Saturday, 4 February 2017

Traveling back to Liberia ✈️

Kavita at Dubai Airport in the early hours of 28 January 2017
Traveling from Pakistan to Liberia back went a little more smoothly than I had imagined. Departing from Islamabad Airport on an international flight in the middle of the night can be exhausting and stressful. The last time I left Islamabad for Monrovia was especially taxing: Kavita and I were herded like cattle with rest of the couple of hundred passengers from the terminal to the aircraft that took more than 2 hours. 

I've learned, now, that the trick to catching an international flight from Islamabad is to arrive at least 3 hours before one's scheduled flight time.

For about a week, I had already started packing. Traveling with Kavita has an advantage. Sure, one has to dish out 75% of an adult ticket cost, but at the same time, you get one additional adult's luggage allowance. What's more, we got 2 x 23KG bags each. I laid out 4 suitcases and, started filling them with all my shopping.  

The only thing is that I had the mega allowance only up until Accra. From Accra onwards, I had 30 KG x 2. 

So, I had a couple of art pieces I had brought last time that I had framed and I stuck them into the suitcases. I had bought quite a few books and a lot of a new clothes from Generation and Behbud. And, Kavita received so many new dresses and clothes from Ami.

Ami had bought a new weighing machine (it was a actually a fruit and veg machine that only went up to 35 KG) and, I kept double checking my bags until I had to leave. I distributed the weight among all the bags and packed and repacked so many times. I had wanted to keep the weight at about 15 to 18 KG each but it seemed all the 4 bags I had were 23 KG each. The weighing machine was quite sensitive and would, spit out different weights depending on how I had put the bag on it.

I carried a roll of tape and scissors in my hand bag as I knew Customs would open my bags and, I might have to unpack my paintings. 

The time came to bid farewell to my old folks. It's getting harder and harder to leave home, my aging parents and my beloved family home. I hugged my father. Kavita on the other hand was quite excited at the prospects of going back to Liberia. 

She had raced out of the house and, was eager to get into the car. Ami was driving us to the Airport. 

I had to tell her to give Aboo a hug. She was like "Byeeeee." 

Ami drove us to the Islamabad Airport and, I got there well in time. Ami walked us up to the entrance for International Departures and, she was teary-eyed as usual. We were in queue to pass our luggage through the scanners and, Ami could still see us. I kept telling Kavita to run back to the door and, wish her good bye and, not to be sad. Ami stayed there until we disappeared from sight.

Queues to scan luggage at the Islamabad Airport International Departures
After having checked in, we are in the second Immigration queue. Your passport gets checked and stamped. Then you get into another queue and, your passport is again checked and you're asked, again, where you're going and why. 
In the stampede that is the ramp from the waiting lounge to the door from where you catch a bus to the plane.
Waiting for a bus to the Aircraft at Islamabad Airport. 
Boarding the Islamabad - Dubai leg of our journey.
Kavita selects her choice. 
Kavita is engrossed in her cartoons.
Check in went so smoothly and I was so relieved. No one at Customs asked to open our luggage. The fellow at the Emirates counter didn't bat a lid regarding any excess weight. So, I was glad to see I had not exceeded the weight but knew I would have to dish out some money for excess luggage for the Arik Air flight from Accra to Monrovia. I gave the scissors I had to the porter. 

Kavita and I went upstairs to the main hall to wait for our flight. About 2 or 3 flights depart around the same time from a small Airpot like Islamabad Airport. The departing passengers all wait for their boarding time in one large hall and, all walk down to the ground floor via a ramp. It can sometimes feel like a wildebeest stampede in the Narrow Rift Valley. This time around, I strategised trying to be way ahead of the queue of people and, managed to have a bit of a smooth walk to the gate, got herded onto a bus, and then proceeded to the plane and into my seat with Kavita by my side. 

Kavita was extremely pleased to be in her seat and, quickly adjusted her earphones and, plugged into the Ice entertainment system. 

We landed in Dubai about 3 and a half hours later. We had about 2 hours to kill. Kavita had fallen asleep towards the end of our flight but I gently nudged her awake and, she and I had a pleasant time together at the Airport. We had a snack and bought some chocolates.

She began to get very sleepy and tired by the time I got to the boarding gate. She fell asleep in my lap and, I didn't know how I would carry my backpack and 2 small wheelers. I woke up the poor thing and forced her to walk through the desk. I requested the Emirates staff to help me take down my bags. After lots of complaints, the lady begrudgingly picked up my bags and placed them in the elevator going down. I got out of the elevator somehow and, crashed into a nearby chair with a sleeping Kavita in my lap. I was surrounded by West African women, some of them in beautiful kappa ensembles and some of them in pants. Already, I felt I was back in West Africa.  The lady besides me was so kind she said she would help me when they would call for boarding.

Just landed at Dubai Airport.  
Just landed at Dubai Airport.  
An Xpres Spa at Dubai Airport. 
A Happy Meal at 6 AM at Dubai Airport before our 7:35 AM flight to Accra. We were sitting next to a desi flight from the UK who were embroiled in a very intense discussion. A young girl, seemingly very frustrated and upset, was sharing her feelings with her mother, who was dressed in a shalwar kameez and spoke in a regional British accent. The father soon joined the table and then, the discussion stopped.
Me, travel weary.

When they made the call, they blurted out some numbers for Zones. Already a disorganised crowd of passengers had gathered at the gate. My kind fellow passenger carried my bags while I carried Kavita in my arms and pushed my way to the front of the crowd where Emirates staff was checking boarding passes. I pushed my way through and did not care whether my Zone had been called or not.

We reached the plane where I surrendered one wheeler to go into the cargo hold. The lady helped me with Kavita right up to the Aircraft and then, I asked one of the crew to help me to my seat. That you have to ask for help is quite frustrating. Can the crew not see you struggle with a child and hand luggage?

The flight was quite smooth and, I managed to catch some movies.

On this flight, the gentleman sitting besides was quite accommodating and, civil. He helped Kavita with her ear phones and, passed drinks and food from the crew. I realised that the plane was not full and asked him to move to another seat so Kavita and I could stretch out. He suddenly got irritable and, asked me to move. I motioned to a sleeping Kavita and, he said, he would move. He moved after a while.
Emirates' Ice Entertainment. 
The Dubai - Accra flight at 7:35 AM. 
Kavita is all settled in and ready to enjoy her flight. 
So am I.
We landed at Accra's Kotoka International Airport about 8 hours later at 12 PM, midday. Kavita had managed to see some cartoons, caught some sleep and, I had done the same with my movies.

We got visas on arrival for our over night stay in Accra. This took almost 2 hours and, really took a toll. I felt hot and bothered having entered the warm West African climate after being in wintry Islamabad. Kavita started getting frustrated too. I couldn't understand why it took so long. Some of the officers would go off, come back, call people back to the desk to ask something obvious, and then new passengers would be served before.  I remained patient because I did not want a repeat of a very nasty episode I had a couple of years before where I had expressed too much frustration and was then detained.

Waiting for a visa for our overnight stay at Accra
Eventually, we were free! We made our way to the empty Immigration Hall, found a lone booth with an officer, had our passports stamped and, then collected our baggage. A porter took us down the ramp, past Customs (no one thankfully asked to open our shrink wrapped suitcases). I went straight to the Holiday Day Inn booth. Haresh, Kavita and I had stayed at the nearby hotel twice during our Sao TomΓ© trip. It was convenient to go for the same hotel since our flight to Monrovia was quite early the next day. We waited in the booth to confirm a room and wait for the shuttle bus.

There was a little coffee machine in the booth and, Kavita and I got some drinks. No, she didn't have a coffee. She got a hot chocolate but by the time it was cold, it was time to go. We exited the terminal which always has a big crowd of people waiting for their loved ones (the saddest feeling in the world is to not have someone receive you at the Airport). We pulled the trolleys past the Chinese fast food restaurant and into the parking lot. It was quite hot and, as I felt the sun only face and felt sticky and sweaty in my day old clothes, I realised I was quite far from Islamabad, now. All the folks we had met so far, from the immigration officials to the porters to drivers were very friendly and chatty.

The little Holiday Inn booth at the Airport
We piled into the shuttle bus and after a few minutes were at the Holiday Inn. We checked in. I recognised a couple of the staff. We went up to our room. My four suitcases and 3 handbags came up shortly. I had planned the stop over in Accra so that I wouldn't have to open any suitcase. Kavita was extremely happy to come to a room with a bed and, where we could stretch out.

We took a luxurious bath and, then, went downstairs to the restaurant by the pool to have a late lunch. I took along The Goldfinch with me which I picked up at Saeed Book Bank and, had been voraciously reading night and day.

Kavita had perked up by now and, she didn't mind any change of weather. She really seemed to be home. She was chirpy and, insisted we order a separate dish for her. Back in Islamabad she was quite fussy with food but hardly a day back in West Africa, her appetite was back.

We lounged by the pool for a few hours and enjoyed our fish and chips and fresh juice. I enjoyed the familiarity of it all.

Lounging by the pool
Finally able to relax on a bed in a room
Lounging by the pool
We were in bed by 9 PM and, woke up in time next day to get to the Airport before 7 AM for our 8 AM flight. I was ready to dish out some money for the excess luggage we had. The pregnant lady at the Arik Air counter was enamoured with Kavita. She had apparently been watching Kavita from afar and, was just delighted with her so much so that she said was going to help me with excess. It turned out my 4 suitcases were more than 23 KG each.  She said she would only charge me with 10 KG excess. I went to another counter to pay $ 30.00. The Arik Air lady hinted to me she would like some money upstairs at the boarding gate  even though I told her I would pay the excess. However, I still played along.

Filling out the Immigration forms ✏️πŸ›ƒ
Kotoka International Airport
Kotoka International Airport

Landed at RIA
The flight was delayed by about 1 hour and, I didn't know how to communicate with Haresh. The Arik Air staff insisted the flight was on time. There wasn't any Wi-Fi at the airport and, I didn't have roaming on my Lonestar number. I borrowed a very sweet girl's phone who let me send a WhatsApp message to Haresh. She explained she had been in Togo to get treatment and, she was returning to Liberia. She was in a Convent.

We waited in the very sunny and bright waiting lounge. My friend, the pregnant Arik Air staff, came up stairs when boarding was finally announced. I slipped her a $ 20.00 note.

Pretty soon we were on the bus going to the Aircraft. I took a selfie with the girl who lent me her phone.

Selfie with the girl who lent me her phone.
We came up to the Aircraft and, all the passengers were quite surprised to see a small Aircraft before we realised we had been driven up to the wrong plane. I believe this is the first time I've experienced such a goof up. This produced a lot of laughs.

The flight back to Monrovia was smooth and, Kavita and I slept throughout. And, before we knew it, we had been picked up by Haresh and, were driving back to Monrovia.

Days leading up to my flights are usually fraught with anxiety and traveling blues. This journey back was no different but it had less mishaps and, inconveniences than I expected.

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