My heart was happy after spending the day running around London, and being called Madam by proper British Bobbies. My tummy was happy after my proper British fish & chips. My body was ready to sit again after trotting around all day on 4 hours of airplane naps.
I boarded my Ethiopian Airline flight bound for Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. It was a huge plane – three sections of three seats across. Ben, my niece’s husband and travel coordinator extraordinaire, had kindly booked me a window seat. I wanted to see everything new and interesting out my window, and I also wanted to be able to rest against the side of the plane to sleep more comfortably.
The middle seat in my row was unoccupied – joy of joys! My row-mate and I gave each other a thumbs up and a smile with fond wishes for a quiet smooth flight.
I noticed that the light above me kept turning on and off, seemingly sporadically. It was too far above me to reach, but the controls weren’t there anyway. I looked around and finally found them on my arm rest.
My arm had been inadvertently hitting the light control at the very top. The other buttons controlled the on-board entertainment system. Mystery solved, and I tried to be mindful of where my arm rested from then on. Unfortunately my entertainment system wasn’t working…
What my screen looked like…
What everyone else’s screen looked like…
Oh well – I had a book to read and I wanted to sleep most of the flight anyway, so I wasn’t too worried about it.
Then a sweet young couple with an adorable baby boy, not yet 1 year old, sat behind me.
That’s ok – I had my ear plugs and sleep mask tucked in an accessible pocket on the front of my spiffy new travel backpack. I even had some herbal sleep tablets in case I needed them. I was prepared.
I have travelled with my own little ones. I am very sympathetic to the challenges of flying with children of any age, especially babies. I will never be that person who sighs and side-eyes the parents as they board the flight with a crying toddler. That’s not nice.
There was some squealing and crying which is perfectly normal. Changing air pressure during take-off is uncomfortable for everyone. It can be especially painful for babies.
But then the kicking began. Not continually. Just every so often, usually just as I had finally drifted off to sleep. The parents were doing their very best to settle him, hoping he would sleep soon. But that was not to be since the beverage service had begun. No problem. He will be asleep eventually and so will I.
It’s all good.
Then they dropped the seat back tray and let him bang on that. For the next 2 hours he had a grand time kicking and banging on the tray attached to my seat.
I imagined different scenarios depicting me using great tact and kindness while I asked them to please shift to the middle seat with their son, as the middle seat in my row was open. He could go Kung Fu on that seat back all he wanted and not disrupt me. Sadly, there was no way any version of that conversation would not result in me not coming off as a monster.
My choice back in the day was to drug them up. Baby Gravol or Baby Benadryl is a wonderful thing. They conk right out and everyone on the flight thinks your kid is the best traveller they have ever seen. This is not a popular option these days, though.
So I sucked it up.
I dug out my sleep tablets and popped a couple of those. Baby Boy finally fell asleep and I dozed for a bit, waking up to more kicking and squealing.
This rhythm of kick/squeal/doze/kick/squeal/doze went on for most of the 8 hour flight. I did manage a good 3 hour nap, which helped reset my brain just enough so I was no longer contemplating losing every marble God had given me. Pretty sure the parents were grateful as well.
Breakfast was served – a delicious buttery croissant, a whole wheat bun, a fruit cup, and a strong cup of coffee. They are big on the breads at Ethiopian Airlines.
We landed in the morning at Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. There wasn’t enough time to leave the airport and go exploring, but at least I can say I’ve been there. The people were fascinating. So many races, styles of dress, and languages swirled around me.
Although the international arrival line was long, it was impressively organized and efficient. There were several lines at the international arrivals security checkpoint. They processed us quickly and I found my next connection to Lusaka, Zambia.
I discovered a coffee shop where I ordered a latte. It was delicious. The ordering system is different than I am used to. There, they want you to sit at a table and the servers do the ordering at the counter. Even ordering a latte to go had to be done through a server. I did not take a table, which disappointed the server. Also, I didn’t have cash, which further disappointed him. I suspect that it is much easier to overcharge and skim a cut off the top if you pay with cash, especially if you are a white lady travelling alone.
It is an international airport however, so they had a machine with tap, which was perfect. I just tapped my phone and didn’t worry about currency or conversion rates. I had been happily tapping my way across the globe, feeling grateful for a husband that worries about such things for me and figures out all the currency conversion stuff on his end.
I texted with Amy whenever I had access to WIFI to keep her updated on my whereabouts. The excitement was building again just being on the continent of Africa, and getting that much closer to her.
The euphoria was still outweighing sleep deprivation.
The flight from Addis Ababa to Lusaka was much shorter – only 4 hours. Our departure gate didn’t lead directly to the plane. All the passengers got on 5 large shuttle busses which took us to the plane on the tarmac.
The plane was about half full so there was plenty of room. They served a meal – the fish was very tasty.
I took time to freshen up and change into a clean T-shirt. I ditched the socks – my feet were too warm. This south-bound flight took us across the equator. When we emerged from the clouds the sun was blinding and the glare off the wing forced me to close the shade on the window, which gave me relief from the extreme heat.
We landed in Lusaka and deplaned onto the tarmac. I cleared customs and collected my luggage in terminal 2, where the international flights are processed. Both bags were intact and still locked! I had to leave the international terminal and check in for my final domestic flight at terminal 2 next door. People directed me but I had trouble understanding the accent.
A man who worked there offered to escort me. He grabbed my luggage cart and started walking.
That should have been my first clue.
My mistake was not stopping him at that moment, but he was wearing an airport uniform vest so I assumed he was just doing his job.
He took me next door to terminal 1 and then said “I must have a tip.” I told him I had no cash, but he repeated his demand. I asked if there was a bank in the terminal – mistake number 2. He grabbed my luggage cart again and started walking out of the terminal to the next small building where there was an ATM. I texted Amy – thank God she had her phone in her hand and replied immediately.
She confirmed what I suspected – “That’s not cool, he’s taking advantage of you. He has a job there and makes a good wage. Don’t give him any money. Just tell him again you have no cash. If he insists, find another woman and ask for help. Say, ‘Auntie, this man is troubling me. Please help me.’ “
This is an appeal that all Zambian women respond to, regardless of age or race.
I told him, “I don’t have the right card for that machine. I have no cash, please forgive.” He left then, thank God, so I didn’t have to escalate.
It was a little un-nerving, but I wasn’t afraid. Lesson learned – white woman travelling alone = vulnerable sucker. Now I know – if I have a question or need help, ask an Auntie.
I found my own way back to terminal 2, where I learned I had more than an hour before I could check in to my flight to Ndola. There was a coffee shop in the terminal with three small tables. I enjoyed an iced latte while I updated my journal. I met another white woman with a Scandinavian accent also travelling alone. She was at the next table. I watched her bag while she used the restroom. She was there for safari and was waiting for the rest of her party to arrive for their chartered flight.
She asked where I was travelling to and why. She didn’t believe me when I said I travelled from Canada to babysit my niece’s kids.
“You must be going on safari while you are here or doing some other excursion!”
Nope – just hanging out with the fam and looking after the kids while the parents are gone.
She couldn’t stop laughing – “You must really love them to come this far for a babysitting job!”
Why, yes I do, as a matter of fact.
Their system of paying for checked luggage was a new experience. They weighed both suitcases at the check-in counter, gave me a piece of paper with the combined weight, and sent me to a nearby office to pay. It was a small dimly lit room with a desk and a few chairs out front and a small back office for the manager. I waited my turn, gave the paper to the woman, and she collected payment. Thank God for tap technology! She gave me a hand-written receipt to take back to the check-in desk. I handed that woman the receipt and she checked in my luggage.
Going through security is about the same as it is everywhere else. Put your things in the bins, take out electronics, etc. There is only one gate, so the waiting room is small. There is a VIP area that is partitioned off by glass, which I found amusing. It was nothing special – just a glass box with chairs around the perimeter. They get priority boarding, but there is no business class. All the seats on the plane are the same. I suppose it is human nature the world over to classify people with status symbols, and this was their way of doing that.
There were a few VIPs that day. I was most captivated by the woman. When she went through security, she couldn’t produce her boarding pass.
“You must have your boarding pass,” they told her.
“I don’t know where it is. My driver must have it” she casually stated with a dismissive wave of her hand. She continued through security without a care, ignoring their demands for appropriate documents. She gave them as much attention as she would have given a pesky fly. It was fascinating to witness her complete and utter hubris, especially because she got away with it. And, just as she said, here came the driver behind her with her documents.
This plane was much smaller, seating less than 50 people. It flew closer to the ground which gave me a good view of the terrain. There was only one flight attendant who offered a limited beverage and peanut service, which had to be served and consumed quickly due to the 45 minute flight.
There were a few other white people on board, mostly men with mining or drilling logos on their shirts. Copper is Zambia’s primary export so there is a lot of mining activity. There is even a mural-sized ad on the wall of the boarding gate waiting area advertising explosives. Interesting choice right next to airport security!
There were a number of women travelling as well. For the first time on this trip, I was an obvious minority, in race as well as western style of dress. The women were dressed beautifully, in long dresses with matching head wraps. The vibrant colors and patterns were a feast for my eyes. There was nothing submissive about these women. They were bold and in charge.
I am used to lining up the way Canadians do it – a respectful zipper-merge strategy, pausing to let someone go before me. That doesn’t work there. You have to be assertive or you will get left behind. Deplaning, the women crowded the aisle. I was in a window seat, expecting a gap to appear when they got to my row.
One of the women, lined up tightly with her friends, asked me “Are you going??”
“I’d like to, thank you” I replied.
“Well go!” she retorted, without making any space for me. So I muscled my way into the line. It felt rude, but only to me, apparently.
We deplaned on the tarmac and walked into the Ndola airport. I knew Amy was there somewhere waiting for me and I couldn’t get to her fast enough.
Sure enough, walking into the baggage claim area, I could see her through the doors waiting for me. Impulse took over. I ran and then she was in my arms hugging me, saying “You made it! I’ve got you!”
It took a second for me to realize the man was closing the door behind me. “I have to go back for my luggage!” I said as I tried to return through the doors. He smiled and firmly shook his head as he held the door shut.
I had to go all the way outside and back through departure security, then outside again on the back side of the building to access arrivals and luggage.
The first man was sympathetic and kind but firm. There would be no exceptions made for me. The man in charge of security going back into the building was less so. He was more than a little upset.
He checked me through security, examined my boarding pass and luggage claim tags, then marched me out the departure gate and back into the arrival doors so I could pick up my luggage.
I did not care in the least. All I cared about was getting my suitcases, hugging Amy, and driving from Ndola to Kitwe. My travel complete, I could relax in the love and warmth of family and start adjusting to next-level jet lag.