Chapter 3: Canadian Soil (continued from Export)
Leaving Poland was surreal and it remains surreal in my memory. Once we returned from Turkey on October 20, we had but a week remaining to finalize our departure. The Bolesławiec had been shipped before we left for Turkey. After investigating all options for transport, I elected to ship it via Lufthansa’s cargo service. Never in my life have I packed things so carefully, each piece wrapped in clothing, tissue, paper, anything I could find; finished, I grabbed a taxi and carted four reasonably heavy but incredibly tightly packed boxes to the Lufthansa’s hanger and sent it back to Canada addressed to ourselves and c/o Andrea’s parents. It cleared customs and arrived long before we did and, by all accounts, it had an easier time getting back into the country than we did a month later.
Between bouts of errands and packing, we were otherwise out for dinner almost every evening as we crammed in our final visits and goodbyes with the promises that we would see everyone again … and who knows, we might be back before anyone missed us.
Before leaving for Turkey, we acquired a dog crate from a diplomat at the Canadian Embassy whom we had housesat for a few times but who had lost her dog when her Bulgarian husband had lost him in the streets one day. I don’t think she ever trusted that the loss had been an “accident,” but for us, it was a very fortunate find. A few dry-runs back at our apartment proved that the crate was plenty big enough for Ben such that he could stand in it and stretch out completely. We made huge signs bearing Ben’s name, our names, and our address in Calgary on A4 paper and stuck them on both the sides and the top of the crate.
Our anxiety was growing but we were crossing off the final items on our list as we prepared to leave.
A final visit to the vet also provided Ben with a mild sedative that we’d administer before leaving early in the morning. The purpose was not to send Ben to sleep but rather just slow him down and take the edge off the inevitable anxiety he’d be feeling when he got locked into the crate and would leave us.
The final night before our flight, we called the taxi company and ordered a “van” and another cab to cart us, Ben, and our large bags to the airport. Our Canadian friends also came to see us off as well. I could feel my heart pounding in my chest as I clutched my passport, our tickets, and kept going through all the things we had had to do before leaving: check, check, check. It was 5am when we arrived at the airport and we clumsily unloaded both taxis and reunited our things. We were baggaged to the hilt, each of us carrying our maximum limits. We had carefully figured out what was to be sent home via the cargo with the porcelain and what we’d bring as checked baggage – and what fragile and weighty things would be coming on as carryon. At the airport, though, we were stuck trying to stay with our luggage while staying with Ben, who was still onleash and not in his crate, while moving our stuff by degrees to the check-in counter. Given that there were more than three trips worth of things, we thanked our stars that our friends agreed to help shuttle and stand watch on pieces conveyed our things before preparing to check in.
Transplanted from curb to counter, I awkwardly gave Ben his drops of sedative and hoped that we were doing the right thing and, then, with much effort, coaxed him into the crate and locked the doors. He looked scared to death and our hearts broke a little seeing him caged in the airport as he paced around his tell-tale baby blanket and whined. There was no other way, I said to Andrea – at least were making every effort possible to bring him back to Canada with us.
Passports were then presented at the counter along with our tickets and papers for Ben … which is when I learned that they were going to charge us the equivalent of a $100 to ship Ben. After a fruitless bit of pleading and arguing, I scampered off to a kantor to change money back into Polish currency (which we had already painstakingly done once to get it prepared to leave the country) and then ran back to grudgingly pay the blood money.
With that done, our bags were whisked away and about five minutes later a porter arrived to load Ben, crate and all, onto a cart and with a quick good-bye, Ben was taken away and slowly disappeared from sight, though his barking continued long after we lost visual contact with him. I knew, if nothing else, that as long as I could hear him, he was okay.
We said goodbye to our Canadian friends and thanked them for their last minute help and, then, grabbing our weighty carryon which we tried to carry as though it weighed nothing, we then set off for security.
And so it was a few short hours later that we arrived in Frankfurt where we had to change planes from Lufthansa’s Boeing 737 to Air Canada’s large 747 and set off on our transatlantic flight. However, this didn’t happen without waiting for about 6 hours first in the middle of the terminal while watching what, at that point in my life, was the largest and most impressive flight board I’d ever seen. With plenty of time to worry about Ben, we made friends with an Air Canada flight attendant and explained the situation and asked if she could please, pretty please, look in on Ben for us. To her great tremendous credit, she agreed but said that she wouldn’t be able to take him out of the crate as we had requested (I naively hoped she could let him onto the tarmac so he could pee), but she’d check in on him and let us know how he was … which she did. She made every effort to convince us that he was okay and that he was in great spirits.
As we boarded the jet, my greatest fear was that Ben wouldn’t in fact get loaded on our plane and so I made every endeavour myself to watch the baggage get loaded hoping for a view of Ben and his crate. Finally, I did get a glimpse of the crate and I ecstatically relayed this to Andrea, pointing. On the flight itself, I kept straining for sounds of Ben from the hold – but I heard nothing, which I hoped was a good thing. My mind however continued to race and imagine what he was going through, whether he was in the dark, whether it was loud where he was, whether he had baggage crammed all around him, whether he was cold. I swear, I had some minor anxiety attack somewhere over the Gander, likely a combination of a lack of sleep and intense worry.
It was not an easy trip for any of us, but nearly 20 hours later, we landed safely at Calgary International where … well, you already know the rest of the story about how he effortless went through, let’s call it, “immigration,” while Andrea and I had to reestablish our “factual” residence.
Reunited, we got him out of the crate that he bounded out of like a convict who had just finished doing 20-to-life. After a hyper welcome and hello to his “grandparents,” Ben and I were off, with him pulling at the leash and barking, as we ran for the doors and outside, into the cool, clean, Canadian fresh air where Ben found pillar and had the biggest pee of his life.
Continued next … Chapter 3: Canadian Soil — My Canadian Eyesight