the journey there
The journey to Ethiopia left my home a week before I would leave the US. Last year my family had made plans to attend the Regional Conference for the Vineyard Community of Churches. So for a week before I left for Ethiopia I sat in Pennsylvania listening to the leadership of the Vineyard talk about the direction they want to take the Vineyard. I can’t begin to tell you how great it was to sit there and listen to these articulate speakers stand on the stage talking to thousands of pastors and leaders telling them the very passions my wife and I have been discussing for the last few years. Intentional racial diversity outreaches, Women’s enablement within the Church, Environmental care and stewardship, The needs of the poor and downtrodden, I could go on and on, and eventually I will be posting on the things from the conference, but you are here for my trip, not my week of teaching.
So when the conference was over I needed to get to Washington DC and my wife to New York, NY. SO I hitched a ride with some friends going back towards home, and I arranged a stay with a Vineyard Church in DC called the Tapestry. I had never met them before, but I had contacted them via e-mail and they were very excited to open their home to me for the night and give me a ride the next day to the airport. When I arrived I came into the middle of their Friday night get together and found myself a minority in a very racially mixed room. I was stoked to see that the church had such a broad base of nationalities and I felt SOOOOO at home it wasn’t funny. I spent a few minutes talking to the pastor and his wife then we rejoined the group and of course they had questions about the adoption. So via stories of the adoption that progressed into more questions about me, and the pastor and I sitting there comparing life histories I found that I found my skinny twin brother to a different mother. Eventually everyone left, and even his wife retired to bed, but he and I stayed up well past 3 am finding out how similar our lives have been, how similar our hearts passions are, even how similar our humor is. I was almost sad once it was time to retire for the night. The next day, once we woke up, I got ready to fly out. It became obvious my stuff was not going to fit in my bags, and they disappeared to the basement and reappeared with a huge bag and even more supplies to take to the orphanages. I was so stoked and they were excited to be a blessing as well. The supplies were from their mission trip to Cambodia, it was what they couldn’t fit when they went. The bag, well it was a very used “missionary bag” (basically more duct tape than fabric holding it together) Once I was packed it was time to go. I was sad to leave, knowing that I had just made one of those friends that I know will still be a friend in 20 years time. I hadn’t had enough time there, I wanted to visit longer, but I had an even stronger pull to my kids on the other side of the globe. It was a nice reprieve, I was able to not “think” about the journey, and to exist in the “now” for the small stay.
Checking in to the airport was super easy. They didn’t care that I was over my weight limit on the bag. I pulled myself away from my new friends, I was sad to see them go, but it was time to begin the journey. So at 3:30pm I head to the security gate, and 20 minutes later I’m sitting in the British Airways lounge, which Sheba Miles leases for Ethiopian Air Flyers. I sat there enjoying the open bar, smoked salmon sandwiches (with the crust cut off) and the huge bay windows watching the planes take off and land. As I am sitting there I listen to the family on the other side of the room ream out the staff person about the crappy wine, the poor beer selection, and then to top it off the freshness of the salmon. Just when I thought they wouldn’t get any worse they then complained about the temperature in the room, and then they had the audacity to complain that they had to get their own food and drink!!!! They wanted the stewardess from the flight to come in and serve them!!!!
Well laughing just as much as me is the Islamic man across from me, that has been staring at my screwdriver for the longest time, I think if it were to go on any longer he may have started to drool, me I was just glad my God turned water into wine to keep the party going and that I’m not hung up in a bunch of legalism stopping me from calming my nerves before I get on this flight.
At this point I was nervous about everything> I was on my way to meet my kids for the first time, I was flying a rickety old plane from Africa, I was going alone depending on a man I never met for my accommodations, and going into a land that I get “I love you” and “thank you” mixed up all the time.
So I walked up to the bar to get another sandwich half and as I turn around I hear “AVERY!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!”
I am looking into the face of woman I have never seen before in my life, and she continues, “You don’t know me, but I read your blog! My name is D*** (censored as I don’t know if she would mind me putting it out here) and I’ve also seen you on the EthioAdopt group”
So I moved over to sit and chat with her, and the next thing I know I am greeting another adoptive family on their way to Ethiopia. In fact I noticed that most of the people waiting on Ethiopian Air in our section of the plane were adoptive families. It was very cool to see.
Well they announced our flight was boarding, and Sheba Miles members are supposed to be able to board first, but no one told the crew that. Finally the other families that I had just met and I got tired of being told no, and we just walked on, surprisingly when we didn’t ask, and just “did” no one said a thing.
I sat in my seat and found myself on the aisle seat, but between a couple, so I swapped with the other aisle seat to let them sit next to each other. I found myself directly behind D***, I threatened to kick her seat for the duration of my flight, as she actually reads this blog and deserves it, but I let her off the hook.
As I was getting myself situated I noticed a woman that the stewardesses kept moving from seat to seat. As she got in ear range I heard her going off about how she was a member of the UN, this was unacceptable treatment, and she was going to have someone’s head. Well a stewardess came up and started to rub my shoulders asking me to be her “buddy” What she wanted was for me to move to the back of the plane and give the UN lady my seat. Well, normally I’m a nice guy, but this is my one and only chance to fly “Cloud 9” and well, she works for the UN, she deserves to be booted from the flight, not accommodated. Well the empty seat next to me soon found her sitting in it, while hollering, as she buckled herself in, “I WORK FOR THE UN, I WILL NOT MOVE AGAIN, I BUCKLED MY SELF IN, JUST TRY TO MOVE ME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” She then showed me her ticket and asked ME why she was being moved around. It took me 2 seconds to see why, she was flying STANDBY!
Wouldn’t you know it though, they wound up assigning her that seat, so I got to “enjoy” her company for the rest of the flight. It wound up she was from Senegal and worked for the UN in Ethiopia developing women’s programs.
To say the rest of the flight was interesting would be an understatement. My headphones only worked in 1 ear. My seat only went all the way down on the left side, the right side stayed up about 2 inches higher. When I asked for new headphones they took my old ones and through them away and then gave me a set that didn’t work at all. I also noticed they brought food according to the time zone we were flying through, not the schedule we were actually on. For some reason Ethiopia Air subcontracts this flight to World Air and all of our stewardess were white ladies from British Airlines. So while I was looking forward to the famous Ethiopian hospitality, I was stuck with the insanely rude Americans who didn’t want to be on this flight.
While were gassing up in Rome I stepped out of the plane for a little fresh air and stood on the platform. This 5 minutes on the top of the rickety stairs made up my Italian vacation. While walking back to my seat I discovered a set of bright red headphones with 2 prongs, and THEY WORKED!!!!!! Now back in the states I found that I liked the music on channel 6, it was stuff like Coldplay, they even played the song “Trees”, actually they only had about 12 songs on loop, but that station had stopped working somewhere around Dublin. I had asked the stewardess several times why the radio stopped working, but I was just told it’s an old plane, there is nothing they can do. At lest I had some headphones to enjoy the movie the “Benchwarmers” and I got to enjoy a landing that reminded me of my first landing in flight school, only I was in a Piper Cub and this was an M-11, or something like that.
I was the 1st in line at the visa section, they were only $20 to get a visa in Ethiopia, unlike the $40 they charge at the embassy in the US, and they didn’t want my passport photos that my visa application told me to bring. I don’t know why I bother using government websites, the data is inevitably wrong somewhere.
So I make it to baggage claim and discover the missionary bag has died. In fact a large amount of the contents and in a grocery bag next to my bag and there is US security tape all over the bag, several of the items were just lying on the belt next to the bag. As you can imagine, the customs official took this as an invitation to pull me to the side and tell me he was going to have to search my stuff. Well I had massive amounts of drugs (cold medicines and such) and used clothing, you know, all the stuff that customs loves to take away. Well I had put my ticket in my Bible on the flight, and apparently you need to have you ticket for customs to search the bags. I looked for my ticket, I even handed the customs guy my Bible and he looked through it while I looked in my other bags for my ticket, just in case I put it somewhere else. After 5 minutes of me looking he told me I was a pain in his backside, and to just go, that I was too much of a bother for him and he just wanted me gone. I made it through customs with EVERYTHING!
Now I am in Ethiopia, looking for a man I have never met nor has he ever seen me. Later he would confess that he assumed I was white, but it wasn’t until he got to the airport that it occurred to him that I may not be a white American. Several of the other agencies approached me assuming that I was there for them, and after the 4th guy I wanted a sign that said you are not here to meet me.
Eventually I found my missionary friend, and we took a ride to the motel he had found for me. The smells of Ethiopia really knocked me back. I can’t explain it, Addis smells like a goat, but there is an overpowering smells of incense and “Africa” as well. It was very overpowering and quite the experience. We got to the motel he had found and I discovered they had rented out my room, but only for an hour. I kept reminding myself it was only $20 a night, but I was so glad when my guide didn’t feel comfortable there either and we decided to find a new motel. I think it may have been the large blood stain on the mattress, or perhaps the fact that you didn’t need to use the door to get into the room. So we went right down the road and we got the same rate at the Central Shoa hotel, and it had security cameras, strong hot water, a restaurant downstairs, and internet from 8am to 4 pm.
The following is from an e-mail from one of my dear friends, who was raised in Ethiopia: “The hotel you stayed, was considered, at one time, a luxurious hotel until of course they built the Sheraton. I was awed by the sight of the Sheraton. I think it was seeing this majestic building and what it represented, and contrasting it with the poor people begging for food, right across from this hotel. “
We went to the Zola Café and grabbed some Doro Wat. The Ethiopians there with my new American friend were shocked to discover I not only knew about Ethiopian food, but liked it and knew how to eat with injera. In fact they had gotten a fork just for me, but by the time they gave it to me I was knuckle deep in the food.
We spent a long time talking, and praying for the week, and I then spent time trying to sleep, but finding myself watching Ethiopian Cable, or sorting out the bags. Eventually I just took some Ambien and finally got some sleep. The only form of air was leaving the windows open, and well the “highway” out my window didn’t help my sleep situation any.
This would be my final rest before I would meet my kids.