Thursday, May 24, 2012

Malawi bound.


That is what the inside of my brain sounds like right now.

Because holy balls. I mean HOLY HOLY balls.

Let's backtrack four hours. I was all settled in for a relaxing evening at my parent's house before I left tomorrow for two plus weeks in Malawi, Africa. I'd had a glass of wine, a nice supper. I was ready for a second glass of wine, some TV, maybe a nice book in bed. I had tomorrow all planned out-sleep in, eat a relaxing breakfast pastry at Can Can, maybe do a short run before I would catch my shuttle to Dulles for my 6pm flight.

"Why don't you print your boarding pass?" suggested my Mother.

My mother is a wise woman so I thought, why not? I hadn't gotten an email from the airline with a link to a boarding pass, but I looked at the email from when I first booked and saw that I could print the boarding pass within 24 hours of my flight's departure. I went onto the KLM-Royal Dutch Airline's (partnered with Delta and Kenyan Airlines-everyone involved in this debacle should be named here), typed in my booking number, click, la de la di la.

And then a message-innocuous enough-there has been a change in the flight schedule, call a toll free number to find out what the change is. I thought that it couldn't be a major change. There was no way. If it had been a major change (say more than a 20 minute time difference), they would have had to call me or at the very least email me. Text? Right? RIGHT?

So I call, am put on hold, and then told that my second leg of the trip, my flight from Kenya to Malawi, the flight that would get me to Lilongwe, Malawi on the 26th so I could leave with my team the morning of the 27th to get to our build site a day's drive away, that flight had been CANCELLED.

Not delayed. Not re-routed. Cancelled. Because there weren't enough people on it. I could take the same flight a day later, putting me in Malawi the afternoon of the 27th, well after my team would have left Lilongwe.

And this is when I thought, oh no. Not this. Not this again. I have been plagued by issues in all of my international travel. I love to travel, truly, madly, deeply. But it does not love me. I'm beginning to think it hates me. Because this shit always happens to me.

But I bucked myself up. There was another flight leaving DC tomorrow, with some of my team members on it that would get to Lilongwe even earlier on the 26th. KLM had screwed me over, so KLM was damn sure going to get me on that other flight, free of charge.

I may have used the words "international humanitarian mission" when pleading my case. I'm not proud of this.

I spent the next two hours on the phone with a woman who works for Delta. Our conversation went like this.

Me: "I need to get on this other flight. I need to get on this other flight. I need to get on this other flight. Or my team will leave and I'll be left to find my own way through the bush of Malawi filled with lions and tigers and VICIOUS HIPPOS"

Delta rep: "I'm so sorry M'am. Will you hold?"

30 minutes of muzak later.

Delta rep: "M'am?"

Me: Yes? YES?! Are you there? Is this a human? Can you please talk to me? How do I get on this other flight? How we we fix this? Just talk to me please. We don't even have to talk about my flight. We can talk about the weather! Or, or our favorite TV shows. Just don't leave me. Please don't leave me!"

Delta rep: "M'am I'm so sorry to have kept you waiting. Will you please hold?"

30 more minutes of muzak:

Delta rep: "M'am?"

Me: silent weeping into the phone

Finally I get her on the phone for more than 30 seconds and she tries to confirm with me the new flight. She reads out all of the same details I have, with all the right connections until she gets to:

"And then from Ethiopia to Afghanistan. From Afghanistan to Malawi."

Me: ummmmm?

Delta rep: "Please hold."

So I spend the next 30 minutes of muzak trying to come to terms with the fact that I would no longer be flying through Amsterdam but through an active war zone. It could be fun? An adventure? The president does it every once in a while. Kathy Griffin did it I think. I could do it!

Then she's back, two hours into the conversation to tell me that it would not be possible for them to book me on this flight because they don't have an "agreement" with Ethiopian Airlines. It took her TWO HOURS to figure out that they don't have an agreement and that they couldn't book me on the new flight. TWO HOURS.

Which left me up, to be vulgar, shit creek once again. I tried to go online to book the Ethiopian Airlines flight myself but no website lets you book less than 2 days out from the departure. Finally I call Ethiopian Airlines, find out there's room on the flight, and that they are NOT flying through scenic Kabul.

They are flying through the Congo. Which is waaaaaay nicer.

And now I am sitting here, typing this, with my (third) glass of wine, trying to calm my jangled nerves.

These things happen to me. I wish I knew why. It is simply a fact of life. Other people have smooth voyages, get upgrades, frolic through sun-dappled airports.

I get large portions of my journey cancelled out of the blue without any kind of notification, three hours on the phone with what I think now may have actually been a tape recorder set to say three words-M'am, sorry, and hold.

These things happen to me every time I travel.

And yet, in spite of it all, in spite of the tension head aches and the pleading with sales representatives, I still love travel.

I'm still so sure in the rightness of it. Tonight I'm a ball of nervous energy. I have plenty of worries and fears and anxieties. I had them even before this debacle. I'm going to Africa tomorrow and it terrifies me. Because with my luck, all manner of minor catastrophes will befall me. More than likely I will get into some kind of incident with an ornery giraffe.

But that's okay. I understand now, that I shouldn't use fear as an excuse to run away from things, but as proof that I'm going in the right direction, as a friend instead of an enemy.

The absolute best things I've done in my life have been the scariest things I've done in my life.

And tonight, paired with all of my excitement for the next two and a half weeks, is also that same fear.
Which is how I know, unequivocally and profoundly, that what I'm doing is right.

I'll see you all in two and a half weeks :)

1 comment:

Dave T said...

Wow -- I'm surprised you were able to hold it together enough to even write it all down! Given your experiences, perhaps the theater related encouragement would be most apt as you set sail: "Break a leg!" I look forward to hearing how it all went when you get back.

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