Monday, February 22
We all woke up with a sense of heaviness and excitement. Well, to be fair, I woke up with Tisetso pinching my nose, so I technically woke up unable to breathe. But other than that, heaviness and excitement. Our flight wasn’t to leave until 9:20 p.m., so we had one final, full day in South Africa. Today was going to be the hardest day yet—saying goodbye to Mommy Tahiyya.
After my abrupt and suffocating awakening, I set to finishing packing. I wanted to be done early in the day so we didn’t have to worry about it closer to the time of our departure. Tisetso watched Ben 10 while I finished his suitcase. With a quick breakfast, we were off to say goodbye. Brian needed coffee, so we stopped at a place called Vintage Coffee.
With coffee in hand, we headed to the care home one last time. Pulling up felt final. We parked, rang the bell, and waited to be let in one last time. Tisetso was excited to be back. We sat in the living room with Mommy Tahiyya as she gave Tisetso a gift she had made. She also gave us a book she had put together of all of the baby pictures she could find of Tisetso, along with memories she wanted him to remember. We felt like we had been given a gift of gold as it was a treasure we hadn’t known to even hope for. We talked for a little bit. Mommy Tahiyya commented about Tisetso’s accent (which apparently sounded more like ours already) and how long his hair had gotten. After a bit, we all needed to get going with our days, so we said our goodbyes.
I cannot express to you how hard it was to say goodbye to this amazing woman. She had fought hard for Tisetso for seven years and loved him as a son for seven years. She was there for his first steps, she wiped his tears when he was sad, she cheered him on when he had a race. What do you say to a woman like her? She had loved Tisetso longer and fought harder for him than I had! "Thank you" didn’t seem enough. I lost it saying goodbye to her. I wanted to bring her with! Getting in the car and driving away was hard.
We had one more goodbye for the day. We had set up a time to say goodbye to Tisetso’s grade R (kindergarten) teacher. Before we went to the school, we grabbed lunch in Laudium one last time. After lunch, we had enough time to take Brian back to Vintage Coffee to work while Tisetso and I said goodbye to Teacher Emmy. When we got to the school, the kids were just getting let out. There were lots of kids and parents everywhere!
We found Teacher Emmy’s classroom and walked in. Tisetso ran to the dress up corner (his favorite when he was in Kindergarten). Teacher Emmy gave me two discs with all of the pictures she had taken of her class the previous year. I couldn’t believe the blessing I was holding in my hands! More pictures of my son before he became a Malcolm! I thanked her profusely and had Tisetso come over to say goodbye. During her goodbye, she presented him with a couple of farewell cards from his friends and a wallet. Apparently, one of his friends bought him a wallet to match his and wrote a note on the back. It was so sweet.
The goodbye was short as we could tell Tisetso was feeling overwhelmed with the events of the day. At the car, I hugged Teacher Emmy, who had fought fiercely for my son’s trust and taught him the importance of learning. It was almost too much for me. Two hard goodbyes in one day. I was ready for a nap!
We picked Brian up from the coffee shop, driving past familiar homes and fields for the last time, and made our way back to the flat. We had little to pack up as the packing had been happening over the past two days. We went through our food and picked out what needed to be thrown out, what we could leave for the gal who cleaned our flat, and what we were taking with us (mostly candy for the 29 hours of travel ahead of us).
We headed down to the car with our luggage, which was no small feat! We had four large suitcases, one carry on suitcase, four backpacks, and one purse (packed full). Along with that, we had a ton of legal documents that we had to keep a close eye on. And a kid. We had to keep a close eye on him too. We stuffed the luggage and the kid and ourselves in the car and headed off to America. The only things between us were a massive traffic jam, thousands of miles, and airport security (basically the equivalent to adding a thousand miles to our trip). The traffic jam was insane, including cars making the shoulder a seventh lane and people walking and biking on the highway. To complete the picture, people were also selling things between the lanes as we weren't moving.
When we got to the airport, we turned in our car (thankfully with no hassles) and headed to the terminal. We navigated our way towards the international flights section of the airport and found our way hampered by a cricket team. You read that correctly: A cricket team. Apparently the Waitrose cricket team had finished spending the winter months in South Africa and were heading home—back to England. We were behind the team chiropractor / masseuse, so I struck up a conversation with him. He said they had been in South Africa for three months and were going back for the spring / summer season in England. They had the luggage to prove it! Each person had at least four to five massive team bags (assumedly also containing their gear). The people checking everything in looked stressed. Apparently their presence had created a huge disruption in the checking in process, which was causing some people to be close to missing their flights. Thankfully, we were there two hours ahead of time, so we weren’t panicked.
After taking forever to get to the front, we were frustrated to find one of our suitcases was about 2 pounds overweight, leaving us with a $100 penalty. Interestingly enough, they had to run our American card, charge Rand, and convert to Pounds (we were flying British Airways). After all of that we went through security. Once again, I’d like to commend the South African airport security for not being annoying and even treating people like human beings rather than cattle. We passed through and headed to our gate. In true travel fashion, our gate was the farthest one away.
After rushing past all of the restaurants, I was praying we’d find something close to our gate for dinner. As it happened, there was a sandwich bar right next to our gate! We each grabbed sandwiches and a sausage roll and a drink (I couldn’t eat mine because of nerves). Our plane was at the gate, but 9:20 came and went. They made an announcement that the plane was too hot and would have to be cooled down before we could board. Apparently, the function that cools the plane while it’s landed had broken, leaving the plane 79° inside.
We were eating our sandwiches when a flight attendant came over to us and asked if we were flying to London. Assuring her we were, she told us we could board early “because of the boy.” This was an unforeseen perk to having a kid. Thanks, Tisetso! We cleared the first checkpoint and entered a waiting lobby. Here, a tourism lady snagged Brian for a super long and complicated survey (of course it wasn’t advertised as such up front). Thankfully for Brian and the lady, we didn’t board until close to 10:30, so they had a little bit to finish up.
When the plane was cooled to someone’s standards (it was still ridiculously warm), we were allowed to board. We crammed our stuff and bodies into the allotted space and waited for take off.
I definitely felt a sense of loss as the plane lifted off the ground. I felt loss for Tisetso who was too young to understand what he was leaving behind. I felt a sense of loss for a culture and country I had grown to love. We knew we wouldn’t be back for several years, so it felt final.
Once in the air, we were told the flight attendants would be walking through the cabin to decontaminate it. It was weird. They basically went through the cabin with Lysol cans, walking up and down the aisle spraying mist. Then flight attendants decided they wanted to serve dinner at 12:30 AM. I was ready to pretend to get some sleep (I don’t sleep on planes), or at least force my kid to sleep, but no. Dinner must be served. With the lights on. People (who chose to eat at that ungodly hour) finished up around 1:30 AM, so lights went out around 2:00 AM. (Insert major eye roll here.)
With that, our last full day (and it was a full day) in South Africa came to a close.