Saturday, Day 1
It's now been a full 24 hours since Gebisa Ejeta and I left West Lafayette on this trip to Africa. But we have now seen our second sunset over the wing of an airplane, and we are anxious to get on the ground in the Ethiopian capitol of Addis Ababa.
We are traveling at 526 miles an hour in a KLM Airbus A332 jet on our way from Khartoum, Sudan, to Addis Ababa, the last leg of a 7,000-mile journey to Africa.
Warmed externally by a long-sleeve shirt and a zipped leather jacket and fueled internally by a dose of Benadryl, Gebisa is trying to burn out a case of the sniffles that have bugged him since his last trip abroad in June.
His 6-foot-7-inch frame is squeezed across the four empty seats he was lucky enough to find in the middle section of the plane.
For Gebisa, this trip to Ethiopia is a triumphant return to a place where he left his heart when he came to the United States as a graduate student in Purdue's agronomy department in the mid-'70s.
But it is a bittersweet return. Coming home to see such abject poverty pains his heart every time he visits.
"When I am in other parts of Africa, it doesn't bother me as much because I am so focused on my work," he says. "But in Ethiopia, it is different. It is a very difficult thing to see."
At the prompting of the flight attendant, the passengers on the flight to Addis Ababa applaud the KLM pilot, who is making his final flight as a captain. Lucky for him the applause came before the plane landed — actually, it bounced onto the runway — at Addis Ababa.
For me, it's a trip I have looked forward to like a child awaiting Christmas. But there is apprehension, too.
I fear for my health. I became a pill-popping pincushion preparing for this trip. I have received six shots and a vial full of pills to ward off the illnesses and diseases associated with sub-Saharan nations on the African continent.
I'm afraid to turn the lights out, fearing that under the influence of all this medicine, I may glow in the dark.
And I fear for my delicate stomach — it's been known to kick back broth. I have a stash of granola bars, should the Ethiopian cuisine disagree with my stomach.
The trip began in a Budget rental car from West Lafayette to the Indianapolis International Airport, a one-hour flight to Detroit, followed by a three-hour layover.
In the airport terminal in Detroit, Gebisa pulled out a short stack of 2-by-3-inch notes, bound by a giant paper clip. It is his daily to-do lists. The agenda for today includes a phone interview to discuss the World Food Prize with a writer for USAID in Washington, D.C.
The three-hour layover in Detroit provided ample time for the interview.