I stayed up that night to visit with students, trade pictures, etc. Then I slept for almost two hours, and we saw the rest of the students off. It is hard to go back to sleep after sending your heart away. Eventually sleep mercifully came.
Helping the students haul luggage to the bus
Students dejectedly waiting to get on the bus for the airport
Kids playing with the students one last time
Last sunset over Jerusalem
Last moonrise over Jerusalem
We spent the next day packing. That night, after all the students were gone and I was tired of packing, I went one last time to my classroom. I leaned against the table where I often stood as I taught. I looked at the empty seats. I pictured students from each semester in those seats. I could see them all. I thought of funny things that happened in there, I thought of amazing questions, spiritual moments, and shared love. I could remember my first meeting in that classroom the first night the Fall Semester students were in there. I could remember the last class held there. I could remember firesides, reviews, and a million other things. It is the best place to teach in the world. I bid goodbye with a heavy heart. I will miss teaching there.
The next few days were filled with packing, cleaning, and goodbyes. The kids had a great time jumping and playing in all the blankets, pillows, sheets, etc., that the students had to leave in piles as they checked out. One sad moment was the day after the students left, as I was running an errand, little Amanda Judd was playing out there and asked me “Uncle Kerry, have you seen any students?” How sad to tell her that there weren’t any students around anymore.
Jacob jumping into the sheets where he joined Sabrina and Amanda
But we had little time to wallow, we were too busy getting ready to go. The JC had the chefs come in and make a very nice, kid friendly lunch. We all got together and folks said nice things and we enjoyed each other’s company one last time. The food that was left over they let us use, and that made it so we didn’t have to cook much the last few days, and still had great food (I love Ahmed’s salmon).
Me and my security buddies Tawfic and Tarek at our little lunch
Julianne and the JC women at the lunch
Our last day was Sabbath. Julianne and I spoke. It was nice and yet not. It meant that we spent the whole rest of the meetings saying goodbye to people. I left part of my heart in that branch. But leave we must.
Finally it was time to go. We wanted to leave a bit earlier, but our taxi drivers wouldn’t come because they couldn’t break their Ramadan fasting until right when we wanted to go, and they wanted to eat first. So we left half an hour later than ideal. We loaded all 32 pieces of luggage in (I added it up and it is almost a literal ton of luggage). We said goodbye and were ready to go. Then the two taxi drivers had some kind of big fight. Finally that got settled and we started out. It was an inauspicious beginning to a bad trip that at last had a good ending.
On the way to the airport one of our children had a problem with diarrhea. So we had to put some clothes in a baggie and change once we got to the airport after a very uncomfortable ride. Then we got in the very long line to have our bags x-rayed. Of the 16 checked pieces they wanted to go through 7 by hand. So we lined all seven up, and I stayed with them while Julianne got in line for checking them and getting boarding passes. We were down to about an hour and a half to make it, which is pushing it a bit at Ben Gurion airport. After 40 minutes they had not finished checking even one person’s suitcase ahead of me, and there were a few people in between me and the person whose luggage they were still checking. I could see we were in trouble. After a while I started praying hard, and finally a supervisor took pity on me and did a quick check of all seven of mine in about 13 minutes. He did a good check, he just knew how to do it quickly. Meanwhile a Delta employee had come from behind her desk and told my wife she wanted to help her. BJ moved all the rest of the luggage over and they started to do ticketing. Finally I got there and we moved all the luggage through. There were some weight discrepancies, but this good woman just helped us along. Julianne had been praying, and I think this woman was filled with a desire to help us. She made it so we got to our flight on time and so that our luggage made it too, and without extra charges. I don’t think any of that would have happened without her, and I am convinced she was an answer to prayer. BJ and Tashara and Kaleb were heroes with the 8 carry-ons, 8 personal items, 2 car seats, one stroller and one guitar that we had left. Every child was so good during all this process, and everyone chipped in. But if the older ones hadn’t done more than most adults do with luggage we would have never made it.
We got through all the other security check points and got to our gate when boarding was almost done. We gate-checked the guitar, car seats, stroller, and three of the larger carry-ons. We then settled into our seats, and after just a few short minutes of flying we all fell asleep. It was 1 am then.
That part of the flight, all 11.5 hours of it, went well. People slept well, everyone got along, it was great! Until we were starting to approach JFK. Then a storm hit. Lightening was everywhere. When we touched down we couldn’t move for a while because no personnel were allowed on the runway to help us dock the plane during the lightening storm. That was bad, we had only two hours to go through passport control, collect our luggage, go through customs, check our bags back in, and get to our new flight in a different terminal. I started to worry, but it seemed okay after we only waited a short while and they brought the plane in to the gate.
The problem turned out to be that they wouldn’t let people on to get our gate-checked luggage off. So, while the heroic BJ and I gathered up all the checked luggage, paid $20 for carts to put them and the carry-ons we had with us on, and while BJ pushed two carts around and Tashara helped out, I searched and searched for the other pieces, and couldn’t find them. We finally got all our bags after waiting for two hours. Of course that meant that we missed our flight. This led to further trouble.
We worked out way with our carts, strollers, herculean kids, etc. to the counter where they could help us. Again, in a second airport that is known for having workers that are not all that friendly or helpful, we found a saint of a woman at the desk who went out of her way for us. Sadly, we were going to have to wait another 8.5 hours, for a total of 10.5 fun filled hours in JFK. We were able to talk her into giving us food vouchers for all 8 of us for both breakfast and lunch (since it was just 7 am when we missed our flight). That made a huge difference, and when we were finally able to get to the foodcourt we all ended up buying something with bacon or ham in it! We were back in the USA!
But first we had a small disaster. As BJ was helping me check luggage back in and work with the nice check-in woman, Julianne was watching the kids. Because Jacob kept trying to go places, she had him sit in the stroller. It was facing away from her so that all she could see was his feet. She kept glancing over and making sure he was in there. What she didn’t know is that at some point Jacob and Sabrina switched places, so that when she saw feet sticking out they were no longer Jacob’s. He had apparently seen some people who were waiting for a person to get off the plane and they had some balloons he wanted. So off he went in search of balloons, and then games and other fun things he kept seeing. All we knew was that when we were ready to go we learned that he was gone. Julianne started looking for him. After five minutes of looking she was getting really worried. She began a more serious search, and BJ helped, and after about 8 more minutes she was as frantic and emotional and worried as I have ever seen her. To begin with she did not find any security people who were helpful, but BJ did, and eventually they started to really help out. By now he had been missing at least 15 or 20 minutes, and we were surrounded by exits to New York City. Julianne was really starting to freak out. I had been waiting with the kids, but I spent a little time looking for Jacob in places where I could also keep an eye on the others. Then I put BJ and Tashara in charge of them and looked more seriously. When we still couldn’t find them I just gathered the kids around me and started working more with security people. The kids said that they saw a shadow of a child who looked about the right size. They wanted me to look, but it was in a place I had just checked. I was just about to say that I needed to stay with them, and the security lady was starting to say I shouldn’t go either, but at the same moment we both changed our minds and decided she should stay with them and I would go look. I popped around the corner to where the shadow was and looked around and there was little Jaker calling for us. We brought him back and security started to search for Mom. You should have seen her when she got back to us and saw Jacob. I was not sure she would ever stop crying or ever let go of him.
Well, we were creative as we could be in finding ways to pass the next 8 hours. We ate, read, colored, explored in shifts, played some card games, and Jacob even had a nap. I eventually found a little lounge with lots of ipads mounted for people to use. The kids stayed in there for about 2 hours. We borrowed a cell phone to let our parents know we were going to be late, and asked them to let Amy Faust know, since I knew she was planning on coming to the airport. Finally it was time. We got on the plane and began our last 5.5 hours of flying. Everyone was exhausted, and soon they fell asleep. I was enjoying how cute it looked to see Sabrina sleeping with her head on Alexia’s lap. That was very cute until Alexia woke up throwing up all over Sabrina’s head. She did that a few times as I searched for the barf bags that were not present, and then finally got a blanket for her to throw up in. Sabrina wasn’t all that happy to be woken up that way. Julianne took her back to the bathrooms and tried to clean the throw up out of her hair, but it is pretty hard in those little sinks in airplane bathrooms. A nice stewardess (they took really good care of us during this, trying to get us everything we might ever need) got shampoo out of her bag and gave it to Julianne, and a bottle of water. Poor Sabrina had to put her head over the toilet and get chilled water dumped all over it as Julianne did her best to wash her hair out. Eventually she and Alexia got all cleaned up, I got the seats, bags, floors, etc. all cleaned up, and we just waited it out through the last 3 hours of the flight. We finally got in at about 8 pm instead of noon. There we found Amy and her mom waiting with a big sign. Just after that my parents and my brother Wes and nephew Phillip showed up. These were joyous reunions! We were finally not only in the USA, we were at home and with loved ones. The old and the new there to meet us. It was so wonderful! What a relief. And it was also a big relief to actually get all our luggage and get it loaded in and head home. We relaxed for a while and exhaustedly fell asleep, piled on the floor of my parent’s home.
Amy Faust and her mom greeted us with this sign. The kids were so excited to see her they almost tore the sign down to get to her.
Jacob and Sabrina hugging Amy Faust at the airport. They were so happy to see her again!
Tashara and Jacob hugging Grandpa at the airport
Phillip and my mom getting food out for our hungry family at the airport
Tashara was so happy to see Grandpa.
Jacob and I were up by 4:30, so we drove to our home and started the long process of opening it up, checking things out, and getting luggage unloaded. We did one shift of this, went back and ate lunch, took everyone over to do another shift, and just tried to find a few decent spots to sit down. It was weird to be back in our home. It seemed like we had never left, and yet it was empty, we couldn’t find anything, and it felt just a little foreign. We kept having weird culture shock things. It was strange to see signs in English. It was weird to have everyone speak English. The roads were wide, people drove safely, there were lots of homes, and people were friendly. When I went to register our car at the DMV I almost changed out of shorts thinking I shouldn’t wear them there. When we bought food at Costco and then Walmart I was shocked that people helped us and that they did the bagging for us. Just so many little things. We took the kids in to get their tb test so that we could register for school. We went to the dentist and got things taken care of there (except that there are several who need cavities filled and several who probably need braces). For dinner we joined Julianne’s family for a family reunion. We did not have a moment to relax, settle in, find things, or contemplate being home. We just hit home and the ground of the USA running. But we are home, and we are happy to be here! The road back was a bit bumpy, but some prayers were answered, some kind people helped, and we made it.