006 – Arrival – Bole International Airport – Addis Ababa
It was 1:30 in the morning. My flight was the last of the day, perhaps the only flight of the day, and with my usual affinity for the tail end of any line-up I was the last one through customs and immigration. The airport was quiet enough to be spooky. It had a deserted, underused quality, like they’d opened it up and dusted it off to receive me, and now that I’d arrived it was being shut down again. Last plane in. No planes out.
I pushed through a set of broken glass doors and leaned my two immense boxes against a wall. I sank gratefully into the wreck of an old steel folding chair, probably placed there for the security guards on their rounds, and breathed in my first lungfuls of Ethiopian air. I took in long slow breaths and savoured them. I imagined I could detect all kinds of exotic scents on the chill night air.
Now that I was actually in Ethiopia, it was almost impossible to credit. It was dark and quiet except for a non-stop chorus of dogs that drifted around the compass points. The sound came from this direction, then that. A row of some kind of palm tree stood on my right. One lonely, hopeful taxi driver called out to me again and again until I waved him off. It could have been any country out there.
I assembled my bike and trailer in a couple of hours to the oohs and aahs of an appreciative audience of soldiers who collected around me. They asked if they could have everything that emerged from my boxes. They pointed to items at random and demanded, “Give me.” When balked they simply moved to the next item, pointed and said “Give me.” When the bike was fully assembled, the bolder of the soldiers pointed and said, “Give me bicycle.”
I felt bad that I didn’t have anything with me in the way of presents that I could have given these men. Almost everything I’d brought with me was a one-of-a-kind item that I needed and wouldn’t be able to replace in Ethiopia. I needn’t have worried, however. They were more than satisfied when they learned I had no plan to take the cardboard boxes with me. In a twinkling, they ran off with their booty – the two boxes and every rag and piece of rope that I’d used to secure the bike.
I was relieved to find that my bike had survived the journey intact. I rode it around the deserted airport parking lots testing the brakes and gears and then settled in to wait for dawn. It was a long time in coming, but I didn’t mind. I had a lot to think about, a lot of new sensations to absorb. I sat on my chair listening to the dogs and smiling at the ‘give me’ soldiers as they passed me on their rounds.