We’ve just returned from a two-week vacation to the U.S., burning our R&R tickets on a visit to see our families in VA and NM. We began auspiciously by leaving late with a very disorganized house. The kids attempted to dress for summer, despite our advice to the contrary, sitting in the car with shorts and flip flops until Jean and I “politely asked” the kids to please dress in proper clothing. We burned rubber across town, fording massive puddles in the season’s first real rainstorm, and getting stuck in traffic because the ZESA (electricity) was out and the robots (stoplights) were malfunctioning as a result. Hence, the check-in desk folks told us check-in was closed and we couldn’t board. A small bribe helped to grease the wheels, and we checked in, our five bags getting tagged and thrown on the conveyor belt to be seen in VA the following day. Of course, this is Africa, so the plane we were supposed to board hadn’t even landed yet, and would be departing from a different gate. We saw some friends in the airport, also departing for South Africa, and bided our time in the boarding area.
Some time later, we winged our way to Johannesburg, a short flight from Harare. The travel agency had alerted us earlier in the day that our flight to Amsterdam would be delayed by an hour, leaving at 1:15am, so we had quite the layover scheduled. We settled down at the Mug & Bean to pass the time, and I finished writing my Christmas Cards. At around 12:30, we made our way to the departing gate to board, where we were yelled at for being late (what?) and were indeed the last people to board. We should have known, this is Africa (#TIA) after all. The plane climbed into the African skies and made its way north across the continent towards Europe. Bye-bye, Africa!
The kiddos slept a bit, except for Lucas of course, who has clocked more movie-watching hours on international flights in his life than most kids have clocked on the ground. Some 11 hours later, we arrived in Amsterdam mid-morning and immediately made our way to the next flight, a 8 1/2 transatlantic journey to Dulles, VA. Several movies and a couple of “meals” later we arrived in snowy, sleety VA (kids: “It’s so cold, what’s wrong?”), where my Dad picked us up in his new dualie. We had planned on going to a holiday party that very afternoon, but understandably we bailed. My dad, ever aware of the kids’ affinity for his cooking, had even brought along a freshly baked loaf of his bread.
My parents set us up in their house, and over the next week we proceeded to do what any foreign service family does upon entering the U.S. after a hiatus; shop. Unashemedly, we took the kids to a movie ($10 for matinée tickets?!), Wendy’s (looking around at the clientele, we know we shouldn’t eat this food every day), and replaced various household goods on the cheap from Target, BJ’s, and the like because it’s the U.S. and WE CAN!, and I indulged in craft beer and eggnog. We attended a family Christmas party and saw many of the Phillipson-related clan in VA. The kiddos even got their wish and were able to go sledding, getting extremely muddy in the process; the first snow they had seen in three years!
My Grandmother Betty and Uncle Andrew flew in for an early Christmas celebration, and Laura even drove over in her PJ’s for present un-wrapping. Jean went running and I…didn’t do anything.
We hosted a Solstice party with my parents, and got to see many friends, some from high school and college, some from our past careers, some from Nepal, some from Zimbabwe even, who are now posted to the U.S.
A week into our state-side visit, we packed up yet again, posting some boxes of things to ourselves in Zimbabwe (groceries from Trader Joe’s, etc) and flying off to El Paso, Texas, the closest airport to Las Cruces, NM, to where Jean’s parents have recently relocated, and where Kathy’s mother lives as well. Bob’s mother was living there up until her recent passing, and it’s very fortunate that Bob and Kathy were there. Of course, we forgot the soft cooler pack of cheese (permesan, cheddar) in my parents’ refrigerator. (Cheese is very expensive, if not hard to come by in Zimbabwe)
In Atlanta, en route to Texas, we met up with the NcNairs, also on their way to visit, and enjoyed a short reunion before boarding. Once in Texas, we were met by Kathy and Bob at the airport, and loaded up the bags and kids before the one hour drive to Las Cruces. Kathy and Bob have a nice house in a wonderful location on the west side of town with a beautiful view. We were treated to views of the Organ Mountains, xaroscaped overpasses, and restaurants on every corner boasting 50 cent tacos and happy hours. We spent the next week reuniting with Jean’s siblings and their families, the McNair clan (seriously, they have Scottish heritage), and eating our way through every good New Mexican restaurant in the Las Cruces area, not to mention shopping for more home goods and (embarassingly) additional suitcases to hold them. The original plan was to replace a couple of our dilapidated suitcases, but of course the acquisition of childrens’ Christmas gifts put this silly notion to rest. My parents posted the cheese to us (yes!) and it arrived in short order.
Bob took the kids out on his quad bike for some fun in the desert brush, we hiked to Picacho Peak, and Jean and I got to take out Kathy and Bob’s bikes. Jean went running some more…and I didn’t. The kids (seven cousins in total) and the adults filled up the house. Amazingly, everyone got along swimmingly, though I don’t think anyone won awards for belting out tunes for our holiday sing-alongs. We even got to go sledding on the dunes at White Sands (kids: “The sand is so cold, what’s wrong?!”) one afternoon.
At the end of our stay, Kathy drove us to El Paso where we made a last minute purchase of an iPad for Jean, and we checked into one of the airport hotels, for a short overnight stay before our 6:00am flight the following morning. I’m glad they don’t charge extra for overweight passengers, because I definitely clock in higher than when we started this vacation.
Now we’re back in verdant Zimbabwe and it’s New Year’s Eve. Alice, our ridgeback, is ecstatic we’re back. The garage ceiling plaster has caved in. One of the cars won’t start for a dead battery. We have some interesting science experiments in the refrigerator. The sugar bowl is full of ants. The kids woke up at 3:00am (waking Jean up in the process, and she didn’t go back to sleep!) and have generally wacked out sleep schedules.
And our cheese is in Texas, in the hotel refrigerator.
Happy New Year!