I knew it would be a rewarding trip as soon as I arrived at the gate of my Ethiopian Airlines flight at Washington Dulles International Airport. The gate attendant was clearly much more at ease making the flight announcements in Amharic than in English. I was about to board a flight to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania via Addis Ababa, and I could feel the excitement begin to rush over me as I thought about the adventure that lay ahead.
The soft-spoken gentlemen sitting next to me on the plane was an Ethiopian living in Virginia working at a milk plant. His name was Sisay, and he was flying to his home town of Addis Ababa, where he was planing quite a surprise. He had been in the States for about 10 years, and had finally gained US citizenship through naturalization. His wife had remained behind in Addis, and they had only seen each other a few times during those years. They had been applying to get her citizenship for many years- a very costly and timely
process – and each time they thought they were close, she was turned down for one reason or another.
Finally, she was scheduled to appear at the US embassy, and everything seemed set for her to receive her biggest wish. Sisay decided that this time, he would fly to Ethiopia to accompany his wife to the embassy, just in case any issues came up that he might could help with being a US citizen. His wife was unaware of his plans. She believed she was going to the airport to pick up some important documents for the citizenship process. Sisay’s brother, who was in on the plan, was going to drive her to the airport, and was going to help Sisay surprise his wife at the airport.
As we descended into the big city to land, Sisay pointed out the building in the city center that was the US embassy. Of course, I’ll never know how the surprise of Sisay’s visit went over, nor if his wife ever received citizenship, but I certainly hope it all worked out well. I can just imagine the Hollywood moment when the two were reunited, knowing that in the coming weeks, they would be able to move their family to the US and start a new life together.
Sisay’s story really touched me and made me appreciate the fact that we don’t have to worry about meeting our basic needs and providing a better life for our families by immigrating to another country. It was a humbling conversation, and it set the tone for the rest of my trip. I was mostly traveling for pleasure, to satisfy a selfish urge to explore new places and see new things. Many people around the world don’t have that luxury.