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Posts Tagged ‘Addis Ababa’

Handcuffed in Saudi Arabia

June 11, 2012 5 comments

Bob and I boarded our Ethiopian Airline flight from Addis Ababa to Kuwait City. It was a late departure and we would not arrive in Kuwait until 1:45 am.

FYI: Flights often come and go in the evening here when the temperature drops to a safe level. Air temperature very definitely affects takeoff performance. All else equal, hot air is less dense. The result is that our plane must be moving faster through it to generate enough lift to take off. Unfortunately, the less dense the air, the less power the engines develop, so it takes even longer to to accelerate to the needed faster speed.

We were tired. We had spent the last five hours in the Addis airport – three hours not so comfortable and the last two in the frequent flyer lounge (but it was hot). I was determined that I would sleep on the flight because after our arrival I would only have a few hours of sleep and then I was speaking four times in Kuwait starting at 8am.

Mistake 1

We lined up to check in for our flight using the Elite check in as we have done many times before. There was a slight difficulty with language as I had trouble understanding the woman. Just as she printed out our boarding pass I asked, “Can you tell me what seats you have given us?”

Bob and I have been flying with each of us on an aisle across from each other. This allows us to get up to stretch and move easily. When she responded to my question she told me that we were assigned a middle and aisle seat in row two.

I explained that we would prefer not to have a middle seat and she politely offered us two aisle seats across from each other and asked if that would be okay.

“Yes, that would be fine as long as row two was not a business class section. What is the configuration of this aircraft?”

She didn’t respond right away but went ahead and printed the row twelve boarding passes.

“Is row two business class?” I asked again.

“No” she smiled back and then reminded us of the frequent flyer lounge location near our departure gate.

Boarding the Flight

Unlike boarding times in North America our tickets say that we are to board the flight one hour prior to departure. It seemed unreasonable at first but we have learned on this trip that the boarding procedures are not as efficient as we are used to. It begins with passing through security again at Addis. This is the third time we have placed our bags on the conveyor and through the xray machine.

Next you are gathered together in a secure room that is too small for the number of passengers on the flight. Our room was filled and 85% of the passengers were young women in Muslim wear although many had their faces showing like they were enjoying their last bit of freedom.

When they announced pre-boarding for the flight it was a zoo when over one hundred young women crushed together, pushing and forcing their way to the front. It was odd if you are a frequent flyer because you know that we are all being directed down several long hallways to a door on the lower level where busses will come, load up fifty at a time and drive you to the airplane. Rushing was not going to do anything, especially because all the seats are assigned – you are not benefiting by getting their first. Now sometimes I like boarding early if I have carry on luggage to ensure I get some space, but these young women were carrying nothing.

As we entered the door of the plane I let out an “Oh no” to Bob.

“What?” he asked.

“Row two is business class!”  I told him. “Oh well I will just talk to them and explain the mistake.”

After minutes of trying to explain that we had boarding passes for row two but the gate agent misinformed us and moved us to row twelve – nothing had changed. We kept having higher and higher levels of staff come to talk with me while Bob stood nearby just wanting to go to sleep.

Now when you are really tired, those front section seats look so wide and plush and inviting. The thought of them fully reclining pushed me to be bolder and stronger than I normally would – remember I am tired.

So they went an brought the man in charge to speak to me who listened to my story again and then briskly said, “We do not have the authority to move you from economy to business class.” He then offered to move us into the exit row to at least provide extra leg space, however he didn’t remind us that the seats do not recline at all. So this flight, Ethiopian #620 was already on our list as the worst flight of our trip (so far).

Mistake 2

Bob had a bad trip. He hardly slept, while I on the other hand did collapse into dreamland even sitting straight upright. We were both relieved when the wheels touched down right at the appointed time of 1:45am. In that half baked, dozy almost nauseating stage of being only partially awake we gathered our things together while the one hundred ladies stayed in their seats – very different from their behaviour on boarding. I said goodbye to Mr. “I have no authority” stepping onto the jetway and started walking towards the airport enjoying the air conditioning. You could tell that even at two in the morning it was still very hot here.

Suddenly a man started yelling in Arabic, and he kept yelling.

I turned around to see what was going on only to recognize the man in the official looking uniform was yelling at me – well Bob too. So in my I just woke up character I asked, “WHAT?”

He motioned for us both to return to where he was by the aircraft.

Right at this time the one hundred maidens started out of the aircraft making our walk back to the man reminiscent of salmon swimming upstream.

When we approached him, he took our boarding cards saying “Kuwait, Kuwait!”

“I know, I know” I said strongly back.

He then said, “This is Saudi Arabia” and he made the motion of clasping handcuffs on my arms as he pushed us back onto the plane through the last women departing the flight.

The plane had made an unscheduled landing in Dammam, Saudi Arabia and the only people who got off were the hundred women and their handlers. Very wierd. I asked Bob, “How much does it cost to get a plane to make an unscheduled stop like this?”

When we finally landed in Kuwait at 3:45am, there was a very nicely dressed man in a suit holding up a sign with both of our names on it. “Oh boy” I thought. Usually when I am going to get into trouble, I like having my lawyer friend on the other side and able to help. This time he is with me!

Well the suit man turned out to be a fellow our host had arranged to meet us and guide us through immigration into Kuwait. Although there were people sitting in the immigration area that looked like they had been there for days – we were processed through in minutes and able to meet my friend and Arrow leader, Warren Reeve who had been waiting for us since 1:45am.

“Don’t worry he said, this stuff happens here.” Warren said graciously.

I slept for two hours before starting to my marathon preaching day. Before falling asleep I quietly pondered what it would be like to be behind bars in Saudi right now?

Then I wondered about the future of those young women who departed where we could not.

Road to Abote: World Vision Sponsor Visit

June 10, 2012 4 comments

Leaving Addis

We were excited about getting picked up at 7:30am to begin a drive north of Addis to an Area Development Project of World Vision in a village area called Abote.

Having been in Addis Ababa for several days we asked many people about Abote to find that no one had heard of it. They had all heard of World Vision but had no idea where we were going. This would not be the first time that World Vision was at work in a region that was off the map and when we read our itinerary and saw that we would be travelling the final portion of the trip be vehicle or horse we knew we were in for quite the experience.

With the help of World Vision Canada we had arranged for Bob to actually meet eleven year old Abesha, one of children that he and his wife Renae sponsor.

Driving out of Addis we started out on paved roads but we turned off the highway after two hours on the road to Abote.

This area development project has 5070 children registered by World Vision who have been working with the people here for twelve years. Prior to World Vision coming off-road to the people here only 2.5% had access to potable water. There were many water borne diseases.

Only 2% of the people used a pit latrine and just 25% of the children had been immunized.

 

 

Now twelve years later we found a very different situation where the community has been transformed including having some banking/credit services with 2500 clients so that they do not have to pay the 120% interest rates charged by money lenders. Eighty one percent of the people have access to potable water.

 

 

We walked the last section of the journey to Abesha’s home and found the family waiting outside for our arrival.   I wish you could have been with us to see the response of Abesha and his mother when they were introduced to Bob. She was overjoyed and filled with emotion.

Abesha has a sister and brother living with he and his mother. His father and an older brother were not present for they are working in southern Ethiopia.

 

 

 

Bob presented Abesha with a soccer ball and pump and the two of them spent time kicking the ball back and forth in front of the hut. Abesha was unable to wipe the smile off his face.

His mother then invited us into their home where she proudly showed us the photo of Abesha and the record card from World Vision. Their house was one room approximately 100 square feet with the floor and walls made of cow dung. She then asked us to be seated while she went to the cook hut next door and brought us a plate of bread she had cooked and coffee served with some form of sugar already added.

 

 

I will always be deeply touched by how people with so little, can be so generous. When we had finished with the bread, she took the remainder outside and shared it with all the neighbors who had gathered to see the two white men visiting their village – only ten would visit here in a year.

When we departed we both felt somehow blessed.

 

We spent the night at a hotel nearby – well when I say hotel it may conjure up an image of something other than where we actually stayed.

Before we went to sleep we paused to reflect on our visit to one of the most grateful families, and homes we have been to in a long time.

Now I realize that it is simply not possible for every supporter to meet your sponsored child. However this experience showed the two of us how a small focused emphasis on monthly sponsoring a child can influence and entire community.

 

We are deeply touched.

Ethiopia: Who is rocking this cradle?

June 5, 2012 1 comment

This is my third time in Ethiopia.

I had wanted to visit here for years because of my friend Aklilu Mulat, my former colleague at Arrow Leadership. Aklilu is Ethiopian and had introduced our family to Ethiopian food and cultural tid bits. However, none of this prepared me for my first visit here.

Often referenced as the “cradle of civilization” Ethiopia is a landlocked country situated in the Horn of Africa. It is bound by its bordering neighbors Djibouti, Somalia, Kenya, Sudan and Eritrea. For outsiders, famine, war, poverty and drought are the things most synonymous with the Ethiopia. Even now, it’s still one of the least developed countries in the world, so those preconceptions would not be entirely baseless.

It is a country of over eighty-three million people – and believe me getting accurate census data is extremely hard in these environments. Addis in 2007 had just under four million people (last census). Today they estimate between six and seven million.

Based on Human Development Indicators ( a standard used globally to measure life standards) Ethiopia is eighth from the bottom of one hundred and seventy-seven countries. Life expectancy is 51 years of age – younger than both Bob and I now, and one in six children die before their fifth birthday.

Dubliner, Bob Geldof organized Band Aid and Live Aid benefits for famine relief in Ethiopia.

Many of us remember Ethiopia from the early 80’s when television brought home the impact of severe drought and the resulting famine that left more than eight million people facing starvation. Well if that broke my heart, the situation today, while different, sure wants me to do more to help here. I am looking forward to meeting the leadership of World Vision‘s national office here in Addis and visiting one of their Area Development Projects on Wednesday and Thursday this week north of here. WV has been working here on the ground since 1971 – a decade prior to the famine crisis of the 80’s. I look forward to hearing about what it is like on the ground here today.

Some of the changes I notice here are:

  • the indicators of economic growth like many new buildings in the last three years – although I do smile at some of the construction techniques still being antiquated.
  • there are no street signs or house numbers here in Addis. People refer to locations by landmarks. With all the new building taking place, landmarks are being replaced and they are talking about having to one day name streets and even create a map of the city.
  • walking downtown today I noticed many more women wearing what I might describe as western or european clothing styles. Not all, but my first trip here I saw nothing like this.
  • There are some new churches that have begun in the downtown area – protestant evangelical charismatic tribes
  • There are still no stop signs anywhere making driving here very exciting
  • Construction has been very good for employment and for retailers selling building supplies
  • Much of the money coming into Ethiopia is from China and India

China and India possess the weight and dynamism to transform the 21st-century global economy. I think it is easy for us in North America to put our head in the sand over this. But come to the global south and you will see it more clearly. In the coming decades, China and India will continue to disrupt North American workforces, industries, companies, and markets in ways that we can barely begin to imagine. We are looking forward to being in India in the

My first visit to Addis 7 years ago left me in shock by the poverty and the chaos that surrounds this city.

Over 100,000 boys and girls abandoned on the streets of Addis Ababa

Today, on my third visit I am grateful to see all the change – in a positive direction with the economy but am still left with questions about the overall impact on children. There are estimated to be over 100,000 abandoned children living on the streets of Addis. We have met some who have gotten off the street through the work of Youth Impact but the numbers are overwhelming.

Tomorrow, we head north of the city to a place no one here in Addis has heard of. It is an area development project of World Vision.

I knew it was a little off the road when I read that we are travelling there by vehicle and horseback.

This is not the first, or the last, time that World Vision will be in a place few have heard of. I do know that they are there because of the children and the ability to transform a community.