Sunday, January 11, 2009

Traveling to Ethiopia on a Prayer

I decided to take a trip to Ethiopia or I guess I should say that I was compelled to go to Ethiopia and like anything else once I make up my mind to do something, I do it. So, here is how you plan a trip to Ethiopia in five days or less on a shoestring budget and a prayer.

My mind was uneasy and my soul could not rest so I decided that if I could find a reasonable flight to Ethiopia, I would just hop on a plane and go. Late Sunday night, December 21 I started searching the internet for flights. I thought the trip would be cost prohibitive but I found a flight for $1550 leaving flying Turkish Air on December 24 with a 10 hour layover in Turkey. I was sure that was no reason to not go. Early Monday morning I contacted a travel agent to have him verify the flight and he said all was good. While I was talking to him I kept checking and found a $1600 flight on Luftansa. Anyway by Tuesday I booked a Luftansa flight leaving Chicago Thursday on Christmas day arriving in Addis on Friday night. I would have three full days in Addis and then board a plane heading for home on December 29.

In my opinion the Lufthansa flight was best from here. It was 8.5 hours to Frankfort with a two hour layover and then 8.5 hours to Addis.

Always check for the absolute best airlines rates. Using side step I found Kayak and that allowed me to compare flights.

Needless to say having only two and a half days to pack and prepare was like a mad dash but I did it and arrived at the airport for take off with time to spare. I had one carry-on bag for me and two 49.5 lb bags with donations for the orphanage. I focused on what was essential, prescriptions, survival stuff, edible treats, and sensible shoes. If you are not like me and don't wear heals for all occaisions you may be able to skip the shoe part.

Remove the items that you are carrying from their packing. It makes more room and weighs less. Also weigh your luggage on a home scale before you head to the airport.

The travel agent that booked my flight suggested that I stay at the Harmony Hotel at $100 a night. It sounded it reasonable and I was game -- sign me up. In speaking with another AP she mentioned that someone she knew had just returned and stayed in the Dimitri Hotel. I checked out the Dimitri online and immediately booked a queen size room (what they call standard) at $60. That also included free Wi-Fi. It was the best decision of all. I ate the majority of my meals at the hotel and my total bill for four nights including food was $307.00. My meals included roasted chicken, grilled fish, french fries, this really delicious rice, you get the picture. The food was good and I also had at least one glass of red wine every night. I did also eat Ethiopian food but that was all at the orphanage in the home of the director.

Stay at the Dimitri hotel and tell the owner Senait that I sent you! One thing, there is no elevator so ask for floors 1 or 2. I hiked up four flights several times a day. It was good cardio but uhhh...

Without knowing it, by staying at the Dimitri I was a 5-7 minute walk from the orphanage. Because it was so close I was able to go a few times a day, go back to the hotel do other things and return. The Dimitri is in an area about 10 minutes outside of the center of Addis. Next door there was a bank and down the street was a hair salon, a cafe, and a corner store. The Dimitri is small and they pay close attention to service. It was more like being in a large family residence, they took good care of the families that were there. They were able to find me a driver, book his time, and negotiate the rate. I paid $40 for five plus hours with a driver who took me anywhere I wanted to go. My driver Daniel was great and cute -- young but cute. He suggested that I go to the museum and I loved it. He also asked what things I wanted to shop for and without me knowing he called a shop owner ahead and when I arrived they were waiting for me.

Ask the Dimitri to see if Daniel is available. Let them negotiate the rate and know that you can still try to get the rate down lower but I thought what I paid was fair.

I loved the shop that Daniel took me to it had very nice traditional dresses. I went in wanting to get one traditional dress and maybe a few things for friends. As the shop owner pulled out way too much, I asked him the price. He told me to first select ALL the things that I wanted and then we would negotiate the Ethiopian way. I picked a beautiful dress and four large silk scarves. He wrote down his opening price of 3800 birr or $380.! He told me that I should right a counter and I countered with 1500 birr or $150. He laughed at me and told me that I was not serious and that my offer was almost insulting. He put a big "X" through my offer and told me to try again. He countered with 3600 birr handed me the paper and I circled my original offer of 1500. I asked how much just for the scarves. He said $80, I said $60, he said $75 was his final offer and I said it is $70 or nothing. He gladly took it and then continued to talk about the dress. I told him that I would not pay the $280 that he had come down to. He continued to get me to negotiate and finally I told him that I had a crisp $100 US bill at that would be my final offer. He went from 2800 birr to 2400 birr to 1800 birr or $180. He told me that at that rate he was making no money. I assured him that I wanted him to make money and that he should try to sell the dress to someone else for a profit. I had $100 US and that would be my final offer. No matter what he said I offered the $100 or told him I would go. He finally agreed to the $100 and then told me that I negotiate like an Ethiopian and for that he wanted to give me a gift. He gave me another beautiful scarf for "free". So I left spending 1700 birr just a bit over my opening price of 1500.

Decide how much you want to spend and don't feel guilty for negotiating for the best price.

With less than a week to plan I made it to Ethiopia and had an amazing time. In my short time there I managed to:

  1. Spend significant time with the children at the orphanage.
  2. Be the recipient of countless sloppy wet kisses and tight, tight hugs.
  3. Go to church and receive a special blessing from the priest on Gabriel.
  4. Drink coffee daily and eat one meal daily with the orphanage director.
  5. Watch the children's good night routine including dinner, prayers, laughter and warm milk.
  6. Go shopping in the supermercado, go sight seeing, visit the museum, and tour Addis.
  7. Search high and low in many markets for milk.
  8. Turn down four marriage proposals and two offers for arranged marriages.
  9. Dance the traditional dance of Ethiopia complete with shoulder and head movements.
  10. Go to the palace and be one of 90 guest a the 85th birthday party of President Girma, the current President of Ethiopia.
Photos to follow later.


Angela said...

How adventurous. Only a single woman could get away with leaving home a few days planned ahead on Christmas. You Go Girl!!

Can't wait to see the pics!

Bennett said...

Valerie..... Next time you go to ET I want to travel with you. I would have just given into the poor man and paid his price..LOL I am soft like that, not a very good negotiator. I enjoyed your day by day accounts of your trip to ET. I feel like jumping on a plane and going to visit my girls right now....I can't wait to hold and see them.

how was the plane ride? Were you praying to get off?

I must check the Dimitri out Robbin sent me a link to it.

VALARIE said...

ANGELA: I was footloose and fancy free as my mother would say. I am trying to get it all in when I can. My friends, however would tell you that my children will probably always have a bag packed and learn to be READY for a spur of the moment trip.

CELESTE. I know that I said it on your blog but I am SO excited for you! I was thinking that maybe we would end up going over at about the same time. I can't tell you what it was like to really see the children and experience their personalities.

The plane ride was great for me. I don't think that I would do well on the Ethiopia Air flight 16 or 17 hours from DC. When we landed in Frankfort I was ready to get off the plane. The good part was that by the time you go freshen up, walk to the gate, and get something to eat it was time to board the plane.

I think I may be just a little Ethiopian, you know that's what they told me while I was there. I felt like I was AT HOME and negotiating with the man is what I do here to. It was strange that I never felt that I was far away.

Signe said...

What a fabulous thing to do, I'm so jealous. Even though I have seven kids I have toyed with the idea myself. Thank you so much for sharing your adventure, I think you will be very glad that you did this.

I too wish I could take you with me. I'm way too wimpy, I grew up with the pay what they ask philosophy. I'll have to practice my negotiaion skills with the kids, actually I think they may have given me enough practice that I will do okay.

Thanks again for the post. I loved it.

Debbie said...

What a wonderful trip!!!! Thanks so much for sharing.

kristine said...

What a delight to read! Thanks. Did you get the marriage proposals after you danced? Were you wearing heals?

I'm so happy you were there, what a great story (and example ) for your children.

VALARIE said...

KRISTINE - I got one proposal from Daniel my driver after he watched me negotiate with the shop owner. He was very complimentary of my negotiating skills and told me that I seemed so concerned about others. That is what won him over. LOL! All of that while in gym shoes.

Ladybugs appear said...

great story! good for you.

Rebecca and Andrew said...

Wonderful! I really enjoyed reading this!

Christine said...

I enjoyed reading your story. I just moved back to Chicago from NYC. We became official residents on the 29th. Send me an email at I'd love to get together with you sometime.

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed your story! Can you please post pictures??

Gracie's Mom said...

Wow Valerie, what an awesome experience you've had. You've got a lot of moxie young lady! I can't wait to see pictures. Way to go!

LoveNotes4CocoPrincess said...

Valerie, the way you write...I was there girl, I was right there! Did you get a chance to see and spend time with your family? Can you post pictures? Glad you're home---still praying for you!

Dawn said...

Your negotiation experience sounds very familiar down to the extra scarf. Did we go to the same shop?

I am glad you had a good trip!

VALARIE said...

Dawn. LOL could be! When I got the free scarf I figured that I could probably have gotten away with my original 1500 offer -- or less.

Keep the prayer coming!

Original Court Date: April 18, 2009
Final Court Date: May 18, 2009
[607 total days & 165 days w/IAN]