Sunday, May 18, 2014

The Journey Home

Well friends and family, we have been on one long adventure together. Our family has been back in the States for about six weeks now. Hard to believe!!  And we are fairly well adjusted. I have stopped accidently running stop signs. Seriously, stop signs are totally suggestions in Addis rather than actual rules. I usually don’t honk my horn at children playing in their front yards anymore. I had a hard time adjusting to the idea that children won’t randomly run into the road and be killed by my minivan. I felt bad for the poor kids that got a preliminary beep just in case they were considering galloping into the road, I nearly scared one little boy to death because I beeped at him while he was running through a sprinkler in his yard,  he seriously looked like he was going to cry. I have realized that carrying toilet paper in my purse is not necessary and it’s nice to know that there is always soap AND paper towels in every public bathroom! Now let's move on to, “The Journey Home”.

Our last days in Addis were busy! I tried to cram all of the things that I wanted to do and see but had put off for the year we were there into the last two weeks. I visited an orphanage. It was so sweet and sad to see all of the beautiful children that lived there waiting for their forever homes. I had a picture frame built and carved for a painting that we picked up on one of our adventures.  I bought a bunch of handmade scarves and leather bags. I spent time with friends and finished up work at the AMAZING school that I was fortunate enough to be involved with. If you for some reason are reading this blog because you are living in or will be moving to Addis and you have young kids, Head to Toe is absolutely the best thing out there! I am sad that I cannot find anything to compare with it here in the US of A. 

On our last night in Addis after the house was cleaned and the boxes were gone and the bags were packed, we made plans to eat dinner some dear friends of ours, the Aspenson’s.  Annie Aspenson became a great friend to me and I was and still am sad that I don’t get to have weekly mommy dates with her any more. We had our last supper of injera and wot, which was delish! We chatted and the kids played but it all ended too soon. We headed back to our house for a last check of all of the rooms before the Embassy motor pool car arrived to carry us to the airport.

The van arrived promptly at 7pm and as we loaded the vehicle our neighbors stopped by with some last minute goodbyes. There were hugs and waves and tears from all of us. Our day guard stayed a little late to see us off and he teared up as we hugged him and thanked him for all of the wonderful help he had been to our family over the last year. As we drove away I could not believe that an entire year had passed! I was headed back to where it had all started except now the craters in the road were home. The beggars on the street were people. I had come to love the insanity and although I was excited and happy to see my family and have reliable internet……and plumbing, I was also sad to let this part of my life go.

I wish that I could say that we flew home peacefully with no complications. I wish that I could say that the flights flew exactly as they should. I wish that I could say that we were all healthy and whole upon arrival, but if the above was the end of my story, well then it wouldn't be the truth and it wouldn't be my story. You see I am just not that lucky and I think that Ethiopia wanted to give me a reason not to be sad about my departure. Ethiopia wanted a dramatic break up and boy did I get one.

We arrived at the airport with plenty of time to spare. We got through the initial security check and then wound our way to the ticket counter. We were scheduled to fly on the 10:30pm Luftanza flight to Germany with a 3 hour layover and then on to Los Angeles followed by a quick flight up to Monterey. As we approached the ticket line a tall, blonde German gentleman asked us if we were on the Luftanza flight at 10:30. “Why yes, we are as a matter of fact.” I could only hope that we had won some sort of award and would all be upgraded to first class free of charge where in our children would have their own personal flight attendants to see to their every need, what can I say, I’m a dreamer. Instead this fellow answered with, “Well I am sorry, but that flight and all of the rest of our flights have been cancelled.”  I immediately flew into panic mode. My brain responded with a few silent WHAT THE..’s and my eyes must have shown my fear because the hubs gave me the calm down eyeball. He proceeded to ask what the solution was. Solution, of course there would be a solution. It’s not like we were supposed to be flying on Ethiopian Airlines their solution is usually, “I’m sorry, this must be really challenging for you, have a nice life.” Unfortunately the solution was Ethiopian airlines. DA-da-dun…. So now we were to fly on Ethiopian to London wait around for six hours and then fly via United Airlines to San Francisco, wait around for five more hours, fly to Monterey. Oh, and this new flight does not leave until 12:30am, that is in four and a half hours, have fun with that!

I am still optimistic at this point. At least we are still getting out tonight, it’s great we don’t need a hotel and Jake should definitely sleep by the time we take off. So we waited around and bought a bunch of nasty junk food with our remaining Birr and played on our electronic devices. It wasn't that terrible and when we boarded we used a real jet way and didn't have to go outside and climb up those God awful stairs! We found our seats without a problem and settled down to endure the seven or so hour flight to London.

Even though we were leaving at 12:30am the flight attendants still served a dinner. I wasn't particularly hungry and considered not eating the meal but decided to pick at it anyway; OK, I ate the whole darn thing. Jake on the other hand had almost nothing. He must have had a sixth sense, someone was watching out for him, maybe he has spidey senses, maybe I stuffed him so full of crap while we were wondering around the terminal for four hours that he honestly wasn't hungry, or perhaps he just had a feeling that eating that food was a BAD idea. I wish that I had had the sense to say no thank you and go to sleep! Within two hours my tummy was rumbling, in four hours I was very uncomfortable and by the time we landed I was ill and not just a little bit. I was so sick that I had to visit the airplane restroom before landing and then again after we touched down. After we got off of the jet way I needed to go again. Every 10 minutes I had to quickly find a potty. I desecrated nearly every public restroom that was on my path. It was hell.

We finally got to a place where we could sit down. There was a play structure and many seats surrounding this play area. After staking out our territory directly in front of the ball pit and scoping out the closest toilets, I lay down on the seats and watched Jacob beat the crap out of two smaller boys inside the children’s area. No one wants to be the parent of the bratty American bully; you especially don’t want to be that parent when at any moment you may have to shoot off at the speed of light to the public bathroom where you are solely responsible for the unspeakable things happening in the unsuspecting restroom stall. Unfortunately, I was that parent. I pushed myself up and slowly made my way to the play attendant to discover the reason behind the brawl. Apparently there was some miscommunication about the rules of some game and who was to do what and then Jake felt as though the boys were not participating appropriately or some such nonsense and walloped them both. Well GREAT! Now I had to do the responsible thing and drag his heavy sorry butt out of the play area kicking and screaming all while trying not to make any sudden movements that might leave me needing to change my clothes! Eventually Jake saw the error of his ways (he didn't want to be in time out with grumpy mom any more) and apologized to the boys, all was forgiven and the kids played for the next several hours and I promptly passed out.

When it was time to find our gate I was not feeling much better but the intervals between potty breaks had increased to about 20 minutes which was marked improvement. I should also mention that the Hubs and Brenden were also suffering from food poisoning as well. While they were not as miserable as I was, they were unhappy enough to be grumpy man children the both of them. Our sick and sad troupe made its way to the gate and waited to board. Once on the plane, we again settled into our seats for our long flight home. Eleven and a half hours! After we were at altitude the flight attendants once again appeared with offerings of food. I was still so sick that I told the attendant no thank you. She replied by telling me that there would not be another meal on this flight. I looked at her and said, “I flew to London on Ethiopian Airlines.” With that she answered, “Say no more, say no more. I will get you some ginger ale”.  Apparently serious food poisoning, courtesy of Ethiopian Airlines, is a well known and documented fact in the airline world. I’m thinking that Ethiopian Air should use the poisoning of their paying customers as a selling point, “Fly Ethiopian and finally kick those stubborn pounds!”

I didn't eat a thing the entire flight. I could barely sip the ginger ale. We flew on a big plane so there were about six bathrooms and I tried to spread my visits to them out because I thought that if I kept going back to the same toilet the people sitting near it would get freaked out.  By the time we landed in San Fran I felt nearly human. The need for potty breaks slowed and I thought that I could probably hold onto some food! We had a five hour wait in San Fran. Yes, I know, Monterey is only a two hour drive south but we had been traveling for about thirty some hours at this point and most of us were getting over a very intense illness. So we uncovered the San Francisco USO, grabbed some grub and we all fell asleep. I have NEVER in my life slept as well as I did on the pull-out couch at the USO. The hubs woke me after I had been out for about three hours to tell me it was time to go and it felt like I had just barely lain down. The last flight! OH joy! Oh RAPTURE! We made it to Monterey late that night, 10:30pm or something close to it. The car that we rented was too small to fit all of us and the ten bags plus carry-ons that we had. Unfortunately we had to take two trips but once we were settled into the blessed Navy Lodge it was wonderful to fall asleep….. with a calm tummy.

How to Survive international travel with a family:
1) Be sure to bring entertainment for the kids
2) Be sure to bring entertainment for yourself
3) Be flexible, you never know what is going to happen
4) ALWAYS, always, always carry Pepto-Bismol
5) Every single person in the family should have an extra set of clothes with them
6) NEVER ever eat the food on Ethiopian Airlines, I’m not joking here I am totally serious!
7) Bring your own food so that you don’t have to eat the airline food just in case you accidentally end up on Ethiopian Airlines!
8) Don’t get too worked up if your kid is the bully at the international terminal kids play area. Everyone knows that you have probably come a long way and they are usually willing to be forgiving. You still have to make them sit in time out though!
9) Most of all, no matter where you are or what is happening, a sense of humor makes everything a little bit easier to bear!

Well, friends and family that is it. My journey to Africa is over!  We may go back someday and if we do you can be sure that I will resurrect this blog as a way to keep you all informed of our adventures.

Until next time friends and family!!!!

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Off to Zanzibar!

Hi friends and family! I am actually back in the states!!! I had some major internet issues the last two months that we were in Ethiopia so I'm going to be posting the last few weeks of Ethiopia in the next few days and then I will be posting our homecoming post.

We chose to spend the second half of our vacation on the island of Zanzibar. I have been excited about visiting Zanzibar since we discovered that we were moving to Africa 3 years ago. There are two ways to reach the island, you can fly or you can take the ferry. We opted to take the ferry. We woke early dressed, finished packing and then headed down to breakfast. After breakfast we piled into two taxi's and headed to the port. The taxi's in Tanzania are not as terrifying as the taxis the taxis in Addis, they even have seat belts!!

We arrived at the port and it was INSANE! There were people everywhere, we had to push our way through the throng. I'm not saying this figuratively, I was literally pushing people out of my way because if I didn't they would have cut right in front of me or knocked my kids over, who knows what would have happened! This was surprising. In Ethiopia if you are traveling, especially with kids people move out of your way and help you to get where you are going. NOT the case in Tanzania!

We finally got to the gate where they take your tickets and found a place to sit and wait for the boat to be loaded. We purchased first class tickets and so we waited in the First Class area. It wasn't much nicer than the coach area but it was located closer to the dock.

Waiting for the boat

First Class

Everyone else

So the boat arrived and it was time to board. One would assume that paying more for the first class tickets would mean that you would board first, not the case. The gates were opened and it was a free for all. Pushing, shoving, yelling, it was utter insanity. As we were making our way up the stairs onto the boat some crazy lady tried to cut in front of James. I lost it and shoved her away from us and told her to back off. I've become a bit more aggressive while living here. Finally as we moved on to the deck I saw the first class entry and 'busted a move' to the door. The man at the door asked for my ticket, I wasn't holding it, the Hubs had all of the tickets. I began yelling and pointing to Jake incoherently and then back in the direction of the Hubs. I am sure that I looked like I was having some sort of neurological fit but the guy let me in. Once we stepped inside it was like another world. It was quiet and calm and there was no pushing!  

First Class Seating

Just happy that they made it!

Karibu means welcome in Swahili 

The boat ride was about an hour and a half of peace and quiet. When we arrived in Zanzibar we had to go through all that craziness again. We didn't rush out of the boat though, we let most of the people exit the boat before we headed out. We didn't want to wait too long because we had about eight pieces of luggage down in the cargo hold that we didn't want stolen. The funny thing about Zanzibar is that we had to go through customs AGAIN! Zanzibar is part of Tanzania, we thought that it would be easy upon arrival, not so! There was more yelling and pushing and shoving until we made it to the customs line where we waited for what seemed like an eternity. We finally got through customs and called the company that we rented cars through. They told us which direction to walk in and said that they would meet us. We met in a parking lot where 2 cars were waiting. Zanzibar is a HOT place, as the Hubs settled the rental of the vehicles the kids and I piled into the van and turned it on, blasting the air conditioner. The van became more comfortable and we contentedly wait for the Hubs to finish up with the negotiations, that is until the car ran out of gas and shut off! That is right. This dude brought us the car with so little gasoline that we couldn't even let it idle for 10 minutes with out it dying!

Furious, I stomped over to the Hubs and shouted that the car had run out gas. The Hubs stormed over the the car followed closely by the man from the rental company. They had a heated discussion about customer service and that the vehicle should arrive with at least enough petrol to drive to the station! The man from the company agreed to put a few liters into the car for us, what a guy! It took a good two hours before we were able to begin searching for our resort. Part of the reason for the delay (besides that lack of fuel) was that the vehicle that was rented for the other family didn't have air conditioning! It is WAY too hot outside to not have AC, so we had to go to a garage and have the AC serviced.

Finally, we headed in the direction of our hotel. We were able to find the resort fairly easily with only a few wrong turns. When we arrived at the resort we were blown away with the beauty of the place!

Our beautiful room!

Our private back yard!

Low tide

Beach Bar

Outdoor relaxation

The view from the pool

I forgot to mention that the day that we travelled to Zanzibar was also Jake's birthday! The big Number thee! What a cool way to spend your birthday! We were so excited to get on the beach and have some fun.

Looking for sea creatures

James is having a blast!

A friend that we met on the beach. We named him Bruno.

So, we had tons of fun until….

Jacob found something bright blue on the beach. It was such a bright blue that the Hubs thought that it was a piece of trash and didn't think too much about it, until Jake began screaming in pain. The Hubs rushed to Jacob and discovered that what he believed was a harmless piece of plastic was in fact a jelly fish that now had its extremely long tentacles wrapped all around Jacob's hand and arm! The Hubs quickly ripped the jelly off of Jake and threw it (violently) into the sea. We rushed him up to the resort. Jake was inconsolable and still screaming in pain even after the long walk back to the hotel. I had some Benadryl in the room that I quickly administered to Jake before heading to the desk to ask for some help.  The people at the desk said that we should put vinegar on the sting. I had heard of doing that as well and so we covered Jakes arm in vinegar, it didn't help. In the end I wrapped him in a towel and held him until he fell asleep. What a rotten birthday! We discovered that what we thought was just a jelly fish turned out to be a Portuguese Man of War! Oh and vinegar, DOESN'T work on those!

The next day we went on the Zanzibar Spice Tour. We actually got some discount tickets from the crappy car rental agency that we used. At least we got something for all of that insanity!

Our guide; he was great but I can't remember his name.

The spices aren't grown in what one would consider a traditional garden. The spices are growing all around the forest and the harvesters/ gardeners just know where to find them. 

Star Fruit

This guy followed us around and wove grass jewelry for everyone, at the end of the tour he expected payment….I should have guessed. Oh and he was wearing a shirt that said "I Love Boobies". I wonder if he knew what he was wearing??

YUMMY bananas

Jack fruit anyone?

Vanilla Beans!

Vanilla needs a little love to grow properly.

Nutmeg! Did you know that you can get high on nutmeg? No? Me either but apparently you can and many Zanzibari women do when they want to seduce their husbands…at least that is what the guide said.

In east Africa the Oranges don't normally turn orange. We had noticed the same thing in Ethiopia.


Cutting the jack fruit down for us!

This is natural lipstick


Pepper corns

And now, we feast!

What a fun day that was! We ate and learned a lot about the different fruits and spices that people have introduced to Zanzibar. Unfortunately the vanilla wasn't in season yet so I was unable to buy any…

After the spice tour we visited a Persian bath house that was built by Sultan Seyyid Said in 1850 for his wife who was Persian. The baths are decorated in an ornamental stucco work that is in the Persian style. The baths were constructed on the highest point on the island and include toilets, heated baths, massage tables and dressing rooms. 

Ok funny story here, these are the toilets. They are basically a hole with two raised platforms on either side for your feet. Jacob realized that it was a toilet and immediately dropped trow to pee in the ancient potty. No really! Of course, I grabbed him and tried to tell him that this was not a functional potty, that this was a museum. As I'm explaining this to the three year old our guide shouts to me from across the yard, "If he want to use the toilet he can!" Wait, what? This is a museum! He can't just piss all over it! Really? Well Jake heard the go ahead and promptly peed down and all around that hole! Can you imagine visiting an old mansion in the southern USA and using the toilet? No, because no one would let you! Not in Africa, sure use it! No Problem! Hakuna Matata!!

They actually say Hakuna Matata in Tanzania/ Zanzibar!! I never thought in my life that I would visit a place where people actually use that phrase without conjuring images of Timon and Pumbaa.

After visiting the Baths we went to a slave cave. In this cave slavers would keep hundreds of slaves until it was time to put them on to boats to sail to the Middle East. I can't imagine being down in that hole for days or even weeks with hundreds of other scared and filthy people. Very sobering. The slavers utilized this cave after the practice of slavery became illegal.  They dug a tunnel from the cave out to the ocean where the slaves were then loaded up and shipped out.

Red Colobus Monkeys
These monkeys only live on the island of Zanzibar in the Jozani Forest and are extremely endangered oh and they have no thumbs!

We were also able to visit the mangrove tidal swamp. 

My son James loves dolphins, we thought that it would be fun to go swimming with some dolphins. We drove to the other side of the island and paid a fisherman to take us out on his boat to find some dolphins! 

We searched and searched but we were unable to find ANY dolphins! They were no where to be found. We had a lot of fun looking though!

Keeping Jake in the boat was a challenge.
 Finally we decided to give up on the dolphins and went snorkeling. It was really fun. I hadn't been snorkeling in about 14 years!!!

We were REALLY hungry!

After our adventure we were VERY hungry so we had some lunch back where we picked up the boat. 

View from lunch

The last day that we were in Zanzibar we visited Stone Town. We didn't hire a tour guide we just let the city guide us. We wandered through all of the twists and turns of Stone Town. It was awesome! 


The doors in Zanzibar are famous! 


Jake and Jackson having a blast

A market that is in an old fort

A club that Brenden bought.

Palace Museum

Inside of the Palace

Beautiful view from the top of the Palace 

Sultan grave yard

View from a roof top restaurant 

More of the famous Zanzibar doors

One thing that I am a little sad that we didn't do was to take a ride on a Dhow.

Our vacation was amazing. We had a few bumps a long the way. There were a few things that happened that I failed to mention in this post like when the Hubs refused to give his drivers license to an over zealous cop and ended up in a heated argument that I was sure would conclude with the Hubs being thrown in a Zanzibar jail somewhere. Or the time that James' pants exploded in the bathroom in the middle of the night. He attempted to clean it up himself and some how the explosion ended up everywhere including all over our bottle of tooth paste. The Hubs and I have been so africanized that it didn't occur to us to throw the tooth paste away and buy a new bottle. We simple boiled everything that was on the bathroom counter in the hotel room's coffee pot. My biggest question is HOW did it get on the counter?!?!?!?!!?! YUCK!

This vacation will go down in history as one of the most epic trips that this family has ever been on!
Until next time friends and family!

Tips for surviving Zanzibar

1) Be sure that you know about the deadly sea life that you will be sharing the ocean with.

2) Know how to treat the bites and stings of deadly sea life

3) Explain to the children that if they get sick they NEED to tell you and not attempt to clean it up themselves!

4) Bring your underwater camera

5) Don't fight with the cops!

6) Don't rush! See everything and ENJOY!