get on.
It is so interesting how things change when the plane gets into the air. Men who would not have spoken to me on the ground are now talking. Being a mother seems to make me safe - everyone wants to talk to me about motherhood and my baby. English appears to be the language of business, and I seem to be talking to businessmen. The cabins on each flight seem so casual. People are walking around, often each person has too much carry-on luggage to fit in their compartment, and flight attendants seem sparse. Of course, I am still deliriously sick. I'm doing my best to stay cognizant of the conversations around me, contributing where appropriate.
By the time we are on our last leg of the trip, between Dubai and Nairobi, I am struggling to keep my little one occupied. She's tired of the variety of toys I've brought along; the new toys don't feel new anymore, the recognizable toys have had their day. So, it's time to start chewing on the airplane safety flyer - you know the ones that display the super slide out of the plane? The ones that make you think crashing in the water wouldn't be so bad because you'd get to go down the slide? Okay - that's stretching it a little. Nothing makes crashing feel like it would be okay.
As our plane is landing in Africa, I realize that she has chewed through every piece of paper on my person. But who cares - we're here! I am desperate to find my husband because I need to collapse. I am so sick. Just as we are about to exit the security section of the airport an airport attendant stops me and says, "Can I see your boarding pass?"
I stop in my tracks. Boarding pass? "Why do you need to see my boarding pass to let me get off the plane?" I bewilderedly ask. She doesn't answer but repeats, "Can I see your boarding pass?" I look her straight in the eyes and tell her that my daughter has been eating every last piece of paper while on the plane. She doesn't care. I start digging through my pockets, in my bags.
She won't let me into the country. I start to go blank. I can't even think the question, "What will I do?" Just as I am about to give up, I look over my shoulder to see my little girl smiling and giggling and waving our chewed-up boarding pass around.
The attendant is self-satisfied to accept that saliva-dripping document. We transfer through customs with our dual passport in hand, meet my husband in the chaos that is the Nairobi airport and climb into our floorless, seatbelt-less taxi that is complete with a baby car seat. We've been travelling for 36 hours and I need a cup of tea. Welcome to Kenya!
Diagnosis of my illness occurred months later; more of that to follow in a later lens. To read Chapter 2 please go to Adventures In Kenya: Chapter 2
Canada to Kenya on the "Milk Delivery" route
The milk delivery route is one where you get to stop at every house to make your delivery! This map identifies where we started, went, and ended our trip. I wish I could draw a pathway on here for you. I hope you get the picture.
Tea From The Source
Kenyan's pick tea leaves in the highlands and distribute their sassy leaves around the world. Take a taste of Kenya's Camellia sinensis and you will know why their teas are world renown. I was very comforted to know that hot cuppa's were a natural choice when in Kenya.
Anyone who has gotten
on a plane,
on a train,
or driven down the lane to Grandma's house,
will have a story of adventure. Please feel welcome to give us a taste of your adventures here. I'd love to read about them.