Tuesday, July 19, 2011

And we're off.....

Months of planning and anticipation came to a halt when we headed to the airport for the first leg of our trip on Wednesday (7/6). We met up at the airport in Nashville with 13 of our team of 28. Two of our team members were already on the ground in Ethiopia and the others were coming from various other parts of the country. I was originally considering taking this trip alone but am so glad that my sister, Ashley, and I wound up doing it together. I think had she not been along, I would've been much more anxious and certainly enjoyed sharing the experience with her. The only other person that I even remotely knew were Kelly Putty and two girls who I'd never met (or met briefly) but follow their blogs (Hi Amy and Vanessa).

We flew to Washington DC and spent the night near the airport, only to return back there on Thursday morning for our flight to Ethiopia. We met up at our gate with the remainder of our team and made the final trek together.

As I've shared before, each team member had 2 (or 3) 50-pound bags of donations that had been checked. We had been told that we could check them in Nashville all the way through to Ethiopia. However, that did not happen. Therefore, when we arrived in DC, we all had to claim those giant donation bags and load them onto the hotel shuttle only to be loaded back up and rechecked the next morning. (By the way, I can't neglect mentioning what total gentlemen the guys on our trip were.....they were so helpful in handling all of this luggage and even stayed behind at the airport in DC to wait on the hotel shuttle to return since we couldn't all get on at one time....thanks Clay, Christian, Tucker and Andy!).

The flight from DC to Ethiopia was LONG.....13 hours elapsed from the time we left the US until we landed in ET. The plane was very nice and we enjoyed tracking our progress on the seat back (we also watched movies and played games like Solitaire).

Unfortunately, that wasn't the end of the bag dilemma(s) as when we arrived in Ethiopia and were clearing customs, about 2/3 of our group made it to the parking lot but the remainder of us were detained. It quickly became apparent that their reasons for why we were being detained were changing. They wanted to go through each and every bag and inspect our donations. We seemed to be at a standstill for quite some time. Eventually, (oh about 4-5 hours later) they did go through our bags and determined that we would need to pay tax on some select items (mostly new soccer balls, etc.). Eventually we were released (after paying what our guide Maste taught us was "skin tax") and made our way to our home away from home. I wish that I could describe to you what driving/riding in a car on the streets of Ethiopia is like. It was an adventure each and every day. There aren't many driving laws, road signs or traffic lights. I'm not sure if I saw one single stop sign the entire time. There is a lot of honking and what seemed to us like many close calls. It takes 2 years to receive your drivers license in ET and there are rarely (or so we were told) traffic accidents. It was always exciting as not only are the drivers dodging other cars and pedestrians but there is also livestock randomly wandering in and around the streets.

This delay caused us to miss what was to have been our first orphanage visit but it allowed us to get settled into the Ethiopian Guest Home for the evening and get a decent night's rest. It also gave us time to get to know the neighborhood kids who were congregating outside of the guest home gates. Almost all of these children are in school and speak great English. They loved playing with the iPads, throwing frisbee and playing soccer. They were loyal to our group all week....hanging out each morning when we got up and again in the afternoon/evenings when we returned to the guest house.

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