I gripped tight to the wobbly wheeled luggage cart and pulled back as it’s weight descended the familiar curved concrete path leading from the Addis Ababa airport terminal to the parking lot. My right hand pressed down hard on the heavy tower of plastic totes that teetered on my card, trying to keep them from falling over as the bumps in the carelessly crafted concrete shouted their obnoxious welcome to all who journey to Ethiopia, a place far different from the land of freeways, endless choices and smooth sidewalks where most have just left.
“So how does it feel to be back?” I asked Christy who was stooping to pick up a piece of luggage that had fallen from her cart, victim to one of the particularly large wrinkles in the concrete surface.
“It is so good!” She said, with a tired smile that spoke of the 34 hour journey she and Jerry had just guided their four children through. “I am not sure if I am ever going to be up for that trip again though. It’s horrible!” She continued.
“How was America? I asked, already forming pictures in my own mind of the trip we had taken only 3 months earlier.
“It is just not home there any more” She said, quickly turning to pick up another bag that had fallen from one of the kids carts into the concrete. I tried to make my way over to help but the wheel of my cart knocked into the curb and nearly sent the tipsy tower tumbling, I steadied my load instead.
“This place, this is where we belong!” She continued.
“I know what you mean” I said, thinking to my self how good it was to have such good friends back. It had been just over three months since we had seen the Shannon family and we missed them terribly.
Up ahead Jerry had found the parked van that I had brought to pick them up, I moved my cart into position near to the others and reached in my pocket to retrieve the key. Inside I wrapped my fingers around a key, but instantly realized that it was a single key, the ignition key, not the key to the deadbolt lock that had been installed on the door of the car. Some time in its nearly 30 year life on the streets in Ethiopia someone had broken the old lock, and replaced it with this home style lock… Being as this was only the third or fourth time that I had driven this car, and the middle of the night fog had twisted itself in and around my brain, I had completely forgotten to bring all the keys into the airport with me.
I sheepishly returned to the back of the car where six pairs of exhausted eyes looked back at me from underneath wrinkled brows. As I looked back at them, understanding fully how ready to be home each of them where, I hesitated to deliver the bad news.
“I sort of locked the keys in the car” I said, my head turning towards the ground, while my foot nudged a pebble along the pavement.
“It’s ok!” Jerry said, his voice sounding incredibly upbeat and collected.
“This is good” Christy chimed in. “We knew we were going to have to re-immerse in Ethiopian life at one point or another, may as well get it over with right at the start!”
“Well then” I said. “looks like its total immersion time”
I turned to face the car and tried to think of how I might be able to break in. After a quick walk around the green beast of a vehicle I found that all the doors and windows were in fact locked… Shoot. I narrowed my focus to the old sliding windows in the back of the car and inspected the old plastic sliders.
“If I had some sort of screwdriver I could easily break this thing” I said out loud, partly to myself and partly to the group of Ethiopian men who had gathered to help. No one had anything on them that I could use to break the plastic, and so right then I made perhaps the stupidest move of the evening. I reached into my pocket and pulled out the one key that I did have, the one that worked in the ignition, I pushed the pointy metal end of the key up against the small plastic piece that stuck out of the window and slammed the back of the key with the palm of my hand. Instantly, after just one blow I knew I had made a big mistake.
“Oh no” I said under my breath as three small pieces of metal clinked onto the pavement near my feet. I stepped back into the light underneath the flickering street lamp above my head and examined the broken key in my fingers. It was over.
“We have another problem.” I said as I rounded the corner to the back of the van once again. “I broke the ignition key too” I said as I held up the self incriminating evidence in my hand.
“We are truly home” Christy said with a wry smile. I laughed a nervous laugh and returned to the window, unsure what I would do once we got in the car, but feeling to embarrassed to do anything other than keep trying to break in.
Somehow a few moments later one of the now 15 or so men who were standing around to watch the train wreck I was self-creating, produced a screwdriver. I thanked him in Amharic and took the tool from his hand, it only took a moment to break the plastic lock on the window and it slid open. I sighed in relief, but then quickly remembered that we were still a long way from actually driving this car.
I settled into the seat and looked at the broken key in my hand, unsure of what to do next I flashed a bewildered look out at the crowd that stood around the car and motioned to the key in my hand. Instantly several hands containing other car keys were held out. I smiled but gestured back that I did not need the key for another car.
“I need my key” I said, more frustrated than thankful for their assistance.
“Try it” One of the men said in english as he placed an odd shaped key in my hand. I shook my head once again and pushed the key back towards him. “Try it!” He repeated, this time raising his voice a bit to let me know he was serious.
“Ok” I said as I shook my head in disbelief at what I was about to do.
I took the small key from his hand and slid it into the ignition, at first it would not turn and I started to remove it, but the man reached in and shook the steering wheel and gestured for me to try again. This time to my utter disbelief the engine started right up. As sat for a moment stunned, unable to understand what just happened, the man reached in the window and pulled out his key, leaving the engine running.
“That is what I love about Ethiopia!” Jerry said as I explained to him what had happened. “Nothing ever stays broken for long!”
Another 45 minutes later, despite my doing just about every dumb move possible to prevent their actually making it home, Jerry and Christy and their four kids were safely in their home. We hugged and said goodbye, but thankful it would only be for a short time.
And so I have to warn you…. If you ever need a ride from the airport, you might want to plan on hanging out for a while if I come to pick you up….