South Africa: Day 3 (The Arrival)

The kids finally started getting restless the last hour of the flight. Adam was crawling around on the floor and almost got his fingers run over by the service cart. Twice. The Asian Vegetarian breakfast was some sort of garbanzo bean/cornmeal dish. Not very breakfasty, but it was awesome. They accidentally delivered two of them, and Steve happily ate the other one. Steve ordered a Diet Coke and the flight attendant thought he said that he was going "die if he didn't get a Coke". (In South Africa, they call it Coke Light.) It was funny, and, thankfully, he wasn't about to die. We were all in decent shape. Throughout the whole flight, I only had to use two suckers and one Ziplock baggie full of Swedish Fish as bribes. In fact, I heard someone sitting on the side row right behind us say, "I didn't even know there were kids right there until just now." So I'm counting that as a major success.

One mistake. . . and it was a big one. . . we left our video camera on the plane. As usual, we had waited for all of the other passengers to exit before us. We started cleaning up our area and soon after, there was a flight attendant standing in the aisle behind us. I offered to let her pass, but she declined and said that she wasn't allowed to exit the plane until we did. So we continued getting everyone ready to go and checking our area. A minute or two later, she got impatient and said something about how she was going to be late and miss her next flight. We hustled out of there and accidentally forgot the video camera. We still haven't tracked it down through South African Airways, but since we purchased travel insurance, I think should be covered. Yikes. Except for all of the cool videos that we hadn't downloaded yet.

I was crazy tired, but I had to be on top of my game for the next few hours. First up was immigration. We waited in the long line for non-citizens (where we spotted a college-aged boy wearing a BYU sweatshirt), but we made it through without any complications. Derrick took almost as long going through the short line for South African citizens. I kept worrying that there was a problem, but it turns out that he just enjoys talking to everyone.

We retrieved all of our luggage from the "trolley", loaded it up onto three carts, and headed towards customs. This was the moment I was nervous for. I forgot to include this on my planning post, but on May 20, just three days before we left, I got an email from Victor, the director at Big Tree Foundation. He had just received word from the International Trade Administration Commission of South Africa that their organization's permit had expired. They immediately completed the re-submission, but had been asked that we delay the delivery of the goods for two to three weeks. I wrote back and told him there was no way to delay the shoes, as we were bringing them with us on our flight. He expressed regret for the lack of attention by one of his auditors and apologized for the awkward position we were faced with.

It was one of those "Are you serious?" moments. We had collected 200 pairs of shoes. . . it wasn't like we could just leave them home. I actually did look into some options for shipping, but nothing was feasible. Derrick could tell that I was stressed out by the situation and sent me text message saying how thankful he was that I had done so much to help make this trip happen and that he would just pay for the import taxes. Of course we didn't want anyone to have to pay $2000 in taxes, but it was awfully nice of him to offer. I received a few more emails from Victor:

"I have investigated the options and at this stage it is in the air. You could come through with no problems, or it could be a huge problem and everything could be delayed in customs until all the paperwork is completed. . . You should decide if you are prepared to take the risk - I will provide the letter as promised and it will contain all our particulars and contact details."

I told him we were going to take the risk. There was no other option, we had to take the risk. My friend, Jacques, looked into some rules with South Africa's Revenue Service and even spoke to a customs official. He instructed us to stay on the international side in Johannesburg and then go through customs in Cape Town. But when we got to Johannesburg, that was not an option. We had to get our luggage and go through customs there.

I had printed out our letter from the Big Tree Foundation and had my folder with mobile numbers and all sorts of other information, should we encounter a problem. The customs official approached us in the hall, and asked us what we were doing. I told him we had brought shoes with us to donate to school kids and he asked to see documentation. I pulled out the letter from Big Tree. He scanned through it for less than a minute, and then waived us through down the other corridor. That was it. No inspections of our luggage, not even a glance. It felt like a miracle.

We hurried out of there and into the domestic flights before they could change their minds. I was so relieved that I figured we needed to pose for a picture. (Adam was pouting because he had just gotten scolded by a South African woman for playing on the escalator.)

Derrick's flight was an hour before ours, and he just about missed his plane. But they sent him along and left us to sort out his luggage, so he made it. We re-checked all of our luggage and got some food from Wimpy. The kids wouldn't eat the grilled cheese sandwich because the cheese tasted tangy and they didn't really like the fries because they were soggy. Welcome to South Africa. . . 

Our last flight was only two hours long, and everyone slept (including me).

Which was too bad because I'm certain it offered the very best views.

Right before the flight was about to land, Adam woke up and said that he needed to go to the bathroom. The seatbelt lights weren't on yet, so I told Steve to hurry and take him as fast as he could. A few minutes later, the lights came on. And then the flight attendants walked through for a final check. I told them that they had hurried to go to the bathroom, but I was sure they'd be back soon.

But then they weren't. 

The flight attendants finally knocked on the bathroom door and told Steve that they were flying in a circle, waiting for them to get out of the bathroom to land. But Steve was in the middle of cleaning up a massive disaster. Adam had diarrhea. And I'll go ahead and be as detailed as possible. . . it was like liquid diarrhea. He had held it in all the way back to the bathroom, but had an accident just as he was pulling his pants down and sitting on the toilet. There was poo halfway up his shirt, clear down to his ankles. Steve asked for a blanket, wrapped him up like a burrito, and quickly carried him back to his seat so the plane could land.

Kaleigh was so deep in sleep that I couldn't get her to wake up. And Adam was wrapped up in a poop blanket. So I'm sure you can imagine how much fun that was. We got off the plane and I took Adam straight to the bathroom, where we promptly used up half of our baby wipe supply for the entire trip. Steve retrieved all of our luggage, except for one missing bag. We tried waiting in line, but Adam was still upset and it just wasn't good timing, so we figured we would sort that out later. 

Derrick's flight landed an hour before ours, so he had some time to visit with Gcobisa before the rest of us arrived. 

Lucy ran ahead of the rest of us to greet her: 

And then we finally woke up sleepy Kaleigh to meet Gcobisa for the first time:

Adam didn't bother to get up:

(She still jokes that the only time Adam ever talks to her is when he's asking to play with her phone.)

The first thing we ate in Cape Town? Hot chocolate. It was probably 55 or 60 degrees, but to them, that's freezing cold.

That picture was taken by photographer Rachel, who took over my camera while I sorted out a rental car. (You do a lot of sorting out in South Africa. It's becoming one of my favorite verbs.)

We rented a Hyundai H1 Panel van (these pictures were taken a few days later):  

It looks way cooler with Steve standing in front of it. Or maybe Steve just looks cooler standing in front of a van?

We are stuffed full, with luggage all the way to the ceiling, in every corner, and under our feet. We will enjoy traveling lighter once all of the shoes have been distributed. 

The van has tiptronic transmission and drives a lot like our old VW Passat, according to Steve. I refuse to drive. Partly because we only filled out the paperwork for one driver and partly because I prefer to sit in the front passenger seat and fill the role of nervous backseat driver, warning Steve every time he is crossing over into the other lane and reminding him when he is driving on the wrong side of the road. Steve is doing a great job driving on the left side of the road. And the roads are crazy narrow.

It was pretty smooth how well the rental process worked out. We didn't book ahead because Jacques told us that you can get better deals closer to the rental time. We walked over to the car rental area at the Cape Town airport and asked for price quotes from two different rental companies: Avis and Budget. Both of them had vans available, but Avis was a better deal. We paid R18,000 (about $1,800) for 32 days. Because we have an American Express credit card, we didn't have to pay the R600 (about $600) insurance fee. 

I walked back through the airport to fill out a claim for our missing luggage, and it was just arriving on a later flight. 

And then we drove to our hotel: 

This was the only hotel that we booked ahead of time. Cape Town is a big city and we wanted to know exactly where we were going. The DoubleTree had the best price for a room that would accommodate our entire family. We booked the King Loft Suite for R1030 per night. Our room was 900 square feet and looked like a large NYC style loft. The living area boasted 16-foot tall ceilings and a huge floor-to-ceiling window that opened out onto a deck. These pictures aren't great, but they'll give you an idea of what it was like:

Here are the views from the deck: 

I can't get my internet connection to let me add any more pictures right now, so I'll have to add some of the others later. The DoubleTree hotel is in a beautifully decorated, mixed-use building. The restaurant had a sit-down restaurant next to the lobby, and then there were a couple of casual restaurants downstairs. 

We ate dinner at a Chinese restaurant called Yum: 

Derrick and Gcobisa didn't actually care where or what we ate, they were just happy to be together: 

This is how Kaleigh felt about that: 

Everyone was happy. And clean.

And the food was surprisingly good. We had Yum Yum Chicken, Chicken Chow Mein, and this is the Black Bean Chicken: 

It was the perfect dinner: 


South Africa: Day 2 (SLC to JNB)

We survived the red eye flight to New York City. I tried my best to make it easier on Steve. He sat on the very last row of the plane, next to Rachel and Lucy. I was on the row in front of them, with Adam on one side of me and Kaleigh on the other. Derrick was sitting directly in front of me; he was the first person on the whole plane to recline his seat, of course. Adam and Kaleigh slept through most of the night. They were both laying on my lap, so I kept one hand on each of their heads to keep them from bumping into each other. 

Adam woke up, right as we were descending into New York City. He looked out the window and asked, in his most serious voice, "Mom, are we in heaven?"

We had to leave the airport, walk across the street, and ride the AirTrain to another terminal for our next flight. It's a good thing that they had put our luggage all the way through to South Africa because there's absolutely no way that we would have been able to carry 24 pieces of luggage with us. Especially not in the rain. 

The South African Airways lines were longer, and things didn't go as smoothly. There was an issue with Derrick's passport, and a supervisor had to be called over to sort it out. They weighed our carry-on bags and told us we were overweight on all of them and needed to shuffle things around. (Luckily they didn't ask to check Steve's backpack that was carrying our electronics; it was heavier than any of the carry-ons.) 

We spent the remainder of our four-hour layover eating breakfast, brushing teeth, going to the bathroom, and walking back and forth on the moving walkways 139 times. I'm guessing some of the other people in our terminal weren't very impressed, but I wanted the kids to get all of their energy out. 

Here we are, just before boarding the plane for Johannesburg: 

And then we were off. An older man flying by himself agreed to trade seats with Derrick so that he could sit by the rest of our family. But then he also told us that he loved kids and wouldn't have minded sitting next to us. Later on, I wondered if we would have been better off with the stranger. . . I'm pretty sure Derrick slept for 80 percent of the flight.

The kids were fairly well behaved, probably as good as could have been expected. Everyone had a screen in front of them with games, movies, and television programs. But Lucy's kept malfunctioning and had to be rebooted three times. I tried to watch Les Miserables, but I only made it a few minutes. The same thing happened with Oz the Great and Powerful. I watched the edited versions of Hyde Park on Hudson and Argo. I loved Argo.

The kids played with their iPods and LeapFrog Didjs. I can hardly believe those things still work. We bought them for Christmas in 2009, despite their horrible ratings. We just hoped they would survive long enough to take to Yellowstone. Adam is completely content with his Didj and doesn't seem to mind the rudimentary graphics. (His iPod went through the washing machine just two days before our trip; we are crossing our fingers that the rice will work it's magic while we are gone.) The younger kids also did a lot of coloring and played with their stuffed animals, but they didn't use their new Brain Quest cards or read any of their books.

I think the airline must base their meals and everything else on a flight's arrival time. We departed JFK at 11:15 am. We had just woken up and eaten breakfast, but within an hour, they were serving dinner. And then they immediately dimmed the lights, as if it was time for bed. The lights stayed dimmed for most of the 14-hour flight, which made it feel even longer.

When we booked our tickets, I selected the Asian Vegetarian option for my meals, the Fruit Platter for Rachel, and the Child option for Adam. For dinner, I was served some sort of curry, but I don't know how it compared to the regular meal because Derrick accepted it and ate it before I realized it was mine. The fruit platter was huge. Rachel ended up sharing most of it with me, and I loved it. I don't think I'll request a child version ever again; the meals weren't very impressive.

We started out with Steve, Rachel, Kaleigh, and Derrick in front. And then I was behind them with Adam and Lucy. But Kaleigh migrated back to me, and the only way I could get her to sleep without tossing and turning was to hold her on my lap. So I'm sure you can imagine how much sleeping I got . . .


South Africa: Day 1 (The Shoes and The Airport)

Our flight was scheduled to depart from Salt Lake City on Wednesday at 11:55 pm, so we needed to be dropped off at airport by 9:00 pm. We spent the day frantically packing, working on our to do list, and trying to convince the kids to put down their iPods and iPads long enough to help. (We mostly failed in that department.) Thankfully, Steve's parents came and saved the day. 

I probably should have included this with my last post on planning, but I think it's a decent list of what you should do before an international trip: 
Before We Leave:
X Get Passports
X Get Immunizations
X Purchase Airline Tickets
X Buy Luggage (large rolling, carry on, and backpack for Steve)
X Buy Travel Insurance (Travel Guard)
X Call AT&T for international phone service (called to get info, call to activate from JFK)
X Buy MacBook Air
X Pay Mortgage, Bills, Car Payments for 2 months
X Deposit Checks
X Get Cash
    Order Rand from Zions Bank
X Notify Credit Cards (AmEx good, Capital One has no foreign transaction fees)
X Activate new AmEx cards
X Talk to USPS, UPS guys
    Alarm Company
X Set thermostat
    Set water heater to vacation mode
X Cancel Gym Membership (on hold until September 5)
X Call All-State to change car insurance to storage
X Check in with Kris Greenwood
X Make Arrangements with Yard (Jared Bradley)
X Clean out fridge, freezer, pantry
X Empty Trash
X Laundry
X Figure out travel to destinations (remember Chicago) 
X Print out Reservations & Numbers
X Prepare Travel Docs (passports, immunization cards)
    Emergrency Plan
X Games for plane/plane kits
X Electronics plan: headphones, sync cables
    Back up computers
    Label things
X Plant sod (Jared Bradley)
X Clean and organize garage
X Clean up yard
    List of Contacts for Utilities  (for Dave) 
X Pack up Shoes
X Buy Snacks: Luna Bars, Jolly ranchers, suckers, dried mangos, coconut
X Buy gifts: Old Navy flag shirts, toys, candy
    Haircuts (Monday May 20)
X eBay/KSL
X Power adapters (ordered from REI)
X Schedule Braids for girls (Monday, May 20)
X Register for Summer Parks Program
X Battery back up solution
X Frequent Flier Numbers
X Check exp dates on all cards, driver licenses, etc
    Make list of South African contacts
    Put travel docs on google drive
    Take pictures on camera
X Travel locks
    Download maps to phone
X Binoculars
    Currency conversion apps
    Distance conversion apps
X Dirty laundry bags
X Travel pillows
X Charge back up backup battery charger

We clearly didn't get everything finished, but we did enough. (Those weeks before our trip were a little on the crazy side. . . someday I'll get caught up on posting about them as well.) And did you know that you can order international currency through your bank? (At least you can at Zions Bank.) 

. . . . . 

Before I let Steve pack away the shoes, I wanted to take some pictures. 

Except that I couldn't figure out the right angle to photograph the shoes. Mostly because there were so many of them. It was a lot harder than you'd think to get an accurate number. We counted, added, multiplied, and re-counted. And after closely examining the photos that I took, (and adding those that were donated after the picture was taken) the official count is 224 pairs. 

THANK YOU for your support! We are so very thankful to everyone for helping us with this project. 

It should be noted that as we were lining up the shoes on our driveway for a picture, four people stopped to ask about buying them. . . they thought we were having a yard sale. 

It was right as we were counting up the shoes that we got a call from Delta Airlines, notifying us that our flight had been delayed and wouldn't be departing until Thursday. I ran inside and had a mini heart attack. . . until I realized that it had only been delayed forty minutes and was going to leave on Thursday at 12:35 am. We later realized how wonderful that extra forty minutes was. I don't know how we could have fit everything in without it. 

Richard and Gloria took the three younger kids to Leslie's house to play (which was a lifesaver), and Rachel went over to the Loosli's house. Adam promptly lost another tooth: 

It took some major strategizing to get everything packed to fit within the luggage restrictions. We weighed, adjusted, and re-weighed. Over and over and over again. When all was said and done, we had a total of 24 pieces of luggage: 7 backpacks, 6 carry-ons, and 11 checked bags. This picture shows everything except for Derrick's backpack. 

It felt surreal to be packed and ready to go. Steve's brother, Mike, picked up the little kids from Leslie's house, picked up the rest of us from our house, and then we were off to the airport. 

Steve was nervous for that final weighing of luggage at the airport. Most of the bags weighed exactly 49 and 50 pounds. There was one that weighed in at 51 pounds, but the lady said it was still okay. We have a Delta SkyMiles credit card, which waived the checked baggage fee for one piece of luggage per person, so we only had to pay for four of the checked bags. That means our cost of transporting the shoes to South Africa was only $140. Not bad. 

This picture shows Steve giving the kids a lecture on how to behave properly before we went through security. "We are probably going to have to wait in line for a long time, and you have to be quiet and serious. There are police officers down there, and we don't want to cause any problems."

Derrick, Kaleigh, Rachel, and I passed through security in record time. (After all of that prepping, there was no line.) But then there was some sort of hold-up. We waited and waited. And then four policemen zoomed in on Segways. It caused quite a commotion and quickly backed up the line. The policeman asked me if there was anything in our bags that would look like a gun, a toy gun perhaps? We aren't really much of a toy gun family, and I couldn't think what it could be. . . especially because they finally told us that the item in question was in Lucy's bag. 

One of the other airport security guys (who was standing next to me and hadn't seen the screen) told me not to feel bad, that it was mostly just a formality. And then they called in the head honcho to look at the screen. I really was dumbfounded and started wondering if it was possible that we had left our luggage unattended long enough that someone else could have put something into our luggage. 

And then, finally, they opened up Lucy's luggage and found this:

Lucy told me that she and Adam had been playing with her luggage last week in the basement. And somehow, throughout all of that packing and weighing, we hadn't noticed a toy gun one of the zippered pockets. Thankfully, the security guy who filled out the report (the one in the blue shirt on the far right) wasn't too bothered by the whole incident and even let me take a picture of the gun. 

Lesson learned: check your luggage for toys. Or better yet, don't let your kids play with your luggage. 

Kaleigh fell asleep before we even boarded the plane. Which was fantastic. The airline workers at our gate were unusually funny and let us get on the plane before everyone else. That was fantastic too. We settled in for our flight, still laughing about the gun incident. 


South Africa: The Planning

A couple months ago, one of my cousins sent me a message and asked me how you get started planning a project like this. I feel badly that it's taken so long for me to put together my answer, but it's a long one.

Ever since we adopted Derrick in 2005, we knew that we would take him on a trip back to South Africa. Someday. After Kaleigh was born, we decided we should wait a couple of years until she was a little older. We knew that a trip to South Africa was too big of a life changing opportunity to leave Rachel out of it. And we couldn't take Rachel without taking Lucy. So the original plan was to take everyone but Adam. We figured we could probably leave Adam with someone else for a maximum of two weeks. But if we were going to spend thousands and thousands of dollars to get to South Africa, I wanted to make the most of it and stay for an entire month. And there was no way we were going to leave Adam for a month. It took some serious persuading, but I eventually talked Steve into a family trip, with everyone going.

Of course the biggest constraints were time and money. Two years ago, we sat down and set a date: February 2013. We discussed how we were going to come up with the money for our trip. We made one list of how we were going to earn $5,000, another list of ways we could cut $5,000 in expenses, and then we knew that we would be getting $5,000 back in tax returns over the next two years. Cutting $5,000 from your budget might sound impossible, but when you multiply anything by two years, it adds up. Reducing our cable down to the basic channels and getting rid of DVR saved us enough money to pay for one airline ticket. With earning money, I broke everything down into $50 increments. Because if I could earn $50 per week, over two years, that would add up to $5000.

By September of 2011, we started planning other aspects of our trip, I really wanted to do some sort of volunteer project in South Africa and contacted a number of agencies and organizations to look into options. There is a myriad of opportunities for volunteer work in South Africa. But most of the programs do not allow children to participate and most of them are surprisingly expensive. Steve told me I shouldn't try to complicate things; traveling with a family of seven to South Africa was going to be enough of a project itself.

In January of 2012, I started looking into getting passports. Of course, I tried to take the pictures myself to save money. (Round Two was a success, as far as fitting within the passport photo requirements. But the pictures weren't nearly as cute as Round One.) The pictures of me and Steve were borderline scary:

We received our passports in the mail about a week after applying. And by the way, if you ever need to apply for a passport in Ogden, skip the post office and go to the Weber County Clerk's Office. When we called the post office, it took us about a week to get in for an appointment. We had to check our kids out of school and Derrick had to ask off time from work. And then it was a really big problem when Adam needed to use the restroom and Steve needed to take a phone call. Derrick had a copy instead of the original for one of Kaleigh's forms, so then he had to start all the way over with her application. He went to the County Clerk's Office the second time around and said it went much, much smoother.

In February 2012, I won a copy of the book Growing Up Global: Raising Children to Be At Home in the World

Steve and I started reading the book together, and we implemented many of the suggestions. We had a large map framed and hung it on the wall next to our kitchen table. We subscribed to National Geographic. There were so many quotes in the book that rang true to us: "International consciousness in children leads to adults who can function more effectively in a global environment." "The social and emotional side of your child's development is at least as important to their happiness and future success as their academics." 

And then we found ourselves planning a trip to Alaska. We used our passports to travel through Canada. And on the very last day of our trip, as we were disembarking from the ferry, we decided that our kids were not ready for a trip to South Africa. In fact, I specifically described it as a "we-are-not-ready-for-a-trip-to-South-Africa realization". 

Instead, we planned a four-week trip to Mexico. Which was subsequently canceled.

Steve was completely content with skiing through February and March, and the girls didn't really want to miss school.

So that was that.

We had a couple of ideas floating around for a spring break trip, and when Steve and I sat down to finalize our plans, I was very clear that I was not okay with canceling another trip.

As Steve and I talked about possible spring break trips and discussed costs, we kept finding ourselves saying that it wasn't worth spending that much money to go here or there, when our real goal was to go to South Africa. We started feeling the pull. During church, I made a list of all of the places I wanted to take the kids to see: Table Mountain, Cape Point, Oudtshoorn, Storms River Bridge, Mossel Bay, Knysna, Port Elizabeth, Kruger National Park. And then, without ever saying a word to Derrick about our thoughts of going to South Africa, he unexpectedly came and talked to us about getting a new passport. Derrick is still a South African citizen and getting a new passport would require him to pay the expensive fees to have the process expedited. Derrick doesn't like to spent his money, so this was a big deal.

Steve and I both realized that South Africa was the trip we needed to be taking.

On my birthday, after spending seven or eight hours scouring the internet, we purchased five tickets for a month-long trip to South Africa in May.

I emailed friends with questions about rental cars and traveling in South Africa. The response from my college roommate, Miriam, began, "You should be nervous, but it will be a great adventure."

Within four days, I had our entire trip mapped out.

We immediately began Derrick's application process to renew his passport. A normal application for a South African passport can take upwards of a year, so Derrick paid for the expedited, 15-day service, through SA Fast Track. Passport photos had to be taken and then retaken, once we learned that South African passport photo sizes are different than U.S. standard passport photo sizes. (We had to call all around town and, of course, nobody takes South Africa-specific passport photos. But then we figured out that Russian photo sizes are the same as South Africa's, and Walgreen's takes Russian passport pictures.)

And then, after the passport application had been submitted and mailed to South Africa, SA Fast Track responded back and inquired about Derrick's ID Book.

"What is an ID Book?" we asked. And once we realized how complicated this process was going to be we also asked, "Since he is a South African citizen, does he need a passport to enter the country?"

"Yes, he needs a passport to travel to SA. Before he can get a passport, he requires a ID Book (as he is over the age of 16). The ID book registers his prints on the Home Affairs system, and then qualifies him as an adult. Once the prints are registered he can get an adult passport. He can then travel. Yes, he needs an ID Book. Yes, he needs a passport. Without this he cannot travel anywhere. To be honest, if you went through an extensive adoption program, this should not be news to you."

Well, then. . .

So we ordered the documents to be sent to us and paid for the ID Book to be expedited.

"Hi Emily, I would suggest to go and see a independent fingerprint expert or to have the prints done at the local consulate (in Los Angeles). Due to the complexity of the prints, you need an expert who can do the prints."

We filled out more forms, and I painstakingly mastered the art of fingerprinting. Emails went back and forth, almost daily. Each time a form was completed, I was required to scan it and email to SA Fast Track. Then they would review it, approve it, and then set up a time for a courier to come pick it up. Thirty-three emails were sent back and forth during the month of February.

In the meantime, I came up with the idea for "Shoes for South Africa". I emailed non-profit groups that have helped people in Coffee Bay. I emailed my brother, Sam, and asked if his graphic designer could come up with a flier for us to use for our project. It turned out better than I could have envisioned:


I emailed a friend in Cape Town, and he gave me the contact information for an American family living in Coffee Bay. We exchanged a couple of emails, and I asked questions about things like the number of children in Coffee Bay, import taxes, and any suggestions/ideas/concerns. Robin sent a couple of emails and told me she would help me as much as possible, but then I never heard back from her.

We started publicizing our project and requested donations from the different organizations we are involved with. (But none of them panned out.) I sent out a first round of letters to companies that we hoped would donate to our project including Converse, Target, and IFESH.

My friend, Jacques, looked into customs and duties and found out that it was possible to import the shoes without paying taxes, but we needed a registered non-profit organization to complete some paperwork and act as an importer/receiver in South Africa. We thought we had a non-profit lined up, but then it fell through.

Forty-one more emails were sent back and forth between SA Fast Track. It seems that in addition to Derrick's passport and ID Book, we also needed to register his adoption, as he currently only exists as Derrick Horner in South Africa.

I spent hours monitoring airlines prices each week, waiting to snag an appropriately priced flight from SLC to JFK. And then I spent more hours lamenting that I hadn't purchased them earlier when the prices were lower. My friend, Heidi, coached me through the process, and kept assuring me that prices to NYC would drop within two weeks of our travel date.

And then we halted the marketing of our shoe project. Duty on shoes and VAT adds up to almost fifty percent, and we didn't want to get stuck having to pay thousands of dollars just to bring the shoes into the country. I continued to send emails to everyone I could think of, including LDS Charities. I drafted more letters and sent them to Zappos, Piperlime, Kohl's, Famous Footwear, WERI, 6pm.com, and amazon.com. No, no, no, no, no response, no, and no.

One month before our departure date, British Airways sent me an email confirming the changes to our itinerary. . . except that I hadn't made any changes to our itinerary. Our original flight, through England, had been canceled and they had rescheduled our flight to the following day. It was a good thing I hadn't booked tickets to NYC. Or the tickets from Johannesburg to Cape Town. I had never heard of an airline doing something like this and was dumbfounded that all they bothered to do was send me an email.

After calling the airline, I realized that this gave us the opportunity to cancel our tickets for a full refund. It was somewhat tempting. Derrick didn't have a passport, and it was looking very unlikely that he was going to get one. We didn't have a non-profit organization lined up to be our importer/receiver, and we hadn't collected very many pairs of shoes. We hadn't booked anything else for our trip, and it would be relatively easy to walk away from. But we still felt the pull to go.

So we started praying. Really praying. That things would somehow work out.

We cancelled our tickets with British Airways and rebooked tickets with South African Airways that were direct from JFK to JNB.

My friend, Jacques, phoned into a local talk show in Cape Town and was matched up with a non-profit  group called The Big Tree Foundation who was willing to work with us to get the taxes waved.

Derrick and Kaleigh went and got their immunizations to travel to South Africa. Even though he hadn't even completed step one of the three-step process to get his passport.

We started publicizing our project again, and I told Steve there was no way we were going to get enough shoes. But then the shoes started coming in. Not from corporate sponsors, but from people. This was much more of a grassroots project, with donations coming from the six-year old girl in our ward who wanted to buy a pair of shoes with her birthday money. Steve's cook saw our flier on Facebook and bought two pairs of shoes.

My brother, Sam, donated thirty-five pairs, which gave me a real boost of hope. 

I made my very first QR code:

And then my Junior League friends contributed. My friends' parents contributed. My cousins contributed. My mother's cousin mailed me a check. Friends posted on their blogs and shared on Facebook. Strangers who had heard about the project from other people sent shoes and contributed money.

We went and got $400 in travel immunizations at the health department: 

Steve and I went home with very specific instructions on how to take the oral typhoid fever vaccine. They even send you home wearing Reminderbands:  

I spent a day feeling crummy and then a day full-on sick in bed after taking my first pill. But I recovered and, thankfully, didn't have as bad of a reaction to the three other pills. 

Steve must have been distracted while we were at the health department and completely missed the part about taking the pills every other day. I assumed it was going to be fine, but since he had a pretty severe stomach reaction, I called the CDC. They told me to call the nurse who administered the pills, and by the time she returned my phone call, Steve had messed up again. (He came upstairs to bring me my pill one night and picked up the glass of water to hand it to me. But then, instead of giving it to me, he instinctively just took the pill himself. I was sitting right next to him, but it happened so fast that I didn't realize what he had done until it was too late. . . . It resulted in some hysterical laughter.) I figured it was still probably okay, but the nurse said she would have to call the company that made the vaccine and ask them. I can't tell you how embarrassing it was to go back to the health department and listen to a lecture of how important it was that Steve follow the dosing instructions correctly this time. And if there was any question as to whether he couldn't follow them, he was really going to need to get the shot because we couldn't mess up again. 

Heidi was right, the prices for the NYC tickets came down exactly two weeks before our departure date. I purchased one-way tickets for $165; we will sort out our return trip later. 

By this point we were really praying for things to work out with Derrick's passport. We didn't want to go to South Africa without him, but his passport situation was looking bleak. Just when we were expecting the adoption registration to finally go through, Home Affairs requested another form. After submitting it once, they told us we needed to resubmit it and fill in our information as Derrick's natural parents. This, of course, didn't make any sense to me. They told me to sign, acknowledging that Derrick was born out of wedlock and that Steve was the natural father. And the top of the form clearly states that it is only for persons one year and older, but under fifteen years. If the South African government comes after me for falsifying a legal document, at least Steve and I will go down together. (And my cousin Natalie, who signed off as the informant!)

It was about that same week that I felt like we received an answer to our prayers. Derrick's relative was in the hospital and was transferred to the ICU, awaiting an operation. The thought came to me that this might make Derrick eligible for an emergency passport. I phoned the South African Consulate in New York (because I was too impatient to wait for the one in Los Angeles to open.) I spoke to a woman who indicated that Derrick probably would be able to get an emergency passport issued. She told me everything we would need to gather (signed letter from the relative, copy of Derrick's travel itinerary, etc.) She also explained to me the risks of an emergency passport. It would be a one-way passport into South Africa that could leave Derrick stuck there until his new passport was completed. I thought this was a risk we were willing to take, but Derrick was far more hesitant. 

I later contacted someone at the Los Angeles consulate. He told me that the emergency passport wasn't what we wanted, a temporary passport would be much better because it would be valid for one year, and would permit Derrick to travel in and out of the country. But there was one major restriction. European countries do not accept temporary passports from South Africa, so we would have to book a direct flight straight from the United States to South Africa. Suddenly, we were thankful for the cancellation of our original flights with British Airways. Everything I had read online indicated that temporary passports were being phased out and weren't being issued anymore. And temporary passports were supposed to take two weeks. . . we were leaving in nine days. The assistant to the Consulate General assured me that if we could gather all of the paperwork, assuming things were in order, he could push everything through in a couple of days and overnight a passport back to us right before our trip. 

Getting the letter from the sick relative in the ICU wasn't exactly easy, but we got it. And airline tickets weren't as cheap as when we booked them, but we reserved them anyway. 

And then. . . just one day before we left for South Africa, Derrick received his temporary passport. Talk about cutting it close. The temporary passport was a solution that we hadn't previously considered. . . which is exactly how answers to prayers often work. 

Sometimes when you start planning a trip, you don't really know exactly how things are going to work out. But you just have to start. You keep going until things don't feel right anymore. And then you shift and go a different direction until they do. With a project this big, so many things had to fall into place. The timing, the money, Derrick's passport. I couldn't see the miracle of our flights through London being canceled until I later found out about the restrictions with Derrick's temporary passport. So to answer my cousin's question, no matter what sort of trip or project you want to plan, just start. 

Set a date. 
Budget the money. 
Keep going. 
Don't give up. 

And you will be amazed to see how things will work out.