Dulles Day One (Part I)
My mother has a habit of sneaking pictures of me at weird angles
TUESDAY, JULY 25
I woke up after having a night that was uneasy, forced and filled with anxiety. There were tons of boxes to check for this trip that I had not had to mark before for travel. This trip required real sh*t, like a visa, travel insurance specifically for any needed medical evacuation, and a recommended but not required trip to the local travel medical services clinic for vaccinations and medication. These tasks, although nickeled and dimed over a few months, came into full view at once. For a few weeks, a few weeks before my departure date, I worked feverishly on applications for several funding and fellowship opportunities for the documentary. It was all hands on deck after watching, reading, rereading and rewriting a synopsis, topic summary and budget. Thank you father for being the editor at large. It also meant creating a new video work sample that reflected said edits/changes. Luckily, some bright individual (probably a woman), recently came up with the brilliant idea to create a core application for these similar funding opportunities, where an applicant can use their one application with the same questions and answers to apply to multiple organizations. Before, they were different, but unnecessarily similar questions. I was up to my eyeballs in papers and edits and was only focused on that one task. By the time it was all said and done, 3 applications went out and a much smaller back and forth for another related, but different opportunity.
I did my best that night before to prepare for what could be a struggle. My flight was scheduled to depart at 11:00 am and the plan was to leave no later than 7:00 am. Because it was an international flight, and not my local nearby airport, a lot of consideration for time had to be included for travel. I found out quickly when originally searching for my air transportation that if you are not flying out of a true international airport, with all the major international carriers, you will most likely have to pay twice as much if you choose to fly out of an airport with choices that are much more limited. Considering what I was already paying for the trip itself, that was not an option, and I also was not interested in having a lot of stops/layovers in between. Dulles International Airport was where I was headed, and due to crazy, daily DC commuter traffic, we expected it to be at the least an hour drive. As usual, my parents were very accommodating and made sure I would get to where I needed to go, come hell or high water, or insane bumper-to-bumper pile of cars.
Big side note: A mere few nights before, I foolishly decided to look at the reviews of the airline. What a mistake that was. To prevent getting into the hysterics of my inner thoughts and workings, let’s simply say that I was extremely concerned about the decision I made. First, I will say that my options were limited for the flight to Zanzibar. I suppose this is not a place that people in the states swarm to on a daily basis. Second, I was trying my best to find a reasonable balance between the length of the legs of the flight and the number of stops, and make sure that I arrived on the day and at the time needed for the arranged transport to the hotel. Third, was the price. Mind you, there weren’t major differences in the cost, but ultimately, weighing all three issues, EA rose to the top of the list. Never ever take reviews as the gospel. There can be an apparent consensus about the thing being reviewed, but you should only take it for what it is, people’s opinions. I went way into the rabbit hole, and this is a lesson learned, never do it again.
Hysterics: This reaction I had was so extreme that I considered booking another flight. Like it was ever really an option. I know, hysterics. Clearly. Another lesson, make sure that you include the flight in your travel insurance or buy the cancellation policy with the airline or travel organization. However I am pretty sure that they do not have an “asinine” clause for changing your flight at the very last minute because you were silly enough to look at reviews and believe them. Between the ridiculously horrible tales people told about the airline itself, the service, and the airport that was my first stop, Addis Ababa Bole International Airport, in Ethiopia, I was extremely concerned. Consciously knowing how crazy this sounded, I hadn’t mentioned this to anyone except my lady boss/friend and my mother. Both basically talked me off my invisible ledge, and reminded me how the world of “reviews” and “comments” are often a red herring, because of the source - people. We all know what I say about the human race, “people are interesting.” The recommendation was a reminder that I am a traveler, and I already know I should be prepared for anything; do not have high expectations because the only goal of being a passenger on the plane is to get to one destination to another safely. Oddly enough, one YouTube video I watched later almost helped ease me completely off the ledge, well at least about the airport, which I admit was an absurd thing to have expressed concern. The well-worn traveler documented his time in Addis Ababa Bole International Airport, walking around, almost showing the entire terminal. It was after seeing the place with my own eyes, and how it was not at all how people had described it with words, that I recognized how irrational I was being, as well as the people who wrote the tremendously negative comments. I decided to blame my insanity on the fact that it was only a week or two that I intentionally decided to start thinking about the trip and all of its details. In final, all I could do was be smart and patient with whatever I may or may not be faced with on my travels.
There was not much else to do once I pried myself out of bed but to shower, put on the clothes that I already had laid out and do my best to do a last bag check. Passport, visa, malaria pills, check. The start of the drive seemed somewhat promising until we hit the infamous 495 traffic. While we talked, I glanced out the window and stared into almost every car to see the expressions on the faces of the drivers. I needed to see how they physically managed this insanity every day. Surprisingly, I didn’t witness one scowl on any face; they all seemed pretty content moving an inch a minute drinking their coffee or talking on their speakerphones in the car. I, on the other hand was trying to play it cool as the time crept must faster than the slow movement of the traffic. I was starting to worry that even with all the additional time that we had given ourselves; it might not have been enough. When we finally got around several of the high traffic exits, it cleared up almost instantly. Like it never existed. Not too long after, the exit for Dulles showed itself. It is a left exit off the highway, and stands alone as a singular road. We went from being girdled by cars, to being free and the only car on the road. With the time ever closer to what is suggested for check-in, we decided that my mother and I would get dropped off at departures while my father parked because he wasn't sure if there would be enough time to park and for us to get to the terminal.
Where we walked in was where my parents said they saw the sign for Ethiopian Air (EA), but it wasn’t that obvious exactly where it was inside. My mother and I walked further down the terminal looking. An airport steward must have seen the confusion on our faces, and asked if we needed help. We told him we were looking for EA. He kindly and with a slight smirk pointed to the line that started from the front and wrapped around the back. There was entire other side to the check-in counters. Standing in this serpent like line were all of these beautiful brown people waiting to get their boarding passes and hand off their baggage. In the meantime, my father took what only seemed like minutes to park. He joined us right away. So much for the web check-in that was suppose to reduce the wait. I quickly realized that this morning was going to be a big hurry up wait to hurry up wait to get on a 13-hour flight. That same airport steward walked past again and suggested that I go first class next time. As I fantasized what it would be like to sit in that business class seat that fully reclined and felt miles away from the average economy class types like myself, I soaked it all in. I was jostled out of my fantasy when I noticed an all brown flight crew walking up, flight attendants, and pilots, dressed in a forest green. The agents were also all brown except for one Asian agent. When I did some “normal” research about the airline, I read that they have a lot of Asian clients/passengers as well, so that made sense. After asking me a few questions, my father went up further to investigate another line. Being amongst this assembly of brown faces, I wondered if we stood out. Here in the states we are “black.” These brown people aren't “black,” they are Ethiopian. And there is a difference. I have had a fair number of people question my racial origins. People always question my father's. I guess to other Americans, we don't look “all” black (whatever that means), but these are all labels in America that were constructed. Even the concept of race vs. religion vs. ethnicity is a head spinner, but no matter how you cut it, here, I am black.