Saturday, October 15, 2011

Ethiopia - Day 1

This whole thing has been a crazy wild ride.  Yesterday morning I got to the airport at 4:45am with mom and dad, picked up my totes, and waiting in the surprisingly long line to check in.  It being a small, regional airport, and so early in the morning, I didn't expect much of a wait.  One agent was assigned to check in all 6 of us, and I think he got so overwhelmed that he didn't even bother weighing most of our totes.  We had spent a lot of time being very particular about the weight, and before I got there he did weigh two of them and declared them too heavy.  I think once he saw how many of us there were, he just decided not to keep going with that trend.  Such a blessing, right from the get go!

We hopped our small airplane and took a short 30 minute flight to D.C.  When we were almost there, the sun started to come up above the clouds and it was a beautiful shade of pink.  It reminded me a lot of the plane ride to Nicaragua, where we got to watch a full sunrise above the clouds.

We waited around in D.C. for quite some time, found our terminal and a place to eat breakfast, and eventually met up with the rest of our team.  We spent time in the airport getting to know each other.  I think it was 16 of us that left from D.C.  Cherrie and 3 of our other team members were already in Addis.
A portion of our team waiting in the long line to board the plane.

The flight over was very long.  We sat on the runway for clearance for almost an hour, and didn't take off until 12:30pm.  I lucked out with a window seat and didn't have anyone in the middle seat.  The guy on the aisle I didn't know.  The first half of the ride was do-able, but after about 6am EST (or 1am in Ethiopia), it seemed unbearably long.  I was starting to feel antsy and a little sick from being cooped up and seated just before we were able to get off.  The plane was a little warm and felt stuffy.  Plus, thirteen hours is just a long time (it'll be closer to 17 hours coming home though - oh man!)

The country was a lot greener than I'd expected, and more mountainous.  I suppose the green comes from the fact that the rainy season just ended in September.  It was beautiful coming in and seeing the patchwork landscape.  Also, last night sometime in between me groggily turning over, I looked out the window and got to watch lightening from above the clouds - beautiful!

African landscape, although which country I'm not sure.

Old airplanes at Bole International Airport
Once we unloaded the plane (when they opened the back cabin door and let in a little fresh air, it was like Heaven), we went though immigration to get our visas and through customs.  There was a $20 charge for the visa, and they funneled you into a small room with desks and asked you why you were here and when you were leaving.  All in all, customs and immigration was an easy process.

After the paperwork, we had the tasks of getting our totes and moving them out the door.  We paid an airport worker $20 to help us.  (Little did we know that each guy that even touched your bags expected a tip.  They wanted $5-$10 USD, even if they only pushed your cart a few feet after you asked them not to.  It got to be a little annoying after we made it out of the gates).  As you go to leave the airport, all your bags are x-rayed.  The official behind the counter can decide to let you go, or to take a look inside the bag.  If they see something inside they like, they can either take it and keep it, or take it and tell you to pay them this much to get it back.  (Operation Smile went in a few weeks before us and all of their totes got confiscated.  The official behind the counter wanted $8,000 USD to get it back and the team had to just walk away).  To help safeguard against this, we covered our medicine chests with navy blue poster paper so that if those totes did get opened, hopefully the official would think it was the bottom of the tote.  I got asked what all my stuff was for.  My answer:  visiting friends.  I didn't lie, I just didn't know my friends yet :).  Miraculously, all our totes made it through without trouble, except one of Ann's that just had clothes in it.  An official searched through it but didn't take anything. 

Riding through the city was an eye opener.  It wasn't anything worse than I'd expected or already seen in other countries, but I figured we'd see more poverty in Korah and in the Addis.  There were lots of "walls" made from little more than corrugated steel leaning against two wooden poles.  It was almost ironic looking at construction throughout the city - new concrete buildings being erected in between scaffolding made from large posts of Eucalyptus. 
Driving through Addis on the way to the Guest House
Construction from the balcony of the Guest House.  Lots of buildings looked like this, half finished, and only sometimes did we see people actually working on them.  One of the trip leaders said some of these buildings have looked the same for 3 years.
There were also a lot more signs in English than I expected.  Stores and shops lined some streets; sometimes it was hard to tell what was a shop and what was a house.  I think in a fair amount of cases it was both.  Some busy intersections were met with donkeys and a herd of goats crossing without pause.  People also seemed to just cross the street whenever and I was amazed at how close a car would get to someone before stopping.  It was a short trip from the airport to the Guest House, luckily, but more on that later!

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