As you fly into Africa, at least the parts into which we've flown, the stewardess will come around and hand each person a little card for immigration: "carte de debarcation/embarcation." I guess they do this in the States, too - where are you coming from, what's your nationality, why are you here, what's your local address, passport number, how long do you plan to stay, etc., etc., etc., ...you get the point. Flying into the States, however, you can fill out one card/family. Here in West Africa, we fill out one for every person..., even when you are only "in transit." It isn't difficult but it is time consuming and it also adds time to each airport security checkpoint because each paper needs to be looked at, compared with the corresponding passport and verified, stamped or info from it written down... we almost missed our flight in Casa one time when we started the process over 2 hours before flight time but it took so long we were running down the boarding ramp... and needless to say, I'm not particularly appreciative of the efficiency of the whole process.
When Tim received these cards from the stewardess, he immediately began the process of filling them out. It took him 45 minutes or so and I think he finished right before it was time to land. Then we waited for everyone else to deboard the plane before gathering up our tribe and all the carry-ons. We met up with our friends once we got off the plane. Our layover in Casa is a long one, most of the day, and Royal Air Maroc has agreements with several of the hotels where they bus you to the hotel, give you a room (with a bed and a shower) for a few years, a coupon for a meal in the hotel restaurant, and then bus you back to the airport a few hours before flight time. It is actually one of the things we like about Air Maroc because while it draws out the trip, it helps with the jet lag and it is nice to have that break. In typical African fashion, we all went outside and stood by a bus that we assumed was the one we'd be riding, until another one showed up and we took a ride into Casablanca. The kids enjoy this part, too... it is their first glimpses of Africa, and Morocco, while different, more western and modern... also reminds them of home.
We spent awhile waiting in the lobby while all the "folks in transit" were processed by the hotel personnel and then went up to our rooms... we had 2: one with 2 twin beds and the other with 3 twin beds... and 3 towels between the two rooms. :-) We were delighted that the air conditioners worked - almost froze us out of our rooms! Showers were delightful! We ate lunch at the hotel restaurant and it was there that I decided that while Moroccans love children, Morocco is not necessarily kid friendly. After lunch, Tim took 6 to his room, I took 4 to mine... then Brendan wandered off to find his friends who were a floor below us... and the rest of us slept for a few hours.
When we woke up, it was obvious that Elsie Mae wasn't feeling the greatest, but she wasn't complaining. Then she threw up all over me and my clean cloathes, still insisting that she was just sleepy. Fortunately, Bren had an extra pair of jeans in his carry-on 'cause my capris were "totaled." I did find it humourous that I was wearing my son's jeans. We also scrounged around and found a plastic laundry bag to carry along with us in case she felt sick again (which she did, a few more times); that the little "barf bag" we carried with us was scanned by security several times and we were never questioned regarding the contents.
Once back at the airport, our first order of business was to get my and Mary Michelle's boarding pass - for some reason, a lap child complicates things and boarding passes for the entire trip could not be issued for us. We had to get ours before each flight. Then it was back through another immigration/security check, one where they check those little cards that you fill out for each person (see above), compare it with your passport and your ticket and then send you through another metal detector and your bags through another scan machine. We decided to try the divide and conquer approach this time.
I took 4 kids, passports, cards and tickets to one line and time took the rest of the kids, passports, cards and tickets to another line. We were moving along at about the same pace... until I was next in line and the immigration official decided his shift was over, and he got up and left. So, I walked over to get in line behind Tim and that official pointed me towards another line, who also refused to look at our paperwork, so I walked back up to Tim. The official was quite perturbed that we changed lines and wanted to know why. When I explained that the official left when I was the next one and told me to move to another line, he said, "Well, I told you not to come here." I asked him to please check our paperwork so that I could catch up with my husband who he'd just sent through security (our friends who were watching told me that I was talking with my hands while discussing this with the immigration official... and that crazy barf bag was in my hand the whole time (held very tightly closed, of course :-), although it never dawned on my that I was actually gesturing with the bag in hand). I was also praying that Elsie didn't decide to get sick then and there. When I told him that my husband had gone through right before me, he stops, looks back at Tim walking through the metal detector then to me and asks: "Your husband has 4 children and you have 4 children?"
I replied, "No. My husband and I together have 8 children."
Immigration official: "Then you can't be American. Americans don't have many kids like that. Only Africans and good Moroccans do."
Me: "I am an American. See... it says so in my passport (with a grin because the official is now starting to relax and smile at my blue-eyed girlies.)
Immigration official: "Your passport says you are American, but you can't be a real one. You have too many kids."
Me: "You are right, sir. My passport says I'm an American, but I must be Moroccan in spirit."
...at which point he laughed, called a few of his friends/colleagues over to tell them what I said so they could laugh and greet the kids, stamped our paperwork and had us through the process in about 3 minutes!
We reached our gate with a few minutes to spare - I thought I'd open up the computer and try to download our email or update a Facebook status. Internet was available, but couldn't actually connect unless I paid, which I didn't want to do. Funny thing, though... their system let me download 5 or 6 emails before it kicked me out as not having paid. Our departure was scheduled for gate 25... at the last minute they switched us to gate 24. That wasn't a huge deal. There was no preboarding for families with small children, so we waited in line with everyone for our turn, walked down the jetway to switch to the gate 25 jetway at the same point where the people boarding from gate 25 were switching to the gate 24 jetway. If you understood that... you're doing pretty good. We didn't... just looked at each other and shook our heads, found our seats and started putting carry-ons under seats and in overhead bins.
Once again, our family was seated essentially all together and I had an empty spot next to me. In the several times we've flown internationally, that has never happened to me before. It was wonderful, though, because after the meal, Nadia, Mary Michelle and I were actually able to arrange ourselves so that we could lay down and sleep on that flight. It was wonderful to wake up as we were preparing to descend at the Niamey airport and realize that our trip was essentially behind us!
Check back tomorrow for the conclusion of our trek back to Niger!
Once we boarded the plane, Elsie Mae fell asleep, woke up looking much better and has been going strong ever since!