7 Airports in 36 Hours…

My ‘body alarm’ woke me at my usual 6 am waking time even though…after the late night and the drinks, I probably could have managed with a bit more sleep!

Patricia, Annie, Ben and Chris kindly woke early to be sure they could join me for breakfast. I have really enjoyed having their company — people to share stories of our Malawi experiences and reflect on them together. It helped to keep perspective and patience with the things that felt so different and with the worries about whether and how best to be of help to our Malawian partners within the limited time.

I said my farewells also to the wonderful Malawians who worked at the Lodge – Sherrington, Loveless, Ella, Sinia and….most especially, Ruth. Ruth was there for me when I was sick….I don’t know what I would have done without her….she was my ‘angel’ when I needed one!! And we have discovered a special connection, too, because her youngest daughter was born on exactly the same date as my son! Ruth and her team at the Lodge made me feel at home.

Sherrington and Ella:

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Ruth and Loveless:

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I finished packing …thinking I had time to spare….but the driver from WUSC arrived early. The driver was Parco – “Gift” in Chichewa – the same driver who had come in the night to take me to the clinic when I was ill. He waited while I went and gave Patricia, Annie and Ben big hugs before leaving.

My flight from Lilongwe (airport 1) – through Lusaka (Zambia) (airport 2) — went off just as planned. This is not too be taken for granted in Africa, I’m told! I sat beside a very interesting young man, Brian, who works for a coppermine in Zambia as a community development officer. He is employed by the mine to help those in the communities nearby become self-sufficient and he was going on a course to help learn marketing skills that he could share when he comes back. He explained, as an example, that they have helped one community acquire and breed goats. Now they have enough to feed themselves with extras they could sell. They need some help, though, in learning how to move into marketing their excess meat supply. The course he is taking will help him, help them.

We landed at Addis Ababa (airport 3) in the evening and had a 4 hour lay-over…until 1:30 a.m. I re-read one of my favourite books, “Solving Tough Problems” by Adam Kahane. My Malawi experience has convinced me that his approach to an open way of talking, listening and creating new realities can be a critically useful way to addressing the intractable challenges burdening the country. Reading was about all you could do at this airport, with internet at $2 US per minute!

I finally left Addis Ababa and — after many hours — landed briefly in Rome (airport 4) where most of the passengers left the plane. I moved over to a set of middle seats that were empty where I could stretch out and get some good sleep time! Wonderful!!

I landed at Frankfurt at about 9:10 a.m. (airport 5), prepared for a layover until 5 pm. I had been told by a number of people that it was easy to take the train into the city, so I thought this would be a good way to spend my time. I headed through customs and ‘entered’ Germany. The Frankfurt airport is easy to find your way and I saw where I could change some money to Euros and find the train. Before I left, however, I thought I would find the Air Canada desk and make sure everything was ‘good to go’ for my flight later in the day.

That’s when all the smooth travel plans went to hell in a handbasket!! Unbeknownst to me, my ticket had been changed (when?? by whom? Why hadn’t I been advised when I checked-in with Ethopian Airlines in Malawi!!) As I stood at the Air Canada desk to check-in for my 5 pm flight home to Toronto, the plane I was “supposed” to be on was taking off!! To say that I was feeling stress was an understatement. I managed to stay calm, however….perhaps a gift from my time in Malawi, where things don’t go as planned most of the time…. and began an elaborate process of getting myself out of Germany and home to Canada.

The 5 pm flight to Toronto was overbooked and they could not promise me a seat! I was told only Ethiopian Airlines could help me fix the problem so that I could get on another flight/airline to get home…but the Ethopian Airline ‘desk’ was not scheduled to open until 2:00 p.m…..later than all but one of my other flight options to get home. The Air Canada agent reached someone with the airline by phone but they would not deal with the situation until their desk opened at 2:00 p.m.

Thank God….due to some crazy whim, I had taken with me the after hours number for the travel agency WUSC had used to book my travel arrangements. So, I got on my Blackberry and called. A woman named Jenny (…I love her!!….) at the travel agent and a couple of Air Canada ticket agents at the Frankfurt airport somehow got me onto a flight leaving Frankfurt for Ottawa at 1:45 pm and then, from there, a flight through to Toronto. The only other option was to spend a night in Frankfurt and leave on an Air Canada flight the next day at 5:00 pm!!! So I was incredibly relieved.

The stress was intense, however. I was not even booked onto the Ottawa flight until AFTER 1:00 p.m. and I had to run through the Frankfurt airport, get through the long queue at Customs, find and get to the gate in less than a half hour. The only thing I can say is that I was tremendously grateful for the kindnesses of those who helped me get on this flight, extremely happy to have my Blackberry and thrilled that I had kept my carry-on luggage very minimal! I came close….but didn’t cry!

So, I left Frankfurt for Ottawa. I had a couple of glasses of wine on the plane and watched a couple of movies. Thankfully I had slept relatively well from Addis Ababa to Frankfurt….this helped keep me sane!

The transfer at Ottawa (airport 6) was a bit crazy because I had less than an hour to make my connection. I had to wait to come through customs….a very, very long line…..and thankfully this went smoothly. Then I ran to find and then get to “Gate 13″…..a lucky, not an unlucky gate as far as I was concerned!!!

Little did I know that, in the background, my brother (who works for Air Canada) was ‘creeping’ on me through channels he had with the Air Canada. I had left a phone message to let him know my travel plans were changing and that my pick up would be different than originally planned….but through his contacts he had come to realize that something very odd was going on with my ticket changes. I think some of this ended up working to my advantage….as I did not have any ticket to show anyone….or ticket number. Thankfully, everything fell into place!!!

Finally, I arrived in Toronto (airport 7)!!! I was never so happy. My brother and neice were there to greet me!! Not surprisingly, there was no evidence of my luggage. A very good humoured Air Canada employee helped me put arrangements in place to track them down and get them delivered to me in Guelph. I suppose I’ll see them in a couple of days.

The drive home to Guelph went smoothly. I was greeted by Justin with a big hug….and the house looked pretty good, too!!! Not much food around, but — hey!!….this we can fix!!

I left Malawi for home around 7 am Saturday Guelph time and walked through the door around 8 pm. Sunday. So…about 36 hours and 7 airports later, I was home. There is really no place like it!

2 Comments

  1. Hélène Fournier says:

    Welcome home Vicki.

    C’est toute une aventure. I want to hear the whole story en français la semaine prochaine.

    Hélène

  2. Chris says:

    Wow, sorry I missed reading your daily journal…I am not so much “in the loop” these days as I’m sure you can appreciate; nevertheless, I was very interested in following your adventures abroad. I have been known to have one or two misadventures in my day. hehe.

    Another example of how Guelph leads by example…in this case the leave for change initiative. Nice work, Vicki and hope you are enjoying the comforts of being home.

    Chris