March 31, 2016

beyond culture shock

my flight to Tanzania had a four hour layover in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.  the airport was more like a refugee camp than a international airport - and i don't say that lightly or in jest of what refugees are going through.  having taken the red eye [coach] i was short on sleep when we landed at 5AM local time.

the light was just coming up but it was bright enough to see the relics of other ages of aviation 'parked' between runways.  i'm not sure if they were trying to showcase the 'vintage' planes to visitors or were just too lazy to move them after they quit working.  

the 'airport' was exactly what we would call a warehouse.  imagine an abandoned warehouse with a few chairs, a couple thousand people and no exit door. that's what i'm talking about - a four hour layover and there's no chance i'm using those toilets.  there were masses of people, both african and western, sitting and laying everywhere.  this is the moment when the phrase 'oh $hit, what have i done' flashed through my mind.

forget restaurants - there wasn't even a place to buy bottled water.  the security line was a joke.  more about going through the motions than really screening for anything - i wonder to myself if the monitor was even plugged in.

the best i could figure is this warehouse is the central spot for changing international flights within east africa.  it was only serviced by Ethiopian Airlines and apparently flights arrive all night filling up the warehouse - then all flights out depart between 8AM and 10AM - i'm guessing they try to empty the warehouse before the heat turns it into an easy bake oven.  i felt lucky that my layover was only four hours.  if you google Addis Ababa airport there are some really nice photos of an airport - let's just say i wasn't at that terminal.

there was apparently an african celebrity there as people were lining up to get photos taken with him.  i was too tired to find out who, or take my eyes off the gate lest i miss the flight and be stuck there another 24 hours.  i was first in line when they called the Jaro [that's what they call kilimanjaro international airport - now imagine a really crappy loudspeaker with feedback and an accent].  so, the transition from the united club in London to Addis Ababa was a little rough but it gets much easier after this.  even at the moment as i was horrified by the conditions, at my core was a strong sense of purpose that this path i have chosen is the right one for me.  i am not here to recolonize or change the people of Tanzania just to provide them with options for their future.

Ethiopia looked from my views at the airport and airplane to be a beautiful country - much greener than i expected.  

the flight into Jaro is empty so i stretch out and get a two hour nap.  the plane isn't clean but it's less filthy than the first leg and is onward to Zanzibar so just a few of us get off in Jaro.  BOOM - 13 hours and change from London to Tanzania - i'm a zombie without sleep but happy to have arrived.  

happy to be on the ground at Jaro

before i even get inside the terminal i'm stopped and asked if i have a yellow fever vaccination [which i don't] and he let's me slide through when i say i was only in the ground in Ethiopia for two hours.  then he starts a whole conversation about hillary vs. donald!  he went on quite passionately for a few minutes and was clearly team trump.  i thought it slightly ironic since trump probably doesn't care a whit about anyone in Africa and hillary would be way more generous with aid and immigration. 

for me, immigration is painless and quick.  unfortunately, one of my bags didn't get off with me and i have to put in a claim for lost luggage. i'm hoping it's just gone on to Zanzibar and will be put back on for the return through Jaro - otherwise i don't expect i'll ever see it again.  after getting my bags that did arrive i found the driver the company sent and head for Moshi, my home for at least the next year.

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