Month: May 2014

Ethiopian Customs Snafu

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The Duplicator

So here is the rest of the story of the Ethiopian Customs Snafu.

On the day of my departure I arrived at the airport early. Really early. 9 hours before my 10:30 pm flight. One of the local staff members went with me to help negotiate the release of my memory chip duplicator machine.

Flights arrive in Addis Ababa in the early morning, and flights depart in the late evening. Almost nothing happens at this airport after 10:00 am and before 6:00 pm. So the airport was very quiet and all the employees were sitting around the baggage arrival area watching an old Clint Eastwood movie.

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Customs Desk

At the Customs desk we repeated the same process I had followed on the night of my arrival a week earlier, and it took just about as long. Only this time my friend was doing the talking, and I was doing the waiting. And watching, “Every Which Way But Loose.”

Surprisingly, we were assigned the same customs tariff amount as the night I arrived, about $100. Only this was to get the machine OUT of customs and take it directly home. The price to leave it in Ethiopia, on this particular day, was set at $3000. This was absolutely crazy.

After I paid the fee they directed me to go across the way to the storage area to get the duplicator. I found out at the storage desk that I needed to pay a fee since they had stored it for seven days. So I paid another $20 or so for storage fees. Then they said I needed to pay a VAT tax for the storage fee!! Totally nuts.

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Baggage Arrival Area
(with Storage in
the background)

Finally I got everyone paid, confirmed the duplicator was still in the box, and started leaving to find a place to wait for the next seven hours until my flight left. But no, they would have none of that!

A Customs agent had to accompany me to the baggage check-in to make sure I didn’t walk out the front door with the duplicator. So this young guys walks across the airport with me to Lufthansa’s check-in counter. But, of course, no one is there because check-in on the evening flights didn’t begin until around 7:00 pm. He looked at me and said, “Why didn’t you tell me your flight didn’t leave until 10:30? Now we have to go back and put this back in storage until tonight.”

At this point I thought I would never get the duplicator back. I figured they finally got me.

We walked back across the airport and checked my box BACK into storage. The agent assured me I wouldn’t have to pay any more fees to get it back out, but at this point I wasn’t believing anything.

So I waited out the next six hours in the empty front terminal of the Addis Ababa Airport and had a Coke and a piece of pizza.

When the Lufthansa counter finally opened for my flight check-in (now 8:00 pm), I went back to the Customs area – and was very happy to see the same young guy who had checked my box back into storage. He got it back out with no charge, just like he said he would, and walked me back to the Lufthansa check-in counter. I finally got it checked in and sent home to Orlando.

In the big picture, adding $100 to my trip expense wasn’t the end of the world. And the guys who will be distributing the mobile phone pastor training will have to copy 100 memory chips one at a time. They will eventually get it done. But it will be a long time before I attempt to bring another memory chip duplicator to Ethiopia!

First Amharic Training

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Training today went outstandingly well! A couple of these men had seen the English language mobile course previously, so it was really easy to teach them how to use the Amharic language course. They also all had their own smartphones, so they knew how to use them and didn’t need to be taught. We were done in about an hour.

Bereket

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Yesterday I met Bereket. He helped me try to retrieve my confiscated piece of equipment from Ethiopian Customs. As we were driving across town he told me that he had been a staff member with Great Commission Ministry (Campus Crusade for Christ in Ethiopia) for two years. Prior to that he had been a volunteer online missionary in our online ministry center here in town. Someone from his church encouraged him to consider being an online missionary full-time, so he left his government job and joined our ministry!

Stuck in customs. Grrr.

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This is the box at Ethiopian Customs agency at the airport in which sits my memory chip duplicator. I paid $1500  for it, but they want $8000 duty tax from me to bring it into the country. And only to use it for 1 week and then take it back home. This really frustrating!

But in trying to get the right approvals and letters in order to get it out I got to see a few more parts of Addis Ababa then I would have otherwise. And I got to meet a few people that I wouldn’t have met otherwise either.

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This is Sami. He is one of our online missionary volunteers. He’s about to graduate from University and he will be joining the staff of our organization here in Ethiopia called Great Commission ministries. Sharp guy.

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Today we made 2 trips to the airport in an attempt to get our duplicator back. On our second trip coming back to the truck we found it had a flat tire. So we had another adventure changing it, but it finally worked out. As frustrated as I am about losing use of the duplicator this week, I had a really fun day driving around town trying to get it out of the docket.