Friday, November 26, 2010

Court Trip - Post 1 - Leaving on a Jet Plane

We had been waiting for this day for a LOOONG time, and finally it had arrived! Our departure date! The day we'd be leaving to head to Ethiopia to meet our new son.

My parents arrived Thursday evening around 8:00. Daniel was at ice hockey practice with Eric while I finished up last minute packing & list-making. Meals were prepared and in the freezer for the kids while we were gone. Emergency numbers were compiled and amongst the other papers containing schedules, directions to the various hockey rinks where Daniel had games while we were gone, and medication, doctors, and insurance information. We were as ready as we were going to be.

Friday morning, we awoke early and left for the airport before anyone else was awake. We had 4 large suitcases packed to the maximum weight - all containing donations for AHOPE and Holt. Then, we each had a personal carry-on item and another small carry-on which contained all of our clothes and stuff for our trip. Good thing we were only staying in Ethiopia for 2 days total!

At the airport in Pittsburgh, things went very smoothly and we were happy to discover that once we had successfully managed to haul our luggage to the check-in point in Pittsburgh, we did not have to retrieve it again until we landed in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia! Yay! Somehow 50 lbs. in a suitcase seems a lot heavier than picking up a 50 lb. child.

Our first flight went very smoothly and we landed in Toronto an hour and 1/2 later. Then we had a few hours lay-over before boarding another flight to Frankfort Germany. Aside from having to sit on the tarmac for close to 30 minutes to wait for the crew to dig through the luggage to find someone's bags that had to be pulled from the plane, it also went off without a hitch. Despite the length of sitting on the flights, my back held up amazingly well. Again, in Frankfort, we had a few hours lay-over, but we just got something to eat and sat around, trying to rest before our final flight.

Finally! It was time for our last flight to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia! We're coming, Markos! We boarded our final flight from outside due to construction in the Frankfort airport. That was a little strange, but I didn't care as long as we got there ASAP.

Although we were exhausted by this point, adrenaline, anxiety, and excitement kept us going. Not to mention, with views like these, who could sleep?!

When we were ready to land in Ethiopia, the pilot announced that there was a backlog of flights waiting to land and so we would have to circle for a while before we could land. Yuck. We circled for about 20 minutes, before we finally landed at 9:35 pm, Saturday night.

Once in the airport, we anxiously made our way through customs (which could not have been easier!) Neither of us was asked a single question. Then, we happily retrieved all 4 of our bags from baggage claim and exchanged our U.S. dollars for Ethiopian burr. We exchanged $400 U.S. and received a huge pile of Ethiopian burr -- 6,587.84. The exchange rate is $1 to 16.4696 burr. You know how you see those commercials asking for your donations and they claim that you can feed a child for only $1 a day? Well, it really IS true and that is why! Our money goes a long way over there!!

We walked outside the baggage area and there was a large crowd waiting outside. Almost immediately, we saw our driver holding the "Holt International" sign. Then, we saw the others in our travel group who had also just arrived. At this point, Mariah and Brian from South Dakota, Stephanie and Mike from Vermont, Heather and Tyler from Oregon, Amanda and Justin from Oregon, and Eric and I were there. We waited and waited for Kendra and Dic (also from South Dakota) but they were stuck in an unusually long visa line, so our driver decided to take us to the guest house and come back for them later. The rest of us had gotten our visas through the Ethiopian Embassy in Washington, DC before we left the states.

We quickly realized, after loading all the luggage and all the people into two vans, what the other families meant went they warned us about the roads and the driving there. It is controlled insanity. The roads are awful; and there are few, if any, traffic laws, signs, or stop lights. It was dark when we arrived, so we couldn't see much, but as we turned and began driving out of the airport, I looked out the window to see a man walking down the sidewalk with a machine gun strapped on his chest. Hmmm. "Now, there's something we don't see in the U.S.", I thought.

The guest house was not far from the airport, although it WAS definitely tucked away off the road. We eventually figured out that this was the sign that marked the turn for us:

The Jemimah Guest House (pronounced Gem-e-mah, not Jemimah like the syrup!) was surrounded by a large, gated wall. There were guards working the gate all the time. Each time we approached, the van honked the horn and they opened the gate so we could get in. The staff working the desk were extremely friendly and helpful, as were the drivers. They always insisted on helping with your bags and helping you carry things to your room -- not because they wanted tips, just because that is how the Ethiopian people are. Very caring, very helpful, very service-oriented.

There was a family room off the lobby, and another family room on the first floor. Our bedroom was very simple, but very beautiful. Our bathroom was also very nice. It had only a stand-up shower, but it was very nice and clean. We were thankful that our room was only up one flight of stairs because Addis is at almost 8000 feet above sea level -- a very high altitude -- so just climbing one set of stairs nearly killed each of us. Our hearts would be beating out of our chests and we'd be completely out of breath. Tidbit for those who like trivia: This is why so many Ethiopians are good long distance runners! Their bodies get very good at processing oxygen due to the altitude! Ours, not so much. ;-)

We explored the guest house a little, tried (unsuccessfully) to get the internet in the upstairs family room to work, talked with the other families a little, then went to our rooms to unpack a little and crash in bed, anxiously awaiting our orientation and trip to the care center to meet Markos for the first time!

Our room

Our bathroom

The upstairs family room

The other side of the upstairs family room

Tomorrow, we meet Markos!!! Oh happy day!

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