My bank told me yesterday that they would re-activate my ATM card for 24 hours. They lied.
I tried my card late in the afternoon and again after dinner with no response. I gave them the benefit of the doubt, and assumed that there was a delay on the Ethiopian end but in the morning I was still money-less. Before I walked across town to another ATM I stopped into a branch of the bank to see if they could use the card. The card reader printed out a tiny receipt that read “authorization failed.”
The teller suggested I try the bank next door “because they call Kenya to get authorization.” I did and the card still failed which means that the ban was never lifted by my bank. Luckily, this bank took Mastercard (maybe the only one in Ethiopia) and I was able to use my second ATM card from my other bank to withdraw money. Of course, the pleasure of using a Mastercard cost me 6.5%, not to mention the 3% my bank will slap on.
With a bag of cash I ran off to my hotel, collected my things and hopped on a minibus as close as I could get to my chair. I had to walk the last 10 minutes uphill and was sweaty and tired when I stepped into the shop where I bought the chair two days ago. They wrote up a receipt for the chair and a few other things I was sending (for customs, although it was never requested) and tied the box together with a rope. The box was put on top of a taxi and I was off to the airport.
I’ve done a little looking and for large things Lufthansa Cargo is the cheapest service—cheaper than Ethiopian cargo or the post office. There’s no sea mail because to the wars going on to the east so it has to go by air. I would much rather pay less and have it arrive in five months, but air was my only option as far as I could tell.
The customs, weighing and payment process at the airport took about 1.5 hours, which wasn’t as bad as I expected. The staff were very nice and helpful and I paid two porters 35 bir (about $4) to pack the outside of the box up properly with straps and a bit of tape. The woman checking my package for export barely glanced at the chair and commented on one of the woven mats I bought. She didn’t even open the bag of stuff I threw in there. It seems like customs is hit or miss with it’s severity.
My box weighed in at exactly 20 kilos, but the cost is based on volume, not weight. Because of the dimensions I was charged for 42 kilos—$165. Yes, it’s a lot of money but I spent only a bit less to send 6 kilos from Kyrgyzstan not so long ago. For me the cost was worth it. It’s on tonight’s flight and will be in Frankfurt tomorrow morning and in Chicago the following day.
I had my taxi driver (who had waited through the entire process) take me clear across town to the bus station but I wasn’t able to get a ticket for tomorrow and have to show up at 5am like everyone else and fight for my seat. At the merkato I ran into some high school boys who snapped pictures of me with their cell phones and blurted out names like “Jennifer Lopez, Shikira…. Michael Scofield.” The last name is the main character from the TV show Prison Break. Although I’ve seen posters all over town I’m surprised high school boys in Ethiopia rank him as high as JLo.
I’m meeting up with an Australian woman who I met in Bahir Dar in Dila and then continuing on with her to Kenya. It will be nice to have a travel partner for what will probably be a long, rough road. Because I can’t say no, I agreed to ship a small bag of souvenirs for her today so she would have one extra day in the South, since she hasn’t seen the areas I’ve already been to. So before I could collapse back at my hotel I spent some time at the post office packing a box for Australia. The staff were oddly cheerful and typically helpful so it wasn’t much of a chore other than carrying the bag around all morning.
All of my clothes besides the ones I’m wearing are freshly washed and I’m ready to leave my temporary home. I will miss the helpful hotel owner who listens to my complain about banks and the cute cleaning woman who give me a smile and a wink when I put my clothes on her line to dry. I’m still not confirmed for Madagascar and am hoping I’ll get an email before I cross to Kenya so I can buy the appropriate visa. While I’m in transit spend some time in the gallery. There’s more photos form Northern Ethiopia to come but what’s there should keep you guys busy for a while.