Your Questions (and then some)
Yesterday I told you I'd answer any questions you had to the best of my ability. Those who will be traveling to Ethiopia soon may find this useful. The rest of you might find it boring.
1) What was the hardest part of taking care of your children while you were in Ethiopia?
I'm assuming you're talking about our adopted children. Language was an issue. Hair was an issue. And nearly every kid in the orphanage had the sniffles. Our advice is just to be prepared with tissues and over-the-counter cold meds. (Speaking of tissues, you'll want to take them with you everywhere. Although most public bathrooms have a toilet, some didn't have the accompanying paper assortment we're used to in the US.)
2) When Rhonda got sick, was it from the food, being very tired, or just a "fluke" sickness? And is there anything you would recommend we bring along for such a time when we travel?
We’re not sure what brought it on. We don’t think it was the food because we all ate the same stuff. We were prepared with anti-diarrhea and stomach medicine but it didn’t seem to help. She does have the tendency to get motion sickness which probably added to whatever she was experiencing on the flight home.
3) What was the most difficult cultural difference you experienced that you just weren't prepared for?
We really didn’t experience any cultural difference that fits this category. You’re going to love the Ethiopian people! We didn’t run across one rude Ethiopian!
4) What were the best things/toys for distraction and entertainment purposes on the trip home?
Coloring books. Magnetic games. Sticker books. Magna doodles. Simple picture books.
5) Would you take Ethiopian Air again?
Probably. From what we’ve heard it’s the shortest flight (time-wise) available by any carrier. I can’t imagine intentionally choosing a flight that was longer. And talking to other couples adoption who did extensive shopping for the best ticket price, Ethiopian Air was (by their account) significantly lower (I don’t know how much…we just trusted our adoption agency’s judgment on this one because of their extreme competency in everything else).
One of the things that impressed us was the service of the stewardesses. They repeatedly went above and beyond with our little Meke who was having a tough time on the long trip.
However, consider the following. Not once was any leg of the flights we took on time. The shortest delay was probably at least 45 minutes. And even though a friend of ours confirmed the seats of their return flight (something you're required to do or they'll sell the seats out from under you!!!), when they showed up at the airport and printed off their e-tickets, Ethiopian Air split up their families and separated them by 12 rows.
6) Where did you stay? How much money do we need for things other than hotel, embassy appt, etc.?
We stayed at the Addis Ababa Hilton. It’s hard to answer this question about money. It really depends on your agreement with the adoption agency. For example, we paid America World for our airline tickets and in-country expenses, which included hotel, all breakfasts and most other meals, and transportation. Most of our expenses incurred were for souvenirs. We probably spent around $300.
7) One question I will pose to you is in regard to the AWAA rep. How was your experience with him? Was he available when you needed him or was everything scheduled out for you daily?
Girmachew is amazing. He’s very competent and very much a servant. See my post about him here.
We were the only America World family in Ethiopia. As their Ethiopia program continues to grow there’ll be times when several families will be in Ethiopia the same week. Keep in mind that Girmachew also has the power of attorney for all legal work that takes place in Ethiopia. As we were in Ethiopia he had several court appearances he had to make. Anazingly, none of it interfered with our visit at all.
8) Also, how was the Hilton?
The Hilton is a very nice hotel. If you stay there take note:
A) Start the check out process earlier than you think you need to! Our adoption agency prepaid our bill but we had some discrepancies in the billing that took nearly 45 minutes to sort through.
B) There are no rooms with two double beds. The only two room arrangements are two single beds or one king bed. Adjoining rooms are hard to come by but can be arranged with a little persistence and advanced notice to the front desk.
C) The ATM in the lobby only takes VISA bank cards. You can, however, use your bank card at the bank in the lobby to get cash. There’s a $150 minimum with bank card money exchanges.
D) We were required to have our flight itinerary to exchange our Ethiopian birr back into American dollars.
9) Was it awkward to stay in such a nice hotel with your surroundings?
In Ethiopia the extreme rich and extreme poor aren’t as separated as in America so the paradox seems to go more unnoticed by Ethiopians than by kindhearted Americans. At no time did I ever sense any sort of resentment of the rich people staying in the hotel. We always felt very welcome.
The Hilton was chosen by our adoption agency because it is an extremely secure hotel (gated, armed guards, metal detectors, etc.).
All that said, of course, it was an eye-opening experience to see such extreme poverty while staying in such a nice hotel. It makes me even more determined to continue making a difference wherever and however I can.
10) Are there any social no-no's? For example, when my husband went to Brazil he was told not to do the OK symbol with his hand because it had a derogatory meaning there.
None we were aware of. If we offended anyone we don't know it! In general, just don't be the stereotypical loud American international traveler and you'll be OK.
11) What are the best, cheapest places to eat?
We ate at Abesha, the Elephant Walk Restaurant, Top View Restaurant, and the Blue Tops Restarant. Abesha has authentic Ethiopian food and a coffee ceremony afterwards. The only expensive place we found to eat was at the Hilton. Most meals at the restaurants listed above are less expensive than American fast-food value meals. For example, we fed our family of six for just over $20 at Blue Tops.
Take note before ordering: many of the dishes are served with garlic (you can request that they leave it off). The missionary told us that it's a natural weapon against malaria. Eat a lot of garlic and you start smelling garlicy. Mosquitos hate the smell and supposedly leave you alone.
12) On the flight to Ethiopia, how many layovers did you have and how long did they last?
Just one stop in Rome for a 45-minute refuel. No deboarding the plane was not allowed.
13) I'm wondering what the weather is like there - I know that it's rainy season, but what type of clothing did you find that you needed most? Was it humid? Did it cool down at night?
Not humid at all. Upper 50s to lower-70s most of the time. We never needed A/C or heat in our hotel room. A few chilly nights AND days. A day can start in the seventies and drop to the fifties pretty quickly. It can also start raining at any time. We always carried our jackets when we left for the day.
Other useful information you didn't ask about:
Wages and Tipping – $120/month (approximately 1000 birr) is considered a good wage in Addis. Given that fact I think we overtipped the guy who brought our suitcases to our room. We gave him $10. $3 is more normal. And we were told that a generous tip for a four-person meal is around 150 birr (about $1.50). (We overtipped a lot. Why not?)
Beggars – They’re everywhere. At every stop sign they find your car and start tapping on the window. Some are blind. Others are lame. A majority are children. Some parents intentionally maim their children (cut off a hand, etc.) to increase the sympathy factor. Beggars are especially attracted to cars full of white people. We’ve learned not to give money but to take food with us to hand out. If you do decide for some reason that it’s a good idea to give out money, do it when you’re leaving, not when you’re arriving. Otherwise, you’ll be mobbed!
Friendship – If two guys are close friends they’ll walk down the street holding hands. In Amharic (as in other languages like Spanish) there are masculine and feminine forms of words. Really close guy friends will use the feminine forms of words when talking to each other to show the depth of their friendship. There are no homosexual overtones to any of these behaviors.
English – Our Amharic phrasebook went almost completely unused - a testimony to the excellent care of our adoption agency rep. Nearly everywhere we went had someone who spoke English well enough to function. Over half of the TV stations are in English. Even the missionary and his wife speak very little Amharic and are very functional in their culture.
Air Travel – If you’re tall and traveling Ethiopian Air, here are a few tips:
- Try to book a seat in an exit row (row 30 on our plane). There’s tons of room!
Taxi Travel – We never needed a taxi. However, we found that if you ever need one you’ll need to negotiate a price before you ever get in. A “contract” ride is when your party pays to be the only passengers in the vehicle (that's what our agency did for us - we had a driver at our disposal every day). Otherwise, the drivers will pack as many as possible into their car or van. According to Getachew a contract ride from the airport to the Hilton would only be about $10. He estimated that a normal ride would probably be only $1 per person. Again, negotiate ahead of time.
Blogging – For some reason we aren’t able to view ANY blogsites with the extension “.blogspot.com”. I don’t know if this is a Hilton thing or an Ethiopia thing. These pages just don’t load. However, we’ve found that we can still view these sites by subscribing to them at www.bloglines.com.
Web Access – Web access was consistent at the Hilton but VERY slow – especially to upload. For example, each picture we’ve uploaded usually takes between 5-10 minutes. And a 15-second video took over 2 ½ hours to upload to YouTube!!!
Ethiopian Hospitality – Not once did we ever get attitude from the people who served us. Every single Ethiopian served us willingly. Although we did have an incompetent waiter, he still served us to the best of his ability.
Orphanage Donations – We brought three suitcases full of donations for the orphanage. Some of the things needed were baby formula, over-the-counter children’s medicine, plastic diaper covers, and clothing.