It’s 6 am on the first Sunday morning here in Dushanbe. I’ve been awake since 3:45 and, after having read for awhile, counted backwards unsuccessfully, and made gardening plans for some more time, I’ve finally given up and come downstairs to do something useful.
Our trip here wasn’t as bad as I had feared in some ways, and worse in others, which I suppose makes for a reasonable trip. If I had been making this trip five years ago, I would have been an unmitigated stressful disaster. But as I have grown old and tired and used to international travel, it wasn’t too bad. We started Monday evening. I spent the day of our departure packing the rest of our ten suitcases while Brandon took Kathleen and Edwin for haircuts and dropped our van off at the Jeppeson’s so that Jef’s shipper could pick it up. We had had always planned to just sell the car to Carmax, but Jef offered to buy it back for whatever Carmax was offering - which turned out be be $6000 less than the $11000 we paid for it eighteen months ago. He was able to pick it the title from where it had been languishing at my parent’s house ever since it was mailed there and the renters never got around to sending it on to us.
The Super Shuttle picked us up from Oakwood at five, with plenty of time to drop us off at Dulles for our ten o’clock flight to Frankfurt. We were able to get all thirteen bags checked in without much difficulty and get some dinner at Five Guys (which Kathleen tearfully ate, claiming that she was just too full to eat more than the three bites she had managed to choke down along with the ten french fries) before we had to board the plane.
The flight was very uneventful, and Eleanor fell asleep easily after I nursed and covered her. She slept until I woke her up for the descent in the morning. I, unfortunately, did not sleep as well, not wanting to use sleeping pills just in case she didn’t sleep very well. The children had been passing around a two-days’ fever picked up at Brynn and Chad’s the week before and I lost the count and finally came down with it while traipsing through Dulles. Thankfully I had ibuprofen to keep the worst of the chills, aches, and fever muted, but sleeping was even less pleasant than it usually would have been on a transatlantic flight in coach. The children all slept just fine, and Brandon got his usually thirty minutes of rest.
We had scheduled a rest stop in Frankfurt and so when we landed we had to pass through passport control - where the young passport agent let all of the children come into her booth to stamp their own brand-new diplomatic passports - and retrieve our bags for the night. Brandon ended up having to rent three baggage trolley carts to fit just the suitcases, leaving the two carry-on bags and stroller to be managed by whoever could take them. So I pushed one trolley, Brandon pushed a second, Kathleen pushed the third, Sophia pushed the stroller, Edwin rolled on carry-on and Brandon looped the second around a wrist while pushing his baggage trolley. Kathleen, after running her cart into a wall or two, freaked out, broke down in tears, and refused to push her trolley any more. Edwin also decided that baggage-schlepping wasn’t for him. So Kathleen rolled a carry-on, Sophia pushed the stroller holding Eleanor and Joseph, I pushed a trolley and pulley a carry-on and Brandon wrangled two carts holding much more than their stated 70-kilo carrying capacity.
I had booked a room at the Sheraton, as it was in the airport and would be easy to get to. I didn’t know exactly where the Sheraton was, but Brandon and I faithfully followed the small signs encouraging us to keep going through random hallways, street crossings, and doors because somewhere there would be a hotel. After all, this was Germany and everyone knows that German signs can be trusted. So our journey progressed, slowly slowly from sign to sign as I herded the children and my trolley while Brandon attempted to make both overloaded trolleys go the same direction at the same time, that direction preferably being forward toward the fabled hotels promised by our prophetic signs.
Every two or three minutes I would turn around to check on Brandon, not being able to offer anything more than moral support, and one time I turned around to see a smiling dark-haired man pushing one of Brandon’s carts. Then I noticed that a hijab-wearing lady was pushing the stroller. And then my cart got taken over by another smiling dark-haired man and I was left with my carry-on bag and Edwin’s hand. We wound our way through the airport, dropping the hijab-lady and her daughter off at a cafe to wait her husband’s return, as the three men manfully wrestled our ridiculous amount of luggage through several tiny elevators and across approximately three miles of granite airport flooring, pausing every five minutes to consult with a variety of airport workers on the exact location of the Sheraton.
I followed with perfect faith in these strangers who stopped to push a baggage cart and help a wandering family find their way through a strange land. Eventually we staggered through the glass doors of the Sheraton and our angels left us, their errand done. I found out later from Brandon that one of the men was a refugee from Syria, come to Germany to escape the fighting. His wife and children were still there, waiting for him to send for them as soon as he could set up a stable domestic situation.
Grateful, jet-lagged, and hungry, the children and I waited while Brandon checked in. We waited while he talked to one associate, then while he talked to another, and further while he talked to both together. The children wandered off to look at a scale model of the Sheraton and I hoped that Eleanor could stay calm for just a few minutes more. I held Joseph, told Sophia that we would get something to eat soon, and assured Kathleen that I wouldn’t go up to the room without her. I told Edwin to get off the floor, told him to leave Joseph alone, told him to stop pushing the stroller, told him to get off the floor, told him to not kick his brother, and told him to sit next to me. Finally Brandon came back. We did have one of the adjoining two family rooms I had requested, but he had traded the second family room, on the floor below the first, for a two-twin room on the the same floor as the family room.
As the two concierges unloaded bag after bag after bag onto the floor of our room, I thought about the difference between can and should and baggage allowances. Then I applied the same thought to rest-stops.
After feeding everyone fruit snacks, crackers, and granola bars for breakfast/lunch, we suited up and went downtown to have some dinner. Theoretically we could have eaten at the hotel, but I have learned by sad experience that four tired and hungry children will fight if left unoccupied long enough (more than thirty minutes), no matter how interesting the hotel channel is. Unfortunately, it was raining in downtown Frankfurt, but it wasn’t raining too much and nobody had too much time in between the U-bahn station and the restaurant to get too soaked. After a dinner of pork in all its varieties, we got back to the hotel for baths, pajamas and bed.
Brandon and I finally settled on keeping the three youngest in the family room with me, and having the girls with him in the two-twin room that was just down the hall. So after settling in the boys, we wheeled the rollaway bed out the door, around the corner, through the lobby, down another hall, to the last very last room door - which opened to a king-sized bed.
Everyone, by this point was tired enough that eight o’clock saw us all asleep. At 11:30, Joseph woke up with a brief bad dream. I took him to the bathroom, settled him in, went to the bathroom, took another dose of Ibuprofen for my fever and started counting myself to sleep. Eleanor cried, and I found her in the dark, changed her diaper, fed her, and settled back to my counting. My phone, which I had set for seven-thirty the next morning, flashed. I looked over to see what was the problem. I set it down. It flashed again. The battery was almost dead. I debated doing nothing, calling Brandon and telling him to make sure his own phone was set, calling the front desk for a wake-up call, and finally got out of bed after fifteen minutes of deliberations and found my charger in suitcase number seven so I could be an adult and be responsible. I settled back into bed, finally drifting off after ten minutes. Edwin woke up coughing. He stopped. My world went fuzzy. He coughed five times. I fell asleep. He coughed seven more times. I thought about sheep. He coughed nine times. I found cough syrup in bag number five. I laid down and went back to counting. Sleep evaded me. I counted some more, tried to imagine myself floating in the clouds, told myself a story, and finally found my Lunesta in bag number nine. Eleanor, who had been awake for the last two hours of the shenanigans, started crying. I put in earplugs. She kept crying. I put a pillow over my head. She didn’t stop. I gave up and fed her again and then crawled back into bed, confident in chemicals. Joseph coughed once. Eleanor cried twice. I drifted off. Joseph coughed once. Eleanor cried twice. I drifted off. Joseph coughed once. Eleanor cried twice. I drifted off. And the phone rang at seven, waking me up for the day.
Breakfast the next morning was delicious. When I declined coffee or tea, the cheerful and attentive breakfast attendant offered hot chocolate. I filled up on fresh-made french toast, sausages, bacon, scrambled eggs, krapfen, pastries, muesli, fruit, fresh orange juice, and whole milk. I always believe in eating as much breakfast as possible when you’re about to travel. Joseph had the M&Ms that our french-toast cook had scattered around the serving plate.
Our helpful concierges from the night before, no doubt encouraged by the 10-euro tip that Brandon had given them the night before, showed up to wheel our bags back to the airport and right up to the Lufthansa family check-in desk. The children and I waited while Brandon, surrounded by a sea of bags, checked in. Parked right in front of the enormous flip-style flight board, the children and I watched as the departed flights’ information spun until all of the spaces were blank. We counted how many went blank before the entire board - four separate columns of at least twenty-five flights apiece - flipped in one three-second rush of whirling white-on-black letters and numbers to reveal the new information. After five or six cycles, we decided that eight was the usual number that had to go blank before that magic three-second spectacle occurred.
We watched the board cycle and cycle again, belongings collected on the ground around Eleanor’s stroller. Thankfully she had fallen asleep in her car seat at nine in the hotel and had slept through the transferral to her stroller and stayed asleep while waiting for Brandon. She slept as we watched the board, she slept as Joseph unhooked the cloth stanchion tape guarding the family line, she slept as her siblings, one by one, collapsed on the floor, she slept as Joseph tried to sleep leaning against her car seat, and she slept as Brandon was ushered by a helpful Lufthansa employee to the Turkish airlines desk to see if there was any possible way we could avoid taking all thirteen bags off in Istanbul and re-checking them. There wasn’t.
So we went through security for the second time in two days and sat down to wait for our inevitable airport bus that wound through the airport, giving Edwin a good view of every single type of wheeled vehicle that operated in the Frankfurt airport. Three hours after boarding and discovering, much to the girls’ bitter disappointment, that there would be no personal video screens, we landed in Istanbul.
Brandon and I had gone through various iterations on plans about what to do when we got to Istanbul - would we have to buy visas to be able to get out to baggage claim, maybe just Brandon could go and re-check the bags, perhaps there was some way to do everything internally and no have to deal with passport control, and we finally settled on having him take me to the next gate and then throwing ourselves on the mercy of someone who might be able to help us.
So when we got off the plane and saw our new dark-haired smiling best friend, I made a bee-line for the young airport services lady and waited for Brandon to explain about five children and thirteen bags. After listening with a cocked head, she smiled and cleared the last significant hurdle between us and Dushanbe. “I think I have a solution for you.”
So we waited by the service desk while she found our bags in the vast sub-concourse caverns that shuttle uncounted bags from plane to plane. A colleague hand-wrote new bag tags which were then attached to our luggage and sent to the plane heading for Dushanbe. And I thanked Heavenly Father for answering our prayers for easy travel in very real and concrete ways.
Then we went through security again. We waited with the vast and thronging crowds in the Istanbul Attaturk airport until our flight was assigned a gate and then waited until we could board another bus. We waited until the plane was boarded and our seats could be sorted our and waited until a fellow passenger was through berating Brandon for having caused so many problems. Then we waited in line for the airplane to take off and waited for dinner. And finally I could sleep. Until someone else’s crying baby woke me up (my baby was asleep again). I have more sympathy for people who don’t even have children and are woken up by crying children. I also have sympathy for the mothers of those crying children. I have sympathy for everyone. But that sympathy, unfortunately, didn’t help me sleep more than twenty minutes of the four hour-fifteen minute red eye flight. Neither did counting.
The wonderful thing about airplane travel, however, is that no matter how much sleep you do or don’t get or how well behaved or not your children are or how happy you are or aren’t or how many bags you do or don’t show up with, if you just wait long enough, you will eventually get to where you’re going. Which at 4:30 Thursday morning on November 20, 2014, was Dushanbe, Tajikistan. Our new home.