It was a week into my trip when I finally got a chance to check my e-mail, a rare joy in Uganda. There in my inbox was a message from Judy Kleis. There was a lady named Jody adopting Monica and she needed someone to fly back to the states with Monica. Judy thought of me.
The timing was perfect. Monica's papers would be done right around the time I was leaving (we ended up getting them the day before we left). After brief consideration, I decided there was no reason why I shouldn't bring Monica back with me, other than the obvious of course: she was 2 and we would have 30+ hours of travel!
I'll spare you all the details of what happened between me saying yes and our actual departure. The journey home is where the good stuff is.
The day we left was a sad one. I had to say good-bye to my all my kids who were spread out around Jinja. I had to say good-bye to my friends, both new and old. And then I had my final lunch at Amani with Judy, Andrea, Malia, and Monica. We sat on the clinic steps, much like we used to, while the mamas said their good-byes. And then off we went.
Me with Malia and Monica
The journey to the airport was over 3 hours, thanks to lots of traffic, and Monica clung to either me or Andrea until we finally got her to sleep. Then it was another 5 hours at the airport before our plan left. I wish I had a picture of the scene that ensued after our arrival at the airport. I had my two bags plus a big bag of Monica's, her backpack, my camera bag, the stroller, and her. After tying her to my back with a scarf I managed to load everything onto a push cart (thank goodness they had them!). I then immediately had to unload it all onto the x-ray machine, which you had to go through if you wanted to go to the waiting area, and then load it all back onto the cart. By this time, Monica was getting cranky and hadn't eaten dinner, so we went in search of food. Of course there was only one place to eat and it had a limited selection. We ended up with fruit, a samosa and a juice box. Half way through the meal I realized Monica couldn't drink with a straw. After brief consideration I decided that she probably would freak out if I walked away from the table, so I scooped her up to bring her to the counter with me. Big mistake. She thought I was taking her away from her food and thus the screaming began. This was not just a regular child's cry. This was top of the lungs screeching. We were already a spectacle enough, white girl/black baby, without the screaming. At this point everyone in the airport was staring at us.
Next came the waiting game. I arranged Monica on a bench and attempted to get her to sleep. Eventually, she passed out and I was able to rest next to her, which was difficult considering I was trying to keep her from falling off the bench at the same time as making sure none of our stuff got stolen. Eventually we were able to go through security so I carefully lifted Monica and put her in the small basket on our cart. I loaded everything onto the x-ray machine again, gently lifted Monica out of the basket to walk through the metal detector.
This is where things get real good. The security guard was apparently quite fascinated by us and obviously had no idea what to do with the fact that Monica was obviously not my child. The other guard started yelling at me to get my stuff off the belt as I stood there holding Monica. In that moment I got a glimpse of what it feels like to be an overwhelmed mother. I was pissed and i would have done anything in that moment to get what I wanted. I started barking orders at the guard, instructing him on how to open the stroller so I could put her down. He, of course, had no idea what to do and couldn't follow instructions to save him. And, to make matters worse, he was trying to ask me to marry him as he did all this. Had I not been holding a sleeping child, I think I would have socked him in the face.
Eventually all of our stuff was sorted out, I got Monica into the stroller (though she was now awake), and convinced the guard to walk me to the counter because I couldn't push both the luggage and the stroller. After what felt like hours at the counter, we finally made it through customs and into the waiting area, though we couldn't go to our gate yet, which meant sitting on a hard chair while Monica whined in her stroller (I discovered quickly that she doesn't sleep in a stroller).
Two hours later we got to go to our gate. When I got to the check in counter there, the lady tried to take our strolled and check it all the way to SFO. At this point, I was running on very little sleep, and here is this woman telling me I can't take my stroller! I kept trying to explain that strollers are usually put under the plane and returned upon the plane's landing, but she just was not getting it. "Look, I have to wait 8 hours in the London airport with a 2 year old. You are not taking my stroller away from me!" After she realized that there was no way I was handing over my stroller she agreed to let me talk to the flight crew before we left.
Exhausted, I lay Monica on the floor and collapsed next to her.
"Excuse me. I need to take your stroller now."
I jumped up, grabbing onto my stroller. "You are not taking this away from me!"
Once again the struggle began with a new person, where I once again explained that I would not be handing over my stroller.
Finally, we headed for the plane. Being a person traveling with a child, I got to go first. So off I went, Monica in one arm, camera bag, backpack, and stroller in the other. No one offered to help, of course. Standing in line I saw that the woman in front of me had a stroller too. I asked her if they were letting her keep it. She had the same story as me. When we arrived at the plane door, together with our strollers in a death grip, the flight crew tried to take them away.
At this point I was nearly in tears. "You cannot take my stroller!"
I guess the lady realized that if she took it, I might seriously have to hurt someone, and agreed to let me try and find a place for it. So there we were, me, Monica, and our stroller, sitting on a plane bound for London.
Me and the stroller (sewing on a patch)
(To be continued...)