Imagine you are an Ethiopian person, flying to Dublin for the first time ever. You are to be greeted on arrival by your sister who is living there. This is a comfort to you as you are due to arrive at 2 o’ clock in the morning, you speak neither English nor Irish, you’re not sure if your phone will work there and you have none of the local currency. You have also heard rumours about Dublin, that it is not a safe place, that there are many thieves about and general lawlessness at times. You are jittery with nerves as you steer your trolley into the arrivals hall and you must admit that you start a little when you see the large swathe of foreign, white faces before you, each indistinguishable to you from the next. Although perhaps it shouldn’t, the very look of these people is frightening to you as you sheepishly try to pick your sister out from among them.
But you can’t find her. Because she isn’t there. Nobody has come to meet you.
Ring, ring! Ring, ring!
Me: “Hello! Siobhán?!”
Siobhán: “Yeah. Where are you?” (accusatory tone)
Me: “In the carpark.”
It was 2am in the morning and we’d all been travelling for hours to get to this point. Awake before five the previous morning, I had enjoyed the twelve hour bus journey down as best I could and was afforded three hours rest on a chair before I was up again and on my way to Bole International Airport. They were none the better. In fact Niamh had the roughest deal of all, flying alone from Sweden and then enduring a 13 hour layover in Istanbul en route. The days preceding had been full of all the trills of excitement and fear that travel brings on. On the way in in the taxi my mind was full of such concerns…I hope I’ll make it to the airport in time to meet them!…Will they enjoy themselves here?…I hope none of them will be sick …When the holiday is over will they have regretted their decision to come? Having never travelled to Africa before perhaps their internal monologue was slightly different…will we be devoured from the inside out by a flesh-eating virus?…Will we be sold in exchange for twenty camels? and so on.
In any case, I pushed these thoughts to the back of my mind and focused on the astonishing truth that my family would be arriving to Ethiopia at any minute! I dropped fellow VSO volunteer Debbie off at departures, wished her a happy Christmas and made my way jubilantly towards arrivals. There were a few people huddled outside the entrance. The door was closed but there were people inside. The doors were automatic so I assumed there was a problem with the electricity. No. The problem was more “Ethiopian” than that. We were not allowed in. Some people were inside and some people were outside. Two guards were on duty. I tried to charm them with my elementary school level Amharic.
Me “Hi, how are you? How are things? Is it possible to go inside?”
Guard: “I am fine, thank God. How are you? It is not possible.”
Me: “I am very well, thank God. But…some people are inside?”
Guard: “It is not possible.”
Me (trying to appeal to his sense of justice and humanity): “But my family are coming from a foreign country and they don’t speak Amharic and it’s their first time in Ethiopia and their phones might not work here.”
Guard: “No problem, they will come.”
Me: “Yes but why can we not go in?”
Guard: “No problem, they will come”
Me: “YES. I KNOW THEY WILL COME. Thank you. ”
Guard/Imbecile: “No problem, no problem, they will come.”
As someone famously once said, arguing with this guy was akin to playing chess with a pigeon; he had a pointless job to do and nobody was going to stop him from doing it (but I am a Healy so I did have to try.) Exasperated, I stepped away from him and was shunted down to wait with the rest of the bewildered crowd in the dimly-lit car park some two hundred yards away.
With no comforting digital sign to confirm that they had landed at any particular time and no luck contacting any of them by phone, I waited outside in the freezing cold for two hours willing them out of the building. From time to time, passengers would emerge from the terminal, and just stand at the door, confused and disoriented, like moles having come up from the ground, at a complete loss as to know what was going on. We craned our necks to see if we could claim them as our own but we were a good 200 yards away from them, in the dark and not in direct line of sight.
As those of you who follow the blog or indeed know me will attest, I think too much. After two hours of waiting, the scenarios I had invented for their delayed arrival were many and varied.
- Customs suspicions have been raised by the amount of porridge Dad has in his suitcase.
- They’ve missed the connecting flight in Istanbul.
- Niamh’s entrance visa has been denied.
- There is a hostage situation inside the terminal.
- They are waiting inside until I come in to collect them.
- I am late and they have checked themselves into a hotel somewhere in Addis.
Well, eventually they did come, just as that wise old sage/guard predicted. Siobhán rang and it wasn’t long after that that I spotted Niamh Healy’s unmistakable silhouette, clad in an eyebrow-raising “skirt” (which I had expressly forbidden her to wear in Ethiopia). I was waving and shouting but so far away that they could neither see nor hear me. A few minutes later, there was an undignified scene where I was restrained, if not physically, by the presence of the two security guards and their kalashnikovs behind large blue plastic barrels as Niamh did the Baywatch run towards me.
Some triumphant and teary hellos and we were off down the road together! Hurrah!
We went to bed that night, five Healys under the one roof and all I could do was look forward to spending the next two weeks taking care of my family.
“Feeling blessed”, as they say on facebook 😉
***Still to come in this series: “What the Healys did next”, “Cockroaches on Tour 2014”, pictures and much more!***