At Dubai airport. It’s my first time in Asia, technically speaking. Women in floor-length black abayas float by with duty-free shopping bags. A set of Muslim prayer beads is offered free with the purchase of a prayer rug at the duty-free shop. The signs are bilingual in English and Arabic, and the first aid desk is marked by a red crescent rather than a red cross. The restaurant employees aren’t Arab though– they all seem to be Central Asian, Mongolian or Kazakh, and I wonder where they go home at night, if they’re some of the guest workers living in shipping containers that I rad about. Although it’s cool in this sleek, marble departure hall, it’s 40 degrees Celsius outside from what I hear. White and Asian travelers look up at the departure board that shows flights to places like Hyderabad, Bangkok, Teheran and Sydney, only rarely to points west. If I hadn’t gone direct from Brussels to get to Bujumbura in June, my next best option would have been via Doha; Europe is not where it’s at anymore.
My last full day in Addis Ababa was a blur of early hominids, painted churches, conmen, monsoons and cinnamon tea. More on that later, when the fog has cleared from my brain.
The departure from Addis went pretty smoothly. Mahi and Nick (who have been fantastic hosts) called a cabdriver that they knew, who only asked about half of what I’d expected. Jamal and I chatted in pidgin English as his blue Lada weaved through the terrible Addis traffic. On the highway toward Bole (the area where the airport is) a man wearing flip-flops was leading a pack of donkeys the wrong way down a highway onramp. A few miles further on, Jamal pointed out the car dealership owned by Haile Gebreselassie, one of Ethiopia’s several Olympic champion long-distance runners. The name: Marathon Motors. Smart, huh?
The only wrinkle was when I tried to change my Ethiopian currency back into dollars. The bank was closed, despite the fact that it was three in the afternoon. “Maybe she come back at five, maybe at eight, I don’t know.” Two airport employees who apparently had secret sources of dollars offered to change my birr out of the goodness of their hearts. One was a swindler, but the second offered me a rate very close to the official rate; I think she only pocketed about $3 on the deal and it wasn’t going to get better than that.
Part of me didn’t want the adventure to be over. Next to my flight at the Addis airport, there was another flight boarding: to Bamako, via Dakar. I had a brief, piercing urge to find an Ethiopian Airlines counter lady and explain that there had clearly been some mistake– “Bamako, not Baltimore!”
I didn’t want the adventure to be over. But, as a fellow blogger once told me, the adventure only really ends when we’re dead. So…next time. The road is life, sayeth Sal Paradise.
The Emirates flight was almost futuristically cosmopolitan; men and women, Arabs and Africans and Koreans and Slavs and Western Europeans speaking about 15 languages between them were the flight attendants. It was quite surreal to be chatting in Russian with a dark-haired, red-lipped Ukrainian flight attendant as we flew over the Arabian Desert, the roundabout way between Africa and Washington. Sasha (that was her name) gave me a pen to remember her by.
I’m tired; door to door, I have about 20 hours to go. I miss Pierre. I miss Emilie and Mahi and Paul and Fran and Camille and Tim and I feel like I’m being pulled in three directions– three continents. People in the airport walk up to me and ask various questions as if I should know what I’m talking about. I always dreamed as a kid of being one of those self-confident, jet-setting women who strode through international airports; as a teenager I even remember practicing the walk in the arrivals halls of Washington and Baltimore and Manchester, New Hampshire. Now the dream has partially become reality– I say partially, because all this moving around this year (with the exception of the Morocco trip) has been on my parents’ dime and on my school’s initiative. Without them I wouldn’t be here; particularly if my parents weren’t behind me I wouldn’t have done anything. So frankly I feel like a bit of a fraud, but with any luck my day will come.