I'm in the middle of my travel to Ethiopia and so far so good! The day started off early at home in Blacksburg since we had to drive to Charlotte, NC for my flight. After getting everyone up and dressed and everything loaded, which was a LOT of stuff-4 huge suitcases for me to take, chock full of donations for the kids in Ethiopia-we were off! (also after an unfruitful attempt to capture our stupid cat, er, elusive feline, who ran out the door in the process of packing and hid under the bushes just out of reach-too bad kitty, now you get 5 days outside with only critters to eat if that's how you're gonna roll) We got to Charlotte with 218 lbs of donations praying they would waive the fees since it was donations for children-they did not. Rats. Rats to the tune of $400, btw!! But, once again God was in it as just days before, a couple of amazing friends had given me $ out of nowhere stating that it was to be uses for luggage fees if needed-and guess what?? It was exactly $400!!! Yeah, God is in the details for sure :)
The next part was honestly the hardest thing I have ever done-saying goodby to Pat and the girls. Seriously, it hit all of use like a ton of bricks that we would be apart for longer than we ever have been and it was just so hard to say goodbye and walk away from them. I know and they know this is where I am supposed to be right now, but there are never any gurantees with life and walking away from them was just plain hard, God-ordained or not. Plus I have NEVER flown completely by myself before, it has always been with other people so it was a little daunting!! But, all was easy and God mercifully had me right near my gate and I got the added bonus of "escorting" an elderly Ethiopian woman on the leg of the flight from Charlotte to DC-her family was dropping her off and she spoke no English and they were trying to make sure she was taken care of. I recognized her as Ethiopian right away by her gabbi (white shawl worn often by older women) and thing chain she wore on her forehead-I told her daughter I was on this flight and could I be of any help? She was so excited and hugged me all up-I the welcoming culture of the Ethiopian people! I felt so protective of this sweet woman who I had never met and who spoke not a lick of English-but we had a partnership, she and I. She needed to know where to go, and I needed to have something to keep me from freaking out about leaving my family-once again, God was in the details. We got on the plane, took a short uneventful ride to DC, and hopped off onto the tarmac to grab bags and go into the terminal. My elderly companion was met by an airport worker and I was able to tell her she had no carry on luggage and just needed to get to her gate-we hugged and said goodbye. I was hoping I'd see her again but I knew that there were several flights out of Dulles to Ethiopia so who knew. Again, it turned out I was right in the concourse I already needed to be in for my next flight-I was so worried I'd have to change b/c Dulles has these weird bus things that look like At-Ats from Star Wars and they confuse me :) A short walk later, after asking a sweet Ethiopian gift shop worker where the Ethiopian Airlines gate was (I specifically found her b/c like I said, Ethiopians feel like family to
me : ), I was my gate and ready to meet the folks I'd be spending the next 10 days with. After some texting, found out they were all right in front of me in the sea of folks milling around the gate and we sat and got to know each other for some time since we had a long layover. Phew! They were all very nice and friendly-I was maybe a little nervous about not knowing any of them ;) We all had a little bit of tense moments when the check in folks tried to be very strict and tell us our carry ons could only weigh 15 lbs (um, what?! That is like a pair of shoes and my suitcase!! Since all our big bags were donations, we had all packed our personal ff in our carry on little roll-y suitcases) I had some "discussions" with the workers about not charging us and it was interesting how similar it felt to the haggling that goes on in the Ethiopian marketplace—something I found both frustrating and oddly fun all at the same time last time I traveled!! Turns out haggling must be my "spiritual gift" b/c all the sudden my bag of 30 lbs was tagged to go through as was everyone else's in our group-yay, God---AGAIN!! :) During this time, I felt a tug on my shoulder, tuned around and who should be there clapping and hugging me? My Ethiopian friend from my first flight! She was so excited-it was so sweet! I was just as excited as we stood smiling and nodding and hugging each other-I hate not speaking Amharic. The plane ride thus far has been....eh. It is a smaller plane and pretty crowded with very limited options when you get restless-about 5 movies that all just play on a continuous loop such that if you miss the beginning, too bad, you can catch it in 2 hrs. There is nothing else to do, not really much are to walk, and I am realizing flying Emirates the last time we came to Ethiopia has forever spoiled me with their endless things to do, see, etc. Plus, by 3 am our time, I had already been served dinner and breakfast so my body is thoroughly confused!!! We have completed the first leg of the flight and are currently sitting on a runway in Rome, Italy where we stopped for them to re-fuel and clean the plane, all while we are still on it as we do not get to get off-boo. And wow, it is HOT in here!! (and btw, the combo of a lot of people and a lot of different ethnic smells can get quite intense on a very hot plane, just fyi—wanted you to get the full experience from reading this) But, I can say I've been to Italy, right?! (which btw, from the tiny oval window looks just like the view out the window in DC-concrete, scrubby weeds, and planes. Isn't there supposed to be vineyards and pasta and people riding bikes and painting everywhere in Italy???) We have about 7 more hours after we take off until we arrive in Addis Ababa! I think I can I think I can......God has just been so GOOD, as always, on this trip and goes before and behind us. Can't wait to see what He has up His great big sleeves next! Ciao for now!
Later that day....
The last leg of the flight to Addis Ababa was mostly uneventful. I shared a row with a nice girl who slept almost the entire flight. My feet swelled to probably 3x their normal size and so I spent a good amount of time standing and walking around in the tiny amount of space the plane afforded. We got to Addis, made a beeline for the visa office to avoid the long line and got through very quickly. We spent a very long time waiting for ALL the luggage to get there but eventually every single piece showed up-and of course one of mine was both broken AND wet—ewwww. I asked an employee about the broken suitcase, but he just shrugged and walked away. Good times. We finally got all the luggage through security and out to meet our driver from the guest house, Masti. He was very friendly and I remembered once again why I like Ethiopians so much :) They took us to a mini bus that was very very tall (with a oriental carpeted, fringed interior ceiling and a big plastic framed photo of a hite Jesus with blue eyes-I'm thinkin' of pimpin' out my Honda Odyssey in the same style....) and proceeded to load almost ALL of the luggage on top of it in a precarious mountain that makes Americans freak out and ask about ropes and bungee cord and makes Ethiopians laugh and get in to drive away. It is "winter" here and was quite chilly and raining-the kind of chilly where you can see your breath, yep, in Africa. It DOES get cold here, just not like it does at home. The drive to our guest home was dark, wet, and suprisingly devoid of other vehicles or people on the street, which is unusual for Addis. Our guest home arrival proved pretty confusing for everyone-we weren't sure what to do with out mountain of luggage they had unloaded into the foyer, we weren't sure where the boys were staying (in another guest house around the corner it turned out) or what we were doing for dinner, although after the plane ride's continual feeding schedule, no one was especially hungry, it seemed anyway. Add to that the trying to figure out our schedule for tomorrow with the drivers and some difficulties understanding everyone's accents, it sort of was the icing on the cake when the power went out. It is still not back on and probably will not be until tomorrow-and I was super thankful for the tiny flashlight I packed-it was one of only about 3 we had in our group!! We ended up walking to the nearby other guest house to eat dinner-pizza, with a little bit of Ethiopian flair, a not totally uncommon food here actually b/c of a brief Italian occupation decades ago. It was ok, not like home :) Everyone was starting to get a little bleary-eyed from traveling so we headed back to our guest house to get settled in, in the candlelight, and listen to the street dogs bark wildly outside our gate. There are strange sounds here in the city of Addis Ababa, but they make it what it is and they do not bother me like they do some. I realized, upon returning to our bags, that my nicely secured locked bags were going to stay that way unless I figured out a solution since I left the keys with Pat back home-oops. Leaving at the airport was kind of a blur, I might have mentioned that.... Anyway, I tried 2 other girls' luggage keys to no avail and finally asked Masti if he had any bolt or wire cutters. He and another guy scurried off, came back with 2 different sets of lopper looking things, ended up taking them apart and stabbing the point through the lock and popping them open by banging it with the other half of the shears. Locksmiths, Ethiopian-style :) It is interesting to see the group's reactions to Africa as none of them have ever been here except Kelly and her husband, Shane (our trip leaders), and myself. I am so excited to see what God does with all of us on this trip-I know we will have changed hearts for sure!! I'm dying to call home and talk to my family since I cannot email without power. I can find the person with the cell phone soon-it is just amazing what technology we rely on in our lives and when we are without it, we (maybe just me??) feel a little lost. Up semi-early tomorrow to head off on our first adventure at El Olam orphanage-guess I should go to bed!! Hopefully the power will be restored tomorrow but if not, no biggie! It's just like camping, but in Africa :)
(I posted just a few photos of travel stuff and tomorrow I will post a re-cap of today at our first orphanage--tomorrow we head to our day with the kiddos at the dump/leper colony---so excited!!)
If you want to see more photos now, go to the Ordinary Hero blog to check it out! (just google "Ordinary Hero blog" b/c I don't think I can ppost it as a link from here.