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  • Writer's pictureTami Cinquemani

Best Laid Plans

We planned our trip for over a year. We would join the school where my son-in-law works on a mission trip to Kenya. Taking a first-time-ever trip to Africa with my daughter, her husband, and our two granddaughters sounded like an exceptional experience. And that it was . . . It was as we were boarding for Doha, Qatar, that we were informed the school mission trip had been cancelled. With baggage already on the way and several others who decided to continue, we got on the plane and headed for Nairobi. Outside of a one-night hostel stay in Nairobi with the absolute WORST shower experience of my life (maybe a blog for a later time?), our trip was awesome. We experienced the incredible beauty of the Mara, watched zebras, giraffes, and baboons freely walk and run through our camp, and met people with gracious and generous hearts despite living conditions beyond words.

We worked on a scaled-down project—scraping, painting, and building a girls’ secondary school in a country just beginning to understand the importance of educating women. Some on our team offered medical and dental services to all who would come to the clinic.

Along with days of labor, we enjoyed world class accommodations, gourmet food, and time for safari. This was truly a trip of a lifetime, and enjoying it with family made it even more sweet.

And then the concerns began . . .

There were reports of flight cancellations, country restrictions, and spreading disease. We knew cutting the trip short was the best thing to do, but with Internet service sketchy at best, that would be quite a trick. We were lucky – my son and daughter-in-law back in Florida moved swiftly to make the change on our tickets, and our trip was cut in half.

We held our breath every step of the way on our return. We chose a 12-seater plane ride to the Nairobi airport rather than the 9-hour drive. However, the trip to the small field in the middle of the Mara to get on this plane included getting stuck in the mud and a drive through a hippo-occupied overrun river. We literally arrived just in time to throw our luggage in and hop into a seat.

The Nairobi airport has no air conditioning and minimal seating, and we arrived about 9 hours before our flight. While there, we realized many flights were still being cancelled, and my greatest fear was for my daughter and her family who hadn’t yet been able to change their tickets. I tried unsuccessfully to speak with a representative from the airline in an attempt to make the change and was told they could not help me.

Nine hours later, we boarded our flight to Doha, again being informed the rest of the journey was not guaranteed. Surrounded by people in masks, we were surprised by the lack of any type of medical screening each step of the way.

Doha . . . Miami . . . Orlando. Lines were amazingly short and swift as so many had cancelled trips. We Ubered home from the airport, and I literally kissed the kitchen floor when we walked into our home.

As exhausted as I was, I couldn’t sleep thinking about our children still in Africa, so I spent almost an hour on hold with the airlines before finally reaching an attendant. I found out their flights had been cancelled and they had been moved to a flight not earlier, but later than originally planned. Thankfully, we were able to change to an earlier flight, and the full status of the plane gave me hope it would not be cancelled.

Others in our party who flew on a different airline were not so lucky, and their flights were completely cancelled with no offer of refund nor rebooking. After countless calls and conversations, they were able to find an airline that could get them back to Atlanta, but the tickets were expensive and required routing through Ethiopia, South Africa, and Istanbul before arriving home. AND THEN . . . South Africa closed its airport. It would be another four days – with two nights spent in the Ethiopia airport – before the group arrived home. So, what is the purpose of this blog? Well, first of all, I simply wanted to document this trip. I think it’s important to have the opportunity to look back on past difficulties that may offer hope in future challenging times. Secondly, writing it all out gives me perspective on how very fortunate I am to have been given the privilege of my birthplace, my resources, my health, my family, and my friends. Following the direction for those recently traveling overseas, Jeff and I self-quarantined for two weeks and will continue to follow the guidance of those medical personnel who are fighting tirelessly to help and to heal. We are happy to do our part to stop the spread of this crazy virus. We know there are others who are suffering terrible loss and dealing with so much more, and we’re just happy to be home. Photo by Jeff Cinquemani

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