After the celebratory banquet at Carnivore, we said good-bye to Barry, Eva, Steve, and Jan, who had arranged to stay one more night in Nairobi before heading home to Utah. The rest of us soon found ourselves stuck in traffic once again as we made our way toward the airport, and the situation did not improve even after we arrived.
Remember how few security hurdles we needed to clear in order to get into Kenya? Well, that number is inversely proportional to number of security hurdles in our way as we tried to get out of Kenya.
The first hurdle: Before entering airport property, all passenger vehicles had to stop and all passengers had to get out and queue up to go through a scanner on foot; meanwhile, the drivers took their vehicles through a separate checkpoint. Everyone then reboarded for the short trip (a few hundred yards) to the terminal entrance. There we unloaded, collected our all our belongings, and queued up again—outside, in drizzly rain.
Before we could enter the terminal, we had to clear the second hurdle by showing our passports and putting all our bags through a scanner. As we were waiting in that line, we saw a group of flight attendants dressed in the distinctive uniform of Emirates Airlines file through a nearby door. Even though the veil-like scarves attached to their caps are partially concealing, the five women we had met at the elephant orphanage were easily recognizable. We waved and they waved back, wishing each other safe journeys.
Once inside the terminal, there were more queues. We located the end of the line for the British Airways check-in desk and waited. At the counter, our passports were scrutinized and our big bags were weighed, checked-in, and tagged for Chicago. We cleared Hurdle 3 without any problem other than the wait.
From there, we were directed to another security queue. Here we were required to remove laptops and liquids from our carry-on bags, as well as our shoes. Everything had to pass through an x-ray scanner, and it was at this hurdle that Nancy got tripped up by her backpack. A grim-faced guard pulled the pack from the conveyor and motioned for Nancy to step out of line. At another counter, the unsmiling guard demanded that she remove everything from the pack, one item at a time, while she (the guard) looked on. The bulging bag of liquids was eyed suspiciously but ultimately allowed to pass. However, one by one, Nancy’s blunt-nosed child’s scissors, mini sewing kit (containing four threaded needles), and two metal nail files were confiscated. (This was especially distressing because she had been planning to repair a recently broken nail once she got through security, and now would have to endure a jagged fingernail until she got home. Pro traveler tip: Pack emery boards instead of metal files in your carry-on bag.)
Almost immediately after passing that fourth hurdle, we faced a fifth: once again, we were asked to remove laptops and shoes for another scan. After clearing that one we had several minutes’ reprieve, during which we said goodbye to members of our group headed for different flights. But another hurdle awaited: one more checkpoint outside our gate. Here our carry-on bags were x-rayed for at least the fourth time.
Having found our gate, and reasonably certain that all security hurdles were behind us, we thought we could finally relax for a couple of hours until our 11:25 p.m. flight to London. We were eager to put down our packs, find the toilets, and buy a bottle of water. But no: when we asked the way to the washrooms, we were informed that once you have entered the waiting area at the gate, you no longer have access to washroom facilities, nor anywhere to purchase food or drink. If you wish to avail yourself of any of these amenities, you must return to the retail section of the terminal, from which you would have to go through the last two security checkpoints again. Hearing this news, an older British couple who had been jumping the hurdles alongside us finally lost their composure. Raising their voices to a shocking level, they decried the imbecility of whoever had designed such an inefficient system and tried to assert privileged status as trustworthy citizens of the United Kingdom and loyal customers of British Airways, but the Kenyan security agents could not have cared less.
On board the plane, we were seated right behind a bulkhead row, so because there was no seat directly in front of him, Michael had extra legroom. (This was a boon to Nancy, too, because the arrangement gave her an alternate route past the sleeping man in the aisle seat.) Not long after takeoff the aroma of heating food began to waft through the cabin, but considering that it was now the wee hours of the morning, and that our stomachs were still digesting the substantial meal we had had at Carnivore, it was easy to refuse the dinner service. With no compelling choices among the few available movies, we both decided to try to get some sleep. Despite the fact that Michael could stay warm only by wrapping himself in as many blankets as he could find, while Nancy kept peeling off layers and wondering why her cool air vent did not seem to be working, we both managed to fall asleep fairly quickly and rested undisturbed for a few blessed hours.
Nancy awakened about 4:00 a.m. (in whatever time zone her watch was set to) and realized that she had slept through the snack service, so after she climbed over Michael and the legs of the bulkhead passengers, she found a flight attendant and asked if she could have some orange juice. When she returned to her seat after using the toilet, she found a plastic-wrapped roast beef sandwich waiting there along with the juice. The thought of eating any more red meat was deeply unappealing, so she drank the juice and pitched the sandwich in a trash bag at the first opportunity.
As we approached Heathrow, the captain informed us that there was a “medical situation” on board. All passengers and crew were to remain seated after we landed so that the emergency squad could board the plane and attend to the ailing individual before the rest of us blocked any passageways. Everyone complied. However, only a minute after the emergency squad arrived and before they exited with anyone, we were allowed to deplane. We never learned what the “situation” had been, but obviously it was not as grave as it had appeared initially.
Inside the terminal, we said farewell to the VanV clan, because Jody, Dyrk, Roger, Norene, Nicki, and Kara had planned to stop in London for more sightseeing in a completely different environment. Jody had served as an LDS missionary in England during her youth and was looking forward to showing her relatives the highlights of areas where she had worked. Though we agreed that a week in London sounded fun, after our fast-paced African adventure, we were ready to be home: to wash all our clothes, brush our teeth with regular tap water, and sleep in our own beds.
Mark and Lynn were now the only ones still in our traveling party. The four of us found ourselves in a different terminal than the one where we had waited for our flight to Kenya. This one had a more open feel, with higher ceilings, fewer shops, and fewer travelers. The gate assignment for our flight to Chicago would not be posted for a few more hours, so we found a designated “Quiet Area” with lounge chairs that were much more conducive to napping than the ones we had tried to rest in during our previous visit, even though sunlight was streaming in through nearby windows.
That fact reminded us that it was breakfast-time in London and, having skipped food service on our overnight flight, we realized that we were hungry. Michael satisfied his needs with yogurt and a last croissant from the “old world”; Nancy blissfully stirred cream and honey into her “Peet’s Proper Porridge.” Then we plugged our devices into recharging stations near the recliners where Lynn and Mark were already dozing, set an alarm for 9:15 a.m., and settled down for a nap.
We boarded our London-to-Chicago flight about 10:30 a.m. feeling fairly well rested. We didn’t have as much room around our seats this time, but because we had had a chance to sleep already we could survive without stretching out. Meal service was provided at what felt like an appropriate time for lunch, with British Airways’ two favorite options: chicken curry or pasta. Having eaten some type of curry at nearly every meal in Kenya, both of us chose the pasta. The rigatoni with tomato sauce was accompanied by barley salad and–of course–a very cold, hard roll with very cold, hard butter. The chocolate-orange pudding was thick and rich, almost like a pot au crème; we would gladly have consumed several more tiny tubs if they had been available.
Many more movie choices were offered on the transatlantic flight than on the Nairobi-to-London leg, but still Out of Africa was not among them–a big disappointment. However, The Lion King was available, and that seemed equally fitting. Nancy enjoyed watching cartoon versions of the animals we had just seen in the flesh–although she didn’t think that Timon looked much like the mongooses we have observed this week. She also couldn’t help thinking that the lifeless body of Mufasa that Simba is horrified to discover after the stampede looked way too intact for one that had just been trampled by scores of wildebeests–but she acknowledges that a more realistic depiction would have jeopardized the film’s family-friendly rating. She gives the Disney story credit for offering children a soft-focus introduction to the Circle of Life, but there’s nothing like an African safari to bring clarity to the concept’s harsh realities.
Meanwhile, Michael decided to watch a French film called L’échange des Princesses (The Royal Exchange), a costume drama about a deal between the royal houses of Europe during the eighteenth century, in which the preteen daughter of the French regent was betrothed to a 14-year-old Asturian prince, and 11-year-old Louis XV was to be married to the 4-year-old Spanish infanta. (Michael recommends the movie.)
Following that, he watched a British romance titled Me Before You, in which a quirky middle-class girl is tasked with cheering up a young aristocrat after he becomes paralyzed. (Nancy long ago ceased being surprised that Michael often enjoys weepy chick-flicks more than she does.) She declined the opportunity to watch a second movie, opting to finish reading The Interestings instead. (She gives it high marks for memorable yet realistic characters facing unique yet all-too-common challenges.)
An hour before we landed in Chicago, the flight attendants handed out small chicken salad sandwiches and milk chocolate Toblerone bars–our last little bite of Europe. We arrived on time, just before 1:00 p.m. CDT. While we gathered our luggage and prepared to go through customs (no major hurdles at O’Hare), Michael checked his Delta app to see if there was an earlier flight to Cincinnati that we might be able to get on; if not, we would have another five-hour layover ahead of us. Miraculously, four seats were available on an earlier flight, which was scheduled to depart at 3:15 p.m. but had been delayed just enough so that we had time to transfer terminals and get there before boarding began. As it turned out, all flights between Chicago and Cincinnati continued to be delayed due to weather problems, so we were fortunate to get out when we did. It’s likely that our original flight, which was not scheduled to leave O’Hare until 7:30 p.m., did not depart until after we were already home in bed.
Mark went to get the car from long-term parking while the rest of us waited at baggage claim. It was a little after 5:00 p.m. EDT when we left CVG–not the best time to be on the interstate in Cincinnati, but traffic wasn’t as bad as it sometimes is and we had no more delays–unless you count stopping at Frenchie Fresh in Rookwood Commons for dinner as a delay. Since we had not had time to get anything to eat in Chicago and nothing but drinks had been offered on the short commuter flight, gourmet hamburgers sounded good–and they were. Our final hour with Mark and Lynn this evening was spent relishing the incredible experience we had just shared–and then we came home and began trying to readjust to the workaday world.