Sunday, July 18, 2010

Trip to Ethiopia - Travel Days

I apologize it has taken me this long to give you a recap of my trip to Ethiopia. In my defense, it's been a bit crazy around here!!!

I have been extremely reticent to blog about my trip for two reasons. First, it was an extremely emotional trip for me. This emotion was born from much more than my meeting Tedi and becoming a Dad for the first time. The sights, sounds, smells (oh, the smells) and people of Ethiopia have stayed with me. They are like a haze surrounding me constantly. They have affected my outlook and decisions since I have been home. I want to say it has been for the good. Ethiopia changed me in a profound way. It is difficult to put that emotion into words without coming across melodramatic (which I'm sure this last paragraph made me sound).

I departed Louisville at 10:45am Friday, June 25. I managed to get all of my clothes, Tedi's clothes, snacks, and supplies for the orphanages in one big suitcase which was the size of a refridgerator (thanks Zach and Sarah), one duffle bag, a SMALL (remember that) rolling carry-on, and a backpack. I flew the one hour trek to Chicago O'Hare Airport. I sat right in the middle of a group of healthcare workers from Washington state. They were very nice and loved their time in Louisville minus the humidity (my God, who doesn't). The airline industry baffles me with the little things. How did I end up right in the middle of their group? I often question the seating protocols on airplanes. They never make sense to me.

After landing in Chicago, I wanted to get one last good "American" meal so, naturally, I went to Chile's. Most (I'd say at least 75%) of our friends who have travelled to Ethiopia have loved the food. Still, I wondered if this would be the last glutinous meal I would have for a week. After lunch, I met up with Doug and Deena Marquis. They also adopted through our agency, Arise for Children, and live in Green Bay, WI. You can check out their blog, The Best Things in Life Aren't Things, to the right. They were picking up their daughter Hiwot, who lived in the same orphanage as Tedi. Natalie and I had been getting to know the Marquis' through email and phone calls, so it was nice to meet them face to face. I was happy to have some travel partners.

Remember the small, rolling carry-on bag I mentioned earlier? As we were in line to board our 8 1/2 hour flight from Chicago to Frankfurt, Germany on Lufthansa Airlines, an airline representative approached the three of us. She asked us to come with her. Deena immediately said "Uh Oh. This is not good." I was trying to remain positive and said, "Maybe, this is the one time it will be good to be pulled out of line." Ummm, Deena was right. We were marched to the front of the line by this German lady who should have been in the movie "Schindler's List" told us that our carry-ons were too big. Bear in mind that this plane was huge. It was a double decker with 11 seats across. This lady wanted us to believe that we were the only ones whose carry-ons exceeded the standards. Doug, who should have been an attorney, talked his way out of it and was able to proceed. By the time Frauline got to me, her patience was all used up. There was no reasoning with her. I explained to her the importance of what was in this bag and her reply was, "Do not worry. I promise you that this bag will be the first one in baggage claim in Ethiopia." Really! I responded. You can promise me that? Somehow with the airline industry's reputation, that is like BP promising me they would stop an oil leak.

I am a man of integrity and would like to point out that all three of my bags made it to Ethiopia in one piece. I do not know if my carry-on was the first piece to arrive to baggage claim. Unfortunately, I was in Customs as the bags arrived.

Boarding the plane while imagining a week in Ethiopia with only the clothes on my back, the hits just kept on coming. "Ladies and gentleman, we have a completely full flight this evening..." The words I NEVER want to hear. To make matters worse, I was in the middle seat of the middle section in coach. Now, that's the only way to travel. At that moment, I was cursing everyone I passed in Business Class, wishing I was six inches shorter and 50 pounds lighter, and wondering why they keep airplanes so hot as you are boarding them.

Nine hours later (none of which included sleep), as I unfolded myself out of the apparatus Lufthansa calls a chair, I noticed a man wearing what appeared to be a UL polo shirt. I approached him and asked him about it. We started talking and I asked Mike and Penny what they were doing in Germany. They told me, "Actually, we are on our way to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. We adopted three children and are going to pick them up." Wow. I introduced them to Doug and Deena and our travel group grew by two. Mike and Penny now have twelve children. Six are biological, two are from Khazikstan, one adopted from the US, and three from Ethiopia). What a cool family.

We had a lengthy layover of four hours in Frankfurt but it was nice to walk around and stretch out. The plane we flew from Germany to Addis was considerably nicer. It was a very new plane and everyone had their own TV screen. Even we cretans in coach! Also, the plane was less than 50% full!!! I was so happy about that. I was able to stretch out and watch a couple of movies. I also slept about half of the seven hour flight to Ethiopia.

It was raining in Addis when we landed after 26 hours of travel. The sun had just set so I did not get a view of the city on the way in. We made it through Customs and exchanged some dollars in Ethiopian Birr (there are about 13 birr : $1). After we grabbed our luggage, we found our transportation to our hotel, the Panorama Hotel. The hotel was really nice. We checked into our room which were next to each other and went to the hotel bar to grab dinner. The food at the hotel was really good (so much for my fears of not getting fed). Doug bought a steak for less than $6. The prices are insane in Ethiopia. We watched the US play Ghana in the World Cup. Ethiopians love soccer and thought we would be offended if they cheered for Ghana. Little did they know, Deena was cheering for Ghana also!

As I laid down (finally), I could not believe that Tedi was just a few miles away. I wanted to jump in a cab and go meet. Natalie, myself, and a lot of others had worked tirelessly for eight months to bring him home and now I was a ten minute drive from him. I did not want him to sleep in an orphanage any longer. I did not want him to have to wear pink crocs and girl clothes any longer.

Many thoughts raced through my head. I was sad that Natalie could not be with me. I know she really struggled with not being able to go and I wanted to do well with Tedi to make her proud of us. I was nervous about being a Dad. It's a pretty big responsibility. I wondered if Tedi would like me or turn to the nannies and say "I'm not going anywhere with this white dude." And honestly, he speaks Ahmaric, I would not have known what he was saying!

As I drifted off to sleep (and it did not take long after our long travel day), I knew that my life would never be the same. This was the last night I would go to bed as a non-parent. From now on (as the bracelet I wear says) "My life is not my own."


  1. Brings tears to my eyes. Thanks for sharing your experience. It makes it that much more real for us that we will be there soon. Love you guys!

  2. Awesome post JT! I loved how you summarized our first day. Can't wait to ready more :)
    Hope all is well!