We woke up really early to get to the airport for our day trip to Mekele, Ethiopia, a city in the Northern part of Ethiopia, about an hour and a half plane ride from Addis Ababa.
Our little girl is originally from Mekele, so we really wanted to see it and to fill in some of her history to be able to share it with her later.
Our plane was delayed, over and over again leaving Addis, due to weather (mental note that the beginning of the rainy season isn't the best time to be flying around Ethiopia) so we hung out in the airport all morning. Nearly everyone in the gate area waiting with us were Ethiopians so it was an interesting glimpse into their culture, watching them interact with each other and their children.
We finally arrived in Mekele early afternoon instead of the early morning we were supposed to get there. The airport in Mekele:One of the guys who runs the Bana Orphanage, where our daughter spent a month before going to the care center in Addis Ababa, was supposed to pick us up at the airport, but since we were so delayed we had to call him and wait a few minutes. My children entertained themselves walking on top of a rock wall outside the airport. It was a wall that got higher and higher off the ground, getting pretty high in middle. In the United States, I really won't have worried about my children walking on it, but here in Ethiopia where medical care is less than a fraction of what it is in the U.S. and now in Mekele which is even a smaller, more remote city that where we'd been in the capital of Ethiopia, well I had to make them stop. I just couldn't help worrying that if they fell and broke an arm or needed stitches we would not have access to medical care to fix them. I take so much for granted in America, we live within a few minutes drive from some of the best medical facilities in the world!
Our ride arrived. We hoped in and took off through the gorgeous landscape of Mekele. It was really green and lush (likely due to the rainy season) and much more pastoral and peaceful than Addis.
The Bana guy didn't speak much English but he communicated to us that he needed to make a quick stop in town. We waited in the car while he ran in and came out with a lady we had never met before but she is a social worker with our adoption agency and usually works in Addis but was in Mekele for a few days to oversee the transfer of some new children into the care of our agency. Her English was great and we learned so much visiting with her. She told us the driver could take us to a location that was key to our daughter's history and so we went and stood in the very spot, it was emotional to get so close to some of the details surrounding our daughter becoming an orphan (details we are not sharing here out of respect for our daughter's privacy), but I'm so glad we got to go there. We took pictures and were able to add more detail to her story, things I'm so thankful we'll be able to share with her as she grows up.
Some beautiful children in Mekele:
A church in Mekele:
A road leading to a little village:
A house in Mekele:
Then we headed to the Bana Center Orphanage where our daughter spent 1 month (well actually the center is in a new building so it wasn't exactly the same place). We met some sweet kids who were there and passed out some toys and candy to them. We toured the facility -- a baby room, an older kid room, a gathering room with a TV, a kitchen/cook area, a shower area (that was really muddy), and an office.
In the office the social worker went through the files and was able to find the page on our daughter from when she was in the care of that orphanage, there was a little picture stapled to the page and we were so amazed at how different our girl looks now, how much healthier and it made us very thankful for the good care she has gotten while in the center run by our agency!
Before we left home we'd printed out the earliest picture we have of our girl, hoping one of the care givers at the Bana Center would remember her, one did! We also printed out the most recent picture we had and we showed the caregiver what she looked like now. She and the man that heads up the orphanage loved the pictures and asked if they could keep them -- absolutely!
We didn't have much time before our flight back so we headed back to the airport. We got through security and waited about an hour at the gate before there was an announcement that the flight was cancelled because the plane coming from Addis Ababa had circled the airport in Mekele 5 times and couldn't land due to thick cloud cover (it was a turbo-prop plane), so the plane had to go back to Addis and now we didn't have a plane to fly out on.
We were stunned. We had not packed much of anything since we expected a day trip. Thankfully we had a guidebook and called the hotel it recommended, it was also the one where our agency's social worker was staying. We called and hopefully reserved a room, with the language barrier who could be sure, but we hailed a cab and headed that way. We did have a room, but had the hardest time explaining that we needed two beds rather than just a king-size since we had our two kids with us. Finally, they offered to bring in an additional bed. I expected a roll-away bed, but no, they came and basically built another bed right there in our room!
Let's just say for the record, the nicest hotel in Mekele, Ethiopia is far from "nice" by most American standards, but at least I don't think we came home with fleas or bedbugs! Yes, Axum hotel, I'm talking about you!
We only had intermittent running water, the electricity went off several different times, the ceiling in our bathroom was leaking, and the hotel restaurant which was supposedly the best food in town, was barely edible! We longed for an American hotel with a gift shop where we could buy toothbrushes (mental note to self: even if you are just flying for "day trip", go ahead and pack a toothbrush; if said "day trip" happens to be within Africa, pack provisions for several days!), but instead we chewed some peppermint gum, said many prayers for clearer weather to get back to Addis in the morning, and went to sleep in our clothes!