Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Our Journey to Saudi

The time has FINALLY arrived for the kids and I to join Brad in Saudi.  After spending the past 66 days apart, we were ready to be reunited... for the most part.... oddly enough, my life as a "single mom", living in my mom's house, with a husband overseas was starting to feel really normal and leaving it was very scary.  I was packing up and heading out into unknown territory with a 24 hour (soon to be 48 hour) journey that had so many unknowns in it that staying in Arkansas seemed a little "safer"..... however, calling up Brad to tell him the kids and I decided to stay in the States wasn't really an option.  So after packing up to the very last second (literally), we (my mom, Georgia, Josh, Ryan, Gina, and myself) loaded up 10 pieces of luggage, 3 car seats ( 2 in boxes that I packed extra stuff in), 7 carry-ons, and a stroller into 3 cars and headed to the airport!
What a scene!  It took a well orchestrated team to get ALL of these pieces inside and keeping the kids out of my way to make this trip to the airport so "easy"... at least in the beginning.  I stood in line while mom watched the kids and Georgia and Josh brought boxes inside and started tagging them with our information.  Then the real craziness happened.... after waiting in the priority line about 20 minutes and being passed up by travelers in the non-priority line someone finally called me to the ticket counter (I think other workers saw my bags and wanted NOTHING to do with checking me in!!!)  Then the trouble started- they were charging me $400 for 2 extra bags, they couldn't get my passport to go through, I was left at the counter while 3 people went to help another passenger.... all while time kept ticking.... I looked at Georgia and told her there was NO way I was making my flight....and I was right!  Worker #2 finally came over to help me (he was the one that kept avoiding me in the beginning) and halfway through checking me in he literally threw his arms up in the air and said "I can't do it.  I can't get your bags checked in on time." and he left me... just like that.  He offered no help to get me on another flight... nothing.  I couldn't believe it.
 See, there were some major problems on my end with me missing my flight.... 1) kids were ready to see their daddy and they were SO disappointed!  2) Brad was ready to see us and calling him to tell him we weren't coming was SUPER hard to do.  3) Our visas expired on the 7th so we HAD to be in Saudi by the 6th 4) it took 3 cars to get my luggage to the airport and my brother had left leaving us with 2 cars to get my stuff home.  5) It took 3 extra hands to get us in the airport and Georgia and Josh were leaving that night.  The logistics were SO overwhelming.... so we sat in the airport an extra hour and a half waiting to figure things out......
 A second manager finally came to talk with us at 7:30 to get a plan..... we were booked on the same flight the next day (except this flight got into Saudi an hour and a half later, more on that in a bit), I rented a cargo van to store my stuff in in the airport parking lot overnight, the manager said he would personally check me in the next day and to call him on his personal cell phone when we got to the airport so he could help me with my baggage, and Brad had time to rearrange our taxi in Saudi and change his day off.  We arrived at the airport at 3:45 and Keith (the manager) was waiting for us!  He had already printed out our boarding passes and luggage tags and had 3 workers helping him tag our bags.  We were in and out of line in 15 minutes..... see, that's how it should have happened the day before.... but I had to find peace with the situation and realize we just weren't meant to fly out on the 4th!
 Keith gave my mom a pass to go with me through security and he gave us meal vouchers to eat dinner while we waited for our flight.  It was a good way to have a non-stressful "good bye".  I realize that how our check-in was going the day before, our "good bye"s would have been almost non-exsistant.  You know what the funny thing is, our flight this time leaving XNA was almost an hour delayed.... where was the delay yesterday when I needed it?!?!  See, this is where I had to trust that everything was working out like it should have and this was the journey we were suppose to take.
 That extra hour just gave the kids more time with their Nammie!  We ate dinner, ran the airport, played with the big checkers game they have in the airport, and said our "thank you"s and "good bye"s.
Then it was time for our journey to begin!  The kids and I with our 7 carry-ons headed down the walkway to our plane waving our last "good bye"s through tears and set off on our great adventure.  Good Bye Arkansas!  I had to say while it was sad to leave, we were leaving with hearts full of love, joy, and great memories!  We had a great last couple of weeks in Arkansas visiting family and friends!  Really, the last couple of months were great visiting everyone!  I will forever be grateful for everyone that took us in/ took care of us/ helped entertain us as we waited 68 days to join Brad in Saudi!  Thank you from the bottom of my heart!
We boarded the first plane and the kids settled right into their flying routine.  They've done this so much that they are a pro at it... and for that, I'm SO thankful!  I didn't really have to worry about the big kids, they knew what to do... and because they knew what to do, Ethan followed them and he fell right into the routine as well.  Our journey was starting out great!
We had a short flight to Atlanta and the flight attendant was great!  She even found wings for the kids!!!!  Owen had been asking if he was going to get a set of wings.... and he did!!!!  He was one happy little guy!
The kids had their drinks, snacks, and iPads and were content and happy even though we were approaching bed time!  We were suppose to land in Atlanta with a 2 hour layover but because of our delay, I had about an hour to change plans.  It was a tad crazy.  I had to load up my stroller with the kids/ carry-ons, get on the tram, get off the tram, potty the kids (which I went up to the business lounge to do figuring it would take me a few minutes longer to walk to the lounge but I would have more space and less worry about the managing the 3 kids in a airport bathroom by myself), and get to our gate.... which I managed to do with minutes to spare.  They were already boarding the plane by the time we got there.
 One of the perks with flying business class was that I didn't have to wait in that LONG line to board the plane.  I walked over to the priority boarding and got right on the plane... see, I was juggling kids and carry-ons and you know, if you have to stop and set anything down for any period of time you loose your momentum.... so I was glad to keep going... I was sweating but I had it all under control and told myself "just make it on the plane and THEN You can relax!"  And that's exactly what happened.  One of the flight attendants came over and helped the big kids get settled with all of their goodies.....
 which Owen tried out all of it right away!!!!
 And while they were getting settled, Ethan and I were getting settled!  I had my glass of champagne to toast a successful first flight and prepare for a hopeful successful second flight and we said our "good bye"s to the US... our next stop.... Amsterdam!
The second flight was great!  It was all so new and exciting... and it was really late and the kids were running out of steam!  Ethan just chilled and watched a movie while waiting for his meal!
 Dinner came and the kids loved eating off their trays while watching their movie of choice and they started to wind down.  Let me say, there was NO shortage of food.  I think the 3 kids could have shared one meal!  They nibbled here and there (it was 10pm so WAY past dinner AND bedtime) and then everyone settled in for the night/flight!
This flight was great because Ethan (and the rest of the kids) were SO tired that they just put themselves to sleep! It was GREAT!  Once Ethan was asleep, I had the flight attendant bring  me my food and wine and I enjoyed my dinner before settling in for the night.
Up to this point, I had already gotten lots of looks from other passengers and lots of comments- wow, you are brave!  You have your hands full!  You look like you've done this before!  You have this down pat!  And as I looked over at all of my kids tucked in for the night (which I did myself) on a flight to Amsterdam where I was traveling alone with 3 kids... I realized that Yes, I was brave... with my hands full... but I had this... I COULD do this.... I WAS doing this... and it wasn't so bad.  2 flights down... one to go.... or so I thought!
We made it to Amsterdam without any problems.  Ethan slept about 4.5 hours on the flight... I slept about 1... and I tried to keep Ethan as quiet as possible until the lights came on and breakfast was served.  We ate breakfast and landed and we were ready to go.  Again, I was suppose to have 2 hours to change plans but this flight was late too and I had about 45 minutes.  I made the CRAZY decision to go to the business lounge (which was a LONG walk to get there) because I wanted to potty the kids there AND I wanted to hook up to WiFi to send out a message to let everyone know we had made it..... if Brad was with us he would have said "NO WAY" to trying to make it to the lounge... but that's not how I roll... I'm crazy... I know!  In the lounge, I sent Owen into the men's bathroom while I took the other two into a little family one... I was trying to save time... I also asked a lady at the desk to watch my kids while I went potty... then she ended up having to go into the men's bathroom to get Owen!!!!  While she got Owen, I logged onto the internet to send out a message... and then we were off... with help from a KLM employee!!!  They told me in the lounge I'd NEVER make it to my flight on time so they sent someone to help me... she is in the picture carrying a bag and pushing a cart with more bags and had her eye on Addyson the whole time... and with her help WE MADE IT to our next flight.... again, I was sweating... but we made it!
And now... we could relax... and by this time... the kid are a pro at business class and settling in!!!
 Cheers to the next leg of our journey!!!
 My traveling crew!  We don't look too bad for little sleep and being exhausted from running through Schiphol airport!  Next stop, the Middle East!
 Doing a little pre-flight coloring.
 This flight was MUCH harder!!!  For one, I was EXHAUSTED!  I didn't sleep more than an hour on the last flight.  The seats in KLM business class don't lay flat... you lay at an angle which made it hard for me to sleep.  Plus the fact that I was alone with the 3 kids probably made me sleep with one eye open so I could hear them if I needed to... so I was tired.  Not only was I tired, but the kids were tired tired but so stimulated that falling asleep on this flight was much harder!  At this point, they are exhausted but have energy from not being able to run around much the past 15 hours (see, I was suppose to use the layovers to let them run... but that didn't happen).  It was harder to keep Ethan contained.  He was also louder this flight which made me anxious... I didn't want to disturb the other passengers.  When Ethan is tired he gets crazy and aggressive... and when I'm tired I can't handle it as well... so I shed some tears on this flight..... I was just a bit overwhelmed.  I tried with every trick I had to get Ethan to fall asleep with no avail.  They left the lights on this flight since it was during the day which made it every harder to get anyone to fall asleep!  UGH!  I ended up putting Ethan in the seat with Addyson in front of a movie and I laid my head back for about 20 minutes... I needed that break.  The poor flight attendants didn't know how to help me but did keep checking on me.  I passed up my meal knowing FULL well that if I had a tray in front of me it'd end up getting spilled while I tried to deal with 3 tired kids.... so I waited....
and FINALLY.... after my second try.... I was able to nurse Ethan to sleep and get some down time for me!  I put a new movie on for both big kids and told them they couldn't bother me... I needed so "alone time"... and I ate my meal and watched a movie... and relaxed!  I even got to sleep for an hour!!!  I woke up from that and felt much better......
 and I woke up to see that ALL 3 of my kids were sleeping!  WHEW!!!!  And had this been our last flight (or our original flight schedule) we would have made it to Saudi with little stress... however, that wasn't what happened.  I didn't know this but, our flight was stopping in Kuwait before stopping in Saudi... which meant I had to wake up my kids because I had to put their seats up before landing.... UGH!!!!!  So now I have 3 tired kids that were woken up before they wanted to be and we had to stay on the plane while in Kuwait.... an hour and a half.... THAT was hard!  All I wanted was to be in Saudi!  After the hour and a half layover, we had a short 30 minute flight to Saudi.  I used this time to potty the kids and get them ready to land.... I had been told stories of how to prep for an arrival in Saudi...... so we were ready.... or so I thought!
This is Ethan in the LONG line in Saudi Customs
I was told to "RUN" to the customs line because lines are LONG and it can take 4-6 hours to make it through... well running with 7 carry-ons and 3 tired kids is almost impossible.... not to mention... they don't let you have your stroller... so I'm lugging ALL of this by myself.... but we made it... sweating... why did I even bother to put on make-up right before landing in Saudi!??!  Then I was told 1) DO NOT use the bathroom in the airport and 2) DO NOT get out of line (which is why we pottied before landing).... well 10 minutes into our wait Addyson informs me she has to go #2... ARE YOU KIDDING?!?!?!?  Lucky for me, I know Addyson can hold it so I tell her there are NO bathrooms here... and we go back to waiting!   

I was also told to ask a worker if they'd let me to the front of the line... so I kept my eyes open for someone to ask.  After 20 minutes of waiting I got up the never to ask someone and was told "I no English"... so back to waiting I went... and waiting.... at this point we are ALL done.  It is hot in this room, kids are crying, I'm tired..... I had on a jacket to cover up my arms but was SO hot I ended up taking it off (only after looking around to see a couple of other women with t-shirts on).  I also noticed that the guys in the green shirts were the customs workers and they were the ones moving people in line (I think they actually spent more time looking around at people in line than actually working and clearing people... if they would have just done that then the lines would have moved SO much quicker.... let me say, customer service here is NOT what it is like in the States!).  Finally, after an hour and 15 minutes, a guy in a green shirt came close to me so I asked him if I was in the right line... I just needed something to start a conversation... I had my passports in hand so he could see and he told me to move lines... to one with only 3 people in front o me.... verses the 20+ people in front of me in the other line... THAT was an answer to prayers!

In this line I was right next to a group of Muslim women who I could tell started to talk as I moved to the front of the line.... they all had tired and crabby kids too so I didn't want to step on their toes or get in front of them... so I talked to a few of them to figure out what was going on.... which helped ease the tension and give me a perspective as to what was going on since I don't speak Arabic and couldn't understand what everyone was saying..... long story short, I was moved again and after 1 hour and 45 minutes it was OUR turn to clear customs!  I was worried because now it was past midnight and technically our visas were expired but that didn't seem to matter.  With 3 tired kids... too tired to help with any of the carry-ons.... I was SO happy to be cleared and ready to see Brad that I took 5 of the carry-ons PLUS Ethan on my back and set out to the luggage area where I quickly waved some of the baggage guys to help me load up everything and it was time to......
 See our daddy!!!!!!!!!  BIG smiles and hugs all around....even for me!!! : )
I wasn't sure what I'd get... PDA isn't acceptable here... a lot of the Saudi men were giving their wives pats on the backs, nods, or one gave a handshake... so I was lucky to get a hug and a peck on the cheek!  That was all I needed... I was just SO thankful we made it... the kids and I made it... our journey has begun... all the ups and downs... but we were here safe and sound... and made it to OUR HOME by 3am.... now we can settle in for the night and let the fun begin!!!!
Thank you for following us, praying for us, sending well wishes.  It means SO much!!
Continue to follow us as we follow our dream of living overseas!!!!


Anonymous said...

Wow Ambre!!! I loved your story. Boy are you BRAVE. I could feel the pain as you were running in line with all the gear you were holding. I can only imagine how tired you must have been!!! I'm glad you're all safe. Cant wait to read more about your new SAUDI adventures. YOU SHOULD BE A WRITER! Write ve a book on this!!

Love you all,

Aunt Cindy

Give the kids a hug and kiss from me!

Melissa said...

Oh my goodness! That is one thorough report of your travel experience and I read it all. I am so glad you made it safe and sound - that is definitely a story to remember!!!

Sue said...

Wow!!! You are a stronger braver woman then me!! I am so happy you all got there unscathed. Stay safe and have fun! I will follow along -- this is just amazing to me!

Take Care,