The Flights to Addis: New Friends & a New Plane

The past two days have been long, but totally worth it. I was set to fly out at 6am on Sunday morning, so I needed to leave for the airport around 3am. Tom West graciously volunteered to take me, so Kelly could stay home with the kids. All day on 1/1/11 I kept getting distracted from packing. I was a little overwhelmed for the first time about taking care of Phineas Bizuneh by myself for 6 or 7 days. I was also nesting. Organizing, cleaning, organizing, cleaning… it was actually kind of funny. Finally 1am rolled around and I knew I wasn’t going to bed, so I finished squeezing every last bit of donations and preparations for Phin into my two suitcases, carry on and back-up, took a shower and got ready for Tom.

Kelly had the coffee pot set to brew, so Tom was greeted by two piping hot cups of coffee for him and I to throw back on our drive. I was a already a little hyper, despite my lack of sleep , but I’m sure that doesn’t surprise most of you that know me. Ok, I was a lot hyper! We had a great drive, took some pics when we arrived and said our goodbyes as I hauled my enormous load of luggage into the terminal.

As I was waiting in line for the flight to DC I heard him mention that the two people in front of me were headed to Addis as well. I was pretty excited to see a couple other people that would be sharing the same long journey with me. He was also VERY strict on their luggage weight, so I knew I was in trouble. The Wests, the Nikkels and the Brownings had given me a ton of stuff to giveaway to kids for the Ethiopia Christmas on 1/7, and I tried to get every last bit of it in! I strategically positioned myself to get helped by the other United worker and it worked out well. As he came over to me I mentioned that I knew my bags were going to be overweight, but they were filled with donations for an orphanage. I had actually already weighed them when he wasn’t looking, so I was preparing for the worst. 56.5 for bag 1. 64 for bag 2. The goal is 50. He hem-hawed a little bit and said I needed to reduce the 64 lb one a little. I took out two large bags of candy to get it into the high 50’s and he said that was ok. NO EXTRA CHARGE! The charge is $100/bag normally! Praise the Lord! The byproduct of that was that my carry on was not excessively heavy, which did lead to an extra, but much less substantial charge when I boarded Ethiopian Air in DC.

The plane was a little express jet. I put a picture on Facebook. It had two seats on one side and one on the other. I was sharing a seat, but was asked to move due to a lap baby behind us that needed our row due to an extra oxygen mask. There were two open singles future up, so I obliged thankfully and went to sit down. As I sat down, the person to my right said, “Are you James?” I turned to my right and saw Kenny Alexander, a 2009 MVNU alum. It was exciting to see him and share a little bit or our stories during the flight. We both tried to sleep, but I was completely charged up and not even close to getting some shut eye.

When we landed I connected with the two other people I had met that were traveling to Addis. The lady (I forget her name) was a little unclear on where to go and quite intimidated by escalators, which there were a lot of, so I helped her along and told her when to “jump” on to each one. We all journeyed together for about 20 minutes until we reached our gate and then Teddy and I went to get some breakfast. We all spent a lot of the next four+ hours together, but Teddy and I took a couple walks around the Terminal to mix it up as well.

Teddy is a 27 year old young man from Ethiopia. He moved to the United States over 7 years ago, shortly after high school. He works full-time (and has a nice Droid X work phone!) and goes to school part-time for now. He did not return home for his first 6 years in the States, but was taking the second trip in a year because his brother passed away. His brother was 33, engaged to be married and died from a stomach ulcer that went untreated too long. Teddy was going to be home a month with his parents, 4 sisters and 3 other brothers for the funeral ceremony and grieving.

The coolest thing about meeting Teddy and this lady is that they are both very plugged into the Ethiopia culture in Columbus. They attend a couple of the 5 Ethiopian churches, they go to the New Year’s Festival every September, they recommended The Blue Nile as the best Ethiopian Restaurant in town. I had been hoping for a connection to the Ethiopian culture in Columbus for Phin and the Lord plopped it in my lap! We exchanged numbers and he is going to call me when he returns in a month, so that we can connect and introduce him to Phin.

When Teddy and I returned from our last lap around the Terminal two people were sitting in the seats we had vacated, across from our other friend. As I looked close, I realized it was Scott and Rachel Miller, one of the other AWAA families traveling with me! I was so excited to see them and couldn’t believe they had sat right down beside our other friend out of all the seats to chose. We had never met in person, so we got to know each other a little before boarding and shared our hearts for adoption with my two new Ethiopian-American friends. The Millers have a heart for God that radiates from them when you meet them and a infective joy about them. I was instantly thankful that we’d be spending the next few days together.

The plane is a new Boeing 7somethingorother, and it is stinking amazing! Three sets of three seats across, a TON of room above and decent space in the seats. Each seat has it’s own screen with movies, games, etc, but the seats also have a few other features that make the flight more comfortable, like adjustable foot rests and head rests. I’ve been on a lot of planes, but this one blew them away and its only been in use 3 weeks!

When we boarded the plane Teddy was one seat up and one seat over from me. I was on the aisle in the middle. He was in the middle on the right set of seats. When the person assigned to the aisle seat beside him came to sit down he saw us talking and asked if we were “muchachos”. Teddy said yes, and the guy actually switched Teddy seats! How many of us would do that? Especially when it meant that we’d have to sit in the middle of a row for 13 hours? Anyways, it worked perfectly for Teddy and I to be able to talk frequently throughout the flight. I slept a total of about 3.5 hours. The longest stint was 2 hours toward the beginning. After that, my eyes and body were tired, but my mind wasn’t. I walked around a lot, which they were completely ok with. In fact, there were quite a few of us just standing around in the galleys at times, and they’d just offer us food and drinks. Very hospitable and helpful airline!

I did all of the typical things to pass 12+ hours on a flight. I read, I worked, I talked, I slept, I played games on my Ipod and the screen, I roamed around, but I mainly noticed all of the little kids on board. The majority of the flight consisted of Ethiopian families returning home with their children for Christmas. I thought about how I would have a child as well on my return flight. I noticed every cry and yell and squeak and word and wondered what Phin would be like. I felt compassion with every noise. I wanted to help, to hold, to comfort, to reassure the parents that their children were ok. I wanted to reassure them that no one was frustrated or annoyed. The cool thing is that I didn't see anyone that was. The Ethiopian culture cares for kids like I have never seen. I didn't have a monopoly on compassion on that flight. It was like everyone pulled together to help make the kids comfortable. When a kid screamed, you didn't see looks of disgust like we did on our flight to San Diego when Halle was two. You saw looks of concern and understanding. It was beautiful… and I can only hope that the majority of my flight home consists of Ethiopians as well.

It really is part of their culture. I was discussing it with an Ethiopian man at the airline counter in Dulles and he said, “Kids are kids. You can’t be mad at them for being kids. They are kids. You love them and care for them.” So cool and so enviable. May I have an Ethiopian heart and attitude towards children, even when they are loud and ornery and whiney, may I understand that they are kids and they are to be loved and cared for.

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Kelly said...

Sounds so awesome. I love the relationships forged in airports!!

Praying for a smooth day for you tomorrow!! Thanks for skyping tonite!
Love you babe!