Dan and I made plans about a year ago to go to Kigali, Rwanda, home of my sister, the fabulous Emily Haas and her amazing boyfriend Shami. About two weeks before we left, Dan was informed he had training for work in Pittsburgh and had to bail on the trip. We (crazy) 7 decided to go on alone.
My sister Emily works for World Relief, has lived in Kigali for 2.5 years and is completely fluent in Kinyarwanda, the local language. Shami is the marketing director at a bank and is a really great guy. I admire them both greatly!
Our journey to get to Rwanda was EPICALLY crazy. Take it from someone who has traveled a fair bit... it pretty much doesn't get any crazier than this. Hang on to your seats. ;)
Our traveling team of me, 4 kids, cousin Kathy, and friend Alezah were scheduled to fly via United from Philly to DC, and then via Ethiopian to Addis Ababa (capital of Ethiopia) and then after a stop in Entebbe, Uganda, on to Kigali, Rwanda.
We spend the night at a hotel by the airport... get up at 3:45, leave at 4 on the shuttle, planning to make it through airport security and to our gate in plenty of time for our departure at 6:05. HA. HA. HA. Not so fast, savvy travelers. Upon attempted check in at the United counter, I noticed the very brusque and unsympathetic worker doing some sort of mental math. Then she makes a phone call. Then she counts on her fingers. At which point she announces I will not be allowed to go on the trip. She says Rwanda requires a passport to be valid for 6 months after entry (i.e.: until March 22, 2014) and mine expires on.... March 19, 2014. Yep. THREE DAYS short of six months. Keep in mind, it's 4:30 am, and I am completely bewildered and baffled and on the verge of tears. What..... just what in the world to do? Unhelpful airline agent begins giving highly helpful advice such as, "Well, they can all go on without you!" (no, thank you, those are my four kids...) or "You can try calling the emergency passport hotline... however they are not open on weekends." (and this is 4:30 on a SATURDAY morning....)
After a few minutes the agent leaves, and I ask another agent if she is coming back. She is not. We are on our own. I have been texting Dan and Emily (who is at a road rally in a village; don't ask...) -- Em is convinced we can get on the flight. We will be receiving 3-month visas upon entering the country, and she swears up and down that Rwanda will not care about the 3-day lapse. After pulling myself together and talking with Kathy and Alezah, we decide to catch a cab to the train station in downtown Philly and try to catch a train to DC, hopefully with enough time to make our flight.
After we arrive at the station, we realize the train goes to center-city DC, and Dulles airport is a good 30-40 minutes outside the city... annnnd the train will not even arrive in time for us to get to the airport. Desperate, I call Ethiopian airlines and tell them we will likely be missing our flight to Addis, and ask if there is there any way we can reschedule for the same flight the next day. Yes, sure is, the lady tells me, for an upgrade fee of $2200 per person. Well. There goes that idea. (Keep in mind, this entire time the kids are asking a milllllllion questions. Why aren't we going? What are we doing? Are we going to miss our flight? Why are we at the train station? What is going on? I can't even think how to explain the situation to them and am really trying to brainstorm ideas so we can just GO.... and am getting more and more stressed by the second.)
I start feeling sick so I head to the restroom... where (although I've eaten nothing) I promptly throw up. I am so stressed I can't even think of what I should be thinking.... everything is just crashing in around me. All our plans! All our hopes! Emily! AAAAAHHHHHHHH!!!
I come out of the bathroom and have plopped down on the wooden bench when I hear Kathy saying that she and Alezah think we should drive to DC, that we have a chance at making our flight if we drive straight there. It's worth a shot... so we grab the kids and our luggage and catch a cab back to the airport hotel where my van is parked. We throw everything in and hit the road for DC. I drive 80-90 the whole way, hoping and praying we won't get pulled over/ we don't hit traffic/ we actually get on the plane. The kids and Alezah fall asleep and Kathy and I mindlessly talk about colleges and old friends, anything to keep our minds off the very real possibility that we won't make the flight and we will be driving back home this same exact route shortly.
When we left Philly, we thought if we could make the drive in 2 hours, we would have an hour and a half-ish to park, check in, get through security, and board. (Not great, especially considering the "requirement" of arriving 3 hours before an international flight.) So. Flight leaves at 10:15. At about ten till 9 we roll in. We haul the kids and luggage out of the car, and rush heedlessly into the airport. Kathy takes off to park the car, and Alezah and I round the corner inside.... to a longggg line of Ethiopians, waiting in the check in line. I am panicked and sweating. Kids resume asking questions. I am praying and hoping that all these people are not here for the flight after ours. Hoping against hope, I ask the guy in front of me what flight he is on. "No problem," he cheerfully says! "All these people are waiting in line for your flight! You will absolutely make it." For the first time in hours, I catch a glimpse of hope. Kathy shows up, we wait another 10 minutes in line, and when I finally hand the stack of 7 passports over to the Ethiopian agent, she issues my 14 boarding passes, checks our bags, and waves us off toward security. Not a WORD about my stupid passport expiration. Thanks a lot, United lady. GRRR. We make it onto the plane, and I am texting Emily and Dan in sheer relief. We made it. We are on our way to Rwanda! This is too good to be true.
-- to be continued