For proof that traffic in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, is unique, we were headed back into town on a major highway after a trip outside the city. Another truck hauling barley pulled alongside us at about 50 mph. They got close, rolled down the window and handed us a zipper bag full of roasted barley to display their wares.
Our recent trip to Ethiopia gave me a couple of opportunities to show off what limited athletic ability I have, and I don't mean making it home in time to watch the last three quarters of the Super Bowl.
On Friday, we visited the older boys’ orphan care center called Kolfe in downtown Addis Ababa. There are about 280 boys from 6 years old to 20 years old.
If the boys stay in school and behave properly, they are allowed to use the facility as their home until they graduate from college. One great part of this facility is the soccer field. It is about two-thirds of the size of a regulation soccer field. Of course, the boys called it futbal.
The families within our tour group really enjoyed watching the boys play six-on-six soccer. Then several of them came out and asked us to play with them. Three of us jumped in the mix. I volunteered to play in the back because if you are in poor shape at sea level, your oldness and roundness is magnified greatly at 11,000 feet of altitude. But I had a great time.
It wasn't fun to have orphans wearing either flip-flops or no shoes at all run circles around me, but it was fun to see these boys in an over-crowded, difficult situation still having the desire to have fun by beating us like a drum.
After a day or so to catch my breath, I got another chance to run like the wind –– this time in America. Our trip time back from Ethiopia was much shorter than our trip out because we had six less hours of layovers. We were excited about that until the flight out of Amsterdam was delayed an hour.
"Don't worry about it," I told my wife optimistically. "With nine hours in the air, they'll be able to make up a lot of time."
I could not have been more wrong.
The first words out of the pilot's mouth when we were belted into the seats were, "I'm sorry we're running a little late today. We would like to try to make up some time, but a strong jet stream today will actually slow us down about 10 minutes."
That's when I started to worry. Logistics were not in our favor. Upon arrival in Minneapolis, Minn., we would have to collect our checked bags, go through customs, recheck our bags, get through security for the fourth time in 36 hours and find our gate. That is no problem if you have a couple of hours –– we had just under one hour.
So we got the bags, cleared customs, got the bags rechecked, made it through security and still had 25 minutes before our flight left for Wichita, Kan. As fate would have it, the gate was as far away from us as it could be and still be in the same airport. So we took off with our current boarding pass and the consolation pass we would need when we missed our flight.
My wife and I went as fast as our feet would carry us. Up escalators, down escalators, across moving walkways and through crowds, we pushed toward gate B15. To quote one of my friends, I must have looked like O.J. Simpson in the vintage Hertz Rent-a-Car commercials. I don't remember hurdling any luggage, but I did come close to pushing a 3-year-old girl out of our way on the moving sidewalk.
It seemed like no matter how far or how fast we moved, the gate stayed just beyond our reach. But we finally made it with four minutes to spare.
We boarded the plane with no anticipation of our bags making the cross-airport trip in the short time frame. We were just excited to get home and see our son after 10 days and finally be off the road.
After we were sure we were on the correct airplane, and my wife took a peek at the boarding pass we would have used if we had missed our fight. We wouldn't have been set to leave for seven long hours. That was a big win for us, even if our bags wouldn't have made it.
But after the final leg of a long week of travel, we waited at baggage claim in Wichita, Kan., and were thrilled to see that the Delta folks had gotten those bags on board. It was a great end to a great trip.
Traffic never jammed
In Addis Ababa, traffic is different than anything I have ever encountered. There were always thousands of cars on the road, but there never seemed to be traffic jams.
At any time, I could have reached out and touched a car in the adjacent lane. Traffic never moved very fast, but it was always moving. We only found one working traffic light in the entire city of 6 million people. Every other intersection was a version of a roundabout, some as many as five lanes wide.
For proof that traffic in Addis Ababa is unique, we were headed back into town on a major highway after a trip outside the city. Another truck hauling barley pulled alongside us at about 50 mph. They got close, rolled down the window and handed us a zipper bag full of roasted barley to display their wares. Then they kept speed with us for a few miles to make sure we all enjoyed their delicacies they delivered with less-than-standard methods.
Addis Ababa is unique in many ways. Traffic is one very notable way.
If you ever travel there and someone asks if you want to rent a car, the answer is "No!" Leave driving there to the professionals.