(Brief thoughts that I typed into my "journal" from each day of our trip.....I will blog more details regarding these experiences in the days/weeks to come).
For the time being, I am going to try to update the blog just with some details to chronicle each day. There is so much more to come…just as soon as my heart has time to process all that I’m seeing and experiencing.
Internet is sketchy (at best) and can’t be had at all in our third floor room here at the Ethiopian Guest Home, so I am typing into a word document and will later (when I catch a wave on the world wide web) post. Because of this, I can’t see my last post and recall exactly what it said. I apologize, in advance, for any repetition.
Day One (Wednesday, July 6th)
Met at the airport in Nashville at 4:15 pm. 13 of our team of 28 left on this flight at 6:30 pm bound for Washington DC where we would (and did) spend the night.
Day Two (Thursday, July 7th)
Boarded a flight at 12:00 pm. Next stop - Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Day Three (Friday, July 8th)
YES, you read that right, we didn’t arrive until the following day in ET). To be exact, 8:00 am (Ethiopia time) arrived in Addis Ababa. Things didn’t go as we’d planned at the airport (to put it mildly) and we were “detained” there for 5 hours. (I’ll try to explain more about this later but let’s just say, oftentimes in Ethiopia, they make up the rules as they go along). Because of this, we were unable to report to what was to have been our first orphanage (El Olam) to feed the children. Always an adventure, remember? Twenty six (two others joined us here) extremely tired people arrived at our Guest Home, unloaded the mounds of luggage and began sorting donations. WOW at the donations, by the way (each team member had 2-50 pound bags each –PLUS- we had 5 additional 50 pound bags. This, by the way, was the reason we were “detained” at the airport. As we checked into our rooms and peeked out the windows, the “street children” were starting to gather; waving to us from below and smiling widely. We headed out into the street and began to visit and play with the children (soccer, iPads, lollipops, etc.). What a blessing it was to see their faces, shake their hands and hug their necks. What started out as a frustrating day turned out to be a HUGE blessing. Beauty from ashes, for sure. We were able, from the donations, to provide many of the children with shoes, soccer jerseys, etc. Such fun.
Day Four (Saturday, July 9th)
Our breakfast was served from 7:30-8:30 this morning and then off we went. We loaded the vans with donations and headed out to Yezelelem Minch. We were briefed on the program and then taken over into the village where the children were attending Sunday School (on Saturday; yes you read that right). Once they were dismissed, we had some time to play with them, hand out more lollipops, etc. This was a sweet time with the people of this village. As we were leaving, there was a young girl (age 20) there wanting help. She was homeless and had seen us in “town” and followed the van to the village to see if we could help her. The needs here are great. Next, we stopped by Restoration Orphanage to love on some little ones. We had a great time there; the children are being provided great care there. Heartwarming.
Day Five (Sunday, July 10th)
We worshipped today at the Beza International Church. Such reverent worship with brothers and sisters in Christ. It was an English service (their earlier service is in Amharic) and was more than I can really put into words right now. We had lunch back at the Guest Home and then headed out to an area here known as the Post Office District. There is, in fact, a Post Office there but our mission was to visit the market place where locally made and culturally relevant souveneirs are sold. This was an experience that I’m not sure I was prepared for (even though I’d been warned). There are many beggars at the market area and we’re not talking about people with signs who say, “will work for food”. I’m talking about people who follow you around and BEG for help. Food, money, etc. It was more than just a little overwhelming but I was able to purchase some nice momentoes from the trip. Following our shopping experience, we went just across the road to a parking lot where the local street children often hang out and play soccer. I believe that I used the term “street children” in a paragraph above speaking about the kids who wait for us outside of the Guest Home. This is a completely different thing as those children have homes near the Guest Home….the just tend to hang out in the street. The “street children” in the Post Office District actually live in and on the streets. They are oftentimes motherless and fatherless; they are dirty, hungry and, oftentimes, high from sniffing glue or chewing "chat". It seems they are always desperate. Our intent in going there was to allow the guys on our team to play a pick-up game of soccer. They did play for a while but our time there was brief. We hope to return there before we leave one last time. It would be nice to be able to give out some of our donations there but it is simply not safe; I’m not sure how that is going to work out.
Day Six (Monday, July 11th)
Today was our first day to head out into the countryside. We headed out bright and early and drove 2-3 hours South to Woliso Orphanage. The countryside was beautiful and just what you imagine Africa to look like. We saw mud houses and grass/straw huts. We saw farmers plowing behind plows that were powered by oxen. We saw many workers out in the fields and their children helping or shepherding the sheep; the smaller ones were playing on their own in the fields. We saw donkey carrying LARGE loads of hay/straw and/or water jugs on their backs and people gathering water from what, to us, was nothing more than a dirty mud hole on the side of the road. There were women washing the laundry in basins out in the “yard” and clothes hanging out to dry. There was beauty to be seen hand in hand with the stark realization that people are living this way in 2011 (actually, in Ethiopia it’s only 2003 now). Many (I would almost guess MOST) of the people that we saw were without shoes. As we approached the part of “town” where Woliso is, it became even more heart breaking. These children (and their families) are , BY FAR, the poorest I have ever seen. As our vans drove through the village, though, the smiles and waves for the white people ("fringe') were more humbling than I can put into words. We are quite the spectacle here and always draw a crowd. We arrived at Woliso and drove into the gates to unload, we were given a tour of the orphanage and then broke into groups to do crafts, play games, read stories and paint nails and faces. All the while, the village children (and many of their mothers) were gathering outside of the fence….little faces peering in in anticipation of a visit with us. Following our time at the orphanage, we walked through the village and were invited into 3 different homes. All mud/straw huts; either one room or two with nothing more than a foam mattress or just a pallet of blankets on the floor. Almost all of the children (and adults) were shoeless and many of the children were bare-bottomed. Children were carrying their siblings on their backs and the flies….oh my word….the flies. They were covering the children’s faces and they are so accustomed to it that they don’t even attempt to swat them away. Just life as they know it. We had brought donations for these children (as Kelly had seen the need on a previous visit and her heart longed to provide for them) and we attempted to gain some order and begin passing out shoes, clothes and UNDERWEAR. Kelly had remembered their being, maybe 20 children there in the streets outside of the orphanage last year and so we thought it would be a cinch. However, the crowd had grown to about 200 and it quickly became chaotic. We were able to hand out most of what we had but, reached a point, where we simply had to pack it up because it had become so crazy. Sometimes it is hard to see God’s glory in some of this but, on this day, I found it in panties and briefs and little bottoms that were bare when we arrived were now covered up and belonged to children with smiles on their faces. I’m not sure what all I can share about this area and this orphanage at this time but I would ask you; in fact, I beg you, to pray for these people. My heart is very heavy for them. And I’m sure that God’s is too.
Day 7 (Tuesday, July 12th)
First stop today was the “sheep market” (which is nothing more than an empty lot on the side of the road where farmers bring their sheep to sell each day). There we purchased 45 sheep. Something I don’t do every day. I promise pictures later because you really have to see it to believe it but those sheep were thrown (alive and baa-ing), legs tied, onto the top of our van where they made the trek with us to Korah. I have blogged about Korah before. Five of those sheep were being slaughtered to feed the children (luckily we didn’t have to watch this) but the other 40 were being gifted to several families who have land. These sheep will help these families to build a flock of their own and provide for themselves; life changing. At Korah, we were divided into groups where we taught the children some conversational English. After that, we assisted in serving the children their lunch (rice and bread) and then spent some time visiting with the local children in the streets. We all carry backpacks everywhere we go and it is universally known that those backpacks contain candy and snacks, maybe a toy or two. This (and our white skin) make us extremely popular. The hot topic on the streets of Korah (amongst the children and the white people) is about “SPONSORS”. Education, in Ethiopia, is not a right but a privilege and there is no free public education here. Any child who goes to school has to pay for that education. Project 61 has come into Korah and is helping to educate the children with the help of sponsors. The children KNOW that sponsorship can and will change their lives and I was taken back by the fact that sponsors, more than candy, were at the forefront of their minds. You’ll be hearing more about sponsorship from me in future posts. I met a young boy on this day, Taraqu, whose friend was taking him from one "fringe'" (white person) to another, advocating for a sponsor for him. He would say, "Taraqu needs a sponsor....he is a clever student". I agreed to sponsor Taraqu and have some stories to share with you about him and the blessing that HE has already been to ME (not exactly the way that that was supposed to happen).
Day 8 (July 13, 2011)
We set out this morning with the intention to visit a privately run orphanage North of Addis Ababa. We thought that it was approximately an hour and a half drive. After 2 ½ hours, we realized we had passed our destination and turned around and headed back. In the meantime, the director of the orphanage speaks with our guide and has decided (since he discovered that we were not bringing a CASH donation) that he is not going to allow us there. On to Plan B (this is where we make it up as we go along). The team is transported in three separate vans and, as we are stopped one behind the other, to discuss what to do next, the area children begin to appear. We are able to spend a few minutes passing out clothes, shoes, Bibles and, of course, “cahndee”. We head back in to Addis to find a place to stop and eat our packed lunch and our guide, Bizrat (“Bizzy”) came up with a great plan. So, after lunch, we headed up the mountain to a village where the women carry eucalyptus branches in HUGE bundles on their backs down into “town”. We went to an open field where the children play and, of course, started a soccer game. The children began to come and we were able to load many of them up with new clothes, shoes, blankets for the babies, fun jewelry for the little girls and, again, “cahndee”. As we experienced at Woliso on Monday, once the parents begin to arrive to get in on the loot, things quickly become out of hand so we had to pack it up and go. However, two of our vans stopped on the way down the hill and each took the load of one of the women who was making her way down to town; they loaded her branches on top of the car and gave her a ride to her destination. And then, on top of that, Kelly and Lauren took the shoes off of their own feet and gave them to these ladies. Unfortunately, my van had gone ahead so I wasn’t able to experience this firsthand but ALL of the reports seem to add up to one blessed experience for all involved. These women make this trip 3 times each day but, today, their burden was lifted for just a while.
Day 9 (July 14, 2011)
We loaded up the vans for a journey today....off to visit the Hope Ethiopia site. I'm not exactly sure but we drove South approximately 2 hours and then turned off the main (paved) road onto a dirt one. On past trips, the dirt road was an indication that we were almost there but not today. We traveled on that dirt road for another hour and ten minutes. It was, by far, the most beautiful landscape I have ever seen. We eventually arrived at the Hope Ethiopia site and their guide joined us as we ended our journey in the little village there. As we drove into the area, it was evident that the land, the crops and the livestock were healthier than we'd seen. Hope Ethiopia has a reforestation project in this area and you could see the fruit of their work. It is our understanding that only 14 teams have ever made the trek out to this area, none of them to work with the children and, as we began to visit with them, it was evident. Many of them were scared of us and communicating was extremely difficult. They do not speak Amharic (native Ethiopia language) here but their own tribal language which meant that we did not have a translator. Love is universal though so we began to do what we do (soccer, crafts, hugs, cameras, "cahndee"). As I was opening some craft kits for the children to do, I opened up markers and set the items in front of them, I quickly realized that these children had NO idea what to do with a marker. I had to show them to take the top off and color with it. Unbelievable. These children were extremely dirty and COVERED in flies; on their faces, in their eyes. Heartbreaking. We loaded up and drove back down the dirt road to the Hope Ethiopia office. This area was fenced in with barbwire and had a large gate. We had brainstormed about a better way to pass out donations and thought we had it figured out. The families lined up outside of the gates and were let in 5 or 10 at a time. We were stationed inside the area with shoes, clothes, mosquito nets (malaria is a problem here) and food to pass out. It went very well. For a while. We have noted that each time we try to hand out donations, it goes fairly smoothly until the adults arrive. Once they realize what is going on, their desperation to get something for their children (or themselves) drives them to seek things more aggressively than we feel is manageable. Unfortunately, once again, this forced us to close up shop and load the vans. This time, however, instead of loading the items on top of the vans to return to the Guest Home, we simply placed what was left (mostly little girls panties) inside the vans with us and, as we made the long drive back out of the area, we were able to toss panties (and candy and mosquito nets) out of the vans to the little girls (and boys too) walking alongside the road. As crazy as it sounds, this was one of the highlights of the trip. So fun to bless others in this way when they weren't expecting it. We made a stop back by Restoration Orphanage this day as well as many of our hearts had connected with these kids and we needed one last time to love on them there.
Day 10 (July 15, 2011)
We could hardly believe that this was our last day...what a blessing this time has been to each of us. We headed back to Korah; an area that has just stolen all of our hearts. We had promised the children that we'd be back on Friday and they were eagerly awaiting our arrival. The sheep we had bought earlier in the week were slaughtered and cooked up for lunch (a HUGE treat for these children who normally eat rice and bread). We broke up into groups and served lunch. Many of us were invited into the homes of various children. I will blog later about my visit to Taraqu's home. We loaded up the vans with some of the children and took them to a nearby field for a soccer game. After returning them to Korah, we made one last stop at the marketplace for last minute purchases and then went back to the Guest House to pack up and load the vans. We grabbed a bite to eat and then went to the airport to catch our 10:00 pm flight back to Washington DC.
From the time we got to the airport in Addis Ababa (7:15 ET time) to the time we arrived in Nashville (4:30 pm Central Time) was approximately 28 hours (including layovers, etc.). You'd be safe to assume we were a little tired (and stinky since time didn't allow for a shower after serving in Korah). But all of our hearts are bursting with love for this country and the people there.
I look forward to sharing details and pictures in posts to come.
I have an Ethiopia-shaped hole in my heart.