That was the smartest thing I've never done before: staying awake the day before a long journey!  It made the trip to Boston a little hair-raising, since I was moving a little slowly by the time we really should have been leaving, but Norma and I made it in time, thanks to her own intrepid driving (I mean that in a good way)!  In fact, as it turns out, we had more than enough time.  If you have a chance to fly Air Canada out of Logan for international travel, take it!  They are in a different terminal from the rest of the international flights, which means the whole process is much less formal and the lines are very short.  It only took me about ten minutes to get all the way through.  In my first small taste of the day, though, we did have to wait for the TSA agents to get there to open the gates to start the day!
A happy, dancing alphabet
Toronto's airport was of course clean, efficient, polite and oh-so-up-to-date.  I caught up with home with a cup of coffee at the iPad cafe with its banks and banks of iPad menu/browsers.  Even while I was there I knew that this sight was going to strike me upon my return - it was striking enough as it was.  

Then it was off to the gate to wait for the Ethiopian Airlines flight to Addis Ababa.  I'm a sucker for foreign languages with cool alphabets, and Amharic is certainly such a language!  All announcements were made in Amharic first, then English, and all signs were in both languages as well.  I love, too, how the alphabet looks like people dancing - an auspicious beginning for that leg of the voyage!

It was this flight that made me most grateful that I had stayed up the night before.  I was able to sleep from time to time; I think I may have gotten four to six hours, which is unheard-of for me on a mode of transportation of any kind.  I normally get too excited to sleep at all.  I can't say it was solid sleep, but sleep nonetheless.  I could already feel my internal clock changing.  Goodness knows that clock had plenty of time: I now know that a thirteen-hour flight is long enough for me!

Ethiopian Airlines also has a dedicated GPS channel on its video channels, so I kept that on my screen the whole flight to give myself as much context as possible.  It was very interesting how familiar it felt to fly over Spain and Italy, countries I have been to before; but when the plane veered off from Sardinia and started heading south to Libya, the commitment I had made to the journey finally hit me.  It was very strange and exciting even to fly over Benghazi in Libya, Khartoum in Sudan, South Sudan, and finally Ethiopia.  Time for the real adventure to begin!

Addis Ababa: Upon landing, the first thing one could notice was that there is both a building boom and a cycle of abandonment going on.  In the distance were many cranes building high-rises of many sorts, but the airport also serves as a parking ground for what looked to me like abandoned airplanes, left to rust.  So it was too with many one-story buildings; once they have served their purpose, the roof - usually tin or thatch - steadily deteriorates, leaving only the bricks of the walls.  Of course, that would make it that much easier to rebuild them, too.

Leaving the plane, I let a mother go ahead of me who had been trying to corral her two children and their luggage.  The boy and girl could have been no more than five and three respectively, but each of them had a standard piece of carry-on luggage to corral, as did the mother.  "Children, these people are waiting for us, so chop-chop!"  When she turned around, I saw why there was so much luggage.  What I thought had been a sash around her waist actually contained a small baby, surely no more than three months, wrapped tightly to her back as she reached, bent over, whipped left and right, corralled and marshaled her way to the door of the plane.  The baby was silent and wide-eyed; I think I would have been, too.

The airport itself was renovated in the early part of this century, but I'm afraid the part of it that I saw was upgraded to a strange sort of 1970s standard.  We landed on the tarmac and left the plane on the old-fashioned stairs. That meant mother,  infant and two small children headed down those old stairs on which it had recently rained - yes it was slippery!  Fortunately, someone with an imposing uniform got the luggage halfway down and carried it as far as the bottom of the steps.

A crowded bus ride later and we were let off in the lower floor the Terminal 2.  This was a very strange place, with nobody there but the passengers from that flight only and airport staff stationed every three hundred feet or so to ask where you were going.  Naturally, the flight to Lilongwe was at the very end, Gate 1, so I underwent the entire gauntlet.  Fortunately, everyone was absolutely positive that we would be leaving from Gate 1 - everyone but the people actually at Gate 1, that is, who had to call authorities over to confirm this fact.  Once cleared and sent on my way, I could understand the confusion: Gate 2 and Gate 1 are actually the same thing, and had I boarded the plane at "Gate 1" I would have been on my merry way to Johannesburg.  There was nobody at the top to guide me, but instinct told me to go to the right off of the jetway (I had overheard someone somewhere say something about Gate 1 not being straight ahead).  My instinct led me back into a security area with a mass of people waiting.  I asked a few if they were going to Lilongwe, and after getting three or four responses in the affirmative, I decided to chance it.  We waited for forty minutes after the supposed boarding time, and then with no announcement at all, sixty people or so got up silently but en masse and began running toward a line that appears to have been created by a person giving a visual signal.  So it was that we all boarded en masse after a cursory ticket check: no front, back, disabled, elderly etc.  We were spirited again into a bus, which narrowly missed the surreal woman in a headscarf with a broom and dustbin, sweeping who knows what between roaring jet planes in the middle of the tarmac in the rain.  The bus careened and swerved and took us - exactly across the tarmac from where we had come from the previous flight!

It was thus that we all went up another set of slippery stairs into a 737 and began our way to Lilongwe, which I will continue in a second post.


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    A choral conductor walking cheerfully over the world...


    May 2013