The night before we were to depart for the United States, our interpreter met with us over pizza to answer any questions about travel, go through phrases that we would like to remember in Lingala (like “I love you,” “Stop,” and “Don’t touch that.”), and to talk to the children about what it would be like to ride in a plane all the way to America. Because Ken and I had alternated nights of sleep by sleeping next to Addie Rose, there wasn’t much that was sinking in. We were exhausted from the stress of being detained by the police, from taking care of two very active kids who don’t speak English, and from having such limited options available to us.
We did remember to have the interpreter talk to the kids about needing to learn English to speak with kids in America. They nodded in understanding. We told them there would be a great party for them at the airport when we arrived in America with singing and cheering and it was because their new American friends wanted to welcome them home. They nodded in understanding.
And then we decided to ask again, through our interpreter, if Emmanuel wanted a new name when he went to America. He nodded his head.
So we told him a story about a young man named Palmer, who ran very fast, was very smart, who was very funny, and who loved God with his whole heart. He was a great dancer, and everyone loved him. We wanted Emmanuel’s new name to be Palmer Emmanuel. He smiled and nodded. (For those of you who didn’t know Palmer, he was one of our college ministry students who passed away in the summer of 2010 on a mission trip to Maine.)
As we wrapped up our conversation with our interpreter, our discussion turned to travel plans for the next day. To help with the travel arrangements, we decided to arrange for what is called a “protocol” in which you hire a driver to drive you to the airport and take you through all of the stations in the process of checking in. It takes about 4 hours to check in for a flight, with a half dozen different lines and processes to endure, in addition to the hour drive to get to the airport. If you want to check luggage, it needs to be taken to the downtown Kinshasa Brussels Airline office earlier in the morning, where boarding passes are issued, and luggage is checked to (hopefully) get back to America with most to all of its contents.
We awoke on Monday morning, knowing that even though our flight didn’t leave until almost 9:00 p.m., it would take us most of the day to be able to leave. After breakfast, we packed our suitcases with the items that we could fit. We had already left one behind at the orphanage, and another would be left at the convent, filled with things like a hot pot, peanut butter, pull-ups, and bug lotion that other adoptive families would find useful. Other families had done the same for us.
When the luggage was ready, Ken took the two suitcases and paperwork and went with Stuart, the other dad we were travelling with, to the Brussels Air office to check luggage and get boarding passes.
When the arrived, Ken and Stuart were put in different lines with different agents. Stuart was able to check his luggage and was issued boarding passes for his family of four. Ken was told they would only issue boarding passes for the adults. Ken argued, as best he could in French, that we had purchased separate seats for the children, as they were too old to be lap children. It did not help. They still refused to issue boarding passes for Palmer and Addie Rose. He pointed out that Stuart had gotten boarding passes for his entire family. It did not help. The ticket agent refused to budge. They told him he would need to get boarding passes at the airport instead, which was not part of the plan. We weren’t even sure we could get boarding passes at the airport, because that is not how we had been told things were done at the Kinshasa airport.
Eventually, Ken had to leave the Brussels Air office empty-handed, but desperate to get boarding passes for our kids. Even though it was early in the morning back in the States, I started emailing our travel agent, Lindsey at Golden Rule. He emailed back within minutes. He said that is was possible that there was a glitch in the system preventing us from being issued boarding, and that we would have to just try to get the boarding passes at the airport. He also told me that we were not going to be seated together on the 9 hour flight from Brussels to Dulles because we had to book so late. (We traveled less than a week after we got our visas and tickets.) Our seats would be assigned once we got to Brussels, but there were no economy seats together. We could try to beg people to switch with us, but I didn’t like taking a chance with two sleep-deprived and culture-shocked new children. I tried to authorize him to charge our credit card for an upgrade to premium economy ($110/seat) so we could be together, but because Ken had already checked in for our flights, he was having trouble moving our seats. Then the internet went out.
It was time to leave.
Our interpreter was not going to be able to go to the airport with us, as she had to leave to go pick up another family at the airport. We hoped that paying for “the protocol” would help us with getting boarding passes for the first flight, so we asked our translator to tell our driver clearly that he needed to stay with us until we passed through the final security checkpoint. We would pay whatever he asked — we just wanted on the plane. All of us. Once we were at the airport, we would be without a working phone, wifi, or any way to communicate with anyone who could help us. Everyone else who had paid for “the protocol” just sat in the van while the driver took the exit letters, passports, yellow fever cards, boarding passes, go passes, etc. through all of the checkpoints, and then all the traveler had to do was get out of the van, clear security, and get on the plane. We were a little nervous because we couldn’t give him the kids’ boarding passes, so we weren’t sure how it would go. But at that point, we had no choice but to try. And pray.
We were counting on the army of saints who would see on Facebook when they awoke that our kids were not issued boarding passes, but we not longer had the ability to update since we no longer had internet.
We paid a hefty sum, and our interpreter told us that he understood that he needed to stay with us until we were getting on the plane. (You can see the gate from outside of security.) She assured us that everything would be just fine, and that our driver would make sure that we got on the plane.
If only we all had known that wasn’t going to be the case at all.