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Escalators, ER Visits, Airplanes, and Heartfelt Gratitude

October 13th, 2017 8 comments

It has been a hectic few days to say the least.  On Monday, my son Max told me it was the worst day of his life and he was certainly correct (and we hope he doesn’t have a worse one anytime soon).  But, it is in the midst of difficulty that you gain an appreciation for true nature of humanity.

Here is a run-down on what happened (Note: If you don’t want to read all the details, please skip down to the end – that is the most important part):

Max and I were in the US for a couple weeks (work for me, visiting grandparents for him).  We were schedule to leave on Monday.  We had to return the rental car to Louisville airport and then fly to Chicago to catch our flight back to Swaziland.  Even though our children are phenomenal travelers, the logistics of travel can be a bit much.

We were already a bit under pressure because I had miscalculated the time zone changes, but we were going to catch our plane no problem.  After dropping the rental car off, we loaded up our luggage.  Max had his little backpack and I was pulling two 50-pound suitcases as well as a heavy backpack and my laptop bag.  He followed me up the escalator to the ticket counter.  About halfway up, one of the bags which had a strap wrapped around my wrist slipped down a step and pulled me off balance.  Between not having any free hands, and the heavy backpack, I tumbled over backwards with me and bags landing on Max.  Someone hit the emergency stop on the escalator and several people rushed to help.  Max was crying and scared and that is when I noticed a deep gash on his foot.

I sprinted up the stopped escalator with him and was quickly joined by police and the EMS.  There was a good bit of blood and it was obvious the gash was more than superficial.  While Max was obviously in pain, he quickly gathered himself and let the police tend to his wound.  One of the officers brought him a stuffed animal to distract him while the others focused on providing first aid.

At this point the reality of the situation started to set in.  We were 9,000 miles away from home and were obviously going to miss our flight and our connecting flight (and then bus to Swaziland).  We were going to have to get medical treatment somewhere and I had an injured son, nearly 200 pounds of luggage, and no transportation.

The police offered to watch my stuff while I carried Max to try and figure out the details.  First we went to the ticket counter and canceled our flight.  Then I went back to the Hertz rental car to see if there was any way I could get my rental car back.  I could have ubered to the hospital (the police wanted me to take an ambulance), but that presented crazy logistics with luggage.  I told the people at Hertz what happened and they immediately got on the phone and pulled the car I had used back out for me and even delivered it to the door. (More on Hertz later).  From there I headed to the nearest hospital.

The next several hours moved very slow compared to the chaos at the airport.  We checked in the hospital and were triaged.  At this point, Max is calm and we are just waiting for our turn to go back.  This relative downtime gave me a chance to think a bit more about logistics.  In particular the fact that our international health insurance doesn’t cover the United States.  I had no idea how much this trip to the ER was going to cost us.  The time in the waiting room also gave me a chance to make some phone calls.  Obviously I was updating Beth and the family in the states.  Beth took care of rearranging all my transport and everyone else reached out to offer help however they could.  I called Hertz back and talked to a manager who was incredibly sympathetic to our situation and told us it would be no problem to extend the contract for a day and that we could even return the car to O’hare in Chicago since our plane tickets would cost nearly $500 to rebook.  I asked how much it would cost and he said “not too much more, I wouldn’t worry about it.”

At this time I also got in touch with my cousin Jana who lives in Louisville, has traveled extensively internationally, and who is a physical therapist specializing on hands and feet.  We talked about our options and she suggested an urgent care would be cheaper and most likely quicker.  She set out to call around to see what was available while also arranging for us to stay at her place.  She found an urgent care with no waiting near her house that was going to cost $250 to get Max stitched up.  At this point, Max was completely calm and relatively little pain.  I asked triage nurse an estimate on time (I am sure she hates that question), and was told “when you checked in there was one person in the queue ahead of us and nothing has changed.”  That made it easy to decide to head out of there and go to urgent care.

At Urgent care we quickly got taken back to a room and the nurse was very attentive to Max and his needs.  The Physician’s Assistant on call came in to take a look at things.  Both medical staff let us know from the very beginning that there was a chance they couldn’t treat Max due to his age and the location of his injury could have caused nerve, tendon or vascular damage.  At this point it had been about 4 hours since the accident and when they took the bandage off it was still bleeding.

The PA was incredibly gracious when reviewing our options.  He recommended we go to the children’s hospital (there was a branch close by), but also understood our situation with insurance and travel.  Basically he told us that he could probably stitch it up, but that really an expert should look at it.  At this point, I called Jana to ask if she could come over to help me think through our options. There was some concern because Max was not moving his toes very well.  We agreed to put some topical painkiller on it and see what should be done next.  During this time, he also called around to see our alternate medical options.

The longer we were at urgent care the more obvious it was that we would be heading back to the Emergency Room for treatment.  The PA came back in the office and said that his attending physician had told him he couldn’t do the stitches due to the complexity.  Additionally, in calling the nearby children’s hospital branch, he learned that even they wouldn’t accept the case because Max needed a place where a pediatric orthopedic surgeon could consult.  Due to the location and depth of the injury there was a possibility of tendon, nerve or even vascular damage. Our only option was to go to the main branch of the Kosair children’s hospital.

It was obvious that the PA was going above and beyond to help us.  In additional to his medical care, and the time he took to consult with doctor’s across the city, he told us he would work it out so that the entire visit to urgent care would be free. Holy Cow… what a relief!

So off to Kosair we headed.  Jana called ahead to her friends in the medical community to get advice and information and I followed her to the hospital.

We checked in, were triaged, and found our place in the waiting room.  Interestingly enough, a family friend from my hometown was sitting in the waiting area as well.  Throughout all of this Max was a trooper.  At this point it was past his bed time and despite his injury, he was incredibly calm and patient.  His biggest complaint was that he couldn’t eat or drink due to the possibility that he would need anesthesia if surgery was required.

After a couple hours we were taken back to a room.  The resident doctor took a look at Max and did some initial cleaning of the wound.  He confirmed that tendon damage could be a concern, but they wouldn’t know until they could look at it further.  The attending doctor also came and checked the situation and called for an X-Ray, so I carried Max off to radiology for three pictures of his bones.  The initial report looked clear, but the radiologist came back to say he saw a hairline fracture.

Now it was time for the tough part – exploring the wound and stitches.  Max was given a nasal dose of medicine to reduce the pain, but it didn’t seem to help much because even the cleaning process caused him deep distress.  With the attending and resident doctor both looking at things, they told us that tendon damage didn’t seem to be an issue and there also wasn’t any obvious nerve damage.  Next step then was actually getting the stitches.  Despite the topical pain killer already applied and the nasal painkiller, Max did not react well to the numbing injections.  This was certainly the most traumatic part of the process for him.  Eventually, the doctor was able to start sewing.  Even though Max was crying through the whole process, he never flinched his foot and let the doctor do his job.  In the end, it only took 3 stitches to get him put back together.

At this point it must have been about midnight and Jana headed back home while we wrapped things up.  The doctor told us that because there was a minor fracture and an open wound, it was technically a compound fracture and we would need IV then oral anti-biotics.  I already knew Max was not going to be a fan of more needles.

As you could imagine, Max was exhausted and fell asleep in my arms.  The nurse came in to give the IV and he was so sleepy, I couldn’t even rouse him.  The nurse found a vein in his hand and applied an aerosol pain killer and then inserted the IV.  Thankfully Max didn’t wake up during the procedure, but unfortunately the vein the nurse was going for blew.  He then found a vein in his arm, but Max woke up for the second stick and was none too happy.  Once again the vein blew and we would have to try again.  A different nurse came in and despite Max’s protests, successfully put the IV in.  It was hooked up to some antibiotics and we began the waiting process.  After about an hour the IV was removed and we were presented with our discharge papers.

After taking care of the paperwork, we finally head over to Jana’s house to get some rest.  When we got there, it was about 2am – 12 hours after the accident had initially occurred.

The next morning we were able to sleep in a bit and also take care of the logistics like repacking and getting Max his prescription.  At around 1pm after some lunch, we began the drive to Chicago to drop off the rental car and catch our flight.  Thankfully the drive was pleasantly uneventful, but it did give me a chance to think about the logistics of actually getting from the car to airplane.  Somehow, I was going to have to carry two backpacks, two 50 pound suitcases, a bulky duffel bag and an injured 4-year old.  No problem!  Thankfully my parents called ahead to try and work out the details, but unfortunately there wasn’t a clear solution and I was going to have to wing it.

Upon arriving at the Hertz return office, I ran into what seemed like a problem.  The guy checking in the cars said he couldn’t do anything because the contract had been closed.  Essentially I was driving a car without a formal agreement from the rental company.  He told me I had to go downstairs to talk with the office.  That is when I realized the only way down was by escalator.  You have got to be kidding me!

At the counter I talked to one advisor who said there was nothing he could do and I was going to have to work things out through Louisville AND the national Hertz office.  I had gotten to the airport more than 3 hours early, but didn’t really want to spend time negotiating contracts.  I was then directed to another representative who looked more into my situation.  After punching a few keys he outlined the situation:  Essentially the Louisville manager had kept my contract closed rather than extending it.  While that initially looked like a problem, what it really meant was that the guy had loaned me the car, and arranged for the drop off in Chicago, all on his own.  It seems there weren’t going to be any additional charges for our big change of plans.  WOW!

At this point I went back up the escalator and began dreading the next challenge: getting all my stuff, with an injured kid, down the escalator, to the bus, and up to the ticket counter.  Quietly this was the part of the whole ordeal I had been dreading the most.  As I was loading up my bags and thinking about options such as throwing my bags down the escalator and then dealing with them later, the car attendant offered to go get me a luggage trolley.  Excellent!  Why hadn’t I thought to ask for that!  Oh, and he mentioned there was an elevator I could take!  First complexity handled!

Next came the bus.  Thankfully the bus was already waiting for us when we got to the ground floor to take us to the terminal.  I was able to carry Max and get the first bag on the bus.  But then, the bus driver quickly got up and grabbed my other bags to help load up.  No problem at all!  Once on the bus, it was just a matter of waiting.  Once we got to the terminal, before I could stand up with Max, the driver was back there to help me unload.  I set Max down, grabbed a trolley and loaded up our stuff.  From there I headed into the terminal, found a quiet place, and repacked our bags for the journey home.

After we made it to the ticket counter, the complexity of our travel was greatly reduced.  We checked in, dropped our bags, and Emirates arranged for us to have a wheel chair to get through security.  Despite some juggling required to get through the scanners, it all was a pleasantly uneventful process.

On the first flight from Chicago to Dubai (14 hours), we ended up with an aisle/middle seat combo with an empty seat between us and then another guy on the other aisle.  Beth had called ahead and told them of our situation and Emirates agreed to flag our seats to try their best to keep things open.  It turns out that there were actually a couple empty seats available and the guy in our row willing to move so we ended up with a whole role of 4 seats to ourselves.  That meant that Max could fully lay down to sleep!  What a relief!

Our original plan was to spend a long layover in Dubai doing things in the city.  One of the only non-injury-related things that Max cried about was the fact that he wasn’t going to get to see the dinosaur skeleton at the Dubai Mall.  While on the plane, I was chatting with Beth (inflight internet is amazing!) and we realized that since our flight was ahead of schedule, if everything worked out, there was going to be enough time to still make it into the city.  I did all my calculations and set alarms on my phone so that we could try our best to give Max some distraction during the downtime.

At Dubai, things went flawlessly.  We were through security and in the cab even before we were originally scheduled to land.  With Max on my shoulders, we were able to quickly see all the things I had promised him (dinosaur skeleton, water show, tallest building in the world, aquarium, and the biggest candy store in the world).  We caught a cab back, and were able to get quickly through security with enough time to take advantage of the lounge (having frequent flyer status is such a blessing) to get a quick bite to eat and more importantly a shower.

Our next flight went just as well as the first.  We had an open seat next to us despite it being an almost full flight.  The people around us were very friendly and Max once again traveled like a champ.  When we got to the Johannesburg airport, we got our luggage and a trolley and had some time to grab a bite to eat (who doesn’t like calamari for breakfast!).  We caught our shuttle back to Swaziland, which thankfully had a lot of empty seats.  We both got some sleep on the ride home and were met by a staff member who had us home by afternoon with enough time to decompress and get cleaned up.

We started our journey on Monday morning and by Thursday evening we were safely back home – exhausted and a bit frazzled, but overall in great shape all things considered.

Looking back on the situation, I realize just how fortunate we were and how thankful I am for all the strangers and family/friends who helped make a chaotic situation so much more bearable.

So now for the main reason I am writing this post:

All the people I want to give thanks to:

  • To the staff and bystanders at the Louisville airport who quickly responded, pressed the emergency stop on the escalator and attended to Max and I before I could even comprehend what was happening.
  • To the police and EMS of the Louisville PD who provided immediate and competent care. They were primarily concerned about our wellbeing, but also understanding of our situation with the lack of insurance and the need to get home.  In all at least 4 people gave their time and attention to our situation providing excellent first aid and evaluation as well as emotional support.
  • I don’t know the name of the main police officer who helped us, but he was absolutely incredible. He watched our stuff while I sorted out the logistics.  He carried our luggage to the curb.  He even came back to ensure we not only got his foot checked out, but also kept an eye out of head trauma.  Most of all, he made sure we got the care we needed without incurring unnecessary costs or taking unnecessary risks.
  • To the Hertz people at the Louisville airport. I simply cannot say enough about how compassionate and helpful they were.  The people at the desk ensured I had transportation even though I had already closed my contract.  They could have easily told me to just take an Uber or made me fill out paperwork for another car.  They were primarily concerned about Max’s wellbeing instead of processes and procedures.  The fact that they even arranged the car to pick us up at the curb shows their level of detail.  When I called to sort out the paperwork, they were more concerned about us than about the rental details.  At this point it seems they even comped us our extension and are working out the details on their side.  Above and beyond!
  • To the random guy waiting in the hospital ER who offered Max and I a gift card for dinner after overhearing our ordeal.
  • To Beth who did an amazing job at handling her son being hurt 9,000 miles away. She handled all the details of changing our flights and ensuring we had open seats around.  But more importantly, she stayed calm and was there to help where she could without panicking.
  • To my cousin Jana who completely dropped everything to help us and give us a place to stay. She helped us think through our options and the implications.  She made countless phone calls to friends in the medical community to explore our options and get recommendations.  Her expertise in PT helped us get straight answers and understand the risks.  She spent more than 7 hours physically with us to help with the details and logistics of moving between medical centers and ensuring everyone was comfortable.  The next day she helped research pharmacies and other optios.  Also thanks to Curtis and Knox for letting us crash on their couch and disrupt their lives for a couple days.  We were so fortunate to have friends and family in the city where this happened.
  • To the staff at the Urgent care, especially the nurse (don’t remember her name) and to Travis the PA. They expertly balanced the concerns about travel and insurance with what was in the best interests of Max.  Travis in particular fully commited himself to looking into all the options and ensuring we had a clear path forward.  The fact that our medical services were provided free of charge is absolutely amazing and goes a long way in helping us process through the secondary struggles of this ordeal (financial).  What a compassionate and commited staff – especially at the end of the day on a bank holiday).
  • To all the staff at Kosair hospital for providing calm, professional, and expert service. In particular to:
    • The billing lady for understanding that financial issues can provide additional strain to already hectic situations.
    • Grant for always being straightforward with us and taking the time to talk with Max when he was scared. He did his absolute best to ensure Max got the care he needed and minimized the trauma.
    • Star for giving her attention fully to Max even during a very busy night.
    • The radiology staff for focusing so much on Max and making sure he was comfortable and the experience was as simple as possible.
    • The intern(?) who came to Max with an iPad so he would be calm during the IVs and even left it with him so he could watch during his treatment.
    • The nurses who took care of all the details and did their absolute best to make sure Max was comfortable. Even bringing a slushee after his IV stick.  The late night nurse also make sure that we were informed not only about post-discharge care, but also our options for payment reduction.
    • To the billing department for working with us on the finances and also explaining the situation in details when I asked specific questions.
  • To all my family to checked in with us and offered to help. In particular to my parents who helped to arrange the details around our transition at the Chicago airport, even being willing to fly back with us if we needed them.  Even extended family reached out to check on us and offer any help we could use.
  • To the Walgreens pharmacist for working with us to reduce medication costs and “Adjusting” procedures so that I could get a partial prescription in the states and then get the rest in Swaziland where it is cheaper.
  • To the random country lady at McDonalds who saw Max’s foot and offered to get him extra chicken nuggets if he wanted them.
  • Again, a shout out to the Hertz people. In Chicago the check in guy ensured I had a cart and access to a trolley.  The associates at the desk helped me figure out the logistics of the rental.  The bus driver went out of his way to help with the bags.  Spectacular service at one of the complicated legs of the journey.
  • To the Emirates and O’Hare staff for arranging for a wheelchair and helping through immigration and security.
  • To the guy on the plane to Dubai who moved seats so max could have a whole row to lay down on
  • To the flight staff on all our flights for going out of their way to ensure Max was taken care of (and that I was able to rest when possible).
  • To the random Arab guy on the escalator in the Dubai Mall who talked to Max and told him it was going to be okay when Max was hesitant to take an escalator.
  • To the receptionist at the Emirates lounge who let Max in even though my status did not allow guests. She also went and got us a stroller so we could move around easier with Max.
  • To all the security officers at all airports who didn’t hassle me for taking a bunch of liquid (medicine for Max) through the screening areas.
  • To all the friends and family who reached out with genuine offers to help however they could and to make sure we were taken care of.
  • To all the medical experts who gave their input and advice through friends to help us process our situation.
  • And finally to Max for being so brave and strong during this ordeal. He went through so much and was an absolute trooper through it all.  Getting hurt would overwhelmed many kids, but he not only handled that, but also spend the next 2.5 days on a crazy travel schedule and never once complained about anything besides the taste of his antibiotic.

Our trip back certainly did not go as planned, but it could have been much worse.  When I think about it, I realize just how fortunate / lucky we were.  My 4 year old son had over 350 pounds fall on him on a moving metal escalator and he escaped with only 3 stitches.  While the logistics and challenges of having all this happen so far from home were a bit overwhelming, the kindness and generosity of friends, family and strangers made things so much better.  I am so grateful for all the ways people reached out to help – some in small ways, some in large ways, but all where meaningful.

And just so you know, Max and I are now safely back home in Swaziland.  He is on the mend and most concerned about not being able to go to school yet.

This event will change my thinking on many things, but for now, all I can think is how grateful I am for the generosity of those around me.  I only hope I can return the favor to those I find myself around in their times of need.

My Daughter, the SuperStar

August 20th, 2011 1 comment

We are at about the one month point since our big move (depending on how you count it).  And while in general things have gone very smoothly, there is one area that has been especially impressive: Mikayla’s reaction to the transition.

We have known since early on in our daughter’s life that she was pretty special; she is incredibly good natured, adjusts well to change, and is always happy.  But, we knew this move of 9,000 miles, 7 time zones, and two hemispheres might be a bit much.  However, Mikayla has never waivered.  She has been happy, and spunky, and open to change, and has taken everything in stride.

Just think all that she has been through in the last 2-3 month.  She has:

  • Seen all of the furniture in her house slowly dismantled and given away.
  • Had nearly all of her toys given away or sold.
  • Moved out of the only house she has ever known into a borrowed room.
  • Had the few possessions she still owns packed, unpacked, and repacked countless times.
  • Put up with parents who were stressed, sad, anxious and excited.
  • Endured trips all over as we tried to cram in last minute visits.
  • Had her sleep routine totally disrupted.
  • Said to goodbye to all her family and friends.
  • Taken 72 hours to move across the world.
  • Flown on three planes for over 25 hours of flight time.
  • Been drug through more airport terminals than we can count.
  • Had to sleep in front of a ticket counter because we missed our flight.
  • Put up with her parents as they stressed about their travel plans.
  • Moved into a third home in less than two months.
  • Gone from a crib to a toddler bed to a mattress on the floor to a couch to a twin bed and back to a mattress on the floor.
  • Had to travel over an hour for any "quick trips into town."
  • Lost access to things like parks and play areas.
  • Been mobbed by kids twice her size because they are so interested in her.
  • Tried to figure out why everyone speaks funny.
  • Been kicked out of church (twice) and Sunday School.
  • Had to get used to her Dad working again and her Mom being home.
  • Traded the family dog for two new mission dogs.
  • Had two new family members introduced (the twins).
  • Been forced to share attention, food, and toys with these new kids.
  • Been kicked out of her room again.
  • Had to get used to taking showers instead baths.
  • And, has made all new  friends.

Yet, in spite of all these changes and struggles, Mikayla is still the same resilient, cheerful child she has always been.  She has not skipped a beat, has barely shown any jealousy and hasn’t even been cranky.  All of that is a lot for anyone to go through, let alone a two-year old.  Forget the "Terrible Twos," Mikayla has demonstrated the "Terrific Twos"… and did I mention she was a SuperStar.  I am pretty sure she has handled the transition better than we have!

Categories: Family Tags: , , ,

The Rest of the Story

July 24th, 2011 4 comments

My last blog post was from my kindle and was typed in the middle of night stuck in Newark airport due to a missed flight.  At the time, things were still pretty up in the air, so I figured you would probably like to hear the rest of the story.  If you follow my twitter feed (@kickert) you will least know we arrived in Africa, but getting there was interesting.

After missing our connection in Newark, I ended up staying up the entire night so Beth and Mikayla could catch some sleep while I watched our stuff.  We basically took over a corner of the ticketing area and made a fort:

airport 002 airport 003

Part of the reason we stayed at the airport instead of getting a hotel (besides the fact Continental refused to help us cover the costs) is because our bags were at some indeterminate location: they came in on Continental, were supposed to go to Lufthansa on the connection, our rebooking was for an earlier Lufthansa flight, but it was being handled by United.  With so many transitions we wanted to be able to physically see our bags to make sure they made it with us.  That meant bugging the baggage agents every hour until they found our stuff. (On a side note, I have never encountered customer service employees as rude and unconcerned as the people at Continental in Newark.  I could write a whole blog on that!)

Eventually they found our bags (actually I saw them rolling past on a luggage cart and recognized them and made them give them to me) so we  could recheck in on our next flight.  It was nice to have our luggage with us because we could get extra clothes out and have the peace of mind that it would probably make it on the plane with us, but it also meant we had to move it all around by ourselves on undersized baggage carts.

I felt pretty confident in my packing ability…

0720110656-00

…until we found the cart couldn’t fit through the elevator door.

Once we changed terminals to check in, we found that Lufthansa did not open their ticketing counters until much later in the day.  We were hoping to check in early so we could get rid of our luggage and then go back into the secure area, but no such luck.  We were fortunate enough for Mikayla to find another small child to play with.  That helped pass the time.  I was also able to grab a 45 minute nap which was nice.

Eventually Lufthansa opened their counter and things seemed to be going well until they tried to charge us for our "extra" baggage.  If you will remember, I was already upset because Lufthansa had promised 2 free bags, but Continental had charged us b/c they were the airline of origination.  I flatly refused.  Fortunately, we had a great agent who was very patient and realized the fee was a mistake due to the rebooking.  In fact, she even went out of her way to let us pick our seats.  We got seats right behind first class so we had extra legroom and no seats in front of us for Mikayla to kick.  She even promised to try her best to improve our tickets on our final leg.

20 hours after we landed in Newark we were finally on our way to Germany (we were supposed to have a 2 hour layover).  We were able to talk with the sisters and they were able to extend their stay in South Africa.  I was also able to get in touch with my friend Ben in Frankfurt and he was able to rearrange his schedule to still meet us at the airport.  Overall the flight across the Atlantic was uneventful and even a bit relaxing after what we had been through so far.

Upon landing, I decided to go ahead and get our boarding passes for our next flight before we left customs.  That is when things started getting interesting again.  It turns out that when we were rebooked, they had us listed as standby, but neither the rebooking agent, nor the Lufthansa agent mentioned that to us.  Not only were we on standby, but the flight itself was overbooked.  Frustrated, we walked away to try and figure out what we should do.  I couldn’t imagine the sisters being excited about staying two days extra.

After thinking about things for a bit, I decided to go back to the Lufthansa agents to figure out my chances of getting off standby and actually on the flight.  At least we could try and plan better if we knew how things might turn out.  The agent told us that we had a slightly better than 50% chance of getting a seat.  We took what we could get and headed through customs into Germany.  Mikayla played at a playground in the terminal and we grabbed a quick snack to wait for Ben.

It was very cool to be able to catch up with him when he finally did arrive.  It had been 13 years since I was in Germany visiting him, and almost 7 years since Beth was in the country visiting.  At this point we were all in great need of a shower.  Ben took us back to his apartment where we were able to freshen up and grab a bite of real food.  Mikayla took a quick nap, but eventually we had to wake her up.  She was so tired she fell asleep in the shower.

We then went back to Ben’s parents’ house.  It was pretty cool to revisit the place I stayed for 3 weeks back when I was 16.  Lots of memories came back that I had forgotten.  The Dornhoffs are incredible hosts.  We had coffee and cake and Ben’s mother played with Mikayla for quite a while.

We headed back to the airport to try and figure things out.  We said bye to Ben and head through customs.  We were told our best bet to get off standby was to be at the gate as early as possible, so we made sure we were there over 3 hours before the flight left.  While that was probably good advice, it didn’t do us any good because the flight actually left an hour after we thought and the agents didn’t get to the gate until an hour and half before that.

By far, this was the most stressful part of the trip because we were in limbo not knowing if we were going to make it out of the country that day.  You could say that the worst part was knowing that it could be worse.  This was the only point of our entire journey where I was so anxious I needed to take a Xanax.

Once we did talk to an agent, we were told that even though we were first on standby, things were still not looking good.  They didn’t tell us our chances, but by the way they were talking to us, I have a feeling we were below the 50% mark.  The one comforting thing was knowing that if we did have to stay another night, at least we had people in the area who could pick us up and give us a place to stay.

Once people started loading the plane, we got more stressed out.  Beth and I talked about our options and decided that if we could only get one ticket we all would stay, but if we could get two tickets only, Beth and Mikayla would fly out and I would follow the next day with the rest of our stuff and rent a car.  We divided our stuff up so that could work if it needed to.

With about 10 minutes left before the plane was scheduled to leave the gate, the agents began looking to see if any of the standbyers could get on.  With great relief, I heard my name called.  We all got three tickets, but they were all separate.  I told them there was no way Mikayla could be in a seat apart from us.  They took our tickets and tried to work something out.  The best they could do was get us all in the same section of the plane and hope something could work out.  We took what we could and board the plane with all our stuff.

I am sure the people who had already boarded were not excited to see us come on dragging all our stuff and obviously holding up their departure.  The flight attendants were able to get Mikayala and Beth together, but I was a couple seats over in a different row.  That was fine by me… at least we were on the plane.  But then, something really cool happened.  The guy in the row with Beth and Mikayla heard what was happening and about our journey so far and offered to switch me seats.  He traded a window seat for a center seat in the center section for an 11 hour flight.  Let me tell you… that guy should be nominated for sainthood!  It made the whole flight much easier with all three of us next to each other.

This last leg of our journey was great.  The service was astounding, the food was great, and it was long enough that all of us could get some decent rest.

We landed in Jo-burg and made it through customs without any problem.  Our luggage all arrived and the only problem we had was some of Beth’s mouthwash leaked.  We met the sisters at the gate and were ready to leave.

The whole way to the vehicle you could tell the sisters were a bit nervous.  They had been in South Africa long enough that they had their own luggage with them and they were afraid our stuff wouldn’t all fit.  There was even talk of one of them catching a bus back to Swaziland.  On any other trip, this would have been a concern to me, but after our journey so far, this seemed like a minor issue.  I had actually already thought about this possible problem and thus had packed parachute cord so we could strap things to the roof.  We packed what we could into the SUV and strapped one bag to the top.  No worries at all.

The drive back to St. Phillips took about 6 hours, but was thankfully relatively uneventful.  Sister Barbara was pulled over twice for speeding, but was able to sweet talk her way out of a ticket both times.  The border crossing was easy and they didn’t even want to check our bags.  Excellent!

We grabbed pizza on the way home, got back to the mission, unloaded our stuff and were finally able to breath easy.

From the time we left Bowling Green to the time we arrived at St. Phillips, our entire journey took 72 hours.  By contrast, if our original flight had landed 15 minutes sooner, we would have only had a 48 hour trip, and if we had flown South African Air, it would have been a 35 hour trip.

I must say, in all of this, Mikayla was a super star.  This trip could have been much worse if our toddler had chosen to be a brat, but the worst she got was the last 15 minutes of our flight when she decided to kick the seat of the guy in front of her.  If that is all we have to deal with, I am super happy.

Our first night we headed to bed early.  Mikayla got 15 hours of sleep and Beth and I got 12.  Normally I would think jetlag would be an issue, but our trip was so crazy our bodies had no idea what time it was.

I will end this post with a touching note.  Once we had everything unpacked and all our stuff figured out, I asked Mikayla where we were.  I was hoping she would say "Africa" or "Swaziland" to show she understood that we had just made the transition we had been talking about, but what she said was even more significant. 

"Mikayla, where are we?" I asked.

"Home" she said…. and she was right.  After a month of being displaced and in crazy transition, we have found our new home… and things are great here.

Categories: Family, Swaziland Tags: , , ,

Swaziland Update

March 11th, 2011 3 comments

It is early Friday morning here in Swaziland.  I am still a bit jetlagged from the trip over here and figured rather than fighting sleep, I would get up and be productive by writing a quick update.

Being back in Swaziland is a unique feeling because even though it is very foreign compared in my daily life in the US (especially here in the bush), it feels very familiar.

My travels over here were thankfully uneventful.  My plane got delayed in Nashville, but I had a long layover in DC and it didn’t cause a problem.  The flight from DC to Johannesburg (via Dakar) seemed to go by quicker this time, even though we had a backup plane without all the in-flight entertainment systems.  I had a reserved a seat with extra leg room, but because of the plane change, it didn’t work out.  Luckily, the seat next to me was vacant so I could spread out a bit more.

Once I got to Jo-burg I spent the evening in a guesthouse right near the airport and it worked out great.  Unfortunately, even though I had a 13 hour layover, I still was only able to catch a few hours of sleep because of the jetlag and an early morning flight.  I was surprised how easy it was to get through customs and airport security in Africa compared to the states.  One of the security agents actually got frustrated with me because I was taking off my belt and watch – he insisted I just go on through.  The flight from Jo-burg to Manzini was incredibly short (35 minutes in the air) and has me rethinking whether its worth it to drive that last leg when we come in July or if we should just bite the bullet and fly.

When I arrived in Swaziland the customs agent gave me a hard time for bringing in 50 pounds of children’s underwear.  They wanted to charge me duty on it, but luckily after I filled out the forms they just waived me through and forgot about the whole thing.  I was then met by a nurse who is currently volunteering at Cabrini.  Besides just coming into town to pick me up (its a 1.5 hour drive to Manzini and 2 hours to Mbabane), she also had to get her visa renewed.  So, we went to one of the government building to see an immigration agent.  All I can say is that if you think there is crazy bureaucracy and inefficiencies in American government… you haven’t seen anything.  After waiting nearly an hour, the nurse I was with was told she couldn’t have her visa renewed in town, and instead would have to cross the border and return to get it updated. 

Because I didn’t want to risk having my luggage go through customs again and because I didn’t want to have more pages in my passport taken up, I asked to be dropped off.  Luckily I was able to reconnect with Jon Skinner, one of the guys we met with last trip, and he went out of his way to give me a place to hang out while the nurse crossed the border.

On the way back to St. Phillips we picked up one of the ladies who works in the office and took care of a few errands.  Then, on the last stretch of dirt road we ran into Sister Barbara who was heading into town.  She is one of the nuns in charge of Cabrini Ministries, and I had actually yet to meet her.  Unfortunately she was in a hurry and needed the vehicle we were driving.  So, after a few quick greetings, we exchanged the plush SUV we were in for a small truck.  Because of space limitations, I ended up riding in the back.

The whole journey from Bowling Green to Cabrini encompassed about 48 hours of travel!  Thankfully we had a pretty open schedule when I arrived because jetlag hit me hard.  I ended up going about 56 hours straight on less than 4 hours of sleep.  The only major thing we had besides a quick orientation was a 2 hour discussion with one of the community elders about the history of Cabrini, Swaziland and local customs.  It was very fascinating, but I felt horrible because it was all I could do to not nod off.  That night we ate an excellent curry meal and I retired to bed early.

Thursday was my first full day at Cabrini and up until that point I still didn’t have a great idea of what exactly I was doing in Swaziland.  It is not because things are disorganized, instead it is that so much is going on, there isn’t always time to explain everything.  Turns out my big task here this week is to figure out how we are going to handle the finances of Cabrini once our accountant leaves.  Looks like we will have two office workers handling the day-to-day transactions and another professional accountant in Australia who will handle the technical stuff.  I will probably end up serving as  the liaison and keeping an eye on the big picture – but, we won’t know the specifics until later in the week.

Most of my day on Thursday was actually spent working on an upcoming grant application through Health and Human Services and the Center for Disease Control.  Basically we have less than a week to turn around this application for $50,000.  The rest of the office staff had a board meeting to attend to, so they left me and the accountant from Australlia to figure out the grant on our own.  It was certainly a "baptism by fire" sort of thing as we wrote up a narrative and budget for a program that neither of us fully understand.  We will find out today how far off we were.  Either was helpful because it forced us to work through many old proposals that gave us a good feel for what was currently going on and for the direction we are trying to expand into.

Today we will heading into the two largest cities (Mbabane and Manzini) to meet with some of our supporters.  Should be a good trip.  I am looking forward to meeting up with Todd Malone from PACT again.  Todd is actually the guy who convinced us to go visit Cabrini and had lots of solid advice on working through our move.  Saturday is set aside as more of relaxing day and I am not sure what Sunday has for us.  Starting Monday, we will really hit the finances hard and work on a transition plan.

As I am wrapping up this post, I wanted to give you a quick note about communication.  Right now I have my swazi cell phone (268 7683 3330), but service has been intermitted.  Beth has only been able to reach me on my phone once out of probably 20 attempts and text messages are not going through.  I can call out, but it costs me about $1.00 a minute.  Also, my plans to limited access to internet have fallen through.  The 3G USB modem I have works fine, but I have not been able to get my SIM card approved for data usage.  Hopefully that will get worked out soon, but for now I don’t have access to internet.  (I am writing this post in advance hoping we find some wireless that I can use and post it).

I will try and keep you posted as things unfold, but realistically, my communication abilities are much more limited than I expected. 

Cheers,

-bk

Where did the month go?

October 26th, 2010 No comments

…I guess the real question should be "Where have I been?"

The month of October has been a blur for the Kickerts. 

At the beginning of the month we took a quick trip to Colorado and Utah as a family.  It was the first real vacation Beth and I have taken since we went to DC back in 2005.  It was also Mikayla’s first flight (we used it as a bit of a test run for the 22 hour plane ride coming up for us in July).

We flew into Denver and spent the day at the Children’s Museum.  Later that day we walked around downtown and tracked down some ice cream.  The next day we visited a cool place called the Butterfly Pavilion and headed up to Fort Collins.  Once our "city trips" were done we headed to Rocky Mountain National Park and then the next day traveled to Moab Utah and hiked around Arches National Park.

Right after returning to Kentucky I got back in the car and took a "quick" trip up to Northern Wisconsin / Upper Peninsula of Michigan to visit with my parents who just moved there.  While we didn’t have much planned, we did visit the "mysterious" Paulding Lights and did quite a bit of paddling on the small lakes up there.

On top of all the travelling, we have been making some big personnel adjustments at work and I have been prepping for our annual charge conference at church.

It seems the month just started, but it is already over.  On Friday we will have our annual Halloween Bash and then we will moving into November.

It is crazy to think how quick months go by, especially since we only have 9 more until we leave the states for a decade or so.  C’est la vie.

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Mikayla at the Children’s Museum

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Beth and Mikayla at the Butterfly Pavilion

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Foggy day at Dream lake in ROMO

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Along the Trail Ridge Road in ROMO

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At Delicate Arch in Arches NP

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Paddling in the Sylvania Wilderness Area

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10 Things to do before Swaziland

August 23rd, 2010 5 comments

With our move to Swaziland probably only 10 months away, Beth and I have been talking through how we should spend our remaining time stateside.  Here is a list of 10 things I want to accomplish before we leave.  If you can help me out with any of them, please give me a shout.

  1. Learn to weld – Let’s start with an easy one.  I wouldn’t consider myself a handy man, but I am willing to try and figure stuff out.  This is one skill I don’t have and would love to pick up just in case the need ever presents itself.
  2. Improve my siSwati – I learned more siSwati in the 10 days we were in the country than I did in the months before trying to teach myself.  That being said, I have yet to cross beyond the typical greetings and pleasantries.  I would love to be able to have a basic conversation before arriving in the country nest summer.
  3. Take a course on AIDS – Swaziland is a beautiful country, but it holds several dubious titles.  It has the highest AIDS rate at nearly 40%!  It also has the highest death rate and fastest declining life expectancy.  Every issue in Swaziland is impacted by the AIDS epidemic (from employment to poverty to orphan care).  I want to take the time to familiarize myself with the disease, its treatment, and its impact on society.
  4. Brush up on my Southern African history – Swaziland has a rich history.  It was largely able to avoid the strife caused by colonialism that negatively affected so much of Southern Africa.  However, much of the current climate in the area is still impacted by this chapter of history.  I want to know more about the Boers and English and tribal conflicts that shaped the area.
  5. Learn to drive a split shift – Another seemingly random skill set I would like to acquire.  I have no desire to drive a large truck, but I want to be able to do it if the need ever arises. 
  6. Become competent in PHP development – Several months ago, a good friend of mine and I began (re)teaching ourselves HTML and CSS.  I know just enough to get myself into trouble.  I would like to build on this skill set by adding PHP development so I can design websites and databases for the organizations I will work with and also as a possible secondary income stream.
  7. Sell / Give away / Downsize our stuff – We have been in this process for several years now, but still have so far to go.  I still have books to get rid of, a house to sell and plenty of household items to deal with. Most of our stuff is not going with us nor will it be saved.
  8. Visit with friends and family – This past weekend I had my 10 year reunion and also visited with college friends at a wedding.  It reminded me how many people I want to see before we leave.  If you are in the area, please take the time to give me a ring and I will treat you to a meal or coffee.
  9. Travel – This is obviously related to the prior.  I foresee many mini-road trips in the near future to visit people, but also I want to explore our own country a bit more before we leave.  I have been fortunate enough travel through most of the country, but Beth has not.  I want to be intentional about visiting places, especially in the American West.
  10.   Have a game plan for the next 10 years – This move to Swaziland has been over two years in the planning.  Beth and I have slowly, but deliberately made decisions about our future and have been willing to change them as needed.  Now that things are beginning to solidify, we need to be thinking about where we want to be in the next decade or longer.  This means working through things like expanding our family, saving for college, setting long term goals, etc.  I don’t expect to have it all figured out, but I want us to be intentional about the direction we are moving. (That is actually the key idea behind the title of my blog.)

Arrival in Swaziland

July 14th, 2010 1 comment

After nearly 2 years in the planning and 27 hours of traveling, we have arrived in Swaziland.  Let me tell you: it is beautiful!!

Africa 060 [Technically just over the Swazi border in South Africa, but you get the picture]

Today’s 4.5 hour drive was much easier than yesterday’s short trip from Jo-burg to our hostel (thoughts on all our lodging accommodations will be shared when we return).  Mostly highway and I seemed to catch on to the rules of the road pretty quickly.  Early on I felt like I was in Western Kansas, then the terrain felt like South Dakota and then Eastern Oregon.  When we finally made the transition from South African into Swaziland, I kept thinking I was driving trough north central Idaho where I spent my summers 5 years ago.

Here the locals are all bundled up in scarves and wool hats, but I sported short-sleeves enjoying the crisp air.

Crazy coincidence happened today.  I would bet that of all the millions of people in Southern Africa, I could only actually identify and be able to start a conversation with 4-5 of them.  When we stopped at a rest area in South Africa, I pulled in and happened to look up and see Jumbo Gerber, a gentleman who works with Adventures in Missions and with whom I have been trying to solidify a meeting during our trip.  Totally crazy to be able to talk with him briefly and hopefully set something up.  Very cool.

At about 3:00 we were able to cross the border into Swaziland and into Bulembu.  It was kind of a surreal experience because I have been looking at ariel photos and snapshots for so long, it was weird to see things in real life.  We are very excited about our time here.  So far we have spent the evening enjoying the company of Jamie and Rose (Jamie is the Director of Operations and Rose is a manager working with Volunteers) as the graciously opened their home to us and prepared an amazing meal.  I personally have appreciated the candor of our conversations as we all have been honest about the joys and tribulations of ministry/development as well our own strengths and weaknesses. 

Tomorrow the whole day is dedicated to seeing what is going on in the community and meeting with a few of the key leaders in the operation.  It should be good to put some faces with  names (I have been helping with a few small grant projects over the last few months).  We are also excited about enjoying the incredible mountain scenery before we descend into lower elevations where it hotter and flatter.

So far no real issues to speak of.  We had to stop off at a branch location of the rental car company to pick up a letter of authorization, but that was pretty painless.  We also had to pick up an adaptor for our power converter since the one we had did not fit.  Here is our OSHA UN-approved electrical set up:

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I am not sure our internet situation the next couple days so interaction may be sparse.  If you need me (or Beth, who by the way is posting her updates here.) you can always shoot us an email and we will get it eventually.  Looking forward to continuing to share this story as it unfolds.

Arriving in Africa

July 13th, 2010 4 comments

After nearly 24 hours of travel, we have arrived in Africa.  For the most part things went smoothly without incident, but we did have a few close calls.

Our flight from Nashville to DC was held on the tarmac for about 30 minutes for “weight and balance” issues.  Basically were told we could not depart until 4 people voluntarily removed themselves from the flight.  Eventually two people did so and that was enough to get us going.  Sitting in the cramped cabin that extra time didn’t help my claustrophobia, but I managed to make it without having to resort to taking Xanax.

The flight from DC to Jo-burg via Dakar, Senegal was long, but uneventful.  The crew was great, the food was decent, and even though 18 hours is a long time to sit on a plane, it wasn’t as difficult as I was expecting.

When we deboarded the airplane, we were quickly reminded that it is winter here in the southern hemisphere.  It wasn’t freezing, but definitely pretty chilly for a short-sleeved shirt.

Customs and baggage claims were a breeze as was exchanging money and renting the car.  It was easier to navigate the international section of Jo-burg airport than it was Dulles.

Once we picked up the car, the real fun began.  In planning for this trip, I have not been nervous about the standard things.  I am not worried about the plane crashing, or our luggage getting lost, or carjackers, or lions (or tigers and bears), or black mambas.  But, I have fretted over learning to drive on the other side of the road.

I don’t know if it was self-fulfilling prophecy, or if it really is that big of a transition, but the 20 minutes from the airport to our lodging was by far the most stressful part of the trip so far:  Every time I tried to use my turn signal I turned on the windshield wipers; Beth has to remind me every time I turned to not go straight into the path of incoming traffic; I am constantly hugging the left side of the road, and; it still freaks me out to see cars coming at me on the right. 

It didn’t help that the highway we traveled on was under construction and had concrete rails on either side.  Nor did it help my confidence to witness the car next to be get rear-ended as a semi tried to merge into my lane.

I am hoping the worst of jt is over (knock on wood) and am looking forward to driving on the more open country roads instead of the city.

Tomorrow  (technically “today” since I am writing this at 3:00am due to jet lag keeping me awake) we will drive the 5-6 hours to Swaziland and enter in through the Bulembu border crossing.  We have a brief tour of Bulembu then we are staying with the Director of Operations at his home.  On Thursday is when the real fun begins with all of our meetings scheduled.

Can’t wait to get the traveling out of the way so we can get to the heart of our trip.

So far we have been lucky with internet, and hope to be able to post updates along the way, but there are no guarantees.  Even if we can’t post, we will keep some notes so we can update you on the details of our trip as it progresses. 

-bk

Categories: Swaziland Tags: , , ,

New Passport

February 18th, 2010 No comments

In preparation for our move to Swaziland, Beth and I have had to get new passports.  My ragged blue book (which survived the washing machine while in Germany) has now been retired.  Gone are my stamps from Frankfurt A.M. and San Jose Costa Rica.

Here is a look at old and new:

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No passport photos are ever good.  I think I traded a "really bad" for a "moderately bad" one:

passport photos

Categories: Random, Swaziland Tags: , ,

Swaziland Update

January 25th, 2010 3 comments

It has been a little while since I have written about our Swaziland plans.  Lucky for you we have some news to share.

Malolotja Nature Reserve in Northwest Swaziland

We just renewed our passports and purchased our tickets for our summer exploration trip (let’s hope that is $3,600 well spent).  We will be flying out of Nashville on July 12 and returning on July 26.  Since the flight is over 20 hours (with a stop off in the west African country of Senegal) that will shave a day off our trip each way giving us 11 or so days to explore the country.

Our goal for this trip to get a good feel for the country, and meet with as many people/groups/organizations as possible in preparation for a move to the Kingdom in 2011 (You can read more details about our plans to move to Swaziland here, here and here.)  Right now we are hoping to find an organization we can work with for our first six months.  That way we can have some stability when we move, but are not having to commit ourselves for multiple years without being very familiar with the specifics.

So far we have made contact with 4-5 people on the ground.  We are hoping to follow up on several leads with strong potential and then leave enough time open during our trip so that we can discover other connections we had not planned on.  I have a feeling we will be playing a lot of this trip by ear.

One thing we have found is that it is much easier to get a hold of the Western Christian organizations than it is to contact the local and secular organizations.  Unfortunately we are also finding most of the Christian groups are a bit too evangelical and charismatic for our comfort.  We are open to working with Christian groups, but we want our focus to be on indigenous solutions and community development, not proselytizing.  In many ways Beth and I feel like we would do better with a “regular” job where we can live out our faith a part of it.  Our main focus in moving to Swaziland is to expose Mikayla (and ourselves) to life outside the United States so our worldview can be informed and shaped in a global context.  Of course we want to be apart of something good and make an impact where ever we are, but that is not our primary goal.

Of other Swazi news, Beth and I have been working on our siSwati, but I must admit we are not as dedicated as we should be–we are still working on the standard greetings and responses.  Hopefully by July we will have the basics down and then can spend the next year mastering it.

That’s the update for now.  I will let you know more as it develops.

Categories: Family, Swaziland Tags: ,