Sunday, November 9, 2014

Back to the US of A!

I've been back in the United States for a whirlwind two weeks; it feels like an eternity, frankly, since so much has changed in my life in that time. My last week in Kampala was a lovely way to leave - an appropriate amount of frantic-ness, a gradual winding down of work, two last game nights, eating my favorite dishes at the Embassy's world-class cafeteria for the last time, reassuring my increasingly-nervous cats, and completing the always-arduous check-out process.

There were a few stressful moments surrounding my evaluation and crates for the cats, but it all came together. I did end up buying two new crates as I decided the cats were just a little too big for the ones we had. Of course I couldn't decide this in time to purchase new crates through a reputable U.S. supplier, so I had to look on the local market. I found a great crate at the USPCA (albeit at an exorbitant price) and a sub-par crate at a local store (Game), also at an exorbitant price. I doctored the sub-par crate with the help of a neighbor and his drill so I could add in a million zip ties for security.

My last day at work flew by and culminated with an awesome lunch with my section, a combination of Lebanese mezze and Ugandan food. It was a perfect ending and not too sad, which I greatly appreciated. I finished up my last few emails, set up my out-of-office message, and took one last look at the section. Then it was time for one last ride in my car before it went to its new owner.

At home I spent the afternoon finishing packing, throwing out the remaining detritus of the last week, and prepping the cats' crates. Callaghan had moved under the couch on Wednesday and didn't seem to have come out much at all, so I was worried about him being dehydrated. I put water under there with him, but no dice. I had to move the couch and surprise him in order to get him in his carrier. Griffin, on the other hand, practically walked into his without any coaxing.

Motorpool was on time, and I got everything loaded and the keys turned over with no issues. Callaghan snapped out of his trance on the way there and started protesting which was, frankly, music to my ears. I had been afraid he'd just give up and not have the will to make it through the trip, so feisty was good. Traffic to the airport wasn't bad, and the expediter met us there to help with the cats.

Going through the first security screening wasn't too bad as they did a physical inspection of the crates so I didn't have to remove the cats (worry #1 eliminated). The price for the cats was $100 less than I'd anticipated, so that was a bonus! Check-in took forever, but I appreciated that they took their time to make sure no steps were missed. The cats each got their own porter and came with me through immigration. We said goodbye outside the gate, and the expediter went to the plane with them and watched them get loaded. He came back and found me at the gate afterwards and confirmed they were safe and happy, which I greatly appreciated.

Boarding was on time, and we took off a few minutes early. The flight attendants confirmed the captain was aware of the cats and had the cargo cabin at the right temperature. I didn't sleep much on the flight thanks to my seatmate who liked to elbow and kick and flail. We arrived in Amsterdam a bit early, and I headed to the transfer service desk to check on the cats. They weren't yet at the pet hotel but had been unloaded from the plane and were with the right people (and both alive, very important to know).

I indulged in a massage to soothe my tired-from-traveling self and then wandered and window shopped and grabbed something to eat. Then it was back to the transfer service desk to check on the cats. The pet hotel folks confirmed they were there and smiling. I didn't believe this last part but appreciated the inclination to soothe me. I settled down near the gate and took advantage of the free wifi until boarding. The boarding gate was way too small for the size of the plane, so I stood while waiting to board, knowing it was another eight hours of sitting ahead of me.

Boarding was on time, but there was a wait to take off, and it was clear we would arrive on time but not early. I finished watching The Fault in Our Stars, not a great choice on the plane since I was sobbing at the end (just like I did reading the book!), but oh well. I had started watching the movie on the previous flight, ending as the characters were on a plane landing in Amsterdam, as I landed in Amsterdam. Fascinating coincidence. The lunch meal was surprisingly tasty - meatballs with mashed red cabbage - and I watched more movies. Sleep was just not happening.

We landed on time but of course had to take one of the ridiculous people movers to the arrivals hall. We arrived at the same time as all 600 million other international flights that day, so the lines were horrid. They were worse in my mind than in reality as I was through in about thirty minutes, but it was still frustrating. The greeter guy did welcome me back home when he saw my dip passport, which was sweet.

I made a beeline for our baggage carousel and saw the KLM baggage desk with a large dog crate next to it and, thank goodness, two cat crates. Two identical cat crates. Which was not what I had put on the plane in Entebbe. But they were indeed my two cats inside them, and they seemed none the worse for wear. Both cats greeted me and purred and rubbed against my hand, and I truly relaxed for the first time in a week. I asked the desk attendant if she wanted to check my claim tags to prove ownership; she didn't. Griffin's crate had a note on it that his sub-par crate had been swapped out in Amsterdam. Stellar customer service, I tell you.

One of my bags came around the carousel quickly; the second one never did. It wasn't until about twenty minutes had passed that they made an announcement that a lot of bags from that flight had been moved to the side to make space. Sure enough, there was my bag. Then the challenge was getting a porter to help us get through customs and to a taxi. This was, amazingly, the hardest part of the whole day. 600 million international flights at one time, remember?

Finally someone came to help me, and we headed to customs. I have never in my life stood in line for customs in any country. Especially not for thirty minutes. There was no distinction for goods to declare or not; it was one massive line. When we finally reached the front of the line I told the CBP guy that I had live animals; he didn't blink and asked if I had wet food for them. I said no, he waved us through. Amazing.

There was no line for a taxi, so I loaded up into a waiting SUV and was on my way! The fall colors were at peak, and as we wound through the NoVa neighborhoods I was struck by how neat and pretty and clean everything was. Definitely a culture shock.

We arrived at the apartment building and unloaded. Check-in was fast and friendly, and the cats and I were soon home. I unpacked the boxes I'd sent ahead of time with cat litter and food, etc. and let the cats out. They both went straight to the water bowl and drank and drank and drank. I refilled it twice that night.

The rest of the night was spent unpacking and repacking (for a week-long training trip to another state the next day) and ordering in delivery and watching tv and relishing in being back. Both cats were very cuddly and enjoyed snuggling that night. The next morning I couldn't find Callaghan; twenty frantic minutes later I realized he was inside the suitcase under the bed. He spent most of the day under the bed, probably having some transition issues, but came out about an hour before I had to leave to cuddle. I left him on the bed on top of a t-shirt I'd worn, which seemed to soothe him. D said he spent the next day on that but finally warmed up to her and was back to normal by Monday afternoon.

Whew. That's a lot of writing for a blog post, so I'll leave it there. Next up - DC explorations interspersed with long-overdue safari posts.