Thursday, February 17, 2011

The 32-Hour Saturday (Plus Travel Hints & Tips)

Yep, quite possibly literally the longest day of our lives. :)

It had been a crazy beautiful, emotional, heart-warming, heart-breaking, heavy week.  A week that did not yield much sleep.

On Friday night, after kissing Little Girl goodbye, we headed back out into the city with Solomon (taxi driver) one last time.  It was very different to view the city from "street" level instead of van-level.  We made a few last purchases, promised to bring shoes back to some of the boys we had met on the street and hurried back to clean up and pack for the long trip back home.

An over-view of the longest Saturday ever:
  • Leave Ethiopia at 11:30p Friday.
  • 7-Hour Flight (Dinner and breakfast were served.)
  • Arrive in Germany at 5:30am (local time).
  • 12 Hours of fun in Frankfurt--sleep in airport sitting up, train ride into the city, breakfast in a deserted cafe, relaxed at Starbucks, took a "remarkably unremarkable" bus tour of Frankfurt, lunch at a pub--German-style, back to Starbucks, train back to the airport, more airport snoozing.  Boarded plane at 5:30pm (local time).
  • 8-Hour Flight back to NY--arriving at 7:45pm (NY time).  (J and I switched seats half-way through the flight because Dude in front of me had his seat reclined for the entire trip and kept trying to bang it back further--Dude behind me was tall and there was no way to recline my seat.  It was a long trip back. Only one movie during the entire flight on a screen way up high.  Nice but interesting character in the window seat.  Did I mention that it was a long trip?)
All of that to say, to stay sane, J and I wrote the following light-hearted Hints & Tips from our first trip.

(Remember this was a long flight--so this might be cup-of-coffee worthy. ;)

Hints & Tips
  1. There is nothing quite like international travels to make me feel completely inept in the language department.  In hindsight, it seems completely obvious that it would have been helpful to learn a few common words in Amharic (Ethiopia) and German (Frankfurt).  This became quite apparent to me this morning when I asked to used a restroom and the doors were only labeled with German words (Damen for women, in case you’re wondering.).

Jmill and I are, shall we say, a little more on the reserved side ;), but thankfully we traveled with two other families who weren’t afraid to try new things and to practice Amharic.  One of the words that we used tons each day was “thank you” or “amesegenalehu.”  That one seriously took me until Friday to feel confident saying—the rest of the week I mumbled it so that hopefully it sounded close enough. :) 

Other words that we used:
“Selam” or “Hello”  (literally, “Peace”)
“Ciao” or “Goodbye”
“Buna” or “Coffee”
“Kahnjo” or “Beautiful”
“Kahnjono” or “Good”
“Ishi” or “Okay”
“Aye” or “No”

Oh, yeah, and it’s amazing how when you don’t know what to say, you revert to any language you know.  For me that’s the most basic forms of Spanish and American Sign Language.  I can’t tell you how many times I said “si’” or signed “thank-you.”

The people that we interacted with loved it when someone spoke in Amharic.   J and I are determined to learn more before we go back (We might come back saying funny things like “How is your eye?” or “My name is how are you.” But that’s “ishi”). 

  1. Noise-cancelling headphones are awesome on the flight!  You can barely hear engine sounds or crying babies.  And (with 2-prong adapters) they are great (clean and comfortable) for the in-flight movies and music.  (Ours were Kennsington--$30 Amazon.)

  1. Protein or Granola bars are a must-have for a few reasons.  For one, they are great to have on hand if you’re up late because of the time change and you get hungry.  Also, there are some days that you may be able to stay a little longer at HH by “skipping” lunch and having a bar instead.  And then they are also helpful to have to pass out to children that you might meet at the market or while sight-seeing.

  1. An extra pillowcase (or two!).  The hotel is awesome…but a pillowcase (or even a pillow) from home would make it even better. ;)

  1. Note to self to bring an inflatable bathtub for our embassy trip (thanks for sharing this idea SB!). 

  1. The food at the hotel is really quite delicious (personally :).  The free breakfast buffet is different every morning.  The coffee--A-MAZ-ING.  The Ethiopian food is very good (I got the tibs twice).  But the pasta dishes are my favorite! 

  1. Internet access is slow and unreliable, but there IS Internet access!  Facebook, Skype and email usually worked…although sometimes quite sluggishly.  But, I could not view any blogs or post to my blog at all while I was there.  So I emailed my “posts” and pictures to Becca to post for me (of course, now I have to erase her memory because she has my password. ;)  

  1. Our Kindles ruled.  The battery life is like one whole month.  J and I are each reading a few different books at once-and not having to take up any luggage space with the actual books was fantastic (not to mention much easier on our backs).  They also play MP3’s.  And J downloaded all of our travel documents, referral documents and maps—we used all of those things while we were here. 

  1. As aforementioned, I can get a bit anxious when flying (mostly during take-off, when the engine seemingly randomly decelerates and when flying over large bodies of water, say for example, 6 hours over the Atlantic Ocean).  But this song that I heard at the conference right before coming here, totally gave me peace and perspective.  I told J that if he saw me pulling out the music, he could know I was having “a moment.” :) I really only felt momentarily anxious a few times, but that song is definitely burned in my brain. :)

  1.  We took our backpacks everywhere.  Besides just normal travel stuff like hand-sanitizer, bottled water and notebooks, we also brought along stickers for the older children and baby toys/rattles and picture books that we used every day with the babies and then left there on the last day.

  1. Cameras.  Bring extra cameras.  Both our video camera and main camera stopped working while we were there.  Thankfully we also brought along our “old” camera that M uses—not the best pictures, but pictures nonetheless.

  1.  Definitely build in extra time for figuring out the airports.  The Frankfurt airport is GIGANTIC and confusing—try to make a connecting flight in less than an hour and the adrenaline rush will keep you awake for hours!  At the Addis Ababa Airport (or “Bole”), most flights tend to leave and arrive at night—making it quite busy.  And there are at least 3 security checkpoints and a visa checkpoint and check-in—all of which have lines.

We laughed because for so much of our week, especially at the airports, we felt like we were pawns in a game where we didn’t know the rules.  Sometimes we watched people being “sent back to go” for not filling out a form correctly or for standing in the wrong un-marked lane.  With just an inkling of what we were doing, we moved up and down stairs and escalators, followed forever-long corridors, rode on trams, trains and busses, and went through various and assorted checkpoints (with the added bonus of having to remove belts, watches and sweatshirts with little notice before quickly scooping them up and throwing them back on to get out of the way and sometimes even having to repack whole suitcases within minutes that had originally taken a considerable time to pack). (Wouldn’t the “Airplane Game” make a fun family game night?) :)

(And that wraps up our Hints & Tips for now--thanks for "listening." :)

Mostly we are left with just an overwhelming sense of joy and gratitude for such a phenomenal trip.  We can't wait to go back...


  1. erase my memory, huh? actually that could be a really good idea:) you might want to wait until after your second trip though!!

  2. Great trips. We had 40 minutes to make our connection in Frankfurt so I totally understand the adrenaline rush :)

  3. I met you at Created for Care and am just now coming to your blog to read about your adventure! You have me cracking up at the "Airport Game!" I can't wait to play and now I might think about it a bit more lightly then I would have before! :)

    I am so glad you passed court and got to meet your little girl! Congrats!! I can't wait to read all about your pick up trip very soon!!