It’s been years since my last international flight. Pre-9/11 actually. Back then, though, the traveling abroad was back and forth to Germany where my dad was stationed at Karl Schulz Kaserne in Bremerhaven, of what was then called West Germany. I barely remember the flight back to the states, but I do remember that we didn’t go through layers and layers of security.
Last week was my first international travel since 1991. Just getting to the gate was a journey in itself. I’m just glad I wasn’t subjected to Röntgen radiation! Of course our travel plans would take us through the closest airport to the U.S. Capitol Building then JFK in New York, so I should’ve known.
Since travelers with infants can’t do online check-in, curbside check-in, e-ticket check-in or anything else to prevent us from standing in a long line with a restless child, Najwa gave us a glimpse of what to expect. She threw the tantrum we wanted to throw from standing in line for so long, but she’s trained well. Once the camera is pointed in her direction, she starts saying, “cheese!”
Eventually, though, we got the show on the road. Najwa calmed down a bit to say goodbye to Washington, DC. As the plane started to taxi to the runway, Najwa took a moment to look out the window. The plane started to accelerate, and she seemed pretty excited. One thing that helped was no one was sitting behind us so Najwa and I moved to the last set of seats while Nduku sat in front of us pretending she had nothing to do with all the screaming.
During the short flight to New York, Najwa and I went to war. She was infatuated with the tray, with opening and closing the shade, with a flashlight behind our chair, turning the light on and off, playing with the seat belt she refused to wear, and after the 40 minutes aloft, I was already feeling as if I was jetlagged!
One of the great things of flying is the fleeting aerial views of the city you just left. There’s just something about seeing the structures on the ground from a bird’s eye view. The grand Lincoln Memorial, the Tidal Basin, the Jefferson Memorial, Washington, DC, in general, from the air, is such an amazing site. I love everything about Washington, DC, and the views from thousands of feet in the air only adds to the admiration of our nation’s capital.
Najwa did finally settle down though. It still amazes me how much little ones emulate what they see grown adults doing. I started reading something, a book perhaps, and Najwa grabbed a magazine to be like daddy. Only she still hasn’t figured out right-side-up and upside-down.
Najwa had such a good time, she protested all the way off the plane. Before the flight I wondered how she would take the acceleration, the ears popping, the cramped space we were confined to, but apparently she loved it. While waiting for the stroller, I let go of her hand for a split second and she made an immediate dash back to the plane!
The trip to JFK International Airport, though, was as bad as it got. It was getting late so she started to mellow out. We had aisle seats, but no one sat next to us so we could stretch out a little. Well, let Najwa stretch out a bit. The hop over to Great Britain was peaceful. Everyone was spared Najwa’s wrath. We got a little shuteye while losing 6 hours chasing the sun.
Layover in London
When we got to Heathrow Airport, we only had a few hours to go from one terminal to the next and grab a bite before the flight headed to Dubai. Since we had to exit the terminal, though it was only to get on and get off a shuttle, we had to go through security again. In the United States, the milk we had for Najwa was tested by a machine. In the UK, that machine was Nduku. She was asked to take a swig of the milk. I actually got a kick out of watching a grown woman drinking from a bottle.
Our first stop was the restrooms. Even funnier than seeing Nduku with a bottle in her mouth was the Brits’ literal signs for the restrooms. I mean, as high society as they present themselves, as dignified and classy, their signs say “toilets.” Toilets!? So if you just need to wash your hands, you have to look for the toilets? Not washroom as they say on the British Airways flight to Dubai? Toilets? I at least thought they’re signs would say “loo.” Funny. To me, at least.
We had a moment for breakfast and landed at a place called Giraffe. Cool place. Our waitress reminded me of Minnie Driver. It was part her accent but mostly her look. She was nice. Actually, when it came to Najwa, Brits are very flattering. They cooed over her. They pinched her cheeks and made silly faces and sounds. Interesting. But I was tired and seriously needed some bacon and eggs.
I like eggs in my cheese and my bacon hard, greasy and halfway burnt. What I got, though, well, not quite the same as the way I’d make them in America. The eggs were decent. It didn’t look nor taste like American cheese, but I guess the rest of the world really doesn’t default to the orange stuff. But the bacon. Now we have a problem. At first Minnie brought me sausages and I’m not a sausage fan. No worries, she says, and fetches a plate of sliced ham. Nduku saw my face, smiled and explained, again, in America, we tend to do things differently. What I thought was sliced ham is what the rest of the world calls bacon.
What in the bloody hell!? It was soft. And pink. And the fat wasn’t cooked! How long before our next flight!?
Arriving in Dubai
We finally made it to Dubai International Airport. As an American, though it’s an Arabic country, just get my passport stamped and welcome to Dubai. For Nduku and her Kenyan passport, it’s one very long line to get her eye scanned [that’s more high-tech than America!], have her visa verified which has to be handled before arriving in the country, then she can join the rest of us. It’s amazing how Americans can walk right in without visa and/or any hassle.
We were visiting Nduku’s sister and brother-in-law who have been living in Dubai for several years now. Originally they were going to send someone to pick us up. You know, the people who wait outside the gate with your name on a card making you feel like VIP. Well, when we stepped outside the airport and saw how many other people thought the same thing, we were relieved her sister decided to come and pick us up. Imagine having to look at dozens of people’s cards for your name. I mean what felt like a hundred greeters — at midnight!
And coming to an Arab country, you’d expect to see a lot of Arabs. But the first [and almost only] people I saw were Indians, Pakistanis, other Asians, Europeans and surprisingly — Kenyans. Crazy!
So her sister Mutethya and brother-in-law Stephen picked us up, who I was meeting for the first time, and off to Dubai we go…