Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Ethiopia Trip #1: Travel

We left DFW on Wednesday, January 11 and returned on Saturday, January 21.  We spent a total of 37 hours on 4 different planes over the span of about 3 and a half days.  Here's how it went...

We awoke EARLY Wednesday morning to catch an early flight to DC.  I actually overslept by about 45 minutes (how did I not hear my alarm go off??!!), but I had built some flexibility into my schedule, so it wasn't that much of a crisis.

The flight from DFW to DC was fairly uneventful.  There weren't many people on the flight, so there was plenty of room to spread out. 

When we arrived in DC it was rainy and cold, so we caught our hotel's shuttle and went straight there.  Due to the weather, we ended up just hanging out at the hotel all day.  That night we took a taxi to a restaurant to meet our friends who live in the DC area.  Rob paid the driver with our credit card and then we went in the restaurant for dinner.  About 10 minutes later, we saw the cab driver come into the restaurant looking around (presumably for us).  Rob eventually went over to meet him and the guy said our credit card was denied.  Rob was pretty furious with the credit card company because we had called to let them know we would be traveling to DC and then to Addis.  Rob paid the guy in cash and then proceeded to call the credit card company.  They informed him that they never even received an attempt from the cabbie to charge our card.  So, apparently, at least certain cab drivers in DC prefer cash and will lie to you about your card.  Beware!

The next morning we took the hotel shuttle to the airport and there was an Ethiopian woman in the shuttle with us.  I. could. not. stop. crying.  We got to the airport and checked in at the Ethiopian Airlines desk.  We were surrounded by Ethiopians.  Once again, I. could. not. stop. crying.  We found a Chipotle by our gate where we ate breakfast.  There was a family who looked like they were returning from Ethiopia with 3 kids.  The toddler SCREAMED for Mommy the entire time she was in the bathroom.  And I lost it.  I sat there and sobbed at the breakfast table.  I just couldn't get over the fact that we were FINALLY doing what we had waited SO LONG to do!  I think I had really suppressed a lot of emotion during the process and once we were on our way, it all just spilled out. 

Not long after breakfast, we were at the gate and boarding the plane!

There was an empty seat between us on this flight too, so we had plenty of room.  This made us VERY happy :-)

The 14 hour flight to Addis was good!  They served us super cute snacks:

I couldn't sleep at all, but Rob was able to get some sleep:

We got to eat dinner, which I thought was really good (Rob says it was edible):

We were really impressed by the flight attendants.  First of all, I think they're the classiest ladies in the sky.  And second of all, they are SUPER efficient with the dinner service.  There are 4 of them for each section, and they get it done QUICKLY.  (I had to hurry to take the picture because they were moving so fast.  Seriously.)

At some point we ate breakfast.  Again very good (or edible - depending on who you ask):

The rest of the time, I watched tv shows and movies of my choice on my own personal screen:

Another thing that was pretty cool was that we could check on the progress of our flight at any time:

There were also games you could play.  At least some of them were set up so you could compete with other passengers on the plane.  We didn't do any of that, but the other family who went to court with us did and had tons of fun with it :-)

After 14 hours we landed in Addis!  We were literally the last people off the plane.  One of the things I thought was fun because I rarely experience this in the US is that we actually walked down stairs, out onto the tarmac and got on a bus that took us to the terminal.  The bus was ridiculously slow and I'm pretty sure we could have walked to the terminal quicker :-)

Because we were the last people off the plane, we were also the last people in the visa line.

We waited in that line for an hour.  And the thing was that the line really wasn't THAT long, it just moved REALLY slowly.  I figured out by the time it was our turn why:  There are 2 people who issue your visa.  One person actually takes your passport and completes the visa; the other person takes your money and records your information on a log - by hand - using 2 pieces of carbon paper to keep a receipt.  For each person who goes through the line, the receipt guy has to take the 2 pieces of carbon paper out of the book, and then place each piece exactly where it needs to go for the next person.  And everything is done by hand - there are no computers here (as there are throughout the rest of the airport).  So, lesson learned:  you don't want to be the last people off the plane because you'll be at the back of the visa line.  Be warned!

Once we got through the visa line, we went and got our bags off the carousel.  The next sequence of events is a blur to me.  A porter grabbed our bags (even though I thought the plan was to say NO to the porters), and then we were running to follow the porter, a man who I guess was an airport employee asked to see our checked bag tickets because I guess they try to make sure you're not stealing luggage, and then somehow we were able to get through without our bags being x-rayed (I don't know how - I don't understand Amharic and it all happened in about 5 seconds), and then we were walking down the hall toward a mass of waving, smiling, Ethiopians.  We had no idea which one of them was our driver, so we just kept walking until we saw a man in the back with a sign that said GLADNEY.  We waved to him and met him on the other side of the crowd.  He shook our hands and handed Rob the phone and said it was Anbes (Gladney in-country director in charge of various things, including visiting families), Anbes said he would meet us at the guest house, and then we were out the door, heading to the van.  The WHOLE time, our porter was talking to Rob.  I never heard what he said, but I COULD hear what Rob was saying, "I'll pay you when we get to the car."  "No, I only have birr (Ethiopian currency)."  "When we get to the car, I'll pay you."  Over and over again.  I was trying not to laugh :-)

We quickly loaded our bags in the van and jumped in.  AS SOON as the van door was shut, a woman threw herself up against the glass.  This is forever etched in my memory.  Her arms were up against the window.  One arm ended at the elbow, and the other did too, but it had some fingers growing out of it.  And she wanted food - or money - I don't know which.  I was just shocked.  I KNEW to expect beggars, but I did NOT expect them at the airport.  It was a really rough beginning to what turned out to be a wonderful and incredibly difficult trip.

I will tell you about our time in Addis in future posts, but I wanted to get the travel out of the way in one post.

Overall, the trip home was not nearly as awesome as the trip to Addis.  The flight from Addis to DC was longer (17 hours).  1 hour of that was sitting on the runway in Rome while we re-fueled and switched out the crew.  This flight was much more crowded than the flight out there, so there was someone sitting between Rob and me.  The food was TERRIBLE - like inedible.  In 17 hours I ate 2 rolls, a pack of crackers and a container of fruit cocktail.  Next time I will DEFINITELY be taking snacks for the plane.  Also, I COULD NOT get enough water, so between not eating well, not drinking enough and not getting enough sleep, I felt sick and miserable.  About hour 14 or 15, I looked at Rob with tears in my eyes and said, "I don't know if I can do this with a baby."  It was bad.  As we got off the plane, all I could think was, "I canNOT get on another plane today." 

Fortunately, our friends picked us up from the airport in DC, took us their place to shower and change, and then out to lunch.  By the time we actually had to get on the flight to DFW, I was feeling better and slept the entire 3 hours back home.

It took us almost a week to get over the jet lag when we got home.  We didn't really experience much jet lag in Addis at all, but the week after we got home was painful.  I'm glad next time I won't have to rush back to work and will (hopefully) have some family here to help with Lottie. 

If you've stuck with this loooong post, then good for you, here's some cuteness as a reward for your endurance:


  1. That was great to read. I will definitely be taking food with us! It will be LOADS of fun doing the long flight with our two girls. ;) Let's hope they sleep or remain very occupied by the on-air entertainment. We are flying Emirates and I've heard they provide lots of it!


  2. I can't wait to read more! It makes me want to go back. And I will tell you, yes, the flight home with a baby is much, much worse. But so worth it! :)

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  4. Thanks for the informative post! I can't wait until we are in your shoes.

  5. I love it all! She is so stinkin cute! I love that I got to meet her and hold her back in October! She gets more precious by the day!