After seven months in Asia, we made our exit from Sri Lanka abruptly and without ceremony. The universe always the existential comedian, it is not lost on me that we left on Passover; we too did not have time to wait for the bread to rise.
It is 10pm Sri Lanka time, nearly 30 hours before we are set to depart for Italy. Our flight is scheduled for 3am (ugh), two days from now. Chris leisurely clicks on the check in button and is shocked to see that our departing flight is now at 10am – 12 hours from now. This must be an error, we think, our hearts already racing. We are four hours away from the Colombo airport where we must arrive three hours before our flight. We are not packed.
We get on the phone with Emirates who tell us that our first flight had been rescheduled, turning our two hour layover in Dubai into an 18 HOUR LAYOVER. We have three choices: (1) find a later flight to Dubai, which would then connect with our existing second leg from Dubai to Pisa; (2) move both flights’ dates altogether; or (3) take a hotel/meal voucher in Dubai for the 18 hour layover.
I will not go into the details of the long conversations with Emirates’ agents that follow, but they cannot find any other flights with seats for five people within the next week. The only option is a travel voucher. The woman on the line mysteriously says to call back in an hour to receive confirmation of the voucher.
11pm. Work with our homestay owner to find a driver to get us to the airport at 4am. Homestay owner drives his scooter to the next town to pay a guy to confirm the taxi for us. Lose money for the original taxi already reserved for the next night. Pack with steady urgency. Call Emirates back. Our hotel voucher is denied. Plead three small kids. They try again. Tell us to call back at 1am. Call back. Denied again.
3:30am. Wake up. Call back Emirates. Voucher denied again. Wake the kids. Tell them what is going on.
4am. Six hours after the initial check-in attempt, we are in a van to the airport.
Chris and I had planned a reflective last day in Sri Lanka. Journals out, a family beach swim, pondering the milestone. Seven months in Asia soon behind us.
Instead, the world decides to shake things up. There is no marking of the moment, no reflection.
What is astounding though, is how unfazed our kids are. They see it as an adventure, just another wacky thing in this journey. As we wake up the kids, Chris sees what the kids need more than I do.
We had joked that what we went through over the past few hours was akin to Elisabeth Kübler-Ross' five stages of grief (of course, on a very inconsequential scale). There was the initial denial (this is not happening), then anger (Emirates is a *&(*$%$*), then bargaining (we have three kids, this change was unannounced, what can you do for us), then depression (we lost our final day in Asia), and finally, acceptance.
Waking the kids up, Chris wisely models to the kids the expansive possibilities of dealing with the unexpected. The kids watch us, and Emmet inquires – “Is this a good or a bad thing?” And in that moment, we have a choice. Is it a good or a bad thing? Well, at first it seemed like a very, very bad thing. But is it?
In the end, a narrative emerges – from that mysterious brew of our intentions and the kids’ reception of them. We calmly tell them that it indeed was unexpected. But even though the Emirates’ bureaucracy did not approve a voucher in advance, once we arrive in Dubai, I beseech them in person and they finally cave. We end up in a lavish hotel with a huge pool in fancy Dubai. The kids love it and take in how different Dubai is from anywhere else in our travels. It is ultimately easy, everything is accounted for, and we split up two long flights. Just another step in our wild year of travels. Not a tragedy. Perhaps even luck.