Monday, June 29, 2015

Hard Landing

Even as I wrote last about how smoothly everything was going there was a voice in the back of my head asking what the hell I was thinking, tempting fate by writing so boldly about the ease of travel with children. If you heard that voice too rest assured that come uppance was had yesterday.

The flight from Dubai to Addis was uneventful.  My children, now spoiled by in-flight on demand viewing, were super not impressed with the idea of only one kids movie available and not when it pleased them but at certain set times - they somehow managed to muddle through.  We landed in a rainy, foggy Addis.  The mountaintops that ring the city poked up out of the mist and the rain that fell intermittently in huge drops settled the dust and washed the grime from the city.  

Getting visas sorted and waiting in numerous bureaucratic lines took about an hour and everyone did fine.  We emerged from immigration triumphant and ready to get to our guest house, unpack and be anywhere except an airport for the next few weeks.  The guest house assured us that someone would be waiting to pick us up but when we didn't see anyone I wasn't too surprised.  The airport was surprisingly quiet so I sat down with the kids and our luggage while Jeremy went to find a phone and remind whomever was supposed to be there that we had arrived.  He was assured that our ride would be there in "ten minutes, fourty at the most."  No problem.
Ninety minutes later, as no ride had appeared, Jeremy once again set out to find a taxi (why is it that the only time I have ever been at an African airport and NOT been hounded by drivers asking if I needed a ride was the time I actually needed one) and returned to signal to us from outside the airport that I should rally the troops and follow him.  He was outside the airport because he was having a hilarious battle of wills with a police man who insisted he could NOT come in through the out door, and kept gesturing angrily to the "in" door which was identical to the out door except that it was ten meters to the left.  The police man won, and Jeremy waited outside as I piled kids and luggage onto a lopsided baggage trolley and headed out into the rain.

Of course it was only once another ride was arranged that the original ride appeared- two woman and one man telling us they were sent from our guest house to take us to a different guest house since the one we had booked was now full.  It slowly became apparent that these people intended to take us to their house, put us up in one of their rooms, feed us breakfast and call it a guest house.  

Thank you no thank you.

We asked numerous times with an increasingly adamant tone that we be taken to the original guest house to talk to the manager and sort out what was going on and the trio finally acquiesced.  We crammed into a car, me and the kids and one of the three people who had come to fetch us in the back with the luggage and Jeremy, the driver and a third fetcher in the front. One door kept opening and slamming shut. with every bump we went over which the kids thought was fantastic.  It was the kind of thing that on previous trips I  would have smiled and shrugged about, but with my seven year old closest to said door I was suddenly less than amused.  

Upon arriving at the guesthouse 40ish minutes later it quickly became clear that (one) there was no one there who could answer our questions and (two) there were, in fact, no rooms available.  We decided to do that my mom has always told me to do when having a traveling crisis- throw money at the problem.  

Off to the Sheraton we went, willing to shell out some big bucks for a comfy place to sleep, swim, and get online to make a new plan.  Another 30 minutes through crazy traffic and we were deposited at the gates of an opulent hotel.  The kids were psyched, the bell man graciously loaded our suitcases onto his cart and we went in, credit card ready at the ready.

No rooms.

Really?  Really.

We plonked ourselves down in the beautiful lobby, took a deep breath, and made friends with a kind woman who loaned us her phone to call the Hiltion, who said of course they had a room and they would send a car right over to pick us up.    An hour minutes later they called our new friend back to say there were no cars, so they were sending a van, which would be there in some time.  

Eight hours after landing we arrived at the Hilton, were given a room key and collectively exhaled as the elevator doors closed behind us.  It wasn't the worst thing that could have happened.  In fact, writing about it now it seems like a small inconvenience, silly to devote so much "paper" to, but it was a hell of a long day.

The kids were troopers and may have actually handled it better than I.   As I write they are playing in the geothermally heated Hilton pool, so everything turned out just fine, as long as ones definition of "fine" includes spending half our projected weekly budget on one night at a hotel.

There are lots of people in suits doing business things here- meeting, talking, typing.  It reminds me very much of my time doing development work and feels astoundingly disheartening to think that I stopped doing that type of work more than ten years ago and yet here are all these people, doing many of the same things, most of them doing a much better job than I ever did.  Despite this, health statistics, GDPs, development indexes, whichever measure you choose to use, remain more or less unchanged.  The meetings and talking and typing continue, the money continues to pour in to the work, the drivers continue to wait in the parking lot in their Land Rovers emblazoned with their particular development agencie's logo, and the day to day existence of the people who are not in the hotel is the same. 

A night here, hopefully get our guest house sorted out and move over there and the next big event is meeting Zeni's tummy mommy and family!  (Deep breath in, exhale, gulp...)