Day 2: Monday
Day 2 started at 7 in the morning at the Brussels airport. I had managed to get a little sleep on the flight (acting like a crazy person is quite exhausting) but I was certainly less than bright eyed and bushy-tailed. I was, however, extremely happy to be on solid ground for a few hours and was hoping to get the chance to introduce [L] to a real Belgium waffle and some Belgium fries. As we walked through the Brussels airport, I thought for sure that this would happen. Wrong. Our plan was to find our gate first and then explore the airport. Wrong again. Attention adoption peeps who follow in our footsteps. When you get to Brussels on your way to [Capital City] (and you have a few hours) DON’T go directly to your gate. Unless you like being bored out of your mind with nothing to do and nothing interesting to eat for hours on end. Because, even though the Brussels airport is extremely nice and pretty large, the gates for planes to Africa are located in a separate part of the terminal which requires a bus ride that ends up in possibly the most boring place on earth. And what’s worse is that, from where you are, you can actually see the interesting part of the terminal, you can smell the food, you can even watch others walk from “Good” to “Bad.” But there is no crossing over from “Bad” to “Good” for some reason without taking that silly little bus ride all over again. I’m assuming that this is Brussel’s way of preparing you to leave civilization as you know it since, for some reason, you are fixing to hop on a plane to Africa.
The good part about this layover is that this is where we got to really meet up and chat with the other two families traveling with us, the D.’s and the W.’s. They were (and are) fabulous and getting together with them was a great reminder of why we were taking this insane trip and it definitely increased the excitement for the last leg of our journey. Our last flight left Brussels at 10 am and arrived in [Capital City] around 5 pm. Getting off that plane, I had no idea what to expect.
Even with no real expectations, I was still surprised. The part of the airport we entered after getting off the plane was basically a run down building about the size of an average restaurant. The entire airport is actually much bigger but, coming and going, we were never in an area larger than a grocery store. Comparing the ATL airport to what greeted us in [Capital City] is seriously comparing night and day. This felt like a warehouse, not an airport. I wish I had pictures to share but it is illegal to take pictures in public in [Capital City] and, since I was already nervous about being in a [Home Country] airport, I had no desire to press my luck with a [Home Country] jail. I can borrow one of the outside from the internet but I couldn’t find any of the inside – probably since it’s not worth an arrest to take one but you can get an idea of how big, or small, this airport is. And it is the main airport that serves a country with a population of over 70 million people. Not a lot of air travel in the [Home Country].
The good thing about the airport, if there is one, is that there is not a lot of traffic! The lines for immigration, where we had to show our passports and our yellow fever cards, were pretty short and not incredibly complicated. After immigration, we were sent into another building, this one even more of a warehouse, to collect our baggage. [L] and I were the last ones through immigration (my heart stopped a little when I saw that last American head pass through those doors without us) and immediately after entering the door to baggage claim, we were surrounded by [Home Country]lese men offering their driving services, baggage services, etc, all for a small fee, of course. Thankfully we were prepared for this by our agency and we knew our in-country coordinator, D., would be waiting for us so we just searched for him. We quickly saw his smiling face and the hands of the other American mommies waving us down. “Sigh of relief” is a major understatement for how I felt to connect with him. Finding the correct people who would take us to the correct places was my number one concern about arriving in country. We had friends earlier in the year whose family member, when arriving in [Capital City], did NOT connect with the right people and wound up with a man in a cab in a very unsafe situation.
So in this baggage claim warehouse place, we waited for our bags to come around on the conveyor belt. It was crowded and hot and slightly hectic but easy enough to find our bags and get ready to go. The most disturbing part of this experience was the fact that the baggage claim opened up to the outside and by this time in the evening, the mosquitoes were beginning to swarm. It’s a strange feeling to suddenly regard a mosquito as a threat rather than an annoyance. Even 2 days into our malaria medication, those tiny blood suckers terrified me. Having been in country for a total of maybe 1 hour, I was already completely sure I didn’t want to end up in a hospital here. So, I was extremely anxious to get all our bags and get to our hotel. Unfortunately for the W.’s, their bags had been lost along the way and they had to leave the airport with only their carry-ons. So we left with fewer bags than we should have, but at least we were all there, together, and safe.
Leaving the airport, we were again met by anxious men who wanted to help with our bags and, of course, get tips from the Americans. I was, again, so grateful for D.’s presence and assistance because it was a very overwhelming experience. But he expertly herded us to the van where we met our driver M. and all piled in for what was the first of many terrifying car rides in the [Home Country]. Luckily this first car ride was at night which made it slightly better than others simply because it was harder to see the danger we faced at basically every moment. And, I’ll be honest, I tried not to look. The cars we saw in [Capital City] were mostly vans and it was a real rarity to see one without a dent, or 30. And that’s not surprising since most of the roads in [Capital City] don’t have lines or, apparently, any rules for drivers to follow. And, oh yeah, street lights. Seriously, almost no street lights. Most of the light we saw along the roads came from candles placed in the front of business or yards. And, the people! There were people walking all over the place – by the roads, on the roads, across the roads, crammed in vans, even hanging onto the sides. It was extremely chaotic and completely overwhelming. Pitch black roads (and I use the term “road” so very loosely), cars going where they want when they want, and pedestrians everywhere! Not to mention, potholes the size of sofas. And much older vehicles with few to no seat belts and very little shock absorption. I’ve never ever experienced anything like it. We would literally be driving down the road toward a car in the same lane and then one of the drivers would veer before impact. All while other cars pulled out spontaneously, drove close enough to each other for passengers to high-five or french kiss, and people walked in and out of the chaos with no apparent concern over their constant near death experiences. It was like an hour long game of “Chicken” and “Frogger” and “Let’s see how many times Kati can pee her pants.”
Forty-two heart attacks later, we finally reached the Hotel Royal, the newest and nicest hotel in town. I don’t know what I was expecting but this wasn’t it. The hotel was fine, it was actually very nice, but I guess I assumed it would be in an area much nicer than most. But it was simply a clean building smack dab in the middle of the rest of the dirt and poverty that is [Capital City]. But it was clean and our room was very nice. I can share pictures of it since they were taken in private:
When we finally got all settled in, we completely crashed. I was afraid that we would be too excited for Tuesday to get any sleep. Not. A. Problem. We were both so very tired that we hit the pillow snoring and did not wake up until the morning alarm.