Thursday, July 09, 2009

Feet on the Ground

We didn't have to wait until we left to airport for the experience to begin. Immediately, before we were even in the terminal a distinctive, half culinary/half "something else" smell hit us in the face accompanied by humid air. We both noticed and came to the same conclusion: we had smelled this before. In the refugee camps. It was not a bad smell, and not overwhelming...but very distinct.

As one typically does when leaving an airplane and not knowing where to go, we followed the wave of people (of which we were near the beginning). The signs along the way confirmed we were headed in the right direction as we wound our way through a hallway, down stairs, and finally branched off to a small line of five people standing in front of the "Visitor Visa" door. We made small talk with those in front of us...and watched as the swell of people continued to follow and pile up behind us. At this moment we realized how fortunate we had been to be near the front of the plane. By the time we entered the door, it had grown around the corner and out of sight.

The room to get the visas was a narrow hall-like shape with doors on each end: one for the entering and one for the exiting. Lining the room were long tables with various officials handling various jobs seated on the other side. There was just enough room in a corner for one ch
air which I took while Josh questioningly chose which person to speak to. One checked papers, One took money, one issued and stamped the visa and one...well...several stood around, pointing directions to unknowing travelers. In a blur, we went through the "exit" door hoping that it was all done correctly and made our way to another line. The line to enter the country. By this time, those who did not need visas had caught up to us and we found ourselves at the back. Oh well.

After waiting only minutes, an airport staff man got our attention while holding open the gate marked "VIP" or "Diplomat" or something like that and ushered us to come forward. I have never been "vip" before but we causiously went towards him to hear him make out the words " ahead please." Still, I do not know if it was because we had a baby or because we were white. But we would find out more about that later. We went ahead and passed quickly through the passport check station. We glanced behind to see the N. family still in line for visas and realized, "boy, it sure pays to travel with an infant!" We did feel bad for them though.

Luggage came next...or did it? We had that feeling of looking at each bag...anticipating every moment to see yours; then you begin to see the bags you have already seen...then you see them again and suddenly you begin to worry. Well, at least I began to worry. I was finally told to "go away" nicely and went to find a quiet place to change Ollie's diaper. Eventually they came and we were once again in a line: this time for baggage security. And once again, we were grabbed and ushered to the front of the line. But this time a disagreement broke out between two
"ushers" over whose "family with children" should go first. We insisted that the family with older tired children go ahead of us and in a matter of moments, we were through.

Now what? ANother question answered as we were quickly approached and offered taxi services by a nice English speaking man. Great! As we followed his quick pace, a man tapped us on the shoulder. When we turned around he appologized with a "sorry...sorry."

As soon as we stepped outside, the air hit us with a cool 7o degrees or so. It must have just
rained for the ground was still damp and the smell of dirt fresh dirty rain was in the air. Three ladies stood by some steps motioning me to cover Ollie (who was also wrapped in three layers). We arrived at a car parked near the front of the parking lot with another man sitting on the hood. He smiled, nodded, and quickly jumped up to help us with our bags. I guess we were changing hosts. We paid the first man and hopped into the car. Just like that we were off to drive on our first African roads. Parts of me wished we had arrived in the day as I was desperate to see what was around us. Only outlines of small buildings and occasional lights with huddles of people standing around them could be seen at first. By the time we got to the city, it was a little
easier to make out the shapes on the side of the road.

Our driver asked to see the directions again (which consisted of a map of sorts and the words
"across from the Altas Hotel"). We turned down a small road as it appeared that the driver wasn't too sure where we needed to go. Two men are walking down another quiet dark road so he turns towards them, stops, and rolls down the window, speaking to them in Amaric. Our only understanding of the conversation comes from shrugs and points. We are off again and he finally seems to have a better idea of where to go. I must admit, the thought ran through my mind: here we are in a country way out of our league in terms of navigational skills, with a driver we don't know, very late at night. Let's just say I was thrilled to see the familiar sign reading "Mr. Martin's Cozy Place." One little honk brought out the doorman who sleepily led us to our room and retreated back to his small little watch room.

Our room was small, but it was what we requested. Not a room for the picky traveler, yet we were happy to call it home while we were there. Tomorrow would prove to be one of the most exciting days of our lives. Neither of knew what to expect and were anxious to see more...anxious to see our son and his country. We were anxious, but exhausted. Sleep came quickly but the night was short.

To be continued...

*Special note about photography or lack there of: Many areas in Addis (including airports, banks, embassies, and other government or important buildings) prohibit photography. This mixed with the strange feeling that I got taking pictures (as though we were making ourselves stand out MORE and somehow making a show out of the poverty there) meant that I did not take many pictures and didn't take the pictures I would have liked to. I don't regret this though I do miss that we can't share more.

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