What I have learnt in the past week or so:
Learn to treat yourself and/or your loved one once in a while. This world is too short. I scraped and scrounged every single extra penny I could lay my hand on for the past 6 months or so. I was determined to fulfil a dream the troop had of going for a holiday out of the country. It took a lot of sacrifice but I did it. It’s possible. You don’t have to go far either. Even neighbouring countries are still holiday destinations. I’ve made travel (local or international) a family value. It opens up your eyes to so many cultures. You get to think differently. Question more. Understand people who are different from you. A travelled mind is better than an educated mind.
If planning for an international vacation, try and use a travel agent. They would know the pitfalls to avoid. They can throw in complimentaries. They follow up anything on your behalf. It makes things much simpler. My travel agent, Saffara Ltd took the planning headache out of my hands. All I had to do was pay and provide my travel documents. I remember being asked what my budget was. I didn’t have an answer then. All i told them was I prefer smaller hotels since they pay more attention to the customer in my view, outdoor activities and loads of fun. They put together various packages and advised me on the same. When i finally settled on one, they organised the tickets, boarding passes, Visas, Medical insurance, meet and greet, places to visit and so on. They kept on checking on us right until we were safely home. I highly recommend them. Check out their page for contacts. Thank you, Wanjiru Catherine, for a well-organised trip. We will be back (after I recover financially, Lol!)
When travelling with young kids, involve them in the planning. Read up about the places you are going to visit. Plan events around their schedule. Learn their body language too. Kids get fatigued easily but may not express it. Be flexible in your plans. At some point I had to take them back to the hotel since they were so irritable from the heat. Their diet is also very crucial. Upset tummies are common with new cuisines. The last thing you want to have in a foreign country is a sick child. Ask for their feedback. In our family, we always take ten or so minutes to review how the day went. Everyone gets to say their highlight and their lowest moment if any. I find these ten minutes help me understand them better. You’d be surprised what they say. Kids too have an opinion. Use this information to make their experiences better.
Make memories. Invest is a camera. Not the phone cameras. Some moments are best captured with a real camera especially when lighting is poor. Save up for a professional camera. We have many options around. I swear by Nikon though I’m still getting the hang of it. Try and capture the expressions when they least expect it. The moods. A picture is worth a thousand words.
Document your experience. I express myself through words. I’m a lazy writer but I write all the same. It helps to share these with others. You get incredible tips. Like I didn’t know I’m getting ripped off when I run my credit card in local currency. Or that I needed to have SPF 60 protection! Or that plain yoghurt helps heal sunburn…
When in Rome…make friends with the locals. They’ll give you tips on how to get around, local culture, where bargains are, what to eat and so forth. I befriended the hotel security guys. They were extra helpful in my stay.
And finally, have fun. Even if something goes wrong, as it most likely will, see the glass half full. Turn it around to an experience instead of lamenting. I’ve seen how people treat service staff in hotels or recreational facilities. My motto in life often is: you attract more flies with honey than with vinegar.
The money is finished! Time to go back home. The troop says they are missing their dog, Max, their cat, Sage and their nanny! East or West, home is best.
They help in packing. Hotel check out is midday and they are flexible enough to allow an hour or two. A big plus for me. The most interesting thing is that almost all the staff we interacted with, came to speak to me to give them an excellent rating in the feedback form. That felt strange. Never encountered that at any hotel before.
We are picked up by the same driver who dropped us from the airport while coming back. He’s from Pakistan. Almost all the taxi drivers we used are from there. This one speaks better English and we can hold a longer conversation. Once more the question of where my husband is comes up. I’m used to it now. He asks me about my profession. I mention I’m a doctor and soon he’s consulting on behalf of his wife in Pakistan. Luckily it’s a simple matter and he gives me his phone to record my advice to his wife on WhatsApp. We get to talk about their life in Dubai. They work 11 months in a year and get to travel back for a month only. I can only imagine what kind of life they live separated from their families.
We get to the airport and the check in process is seamless. Once more there is a queue specially for adults with children. We get to finish last minute shopping at the duty free area before we board the plane.
The journey back is uneventful. The kids get more kiddie goodies from Emirates. They are so excited. This time they are better behaved. I watch two movies: Hidden Figures and The United Kingdom. Very powerful real life stories of people who broke gender and racial barriers to pursue their passion. I highly recommend it to those who want to break away from society’s moulding system.
We arrive on Kenyan soil. As we wait to pick our luggage, I can’t help but notice how much people bring over from Dubai. The flight is full of business men and women. I understand some even carry vehicle spare parts in normal luggage. The customs people are on high alert. They look at me and figure out I’m a tourist and not a businesswoman. I get waved on.
Back home I’m glad the troop is not interested in dinner because I am so beat. It seems I’m also coming down with a cold. That will be most unfortunate since I need my voice for a wedding I’m co-MCeeing over the weekend. I also need someone to babysit as I run around. A friend graciously offers. Bless her heart!
Today’s menu: meet a friend who has also travelled to Dubai and watch the dolphins together. Swim in a waterpark in that order.
I need to get a cab to both places. Preferably one that can swipe my card. Turns out most taxis here don’t accept cards. Sad. Turns out also dolphin show on this day is only at 11am and 6pm. Too late for the 11am one. I notify my friend. We book the 6pm one, call a cab (I found some loose notes somewhere) and head to one of the many waterparks in Dubai. Legoland. It’s Part of the package. I need to give feedback to travel agency about this distance. It’s too far from the hotel so unless one is really interested in the Lego city theme and shops, it’s not worth the taxi cost.
Nevertheless, Dubai Parks and Resorts where the Legoland is situated is an amazing work of architecture. Built like the 18th Century European towns, it comes comlete with a tram ride to the parks. One of the security guys is from Kenya. I almost hug him! We spend a few minutes chatting like old pals.
We all get into the waterslides. The child in me comes out. We are all having a grand time. In the sun. The 41 degree sun. I’ve layered ourselves with SPF 40 sunscreen. Long and short of it, we are nicely charred. I also didn’t know we were to carry our own towels. So I tell the troop we will drip dry over lunch. Problem solved! At the end of it we pass by the Lego City shop. They’ve got amazing offers on Lego merchandise.
Later in the evening we head back to the city to the Dolphinarium. Show starts at 6pm with some acrobatics. Troop is bored. They want to see the dolphins. When are they performing! After four or so curtain raisers, they bring out two seals and their female handler. They then ask for a child to sing along with them. Z2 quickly volunteers and then gets stage fright. The MC is very helpful. Whispers a few things to her and soon she’s singing! Never mind that it was the happy birthday song. The performance earns her a soft teddy penguin and a certificate.
Finally, the dolphins are brought. 4 beautiful animals. Very very intelligent. The performance is electrifying! Troop is on the edge of their seats and so am I. There are various opportunities available for interacting with them after the show. Swimming, taking photos and so on. I pay for a photo with them. Unfortunately, only the official camera is allowed. We get our famous family shoot.
We need to get back to the hotel. I approach the first cab on the queue. He refuses to take us saying we are five instead of four. I am upset and ask him if he’d like me to leave one child behind. He’s just being rude. The second cab guy who accepts to take us tells me that it was most likely due to the short distance and not our numbers. Then he proceeds to apologise on behalf of the first cab guy. My anger subsides.
Back at the hotel, another friend insists on taking me out for dinner. The troop is tired and want to play in the room with their toys. They assure me they will be fine for the time I’ll be away. My friend though is given a thorough silent treatment by the troop. They don’t like anyone taking their mommy away. I put dude in charge and leave for an hour or so. I choose a local cuisine. When in Rome is my motto. My friend and I have a great time having met physically for the first time. We get back to the hotel and the troop is so engrossed in their toys it’s like I never even left…
The previous day’s activities have knocked them out. As a very extroverted parent, I’m learning to be careful about pushing the troop too far. I allow them to sleep in until 9.30am in order make it for breakfast.
Today we are headed for a little bit of shopping and to experience the Dubai underground metro. Plus it is cheaper than getting a cab.
The metro service guy is very polite and helpful. Everyone here is helpful. We even get a guy who shows us where to change trains from and leads us straight to the shopping mall.
Never ever shop with a kid or worse still, 4 kids! I indulge them in a toy of their choice each. Christmas comes early. They are over the moon! Cashier asks as he runs the card, “Do you want us to bill in Kenya shillings or Dirham.”
And then I check the receipt and almost faint. Nevertheless, that’s why I slave at work. To pay bills. And pay I do!
A few more practical items for the kids and we are done shopping for them. Time for mama to window shop as she thinks of what to get for her hardworking beautiful self! But no, the troop starts whining and whining. They want to get back at the hotel…so that they can play with their toys! Eventually, I get something for myself and off we go.
The train ride back is uneventful except at the interchange where I forget which train was to take us back. As I stand there studying the signs, this beautiful black Metro staff spots us from far and starts walking towards us. She’s coming to help. I tell the troop. They are used to mommy getting lost so many times but I tell them that’s how we learn.
“Are you Amakove? I cannot mistake the afro” She beams.
“No way!” What are the odds that I would meet an online friend in the most interesting of places! Turns out she knows me from FB! After exchanging friendlies and taking selfies (much to the irritation of the impatient troop) she leads us to the correct platform.
Back in the room the toys are quickly removed and assembled. I keep an eye on the clock since we get picked for the desert safari in a few hours.
I decide to get them packed lunch. I remember spending 230 dirham for lunch on the first day. They didn’t event enjoy it since they had been scorched by the sun on our way to the restaurant. This time round at the corner of the street, I get some shawarma for 30 Dirham. And i have carried water for drinking. Be smart like Amakove.
A Toyota Landcruiser comes to pick us up. The driver is from Pakistan with very limited knowledge of English. I attempt some conversation and give up after a while. We pick up another couple and soon we are on our way. The lady says she’s pregnant and requests if the troop can sit at the back. I’m like, “Of course!” My medical mind quickly scans her abdomen for signs of bulging but sees none. I wonder how she’s allowed on the trip since I had been told pregnant women are not allowed. Since Amakove is not pregnant, she decided to mind her own business.
An hour later the city buildings give way to a long stretch of desert. As far as the eye can see. We veer off the main road into the desert and drive to a parking where other Landcruisers from the same tour company wait for us. The drivers are reducing the pressures from the tyres. I learn something new. Before long, we are inside the car and cruising away.
Let me just say this, the desert safari is not for the fainthearted. I swear our driver was particularly keen on attempting all the stunts that are possible. I’m an adrenaline junkie but I remember I have the troop with me at the back. The music is turned up several decibels higher. Z1 and dude are having the time of their lives. Laughing hysterically! Z2 and Z3 are quiet. Hands sweating. Z3 has even shut her eyes! They are safe. They were given plastic bags to throw up in in case it came to that. At some point we almost hit the car in front when it suddenly got stuck in the sand. Forty five minutes later, we are done with the roller coaster ride. We get off the vehicle to take some of the most amazing photos in the desert.
Later they drive us for dinner at this resort built like an Arabian homestead in an oasis. We get to take photos with a falcon and camels. There are quad bikes for the ones with fatter wallets. The girls and i get free henna tattoos. I also get an artist to inscribe the troop’s names in a glass jar of sand.
As we go to get some drinks, this lady asks if the girls are triplets. The first time ever someone here gets it right. I asked her how she knew and she said she’s also got identical 14year old identical triplet boys! We became friends instantly.
The evening’s performances were spectacular. A man on stilts who proceeded to carry Z2 much to her excitement. Another guy who performed the dance of fire. A third guy who made us feel woozy from all the spinning he did. Z1 later bravely went and attempted the spinning. And finally, two female belly dancers who consoled me with their baby pots. I too then can have a go at this belly dancing business!
Watch this space…
Troop were reluctant to wake up after an afternoon spent in the pool. Can’t blame them but hey, we’ve got a van picking us up at 0900hrs.
We slather on copious amounts of sunscreen. They resemble ghosts. I’m not gambling with 44 degrees Celsius.
Breakfast is a laid back affair. Everyone is staring at us as I sort out their picky orders:
Strawberry yoghurt with apples cut inside.
Apple juice with a chocolate doughnut.
Cereals with hot milk.
Cereals with cold milk and a doughnut.
I indulge them. They too are on holiday. They’ve been talking animatedly amongst themselves occasionally stopping to ask me something. I stopped asking them to lower the voices.
The ride around the city takes us to different places. The spice souk is our first stop where we get amazed by the display of all the herbs and natural products used for cooking or healing maladies or skin and hair care. A haven for naturalistas. Next we get on the water taxis. These are traditional boats that help us cross over from New Dubai to Old Dubai where we get to spend some time in the Dubai Museum. The underground display of pictures and replicas of activities literally transport you into the world of the history of Dubai. A must visit. The troop is quite intrigued. For all the places we travel to, a visit to the museum is always on the menu.
A drive through Jumeira and a stop on their public beach enables us pick many shells and cool down in the sea.
We also get to drive through The Palm and stop to take photos in front of the famous Atlantis Hotel. The drive through the underwater tunnel is exciting. We also stop at some expensive mall selling jewellery and high quality fabric. I buy the troop drinks instead. Lanes, my friends, lanes.
Back at the hotel, another two hours in the pool. Today I join the troop. They are excited. We become the centre of attention amongst the male-only audience. I’m in a bikini. I take a few photos for my groupies and of course share. Later I learn that a few busy bodies think it will damage my reputation. I remind them that I am doing Me. Allow me to do me.
I still get the question: where is your husband? It seems strange that a woman can travel alone with her four kids. My patience is still high so I indulge them with appropriate answers. We have a long way to go to change stereotypes. I remind myself to put off my activist hat and enjoy my holiday.
We wind up the evening with a cruise and dinner around the Dubai creek. This was a disappointment. The cruise lasted an hour instead of 2. It started an hour later. By then my highly-programmed troop were starving and getting into all types of mischief. I threatened to throw them into the water then I remembered how irritating I get when hungry. The on deck entertainment lasted a whopping 4 minutes and 45 seconds! Then they played for us different types of music. A Nigerian song featured. Can’t remember which one but I guess to them all black people are from Nigeria.
Back in the room, they request to sleep in my room. So here I am having slept like a rod waiting for them to wake up…
Day 2: #OneCrazyWomanFourKids
I’m running behind schedule with the blogging. It’s not easy handling 4 energetic little ones in temperatures of 44 degrees Celsius sometimes.
“Are you coming to meet your husband in Dubai?” She’s asking so innocently. I count to three before responding. I guess I should get used to this question. She leads us through immigration. There is a fast track lane for Meet and Greet packages. Dubai has reallt invested in tourism as I soon find out. Once we collect our luggage, we are handed over to a second company. The ones handling our schedule. The AC from the van is a welcome relief from the furnace we encounter at 4.30am. It’s already bright outside and the kid cannot contain their excitement especially when we spot Burj Khalifa in the background. We had read a bit about Dubai so they are prepared for the common sights.
We are told check in is at 2pm. It’s 6am. If we want the room right away we would have to pay day room costs. I had requested for an early check in. She says that would be midday. Then she takes a look at the tired troop and tells me she can get one at 8 am if I didn’t mind waiting. Of course I didn’t mind. We get some breakfast and soon the troop is fast asleep on the couch waiting for 8am.
The request we had was for adjoining rooms. They are spacious except that one of them is for disabled persons so the bathroom is custom made.
We black out the whole morning then decide to take a walk as we have lunch and exchange the dollars. Wrong move. The temperatures are so high, the troop is literally crying. We have a miserable lunch as they all whine about the heat. Soon we get back to the hotel and rush straight to the pool to cool down. This eye-candy guy joins us. He dives into the pool. I regret why I didn’t change too. Yaliye ndwele sipite. I still have a few more days. The bikini will be unleashed.
The evening is spent preparing them for bed. They start dialling the phone. A knock on the door and this not-very happy hotel receptionist tells me the troop has dialled them seven times! I apologise profusely. While speaking with him, they manage to flood the bathroom.
Eventually, we are all dressed and ready for dinner. I see a fast-food restaurant outside the window. We get a family pack and lay out the junk food on the carpet in my bedroom. A picnic it is!
All the channels except one are in Arabic. The troop watches cartoon in Arabic. Then I remember my Netflix. Soon we are watching a movie.
Bedtime And I have to figure out how the sofa beds work. I’m not about to share my bed.
Soon we are all off to lala land.
Tomorrow we tour the city.
From 16 to 44 degrees Celsius.
Day One. The journey that was.
The Uber driver is silent for most of the journey. As we approach the airport he blurts out, “Are they always this noisy!”
I snap out of my thoughts. I’m used to their chatter and often zone out when they get into that space. I forget how startled some people get.
“Yes, they are.” I answer automatically. “But today they are several decibels higher because it’s their first international holiday!”
We get to the security check. I’m prepared for the questions about where their father is. I had been warned that it may come up. The good thing about travelling with kids is you get express lane. I notice the check in counter lady is keener than usual. Then the now common pexclamations about multiples starts. I am used to it. The troop is used to it. We give the usual answers.
The guy at Immigration is not as friendly. He seems like he’d rather be somewhere else. “Where is Mr XYZ?” He snorts. He doesn’t even get their surname correct. He’s picked a random name from the father’s tribe.
“He’s at home.” I respond non-chalantly. He waves us off.
We are two hours early. Travel agent had emphasised on being particular about time. Try making 4 over excited kids wait for 2 hours. The Samsung tablet comes in handy. I zone off into my usual habit at airport lounges…studying people and imagining what they do and why they were travelling. Soon the lounge is filled with the drone of Arabic voices.
We board the large aircraft. Luckily, there is no scuffle amongst the troop over who sits next to who. This is a common fight when travelling with Blue Baby. I get the kids settled. Show them how to buckle up and use the aircraft entertainment system. Emirates crew are extra kind to the kids. They also get goody bags and a special diet. We are soon cruising at those high altitudes. After a while, I doze off and leave them to the movies occasionally checking on them. At the crack of dawn, we smoothly touch down on the runway. Dude and Z3 never slept as I found out later. Z2 and Z3 start crying from the pain of blocked ears. I forgot to carry chewing gum for them.
Apart from that, their excitement is palpable.
We proceed to get off the plane and into a freaking furnace…