Thursday, July 12, 2012


The landing into Bole International Airport was one of the worst I’ve had – it felt as though the runway was too short for the Airbus 340 barreling in, that the pilot had to slam on his breaks just to stop us from rolling into an Ethiopian party next to the runway. As customary when you deplane in a developing country, your run to the immigration and visa line is a sea of elbows and colors, as people from all over the world try to claim their spot in the front of the line. “Visa on arrival” the sign said. The line had already swelled like the black clouds that hung above the city, threatening rain. Maybe I should have felt the clues. I dutifully took my place at the end, already sensing the pace at which this line would move (I will add that this line is not well marked, is off to the side, and can easily be mistaken for something other than the utmost important, visa-on-arrival).

One and a half hours later, I emerged from the booth (a room really, where a factory line of officers took money, stuck visas in passports, filled out receipts, handed receipts to someone who made a duplicate receipt, and finally handed the passport back to my waiting hand). Another line, this one was for immigration. A little bit of advice: if you are ever travelling to Ethiopia, it has been my limited experience that a visa before arrival might save a lot of time. Especially with the growing headache, the dry eyes, and slow departure of patience.

The second line did not move. An empty aisle lay adjacent, but traffic directors informed us to remain where we were – do not move to the next booth. Questions and complaints rose in many languages and full of color. The snail that could have been next to me moved far ahead of I, exiting the airport before I even thought of my bags.

Passport stamped, I moved to the chaos of the baggage claim. Imaging a warehouse full of chickens, wildly pecking, running, squawking around the room, blocking your path with the little carts they pushed, jarring for the spot closest to the conveyor belt. With the time it took to go through immigration, I knew my bags would be waiting, happily twirling round and round on the belt. They were not there. After 30 minutes of searching, I spotted a pile of bags on the floor (“priority bags here,” the sign said in size 12 font), shrouded by an enormous line of people trying to get out of the airport (Would I be in that line soon enough??). One bag, but where is the second? Again, 30 minutes crawled by. I spotted it, rounding the final turn of the belt, Priority sticker proudly displaying it’s blaze orange glow. Hmph, so much for Priority.

I made it out! But where was Million? The brightly-lit atrium was two stories high, fake palm trees sat at equal intervals down the hall, giving the impression of some urban, indoor garden. I wandered back and forth, the length of the airport, searching for Million, who I only knew by a handful of photographs. “Excuse, no, I don’t need a hotel, but can I use your phone?” Amazing that he granted me that small request. “Million? Million? Are you here? Near the trees? Oh, by the Taxis? Yes? Where?” A grumble from the owner of the phone, a “you’re-using-all-my-minutes” grunt. I left the atrium and headed outside, maybe he was there? Again walking the length of the airport, down to the parking lot, I started to feel the burn of eyes on me, taxi drivers closing in, curious glances at the “forengee” wandering the dark lot alone. Taxis – I spotted them. My patience almost gone, I lugged my bags the last 10 paces and squinted around through the crowd. “Million!” I cried, almost too relieved by the sight of him, just 6 inches from where I stood. I had made it, I had found our trusty Program Manger. I just wanted to go to sleep.

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