Sunday, November 22, 2015

And We’re Off…or Are We? - November 21, 2015

Arranging pick-ups at foreign airports is perhaps my favorite part about traveling. There’s generally guaranteed to be this overwhelming sense of “wtf” when you land and realize you don’t speak the language / have a local cell phone / really even know who is picking you up or where said person will be. When you’re on the plane, everything is all wonderful and still American…and then you land it’s like “shit…I’m in a very foreign place now.”

I was not disappointed when I landed in the Addis airport early on Saturday morning after ~18 hours of travel. Luckily, I have been to Addis quite a few times before so I was able to speed walk my way to be probably the first person on my plane to the Visa line – and then I was able to reassure everybody that, yes, they had to wait in the disastrously long line.

But as the minutes in line ticked away (after probably 15 minutes I gave up pretending to be in awe of everything and just tuned into a podcast…I then listened to two 30-minute podcasts before getting close enough to the front to think it inappropriate to start another), my confidence that I’d be able to find the driver for Selamta Family Project diminished…

Flashback to 16 hours before: about 10 minutes before I boarded the plane in DC, I got a text from the US Director of the Selamta FamilyProject: “Do you have a few minutes to talk?”

I volunteer for the Finance team for Selamta and we’re in the middle of a grant application…so I knew that the “few minutes” she wanted to talk would probably be ~30 minutes reviewing the budget…and I literally only had a few minutes before I boarded the plane. I contemplated not texting her back, but ultimately guilt overwhelmed me so I did, and I braced myself for the barrage of budget questions that would inevitably come. (Marisa – just so you know – I do love you!)

She called me right away.

No small talk…she jumped straight to the point: 

“Do you know who is picking you up in Addis?”

“Umm…Ishy was going to but he just messaged [about 10 minutes prior] to tell me his car is broken to Haile is going to pick me up instead.”

[Actually realizing I should be thankful that Ishy messaged me when he did. Would’ve been an unfortunate message to miss by just a few minutes…]

“Okay and do you know where he’s going to pick you up?”


“Alright…well usually they can’t come into the airport because of security reasons. So don’t freak out if you don’t see him! Just get your bags and walk down to the parking lot and I’m sure he’ll spot you!”

“Right…I’ve been to Addis before so I can vision the parking lot area. But…I’m not sure I remember what Haile looks like.”

“I’ll text you a picture. Good luck!” [Hey Marisa…about that text…I never received it!]

Perhaps the only time I’ve been less confident in an airport pick-up was when I was messaging Cory Hoeferlin from the Istanbul airport on my way to Jo’burg. It ended up that the only way I found him was by talking loud enough about my problem in the airport that a tour guide overheard and made the connection that his tour guide friend was with Cory – like what.

Back to Addis time: every time I’ve gotten a Visa before, it has taken about 30 minutes. So when I clicked onto podcast #2, I started figuring out Plan B – as I was sure it would soon become Plan A. Haile was definitely going to assume he missed me and leave the airport. There were four Plan Bs in my mind:

1.       Public transportation – I’ve taken public busses around Addis before so I figured I could figure it out again. Plus, Selamta is pretty close to the (I think) well-known Bethel Teaching Hospital so I could probably communicate that with a bus driver who would probably let me know where I need to transfer, etc. The reason I was most apprehensive about this option though was because it would be really hard to take a public bus with two 50-lb bags in tow. I actually wasn’t sure it was possible. Also I wasn’t sure if public buses came to the airport.

2.      Walk down to an internet café – I’ve hung out in Addis/Bole area enough to know there are plenty of internet cafes. There would probably be a few within a mile of the airport. I could just walk down to one of them and pull out my phone to email Abel/Hailey my whereabouts. But again – two 50 lb bags in tow made this one a little difficult.

3.      Bite the bullet and pay the international data roaming fee and just text Abel/Hailey – This idea was especially attractive because I recently absorbed the rest of my family onto my Verizon plan – which actually means – I recently stopped paying my own cell phone bill. I actually tried this one but it didn’t work because I’m somewhat technologically inept.

4.      Cry and find a ride/ hitchhike – Would’ve been a fine idea if I could articulate where Selamta is located. But I quickly realized I could not do this when the Immigration Officer asked me the address of where I was staying and I stuttered out an inadequate response.

So without a reasonable Plan B, I only had one option once I got through the Visa line (its own adventure of follow-your-passport as it traded hands between FIVE immigration officers), I picked up my bags, confidently shrugged off any taxi offers with a “no, amaseganalo” and headed to the parking lot.

…which is where this story ends because I immediately spotted and recognized Haile, who was beaming and enthusiastically waving at me the second the parking lot came into view. With a quick hug and an exchange of cookies from the US as thanks, we were off to run some errands and head out to Bethel, home of Selamta Family Project!

[Of note: I wasn’t alone in my fear that immigration took too long. Once I got internet, I saw that I had actually gotten an email while in line from the Ethiopian Director of Selamta. He had assumed I missed Haile and was finding my own way to Selamta!]

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