Viva L'Afrique!

To Africa and Back

Pittsburgh to Paris: The journey begins

I had set an alarm for 9am the day of my flight, much earlier than most who planned on flying out at 6 in the evening. But after my long drive the night before, I needed ample time to repack my suitcase, purchase a few last minute necessities, and stop by the AT&T store.

Unfortunately, my dad did not get the memo and woke me up at 8am.

So the adventure began. I switched bags, electing my dad’s monstrous suitcase over two of my small ones. We drove to Target to pick up a slew of travel-sized amenities, like a collapsable toothbrush and two-ounce tube of face wash. Next was the shoe shop to buy a pair of comfortable walking shoes and flip flops for use in the communal shower. And finally on to AT&T to buy a new phone – my first touch screen. I know I’m a bit behind, but I’ve never liked touch screens. My old phone didn’t have international calling capabilities, and we’d decided to nix the satellite phone in favor of an international calling plan; the new phone was essential.

My dad considered taking back his tablet since the new phone had all the same capabilities as his Asus tablet, but it’s a good thing I disagreed. But I’ll get to that later.

Time sped by, and before we knew it, it was already 2pm – time to leave for the airport. I kissed the dogs goodbye and loaded up: I was on my way to Africa.

My dad parked in the short-term parking lot, something he’s never done on the many flights I’ve taken without him. He helped me gather my belongings, and he walked me to the front desk, offering any help I needed along the way. My bag was checked (and charged for being overweight,) and my boarding pass was printed. The next step was security.

My dad continued with me to security, even standing in line until I reached the dividers and a sign that read “Passengers Only Beyond This Point.” A woman behind us agreed to take a picture of us together before we had to part ways. My dad walked along the sides of the line until just before I reached the employee checking boarding passes and passports. Even though I was nothing but excited, I couldn’t help but feel empathetic towards how my father felt about losing me for three weeks to a faraway country.

When the plane finally boarded, I found my seat – an aisle seat that I had requested because of my insane fear of plane crashes – next to an elderly couple. Minutes later, a family sat next to us with a young child. “Just wait,” the older gentleman mumbled to his wife as he shook his head in the direction of the child. I couldn’t help but laugh to myself: I’d been thinking the same thing.

I flew on a Delta flight operated by AirFrance, and it was one of the more comfortable flying experiences I’ve had. The seats weren’t great, the space was small, but it was better than many other experiences. Until the screaming started.

“I told you,” the old man muttered to his wife as the child screamed. Again, amusing, but it didn’t help the problem. In fact, the child was the result of the parent’s rubbish parenting skills, and she did not stop acting out the rest of the flight. The only way her mother could subdue the screams was to wave an iPad in her face. As long as she shuts up, I initially thought, but no. The parents allowed her to play a game at full volume that could likely be heard at the very back of the plane. Sitting next to the child, it sounded like a TV turned up all the way.

I should add that when we prepared for landing, another battle ensued over whether or not the mother was allowed to put the iPad away.

Before the dinner cart made its rounds, a flight attendant stopped and asked me if I had requested a special meal. Yes, vegetarian. She handed me a tray of food and pulled a piece of tape off of my seat. So there are perks to being a difficult eater. The food was mediocre, but it was better than I expected on a plane.

I did not sleep on the plane, though I shut my eyes and tried very hard. I considered watching movies, but the credit card swipe underneath the screen scared me away – I didn’t really feel like pulling out a credit card and paying to watch anything when I should be sleeping.

Finally, I could see the sun peeking through the clouds. Red at first, and distant. Slowly, the light grew, and the sky again looked like day: we were fast approaching Paris.

I had one more special vegetarian meal, a breakfast loaded with breads to make up the calories lost in all the fruit and yogurt I was served.

As we looked down at the approaching city, try as I might, I could not actually see the Eiffel Tower. I did not realize until later what a remarkable feat this was considering the tower’s enormous size. And then came the turbulence.

I have never once become ill enough on a plane to use the doggie bags provided in each seat, but I’ve never come closer than on this flight. The plane shook and dropped in countless air pockets for at least fifteen minutes, and I regretted eating even a bite of that breakfast. To make matters worse, the child that had been screaming laughed gleefully at the plane screaming happily that we were going to crash. It was the only time the mother took control and stopped her from acting out. Finally, the jolting halted and we approached the runway.

It was 8am, though my body said it was 2am. I looked out the window, the sun hidden by clouds. I had arrived in Paris.

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