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Europe: Getting There

March 28, 2013

I am writing from a living room in Giesbeek, Netherlands.  It is late evening, quiet with all four kids asleep.  Nicolien is a long-time online friend, and she and her husband opened their home and are our hosts while we get a few days of R&R before returning to work in the states.  Their kids are the same ages as ours, but opposite genders, so it has been a fun afternoon for our kids as well, though there is a language barrier (the kids only speak Dutch, but the parents speak English), our kids don’t really know any differently, considering they haven’t played with kids who speak English in a year…

But, backing up, we began traveling out of DRC on Tuesday evening.  That was the worst flight experience of our life…and part of the problem was that it started long before the plane left the ground.  We waited at the airport for six hours, four of them were after the kids’ bedtimes.  Movies and food didn’t keep their attentions, so about half way into our wait, we were already on edge with the kids and their…uhhh…attitude problems.  Amelia began this obnoxious scream/screech.  We now know it quite well.

Side story: about a month ago I got to have one “co-chief” of an adoption agency working in DRC over for dinner.  Our last dinner, on Monday, we had a founder and operator of a different adoption agency come over to Nick and Jocelyn’s – in both cases, they had heard my name from families who had traveled and gone shopping with me.  They wanted to meet this person who was talked about so much.  Then, at the airport, a single, white female sat behind us in the waiting room.  She asked us a quick question, and we asked what brought her to Congo.  She began to state that she ran an adoption-help organization…and the minute she said its name, I knew who she was…and I said my name…and she knew who I was!  So, we got to chat on and off for the two hours before her plane left.  What a small world.  And a privilege to me to learn more about adoption and the process in Congo from their end, as well as give these adoption organizers a different insight into Congolese culture, from our perspective.  A fantastic thing…but, anyway, back to the traveling story.

Finally, it was time to board the plane.  We got on, excited for the lights to go out and the hum of the plane to lull our tired kids into a deep, flight-long sleep.  HA. Ha ha ha.  What dreams!  Levi, at least, was enthralled with the third Ice Age movie (each seat has a personal touch-screen with movies, games, TV, etc.).  The plane was delayed waiting for passengers from a late flight, so the lights stayed on and our kids, especially Amelia, spiraled downward into a screaming fit of terrible-ness.  The people around us looked understandably annoyed – we were also – but they were kind enough to recognize we were trying anything and everything to help her.  She would not be helped!  The plane took off an hour and a half late, at around midnight.

The worst part was that they left the lights on until after dinner was served, nearly two hours after we took off.  As soon as the lights were out, Levi conked out and slept the rest of the flight – good.  But, meanwhile, Millie was screaming and a complete mess and nothing was helping.  Matthew finally, after hours pacing the plane, got her to sleep about five hours into the flight.  (She had fallen asleep once previously, but only for about twenty minutes.)  She woke as breakfast was served (Brussels Airline feeds you constantly – it’s awesome) and began the screaming/fussing all over again.  It was awful, but more so for Matthew, since she really didn’t want me, only him.  Levi was quite tired, though, so he was handful enough.

We landed in Brussels and got through immigration, which was the easiest thing ever.  All of our bags arrived intact – we had six bins and two suitcases…for interest-sake, we arrived in Congo with just eight bins.  We refused to pay for extra bags!  Success!  Then it was time to meet our hosts at the airport.  We got turned around, though I’m sure it had nothing to do with our complete lack of sleep and overwhelming stress of the flight, and after an hour of waiting and moving our mountain of belongings, we finally used a pay phone and called our hosts.  We met just five minutes later and he drove us home.  Amelia began screaming again, but quickly gave up and fell asleep.  Levi followed suit not long after.

The brief drive to their house was absolutely gorgeous.  It was peaceful, with drivers following the laws of the road and not giant potholes – something not experienced in Kinshasa.  We passed Waterloo and saw the monument for the battle there.  There was a bit of snow still on the ground.  There was a cold snap in this part of Europe this week, and it was just about freezing temperatures outside.  We were only slightly prepared, but LOVED the cold.  We arrived at their house, got the kids settled with their grandkids’ toys, and stowed our bins in their neighbor’s empty garage.  Just the suitcases would follow us to The Netherlands.

That afternoon we enjoyed Belgian foods and two of their grandchildren came over after school.  Levi and one of the boys were friendly and managed to communicate.  He only spoke French, but Levi understands it quite well, and Levi only speaks English, but he knew enough to get along.  It was very adorable and a little funny to listen to.

The evening was okay, but we decided to go on a walk to the center of the village hoping the fresh air would help after such a long 24 hours.  Levi promptly fell asleep and Amelia just loved the cold.  We did, too.  Such a wonderful feeling after being so hot all the time.  Levi stayed asleep in the stroller just inside the front door, while we got upstairs for dinner.  I tried to wake Levi and sit him at table with us, but he fussed, so I had go sit on the couch, where he literally flopped on his side and fell immediately back asleep.  Poor kid.

Amelia didn’t do much better, but she did eat something.  We got them upstairs to bed and just carried Levi to his bed, he barely noticed.  Amelia, on the other hand, took a bit of work.  Poor girl.  Finally, she fell asleep.

We enjoyed an evening, chatting with our hosts.  They are Americans, who have lived in Belgium since 1958.  All six of their kids were born there, and they now have 17 grandchildren.  They operated a publishing house, specializing in Christian materials, including French/English translation.  They have traveled to Congo, and flown MAF several times there.  They are familiar with life there, which was a fun conversation piece.

Matthew and I took a second walk to town after everyone else was in bed then crashed into the cold attic bed under wool blankets.  It was so cozy and wonderful – we miss the winters from our five years in Alaska more than we realized!

Amelia woke from cold, so Matthew decided to join her, but Levi just slept through it all.

We were up by six, and woke Levi by seven – he slept from 5:30pm!  Poor tired guy!  We got all packed and were on the road in time to catch the train just a few minutes away from their house.  The kids were so excited to ride the train.  Amelia had a few rough moments, but she did get a nap.  Levi just LOVED the train.  We switched trains two times, once in downtown Brussels, where we took the time to have real Belgian waffles, then again in Roosendaal, Netherlands.

This afternoon we chilled at home with Maarten and Nicolien, and their kids Hanna and Toon (pronounced “tone”).  Nicolien and I went grocery shopping.  I was completely fascinated, mostly by the cheap cheese and amazing produce.  There is a windmill in their neighborhood, and waterways, and lots and lots of bicycles.  All so Dutch!  The men and kids went to a park and had a great time, even with the cold.  It was snowing earlier, actually.  SNOW!  We love snow!

So, by now, it’s late and we’re tired – wonder why!  Here are a few pictures from the last 24 hours and I’m sure there will more…

One Comment leave one →
  1. March 29, 2013 0829

    I love that you are able to relax and be refreshed during this wonderful little vacation before returning to the states!! You all definitely deserve a little family R&R!! 🙂 I also love that you ran into Sarah in the airport! How awesome!!! Love following along on your adventures 🙂

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