Well from home to hotel was almost exactly 24 hours – an exhausting trip! There was such heavy flooding in NY that we were really afraid we would miss our flight. The Merritt/Hutch was closed for a big portion and the progress around the detour was very slow. Luckily, once we got to the Whitestone Bridge, the traffic disappeared and we flew right to the airport. The man at the Lufthansa desk was so incredibly helpful and allowed us to check five bags between the two of us for free, all of which were closer to 60 pounds than 50. We had John wait while we checked our bags because one was a bag of regular T-shirts and gently used clothing that I knew someone could use, but that wasn’t promised to anyone in Addis. I figured that the worst-case scenario was that he could take it home to donate to the local church clothing drive. After our big hugs and goodbyes to John we were on our way.
We flew from JFK to Frankfurt on the first leg. I always look forward to flights when I think I’ll have all of this time to read and listen to music or watch movies. Then I forget how uncomfortable it is – not to mention that it was an overnight flight, so I was really trying to sleep! We had a very short connection in Frankfurt, but we were able to meet a bunch of the Ethiopia Smile team members there, which was great. The only familiar faces were the Alexanders and Drew & Carey, but everyone was so welcoming that it soon felt like we had met everyone before. I think Emily is going to do a post on the team at some point (and I know she did one for last year’s team, which was very similar), so I may have to steal that information from her. Basically, it is a group of people from all over: dentists from CA, TX, AZ, fellow church members of the Alexanders, fellow Ethiopian adoptive families, Moody’s mom, Emily’s mom, sister and niece, and friends of all of these people from the states, England and France, even the Alexander’s local Starbucks barista, who has become part of their family over the years.
The second leg of the flight from Frankfurt to Addis was pretty uneventful. We were a little late, but all of our drivers were ready and waiting for our arrival. Customs, on the other hand, was not. Unfortunately, despite many highly regarded Ethiopians helping on the ground ahead of our arrival, weeks of preparation by the Alexanders in the US, and several official government documents allowing all of the dental equipment and baby formula to enter the country, it wasn’t going to happen. I used my typical “look lost and confused” strategy and simply pushed our 5 huge bags right through customs. Apparently, the customs agents aren’t even letting soccer uniforms and clothing in these days. After a very long time negotiating late into the night, Moody finally made the executive decision to leave 14 of the bags/crates of dental equipment at the airport and return in the morning with additional paperwork and assistants to try to get it out. To fast forward a bit, after DAYS of negotiating, running back and forth from the airport to government offices, the customs agents wouldn’t allow it through. Even though everything in all of these bags/crates was only to help the people of Ethiopia, they wouldn’t allow it. There were all sorts of theories as to why – they were going to figure out how to get money from us, they were going to take it all and sell it, they were just flexing their governmental muscle to prove their power (which happens in multiple forms here). It was so disheartening. The dentists and the team were all amazing in stretching the instruments, drugs and equipment that we were able to get through across the four dental days. I was so afraid we would have lines of people waiting for care that we would have to deny, but the team and the locals helping find patients did such a good job managing the numbers.