The moment we stepped off the stagnant plane into the African air the same thought hit us: "Refugee camps!" It smelled identical to the rooms we used to visit at the refugee camps in Hungary. We walked down the corridor discussing how it must be due to their food. It had the smell of food and sweat, mixed with dirt and cattle. I know it doesn't sound good when described, but I breathed it in as sweetness; just not too deeply.
We follow the wave of people and assume we will get to where we need to be. As we stream down some stairs we see a sign marked "immigration visas" and break away. There is already a line of four people ahead of us so we take our place outside a small room and watch the large wave continue to flood down the stairs. As we do, the path towards the visa line swells and leaves us very thankful that we were moved from the back of the plane to the front bulkhead. The line now wraps around corners and, at the back, we see our fellow adoptive family somewhere near the end.
In a few minutes, we are waved inside and stand in front of a long table with several people sitting behind it...all with different jobs...and we look for a sign to direct us what to do next. One of the officials sticks his had up and moves it back and forth in the international sign for "We have lots to get through...would you hand me your papers already?!?" So we do. A lot of the process seems assumed. I try to look confident but I am afraid that is impossible, so I just stand back and let Josh take care of it. With a baby, you are often allowed to stand back...or at least you have an excuse. After several minutes of handing our papers to various people and shuffling money around, we walk our with our passports in hand- stamped with an Ethiopian visa.
Okay...now we see several lines. What now? As we are standing there...trying to figure this out, we are approached by another man who waves us over towards an empty line. Typically, in international travel, it is best to stay with the crowds. Empty lines mean you have caused some sort of problem and they have to deal with you separately. OR...in Ethiopia...it means they have seen the little infant in your arms and do not want you to have to wait. So we made our way up to the diplomat counter and again looked sympathetically back at our friends...still inching their way through the visa line.
The baggage claim had me worrying what everyone fears: "They lost our bags!" Josh was a little more (okay a lot more) confident and finally sent me to find somewhere to sit down: tired of my comments that the bags weren't coming. By the time I returned, there he was with the bags. One more process done. Once again, someone spotted us and rushed us to the front of yet another horribly long line to put the luggage through a security check. "You have baby...come with me." After some discussion in Amharic over the fact that we were pushing in front of another family with children and our attempts to step back and let them through first, we had our bags checked and were done! At least as far as I knew. YES! we were done! I saw a pool of dark faces behind a bar...waiting for their loved ones. I didn't bother looking for a "Yoder" sign as we were told to take a taxi. The first offer we got, we took and were walking hurriedly behind a "taxi man" towards the door.
My tired eyes welcomed the cool air and dark night sky. They were a contrast to the stagnant airports and artificial plane air. We passed a huddle of women who smiled and spoke in Amharic to me. I thought they must be telling me how cute my baby was so I smiled and nodded. We got past them and our guide informed me that they were telling me Oliver needed to be covered. I didn't think it was cold, but I must have been wrong because his long sleeve/long pants outfit was certainly not enough for the winter air of Ethiopia. Little did I know this would only be the beginning of Oliver's grief from my cultural sensitivity to keep him covered.
We had explained where we needed to go, but when we got to the car, we realized that the man we had been following (who spoke such nice English) was only taking us to our driver (who did not speak much English). We loaded into the car and headed off onto the dark streets. I suppose there were street lamps, but still I was not accustomed to driving on major roads in this lighting.
Josh took out the map and told him the landmark we were to give: "Atlas Hotel...near the Atlas hotel."
I wanted to tell the driver to slow down. The sights were hard to take in at such fast speeds. We passed small shack stores, a large Orthodox church with beggars lining it's gates, and people. People were everywhere. In only a few minutes we were slowing and obviously nearing the place where our landmark sat. Now to find the guesthouse. We made our way off the main road and onto a dirt side road. Two men slowly meandered down the side and stopped to stare as they caught sight of the "ferenge" who sat inside. This was the wrong street so we sat in the road as our driver called someone over to ask directions. Amharic...pointing...nods...on our way back down the street.
He seemed to know just where to go this time and in only a few turns, we spotted the sign reading "Mr. Martin's Cozy Place." Honk, Honk." and a tired guard opens the gate, lets us in, and shows us our room. Then, as quickly as we showed us in, he was gone.
Well, this is it: this tiny dark room would be our home base for the journey we unbelievably found ourselves on. We had arrived.