Three OF MY six children reside in South Africa and it takes fingers and toes to record how frequently I’ve flown between Tel Aviv and Johannesburg. In fact, due to family obligations, I traveled to South Africa three times in the last four months!
Considering the “Oy Vey Factor” of international travel, if one can spend twice-the-amount of travel dollars, El Al can take you from Ben Gurion to Tambo in approximately nine hours with no jet lag and kosher food automatically provided. I can have dinner with my husband before boarding and subsequently dress the toddlers, spanning two continents before my morning yogurt.
For a little less money but more time, one can have a pleasurable experience on Turkish Air, stopping at the exquisite airport in Istanbul. Despite the publicized ugly relationship between Ankara and Jerusalem, I felt comfortable and enjoyed superior coffee while waiting to continue the journey.
In the “bargain basement department” of air travel, lies Ethiopian Air. To be fair, there is nothing wrong with the service, the appearance of the planes or the warmth and professionalism of the staff. Their record of ontime departure and arrival is fantastic and they provide frequent flights, allowing plenty of time for Sabbath-observant Jews to arrive at their destinations without compromising religious law.
The problem is EA’s unavoidable stopover in Addis Ababa, an experience that defies endurance levels, mental awareness and disease prevention.
The Bole Airport website boasts photos of cafes and lounges that I’ve never seen in five trips via Ethiopian Air. Girders and other construction equipment litter the terminal alongside signs promising completion in 2015. 2016. Uh, 2017. Flights do not arrive or depart between 10:40 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. which result in closed stores, no air conditioning or overhead electric lighting between those hours. Not so good if you want to drink, breathe or read but excellent if you need the women’s restroom. Because it is only during these hours that the two available public lavatories are not indescribably filthy due to the requirements of thousands of females who need them during active airport hours.
Recently, I had two ten-hour stopovers in Addis Ababa. Ten hours without air, kosher food or more than four other English speaking travelers in the entire facility, other than those who were sleeping on the floors awaiting connecting flights to Dar Es Salaam, Entebbe, Khartoum, Mumbai, Beirut and Kuwait. Armed with my Israeli passport, it felt a tad lonely.
Still, because the bathrooms were mercifully usable during these interminable hours, I experimented with hairstyles, applied more makeup than I wore to my wedding, sponge-bathed to the best of my modest-ability and brushed and flossed three times. Once groomed and coiffed, I located a dust-coated kiosk that stocked dried-out peanuts and tepid Diet Cokes, and chatted for a few moments with a nice fellow from Mozambique. That killed 10 minutes. Afterwards I strolled past Muslim prayer rooms, admired jewelry in a locked-tight shop, read the menu of a members-only flight lounge and searched for an electric outlet with which to charge my cell phone. Internet? Dream on.
And I slept. With computer and travel bag nestled beneath my thighs, for hours-upon-hours I reclined in a well-worn chaise across from the boarding gate. A hefty novel, thicker than a bullet-proof vest, allowed me to appear unapproachable. Remember the phrase, ‘Forever and a day’? Pretty much.
Israel enjoys beautiful weather and magnificent topography. With the advent of summer, thoughts of sightseeing, sleeping late, lazy-hazy days of swimming, hiking and outdoor grilling could, for some, inspire wanderlust.
For a while, at least, I’m staying home.
New York native Andrea Simantov has lived in Jerusalem since 1995. She is a contributing write to Jlife magazine.