A Day's Agenda

We had an agenda: 1. Open bank account.  2. Get SIM cards for phone service.


Hanook took the whole family out, walking, of course.  At the bank we learned that only residents can hold accounts at a bank.  We are not residents.  Yet.  The months leading up to the move were spent gathering paperwork for gaining work permits, which must be done in order to establish residency.  I had to call an office at the school of my undergrad degree requesting a special note and signature be added to the back of my transcript and that someone write a letter to go along with my diploma.  All to be authenticated.  Why does Ethiopia need my college transcript? 


On to the next stop.   The SIM card.  

But they require a passport photo.  The first little photo shop did not have power.  The next shop was closed for the previous day’s holiday.  We finally found an open shop that had electricity.  The “photographer” took each of us one at a time through the only door for what felt like yearbook shots: cheery smile, serious face, angle the knees and tilt head.   Oh, these were gonna be great pictures.  And Hanook returned after the processing to retrieve them for us. 


Although we crossed neither item off our list, the day was still a win for me.  I picked up a kilo (2.2 lbs) of avocados for 50 cents.  Five very squishy avocados.   From what I have seen of the produce, it looks over ripe on the outside but is perfect and delicious on the inside.  Bananas are yellow and mostly black.  I’ve never even seen a green or yellow banana here.  And, it’s all a little bit smaller but more tasty.  Makes me skeptical about produce from the States.   It’s all so big, shiny and beautiful. 


The following day, we were more realistic with our agenda.  Just the phone service.  No AT&T or Verizon Wireless stores here.  The SIM card must be purchased at a government office.  Really.  So, everyone has to be patted down by uniformed officers before entering, but the female officer, without even leaving her telephone booth of a post, just gave me a once over with her eyes and waved me on in.  Not my lucky day, I guess.  Inside, we did a lot of people watching while waiting on Hanook who was asked to go make photo copies of our passports. This was a no-frills office.  Come prepared, people.  Those photos we took the previous day?  They were stapled to each of our applications.  Yes, all this for local phone service.   Two hours later, we left with SIM cards.  Yeah!  But would not work in our iPhones.  Ugh!  Apparently an "unlocked" phone has a different meaning in Ethiopia. 


Our new task: unlock our phones.  The following weekend, we dropped them off for a few hours at a place a little farther away.  A bit more promising but in the end no deal. 


We tried once more, at a shop that kept both phones overnight.  When they were returned, Keith’s phone was “jacked,” having been taken back a few decades, after having specifically stated not to upgrade or downgrade the iOS and NOT to delete anything.  For you Apple geeks out there, they took it from 6.1 to 4.1 and DID delete everything!


Then, one fine day, a light shone down upon a stranger.  A translator with impeccable English.  Within seconds, he had swiped a few screens, entered some numbers and had Keith’s phone working on an Ethiopian network.  I am so jealous. 


I’ve been without a phone for 4 weeks.  No email or internet at my fingertips.  There’s no calling the hubs to see if he’ll be home for lunch.  Or dinner.  Or ask if he can pick up a veggie from the nearest produce stand.  Or to just find out where he is so that we know in which direction to walk.  None of that.


But, I’ve managed to survive.  Somehow. 


Another essential I survived 4 weeks without.  Washing my hair.  Yep.  4 weeks of no water, no products, no tools…nothing…for my hair.  But it's clean now.  

A few pictures I hope you'll enjoy:

Garrison pulled his 6th tooth out one morning this week.  

All the boys got hair cuts this week.  Total including tip: $2.15.

Clean chicken bones, thanks to my children.  Who did the best job?  That'd be Avery. 

My little list maker.  Walking doesn't stop her.  

No outfit is complete without a giant sunhat.  

Why does this baseball-bat-weilding knight look so unhappy?  

This one is from before we left the States, but I just saw it.  The cake says "We Miss You," which is true for us.  

Also, our newsletter will be coming out in a couple of days.  Forgive us as we may have been absent from the world of social media.  Oh, the woes of intermittent power and even less internet.  Keith has something in the works involving tin foil and aluminum cans though.  It sounds very promising.  


Don't Pray for Rain

You'd think the early rainy season would only increase or in some way add to the water supply.  Well, you'd be wrong.  

The first 24 hours in our house we had water.  Just cold water though because the boiler was on the fritz, as was every other component necessary to a working household.  Still, we had water.  I was cleaning up a storm.  I must have mopped my bedroom a dozen times that first day, as well as a play area for the kids.  I can't have my babies playing on a dirty floor now.  Nope.  I bleached that nasty thing.

And then there was none.  

No water.

For 3 whole days.

What did we do without water for 3 days you ask.  Let me tell you what we didn't do.  Didn't flush the toilets. Didn't take showers. We didn't wash our hands or even our brown feet before crawling in bed.  No cooking, which means no dish washing.

(One night we did use a "community" water bucket to wash our hands.)  Not sure of its efficiency.

I had to stop cleaning.  Gasp!  I know.  But only until I could haul water back from the nearest guest home in 1-liter  water bottles, which I used to make my own cleaner.  Then it was back to work.   Those smiley faces are for the "Safe Cleaner" I made out of castile soap, which I thoughtfully packed.

Let me go back to those non-flushing toilets for a moment.  Our family of 5 had the use of 2 toilets.  The toilets here have about half a cup of water in them to begin with.  Take that combined 1 cup of water and add to it the daily excrements of 5 people, of whom 3 are males.  Now, that's important because everyone knows that males produce more poo than females.  Oh, my!  I wish I could have somehow bottled the smell and sent it your way.  Not that you would enjoy it.  No, no.  But naturally I want to share with others any grotesque thing, whether it be taste, sight, sound or smell.  I feel the need to force this experience on others.  

It was so bad, I used a quarter of Keith's cologne on the bathroom door and frame so that when the wind blew in the stench in from the bathroom to where I slept a few feet away, it would hopefully be masked by the scent of my beloved.  

The morning of day 3, Keith couldn't even stand it.  He took a 5-gallon yellow water-fetching jug to fetch water and hauled it up 3 flights of stairs.  Took him 4 trips to fill the toilet tanks.  4 trips up 3 flights of stairs carrying 5 gallons of water each time.  Finally flushing that stinky sludge down town. 

All this, we were told, is because the extra rain has caused problems with the water supply.   Anyway, I think through very carefully each time I turn a faucet handle.  

Our newest arrival.  Hopefully, this will help resolve the issue in the future.  You are correct.  That monstrosity is a water tank.  It is also the complete view from our living room.  Nice.  

Here are some pictures of my bathroom.  Pretty snazzy.  

We finally got a shower curtain.  Keith said he bought the most descent one available.  It was that bluish clear plastic liner and awful covered rings.  My goal was to get a dark shower curtain to blend in with the current stains that look like muddy grout.  

Days after Keith hung that plastic curtain, I unpacked a chocolate colored black-out bedroom curtain that was too short to use in our bedroom here.  I safety pinned that bluish liner to the two curtain panels and strung it on the rod.  

I also dug out a taupe padded bathroom rug and traded out the purple trash can for a brown one I had spotted in the corner of the living room.  

Next: bleach the grout or paint it using the darkest nail polish I can find.  

This is before I found a mirror.  That bottle of water is for brushing our teeth.  We were using the drinking water, but now I'm boiling water tap water to save a few birr.  That's the Ethiopian currency. 

And, finally a mirror but no light fixture.  It's a work in progress.  


Closet Space

Go left at the end of the street; then take the first right. At the big rock in the road, turn left. We are the house immediately past the giant school sign. All in all, it’s about a 2-minute walk. That is if you begin at the Nathaniel house of the Ethiopian Guest Homes, which is where we have stayed since our arrival. Take me anywhere else and I'm lost. On the other end of our street is a medical clinic on the corner and a pharmacy within eye shot of the clinic.

The house is big. But, the plan has always been to share a home with long-term volunteers. 1) Shared rent = less rent. 2) The volunteers would have stability with an amazing family…us…instead of at a bed and breakfast with a steady string of guests. The first volunteer will arrive in June and plans to be here a year. I’m sensing that she loves kids and will insist on letting us have an occasional date night out. Then behind the kitchen there is a row of rooms that will be used by the guest home for teams during the busy summer months. More entertainment for the kids.

The first picture is of the gate in front of the house, and of course those cuties I sometimes call my kids. A gate? you ask. Yes. Pretty much every home has a similar gate. Even many businesses in town have them. A few much nicer with a touch of someone’s green thumb, and others on the shabby and even dilapidated side. It’s really no big deal. The kids are super excited about the barbed wire at the top though.

And, a stone's throw away from that gate is a big pile of dirt. Behind it, a police station.

The common living and dining area are one large room separated by that little step you see Ivan jumping up. Avery is standing in the “dining room.” Right behind her is the kitchen.

The kitchen sink overlooks those extra rooms for busy summers. Keith must have told Hanook, the guy who did the house hunting for us, about my cooking expertise. That little door will come in handy when I smoke up the kitchen, or set it on fire. True story.

Kids’ rooms. We’re going to try for the same situation we have at home. Boys in one room, Avery in the other…but they all sleep in one room. Two rooms are nice when we need to separate them, which is inevitable in the excitement of a new house.

For now, this will be the family closet since it is the only closet. Seriously. It’ll work, but I am expecting something fantabulous out of Keith’s handy-man and engineering skills.

The only piece of grass is outside the gate. I think we can get by with a pair of scissors for lawn maintenance. That feature alone won Keith over.


Mr. Crabby Britches and Our First Day Here

Uncertain whether it was my newly adjusted internal clock or my bladder (for they are equally annoying), I woke and removed my eye mask to see that it was exactly 7 AM. Ugh! The kids were still fast asleep so I returned to bed but couldn’t sleep for Keith’s badgering me about the banging he heard. However, I could hear neither the banging nor Keith’s question to me because of my ear plugs. All I could make out was, “Mumble, mumble, mumble,” followed by a muffled, “What is it?!” I half thought he was talking in his sleep and half that he’d just give up and let me return to sweet slumber, so I let him go on for a while before finally removing one ear plug. “I hear the banging but it’s nothing I have any control over, and we are lucky it’s not accompanied by a barking dog and music from the Mosque,” I lovingly replied. He ignorantly refused ear plugs, so I put mine back in and slid into the covers just as an angry elbow met my backside. (No bruises were incurred.) Ah, it’s Mr. Crabby Britches no matter how gentle I greet him in the morning. I love him dearly, but I should know by now to keep a safe distance. He never remembers these incidents though, no matter how loud he gets or where he accidentally flails his arms. Hopefully we will have a larger bed once we move into our own home.

Keith told me to "not make him sound like a wife beater." Okay, he's not a wife beater. Really. We all have our flaws. He's sometimes a wee bit grumpy in the mornings. I occasionally have gas when I get in bed. Neither is good timing.

We all slept till nearly noon, then pasta with Keith’s favorite sauce for lunch and I went back to sleep until dinner. I blame the altitude. Always the altitude. Dinner: what looked to be fried zucchini and fried squash. My excitement quickly waned when the first few bites of squash were disappointing because they was actually potatoes, which are severely lacking in flavor compared to my favorite vegetable. The squash. Fried.

Besides sleeping and carb loading, the day was filled with power outages. Sometimes we’d have it for less than a minute at a time. We were told that because it’s Easter weekend here to expect outages…as well as more animals in the street than the usual. Alive and dead. Welcome to Ethiopia.

A goat head in the street. Evidence of the Resurrection celebration.

The kids discovered their favorite toy here in the guest home, those giant foam pop-out alphabet inter-locking floor squares. They had a hay day. We used to own a set but gave them away mainly because I got tired of them. Every day it was someone else’s turn to use them to build something ridiculous that I had to pretend excitement over: a car, bed, trash can, Buzz Lightyear costume, etc. I know. I’m the worst for giving away their favorite play thing. They don’t call me “Mommie Dearest” for nothing.

I’d been wearing the same clothes for 3 days straight, so I took a shower even though it was only my first day in Ethiopia. Perhaps I needed the shower because I found toe jam behind my ears. Both of them. Gross. How does toe jam get up there anyway? Then in the bathroom, I kept getting a whiff of someone’s awful foot odor. But I checked my feet and shoes but neither emitted such a smell. I am still perplexed over it.

We saw our house by the light of day. Haven’t signed on it yet. But I’ll include pictures next time. We have two bathrooms. And, both are inside the house. I am just giddy.


No Children Were Harmed

Avery and I got the most sleep on the flights, despite the lack of what most would assume to be common sense boundaries and some good ole discipline in the seat behind me. When we approached our seats, I found Mom and Crying Baby and assumed they were the only threats. However, Grandma and Screaming Toddler soon found their way back from the bathroom and ruined any chance for a pleasant flight.

Mom and Granny were getting tag teamed by these two little monsters. As soon as Baby would go to sleep, Toddler emerged from her state of contentment. At many points Screaming Toddler turned into Erratic Toddler, during which she would violently kick or beat on the back of Ivan's seat next to me.

This mother looked plum worn out, tired, fed up. So, I'll cut her some slack. But Granny on the other hand, merely laughed for longer than necessary when Possessed Toddler shook out a bottle of water, heavily spraying me from the gap between the seats. Grandma, I was not amused.

I've given you the low. Now for the high. I do need to give props to Lufthansa airline for the most comfortable temperature of my international flying experience to date. And, my all-time favorite in-flight meal was served for lunch on the way to Frankfurt. I chose the pasta, which came with a crunchy lettuce salad and tiramisu. All delectable.

The professional label Keith added to the lid of each tote.

Keith single-handedly collected all 18 pieces of our checked bags (17 totes + 1 small suitcase deemed by the airline as too large to carry on), while I stood to the side of the chaos with the kids and 10 carry-on pieces. He also wisely found some airline workers who agreed to help move us and our 4 carts through the customs line.

The mass of people and luggage carts at the customs x-ray machine were so crazy that Keith "forgot" to put his backpack full of electronics and cash on the conveyor belt. And, those kind airport workers ushered me and the kids, suitcases in tow, around to the other side without having to be scanned. Bless them.

Well, 3 totes and the carry on with electronics were flagged for searching. I took the kids and luggage carts around the corner from the window where 2 workers sat, who would eventually deal with Keith. The travelers in line before Keith were flagged for cases and cases of Trident gum (52 to be exact...Keith counted) and enough body spray to start a Bath and Body Works.

The item in question for us: a power converter/inverter purchased stateside via amazon for $105. The guys at customs were saying it cost $1,500 USD. Finally they let Keith come behind the glass window and show them on his account the item he purchased and the same item through another website. In the end, getting through customs cost us 3 hours and $180. Duty plus a nice tip for the guys who helped us from baggage claim to our driver.

To those of you who prayed for our travels, thank you. We saw God's favor in countless ways during the last 2 days. We were charged $0 for 6 extra checked bags (totes, that would have been $200 each). Safe flights in which no children were harmed. We arrived at a guest home (bed and breakfast) and had the kids tucked in by 1:00 A.M.

We are blessed.

On the way back from the airport, being blinded by the flash.


Note Your Time Zone and Commit to Prayer

In the early afternoon of May 3rd at 1:00 PM Central and 2:00 PM Eastern, we will land in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Once through immigration, we hope to find our belongings in baggage claim. Then, the terrifying part: Customs. Dun, dun, dunnn. This is when you start praying.

The 5 of us with 10 carry-ons and 17 totes (22 gallons each) will attempt to make our way through a procedure that has no rhyme or reason. If the employee on duty sees fit, he/she can open all of our bags and totes, label items as he/she sees fit, then look to a computer that seems to arbitrarily assign values to one's personal property and tax us X amount. You got that right. We hope to not pay duty on those things we already own, but that's the way the cookie crumbles in customs line in Ethiopia.

On a positive note, every piece of clothing, shoes, accessories, and whatnot I am taking fits neatly in one tote, weighing in at 45 pounds. Wait, I didn't even use those space saver bags where you vacuum the air out of hole after zipping it up. Nope. From socks to scarves, it fits in a single Sterillite container with a handy locking lid. Wow. Let me pause a moment while I pat myself on the back. Again.

We automatically get those 2 checked pieces each, and Keith graciously called the airline and requested an extra baggage allowance. Turns out with the number of tickets we purchased and the fact that Keith made that phone call, we get 2 extra bags for free "if there's room." So, that makes hopefully 12, but at least 10. We've got 17, remember.

Long ago, we talked of a moving budget that allowed for extra bags. During that discussion, we were thinking more like 2 extra totes, not 5. But, we got the humanitarian rate on our airline tickets, saving us $1,000, which will cover the cost exactly.

We found out yesterday that our power of attorney in Ethiopia is signing on a lease for our house today. Zippity doo da! And, some furniture on loan is being moved in tomorrow. Possibly. Well, who knows when. I did hear Keith say on the phone that all we need when we arrive is a mattress. I think he may have forgotten his family when he made that request. Bottom line is we have a house. And, it's not even made of dirt and grass. It'll have real walls and windows. And a kitchen. With a bathroom. Hopefully I'll be able to locate a shower curtain. This is so exciting. I must end here before I pee my pants.

And, then I need to finish packing. We leave for the airport at noon.