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Monday, August 4, 2008

Lessons

Well, Nina absolutely has her days/nights flipped (as do I), but it's getting better. We've noticed how much she loves to twirl her hair. If I had as much as she does, I would too!

Before too much time goes by, I want to do a brain dump of lessons learned (or just things learned) during our trip to Ethiopia. I'm still working on the overall what-we-did-and-how-it-went entries, but since there is another travel group leaving this weekend, I thought I'd get these out on the table.

1. Do not go alone. I can't emphasize this enough. It has nothing to do with safety; I felt very safe in Ethiopia. It also has nothing to do with independence. I'm a pretty independent person. It has to do with logistics. For one, I didn't sleep for the first 51 or so hours of the trip and I hit a major wall around hour 52. I felt horrible and could barely manage Nina (in fact, I could not manage Nina which is why my entire travel group had to manage her and practically carry me to the window at the U.S. Embassy as I repeated to myself, "Do not barf on the embassy person...Do not barf on the embassy person..."). When you're toting a baby and a baby bag and a camera and God knows what else, it's a challenge. If nothing else, it's great to have someone else to hand the baby (or the bag, or the camera) off to, and it's preferable that that someone isn't consistently a poor member of your travel group.

Also, should you need someone to carry you to the window of the U.S. Embassy, better to ask someone you know really well, I say. And if you're going to barf on someone, or almost barf on someone, better be someone you know really well.

So, if your spouse can't go with you, ask a friend. Or a sister. Or a brother. Or a mother-in-law. Or a strange man sitting at the end of an exit offering to work for food. Anything. But don't go alone. And if you HAVE to go alone, see recommendation #3 and heed it.

2. The hotel does not have clocks. Take a travel clock, preferably with a light and definitely with an alarm.

3. Take a sleep aid for the plane and for the first night. It's simply not easy to sleep on the plane. I flew business class and it still wasn't easy. I wish VERY badly that I'd had a sleep aid for the plane and then again for our first night (Sunday) in Addis Ababa. It would have made Monday far more palatable (for me AND for my travel group). Get something over the counter or prescription and try it two times before you go so you know how you'll respond to it.

4. Consider getting a sleep mask on which you can write "Wake Me For Meals" or "DON'T Wake Me For Meals." I'm thinking of inventing this product, in fact. I swear, we had dinner at 9:30 after takeoff on the way to Addis, and that ended around 11:00. Then, at 3:30, the flight attendant lifted up my sleep mask and announced in this sing-songy WAY too happy voice, "It's time for breakfast!" I was like, in what time zone is it time for breakfast? We just ate!

5. Be prepared for some weird daycare type antics on the plane. As Karen mentioned, we were instructed to close our windows after meals. This occurred as we were crossing over into the African continent and I was like, "Uh, no. I need to see this." The little sliver of window I opened let enough light into the cabin to get a flight attendant over to shut it again.

6. There are no personal air vents on the plane. It's usually a little warm on the plane, so be sure you're wearing a short-sleeved shirt at least underneath any other clothing you have.

7. Be prepared with $1 bills at the airport in Addis. When we went to the vans, quite a few young men appeared to help Johannes and Danny load the vans. They expected to be paid. We managed to come up with $1 for each of them, but we weren't prepared for it in advance.

8. The Visa on Entry window you go to when you get off the plane isn't a window really. It's a closet. Go there first and go as quickly as you can. The line gets long quickly. More importantly, the customs line gets long quickly and that process takes longer than the visa line.

9. We had great luck with luggage coming off quickly and we were able to get through the luggage X-Ray line quickly. Families who came through customs later or had to wait for their luggage had to push their way through the X-Ray line. So do what you have to do.

10. Take some healthy snacks with you: peanut butter, fruit cups, whole grain crackers, good nutrition bars, dried fruit, etc. And take Saltine crackers. They aren't the healthiest thing, but if your stomach is a little off, they are a great thing to have, even if they're crushed to smithereens inside your suitcase. What you don't eat you can either leave or give to Danny who lives across the street from the hotel in a little shack. Trust me, this kid will melt your heart.

11. Ethiopian Air will weigh your carry ons. They need to weigh less than 14 pounds each. If they are in hard suitcases, they'll likely require you check them. I had a backpack and a carry on bag and they weighed neither. If I were to do it again, I'd get a backpack on wheels and put it on my shoulders before boarding so they didn't realize it was on wheels and insist on weighing it. It got very heavy very quickly with a laptop inside of it!

12. We took Similac Singles with us which were a godsend! I switched Nina cold turkey to the Similac and she did very well. In fact, I don't think any families bought formula in Ethiopia so plan to take some. She did get a bit constipated - didn't poop for 2 days. Our pediatrician said the formula was likely richer than what she was used to and, more important, the iron content was likely significantly higher which would cause constipation. Talk to your pediatrician about taking Karo Corn Syrup or pure prune juice with you. We were told that we could put 1 Tbsp of corn syrup per 2 oz of formula OR give Nina 1 1/2 oz of straight prune juice 3-5 times a day in between bottles. We didn't end up needing to as she worked her issues out right before we boarded the plane, but it wouldn't be a bad idea to have something with you. Almaz was able to give some families ground flax seed to put in their cereal for their constipation issues, but Nina was too young for that (she's not eating cereal yet).

13. Take your own pillowcase.

14. The Union Hotel now has a generator so you don't need to take flashlights, glowsticks, headlamps, etc.

15. Drink, drink, drink when you are there. You'll be dehydrated from the flight and the altitude. Putting single serving Propel packs in your water bottles really helps.

16. The food at the Union is quite good and none of us were bothered by it at all. The coffee will save your life.

17. Many people wondered what to put in the babies' hair. Hannah's Hope puts baby oil in their hair. I took a product I'd read about called Carol's Daughter. It's a whole line of products for African hair. I took a spray-on leave-in conditioner that smells great and keeps Nina's hair really soft. You can get it at Sephora or check online.

18. Flexibility is King. Truly. Just be flexible about everything and it will all go swimmingly. You paperwork may not be filled out just right, so take an extra blank copy so you can start again if need be. The daily schedule may be altered due to this or that. Our embassy appt was supposed to be at 3:00 and it wasn't until 5:00 because the kids' medicals hadn't arrived yet. This was most unfortunate as each passing moment brought me closer to needing a clinic in a third world country, but in the end it's all about trusting that Almaz knows what she's doing, that the hotel staff will help you with what you need, and that, in general it will all work out. You are on a mission on this trip: to pick up your child(ren). In the end, getting them and bringing them home is the main goal.

19. I got a great money belt at Target for $6.99. It worked great to hold all my cash for the trip. I also got a Passport/boarding pass/money holder at Target that I wore around my neck. Between these two things, I had all the important documents with me at all times.

20. The rainy season is June - September. It's quite chilly especially in the morning and at night. The hotel does not have heat, so it's cold at night. They do have heavy, warm blankets on the beds, but be sure to take warm pajamas for you and your child(ren) and also layers for the day. I had capri pants and was a real fashion statement because I was so cold that I had to pull my socks up mid-calf to keep my legs warm. It's best (in my opinion) to wear a short sleeved shirt with a long-sleeved shirt overtop and have a water-resistent jacket or a fleece to wear on top of that. Also, take plenty of socks!!! You feet WILL be cold in sandals without socks. I wore the same pair for 5 days. I know, gross. I burned them when I got home.

21. It matters not whether you're in economy or business class, a travel pillow is an absolute MUST (which I know because I didn't have one). I did take my own travel blanket, but that was not worth it. It took up a lot of space and didn't give me a ton of the "homey" feeling I thought it might. The blankets you get on the plane are fine, and the hotel blankets keep you very warm.

If I think of any others as I write my updates, I'll note them. This was just an initial brain dump. Honestly, pretty soon with all of us posting our thoughts, we're going to have this travel experience down to a nice tight little process!

6 comments:

Three2Five said...

THank you so much for writing all fo this down! I really appreciate it. We are hoping to travel in the next 4-6 months (we need a referral first;) I really appreciate the tips and when it is our time to go I will def. have to find all of these helpful tips!

Easties and Co. said...

I know...You guys need to create a "How to travel to ET to pick up your child(ren)" brochure with all of these wonderful tips. I will forget them in a year! :)

Scott said...

Liz,

For the hundredth time, you were not a burden to any of us while you were ill! Trust me. I enjoyed the relief from having to carry around Mr. Lash Tastic!

Melissa said...

Thanks Liz! This is super helpful and I plan to print it for when I travel! I wish you the very best as you settle in with Nina!

Peace,
Melissa (Va.)

Eryn said...

thanks for taking the time to jot down these notes! I'm saving them for someday! Have a wonderful time getting to know your girl! She's beautiful!

Hauswife said...

You are completely fantastic for making a list of all these thoughts while they were still fresh in your mind. I found myself nodding in agreement, but there's no way I could have remembered all that from a year ago to write a list myself.

I'm so glad you're home with your babe now, Liz! Welcome home lovely Nina!