On January 21, we celebrated one year of being a family of three. We call it our family anniversary. We spent the weekend at a hotel for a staycation. We saw Moana, swam in the pool/soaked in the hot tub, and enjoyed spending time together. We are so thankful for one whole year with our little man. It's been a joy and a privilege to be his mom. We are looking forward to what this coming year will bring.
***Disclaimer: I wrote a post on our trip to London our first night in Pretoria. Unfortunately for my mental health, after writing the post and uploading the photos (a painful process with slow internet), the internet glitched and deleted the post. Here is my attempt to redo that post.***
Before we headed on our grand adventure in South Africa, Brian and I wanted one more adventure with just the two of us. After me begging and my amazing husband consenting, we headed to London (we planned it so we had a nine day layover on our way to Johannesburg).
Because it's been over eight months since our trip, I've had quite a bit of time to reflect on our time together and in such an amazing city. Here are a few thoughts from the trip mixed in with copious amounts of photos.
- We had both been to London before, so we spent a lot of our time going to off-the-beaten-path locations. We still hit up touristy spots, but one of our favorite parts of the trip was all of the walking we did. We got a good feel for the city because we just walked through neighborhoods, visited local pubs, and embraced the city life for the short time we had.
- Being in London right after Christmas and over the New Year was magical. Many places were still decorated for Christmas. I loved it! (I've wanted to visit London at Christmas since watching Love Actually.) We were so fortunate because the weather really cooperated for us. The days were usually in the mid-50s and cloudy, with the occasional rain.
- Brian and I have talked about this trip often and we both have a hard time picking one favorite thing we did. It was just the overall feeling of London we loved. BUT I can confidently say that the food was spectacular. We got to enjoy a Sunday roast at a pub on a rainy afternoon, got the traditional fish and chips, ate at Gordon Ramsay's restaurant, maze, and ended up at the British equivalent of Panera for breakfast thinking we were visiting a quaint French bakery (well played, PAUL Bakery).
- As an Anglophile and book lover, I LOVED running into spots that had been mentioned in books I had read or film locations. It felt surreal to be walking down Gracechurch Street in Cheapside (Pride and Prejudice) or walking through Leadenhall Market (what J.K. Rowling based Diagon Alley on and a filming location for the first movie) or walking down Baker Street (Sherlock Holmes mysteries) or getting off at the Tottenham Court Road stop (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and the Cormoran Strike mysteries).
- One event I slightly regretted at the time, but now look back with a little humor, was going to the Monument dedicated to the Great Fire of 1666. The Monument has stairs you can climb up and a great view at the top. I thought 311 stairs was going to be super easy. I. Was. Wrong. Not only was it a cardio workout, the stairs got more narrow as you went up and people were going up and down. It was insane. The view was great, but I spent most of my time on top trying not to get sick.
- While we were in London, we got to visit some friends of mine from college. It was really good to catch up with the McRaes. They were so kind to have us over for dinner, watch most of our luggage for a week so we wouldn't have to haul it around, and even drove us to the airport. I greatly regret we didn't get a picture with these sweet friends.
- One of the most British moments was when we walked across the Tower Bridge in the rain and wind. My Anglophile heart almost burst with the British-ness of it all! It was cold and it was rainy, but I was walking with Brian in London—all was right in my world.
- Along with hanging around London, we went to the Harry Potter Studio Movie Tour. It was magical!! The great hall was decorated for Christmas, which was really wonderful to see.
- On our last full day, we went to the Metropolitan Tabernacle, which felt a little like a pilgrimage to me. Charles Spurgeon's sermons have seen me through some rough times in my life. Being there at the church where he spent so many years preaching the Gospel made me realize the value of a life well lived.
All in all, it was a wonderful trip. We were thankful to have had some time away before heading on our greatest adventure together yet. We still have a few things on our London to-do list, so I'm sure at some point, we'll return.
For the last three years, I've made bourbon-poached peaches (recipe here). This year, I got to continue the tradition working with my sister and having constant interruptions from my son and Erin's kids. I loved it! It was, hands down, the best time I've had making this recipe!
My favorite part of making these is how sweet your kitchen and hands smell when you're all done. The smell from scraping the vanilla pods to collect the seeds is intoxicating! (Vanilla is one of my favorite things/smells) I don't have many baking traditions, but I think I can include bourbon-poached peaches now that I've hit the three year mark.
Definitely give the recipe a try! It makes more than you can eat in a month, so they're great to give away, too. Invite a friend and make a double batch. Peeling all of those peaches allows for some quality time!
Today is an exciting day. We close the sale of our Ashwood home today. We lived in this home for years. It was our first home together. We loved having our friends and family spend time in our home. We loved this home. It is a big day to pass the keys along to someone new.
As we were packing up a few last things yesterday, I remembered the goodness of God that our son, for whom we spent many hours praying for him in this home, was walking around in the living room and playing on the porch. He has never spent a night in this home, but my love for him began in these walls.
I am going to miss our Ashwood home. It's the place I met my husband. He was hosting a luncheon and I couldn't help but notice how gifted he was in hospitality. It was the first thing I admired about him. Well, that and his rugged good looks.
We love our new home, but our Ashwood home holds a special place in our hearts.
We’ve been home for almost four months (a little over six since we became a family). With our arrival to America, we’ve had many opportunities to experience Tisetso’s firsts in many things. I think his favorite so far has been snow.
We got a light dusting the weekend, but I wasn’t willing to count it as his first snow. A few days after that, we had the big, sticky, fluffy flakes that he could actually play in. To be honest, this was one of my favorite firsts, too (despite my aversion to snow and cold). Seeing his joy while running around in the icy flakes, I just couldn’t contain my own joy. We had fun throwing snowballs at Brian’s car (he had the audacity to leave the party for, you know, adult things like work). Then we turned on each other.
The fun was short lived a Tisetso became super cold not too many minutes after Brian left. I demonstrated my true mothering skills by taking a picture to document the end of the occasion then ushered him quickly inside. I'm pretty sure I qualify for Mother of the Year now.
It’s been fun experiencing firsts with our little guy. We haven’t had the traditional ones, so the untraditional (first Dunkin Donuts experience, for example) seem bigger than they may actually be. Regardless, I am thankful for the firsts we get and excited for many, many more!
One year ago today, I was sitting in our backyard holding a hummingbird that had flown into our window. I was simultaneously hoping it would stay forever and be my animal friend and hoping it would fly away. I was hoping it would stay for obvious reasons. Hello! Who wouldn't love an adorable bird who drinks sugar water being your friend?! At the same time, I was hoping it would get better enough to fly away. I had an important call I was waiting for and really wanted to give all of my attention to this call.
Our social worker had emailed us the day before (Thursday) asking if she could call as she had a file of a child she wanted us to consider. I was hopeful, but cautious in my hope. After about 20 minutes of holding this fragile bird and feeding it, it flew off. As I was standing up, my phone rang.
She said he was a six year old boy. She said she thought he would be perfect for us.
I knew. I knew he was our son.
I called Brian to tell him the two simple things we had—his age and gender. Then I went on a walk. I've had strong feelings before, but this was intense. My husband and my family can testify that strong feelings are sometimes the only way I feel things, but this was different. It was confidence and hope and tentative love. All for a six year old boy on the other side of the world. I prayed that God would help me discern my feelings.
We prayed together over the weekend and called Monday morning asking for the file. What followed was 43 days of waiting to see his face. Those 43 days were painful. They were heartbreaking. I didn't know what my son looked like, but I knew he was the child we had been waiting for.
Oh, how much can change in one year! Now we're in a new season of life, filled with fighting for attachment, building love, and growing in trust. One year can hold so much. This past year has seen our family of two turn into a family of three.
I am thankful God brought Tisetso into our family. Adoption isn't rainbows and unicorns, so when you have sweet moments (like this anniversary), you hold on tight. I am excited and hopeful for what the next year will hold.
If for some crazy reason you find yourself wanting to read all of the days in order (bless you), here are all of the days, linked up for your convenience. Thanks for reading our story!
Day 1: Pretoria
Day 2: Pretoria
Day 3: Pretoria
Day 4: Pretoria
Day 5: Pretoria
Day 6: Pretoria
Day 7: Pretoria
Day 8: Pretoria
Day 9: Centurion
Day 10: Centurion
Day 11: Centurion
Day 12: Centurion
Day 13: Centurion
Day 14: Centurion
Day 15: Centurion
Day 16: Centurion and Atteridgeville
Day 17: Centurion
Day 18: Centurion and Strand
Day 19: Strand
Day 20: Strand
Day 21: Strand
Day 22: Strand and Cape Town
Day 23: Strand and Simon's Town
Day 24: Strand
Day 25: Strand
Day 26: Strand
Day 27: Strand
Day 28: Strand and Cape Town
Day 29: Strand and Khayelitsha
Day 30: Strand
Day 31: Strand and Cape Town
Day 32: Strand and Cape Town
Day 33: Strand and Cape Town
Day 34: Strand and Simon's Town
Day 35: Strand and Cape Town
Day 36: Strand and Cape Town
Day 37: Strand
Day 38: Strand and Khayelitsha
Day 39: Strand and Stellenbosch
Day 40: Strand, Cape Town, and Somerset West
Day 41: Strand, Cape Town, Johannesburg, and Sandton
Day 42: Sandton
Day 43: Sandton, Pretoria, and Centurion
Day 44: Sandton
Day 45: Sandton
Day 46: Sandton
Day 47: Sandton and Johannesburg
Day 48: Sandton, Pretoria, and Johannesburg
Day 49: London, Chicago, and Home
Summary of our Time in South Africa found here.
It was the biggest, most impactful trip I've ever taken in my life. I have been collecting random thoughts, observations, and photos from our time in South Africa, some while we were there and others after we got home. Some are meaningful and some are superficial.
Drivers were more considerate in South Africa than America. The drivers are less selfish and more willing to drive with kindness. On the highway, if you're not going the speed limit, you would drive in the left lane (slow lane). Merging on the highway was not an issue because people would let someone in without anger, unlike what you find here.
Malls are on every corner! For every mall that closes its doors here in America, one is reborn in South Africa. They are huge, confusing, and packed with people. In fact, the Mall of Africa (a mall we drove by on numerous occasions while there) recently opened.
Shoes aren't as big of a necessity in South Africa. In America, we have signs warding off people without shoes from shopping in stores. In South Africa, it's not uncommon to see people without shoes (mostly children).
Driving on the left takes about three weeks to get used to. Even then, you’ll still have terrifying moments when you think you’re about to die in a fiery car crash.
Taxis (12-passenger vans) are devil machines that do not adhere to the laws. They’re so pervasive that not even police mess with them. I decided that if we lived in South Africa, I would purchase one of those vehicles so I wouldn’t have to follow the rules of the road.
There are people everywhere. Living in America, where you can look out your front window and not see anyone walk by for a good bit, is so contrary to South Africa. People are walking everywhere, even on the side of the highway.
Diet Coke (the best beverage on the face of the planet) is called Coke Light, in case you're wondering. It was hard to remember at first, then hard to switch back when we came home.
ATMs are everywhere! There were whole sections of every mall with walls and walls of ATMs. We used mostly cash while we were there, but it seemed to be a common thing for many of the people, too.
I definitely take the internet here for granted. It took so long to upload photos and, at times, was impossible. I missed listening to music because I hadn’t thought ahead and downloaded some before traveling. Most of the time you have to purchase internet as you go, which got to be a little frustrating. I spent two months of my life without Netflix and survived. Barely. I should get a badge of bravery or something.
It was clear, through our conversations with South Africans and through observation, that there aren’t enough jobs for people in the country. It was heartbreaking to see mothers, with their children strapped on their backs, begging for money and food on street corners each day. It is something we are not faced with seeing every day. In South Africa, it is part of life.
South Africa is such a huge country! We stayed in two provinces while we were there. Even within the two provinces, it was clear that there were many cultures (some of which were combinations of others) and languages represented in the country.
It is such a beautiful and interesting place to visit. I would highly recommend adding it to your lists of countries to visit! We loved our time there experiencing the culture and scenery. There is truly no place on earth like South Africa. We are thankful for the time we spent there as it was an amazing time, where our only job was to be a family. Because of the experiences we had and friendships we made, we feel like a little piece of our heart was left there.
If I had to sum up our trip, here’s how it would go:
3 traffic stops,
2 stamps in our passports,
all to meet 1 amazing son…
…and we’d do it again in a heartbeat for him!
It's my first official Mother's Day. Although, to be honest, I've felt like a mother for a couple of years now (since we started the adoption process in December 2013). Some people would argue that you're not a mom unless you've got a kid in your house, but humanity also used to burn people at the stake for teaching the world was round. This post has taken a dark turn, but all of that to say, people are wrong sometimes. Being a mom has many different facets, some of which do not involve children at all!
Mother's Day is complicated when you've adopted. It's not lost on me that my son has had two women he called mother in his life before me. The title of mother is something I fight for daily. But the fight makes the victories so much sweeter—when he sits in my lap or lets me hug him longer than a second. I am thankful to be Tisetso's mother. It is a gift I do not deserve.
Becoming a mother further solidified in my heart how wonderful my mom is. I am over and over again thankful she managed to find ways to love and support the crazy, hot mess that I was growing up. (Let's be honest, I can still be that way!) She had to put up with my sister and I and still make dinner and keep our house from falling apart. There have been times since we've gotten back that I've wondered how she did it all! She's a saint.
Whether you've got a child in your home calling you mom, or your heart is given to a child you are waiting for or are mourning the loss of, I hope and pray today would be a sweet blessing to you.
Tuesday, February 23 (continued from Day 48)
Even with the lights off at 2:00 AM, it was hard to get to sleep. The plane was unnaturally warm and people seemed to have been revived by their ridiculously late dinner. Tisetso was definitely ready for sleep, so we, for the first time ever, had to figure out how to get this kid to sleep within the 2.5 square feet we all resided in. He didn’t want to stretch out, so he tried sitting up for a few hours. He kept waking up, which was no good. After some convincing, I suggested he lay across our laps. It took a little maneuvering, but he ended up with his head in my lap and his feet in Brian’s.
With that settled, I was able to actually doze off for a little bit. My sleep was interrupted by crazy turbulence over Zambia which, if you remember our flight from London to Johannesburg, I do NOT like. I got super upset at myself for being unable to fend off a panic attack. I was trying to breathe and not freak out, with a kid in my lap. I was preaching Truth to myself, but was having a hard time holding onto it when the next massive bump hit. At one point, Tisetso woke up freaking out in his sleepy stupor and with Brian sleeping, I was left to comfort a kid while freaking out myself. It went well. (Was that convincing?)
After a night of off and on sleep, we woke up at 5:30 to the breakfast carts getting pulled out. These flight attendants were going to serve us dinner and breakfast if we wanted it or not, regardless of the hour! I couldn’t believe each of us had gotten any sleep, let alone more than 10 minutes. Brian and I forewent the breakfast as we would be landing at Heathrow and wanted a proper meal. Tisetso was only interested in candy, and because it was a special occasion of traveling for 29 hours, we obliged.
When we landed at 7:00 AM, we were ushered to another security checkpoint. Unfortunately for us, we were not on our game as far as liquids were concerned, since rules were far less stringent at our departure point. We had some medication we had to bring with us, so we were concerned about getting that through security. Our concern for that getting through caused our brains to not remember any other liquids in our luggage. Out of our three backpacks, two rolling suitcases, and one purse, only my backpack made it through without being checked. It ended up being a 45-minute delay. The poor security officer who got us was flustered, the woman in charge of the team was downright rude, and we were embarrassed and tired. It made for a lovely combination.
After the frustrating ordeal of the security checkpoint, we headed to an area with bathrooms and restaurants. We each took a turn going and changing or freshening up before grabbing breakfast. Tisetso changed out of his Ninja Turtles pajamas into warmer clothes (we were now in winter weather). Tisetso requested lunch for breakfast. I honestly didn’t care what we ate at that point, as long as it was real food! We found a spot and had instant sticker shock. After spending 6 weeks with the exchange rate insanely in our favor (17 to 1), it was painful to be on the opposite end of it all (1 to 1.5). After paying $50 for breakfast equivalent to what we would have pay $10 for in South Africa, we headed to some benches to rest. Our next flight to Chicago didn’t leave until 12:15 PM, so we had some time to rest.
At the benches, Brian laid down for a nap. Out of the three of us, he had gotten the least amount of sleep. I was tired, but occupied myself with writing. Tisetso, who was beyond tired at this point, was needing a nap. I told him if he kept his eyes closed for 10 minutes, he could play with his iPad. He was excited to prove me wrong and not fall asleep—until he did. I definitely patted myself on the back for being so awesome at this whole parenting thing.
After short naps, we checked the departures board and found (not surprisingly enough) that our gate was far, far away. We hauled our stuff onto a train and headed to an extension of the terminal. Then we trekked to the farthest reaches of the terminal to our gate. When we arrived, there was a massive sea of people. I couldn’t believe how many people were on the flight! In a moment of realization, I remembered the last time we sat at that same gate, we were headed to meet our son. It felt like things had come full circle as we sat there with our son.
Once again, our amazing kid got us priority boarding (thanks, again). We got on our last flight to home. I felt the fullness of that truth as I buckled my seat belt. My moment of zen and tranquility was abruptly interrupted by a family with three young girls getting into the two rows in front of us. The girls (and probably their parents), as we would discover over the next 7 hours, were absolute terrors.
Our plane was on the runway, ready to take off, when the flight attendant had to come over and reprimand two of the girls in front of us. They had unbuckled and were standing and jumping on their seats. The flight attendant told them they had to buckle up and she wasn’t telling them again. I wasn’t sure who to root for. If they did buckle up, we could take off. If they didn’t, they would probably have to get off the plane. It was a tough call in my brain (even only having sat by them for 30 minutes), but they ended up sitting down and buckling.
When we took off, I felt sad to leave England. I loved our time there before our adventure in South Africa (more to come on that later) and have always loved Great Britain. I was also super excited to get home and sleep in my bed and drive on the right side of the road and be able to buy more than two days worth of groceries at a time.
Our flight home was turbulent for about an hour and a half (ugh) and filled with those crazy girls jumping over the seats, staring at us (like staring), and screaming/yelling. It almost felt longer than the flight over the whole continent of Africa! We watched our shows, read some books and magazines, and tried to take little naps. I wasn’t too concerned with sleeping as my plan was to arrive home as tired as possible.
When we landed, I couldn’t believe it! The last time we were at O’Hare, Brian and I were just the two of us, (somewhat) ready to take on an adventure that would change our lives. We landed looking rough, with bad breath, and needing a shower. What a change!
We departed the plane and headed for the massively long immigration line. Because we had Tisetso with us, we couldn’t just hop into the fast-moving line for returning citizens. We waited for about 45 minutes in line before we were seen by a friendly border control agent. That part of it all was actually quite easy. We then had to figure out where to go to get Tisetso’s visa reviewed and approved.
After finding the right spot, we put our paperwork on a pile and sat in some seats by a desk. It seemed a little too informal to be where people were welcomed to the US. At this point, we were so tired that sitting this long was a danger to turn into nap time. While waiting, there was a woman from another country who was getting her visa reviewed. One of the guys in charge yelled at her to get her kids under control and that if she wanted to come to this country, she’d have to keep them under control. He then proceeded to swear up a storm and then went to the bathroom. It was a little nuts because her kids were really not terribly out of control, but were running around in an empty open area as kids do. I’m presuming they had been on the plane for a while and had energy to burn. I really wanted to go up to her and apologize for the idiot, but was too tired to move.
When our name was called, we went up to the counter, answered a few questions, got Tisetso's visa signed, and then were told we could go. We pushed our carts out of the arrivals gate. Because we weren’t allowed to have our cell phones on in that area, we were able to sneak up on my parents who had come to pick us up. They were so sweet and greeted Tisetso with a Batman balloon anchored by a puzzle. He loved it!
I was so good to see them! It was really exciting to introduce my son to my parents. He was excited to finally meet them, too, as he had looked at their pictures in his family book and talked to them briefly on Skype from South Africa.
We exchanged hugs, put on winter coats because we now needed them, and headed out. With our luggage loaded, we headed into the Chicago rush hour traffic. Brian was a trooper being the designated driver while I fought to stay awake. Tisetso crashed immediately in his new carseat.
Our only stop on our way home was to grab dinner at Portillo's. Tisetso loves hot dogs, so I knew it would be a hit. We got there around 6:30, ate our food, talked a little, but mostly stared into space. My mom and dad were staying in a hotel, so we said good night there and headed back out into the night to introduce Tisetso to his new home. Brian had been especially nervous about how he would like being in the home we love so much (scared, overwhelmed, generally opposed), but Tisetso ended up being so tired that he wasn't able to be any of those things, so that was a relief.
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.
Sunday, February 21
We had big plans for today. We had been in South Africa for 46 days and not gone on a safari. We were going to change that today! Right outside of Johannesburg is a place called the Lion Park. We had heard really good things about the park and wanted to see some animals!
We stopped at a McDonald’s on our way out of town. It was a Rock ’n Roll McDonald’s, which was fun. They had these massive leather chairs that you got sucked into, unable to get out of, let alone eat from. After we maneuvered into a slightly convenient position, we ate our breakfast quickly. The park opened at 9:00, but we were aiming to get there around 9:30.
After a rock ’n roll breakfast, we headed out. It was a great drive as it was a direction we had not driven yet. The scenery was, as our experience had proven, beautiful! We loved getting to see Johannesburg in the backdrop as we drove out of the city. Our adventure began at the gate as we entered the lion park.
Getting there early Sunday morning was the ticket! We were one car of maybe 10 in the parking lot and were able to get a spot under a shade tree. When we went up to the ticket counter, we decided to chance it and buy tickets to pet the lion cubs. We had bought tickets for Tisetso to pet the meerkats, but he wasn’t such a big fan. With our tickets in hand, we found our way to the safari van. It was a big truck with a cage top, probably to keep the tourists in more than the animals out, if I had to guess.
Our safari guide hopped into the truck, introduced herself, then crawled up front to start the truck. She had left the door open when she got behind the wheel, but I thought she had a switch up front to shut and lock the door. I was wrong. We started driving and some of her co-workers started shouting that she had left the door wide open! Thankfully, she stopped, shut it, and we got on our way. Safely.
The first enclosure we drove through were the tame animals. We saw antelope, springbok, ostriches, zebra, giraffes, etc. My favorite was watching a springbok leap around and run. We hadn’t gotten to see one in action, so it was great to see South Africa’s national animal playing around. The tame animals were in large part laying around or grazing—not terribly exciting, but still fun to see.
The next enclosures were a little more thrilling as they were the lions, cheetahs, and wild dogs. Our tour guide told us we were there at a good point in the week as the lions are fed at noon on Sunday. All of the lions were still awake, which was unusual. They were typically already asleep. Not only were they awake, they were alert and waiting for the food truck to bring the meat! Fortunately for us, while in the white lion enclosure, the lions decided to investigate our truck to see if we were supplying lunch. Technically, we were a bunch of meat in a truck, but the wrong meat. The lions did circle the truck when we entered. It made for entertainment and good pictures.
The lions and cheetahs were beautiful! It was neat to see the family dynamics to the prides. They had regular lions, white lions, and mixed lions (a family comprised of regular and white). Apparently white lions are rare in the wild, so seeing that many in the park was a treat (not that I was planning to go look for any lions in the wild). Along with the lions and cheetahs, we got to see wild dogs. Of all of the animals, I felt this pack of dogs could make short work of any meat that entered the enclosure. Not to say the lions wouldn’t jump at the chance for lunch, but these dogs seemed so wild. It was a little unnerving to see an animal I would pet in everyday life (based on its appearance) ripping apart flesh and circling the truck to get more.
When we were done with the safari, we got off the truck and headed to the cub petting area. The whole way, I was reassuring Tisetso that the cubs would be very small, very cute, and used to being pet by humans. We got to the area and found the fence around the enclosure covered in cloth material, so I wasn’t able to see what we were actually headed into. I kept reassuring Tisetso that the cubs would be very small (no more than my knees) and that I could hold him, if he wanted, so the cubs couldn’t get him. Boy was I wrong!
We were finally admitted into the enclosure and ushered over to a low wall with two giant cubs laying on it. They were about twice as big as I had imagined. The first one was awake and chewing on a stick. I got into position and got a picture. The “cub” kept moving around and was making me nervous. Brian was next and walked up to pet the cub. I took his picture, then the cub turned its head, looked at Brian and lunged and nipped at his face. Needless to say, I had a heart attack and ushered everyone to the sleeping lion.
Tisetso was refusing to pet the lion. I really wanted him to, so I told him he could get a patch for his adventure vest (something we had bought at the pier in Cape Town) if he was adventurous and pet the lion. It happened—with one finger. Tisetso approached slowly, making sure the lion was asleep, then stuck out a finger and touched the lion’s paw and jumped back. Patch earned!
All the while this was happening, there was a woman trying to pet the lion who had just tried to eat Brian’s face. It was not going well. She had to abandon the idea of getting a photo with the cub that was awake. It kept swatting at her with its paws and nipping at her. I was honestly impressed with her determination to keep trying. Apparently she was not as afraid of losing her face as I would have been!
After our adventure petting the lions, we headed into the area with some other animals and an observation area where you could feed a giraffe. Unfortunately for me, the giraffe had had its fill of lettuce for the morning and was napping in the shade. We watched the giraffe for a few minutes and checked out the ostriches who had come over the check us out. One of the ostriches pooped in front of us and it was disgusting. (Why do I bring this up on the blog? Because now, even two months later, Tisetso still brings it up! Usually randomly and in front of people who wonder why he is talking about “that bird who pooped!”)
With that image burned into our minds, we headed to the mall! We were going to start packing up and wanted to grab the last of our souvenirs before heading home. When we got back to the flat, our lunch consisted of eating whatever was left in the fridge or pantry! It made for fun eating.
Our afternoon consisted of packing, Brian and Tisetso playing Ben 10, and resting a bit. We attended the 4:00 pm service at Bryanston Bible Church for our last time. It was surreal to realize we would be back with our friends at Redeemer in one week. When church was done, we headed to Nando’s for dinner.
Nando’s is a South African restaurant that happens to have a location in Chicago, with a new one opening in Naperville (very close to us)! We had wanted to go to Nando’s while we were in South Africa and, in true form, we made it the last day we were there! It was everything we had hoped for—the place we ended up going to was delicious and the service was impeccable. We loved it and couldn’t wait to have it back in the States.
We headed back to the flat for our last night in South Africa. We wrapped up the evening with an episode of Jake and the Neverland Pirates and some packing. We were excited and anxious for the next day and the travels ahead.
Saturday, February 20 (Our 6th anniversary!)
We woke up excited for today! We had fun plans arranged with our friends, the Saarela family. We got ready quickly and headed to one of our favorite restaurants—Tasha’s! We had a delicious meal with our friends. The fancy juice drinks were my favorite. I had an iced tea/juice combo drink which made me feel like I was on a beach in the Bahamas. It was fun to hang with the our friends again, as the last time we had seen them was one week ago in Somerset West.
After a delicious breakfast, we headed to the Montecasino Bird Gardens. We had been there the last time we were in the area (about a month ago) and loved it! We made our way there including a scenic detour of sorts. After finally finding the place again, we parked and walked through the indoor city to the bird gardens.
We had such a good time! The girls and Tisetso loved feeding the ducks, I enjoyed feeding some of the birds nectar, and we all enjoyed not going into the enclosure with the screaming lemur that sounded like its fondest ambition was to rip someone’s face off. We saw a lot of birds, (thankfully) didn’t see as many rats, and had a great time on the playground! It was definitely more crowded than when we came, so we had to work on our sharing skills.
One hilarious time during the visit was watching two birds trying to break into the water feature that was in their enclosure. They would grab a rock, hop on top of the plastic box covering the mechanics, then start beating the top of the box. One was even using its beak to push the nozzle to the "off" position. They were very, very smart birds. And very big.
Getting to hang out with Lexi, Pete, and the girls was so nice. We knew we wouldn’t see them again for a while and that the next time we hung out, it would be back in the United States! We said our goodbyes and headed back to the flat.
Because of our big, hot morning, we decided it would be good to get some rest. After lunch, we got real naps! It was magical. To add to the afternoon fun, we also played Ben 10, Tisetso played with his Legos, and I wrote.
We have been taking turns choosing restaurants and, seemingly unfortunately, it was Tisetso’s turn to pick out the place we would celebrate our 6th anniversary. His choice? Pizza. Due to quick thinking on Brian’s part, he offered to research restaurants and find a good place that served pizza. Tisetso chose a place called Walnut Grove, so we got ready and set off.
The restaurant was in the Sandton City mall. We got seated at a good table—right next to the dessert cases. To show solidarity in his choice, Brian and I both ordered pizza, too. I ended up with the best pizza I’ve ever had in my life! It was a really thin crust with shredded cheeses (mozzarella and parmesan), garlic, rosemary, and sea salt. The only downside was that their salt grinder seemed to be on the fritz and I kept finding massive pieces of salt the hard way—chewing into them. After a few times, I got smart and scanned the pizza and picked out big pieces. It was so good. Brian even agreed, which was a big deal. He typically has better luck than I do when ordering delicious food.
With pizzas consumed, we ordered celebratory dessert. I got a piece of Ferrero Rocher cake (bits of the candies in the cake and a full one on top). It was perfect. Too rich for me to finish, but perfect. While we ate, we told Tisetso about our wedding day. It was pretty great to share with him. He seemed to fixate on the fact that my sister started crying while I was walking down the aisle, which caused me to cry. Brian was able to film Tisetso shouting, “You had one job!” to send to Auntie Erin to celebrate the anniversary of crying and leaving my brother-in-law to sing by himself.
I loved having dinner with my two favorite guys. It was a little surreal to be sharing our wedding story with our son. After dreaming of such things for two years, it was such a moment of grace to have that time.
Our evening concluded with watching Robin Hood, reading our Bible story, then heading to bed.
Friday, February 19
Today was intentionally a low-key day. Brian was able to get away to a coffee shop to take care of some work while Tisetso and I hung back at the flat. Our morning consisted of Tisetso playing with Legos then Tisetso and I playing Ben 10. After getting a cardio workout from Ben 10, I sat down to write while Tisetso played with his Legos again (can you tell it’s his favorite??). After a while, I let him watch a show (Spongebob). It was my meal to choose where we went and I knew I wanted to get to Mandela Square (one of the recommended spots in Sandton). I looked at the website and saw a place called Trump’s as a restaurant option. I prayed it wasn’t a restaurant owned by Donald Trump. Thankfully it wasn’t, so when Brian got home we went.
Before we could get to the restaurant, we got stuck in an elevator. We got in and Tisetso pressed the correct button (up), then we proceeded to go a few floors down, doors opened, then wouldn't shut, then we went back to the floor we came from and the doors wouldn't open. After a few minutes (and panic setting in), the elevator began moving of its own volition and went to the correct floor. We quickly got off and decided we would use the stairs on the way back to our car.
As it turns out, I know how to pick good restaurants. The spot was a SUPER nice steak place and it was delicious. I ordered a steak and mushroom truffle butter. It was so good. And so cheap! Total I think we spent about $25 for two good steaks, two sides, a kids meal, dessert, and drinks. We also had a great view of the Square and the massive Nelson Mandela statue.
When we finished our amazing lunch, we decided to talk around the Square and the mall that was right there (of course there was a mall!). We found a massive toy store called Hamley’s. We had seen one advertised in Cape Town at the pier and knew of it from London, but never managed to find it. We had had such a nice day, Brian and I decided it would be safe to venture into the toy store with Tisetso. It was a lot of fun. The whole store was filled with things to play with and toys galore. We let Tisetso pick out three Disney figurines. He ended up picking Woody, Peter Pan, and Captain Hook. Brian found the Transformers section and told Tisetso all about them and helped him pick one out.
It was a pretty sweet moment. Being in South Africa has not allowed Brian and I many times of nostalgia while introducing our kid to something we loved as kids, so these moments are great. I had my fluffer nutter moment yesterday and Brian had his Transformers moment today.
With figurines and Transformer in his cart, we headed to the till to pay. While we were walking up, Tisetso began singing and dancing while pushing the kid sized cart. It was pretty sweet.
With our purchase made, we headed back to the flat. We played during the afternoon and did some school. To spice things up, I had Tisetso make a graph by sorting and counting his Legos. Fun! We rested and got ready for dinner. During dinner, Tisetso asked to send Auntie Ginger videos, which we obliged. He loved that. After dinner, we watched Robin Hood, had popcorn, then called it a night.
Thursday, February 18
Today was a pretty low key one. After yesterday being such a heavy day, we wanted to keep today light and fun. To keep that goal in check, we started with school. I let Tisetso decide on more fun words to write, which produced some fun results. About half way through, we really needed a break. I set the timer for 15 minutes and we played Ben 10 during that time. He was sufficiently worn out at the end of the 15 minutes, which means I was barely able to breathe.
We managed to finish school and headed to the mall to buy another(!!!) suitcase. We are each allotted two, so it won’t cost any extra to bring home (thankfully). We found one quickly and decided to get lunch while we were out. It was Brian’s turn to choose and he picked a Chinese inspired place. It seemed like a good fit. They even had something Tisetso was interested in eating (no small feat for a place that’s not KFC or a burger place). All of my interest in the food turned sour when I noticed a smooshed cockroach on one of the steam baskets Brian’s dumplings came in (of course after I had eaten). I was barely able to stomach anything else after that. I kept thinking, “This is what our typhoid shot was for. This is what our typhoid shot was for.” To be honest, I didn’t anticipate utilizing my typhoid shot in a mall in Sandton.
After gagging a little and trying not to hurl, I was ready to go. Brian wanted to grab a coffee on our way out. At the coffee stand, they had containers of marshmallow fluff (exactly where I would think of looking). We had peanut butter at home and I really wanted a fluffer nutter (a sandwich with peanut butter and marshmallow fluff). I really wanted to make one for Tisetso. I impulsively tossed one of the containers on the counter right before Brian paid.
With the fluff and luggage in tow, we headed back to the flat. I painstakingly made a fluffer nutter for Tisetso. Then had to practically shove it down his throat because he didn’t believe me that he would love it. Thankfully, he finally took the plunge and took a bite. Then one more. Then finished the sandwich. Then requested another one. Success!
We laid low for the afternoon. We played Legos together and, when I was invited to not play, I decided to do some writing. Tisetso was curious about my typing a blog post and I realized he’s probably not had much interaction with a computer, so I pulled up a blank document and had him work on typing his name. It took a while, but he did it. I wanted a picture, but he was less than willing.
Our dinner was a take and bake lasagna from Woolworth’s. It looked so good and I had high hopes. Tisetso complained about me dishing his veggies, so I let him dish mine. He kept piling them on (how kind), but I ate them all. Sadly, the veggies were (in my opinion) the best part of the meal. The lasagna was so horrendous, I tossed the whole thing in the trash after we were done. Tisetso needed encouragement to eat his veggies, so he and I had races to eat each bite until he was finished.
We finished our day off by watching Robin Hood and eating popcorn (a snack Tisetso seems to love as much as I do—which is a lot). I could have done with less cockroaches, but it was a good, restful day.
Wednesday, February 17
Because Brian had been unable to get much work done yesterday, he needed to be able to get a lot accomplished today. To help with that, I planned to take Tisetso to the mall to give Brian some quiet time. I was also hoping it would be good for Tisetso and I to spend quality time together. The past week has been super hard with him and I. He has been acting out towards me and being unkind, so I wanted to have time with just us.
We headed to the mall and got a killer spot, which was nice. I grabbed a trolley (shopping cart) from a nearby spot and put Tisetso in. He loves riding in ("driving") the trolleys, so it’s bonus points to get one without him asking. Our first stop was to get him a baked treat of his choice from the Doppio Zero bakery. He chose a gingerbread man cookie. He didn’t want to eat the cookie because he wanted to show daddy. I asked if it would work for me to just take a picture and send it to him. It worked and he got to work on the cookie.
Our mall stop included Woolworths to pick up sweeties for the kids at the care home and a stationery store to get letters printed up for the US visa and border control officers. While at the stationery store, we waited quite a while. The employees seemed to be frantically working on a huge project and our four sheet print job fell low on the priority list. Tisetso was feeling antsy and, truth be told, so was I. We had had a good morning up to this point and I certainly didn’t want this to be the thing to turn the tide. Thankfully, after 30 minutes of hang ups, they managed to figure everything out and we were able to leave with our documents in hand.
After walking around the mall and grabbing an Americano for Brian, we headed home. After an easy lunch of sandwiches, Tisetso and I played Batman and Joker. With our kid significantly more tired than before, we sat down to do a quick session of school. Tisetso wasn’t really wanting to write, so I had him pick the words he would write. He decided on: Batman, Hulk Smash, Harry Potter, hero, and, for good measure, I added Tisetso to the list.
With school out of the way for the day, we got ready to head to the care home for Tisetso to say goodbye. We had sweeties in tow and Tisetso had his bow tie on. Pulling up to the Haven felt a little like a dream. We hadn’t been there in a while and so much had happened since our last visit. Tisetso was so excited he practically jumped out of the car before we had fully stopped. He ran up to the door and waited to be let in.
Tisetso was so glad to see his friends. Most of his friends (the older kids) had recently come home from school and were in the process of doing homework and were glad for Tisetso to be their distraction. He sat at the table and at lunch with them and talked to them as they did their work. It was as if he had never been gone. My momma heart loved seeing him surrounded by his family. It was hard, too, because this was what he was leaving behind. These wonderful aunties and sweet children had made up his life for seven years. We would soon be leaving it. I was overwhelmed for Tisetso.
Brian and I, not wishing to be hanging over him as he hung out with his friends, excused ourselves and went to the living room. We talked with some of the aunties and gave them updates about the past month. They all commented on how he had grown and how his accent was beginning to mirror ours. We would occasionally check on Tisetso to see how he was doing. At one point, he was off playing with one of the older girls who had been there for a long time, like he had. It was such a sweet moment, Brian and I both snuck pictures.
After a while, we wondered where Tisetso was. We hadn’t seen him in a while, so I went looking for him. I checked outside, in the TV room downstairs, and in the classroom. Still not finding him, I went upstairs. Tisetso was sitting alone in the TV room watching a show by himself. My heart broke for him in that moment. He was clearly overwhelmed at saying goodbye. He needed to retreat and that’s where I found him.
This is the hard, painful side of adoption. No matter the situation where your child comes from, they are leaving something behind. We are massively blessed that Tisetso came from such a wonderful, loving home, but in that moment, I could tell Tisetso was done saying goodbye to his brothers and sisters. I sat with him a few minutes and then let him know it was time to go, but we needed to take a picture with his brothers and sisters first. He was not excited about the prospect, but I knew he will appreciate the picture later.
Wrangling the kids and Tisetso proved to be fun. Auntie Yolanda was up for the challenge. After getting them all on a couch, chaos ensued. We never actually got a picture with all of the kids looking at the camera, but that perfectly summed up life there. I love the pictures we got. I can’t post it because it shows the faces of children who are not mine, but rest assured, these kids would steal your heart with their smiles.
During the photo, it began to storm in a major way. As we walked out of the Haven, there we got drenched. To add to the rain water coming from the sky, Tisetso decided to walk under a downspout, which was fun for him… I had been texting with Auntie Alma because she was unable to make it to the Haven for our goodbyes. We asked Tisetso if he felt up to one more goodbye. Tisetso was good to go, as he hadn't ever been to Auntie Alma's house.
We headed to Auntie Alma’s house to say goodbye to her. She and her three daughters have known Tisetso for the last five or six years. At their home, the girls occupied Tisetso (seeing pets in the back yard, playing drums and a guitar in the basement, etc.) while Alma shared stories and wisdom she had gleaned from knowing Tisetso for so long. It was great. There’s one story in particular that I look forward to reminding Tisetso of when he’s older.
After enjoying their company for a little while, we made our exit to take Tisetso to his favorite restaurant—KFC. I hoped and prayed it would be the last time we went to that restaurant for a good long time! With our bellies filled with greasy fried chicken, we made our way back to the flat (through more of that wonderful traffic).
Our evening was as low key as we could make it. We got home with only a short while before Tisetso went to bed, which was good for all of us.
Tuesday, February 16
Today was a long, good day. We started by going to the mall for breakfast at a place called Doppio Zero. It was a good spot with decent food. The mall (Sandton City) is super nice and offered a lot. We decided to get our groceries at Woolworth’s while we were there. Brian was on a tight schedule and we had to hustle. We found what we needed and headed back to the car. Brian needed cash, so we decided to stop by an ATM. Unfortunately, it ended up being a 15 minute detour. We followed the signs, which took us the long way round. (Of course!)
Back at home, we didn’t have long before we needed to head to the US Embassy. Our appointment for Tisetso’s visa was at 1:00, but we had been advised by Wandisa to arrive by noon and wait in line. We pulled up to the Embassy, but were directed by a guard to park at the mall (Sandton City) across the street and walk.
We pulled out and did a U-turn to get back to the parking garage. In true South African fashion, this was apparently the only place in the country where this was not allowed and, rather inconveniently, there was a police check point right there with cops to witness it. We were pulled over and Brian was instructed to get his paperwork out. I had to grab our international driving permits from my purse, which was inconveniently located in the trunk. Then the cop demanded to see Brian’s passport, which is not legally required to drive. When Brian pointed out that the cop had everything he needed, the cop began getting angry and telling Brian he was "an officer and could ask for anything he wanted" and Brian had to comply because he was a cop. We were all on edge from that point. Brian got his passport out and handed it over to the visibly angry cop. With drivers license, international driving permit, and passport in hand, the cop reviewed it and handed it back to Brian, then just walked away. We sat there for a couple of minutes wondering if that was it. Apparently it was. We quickly pulled away and found a parking spot. While walking to the Embassy, we talked with Tisetso about corrupt cops (“I’m a cop so you had to do what I say!” is a big red flag), which was a fun conversation.
When we arrived to the doors of the Embassy, we were told we were there too early and to leave and come back. I told them we would like to wait and joined the line (only two deep at this point). We were behind two guys. One guy was getting his fiancee visa and was getting married to a woman in Chicago! Small world. We also met another family just behind us in line in which the husband was a pastor and they were interviewing for visas to join her family in California. It was great to talk to them while we waited.
After waiting outside (in the heat), we were told to get in line. We were now first in line as the other two guys had left in frustration (welcome to America!). We were ushered into a room and had to hand over our phones. We didn’t know it, but our phones were supposed to be turned off (there, of course, were no signs or announcements to this effect) and Brian was ushered back outside to turn his phone off. I quickly turned mine off so I wouldn’t have to go back into the heat. With his phone turned off, we handed over everything remotely electronic (including headphones) and walked into the Embassy.
The first portion of our interview was basically handing over paperwork. It was at this point we found out we didn’t have our updated tax information in the dossier paperwork we had been given by Wandisa/Wybrow Oliver. The gal collecting the paperwork seemed skeptical that we didn’t have it and said she would talk to her supervisor, then sent us back to our seats. Brian and I sat in almost complete silence for the next 40 minutes freaking out that we were going to be sent out and would need to get another appointment, re-book our return flight, etc. After waiting for what seemed like forever, we were called up to the window again. This woman interviewing asked a couple of questions, including asking Tisetso what his name was. He answered "Batman." She (thankfully) found that amusing. After finding out our tax forms were not needed (thank you, Jesus), she said we could wait 45 minutes and they would print up the visa right there. We waited and had such a good time waiting. Tisetso opened up and Brian and I were relieved we weren’t being kicked out.
They called our name and we picked up his visa, which ended up being a sticker added to his South African passport. It wasn’t until 30 minutes later, after we had gone back through security, paid for parking and were driving past the embassy, that it hit me! We had his visa! We could legally leave the country with our son! Nothing was holding us back from getting on a plane and leaving and going home. I have to tell you, it was a freeing thought.
With visa in hand, we had to head back to the airport to drop off the manual Honda and get our new car. We, once again, found ourselves in terrible rush hour traffic.
Brian had signed up to get an Audi each time we rented a car. So far, we had ended up with a crappy Mercedes A100 hatchback that was supposed to be "comparable" to an A3, a super nice Lexus (after being given lots of free upgrades from an A4), and the manual Honda. JoBurg, take two, was the fourth time charm. Brian finally got his A4! Along with that, we got a trunk that fit our luggage perfectly. It was quite the success. The only way this car could have been more perfect is if the first gear pickup had been a bit stronger.
I drove us home to give Brian some rest. With the busy day we had had and the lack of time for Brian to work, he was going to be up late. Tisetso wanted to do a pajama party, so when we got home, we changed into our PJs, had supper, and watched Monsters Inc., complete with popcorn. It was a good night. We had a huge weight off our shoulders with visa in hand.
Monday, February 15
Today was a full day! We were able to get out of the flat in a timely manner and get our luggage into the car (a true feat as we have three huge duffel bags, three backpacks, one carry on, one booster seat, and the three of us). We had to swing by the flat rental place as we weren't able to pay for the additional days on Saturday. After paying, we headed to the office of Wybrow Oliver/Wandisa.
This was a hard goodbye. Brad and Rose had walked with us through so much. They are the ones who believed Tisetso would be a perfect match for our family (and they were right!). The staff at Wybrow Oliver/Wandisa were like a family away from home. Saying goodbye was harder than I thought it would be. We gave hugs, exchanged social media info, then headed to the airport.
Once there, we returned our car quickly. With that taken care of, we got our luggage wrapped (recommended for in-country flights to prevent luggage damage and theft), and checked in. We stopped at Mugg & Bean for lunch. We were all hungry and made short work of our meal. My only regret is that I didn’t get the chocolate chip cookie dough hot chocolate. I fear this decision will haunt me for the rest of my life.
After lunch, we boarded our plane. One thing that has been really different from America is prevalence of Islam. I counted five women wearing hijab and two women wearing full burkas in the line for our flight. I couldn’t help but think if this happened in America, there would be a lot of (unnecessary) hullabaloo.
While flying, I took some time to meditate and draw out some verses my sister had send me the previous day. I have been having a difficult time with Tisetso for the past few days, and she had sent me Scripture to encourage me. It was the perfect activity for the plane. Our flight landed quickly and we didn’t hit any turbulence (my least favorite anxiety causing activity).
When we landed in JoBurg, we had a surprise waiting. Our plane was parked (do planes park??) far from the terminal. We disembarked via staircase and had to take one of many buses to the main terminal. Of course the bus didn’t have air-conditioning. We were far from the sea/bay, so the temperature was a good 20° hotter. Add too many people crammed into a stifling bus and we were wilted by the time we collected our luggage. We were thankful to find all four pieces had arrived safely.
One entertaining aspect to our picking up the car was we made the same exact wrong detour in trying to find the car rental place as when we landed January 6. We followed the signs and arrows and ended up in the wrong place on the wrong floor. Signage is not very clear here (arrows point in vague directions, there are sometimes misspellings, or just plain wrong). We’ve experienced that time and time again and are still surprised when it fails.
After getting to the car rental place, we had to figure out renting a car for one day. Brian had accidentally rented the car starting Tuesday. The calendars here start Monday, contrary to ours which start Sunday. Brian had clicked the second day of the week (Tuesday) and went on his merry way. Thankfully, we were able to secure a manual transmission Honda. Brian had been wanting to rent a manual while we were in South Africa (significantly cheaper and a bit more fun), but I suggested it might be a bit much trying to do right hand drive on the left side of the road, in a foreign country, with a kid. Thankfully, I am married to a reasonable guy and he obliged. After one day with this car, he was happy to get the automatic transmission for all but that day!
The drive from the airport to our new flat was ... interesting. We hadn’t fully experienced JoBurg rush hour traffic until this point. It was rough. We were amazed at the number of cars and the number of people on the highway. The shoulder (apparently) turns into a 7th lane when desired. It was a cultural experience, for sure. Along with that, our GPS decided to take us the scenic (read: scary and possibly a bit unsafe) route.
When we arrived at our new flat, we were thankful to have made it in one piece. It is a beautiful, modern, furnished two-bedroom apartment with a kitchen and super fast internet. Like even faster than at home, which is refreshing and kind of amazing. With our bags unloaded from the car, we made a quick drive to an awesome restaurant Tisetso had picked out when we were in Pretoria called Tasha’s. There was a location super close to our new flat. We tried to eat and leave quickly as it became apparent very quickly that Tisetso had had enough of the day. It had been a long one and he needed sleep.
We got back to the flat, got him changed into pajamas, and into bed. One surprise of our new flat was the 10,000,000 channels it has! One of them shows House Hunters International every single night from 8:00pm-10:00pm. Needless to say, I have a feeling Tisetso will be in bed, lights out every night before 8:00pm...
Sunday, February 14
With our plan to attend the 4:00pm church service, we decided to go to the V&A Waterfront to catch a ferry to Robben Island. That’s where Nelson Mandela spent years imprisoned for trying to free the country he would one day lead. Unfortunately for us, tickets were sold out for the 9:00 and 11:00 ferry. The next one available was 1:00, which would be too late for us. We were sad to have missed the opportunity to get to Robben Island, but we do plan on going back to South Africa again, so we will make it there next time.
With Robben Island off the to-do list, we decided to walk around the Waterfront. It was nice to have the place pretty much to ourselves. Not too long after we started walking around, it started pouring. We had to make a run for it and ran into a mall we hadn’t been in yet. We were glad we did because we found a super cute kid adventure/safari vest. Tisetso was interested, so we got that for him. After the rain stopped, we made our way to a fun playground next to the ferris wheel. Tisetso enjoyed having the playground to himself for a bit. I was Croc from Peter Pan (tick-tock, tick-tock...) and he was Captain Hook. After playing for a little bit, we decided to check out yet another huge mall that was by the playground. (Because that’s what you do when you’re in South Africa ... go to the mall.)
While walking around, we found some clothes for Tisetso and got some gifts for our family. We enjoyed looking around a bookshop, which offered books in English and Afrikaans. We found a few cookbooks to help us with our South African baking and cooking. There were so many books I wanted, but it’s easier to hold back when you realize you’re paying $100 for every piece of luggage that’s overweight.
Brian wanted to grab a couple of extra Springbok jerseys, so we walked over to the rugby museum, then decided to grab lunch. When we were at the Waterfront last, I saw a restaurant had been named the "#1 grill in South Africa" by a reputable source. We decided to grab lunch there. Unfortunately, when we got there, they weren’t open and wouldn’t be for another hour and a half! We shifted our plan and walked next door to a Portuguese grill.
It ended up being the perfect spot! The menu offered too many good things. It was really hard to decide. I ended up getting an ostrich steak with a fried egg on top. Brian got a giant sword of steak, although we didn’t know it would arrive on a sword at the time of ordering it. We also got a side of veggies and a side of Portuguese seasoned potatoes. Tisetso had chicken nuggets that ended up being a flop. Thankfully, Brian and I had plenty of delicious food to share with him.
With lunch devoured, we headed back to Strand. Our afternoon was spent resting and packing. We headed to our last church service at Christ Church Waterkloof. This church has become a family away from home. We have felt so welcomed by the people and really enjoyed the services. It was hard to say goodbye, but it was exciting because we knew that in one week, we would be with our church family back in the U.S.
On our way home from church, we were talking with Tisetso to prepare him for the short flight back to Johannesburg / Pretoria tomorrow and the flight we would have in one week. We were telling him about our church, Redeemer Fellowship, and Tisetso asked if Miss Rose (our social worker here) would be at our church in America. It was so sweet that he’s connected with her on such a level he wanted her there. It was with a heavy heart I told him she wouldn’t be there. We are, however, excited for him to make new friends at Redeemer.
Saturday, February 13
We woke up anxious to see how Tisetso was feeling after the scare we had last night with his leg pain. Thankfully, he said he was doing ok and only woke up once with some pain. With Tisetso feeling ok, we decided to go to Stellbosch for the Slow Market, which came recommended by our agency.
On our way to Stellenbosch, Brian made a pit stop at the rental place so we could pay for the extra days in our flat. While Brian was in the office, Tisetso and I stayed in the car and had a heart to heart. The topic? If you were any animal, which animal would you be? I told him I’d be a dolphin so I could swim around and explore shipwrecks. Tisetso said he would be Ben 10. This kid. What superhero would you be? “Batman!” (At least he got that one right.) Unfortunately, Brian was unable to pay for the apartment as our realtor wasn’t there and the employee who was there didn’t know how to use a credit card machine. ( . . . ) We would have to go back on Monday before leaving to pay.
We headed to Stellenbosch, which was a beautiful drive! We were on the other side of the mountains we had been taking pictures of for the past few weeks. There were lots of wineries along the way. Stellenbosch is basically the Napa Valley of Africa. We passed at least 20 along our route. It was a fun drive with a lot to look at.
We got to the Slow Market without any hitch. Our plan was to get a late breakfast / early lunch while there. It was really nice. There was a good mixture of art vendors, food stands, and entertainment. One of the best forms of entertainment we found was an oriental rug auction. The auctioneer was sitting up front with what appeared to be a karaoke machine and had the microphone turned to the echo setting, so everything he said was really echo-y. He was also the worst auctioneer ever. He was saying how people could purchase the rug for R5000 (about $250) today and sell it for R10,000 tomorrow. He then moved from speaking into the microphone to yelling at the audience at how dumb they were for not buying the rug. Then (back into the microphone), he announced that the rug was worth at least $16,000 and this was the best deal they were going to find in their lifetime. It was very entertaining.
With the entertainment finished, we got about to the task of lunch. We found a samosas place and grabbed a few of those. After insisting he didn’t want any, Tisetso proceeded to steal my chicken samosa. *sigh* After that, we found a place with a fun sampler platter with chicken nuggets, fish sticks, and cheese and steak croquettes. It was a good way to try a few things. We got Tisetso to try one of the beignets with jam, which he surprisingly liked.
We walked around the rest of the market and found a gift we needed. That was a win. Tisetso’s mood seemed to be deteriorating rapidly, so we decided to call it a day. Once again, the ride back was gorgeous. It was a perfect day with sunshine and white, fluffy clouds floating around. Come to think of it, we’ve not had any bad days here. We’ve had some hot one or windy ones, but not bad.
After we got back, I really needed a break. Tisetso’s mood had been pretty flatlined for most of the morning and, after several days of it directed towards me, I decided to go to the tidal pools by myself. It was a good break. If you know me at all, you know I love nature. This had my nature meter pegged. It was nice to get outside and to explore without my kid wanting to go back and play Lego. It was the best of both worlds. I got to be in nature and he got to play Legos.
After my break and a resting time for Tisetso, we headed to the mall. Because the exchange rate is bonkers right now, I really wanted to get some clothes shopping in. I was able to get two organic cotton shirts for the price of Gap Outlet shirts. It was pretty great. Brian and Tisetso went to the stationery store to purchase some pens (for Brian’s work). When we were all done, Tisetso requested pizza for supper. We obliged and headed to Romans Pizza again. With two pizzas in hand, we finished our day out by wrapping up Robin Hood. It was a low key way to end a slightly frustrating day.