I must look like the Statue of Liberty.
Except my plaque says “if you see me at airport check-in, bring me your grandmother and also your young cousin and I will babysit them to their final destination”.
I don’t know what it is about my face or my outfit or the torch I don’t carry that people like to ask me for directions (bad idea) or entrust their loved ones to me at airports. The full-costume Tigre grandmother I was given ‘adera‘ at Pearson a few years ago, on a Toronto-Addis flight, and the Indian girl I was given in Berlin on way to Geneva. Both times my charges either hadn’t flown alone before or couldn’t speak English or both.
And my question is ‘why me, lord? why?’
Ironically, I’ve never been asked by strangers at airports to please transport medicine or money or gifts to their relatives in Ethiopia. You know, the airport check-in ambush. But that’s what I had consciously decided to be on guard for prior to going to Pearson this time for my second trip to Addis this year. That, and the possibility of someone asking me to please check in one luggage for them, since I was using only one of the allotted two. Our peoples be bold. So, I had said to myself: do NOT make eye contact, do NOT look friendly, do NOT look trustworthy in any way shape or form at all.
Basically, make like a statue.
I even got to the airport super dooper early just to minimize the chance for ‘ibakish abesha nesh?’ type of interactions. My other prayer was ‘sweet Jesus please don’t let me sit next to a blabbermouth, a wannabe Casanova or, most ardently of all, someone with little kid(s).’
In my defense: I do have plenty of wee likkle cute nieces-once-removed and nephews-once-removed, all of whom I deeply love from the safe, fondess-inducing distance of my Toronto space.
I kept up these prayers during boarding and halleluyerr they were all answered. I sat next to a vertically-challenged brother from Angola who was BFFs with his Dre headphones. (He, unluckily, found himself next to a talk-addicted pointy-shoed (inside joke: that would explain my Nigerian-fetish) Nigerian fellow who didn’t seem to know the universal message of ‘leave me alone’ that headphones imply.)
However, I noticed a young mother with two little girls (2ish and 1ish) taking her place at the far end of the next trio of seats, same aisle as African Union over here, and I thought ‘whewwzy close call’.
At that moment I locked eyes with the littler kid, the 1ish year old one. She was cute as hell of course, giant features on a kitten-small head but I stared her down, betraying no emotion, as if to say ‘not a chance buddy, not. a. chance.’
Little did I know that, from that moment, I was a marked woman.
Thirteen hours of grace later, during which the worst was just intermittent, distant “noise pollution” courtesy of said little girls, I trotted down the steps from the airplane and found myself a cozy corner on the crowded bus to the terminal. A real nice spot, you should have seen it, with back and side rests. All I had to do was stay quiet as a stowaway mouse and just ride.
Then, as the bus was filling up, came the momma and the two pink-clad ones. Plus a diaper bag and her purse. She had the 1 year old in a sling on her hip, and was trying to board the bus except that the two year old, wailing and wailing for personal reasons that could only make sense to her, would not budge from her grip on mommy’s leg unless she was picked up. How to get on the bus? Eventually the woman literally lifted the hostage leg and placed her foot on the bus and shook the kid off. Maragef malet indezih new!
Watching this from my secluded spot, I was already starting to stray from the statue plan. I was already half moving to maybe extract the velcro child from mommy’s leg. But I didn’t do it. I stayed put. I thought I escaped the temptation but what I didn’t account for was the unpredictable behavior of what I can only call my socially conditioned better half.
Once they were on the bus, standing in the middle of everyone without much to hold on to, it happened. My mouth opened, my eyes sought hers out, and my vocal cords made special vibrations with the surrounding air to create the unique sounds that came out as: would you rather stand here so you can lean and put your bag down?
Unbeknownst to him, on the other side of the terminal in the parking lot, my dear dad just got an extra hour added to his waiting-for-my-daughter time.
In the bus, while the mom put down her bags, another man offered to carry the quiet younger kid so that mom could pick up her older sister. Having relinquished my prime real estate for the ride, which was saintly enough if you ask me, I made a half assed offer to carry the heavy diaper bag once we got to the terminal. So I did. Her family of three had suddenly grown to five, lucky woman.
After Ebola temperature check, we migrated down to visa and passport check area. And here, I made my second tactical error. It went like this:
Mom: oh do we need visas?
Man: ok ingidih I have to go now.
Me: yes you need to line up and pay for visa if you don’t have yellow card.
Man: eshi ingidih… (holding out baby)
Me: should I take her?
And the rest, as they say, is history. A history of my arms slowly going numb, and also my discovery of just how many things I can get done with just one hand. A history of visa lineup for 3, passport check lineup for 4, baggage claim waiting for my one suitcase (plus carry-on) and her six (plus 2 carry on) and of course (it wouldn’t be Bole otherwise), fitesha 1, fitesha 2, and random passport check 1, 2, 3. Really Bole, really? You eliminate the entrance forms but you add all that searching? No comment.
Mercifully, my baby was like a little Buddha, content to just hang out on my hip, lean on my chest, pat my boobs (the left one in particular), and enjoy the scenery. And she was cute and a half, as I mentioned.
Despite the ordeal (yes I use that word even though I experienced an atom-sized fraction of what the mom had been dealing with since her journey started in Vegas), what really threw me for a loop was when momma started talking about freshening up before taking the final step to arrivals.
Well, I didn’t react exactly like that but that was the gist of my reaction. Who the fcuk cares what you look like after a transatlantic flight with 2 kids? Why on earth would the kids need an outfit change and you take the huge risk of putting down your kid to apply perfume and makeup while said kid is trying to climb back up Mount Mommy like the motivated hiker that she is?
I was baffled that despite all the exhaustion and stress, top of the woman’s mind became what image the three of them would give upon meeting their relatives outside. She was apprehensive. They’re always saying how much I’ve changed, she said.
Me: You had two babies so yeah I would say one changes a little bit after that. Not to mention a 24plus hour journey. What the hell??
(Again, more what I was thinking than what I actually said.)
She wouldn’t hear me, of course, just continued to accomplish the amazing feat of applying liquid eyeliner while literally swaying from the force of Little Miss Hiker. (I tried liquid eyeliner once, in my private, tranquil bathroom. And gave up within five minutes max.)
At the time, I had thought this behavior bizarre and a sign of her family’s unique brand of deep dysfunction. But I’m told, by better informed parties re: habesha behavior, that this is quite normal. Getting off a 13 hour flight looking and smelling like you’d just been on a 13 hour flight is apparently a no-no.
Good to know!
I have developed two theories to explain why I get stuck in a caretaker role so frequently: the Man Upstairs is either gently preparing me for the permanent version of it (i.e. motherhood) by giving me small previews and tasters, or He is gently warning me away from it by giving me trial runs now and then, red flags, so to speak.
Thing is, as much grudging pleasure as I get out of providing temporary relief to harried moms and other temporarily disoriented souls, when it’s time for goodbye I never find myself wanting to linger or sneak off with one of the cuties. At all. It’s more like “ok bye now. We should do it again sometime”, said with a post-lukewarm second date enthusiasm.
Then again, I’m told that there will come a time when it’s just my unlucky day and I run into someone with whom I will want to sit for thirteen hours on a plane, and still want to hang out after for days on end. A keeper, if you will. With whom I will supposedly make cute little keepers. With whom I will supposedly, in turn, make transatlantic journeys.
Sounds more like Statue of Captivity to me.
I must look like the Statue of Liberty.