The South African Series

Getting Here – Planes, planes


I left Atlanta on a really sour note. I was still enraged by the bumbling incompetency of my church, and further enraged by Marshall’s apparent nonchalant attitude toward that incompetency. When my face silently, but plainly bore the evidence of my displeasure, I was informed that at some point I would have “to get over it”. In addition to that, I had wanted to lend a friend of mine my car for the time that we were away so that she could have transportation – and was flatly ‘informed’ that she was not going to be allowed to, even though I had emphatically promised to let her borrow it. This only served to anger me further. Granted, she is an uninsured driver and had no job to cover any possible damages should an accident occur, but I did not see the logic in the refusal at the time. All that I saw was that I had made out to be an unsympathetic friend and liar, and that I had let my friend down and in a great state of inconvenience. I did my best to bring this to Marshall’s attention.

“She hasn’t had an accident yet Marshall…why would she have one now?!?

“I’m not saying that she will,” retorted Marshall. “I didn’t plant to hit that guy the other day, but I did. That’s why it’s called an ‘accident’”

Failing to get him to see my point, I ceased talking to him, went to pick up the girls from school and got ready to drive to the airport.

I had only found out a few days before we left that we would be flying on Delta for the first leg of our trip. Bloody Delta airlines…those rat bastards. I immediately eradicated any service expectations, so that I would neither be disappointed or angered by their consistent lack of customer service. The check in process was arduous, but we got through it. Fortunately, we arrived at the gate just as they had started boarding, so we didn’t have to spend an hour trying to entertain the kids in a cramped area with dozens of other passengers glaring their disapproval. We each had 1 carry on bag, which meant that Marshall and I were handling 3 a-piece, plus a child needing to be carried or shepherded. As we walked down the tunnel to get to the door of the plane, the complexity of our situation became even more apparent. A skinny Black girl was standing by the door with some newspapers. She must have been part of the ground crew waiting to take extra strollers, tripods and such to stow in the belly of the plane.

“Is  there any way we can get somebody to help us with the kids and these bags?” Marshall asked.

Nigga is you crazy? This is Delta Airlines! No one is going to help…

The girl spoke up, interrupting and confirming my thoughts at the same time.

“No,” she said. “I’ve seen people handle the kids and bags just fine. I’ve seen them do it.”

“Come on Marshall,” I said. “Just tell Stone to follow the girls. We can figure it out some how.”

We were seated in the back of the plane on the same row. After we had gotten settled, a flight attendant walked up to us with her brow furrowed but lips smiling, in that practiced manner that they’ve only the most seasoned crew members have perfected.

“Did you guys request a seat change?” she demanded in greeting.

“No,” said Marshall (I was quizzically staring at her.), “these are the seats we were given.”

“Oh.” Her face relaxed. “Well, you can’t have 2 infant in arms on the same row. There aren’t enough air masks in the event of a crash,” she said pointing to the space above us. “I’ll have to move you.”

5 minutes later she returned, putting Stone and me in the back seat next to the window and leaving Marshall with the girls in our original row. This would have worked out well, except Stone was horribly unruly and Marshall had to come handle his son once we were in the air, leaving me with Liya – who slept a total of 1 hour of the 8 hour flight to Amsterdam.



We got into Amsterdam at 9 in the morning. Our flight was taking off at 10. An hour and a half weather delay in Atlanta got us into the country with just enough time to spare, as the gate stared boarding at 9:20. I was grateful that we had gotten there with any time left at all, as we could have ended up spending the night with 4 exhausted kids. We raced to our gate, where my gratitude evaporated into exasperation upon the discovery that we had been fisted by Delta Airlines, once again.

It appears that the ticketing agent in Atlanta had removed all our connecting tickets at the gate, and the only person with a confirmed seat was Liya, because she had an e-ticket. As the lanky Dutch guy with the soft voice explained that we would have to pay a $50 (per ticket) administration fee to reprint the tickets, I felt Stinkmeaner rising in me. I breathed a little faster to suppress him. (Incidentally, Delta had done the same thing to me when I was coming from Ghana last year, leaving me only with my stub and not my return ticket. What a group of douche bags!) Irritated, I watched Marshall plead our case and trying to calm Liya and Stone at the same time, I had finally had enough with the hold up. I piped up from where I was standing 5 feet away – apparently out of earshot.

“It’s not our fault the people at Delta made a mistake…!”

Marshall spun around and waved his hand, indicating that I should stop talking. Dutchy started speaking a little louder.

“Yes ma’am, I realize that; but without a ticket I cannot let you on the plane. It makes it hard for us to do our job. I see that you have many children, and it is possible that you misplaced your ticket in one of your bags during the journey. But because you have so many kids, I have sympathy for you and am going to let you through.”

(Marshall later whispered that the guy was doing us a ‘favor’ by not making us pay for Delta’s mistake. I was supposed to be, so I smiled like a happy field negro, removed my shoes and yassa-massa’d my way through security and got on KLM heading directly for South Africa.)

This flight was so much better. KLM knows how to treat its customers. (Unless they’re flying into West Africa.) They gave the children activity books and special child meals to suit their palette. The flight attendants were older, and had a gentler way about them than the Delta Airlines crew, the worst of whom was the mulatto gay guy who told me there was ‘no water left on the plane’ for me to make a fresh bottle for my baby. I looked around at my fellow passengers. There were a good number of 20-somethings in t-shirts that read “Answer the Call” and many obvious hipsters. This was a plane full of young evangelists, ready to go offer salvation to the heathen hoards in South Africa (since Americans no longer needed saving). Two young men with buzz cuts discussed dead languages and the bible and debated something that quickly began to bore me. As I tuned them out, an enormous girl with brown hair and an equally enormous heart informed me that she would help me carry any one of the kids if I needed it.

I looked her dead in her eye.

“Look. I’m the type of person who takes help if it’s offered,” I warned. “I will ask you to watch one of these kids.”

Wide-eyed and slightly dismayed by my seriousness, she promised that she would really help. She was going to be working in an orphanage for the next 2 months, and this would be good practice. She took a special liking to Stone, who also took a special liking to her. Liya did not care for her too much, and screamed as though the girl was pouring boiling acid on her whenever she came anywhere near her. So loud were her protests when Lara (the girl’s name) was holding her that it got the attention of one passenger in particular:  An elderly white man with a hard face and an old slate grey suit. He looked like he passionately loved God and aggressively hated humanity. He grim stare at Lara and the baleful Liya seemed to ask why this pretty plump white girl was bothering with this nigger/keffer baby. ‘Give it back to its momma’, his eyes said. I obliged him by going to collect my child and restoring calm to the cabin once again.

It was now 6 hours into the 12 hour flight, and I had not slept a wink since we left Atlanta the day before. My fatigue (and my banana/cereal/egg and cheese covered shirt) was plain for all to see. One of the hipsters, a mixed boy with a Sanskrit tattoo on his right wrist and horn-rimmed glasses, made his way to my seat and offered to carry Liya so that I could get some sleep.

“You wouldn’t mind?” I said deliriously. Stone and Lara were hamming it up in the back of the plane.

“Not at all,” he smiled.

He took Liya and bounced her around. I took a blanket and covered my face, preparing to sleep…until her shrill cries roused me before I had even gotten settled. Sanskrit came scurrying back.

“I tried,” he said sheepishly.

“I know,” I smiled wearily.

I looked over at him as he made his way back to his seat, proud to have done something sensitive and paternal. His girl-friend snuggled her face into his chest and clasped his bicep. Depending on their level of Christian devotion, someone was going to get booty that night…or something close to it.

Finally, we arrived at OR Tumbo Airport in Johannesburg.

Thank God and Oprah Winfrey.