Friday, July 17, 2009

Ethiopia trip - Days 1 & 2 (June 27 & 28)

Now that you've all seen some glimpses of our trip and our life with Yikealo so far, we'll go back and detail the days in Ethiopia a bit more. Our journey began with packing and repacking luggage to try to meet the requirements of the airlines. We were allowed a total of 4 checked bags (of no more than 50 lbs. each) and 2 carry-on bags (of no more than 15 lbs. each). On the Thursday evening before our Saturday departure, David's family held an "orphanage shower" for us, and many of our friends and family brought donations for Hannah's Hope. I had originally planned to take only 2 checked bags full of donations, but because of the incredible generosity of everyone, we ended up with an extra 50 lb. bag of donations. Many thanks again to everyone who helped with donations - I cannot tell you how much they mean to Almaz, the staff, and the children at Hannah's Hope.

We had big plans of having "one last quiet, romantic evening together" to celebrate the life that we'd thoroughly enjoyed as a couple for the last 14.5 years, but that didn't really happen. We were busy packing and putting the carseat together until way too late, and then I didn't sleep much on Friday night - just too keyed up to shut my brain off. I should have just followed David's example and taken an Ambien. Susan, Grandma Alma, Cole and Quinn helped us to transport all of our luggage to Cleveland, and they picked us up around 10:30 AM. Cole and Quinn were both VERY upset to learn at the airport that they weren't coming with us!

Thankfully, my bathroom scale was accurate, because our five checked bags each weighed around 49 lbs. The fee for the extra bag was $250, but after seeing the letter that our agency had written stating that we were doing humanitarian aid, the United Airlines agent contacted his manager, who waived the fee. We had a very uneventful trip through security - I think this was the only time in my life that I haven't set off the alarm - and a great short flight to Dulles, where we transferred to Ethiopian Airlines for the next leg of the journey. At Dulles, we met up with 4 other families in our travel group, and it was really neat to meet some of the people that we had been "talking to" online. BTW, for anyone leaving soon, Ethiopian Airlines states that they will not allow any carry-on bags over 15 lbs, but they were allowing them up to 20 lbs. After standing in line for our boarding passes, we learned that Ethiopian was still going to charge us $150 for the extra checked bag, so we pulled out our letter again, and three agents consulted and decided to waive the fee. We thought that Hannah's Hope needed the money more than the airlines anyway!
Our flight left DC at 8:30 PM and I remember David and I giving each other rather incredulous, teary looks as we lifted off. Our adoption journey was probably a little unusual in that we had never wanted children - neither of us had EVER had that internal longing to have a larger family than just the two of us. We knew that God had asked us to do this, and yes, He had created a desire for this specific little boy in our hearts, but it was bizarre to think that after the months of trying to plan for this moment, it was finally here. We would be travelling as a family of three on the way home, and it was so strange to try to wrap our minds around that thought. At the same time that we were looking forward to meeting Yikealo, we were grieving in a way the lifestyle that we were giving up.

(A couple of the referral pictures that we had received in March)

The flight to Ethiopia went much better than I thought it would, other than the fact that I got about 1 hour of sleep on a 15.5 hour flight! I am typically a person who needs LOTS of sleep, and I knew I'd be paying for this at some point.

We arrived in Addis Ababa a little after 7:00PM Ethiopia time on Sunday evening. It was dark as we were coming in, but looking out of the window, we could definitely tell that we weren't landing in America. It was completely black until we were basically over the city, and then the lights were a tiny fraction of what you'd see in a US city. I couldn't stop the tears as our plane touched down - we were going to meet our son (how can this be possible?) in about 15 hours!

Getting our visa and going through customs took FOREVER, and we were the last people through in our travel group. FINALLY, we finished up and met the rest of our group, as well as Danny, the HH driver and Johannes, the family coordinator, and walked out into fresh air. Again, it was dark, so we really couldn't see much. There were people milling everywhere trying to help with the luggage and therefore get a tip, and the general feeling was one of confusion. We had two vans - one crammed with all of the luggage, and one crammed with people - on the trip back to the hotel. David and I ended up being seated in front next to the driver, so we had a first-hand look at the crazy traffic. There are no traffic lights, stop signs, seatbelts or any other traffic laws that we could see in Addis Ababa - a city of over 2 million people. The roads are in fairly horrible condition, and all the drivers just kind of do their own thing, so driving is always an adventure!

We finally arrived at our destination - the Union Hotel Apartments. After checking in and getting our allotment of bottled water from the desk clerk, we started lugging our baggage up to our room, and that's when David discovered that the altitude was REALLY getting to him. At the suggestion of his doctor, he'd been taking altitude sickness meds for several days but he was still just gasping for breath. Of course, dragging 50 lb. suitcases up 4 flights of steps didn't help! Thankfully, the altitude never really bothered me, so I got to play "pack-mule" for most of our trip.

Our experience at the Union was very good. The staff was friendly and helpful, and the food at the restaurant was decent. I was glad that we weren't staying in a 5-star completely Americanized hotel. There were plenty of things to let us know that we weren't in a US establishment, but somehow, it just didn't really matter to us there. Here are some photos of our room:

The bathtub/shower had no shower curtain and all of the water ended up running into a drain on the floor in front of the toilet. There was a sign on the toilet asking us not to flush toilet paper - that it usually clogged the plumbing. Instead, we were supposed to drop it into the wastebasket - EEWWWW!

The best part, though, was the sign on the back of the toilet lid - our first introduction to "Ethiopian-ized English" signs!

We had been warned through the AGCI Yahoo group that electricity was rare, that there were no pillowcases or washcloths provided, that the beds were terrible, and that the water wasn't safe, and yet I knew that my accomodations were incredibly luxurious compared to those of most of the people in that country. I praised God for His goodness and guidance to that point, and fell into a deep sleep for a good 6.5 hours!

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