Toothmug, delays and The Flight From Hell

Christopher and Tess

Tonight we had a family dinner with our youngest son, Christopher, for his birthday. He is 24. In celebration of the journey we have had together as a family since he joined us 22 years ago, I thought I’d indulge and revisit this story.


Yes, there is a toothmug in this story about delays and the Flight From Hell. First, however, let me take you on a trip to the Philippines…

We were exhausted. Our return flight from Manila had been delayed by twelve hours. It had been an emotional and eventful week. The purpose of our trip was to bring home the baby we were adopting from the Philippines. Unbeknownst to us we had arrived in Manila on a public holiday in the middle of  election campaigning. Armed guards were seen everywhere in pairs –  even at the entrance to the McDonald’s across the road from the hotel we were staying in. The morning paper diligently reported the number of daily deaths from election rioting as did the evening news. To say it was a just a little daunting would be an understatement!

Himself had thought an international driving licence and car hire were a great idea when we talked about some of the practicalities in preparation for our trip. Fortunately he did not have time to get it organised. Or maybe we simply forgot in the turmoil that was our lead up to travelling. There had been many delays. No-one could tell us exactly when we could travel or why no-one seemed to be able to give us a date. Eventually we got the go ahead with a very limited timeframe in which to get there. Then it was all a mad rush to make it happen. As it turned out the issues were baby health related. Minor stuff in the scheme of things. Someone in their wisdom had deemed it best not to tell us.

Our first taste of Manila traffic was the taxi ride from the airport to our hotel. Immaculate, freshly pressed white sheets covered the seats. I sat in the back with our seven year old son. I must note here that my experience of traffic at this stage was grounded in a very orderly, well organised and sedate Adelaide traffic even during rush hour. What confronted us in Manila was  evening rush hour. It was horrific. Every lane on the highway was chockablock full of cars. There seemed to be no order to the chaos. Cars weaved in and out seemingly at random. Everybody tooted their horns in some sort of secret local signalling system we never did manage to work out. Traffic lights were meaningless. They were ignored. By everyone. People (with toddlers in tow) weaved in and out of this traffic selling their wares to any car that stopped for even a moment! Single cigarettes, lollies, driver’s sweat cloths for the palm of the hand. Now this I could understand! The traffic was enough to make anyone sweat. I would have needed a bath sheet.

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The streets had overhanging wires in huge bundles almost at arm’s reach

Our taxi ran red lights. It stopped on green. Sometimes on orange… Within five minutes our son was glued to my side. “Mummy, this is dangerous! There are no seatbelts!” We did arrive safely albeit somewhat flustered. Himself sighed with relief that he had had the wisdom not to proceed with his plans to drive. Taxis became our best friend. After the first day we used the same driver for the whole week. And amazingly we did not see a single accident.

Three days after our arrival, we had the baby permanently in our care. However, there were problems with getting his visa organised in time for our booked return flight. Another delay! A contingency plan was that I would return home with our oldest son and my husband would stay on for as long as was necessary. He deemed it too dangerous to leave me there.  I was grateful. Just how long it might be, no-one could tell us. The pre-travel delay theme continued to plague us. Thankfully, the visa was approved but only at the very last minute.


First meeting 

A significant portion of the time waiting for our flight to depart was spent seated in a restaurant in Manila Airport. Entertaining the kids (6.5 and 2) was a challenge. Our youngest had only joined our family four days before. He was still new to us, and us to him. Not yet talking, and barely able to walk, he was shell-shocked from all the changes that had occurred in his life in such a short space of time. Now we were taking him home. Our home. One he had yet to see. Another new experience with a whole lot more to follow. He was hungry. All the time. Like a little baby bird, he kept opening his mouth wanting more and more. The restaurant staff obligingly warmed bottles of milk for us to give him. Lots of them. He greedily drank them all in between frequent nappy changes. By then we knew from experience that he had very frequent and loose poos. In other words, he had diarrhoea. We put it down to all the newness in his life.

Finally the delay was over. It was time to board. It was a terrible, bumpy flight. I called it The Flight From Hell. The hostesses were less than helpful. Our baby had diarrhoea. Smelly, runny, frequent.  I must admit I had first done the right thing and gone to the baby change room. However, whilst there, the plane hit severe turbulence.  And I MEAN severe!! Stomach churning, elevator plunging turbulence. The fasten seat belt sign had lit up. People were instructed to return to their seats immediately. And there I was stuck in the toilet/change room with a baby. I sat on the toilet seat trying to decide what to do. It was very bumpy.

Several times it seemed as if it had stopped. However, the minute I stood up, babe in arms, it got bumpy again, forcing me to quickly sit down again. Yet more delays! Desperate, I pressed the call bell and waited. Pressed it again. And again. No-one answered my calls for help. When it finally seemed calmer, I opened the door planning to return to my seat. At that very moment the plane hit a HUGE air pocket. I fell for what seemed like an eternity with babe in arms. The hostess, sitting right next to the toilet door, looked at me in horror. She grabbed the baby as I fell, my bottom eventually hitting the floor right next to the heavy stainless steel catering cart.  As I struggled to stand up somewhat shakily, she grabbed my arm and shoved me in the nearest empty seat. Then dropped the baby in my lap with the terse words “It is dangerous! (pointing at the heavy trolley). You must sit!” And ran back to her own seat. The man sitting next to me obligingly held the baby while I strapped on the seat belt. As soon as the turbulence cleared, I muttered apologies and thanks to my fellow passenger and hastened back to join my family seated in the middle of the plane.

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This is photo nothing to do with the flight – it is a street scene from Manila with jeepneys which are very common and colourful

During the whole Flight from Hell no airline staff came to check up on us. After the turbulence I refused to go back to the baby change room. I no longer cared about saving my fellow passengers from being assaulted by the odours wafting from diarrhoea laden nappies.We changed nappies where we sat. I had badly under-estimated the number of nappies we needed. We ran out  and resorted to using the thin airline blankets and hid the used ones  under the seats.  We used all we could find.

They did not supply nappies they said. They did not heat baby food they said. At the beginning of the flight we had been given a plastic bag containing tins of baby food for the flight. Reluctantly they heated one bottle of milk during the whole six hour Flight From Hell. It’s return to us was delayed for an hour.  When it did arrive it was ungraciously shoved in my lap. They could not supply a fitted baby seat for the seat next to me. It had not been pre-booked they said. No one had told us it needed to be pre-booked. So we took turns nursing the baby. Our oldest son happily spread himself across two seats and slept – well, like a baby. I’m not sure what exactly the hostesses did do. It seemed everything we asked for was impossible.

We were winging our way to Brisbane. Or so we thought. The plane was diverted to Sydney. Another DELAY! They never did tell us why. We had to disembark there and board a local flight. But we had to wait for an hour or more. We were almost used to all the delays by then Hmmm…. wonder what they thought when they found the soiled blankets!!

My husband was wearing a navy parachute silk track suit during the Flight From Hell. By the time we disembarked in Sydney there was a large white ring of crusted baby stain around his crotch deposited there by the sleeping babe. He made his way to the men’s room to freshen up. While there, he decided that a rinse of his track pants was in order. Splashing water on to his crotch from the tap seemed to make it a little more presentable. However, it left the pants very wet. Light bulb moment – he stood in front of the hand dryer blowing hot air into his crotch just as another gentleman entered. Looking at him beseechingly, he said “I’ll give you a $1000 for your pants!” at which the man beat a hasty retreat out of the men’s room.

Prior to reboarding we were approached by concerned airline staff. Apologetically whispering, they explained that our baby was not listed on the passenger manifesto. Was he ours, they wondered? You could see it in their eyes. This couple look dangerous. Perhaps they are kidnapping this baby. Indeed, we were on the edge of madness by that point.  If only they knew…….Another delay and a few strategic phone calls by airline staff  to various Embassies and we were allowed to board. To Brisbane. On a local flight. Thank God. What a difference in service! We breathed a sigh of relief.

We were met at the airport by my long suffering father and nephew. They had been waiting all day. No-one had informed them of the delayed and diverted flight. Gympie was still two hours away by car. We would be staying there a while before returning home. Dad was tired. He insisted on driving and chewed hot ginger lollies to keep himself alert. Great !! Both of us were desperate to sleep but too scared. The Flight From Hell was not yet over. It was evening by then. There were no shops open en route that sold disposable nappies. Or nappies of any kind for that matter.  So we remained nappiless. However, we did arrive safely.


The Fresh Food People bag nappy holder-inner

My sister raided her bag of rags. Fresh ‘nappies’ (= tea towels) at last. Held in place with a plastic shopping bag. Fresh Food People proudly displayed in print on the bottom. Thanks Woolworths! Worked a treat until the next explosion of excreta. The plastic bag and rags could only do so much. My husband gave the baby a ‘bird bath’ in the hand basin to freshen him up some.   Standing naked on the vanity bench , he let a mighty majestic stream of projectile diarrhoea loose. It generously splattered the mirror in a most impressive Pro Hart-esque sort of way. (Pro Hart is a famous Australian artist who was known to use all kinds of medium to create his art work. Although I doubt he ever used human excreta!) It flowed into the hand basin. And the bench top – on which rested my father’s tooth mug. It filled the tooth mug.  He never let his grandson forget just how much he loved him.  You see, his dentures were in the tooth mug at the time.


We later discovered that our son has primary lactose intolerance. We had been feeding him untreated milk. No-one had thought to let us know ! The story of the Flight From Hell and the Toothmug lives on as family legend.

© Raili Tanska

Steps for Peace

“Unless we teach our children peace, somebody else will teach them violence.”   – Coleman McCarthy

10 thoughts on “Toothmug, delays and The Flight From Hell

  1. Oh my goodness what a stressful situations your family experienced. I just don’t know how you made it home in one piece after all those setbacks and two small children. And then not knowing or being told at the time that that C had/has lactose intolerance. I hope he realises how loved he is and the determination your family went through to get him home to Australia.
    I never realized how much people have to go through when they want to adopt a child. My hat off to you and himself for your desire to adopt a child.
    The projectile ” back burner “into the tooth mug is hilarious! I imagine that his grandfather was flabbergasted at this turn of events and so good that he took it all in his stride.
    Lovely story about the difficulties your family had to overcome to bring a 2 year old with some unknown health problems to you at the time.

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