Feb 27, 2014

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Apples of Gold

“Like apples of gold in settings of silver is a ruling rightly given.”

-Proverbs 25:11

Praising God today because we received our ruling!

And now I’d like for you to officially meet our daughter, Violet.

Until now, we’ve called her Pearl on this blog to protect her identity until we knew we’d been awarded legal guardianship. We chose “Pearl” because Winston Churchill called Uganda “The Pearl of Africa” and she was our Ugandan Pearl. Later, a friend of ours reminded us of the passage in Matthew 13 about the pearl of great value. What a fitting passage to apply to this beautiful treasure!

This is the first picture we ever saw of Violet. Now can you see why she just pulled at our hearts from the first time we saw her? Look at the hope in those eyes. This child, she just glows.

I know God has big things planned for this girl and we are humbled and honored that He’s allowed us to help nurture her into all she’s meant to become.

Truly, we’re blessed beyond measure.

 

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Feb 25, 2014

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Travelogue: Day Four – Part Two

(Continued from Day Four – Court)

Nothing like having a machine-gun-toting guard giving you a once-over before being allowed entrance to a mall parking lot!

Cafe Javas, the restaurant our driver Francis suggested for our after-court late afternoon meal, was located at the corner of a small shopping mall. Security is tight at these locations after the 2010 bombing in Kampala by a Somali branch of Al-Qaida — and even more so after the horrific mall bombing in Kenya last year where non-Muslim westerners were specifically targeted. I found the men with machine guns somewhat reassuring, but also an alarming reminder that danger lurks closer in Africa than America.

Regardless, we were impressed by the restaurant, with its coffee offerings and full menu geared toward western tastes. And there was air conditioning, a rarity indeed! We had three tables put together, to seat us, both drivers, the pastor and his wife, Pearl, her birth mom, her uncle and the probation officer.

In case you’re wondering what’s in those glasses, it’s fruit juice, which I found our Ugandan friends generally preferred over soda. The light orange is passion fruit juice, which I’d discover the next day at breakfast is simply fantastic. The darker orange is a papaya/passion blend, I think. Anyway, the atmosphere was festive and Pearl asked for fish, rice and chips (french fries). Donnie happily ordered a cheeseburger, fries and a double espresso. My stomach was still off, so I thought I was safe ordering a simple cheese quesadilla. I’d learned that it’s a real insult in Uganda to leave food on one’s plate, especially when so many are starving. So I thought it would be like ordering a quesadilla at a Mexican restaurant at home, where they just bring me a little dry-grilled tortilla with cheese on a small plate.

You know, just a safe little something to refuel me but not overstress my tummy.

Well, I was wrong. The portion sizes in this restaurant were enormous! The tortilla used to make this quesadilla must’ve been at least 12″ around, and it was damp as if it had been fried in oil. It was quartered and served on a huge platter heaped with pinto beans, guacamole, pico de gallo and a rice pilaf studded with big chunks of carrots, peppers and peas.

Yikes. I would’ve taken a picture but I thought they would think I was so bizarre for doing that!

I nibbled a few bites of everything. The cheese’s flavor was odd to me. All the side dishes were very flavorful and I lamented not being able to enjoy more of them. Pearl kept asking me what was wrong, why was I not eating, and I tried to explain that I still didn’t feel well enough to eat much food.

Everyone else really dug into their meals, however, and would’ve won Clean Plate Awards if we’d have been giving them out! When the pastor noticed I wasn’t eating much, he said, “Well, give the remainder to them — they will eat it.” He was referring to his wife and Pearl’s mom. I said OK and slid my plate over. Between them and Pearl, they ate it all. I truly do not mean anything rude in saying this, but it was surprising to see these ladies have room for all their food and mine, too! But as someone told us later, that was probably the nicest meal some of them had ever had, and their bodies are used to adjusting to feast or famine. This same person also politely chided Donnie for leaving food behind when we left. He said, “In Uganda, you never leave a remainder. You should’ve had them wrap it up and we could’ve given it to a homeless person on the street.”

(Total interjection here, but that stuck with me and those whom I’ve told the story. Here in America, sometimes you can’t get homeless people or beggars to take even fresh food or let you buy them a meal. But there? Hunger is so real and prevalent, they will gratefully accept even food that someone else had touched or bitten off of. Just another of hundreds of ways this trip provided us with a deeper understanding of poverty.)

After the meal, we stood around for a while, taking photos and saying goodbye to those heading back to Jinja that night, which was everyone except us, Francis and Pearl. After they left, we went to the pharmacy, then back to the guesthouse where we all changed into more comfortable clothing. We finally received a call that our missing luggage had arrived at the airport, so Francis and Donnie drove off to Entebbe again while Pearl and I had some mother/daughter time.

We sat out on this lovely porch until nightfall…

Pearl played games on the Kindle, and I also had her read some passages to me so I could get an idea of where she is with her English reading and comprehension.

After dark, we went inside to the lounge. One of the guesthouse maids was watching TV and I found her selections very amusing. For a while, she watched a lively TBN-like Christian music show that was performed in both Luganda and English. Then there was a Hispanic soap opera that was dubbed in English; after that, an Indian Bollywood-ish soap opera that was dubbed in Luganda with random English phrases thrown in. Pearl was interested in all the shows and I passed the time checking Facebook and email on my phone, and then a sweet lady I knew from the Ugandan adoption group on Facebook came in and we talked for a long while. Finally, Donnie came back with our bag and we turned in for the night.

It was our first time that both of us were alone with Pearl, and she was just as sweet as could be. I gave her some new pajamas and she quietly changed into them. She played with her dolls for a few minutes, then hugged us goodnight. She neatly tucked the dolls and a stuffed animal under the blanket beside her. She dropped down her mosquito net and we never heard a peep from her until morning.

And then Donnie tucked in our net, and it was lights out, our first full night with our new daughter….

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Feb 21, 2014

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Travelogue: Day Four – Court

Donnie woke up at sunrise again, and snapped pictures from our balcony.

Kampala sunrises are beautiful, especially when they’re full of hope like ours was one month ago today.

My stomach was still giving me grief, so I skipped going down for breakfast. My gourmet morning meal consisted of one pretzel, a few sips of Coke, some Pepto-Bismol and a couple of Imodium. I had another freezing cold shower, baffled as to why there wasn’t any hot water in our room. (It would’ve been nice if the guesthouse had included a note that all we had to do was ask someone to flip a switch!)

We weren’t scheduled to leave for court until around noon for our 2:00 appointment, so I took my time getting ready. This was just as well, because I still felt pretty weak and shaky, with all the energy of a geriatric sloth on Benedryl.

Suddenly, Donnie burst into the room. “The lawyer called. The judge has something to do at 2:00, so she wants to see us right away!”

W-wh-what?

So, my leisurely getting-ready became quite hurried, and we were concerned that our daughter’s relatives who were on the road from Jinja wouldn’t make it to Kampala on time. Because Kampala traffic is completely insane without having your appointment moved up a couple of hours.

Thankfully, our ever-faithful driver Francis arrived quickly and we all piled into his van. Miss Pearl was all smiles and adorable in her black-and-white houndstooth dress with a fuchsia bow and perfectly matching shoes.

By this time, it was raining and quite cool out. I found it refreshing, though. Driving through Kampala is a totally fascinating, completely butt-clenching experience! Imagine no traffic lights at intersections, everyone just crossing as they’re able, with cars, pedestrians and boda-bodas (motorcycle taxis) zipping around you and toward you, so close you could stick a finger out and touch them. We saw a person holding a massive flat-screen TV (with no box) while riding on the back of a boda. There were times that traffic came to to a total standstill. For ten minutes, you’d not move an inch. And even with all this madness, we saw one minor accident our entire week in Kampala. You’d think there would be accidents on every corner. All I know is it must take some mad skills to drive in Kampala!

Family court was held on the 4th floor of a tall but smaller-than-I’d-imagined building. We were asked not to take pictures, but I could kick myself for not taking one outside (because I missed capturing the requisite family-together-at-court photo!)…just one of many photo ops we managed to miss.

There was an elevator, but no air conditioning. It wasn’t terribly hot, though, because of the rain and because there were open windows and vents everywhere. There were a lot of people milling about, waiting for their cases to be heard. Of course, most of them were staring at us, wondering what these muzungus were there for. After a brief wait, the relatives from Jinja arrived and we all greeted one another. I was struck by how handsome our daughter’s uncle was. I mean, I wasn’t surprised, as she is gorgeous and her mother is, too. But she clearly comes from beautiful genes all the way up both sides of her family tree. He is her late father’s brother and had a very dark complexion, but these beautiful light brown eyes and very refined features. I wish I’d gotten a picture of him. Maybe when we go back, we can get pictures of her with him then. He could be a model or an actor — no kidding!

Anyway, I was surprised by how calm I felt. Even as we walked into the judge’s chambers, I felt completely peaceful. (I think it was a God-thing!) The hearing started out with the judge and lawyer talking back and forth, outlining the details of our case. Then the orphanage pastor was asked to leave the courtroom while she questioned us. I was questioned first, and she asked things such as how we came to know Pearl, why did we want to bring her into our family, what type of work I did. She wanted to know about our boys, and how I planned to take care of Pearl’s hair and skin (as a friend mentioned later, ONLY a woman judge would think to ask about that–but it was a great question!).

Donnie was next, and he was asked about his work, and our income, and how he felt about having a daughter. She asked if we had healthcare, then inquired, “What do you think about Obamacare?” Donnie felt a little put on the spot, but was like, “Ma’am, to be honest, I’m not fond of it. I don’t think it’s a good idea.” Everyone burst out laughing, including the judge. (Most Ugandans we met seemed to regard our president as a pompous boob who needs to tend to his own country instead of sticking his nose in everyone else’s business.)

Next, Pearl’s birthmother, “H” was questioned about her late husband, her resources and health, and why she wanted to give up her daughter. Out of all of us, I think the judge was hardest on H, and it made me feel sorry for her. Even so, she wasn’t a harsh judge — just very firm and thorough.

All this time, Pearl was sitting patiently underneath the window, fidgeting with her handkerchief, bending over to play with the bows on her shoes, and after a while, she actually took off her shoes and fidgeted with her toes! (It’s sort of a running joke with this child, how much she hates wearing shoes.) It was a bit of an awkward moment for me, because H was sitting closer to her than I was, but she never corrected her for removing her shoes, and I didn’t know if I should say anything or not. I decided to let it slide, even though if that had been one of my boys I’d have been scolding him big-time for doing that in court, of all places! Hahaha!

Next, the judge asked Pearl what she thought about everything. She responded SO quietly, barely above a whisper, and was very shy when asked to speak up. I can only imagine how overwhelming it all was for her. The judge only asked her simple questions, and when she said, “Do you want to go to America with Kari and Donnie?” she giggled, hid her face in her hands and said “Yes!” Everyone laughed along with her — it was very cute!

At that point, Pearl’s uncle and the probation officer (social worker assigned to our case) were asked to come in and testify. The uncle gave his approval of everything, and the probation officer shared the details of her investigation. Then the pastor was invited back in to give his side of things. All in all, it took about three hours for everyone to be heard. When the judge was satisfied with the information, she dismissed us. I later found out as we left the court, she stopped the pastor and told him that she knew his father, that she was from the same original village. I thought that was another neat God-incidence that hopefully worked in our favor.

It was quite late in the afternoon, but everyone was hungry and we needed to feed them all before sending anyone back on the long trip to Jinja. We were still in need of malaria medication, so Francis suggested a pharmacy and a nearby restaurant called Caffe Java. And off we went again into the crazy Kampala traffic!

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Feb 18, 2014

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Dream Sign

Years ago, I painted some little wooden word signs to sell at a craft fair.

I think there was “Faith” and “Family” and a few others that sold. Nobody bought “Believe” or “Dream” so those ended up being displayed in our own home. They’ve been around so long, I don’t think any of us really notice them anymore.

Except for my 4-year-old, who is really into words — he’s basically taught himself how to read with very little input from me. He loves the magnetic letters on the fridge, road signs, printed material any and everywhere. So of course he noticed these signs. And the past few days, he’s been asking to play with them.

“Mom, I need ‘believe’,”he pleads, wiggling his fingers on outstretched arms, reaching for a shelf four feet above his head.

“Pwease, Mom, can I hold ‘dweam’?”

Well, I let him play with them earlier today and after everyone had gone to bed, I sat down in my chair to watch TV. And then I glanced over at my end table and saw this:

I’ve had that sweet picture of Pearl beside my chair for about a year now. I don’t know exactly how much a four-year-old understands about adoption, or what we tell him about who this girl is, but I’m pretty darn sure he’s not deep enough yet to have been intentional about where he placed that sign.

But oh, I understood the significance of it. And God knew that I would. And I think that it’s pretty amazing to see it today of all days, because four weeks ago this very moment we were getting ready for court and I can’t even articulate our frustration that a whole month later, we still don’t have a ruling from the judge. Everything is on hold, in limbo yet again, and sometimes I just don’t know what to DO with myself, I get so stressed!

But then God sends this reminder to encourage me. And I know that I must trust that His timing IS indeed, perfect, even when it makes no sense to me.

I’m still smiling over this happening tonight. It’s like a little love note from Him to keep hoping, to keep pressing on, to never give up on the dream He’s placed in our hearts.

Thank you, Father God.

“But God will never forget the needy;

the hope of the afflicted will never perish.”

-Psalms 9:18 (NIV)

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Feb 13, 2014

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Across the Miles

You see those cards at all the major holidays: Merry Christmas from Across the Miles. Happy Valentine’s Day from Across the Miles.

How about, “Our Hearts are Hurting Across the Miles”?

I just heard from the orphanage’s pastor that our daughter is struggling emotionally right now. I know things can get a bit lost in translation sometimes, but he said something along the lines that when we left, she said we took her new life with us and she is sad whenever we are apart. She asks him several times a day when we’re coming back.

Poor man. It must drive him crazy at times. But he has the patience of Job.

He said that he and his wife try to come up with things to distract her thoughts, so she isn’t brooding over our absence all the time. She didn’t strike me as a very “broody” girl, but I know at her age, it’s pretty easy to slip into that, and of course, she was on something of a high the whole time we were there. I hate thinking of her feeling insecure about our return, but I keep thinking of my sons here, and how little they understand about complex things like this — and how hard it is for them to wait for things that mean a lot to them. Add to that what I’ve read about how kids from orphanages can be several years behind developmentally compared to non-institutionalized children, and she’s probably understanding this from the viewpoint of an even younger child.

You who are parents know — nothing hurts worse than knowing your child is hurting. Nothing. And I’m so thankful for the pastor, and his wife, and our daughter’s friends (especially the older, motherly girls at the orphanage) who look after her, hug her, and comfort her when we can’t.

We just need that court ruling to come in NOW, so that we can move on to making concrete return travel plans. She needs another date to hold on to, another goal to attach her hope to.

Please join us in praying for her peace, and for a speedy resolution to this process. Thanks!

 

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Feb 12, 2014

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Travelogue: Day Two – Meeting Pearl

(Continued from Day Two)

It didn’t feel anything like the scenario I’d imagined when we finally met our girl.

I imagined us being ready hours before she came, wearing the outfit I’d chosen weeks before, my hair and makeup nicely done. I pictured us pacing around the guesthouse, peeking constantly through the curtains, rushing out the door as soon as we saw their car enter the gates. I imagined her stepping out of the car, directly into our arms, and lots of happy pictures taken against the lovely guesthouse gardens.

Instead, they’d arrived a day early, unexpectedly, while we were napping. So I hurriedly ran a brush through my hair and another one over my teeth as I tried to shake the cobwebs from my sleep-slurred mind. I glanced into the suitcase at my wrinkled, chosen outfit, then in the mirror and figured what I was wearing was good enough –I wouldn’t want to make them wait any longer for me to change clothes. I still couldn’t believe this was happening NOW and not at all the way I planned it. I hadn’t planned to feel shocked or panicked when it was time to meet her. But that was exactly how I felt as we stepped nervously down the stairs.

Donnie rounded the corner into the living room first. The pastor stood up, laughed and said, “Am I finally¬† meeting my brother?” Their embrace blocked my view at that moment, but I took one step more and a blur rose from the sofa in front of me. The next thing I know, a soft voice exclaimed, “Mommy!” as thin brown arms wrapped tightly around my waist and I wrapped my arms around her. She laid her head against my chest and I rested my chin on her head.

We just stood there like that for quite a long time, a hug that had been building up within us both for two long years. And the shock and panic melted away and that was how I met my daughter.

Donnie snapped the pic below when we finally pulled apart to look at each other — and it is the ONLY picture we have of those moments! You’ll have to forgive the silly sticker faces I’ve placed to protect her identity. That court ruling still has not come yet and I can’t share her full face here until I know we’ve been granted legal guardianship. But I also can’t stand to withhold the photos from you. (Once the ruling arrives, I’ll come back and replace the pics with the non-edited versions!)

Her birth mother (I’ll just use her initial, “H”) was there, too, and she was truly lovely. Very quiet and gentle in countenance. She speaks very little English, so we shook hands and then we all sat down to visit a bit. Since dinnertime was drawing near, we called our driver, Francis, to come take us to a local outdoor pizza restaurant that was suggested by the guesthouse staff. We also had to stop by another guesthouse so that I could pick up some malaria medication from a friend, to last us until our missing suitcase arrived.

First, H and Pearl wanted to shower and change clothes. Donnie and I took a few minutes to properly freshen up, then we waited for the other girls in the cool night air, Donnie chatting with the pastor while I chatted with Francis. I shared with him how many things had gone not according to plan so far, and he just smiled his mile-wide smile and reminded me that God’s plans rarely fit the agenda we create for ourselves. My eyes started tearing up, as this man has the purest ministering spirit I’ve ever witnessed in a human being. I’ll never forget what he said to me that night, and will always remember it in his beautifully accented voice. “We serve a BIG God!” He waved his long arms wide and smiled, “He made a universe SO big, it has no end!” His peace and joy was truly contagious and I began to see our evening for the adventure it was sure to be.

The brief visit at the other guesthouse was wonderful, as I met in person other adoptive moms I’d only known through Facebook. You’ve got to love Facebook, though — it’s an amazing thing to meet someone for the first time but feel like you’ve known them for ages! Some of them also knew Francis, so it felt like a fellowship of old friends instead of a first meeting of strangers.

We soon left for the restaurant, and were seated in a lovely little courtyard under some trees. I was surprised by the lack of mosquitoes — you’d think there would be swarms of them everywhere from the stories you hear about Uganda. We ordered sodas for everyone and two large chicken/pepper/onion pizzas to share. I admit to feeling skeptical about eating the food, but I didn’t know how I couldn’t. And I figure it’s been in a hot stone oven–surely that would kill anything, right?

When the food came, the pastor suggested that I should serve my sister, “H”, as according to their custom. I certainly didn’t mind doing this, but it was unexpected and as I rounded the table I was silently praying, “Lord, please don’t let me miss this up!” There wasn’t a spatula to serve the pizza, so I had to use a fork, and it wasn’t cut all the way through, so I clumsily stabbed the slice, wedged it free and placed it on her plate, all the while kind of laughing nervously and looking like a total klutz, I’m certain. Then I didn’t know if I was supposed to serve Pearl, too, so I did, and then the pastor (who I now know should’ve been next before our daughter). The whole time my husband has this amused yet “I’m-glad-it’s-you-and-not-me” expression on his face, and I quite wanted to smack it right off him!

OH I felt like a doofus!

Pearl wasn’t too fond of the pizza, but the others seemed to really enjoy it, eating several slices each. I stuck to one slice and my bottle of Coke, not wanting to overdo the food just yet. We enjoyed good conversation, and after the meal was over, we all returned to the guesthouse and to our rooms to rest for the night. (Pearl and H shared a room together, while the pastor went to a neighboring hotel.)

I sat on the end of the bed and got all weepy with Donnie, because I’m just wired like that. I can meet an unexpected situation head-on and do what needs to be done, but I have to process through it later. He reassured me that the evening HAD gone well, that H probably was NOT regretting her decision to trust a couple of dumb Americans like us with her daughter, and that tomorrow would be a beautiful day spent getting to know one another.

My stomach was churning, but I have IBS, so I figured it must be a manifestation of stress, like usual. I took my IBS medication, and some Pepto, put on my gown and went to bed.

Except the IBS medication didn’t work…even though it almost always works…and as the wee hours of the night descended upon us, I began to feel worse and worse….

 

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Feb 4, 2014

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Waiting for the Ruling

I’ve been waiting to post the next installment in our Travelogue series because the next thing to share is when we finally met Pearl and I have so many good pictures of that day that I want to include!

BUT…I’ve been advised to not share full-face photos of her until after we’ve received the judge’s ruling. And sadly, that has not come yet.

We were supposed to have gotten it last Wednesday, but the judges were in a conference through Friday. So we’re anticipating receiving it any day now. At the moment I’m typing, it’s the wee hours Wednesday morning in Uganda, so maybe it’ll come today. Just a week late. (Which would actually be pretty good, measured by “Uganda Time” and compared to what some of our friends have experienced.)

It’s one of the harder things about Ugandan adoption…er, I mean, legal guardianship…how there is no real sense of urgency there. We Americans are viewed as being rushed and pushy, and honestly, we really are compared to the calm, soft-spoken Ugandans I met. Everything here is expected to have been done yesterday. They just don’t operate like that in Uganda.

I kind of miss that, actually. I miss so much about Uganda. I used to think that people who talked about missing places like that were borderline crazy. I mean, what is there to miss about living with unsafe tap water, and killer mosquitoes, and no air conditioning under the equatorial sun? How can you miss being face-to-face with poverty and orphans and street kids begging? Or sitting in horrific traffic then stifling yelps when you’re weaving in and out of intersections with cars, pedestrians and motorcycles coming at you from every side?

What I hadn’t considered were the people, how gracious and godly and loving they are. Or how refreshing it is to live with a simpler, slower pace of life, where you have time to sit leisurely around a table and enjoy the company of friends. I hadn’t thought about the beauty that is unique to that land, the lush landscapes and vibrant flowers and colorful birds flying about, the brilliant contrast between red clay soil, deep green grass and bright blue skies everywhere you look.

I didn’t think about the simple, healthy foods, the sweetly fragrant fruits that forever spoil you for eating bananas, mangoes or pineapple again.

It’s killing me how much I miss it!

And then, of course, there’s the factor of this sweet young girl who’s stolen our hearts. It hurts to not be with her, especially when I hear that she’s missing us, too. She and her friend, D, who stayed with us for two days, adored these baby dolls we brought. I have dozens and dozens of pictures they snapped of them. They carried them everywhere. It was so precious to see these girls recapturing part of their childhood that they’ve missed.

She started at a new school this week and seems to be adjusting well. The kids just came off their long, two-month break from school, so I hope that being back into that daily routine keeps her mind off wondering when we’re coming back. We reassure her that it’s as soon as we can get the ruling and start the remaining paperwork process. As I’ve said before, though, I know that kids’ perspective of time is so different from ours. A day can feel like a month when you’re a kid waiting on something big. Please join us in praying peace and patience for her.

And a little extra prayer for that court ruling to come in would be great, too!

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Feb 1, 2014

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Travelogue: Day One

We didn’t think this day would ever come, then BAM! Friday, January 17th was finally here and it was time to go meet our girl!

After lots of tears on my part, picking up Nana to stay with the boys, separation anxiety for me and the kids, tons of cleaning and packing (we ended up bringing waaayyy too much stuff!),  and countless prayers, we were finally dropped off at the airport and on our way.

My face…it oozes with anxiety. And those puffy eyes from crying…mercy. Donnie, however, is cool as a cucumber, as always! (The International Terminal in Atlanta is super-nice, by the way.)

So we flew on British Airways, and once we got settled into our seats, I was doing a bit better. I let go of the worrying and started to get excited. We were on a plane! Going overseas! To meet our girl!

After sitting on the runway for an hour, the 8-hour flight to Heathrow was basically uneventful. I was too wound up to eat, but Donnie enjoyed some kind of chicken curry thing. BA has these cool in-flight entertainment screens where you can watch all sorts of stuff. Donnie watched a lot of movies while I flipped channels like I do at home, catching bits and pieces of TV shows, music, movies, etc. I mostly enjoyed tracking our flight. (I am soooo boring!) I must’ve fallen asleep or something because I missed the screen shot of landing in London. Oh well.

Once we landed, though, we were in a huge hurry to make our connecting flight to Entebbe. There was only 1 hour and 20 minutes between flights, and we now know that is NOT enough time to navigate through the steel-and-glass rat maze that is Heathrow Airport. Especially not when you arrive late to begin with, thanks to ground delays in Atlanta.

We didn’t make it. We got to security at the exact moment our flight was closing. So we detoured to the counter instead. My stress level at this point was a 12 on a scale of 1 to 10, and only grew worse when the CSR called over a supervisor….

Trust me, you don’t want the people managing your journey to be wearing these expressions. At one point, there were five CSRs staring with bewilderment at that screen. Unnerving? Yeah. Just a wee bit.

This was Saturday afternoon by now, and there wasn’t another direct flight to Uganda until Monday. We had exactly two options: fly to Johannesburg, South Africa then back up to Entebbe, thus spending the rest of our natural-born days on an aircraft. Or switch to Egypt Air and layover an hour in Cairo before connecting to Uganda, arriving in the wee hours of the morning.

Cairo? Like, Egypt-Muslim-uprising-unstable I’m-clearly-an-American-and-therefore-a-target Cairo?

Yeah, that one.

M’kay. Cairo it is!

Of course, that did nothing for my anxiety levels. (I should probably interject that I’m not afraid of flying at all. I was a nervous mess because of leaving my kids, because of the Great Unknown ahead, because I started the journey sleep-deprived. Flying doesn’t bother me a bit — I even think turbulence is fun!) Donnie and I had a few hours to kill, so once we finally got to Terminal 3, we used the airline’s “inconvenience” vouchers¬† to get some Starbucks and sandwiches. It took me 30 minutes to choke down half a chicken sandwich. Anxiety isn’t fun, but it sure is great for weight loss! (Little did I know, I’d soon encounter something else that’s great for weight loss…)

So, we board the Egypt Air flight a few hours later, and the captain was this scowling 6-and-a-half foot tall man who bore an uncanny resemblance to 9-11 hijacker Mohamad Atta. (Unnerving? Yeah. Just a wee bit.) The flight attendants grabbed my boarding pass and conversed rapidly in Arabic before pointing us down the aisle. We were pleasantly surprised by how roomy the plane was. The seats were more comfortable than the ones on British Air, and there was even in-flight WIFI service. Score!

There were a few other Americans on the flight, but it was mostly full of Egyptians. Good heavens, the women were beautiful. I mean, impeccably dressed, perfect hair and makeup. Just gorgeous. I felt like a blob in comparison. I tried not to giggle over the cartoonish-sounding music that was playing on the plane. And then once everyone was seated, before backing out of the gate, a picture of a mosque was shown on the screens and a very long Islamic prayer was read. The plane was totally silent during the prayer, which lasted a full minute or more. Then the safety video was shown in Arabic first, then English, then French. All the announcements were made in that order, too. A meal was served — some kind of odd curry-ish chicken thing, with oily round rice, and a vegetable that seemed a cross between zucchini and eggplant. And a salad of cucumbers, canned corn and giant smashed olives. And a roll that didn’t seem to have been made with any salt. But the hot tea was good.

So as we approached Cairo, we commented on how it was neat to be able to see both ends of the Nile River on this trip (our daughter is from Jinja, where the Nile begins). It was dark, but we could see the moon reflecting off the Nile, and that was very cool indeed.

Cairo at night. I’m thinking the waterway to the left is part of the Nile Delta, but I’m not sure…

So, we land in Cairo and the airport is much smaller than I expect it to be. We really only had time to navigate our way to the next gate, which was fine with me. We did feel a bit like targets as we wove our way through crowds of Imams in their long, flowing robes, and women in full black burqas, the kind with a screened panel over their eyes. We had to go through two “security” checkpoints, both fitted with totally outdated equipment and staffed with angry-looking guards. We didn’t have to remove our shoes, or show our liquid containers, or take electronics out of our carry-ons, or anything we had to do in Atlanta and London. It didn’t exactly inspire confidence in their security protocol. We did have to show our American passports at each location. (Unnerving? Yeah, a bit.) The “gate” was actually a doorway at the end of a long corridor, and outside a bus awaited to carry us to the plane. We were just relieved to have made it in time, because if we’d gotten stuck in Cairo, I don’t know what we would’ve done!

The second plane was considerably older and less comfortable than the first Egypt Air flight. We were served a meal almost identical to the other flight, only this time the oily rice was long-grain instead of round. We debated which Egyptian Curry Surprise was the best and the second flight won. However…about two hours into the flight, we started smelling wafts of cigarette smoke. There had to be at least a dozen people “secretly” smoking under blankets on this “non-smoking” flight! And the crew said nothing about it. Heck, they were probably joining in.

I kept looking out the window, but there was nothing to see over that part of Africa except darkness punctuated by the occasional dot of light or two on the ground. Even as we approached Entebbe, it was so much darker than what you expect to see flying over a populated area. I didn’t manage to snap any pictures of Entebbe as we landed. By then it was 3:00 a.m. on Sunday, we’d lost count of how many hours we’d been awake, and all we could think about was meeting our driver and getting to the guesthouse to sleep.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t going to be quite that simple….

(Stay tuned for Travelogue: Day Two)

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