As we drove through the city, the air was thick with diesel fumes until we reached the base of Entoto Mountain. As we ascended the mountain, we all suddenly noticed how clean and fresh the air became. We passed many women who were walking down the steep mountain road carrying a huge load of firewood. These were the firewood carriers we had heard so much about. Walking up and down the mountain to "harvest" wood they could sell in the city for cooking fires. We also noticed many women carrying dried dung patties as well. I have heard that these women labor horribly all day long to earn a few pennies and they look old beyond their years.
Soon we saw donkeys loaded with firewood, and grass or hay. They were running down the steep slope because walking was impossible on the steep terrain. As we neared the top, we started noticing very tall, straight trees. So this was where the "lumber" came from, that we had seen throughout the city being used as building materials and scaffolding. This tall, straight timber was being harvested from the tops of the mountain areas and being put to all kinds of ingenious uses. (See photos.)
This is what I referred to as an Ethiopian "lumber yard". Stacks and stacks of these sticks which were being harvested from the mountain and used in all sorts of construction projects.
We stopped at the top of the mountain to walk around the church and to appreciate a panoramic view of Addis Ababa. There were several little kids that followed us as we walked around the church - many of them holding their hands out to ask for money and gesturing to their mouth to ask for food. Suddenly one of the church men came out of the fenced area and chased them off with a large stick. Swishing it viciously at them, and they darted off in all directions.
We drove back down the mountain to the Guest Home to get ready for the airport. Our first guide, Aki (Aklilu) picked us up at about 6:00 to drive us to the airport. Rachel and Barret met us for a heartfelt good-bye and we took a few final photos.
Getting through the airport was relatively un-eventful other than all the exit visas we needed to fill out. We stopped for a quick bite to eat - and at this point Emme and I had a tearful discussion as she was feeling a bit left out because so much of my attention was focused on the boys. We hugged and cried for a few moments, and I explained again how for a little while, we would need to be focusing on the boys in the earlier days so that we could all get back into a "normal" family routine as soon as possible. I can say that since we have been home, each of the girls has cried tears of frustration and sadness on a number of occasions because the whole family dynamic has really changed and they are missing how things used to be.
We finally arrived at the gate - and we could see the airplane that would be carrying us back to America. It was nearly 10:15 at night, and everyone was very tired (way past the kids bedtime). It was at this point, right as we were getting ready to board the plane, that Dagmawi began to cry big pitiful tears of grief. He had been so brave up until this point, but now that he knew he was saying good-bye to Ethiopia and everything he had known his entire life, he crumpled into Jay's lap and just wept. He quickly rallied and we boarded the plane .. and settled into the most hellish trip of our entire lives.
We ended up being on that airplane for 20 straight hours. Tariku screamed incessantly from the first moment I put the seatbelt on him. He just went crazy - screaming and trying to pull it off. The flight attendants kept coming by telling me I had to keep it on him. People around me were telling me to give him a cookie or give him a blanket - and I just wanted to tell them all to "leave us alone! He is hating the seatbelt and your cookies and blankets aren't helping anything!!!" Finally a flight attendant brought me a seatbelt that attached to my seatbelt. He still screamed the entire time it was on - but at least he was on my lap instead of writhing in his own seat. Have you ever noticed how long those dang seatbelt signs are on???? And then we hit turbulence and on went the seatbelt sign again. By the time we reached Rome 5 hours later - I could not fathom another 12 hours on that plane (let alone the actual 15 more hours it ended up being).
We were delayed on the tarmac in Rome for 3.5 hours before we got up into the air again. Somewhere during the middle of the flight, Emme started feeling the gut pains that were the first sign of the ET funk. And I had packed the antibiotics in our bags, which were in the belly of the plane. Somehow, she rallied for the remainder of the flight ... thank goodness ... because I don't know how we would taken care of her too at that point. During the remainder of the flight, the kids slept fitfully and the grown-ups couldn't sleep at all because the kids were sleeping in our chairs as well. Better to have them sleeping, than awake and screaming.
I had heard from many previous travellers that the trip home is brutal. There are no words to describe exactly how brutal it really is. But again, y0u just hunker down and you get through it minute by minute.
Finally we landed in Washington DC. We took a tram from one terminal to the next, and Jay commented about the clean, fresh air. Here we were in the middle of the airport, smelling jet fuel and tram exhaust, and it smelled wonderful (in comparison). We were ushered quickly through customs and a very nice Homeland Security officer informed us that we could go straight to our next flight - there would be no secondary inspection of us or our bags. One step closer to home!!!! A few hours later - we stumbled off our final flight from Washington DC to Mpls, and our bedraggled crew was greeted by the most beautiful, welcome faces of family and friends!!!!