It was March 10. Italy had just expanded its quarantine nationwide…while South Korea, another hotspot at the time, seemed to be slowing the spread through aggressive testing and contact tracing. In the US, New York was emerging as a hotspot…it was increasingly feeling much too close to home.
About a month before that, my office had held a town hall meeting to address concerns about the novel coronavirus. I’d estimate that close to 50% of the individuals working in my building travel extensively. So almost as soon as news of this new virus broke, I had concerns about the safety of continuing to work in such close quarters. Truth be told, even after that town hall meeting where they told us to stay home if you’re not feeling well, I went in to work, not feeling well because…well…I needed the paycheck. So…
Anyways, I digress.
My husband and I were chatting on the evening of the 10th of March. Since the beginning of the year, I’d wanted to just hop on a plane and go get my baby in Zimbabwe! But good sense said we were not ready to transition him back home. I did not have the money to buy a completely new plane ticket or even pay the change fees for the one I had. We still had no plan for child care once he returned. So I stayed put.
But on the night of the 10th, my husband asked if it might be wise for us to go and get our son. With the uncertainties surrounding the novel coronavirus, it might be best to invest the finances and get him, rather than wait until the appointed time at the end of April. I couldn’t have agreed more!
But how would I tell my parents that we wanted to get him sooner than planned? Would they think we were overreacting to the coronavirus news? Would they feel upset or unappreciated if we said we wanted to bring him home early?
The next morning, on my way to work, I called my Mom. After exchanging the standard pleasantries, she said that she and my Dad had been wondering if we might want to come and get our son earlier than planned. They thought it might be wise in light of this new coronavirus that was spreading and the way nations were responding to it. What?! What God had placed on me and my husband’s hearts, He had placed on my parents’ hearts!
It was a Wednesday morning when I spoke with my mother. I told her that if I could get everything arranged, I would be in Zimbabwe that weekend! Now begun the challenge of arranging everything.
The plan had been to take both the two year old and the baby with me on the trip in April. A friend had purchased tickets to travel with me and help out with the kids but she couldn’t get the time off work, on such short notice, to travel with me that weekend. Financially, it would be a stretch to get my husband a ticket so we could all go together. And I didn’t want to just lose that ticket we’d bought for my two year old… I’d just have to call the airline and see what could be done.
Rather than wait on hold for what they estimated would be 4hrs, I requested a call back from the airline. I’d called in the morning. They didn’t get back to me until around 5pm…at which point I missed the call back because I was getting the kids ready for bed. I’d have to try again Thursday.
On Thursday, I called the first thing in the morning and requested a call back – another estimated 4hr wait. They were supposed to call me back by 9am. When 9.30 came and I hadn’t received their call, I began trying to reach them, to no avail. I couldn’t even get through to the system that would ask if I wanted a call back. The lines were just too busy!
I started to doubt if I could actually make the arrangements to travel in the next couple of days. Maybe we were overreacting after all. Maybe everything would simply blow over in the coming weeks and by the end of April, I could freely travel as planned…
Then I got a call from my uncle-in-law. He works downstairs in the same building. He was calling to see if I was in my office and he would be right up.
He comes with an envelope which he hands to me and says that it is for my trip to Zimbabwe to pick up my son. Now, mind you, I’d only discussed the plans to make the trip that weekend with my husband, my parents, and the friend I’d planned to travel with originally. Uncle told me that he just had this impression that he had to get the money to me in time for my trip – he had to do it right away.
The poor man couldn’t understand why I was bawling at this point! Here was affirmation, again, that I could/should make this trip. When I shared with him that just before he called, I’d been trying to get through to the airline to change my flight, he was floored. It wasn’t pay day. He and his wife actually had several financial constraints at the time. But he just couldn’t shake that feeling that he needed to get that money to me! And that was all the cash I had on me for the trip: God provides!
With renewed purpose, I resumed my efforts to reach the airline. One time I got through and chose to stay on hold instead of getting a call back, but the line was so poor, I wouldn’t be able to hear even if someone answered. I was already on my way home when I finally got a clear line and remained on hold. There was no estimated hold time, but I was willing to carry my phone around all evening until someone came on the line. My hold time ended up being an hour.
(Apparently, the reason it was impossible to get through to the airline was because the US had, that very day, imposed a travel ban on anyone coming from Schengen countries. Everyone was scrambling to get home!)
When I explained my situation to the kind customer services representative she was ever so helpful. Of course, I had purchased the cheapest tickets, which were non-refundable, non-everythingable…But since the changes I wanted to make were related to the coronavirus, they would waive the change fee. And since tickets were dirt cheap because of coronavirus, there was no outstanding balance to pay—in fact, I would receive a credit to my account for a future ticket!
Now, traveling with three babies with no help…? She put me on hold while she spoke with her manager. When she got back on the line, she stressed that this was not something that they would normally do, but if I wanted to cancel the ticket for my two year old, they would refund me the ticket! Hallelujah!
Saturday evening, I would leave for Zimbabwe to pick up my eldest son. It was a dramatic trip! And calls for its own post.