Thursday, 2 January 2014

Why I love travelling but hate getting there

If there were a way to remain gainfully employed and bring Nathan (and now Emily) along, I would be happy galavanting around our fine planet nine months of the year... Saskatchewan in the summer is really really nice. Shhh. Don't tell. It's our little secret.

However, today, December 31st, on the brink of a new and purposeful adventure, I am sitting in a Minneapolis Marriott hotel room with a baby squalling instead of napping and I am feeling anything but adventurous. I am grumpy, my throat hurts, the greasy chicken fingers I ate at 11pm last night are rumbling. Instead of wondering what God has for us in the next two months, I am wondering if Emily has an ear infection or if her ears just need to pop from the last flight or if her elusive teeth have finally decided to make their debut. I am pondering the excitement that will be two back-to-back eight hour flights with a squirmy seven-month-old since we missed our connection to Amsterdam last night due to "mechanical error," the lovely catch-all. At least my American latte is much larger than its European counterpart would have been.
So, here I am, with time this morning to gurn along with Emily.  There are real problems to face while travelling (personal security, cultural and language barriers, etc.) but today, I want to grumble about transportation. All the "it's not about the destination, it's the journey" sort of thing. Honestly? I hate getting there. The more you travel, the more likely you are to hit a snag or two, but some of us are more prone to disaster.

I come by my transportation-challenged status honestly; I inherited it from my father. My parents were travelling overseas when their airline, Zoom, went belly-up. Dad ran over a grizzly bear with his motorbike on an annual bike trip. A few days later, trying to salvage the trip, he was rear-ended in his car. When the plane had mechanical errors en route to Mexico for a family Christmas trip, we seriously considered throwing him overboard, Jonah style.

Let me recount a few of my own travel joys.

2001: I had my appendix out one month prior. I am 18 years old and I have to get my enormous suitcase (I brought my roller blades. It seemed like a good idea at the time) onto the Eurostar in Lille to get to London Heathrow to catch my flight home after an amazing year in Dunkirk, France. I probably lost my appendix due to cheese and bread and pain au chocolat and good riddance -- except that I am not allowed to LIFT the monstrosity that is my luggage. I depend on busy strangers to haul my suitcase on and off trains all the way to London, then Heathrow a day later. I arrive at the airport to find (shocker!) my suitcase is overweight and it won't be allowed on. My face must have expressed my firm decision to leave all my worldly possessions and walk away, because the kindly Air Canada attendant suddenly slapped a HEAVY/LOURD sticker on it and, with the help of two men, heaved it onto the conveyor belt.

2010: Alta Verapaz region, Guatemala. After a thrilling all-night layover in Chicago airport, four of us Sask Ed students are off to Guatemala for some travelling before our course work starts. We arrive in Guatemala City, drop off some gear at the Anabaptist Seminary (SEMILLA), and hop on a bus for Coban to get to Semuc Champey to see limestone waterfalls. We haven't eaten, are now working on day two with no sleep, and my new friend, Daniel, in very slow and patient Spanish, is trying to tell me that there is no bus from Coban to where we are going and how I should go about procuring a ride. We eat street meat (yum) in Coban and manage to hitch a ride up the mountain with a local family, in the back of their truck. Somewhere along the way, the lack of sleep, poor food choices, mental exhaustion from attempting to communicate, the leaded fuel, and the riding backwards up curving mountainous roads led to the "ralphing on Jeremy's bag" incident. He will forgive me someday.

Jeremy's bag, pre-incident.

2013: United Airlines. Round trip. Saskatoon-Belize City. To be fair, United is not responsible for all the travel disasters in this trip and perhaps our trip to Belize is worth a post in itself, but I will focus on air travel for brevity's sake. Due to a last-minute flight change, Nathan and I are travelling separately. Fully prepared for United to lose my luggage, I pack everything I need for our two weeks in my carry-on backpack (I have learned a thing or two since my first trip to France). Despite my preparations, United is late and I miss my connection to Belize City. I spend five hours relaxing on the floor (on the non-secure side) of Houston's airport before meeting up with Nathan. Did I mention I'm 6 months pregnant?

Two weeks later, the trip home starts with an early morning speedboat ride, followed by an in-country flight to make it to Belize City where (surprise!) there's a change in our itinerary. Nathan heads to Denver and I get to go through Toronto, tacking on four hours to the journey home. Our flight together to Houston is delayed, leaving me half an hour to get through U.S. customs and make my connection in the furthest terminal. I run the whole way (I mentioned the pregnancy part, right?), launch myself onto the subway between terminals and my flight has changed terminals... to the terminal I just left. I make it there because, of course, my flight to Toronto is delayed. Unfortunately, another gentleman had experienced the same United hospitality that day and, during boarding, he loses it when he discovers his seat is not first class. The flight attendant, a specialist in customer relations, screams at him and then calls the Air Marshal (I am not making this up). adding a further delay of forty minutes, during which the Air Marshal asks everyone to apologize using "I feel" statements.

So we begin the journey with a very angry and emotionally injured stewardess. No complimentary food (yay United) and I am STARVING because there has been no time to eat since 9am in Belize, it's now 5 pm and they don't accept cash for purchases. Due to another incident during this trip, my credit card is cancelled. Did I mention I'm pregnant? A very generous stranger ends up buying me some Cheetos. Heaven... until we hit turbulence and the only thing in my pregnant belly (apart from Emily) is Cheetos. A killer migraine hits and I try to head to the bathroom but am forcibly detained by the flight attendant, who screams at me over my protestations while shoving me back into my seat. That's how I end up in Toronto, with twenty minutes to my connecting flight, smelling strongly of vomit. I make it to the gate to learn everyone has boarded, the next flight isn't until 6pm tomorrow, and by the way, United hadn't booked me on the Air Canada flight. I'm stuck in Toronto (no United rep for a hotel voucher, quelle surprise) and I don't have a credit card to book a hotel room. Luckily by this point, I don't look like much of a party-room destroyer (although I may smell like one) and a kindly hotel clerk let me book a hotel room with my debit card and the next day, despite the snow storm (oh Toronto) of several flakes of snow, I make it home. 

Fast forward to today. We knew before leaving Saskatoon that we'd missed our connecting flight to Amsterdam (Delta, thank goodness) and were able to rebook through Paris. Despite the non-ideal layover and the back-to-back flights, our luggage has a much better chance of making it with us. Because customs in the States requires you to pick up your checked luggage, even on a stop-over, we wouldn't have made our Amsterdam flight even if we had been on time. Instead of being part of the grumbling masses in Minneapolis flooding the Delta desks, we had our new itinerary and were off to a comfortable hotel where our sick baby could rest.

In fact, looking back at all of my travels so far, the little (and huge) inconveniences were resolved, maybe by a stranger's kindness, a "looking back that worked out for the best" moment, an awareness that even in the little things, God is in control and He cares about our runny noses and checked baggage.

Here's an excerpt from Vanessa Jones at "I think what I am trying to encourage you with is that God cares about the little things. Because the little things are big things to God." I've been struggling with worry lately, but even in the grumbling, God shows us grace. I wrote a whole post on fear, which I think of as worry, all grown up. Matthew 6:25-34 talks about God taking care of the little things and the big things. Once again, He is doing that for me, for Nathan, for our family. Maybe it is about the getting there after all.

Emily checking out Lake Victoria from the air.

After some more travel woes, we (and our luggage) arrived in Eldoret, then Kapsowar,  Kenya on December 31st, 2013, safe and sound, and with much help. Updates (and maybe less complaining) to follow.  

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