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I woke up incredibly calm on November 2 at my parents’ house in Bridgeport, AL. It was travel day. I would be moving my family to Tanzania, Africa to participate in mission work for 3 years. I had packed 10 suitcases, 5 carry on bags, and personal items in the days before. Each suitcase could only weigh 50 pounds so I had rearranged and reprioritized so many times. I was pretty sure I would be naked in Africa after taking out most of my clothes so the kids’ toys would fit.  I was physically and emotionally exhausted and the trip hadn’t even began. God had brought me so far in the past year and I couldn’t believe the day had finally arrived. We piled into my mom’s and sister’s cars and began our drive to the airport. I gotta say… I made Daniel stop and let me run in CATO for a last minute panic of “I will never be able to buy cute clothes again!” In my complete and utter panicked state I bought 2 long sleeved cardigans….for Africa…..?! Nevertheless, I felt better!

Upon arrival to the airport more family greeted us to help unload and watch babies as we checked in. (Thank you to the Baskin Family and Jared and Lena) I was pretty shook up by then and things were happening quickly as I felt as if I was walking through mud. I was pretty cool on the outside but screaming on the inside. I struggled to make eye contact with Mama and Bambi. I had no idea how I could live not seeing them for an entire year, much less living 3 years away from them! We had a little hitch getting Daniel’s shotgun checked in but all went pretty smoothly. We stood as a family and said a prayer before saying our goodbyes. When I hugged mama and Bambi I felt 5 years old. I hurt so badly I thought I would suffocate from the pain. I quietly let the tears stream down my face as I tried to comfort Abby. I’m 99% positive she would have stayed with them if she could. Her pain shattered mine and I wrapped my arms around her to keep from crumbling myself. I watched them walk away and we headed for the security checkpoint. I barely remember putting our things in the tubs, shoes off, carrying babies through. I was sobbing so hard by this point the security agent just waved me through without going through the body scanner. I held Abby’s hand in silence as I tried to gather myself.

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Nashville Airport with Bambi and Mama

After getting checked in at the gate I calmed down a little. I was going to be okay. I could do this. We still had several hours to wait before take off, but because it was an international flight we weren’t taking any chances. We settled in at our gate. Quickly I realized that sitting led to thinking and thinking led to more crying so I decided to walk around. By this point the boys were already restless. We looked in a few shops then stumbled upon what could only be described as a gift from God. Lo and behold a toddler safe playground was one gate away from ours. The sun shone down and the acapella chorus sang! I was thrilled! I rushed back to our gate to tell Daniel and we hauled our 5 carry on bags, 2 car seats, double stroller and personal items down to the playground! Aaaaaahhhhh! We said a prayer of thanksgiving that God had provided such a blessing for us!

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At the airport toddler haven! (playground)

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Levi sliding at the airport

When boarding time came we were a little anxious about how the boys would do flying. I had packed electronic games, treats, meds, diapers, wipes, clothes, toys… The hardest part ended up being getting them and our stuff plus 2 carseats into a narrow aisled plane. On the one hand the carseats would keep them from getting up and down but they were so difficult to carry and get situated with a long line behind you! We decided to try to board last from then on. We did finally get the kids all situated and prayed again that the flight would go smoothly. My chest ached as we took off. I’m not afraid to fly, but I knew I wouldn’t be in the south again for a long, long time. I was on pins and needles with worry how the boys would do. There were no tears. They just sat and played and looked out the window. Another blessing, another prayer.

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The haul we had to carry on and off of 3 different flights. Enough to make you wanna spit!

Upon arrival to Chicago we again struggled with all of our “stuff.” We had to find the Turkish Air check in quickly to finalize some details about Daniel’s shotgun. Of course it was on the other end of the airport. We ran from terminal to terminal, rode shuttles, searched for elevators, and finally we found it. I was pooped. We had the boys in the double stroller and had loaded it down with bags. It was heavy and awkward. I had to be sure I could easily reach paci and mok (Jojo’s cup) and watch to be sure they weren’t dropped. Abby was so helpful and willing to do whatever she was asked without complaining. I collapsed into a chair waiting for Daniel to clear the gun with Turkish Air (I was still confused as to why Nashville couldn’t clear it all the way through…) Both boys were tired of sitting from the plane and the stroller and were crying. They were hungry and tired and we hadn’t even boarded the 11 hour flight to Turkey. I got them out and played in the floor while waiting. We ran off some energy.

When we cleared the gun we searched for our gate and then found food nearby. We were anxious to stuff our faces with the last American food we would enjoy for awhile so it was a tough decision. Somehow we ended up with chinese and it was awful and I really seriously thought I would cry. I know, so silly, but I really needed it to be delicious! Before boarding we prayed that God would deliver us safely and thanked him for the safe journey thus far. Josiah was really excited about the big plane. I could feel the tendrils of fear tightening around my chest and throat as I thought about being trapped with the boys for so long in the presence of others who wanted to sleep. Daniel took Levi, I took Josiah, Abby put her headphones on and we were off! I called my family on the tarmac to hear them one last time.

In true unpredictable toddler fashion the boys shocked us and did great! They played awhile, they ate snacks, they slept. They were amazing! No crying, no screaming, nothing. I knew God’s hand was in this for sure. If only He could have enlarged the bathroom when I was changing diapers, lol. We felt truly blessed. I was at the beginning of a great family adventure. I felt fear, sadness, excitement, hope, and exhaustion. I slept very little because I felt I needed to watch and listen for the boys. Turkish Air was great and very kind to our children. They frequently asked if the boys needed anything and would bring Abby something if they ever brought things to the boys. Again, upon landing the worst part was by far toting our stuff. The boys were both soundly sleeping so we had to get all of our bags, electronics (personal items), carseats, stroller, and sleeping babies. This flight parked away from a terminal so we had to walk down a flight of stairs outside into some really frigid weather. We were freezing and loaded down. I held Levi, his carseat, 2 carry-on bags, and personal items while walking down. We then loaded a people mover to go to the terminal. I wish I had pics of these things, but it was way too chaotic!

If you’ve ever been in a foreign airport you know they are so different from home. It was loud, crowded, and full of words both audible and on signs that I didn’t understand. Our first task after arriving in the terminal was to get a Visa then to collect our luggage. Because we were having a 24 hour layover in Istanbul they would not forward our luggage through so we had to pick it up and pay to have it stored at the airport. After a lot of sign language to people trying to tell them what we needed we found the luggage storage. We then began to hunt down our ride to the hotel. We changed some money into Turkish lira at the exchange and began walking when a man and woman came rushing over to us. They had a sign that said Gaines and asked if Daniel was Daniel Gaines. First of all, I was shocked. How on earth did they know that was him? Had they asked everyone? Second, I felt like a movie star. Someone was at the airport holding a sign with my name on it. I was pretty cool. The couple spoke little English but we understood they were there to take us to our hotel.

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Outside the hotel Santa Sophia

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I love the views in a foreign place. It was just dusk and lights were popping on as we drove onto the cobblestone streets of downtown. It was beautiful. I was grateful for the opportunity to see a new place and a different culture. Our hotel was small, old, and dark. It was not the Ritz but it was clean and I was tired. Only 2 of us could fit in the elevator at one time. I felt like I was in an old time Sherlock Holmes movie! We gathered and said a prayer to thank God for our safe arrival then we plopped onto the beds in our room and searched for a wi-fi password to contact family. After we let our family know we were safe we decided to go out and see what the sights were in Istanbul. It was night, but our internal clocks were 8 hours behind. We loaded the stroller and took off!

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Outside the Turkish Delight shop. They had soooo many different flavors!

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Abby chose pistachio Turkish delight 🙂

We had no clue which way to go. We knew the general direction of where we were going but there were so many cobblestone streets, alleys, and paths! We just walked. Abby found a little shop that had Turkish delight and found a kind she liked. We were together, safe, and happy. We finally turned a corner and saw the beautiful Blue Mosque in front of us. It was lit up for evening. We kept walking and admired several outside shops selling scarves, statues, and other reliques. We came to a huge fountain where many were selling fresh pomegranate juice. We bought some to share. It was delicious! We rounded the corner to see the Hagia Sophia and the spires of the Topkapi Palace. Beautiful.

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Abby in front of the Blue Mosque all lit up at night

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Night time at the Blue Mosque

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Daniel pushing the babies to see the sights!

We walked and took pictures of the beautiful buildings. It was probably around 8:00pm but the city was alive and awake! It was neat to see the historic buildings amidst such modern things as well. Amazing. We walked to the old downtown area in search of a place to eat. On a side note, there were stray cats EVERYWHERE! Of course the food was unfamiliar and a little scary, but we finally decided on a little roadside cafe. We had chips (fries) and some kind of wrap with lamb. I’m not a fan of lamb. But, I was thankful to have food and family. We made our way back to the hotel after eating and bathed babies and crashed.

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Abby and myself in front of the beautiful fountain and Blue Mosque. How is she taller than me?!

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Buying yummy pomegranate juice!

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Pomegranates look so cool!

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Just beautiful!

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Sweet baby boys passed out after a looooong trip!

When we woke up we went downstairs for breakfast. Weird cheeses, meats, fruit, and boiled eggs were on the menu, not to mention tons of different olives. Exactly what I wanted for breakfast. We found some things to eat and headed out to sight see in the daylight. We went back by the Blue Mosque, The Hagia Sophia, The Topkapi Palace and The Basilica Cistern. We also decided to walk to the Grand Bazaar. The streets were more crowded as we neared and absolutely everything smelled of cooking lamb, tobacco smoke, and body odor. I was feeling a little nauseated as we arrived and pretty tired as the walk was exhausting. It was very beautiful, intriguing and crowded. Corridors spread out in every direction with Turkish residents selling their wares; Scarves, jewelry, pottery, spices, shoes, clothes, cookware, everything!! As I felt the walls closing in on me we made our way to the exit where there were street sellers as far as you could see. We got incredibly lost trying to find our way back. After a long hour and a half of walking what should have taken about 20 minutes we found our way back to the hotel. We decided we were too tired to find a restaurant and settled for overpriced chips and juice from a market across the street. We had to be out of our hotel room by 11AM so we gathered our belongings and crashed in the lobby until our shuttle came. We literally slept on their uncomfortable victorian era furniture with mouths open and drool spilling. Good times.

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A cobblestone street outside the hotel

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Daddy with the kids in front of the Hagia Sophia

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Mommy with the kids in front of the Blue Mosque

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Daddy with the kids outside of the Topkapi Palace (sooo many tourists were taking pictures of the boys in the stroller. They would say, “Are they twice?” (twins, lol)

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My babies in front of the Topkapi Palace (Or “My Castle” as Jojo said…)

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My handsome prince

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A typical Istanbul street

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The Grand Bazaar Entrance (soooo crowded!)

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Inside the Bazaar there were mazes of these tunnel like hallways with tons of shops!

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Outisde the Grand Bazaar

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So many street shops!

After checking in at the airport terminal we found some food. I fell asleep at the table and woke up to a crash. Daniel’s chair had collapsed under him. Poor guy. He was startled awake by it too. We were all asleep, again, at the table in the airport. We walked to our gate and waited. I’m pretty sure there are 5 chairs in the airport there. We did not get lucky enough to occupy those but I walked around behind the boys so they could run out energy before one more 9 hour flight to Kilimanjaro. When the time came, we were exhausted trying to carry the carseats, bags, and boys so we checked them with the stroller at the gate. That was a huge relief. We walked the flight of stairs to the last flight. I could see the end in sight!

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All of our STUFF…10 suitcases, 5 carry on bags, 2 carseats, one double stroller and occupants, 1 Abby, and personal items (computers, etc.) At this point I think they could have set fire to all but the kids and I would have been fine.

The boys fell asleep almost instantly. I thanked God in prayer again for blessing us with good traveling toddlers. It could have been sooooo much worse! Abby watched more movies (she didn’t sleep on any of the flights.) I awkwardly leaned over on my chair arm with Josiah in my lap. Daniel laid Levi in the seat beside him and we were off. I was in and out of reality the entire way to Kilimanjaro International Airport. When we landed a whoosh of fear hit that I couldn’t go home for a year. I pushed it to the back of my mind. We still had to clear customs. I struggled to get the boys in the stroller as Daniel ran to get in line at customs. In true African fashion a “mama” met me on the sidewalk and picked Levi up and helped me to the customs line. Abby came toting more bags, and Daniel had several as well. We were a disheveled mess. The boys were so tired and hungry. They had slept through the meals. A kind Tanzanian gentleman came to take me by the hand and led us to the front of the line. I was nervous until I realized what he was doing. He was aware that I had watoto (children) and was kindly helping me out. I was so relieved and grateful! They worked with us on our resident permit easily and we began gathering our luggage. Daniel had to talk to the officers to begin clearance on his shotgun and I stood in a daze.

Cy Stafford and Jimmy Gee met us at the airport (at 4 a.m.) to give us a ride “home.” We would be staying with the Stafford’s until we found a home of our own. Cy had muffins and drinks ready for us in the car. We arrived to their house as the sun was just sneaking over Mt. Meru. We had survived. I was there. We stopped and said a prayer of thanksgiving to our Lord for a safe journey. I had no idea what the next 3 years would hold for me, but God had watched us safely through the journey to Africa and I knew He had great plans!

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This is the Stafford’s beautiful home. Stephanie had flowers, notes, and goodies in our rooms. So nice to arrive to such comfort after a long trip! Blessed!

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