I didn't sleep much at all that night in Mekele, partially because due to the bed situation, my daughter was sleeping in the double bed with my husband and I and the girl moves a ton in her sleep, but also because it kept storming all night and all I could think about was if the weather was going to clear up enough for a plane to be able to land in Mekele to get us out! Then there was also the LOUD chanting from the Ethiopian Orthodox Christians that started in the pre-dawn hours and went on for a really, really long time! It is quite an eery sound.
We really needed to get back to Addis that morning because we had an evening flight back home to the U.S.!
We didn't even bother with attempting a real breakfast, the restaurant food the night before was too terrible. I had a few breakfast bars in our backpack. The weather was horrible, basically a white-out of rain, clouds, and fog. For some reason our cab driver to the airport insisted on speeding down the wet streets as we wound around a hillside and at one point we narrowly missed a collision with a dog in the road.
We were one of the first passengers to arrive at the airport that morning, hoping to secure our spot on the first plane out. But, the weather was just too bad, a lot worse than the day before when the plane couldn't land. There was this statue right across the street from the airport we'd taken a picture of it the day before and at many points during the day on Sunday, the fog was so dense we couldn't even see it!
We waited around the airport pretty much all day. They kept making announcements to the crowd in languages we didn't understand and we'd have to go search out this Ethiopian Airlines supervisor guy who spoke English to give us our update.
Aside from not making our flight back to the United States, we were also worried about the prospect of staying another night in Mekele. We were running out of our Ethiopian Birr money (we couldn't use a credit card at the hotel) and there was not a place to exchange money in that airport, and even if we took a cab to town, it was Sunday and we didn't know if any place would be opened. Our snacks we brought in the backpack were rapidly running out. Emirates airlines gave us complimentary vouchers for breakfast and lunch in the one restaurant in the airport but all they had was eggs and coffee for breakfast and my daughter is allergic to eggs. And for lunch? Egg sandwiches! You've got to be kidding me!
There were no opened stores in the airport and no other restaurants or stores anywhere within walking distance outside. I started rationing our snacks, not giving the kids something as soon as they said they wanted one, but trying to make them wait longer. I developed a whole new level of empathy for what many mothers suffer through every day when they don't have enough food to feed their hungry children. It is not a good feeling, and for me it was only an afternoon, for many it is their reality all the time!
Finally late afternoon they were able to get a larger plane to come from Addis that was able to land even through the thick clouds. We watched through the window; I can absolutely say I have never been so happy to see a plane land in all my life!
The little Mekele airport, however, was not so used to large planes, most planes that land there are small ones that just lower their own stairs straight from the airplane. So there was much to-do as the airport personnel rolled out a really old looking stairway to unload the passengers and then just a couple guys worked really hard to get all the baggage off the large plane and re-loaded.
We took off at 4:50 pm headed for Addis (an hour and a half flight) but our flight back to the US was at 7:30 pm, and we'd been told to arrive 3 hours before that flight to clear security and customs. We had been told by another couple that on their first trip they had gotten to the airport 3 hours early and only got to the gate 30 minutes before takeoff. We truly thought there was no way we were going to make it, especially considering our bags weren't even packed up back at our guesthouse, but we were praying!
We landed in Addis at 6:10 pm., our driver was waiting for us at the airport, we dropped my husband off at the International terminal to beg for mercy from Emirates airlines, and the kids and I raced back to the guesthouse to pack (thankfully it was only 5 minutes from the airport). It was a hilarious scene in our room at BJoes Guesthouse! Blaine (a lady who works there) came in and offered to help. Blaine, our driver, the 2 kids and I just started throwing everything into bags. Occasionally someone would ask me, "Where should I put this?" and I was all, "Wherever it will fit!!!!!" Meanwhile my husband was calling me on the cell phone asking how soon we could get there because there was a chance we could make the plane but we had to hurry!
When we got back to the airport (at 6:55 pm for a 7:30 pm flight) my husband had an angel waiting with him in the form of an Emirates employee supervisor. The guy is our new best friend! He held the baggage check open for us so our bags got on the plane, literally held up a badge and walked us through a long line of people to the front of the security line and customs, and then escorted us to our gate where we boarded (at 7:28 pm) just minutes before the door closed! We were so happy to get on (my husband had checked and the flights for the next 2 or 3 days were full) we would have sat in the cargo area, but they'd upgraded us to business class for the Addis to Dubai leg so that was a really, really nice treat after all the hassle of the previous 24 hours!
They gave us hot towels, toothbrushes, served us gourmet food, and the seats reclined all the way! It was heavenly! Oh, another plus? Due to the upgrade we were all split up, but a flight attendant worked it out so our two kids could be together. It was only a 3 hour flight before we'd stop in Dubai (I never used to call 3 hours short, but compared to 20 hours, it is!), so I thought the kids would be okay not sitting near parents and I knew my 8 year old could help my younger daughter. I checked on them a few times, but it was really funny because the flight attendant for them was different than mine, but she kept coming over and asking me things like, "They didn't eat all their food but they said they are done, is it okay for me to take the food away?" It was like I had a nanny right there on the plane. And after 10 days in Ethiopia spending pretty much every minute with my 2 older kids and my husband, it was really nice to sit BY MYSELF for a few hours!!!! In the meantime, after being moved by the flight attendants four times, my husband actually ended up in first class where he had his own "room", really just some partitions. After not having changed clothes (our shoes were really muddy from Mekele), showered, or shaved in about 48 hours, he got some odd looks from the other first class passengers.
It has been 5 weeks and I'm still praising God for allowing us to make that flight!
Thankfully there was no airplane drama in Dubai, we had a two hour lay-over and then the direct flight home (and back to our regular seats in economy)! Even with the crazy end to our trip and even though I was so glad to be going home, to get to take a real shower where I could let the water hit my face, to be reunited with our four year old son, it only took a couple hours before I missed it. Ethiopia. There is something magical about that place, mostly about the people, and I just want to be back there. Of course there was also the fact that it was about 70 degrees the whole time we were there and we came home to 103 degrees (and our air conditioner had quit working while we were away)! But mostly, being home it sunk in, she was not here. We were minus a family member, a little 2 year old girl we'd held in our arms and left behind.
Find more Thankful Thursday here.