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Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Real Story

I'm not what you'd call an overprotective mother.
I'm not hyper-vigilent, over-involved.
I'm the one who always thinks that rules don't apply to me; because "bad things don't happen to me".
So, when I began writing on Blunderview about my anxiety over our daughter travelling to Europe, I knew that for people who know me a little bit better, there would be some furrowed brows- Joyce? Worried about her kid flying to Paris with thirty other people? Weird.

Here's the truth that I wasn't willing to share until my kid landed on terra firma in Paris, France on March 28, 2010.

She didn't travel with the group.
She was entirely and utterly alone, at the tender age of fifteen.

Why? You ask? (believe me. It's a question that has caused me great anxiety for weeks now...)

My brother and his family live in Rome. It seemed too perfect. Arianna all the way to France and Germany from little ol' Blunderview- She should stay a little longer and take in Italy with family! My sisters cooked up an idea. They would fly to Munich with our daughter Jane and my niece; where they would tag up with Arianna and then proceed to Rome for another adventure.

So we started the paperwork with EF Tours.
(never. I repeat never send your kid with EF Tours)
Their glossy pamphlet assured us that extending the trip was "no problem"! so we proceeded with the adventurous plan. We signed a waiver that we understood it might not be possible to place her with her group. I assumed that they would do their utmost, but just needed to cover their legal butts.

We received the itinerary, and the child was no where near her school group. They flew out of Toronto; she flew out of Ottawa. The kid's itinerary was a milk run. Six hours alone in Ottawa. Connecting flight to Frankfurt, Germany. (huge, huge airport) Two hours in Frankfurt to make a connecting flight to her final destination: Paris, France. Once there, she had instructions to make her way through customs, retrieve her luggage, and look for a) her group from school and/or b) an EF Tour guide named Serena who would be holding up a sign.

We didn't like any of it. Not one little bit. We solicited help from: the school, a local travel agent, my world-travelling sisters. They were all very helpful. We went to the airport in Winnipeg and spoke to the people at Air Canada. They were unable to change the flights themselves, because of the way EF purchases large lots of tickets from them; but they looked into their system and found a better alternative for Arianna. She could fly Wpg to Toronto by herself, then hook up with the group for the rest of the way. They provided us with flight numbers and info and assured us that EF could make the necessary changes.

EF blew smoke up our asses, excuse the French.
They dragged their heels, fed us political jargon, then phoned back three weeks later to say that it was too late for them to make the necessary changes. Besides, we had signed the waiver.

We all worked on badgering them.
They cared not.

So, we started work on option B: Equipping the kid with every possible tool she might need to get herself to Paris. Every tool. How to read airport signs. How to be street smart. How to navigate an airport. How to ask questions. Arrangements with the airline to get her an escort.

I loaded up her backpack: Tim Hortons card. Tylenol. Muscle relaxants. Cold medication. Snacks. (let's not forget that this is the kid who gets every virus, and has a back injury from her infortunate incident with a car on an icy day)

Meanwhile, Air Canada could not set her up with an escort. For reasons I still don't understand. At this point, cigarettes were sounding like a really healthy idea. (for me silly, not her) So were driving my entire family off the pier. Together.

Two days before her departure she woke up with a fever.
Oh My Gosh.
Took her to the Doctor. Added antibiotics to her backpack regime.

4:45 Am, March 27, drove her to the airport.
She got herself checked in.
Through customs.
Off to Ottawa.

We texted throughout the day. She was safe, confident, not worried.
I relaxed.
Napped intermittently throughout the day.
She last texted us just before boarding for Frankfurt, and then I went to bed.

She should have called us from Frankfurt, but we heard nothing. No big panic, since she said she wouldn't guarantee a phone call. There was less time there, and she had to make another transfer, so we simply waited for the next phone call, which we expected at 3:00 AM from the airport in Paris.

3:00 AM- nothing.

I said- what happened? Are you all right?
She said- heh. I have some stories for you, mom.

(our connection was not perfect, and I don’t fully understand the stuff she said, but I’ll try to reiterate)

Something messed up in Frankfurt, and she said she had to do baggage check all over again. (does she mean that her carry ons had to go through security again, or does she mean that she had to retrieve her suitcase, and go through check-in all over again?) Then she had to change TERMINALS (that is not how we understood it to be) and take a BUS to it. Then she flew to Paris, where she was to go through customs, retrieve her suitcase, and look for her group, and/or an EF tours agent named Serena holding an EF tours sign.

She found neither.
She said something like this:
“A guy kept following me around. He said that he was from EF tours and that he had arranged a cab to take me to my hotel. Nothing he said really added up, and he was really uninformed, he didn’t even know the name of the hotel we were staying at. I ran away from him, I got my own cab, and I went to the hotel by myself.”

She’s never been in a cab.
She’s never arranged for a cab.
She’s never flown.
Never gone through customs.

An hour later, her group came to the hotel.
Twenty-five hours after we left her at the airport, on a wing and a prayer.

I spent the morning intermittently crying.
Proud of my daughter.
Terrified at what might have been.
(flashbacks of another time, many years ago. A voice from a consulate, half a world away. A precious young woman- assaulted. Agony.)

Wanting to be angry at someone. Something.
But full of such wonder. Such gratitude.
Remembering all the prayers of many people.
Mad at EF Tours.
Profoundly proud of my daughter.

Yes, our second born departs on Wednesday. With her aunties who will be with her every step of the way.

And in two weeks, I suspect that the child who went away aged fifteen, will return to us an adult.
I can't wait to see her and hear all about it.
And THAT, my friends, is the real story.


Anonymous said...

Whew! glad she made it okay, and you are right , the same child will not return. A new , more confident, young lady will come back to you.

ps it's been awhile, but always interested

janice said...

Good for you mom, you lived through it. Smart kid - even if the guy following her WAS from EF, she did the right thing.

Glad she is safely with her group. Thank god for texting. Wonder how my mom survived my travels. That thought occurred to me the moment I held my baby in my arms.

Chelsea said...

I am so mad at EF Tours, How can they have been doing this for all these years and not understand that most of the kids who go on the trips have never been on an actual trip without their parents, nevermind over the have one smart, brave daughter!
I'm very glad though that all is now well.

Anonymous said...

Wow! I have one very brave niece there! I have never traveled alone at my age never mind at 15. You have every right to be proud of her! I know I am!

joyce said...

Thanks, all. And Chelsea, I love you for being mad! Funny how that makes us feel better. Probably some psychosis attached to that... Anger gives some sort of energy.. a direction to channel lack of control into. Yes, I am mad at EF tours. I have even more questions for them.. Hopefully I can find some minutes tomorrow to phone them (AGAIN) and share some of my pain and questions with them. I know that I'll be greeted with political hoo-hah, but I can't just say nothing.... can I?

Thanks, auntie.
I did some travels on my own, and what amazes me is her maturity, abilities, and confidence at such a young age. I'm sure I didn't have that going on at her age. I'm insanely grateful.

Anonymous said...

That's one amazing kid. Obviously she was listening (in between eye rolling) to all your pre-trip instructions. Who knew one could be street smart growing up in Niverville. I would like to give her a hug right now just to be sure she is really o.k. I can only imagine how your arms are aching to do the same. Will keep praying.

Judy said...

One flight out of O'Hare in Chicago at the age of 16 and I have NEVER flown again.

She is on the adventure of a lifetime! Be proud. Be VERY proud!

And mad at EF.

Roo said...


Anonymous said...

3 cheers for your daughter and for your family at home!!

When our daughter arrived in London, she was met at the airport by a cousin she had never met and they spent the day wandering around, looking at the sights. The next morning, her cousin got my daughter to the meeting place for her first tour. She was touring the city, again, but with a group of people that she didn't know, most of them quite a bit older than her. They saw the Tower Bridge, Big Ben, etc, etc and lastly, the London Eye. When they were done on the ride, she gets off only to realize that the tour bus is gone and she has to navigate back to her cousin's place on her own.

Yikes!! You have heard about the kindness of strangers?? Well, a 60 something couple from the somewhere in the States who had been on the tour with her invited her to join them for lunch and then helped her figure out which subway to take to get her back close to their flat. There really are angels in the world, aren't there!! Turns out that she actually went too far on the tube, missed her jumping off point till she was at the end of the run. Thankfully, the day before, in her jet lagged body, she remembered that her cousin had told her that Bus #7 goes right by their flat. If she got lost, all she had to do was find a bus stop and wait for a bus #7 to come by. And wait she did - don't remember how long she waited, but she finally found the right bus and about 3 hours after having left the nice couple, she arrived at the flat - tired, scared, and really glad that she listened the day before. She did have a cell phone in her pocket that she could have reached her cousins with, but decided that she didn't want to contact them and look like a dumby!! And, of course, we only found out after the fact - thank God!

We were more than a little afraid of what might happen when she took her upcoming "Jack the Ripper" midnight tour, or the tour to Bath, Stonehenge and Windsor Castle. Were they going to leave her in some unknown place again. Called her travel agent and they were as in the dark as we were, but finally called back to assure us that she would definitely make it back safe and sound. This lesson served her well over her next 7 weeks, negotiating London, Edinburgh and Paris!!

Hope you are sleeping better.

The Naked Chef

Kristine said...

This reminds me of when I flew to meet auntie Carol in Heathrow Airport in London. My first time on a jet, my first trip across the ocean, my first trip alone. Flying home was fun to, since auntie Carol's flight left 2 hours before mine. We Kehler girls know how to think on our feet!!

jenn said...

You better be careful Joyce... you just might be raising a daughter who can think for herself, and can stand on her own 2 feet.

Not a lot of parents want that these days, they feel better doing all the thinking for their kids.

Crystal said...

wow Joyce, that would rip me off royally! I think you should be calling EF tours daily.

And thank God she listened to her inner voice and found her own cab. That's so scary!

Glad she arrived safe and sound.

it's a gong show... said...

Holy crap Joyce! Thank GOD she didn't just assume the guy was "the guy" and go with him. Whether he was legit or not, your girl made the right decision. {hugs}

Anonymous said...

Wow that is friggin' girl you've got there...ya done good....L-lew

P.S I remember the sleepless night when Jean-Guy decided to "venture out" into the world (Europe, I mean) by HIMSELF....still makes me "shake" : (

joyce said...

O'Hare-y- too scarey. I'm glad she didn't have to go to that doozy of an airport! (though i'm not actually sure how it compares, size-wise, to Frankfurt)

Judy, when we get old(er), we'll live together in an old, old train station and look at pictures online of where other people travel. Rocking chairs. so comfy.

naked chef- I think you were in a position to worry for the whole trip! I could at least reassure myself that once she got there, she had 30 other bodies to depend on.

Kristine I have thought of you a trillion times in the last few months.

yup. independent kids can find their way around the world. Next year? Drivers Liscence!!

Crystal- I phoned EF again and retold the story. They should all run for political parties... very smooth and savvy.

gong. holy crap is right. scared the pitter patters right out of me. (like your cross avatar)

Linda= by himself. That's way scarey. you had to worry for the entire time he was away. I suppose that now I'll have to brace myself- she will rule the world after this grand adventure! probably want to go sight seeing in Afghanistan next year....

Anonymous said...

I don't even know her, but I am SO proud of her.