Sunday, January 25, 2009
Arriving in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
January 17, 2009
I was a little worried as I settled into my seat on the KLM flight leaving out of Amsterdam. Not everyone had boarded yet, but it looked like the plane would be quite full. Seated just behind business class, I was in the middle section in a grouping of four seats, with an aisle. Next to me was an American father, with his baby boy, who was probably not yet two. The baby’s mother, who looked Ethiopian, was seated next to them, and lastly there was a European man on the other aisle. We were a full row, with the baby being passed from lap to lap of his parents. Then he began vomiting. Parents hurriedly pulled out the airplane barf bag, and Kleenex. They started wondering about getting some Ginger Ale for the baby, so I offered to go get some, jumped up, and made the request of the stewardesses, who were still greeting the people boarding the plane. Luckily, over the next eight hours, the baby was calm, and didn’t get obviously sick again. I tried to sleep during most of the flight, so I wouldn’t be hyper-aware of any sickness next to me.
(I ran into the father in Addis a week later, and the baby was adjusting well and feeling better. And the man at the end of my row was not European, but American. He was actually one of my colleagues whom I hadn't met before!)
I did wake up, fully, as we landed in Khartoum, the hot capital of Sudan. It was 90 degrees when we landed around 6pm. From my tiny opening onto the scene, glancing through my neighbor’s windows, I could see a warm, hazy glow around the surrounding planes, and the buildings in the distance, just outside the airport walls, I assumed. I expected the airport to be very isolated from the downtown, but the buildings nearby appeared to be solid, 4-story, cement buildings. The setting sun gave everything a beautiful pinkish, orange glow, and it seemed very calm and peaceful. Hard to believe that the conflict in this country is so terrible, long-lasting and extreme. The African Union soldiers I am going to train in neighboring Ethiopia will be sent to Sudan, for peace-keeping in Darfur. The sun set quickly as it does by the equator, and surprised me as I spoke with colleagues while we were waiting for the crew to clean and allow more people to board to leave Khartoum.
Arrival in Addis was more or less on time. I never bothered to check what time we actually arrived, or when we were supposed to, for that matter. Trying to get into the African mind-set, maybe, of not worrying about time. Actually, it was probably more due to the fact that I just kept sleeping away, and knew my colleagues would be there to pick me up, and make sure I got to the Hilton without any problems.
The Hilton on a Saturday night was quite impressive. Woman in gorgeous dresses walked glamorously in and out of the building, with handsomely dressed men. To enter the building, our bags had to be x-rayed, and we had to walk through a metal detector. At least one of my colleagues was patted down by the security guard there. There have been bombings in Addis Ababa over the last several years, typically targeting large groups and Westerners. If Internet access is available in the small town where we’re headed, I may try to do a little research on that. I’m too cheap to pay the US$30 for 24 hours of Internet access here at the Hilton, when I plan to sleep for about 8 hours, and then will only have 2 hours left before heading out of town. I’m not sure if there was a special event, but there was upbeat African music playing loudly in a club next to the check-in desk. I wondered what kind of event it was – private or public – Ethiopian or expat – for the tourists or those living in Addis?
No air-conditioning needed at 7,500 feet in January in Addis. My room was a comfortable 70 degrees, quite perfect for sleeping. I read a little bit of Bill Bryson’s travels in Europe, as he was heading to the most northern city in Europe, while I was going to be getting closer to the equator. I slept soundly, for close to 8 hours, before I noticed the bright sunlight pouring from behind the edges of my heavy draperies. Enjoyed an expensive “American” breakfast – the one that costs the most, because it’s all-inclusive. I think it was part of the outrageous room price, and while I ate well, I doubt I ate my money’s worth. The freshly squeezed orange juice tasted so good, and not surprisingly, the Ethiopian coffee was delicious. After two cups though, I found my hands a little jittery. More caffeine than at home? Caffeine at altitude? I don’t know, but it was still good.