From the swarmingly full ocean of the Miami airport, comes a drama of a mom, a daughter, and a toddler who lost their friend, Grace, and went to great depths to find her......
On Tuesday evening, we left Porto Alegre for our trip to the states - Ansley, Giovanni, and I with our friend Grace (pronounced Gracie). It was all smooth sailing as we arrived in São Paulo and made our connection to our overnight flight to Miami. And, besides the 11:00 PM - 2:30 AM playtime that the toddler insisted upon having during the night, that flight went as well as can be expected. We arrived in Miami and began the trek through halls, up and down escalators, on and off those flat escalators (people movers??), and eventually to the customs lines. Then, the drama began. Here are the highlights.
*The lines for customs are divided. Americans in certain lines, foreigners in others. So our little group had to separate. This had also happened in São Paulo, but we met up again on the other side of the line. We assumed that it would be the same here. After Ansley, Giovanni, and I went through, we looked for Grace. We couldn't see her, so we decided just to wait at the area after the line. Apparently this was a no-no because a customs agent made us move on to the next area.
*The next area was where you got your luggage. We waited a little and looked for Grace, but didn't see her. Didn't see her luggage either. We thought that she had probably gone on through and would be waiting for us in the next area. If not, we would wait for her.
*We handed off our luggage to make the connecting flight, and arrived in a waiting area with a huge glass wall. We decided to wait there for Grace to arrive. We waited......we waited...... She didn't show up. There was a flight attendant there who had been on our flight. He suggested that perhaps Grace had already gone ahead, thinking that we had been ahead of her. He reminded us that we still had to go through the security check in, which could take a while, before making it to the gate for our connecting flight that was going to be leaving soon.
*We decided to go on through the security and hope to see Grace waiting for us at the next gate. Besides Giovanni making a break for his freedom during the check in, it was OK - just a hassle that took a while (taking off shoes, etc.) We hurried to the gate for the next flight. Grace wasn't there.
*At this point, my nervousness starts heading toward panic. Giovanni was tired and grouchy (3 1/2 hour playtime in the middle of the night and his breakfast of M&M's was not helping....) and Ansley and I were scared. We had no idea what had happened to her or where she was. Our options were:
- go ahead and get on our flight to Nashville - even though we didn't know anything about Grace and she didn't know how to get in touch with anyone in Nashville or Huntsville - where we would be staying with my parents.
- not take our flight. The only other available flight in which we were guaranteed a seat was at 9:45 at night. Giovanni in an airport until 9:45.......not fun. It was around 8:00 AM at that time.
- Ansley and Giovanni take the flight to Nashville, I stay behind and find out about Grace. Then Grace and I come on a later flight.
Ansley wanted option 2. I wanted option 3. Option 1 wasn't an option in my book since I had no idea where Grace was and I couldn't bear the thought of leaving her behind.
*We try to make a decision about what to do.....in a very crowded waiting room......with Giovanni crying and throwing toys......with Ansley on the verge of tears......and me not far behind. I finally convinced her to go, hurriedly gave her phone numbers, and handed her a wad of cash. She ran out the door literally at the last minute with Giovanni wailing for me. Fun times.....
* I go to a pay phone to try to call my parents. (We have cell phones, but they don't work in the US.) My parents' phone is programmed not to accept collect calls, so I start digging out coins. A nice man nearby sees me and offers me his cell phone. I almost start bawling at his niceness... I call my dad and do start bawling, explaining to him what has happened. He leaves home to meet Ansley and Giovanni and I promise to call back when I find out about Grace.
* I set off to return to the customs area. A homeland security officer gave me confusing directions (apparently I don't understand English anymore) and I ended up lost. After a little wandering around trying to find my way, I decide to go to the American Airlines counter and describe my problem. After tearfully explaining what had happened to an AA worker, she pointed out a man in a suit who was the head of AA for the whole airport. I wasted no time in approaching him.
* He was very nice - his dad was Brazilian. He called the AA agents who worked near the customs office. Even though they are given NO information about a passenger unless the passenger is being deported, they managed to find out that Grace had been detained for questioning. They told me she was still there and that it could take a few hours. I decided to wait for her in the glass walled waiting area again.
* I waited for almost 2 hours. I know because they announced the time on the loud speaker every 15 minutes. I prayed a lot - for Ansley and Giovanni on the flight and for Grace, imagining her in a Nazi-like interrogation. After a while, I decided to take matters into my own hands and return to the AA agents who had found out where Grace was to begin with. Another no-no. Couldn't pass by the security guard. So, I waved my arms behind the glass wall until the agent noticed me. She said, "She should have already been down here....something is wrong." Gulp.
* She called to check again and found out that Grace had been gone for a long time. Gone where? Sent on to the next gate, they told me. How I missed her, I don't know - unless it was when I was wandering around lost. Whatever. I hurried on to the next gate. Through security again.....
*When I arrived at the gate (crowded waiting room). I didn't see Grace. I explained the situation to another AA agent who paged Grace. I took a few steps and saw her at the bottom of the escalator that led to our waiting area. RELIEF!! We hugged and exchanged stories. She had been questioned for about 45 minutes about what she would be doing in the US, how much money she brought, and about all the contents of her backpack.
*We called my dad who had successfully retrieved Ansley and Giovanni in Nashville. Ansley had been a great "mommy" to Giovanni on the flight (the stewardess really thought she was his mom). And she managed to hold in her tears until she cried with releif when she saw Bronwyn in the airport. It had been a tense day and we were all operating on very little sleep.
*The rest of the drama is quite boring in comparison. Grace and I set up camp on the "comfortable" seats in the waiting area for our next flight. We talked, read, watched TV, watched people (mainly people going and coming from the Bahamas...) and dozed off every now and then. We were so happy when we found out that we got a seat on a flight leaving Miami at 4:00 - much better than 9:45!
It was a drama, but with a happy ending. I am so thankful for the kind American Airlines agents who helped us as much as they could. And for the nice man who lent me his cell phone. And for my dad and Bronwyn who rushed to the airport to meet Ansley so she wouldn't be scared. And for Ansley taking on a big responsibility in a tense and difficult situation. And for Grace who showed more courage and faith than I did, and never really panicked.
I was especially grateful to God as I waited in the glass-walled waiting room thinking of Grace and of Ansley and Giovanni and knowing that I, in that moment, could do nothing for them. But I knew that God was watching out for all of us. I reminded myself to expect a blessing.
**Anyone interested in the screen rights to this story, please contact me through e-mail or this blog. Thank you.