I arrived into Addis Ababa at 9pm on a Lufthansa flight from Frankfurt and my friend and her mom were there to greet me at the airport, which was a nice surprise. We traveled to the guest house at which we were staying (www.ethiopiaguesthome.com), but since it was dark, there was not much for me to see. My friend and her mom had checked in a couple of days before me, so they were all settled in and helped me get that way too. I got the top bunk in our room so it felt a little like girl scout camp. In reality, I was the only one who could reach it! After some catching up, and them explaining the lay of the land to me, we went to sleep. Or rather, tried to go to sleep. The dogs and the roosters outside seemed to have a different plan. The dogs are all strays, so they are scavengers and pretty much sleep all day and are very active at night. Hence the incessant barking. And I don't know what was up with the roosters, but last I knew, roosters are supposed to start the day with their music, not serenade people in the middle of the night! Luckily after the first night, the dogs and roosters behaved much better!
We got to sleep in a bit as we didn't have to be at CFI each morning until about 9:30am. I was usually the first one up and showered. That's the "morning person" in me coming out in true form. We had breakfast downstairs at the guest house every morning, which generally consisted of some type of egg, or pancakes, waffles, french toast, or cereal, and always a glass of fresh juice. And since this was a guest house, it was a group breakfast with whoever else happened to be staying there on that particular day.
The walk to CFI was only about 5 minutes away from the guest house. The typical scenery along the way included donkeys carrying bags of cement powder, or other building materials, kids walking to school in uniform, and roadside stalls selling fresh fruit and vegetables (none of which we could eat), in addition to the usual road traffic. We were staying in Lafto, which is outside of the city centre, and one of the poorest areas of Addis. The first few days we always got some stares because I don't think the people of that area are used to seeing white people walking around the streets. Before too long, however, we became well-recognized due to our numerous trips along that street! And we also knew at which areas along the way we needed to hold our breath. Some of the smells coming from the drainage ditches were enough to make you lose your breakfast!
One thing I noticed each day is that whoever we passed walking along the street, no matter their age or gender, if I made eye contact with them and smiled, I always got a smile in return. I loved that about the Ethiopians! They didn't hate Americans :-)
Once we were at CFI, we pretty much had the same routine. We did an activity with the kids during morning break from about 10-11am. This could range from playing dodgeball, to blowing bubbles and playing with sidewalk chalk, to blowing up and playing with punch balloons, to making foam crosses or simply coloring, etc. More than anything, I just enjoyed spending time with them. I loved their excitement to see me each morning, the adorable and enthusiastic way that they called out my name "Leeeeeesa!", and the endless hugs and kisses that I received.
I remember the first couple of days I was a little apprehensive about them climbing all over me. I mean, they were dirty, smelly, unmatched, little children, and my Western, semi-germaphobe mind was inventing all kinds of bacteria and diseases that they were probably carrying around with them. (And truth be told, several of them had lice and ringworm.) But you know what? Each one of them is a child of God. And I came to realize that I would rather have a dirty, smelly, lice-infested child climb on my lap and give me a hug if that's what that child needed, then to shun them for something that they have no control over. Who am I to deny them love?
After our morning activity, we generally stayed around CFI for a bit to help out with various tasks and prepare for the afternoon. We walked back to the guest house each day for lunch and then had a bit of a rest before heading back to CFI in the afternoon. For two accountants who are not used to being around and working with children on a regular basis, Lauren and I struggled to maintain energy! And, unbeknownst to me before this trip, Addis sits at an elevation of over 7,700 feet above sea level. So not only were the kiddos wearing us out, but the altitude was affecting us as well since we live at sea level; especially on the walk back to the guest house, which was straight uphill.
In the afternoon, we did another activity with the kids after their quiet time/naps, and then once they left for the day, we hung around for a bit and helped organize the office and all of the donation item and supplies that we had brought and those that were already there. Lauren is extremely gifted at organization, so she was completely in her element! One of my favorite times of day was when we had to say goodbye to each kiddo as their family members came to pick them up. I loved meeting their moms and dads and siblings, and (for the most part) seeing the excitement of each kid in anticipation of being picked up. And more than anything, I loved the passionate little hugs that I got from them as they were bouncing out of the gate, and the endless kisses.
Each evening was up in the air and a little different; sometimes we stayed in the guest house for dinner and sometimes we had a driver take us out for dinner. Addis is not really a city (and in particular, the area of Lafto) where, as a white person/foreigner, you can just walk around and stumble upon a place to eat. The streets are safe, but daunting and intimidating for someone who is not used to them. And we could only eat at "clean" restaurants, so each one that we ate at had to be on a "pre-approved" list. During our time there, we ate at Chinese, Korean, American, Italian, and traditional Ethiopian restaurants. Several people made the comment to me that they were surprised to have all of those types of restaurants in Ethiopia, but really it's no different than having ethnic restaurants in America, right? I know Houston as an Ethiopian restaurant, and I'll definitely be visiting at some point!
The food in Addis was really cheap. We ate a LOT of food when we went out, and generally only spent $5-10 a piece, including perhaps a bottle of wine or a couple of beers, an appetizer and a dessert.
During our trip, we also did a couple of touristy things and took some time out of our weeks to visit some other ministries in Addis to see more of what God is doing over there. And let me tell you, He is doing A LOT!!! Most Ethiopians are Orthodox, so it was inspiring to see Christians living and ministering over there to share the gospel and introduce these people to Jesus; to give them hope and an understanding that they always have Jesus, no matter what situation that they are in. And that this life is just temporary, but there life in heaven will be eternal. And it will be perfect!
Some of the other places that we visited were another program similar to CFI, a street kids' ministry (http://theforsakenchildren.org/projects/childrens-home-ethiopia/), a government orphanage, a leprosy hospital and craft shop, Beza International Church, the Entoto Mountains, and Korah, the community in Addis that is based around the trash dump. Each one of these visits, in its own way, was impactful on me!
Leprosy hospital and craft shop
Do you know that there are over 4,000 new cases of leprosy in Ethiopia each year? This is in contrast to the 200 new cases in the United States. There are a total of approximately 6,500 cases of leprosy in the entire United States. So you get the idea. It's still a big problem in Ethiopia.
The government orphanage
I will start by saying that I know that they are doing the best that they possibly can with the resources that they have. But, their resources are simply not enough. It was heartbreaking. There are 150 children in this particular orphanage - it was at capacity. There was no color in the entire place, no toys, no stimulation of any sort. It meets the very basic necessities of food, clothing, and shelter. That's it.
We walked through the various rooms to see how the children lived. The infant room brought tears to my eyes. Some of them were a mere 3 weeks old and had been left on the side of the road. And they are precious little lives who were created by God just like you and me. The toddler room was probably more difficult for me because they are old enough to actually consciously crave the love and attention. And they look at you, and smile, and put their arms out to you wanting to be held. And others are self-soothing themselves, because they know that crying really gets them nowhere.
Most of the children are taught from a very young age to hold their own bottles and it was hard to see these wee little bodies feeding themselves with a bottle that was propped up on a blanket. There were fly strips hanging from the ceiling full of dead flies – which is better than nothing – but I still would rather see these kids in a place where they didn’t have to worry about flies to that extreme.
The ratio of child to caretaker is 10:1. Everything is so methodical and routine. I guess it has to be with that many children and so few people looking after them. What probably broke my heart the most was when we were leaving, the 2 year olds were finishing up lunch in the main room downstairs, and a couple of them were walking around leaving puddles in their footprints. They had completely soaked through their diapers and clothes and were dripping at this point. And nobody seemed to notice; nobody but the guests who were visiting. So please pray for these children and for this orphanage. They need it so badly!
Beza International Church
Both Sunday mornings that I was in Addis, we attended Beza International Church. This is an Ethiopian church that has one service in English (as opposed to an English church), so we were told that it was quite a bit more of an "authentic" Ethiopian experience. I will say up front that this Baptist girl is used to church services that are about an hour, no more than an hour 15 minutes. Baptists like to eat lunch. Ethiopians....well.....lunch clearly is not a priority to them. Which I guess is a good thing when you are worshipping.
We had been prepared ahead of time for an approximate 2 hour service. So I was mentally ready for that. When we hit the 2.5 hour mark, I shut down. I was angry. Why does this pastor feel like he can keep me in church for now going on 3 hours? At least that's what I was feeling at the moment. I had hardly slept the night before, I was hungry, and there was no end in sight. But you know what? I survived! And I had thoroughly enjoyed the first 2 hours. We spent an entire hour doing praise and worship. And let me tell you, these Ethiopians don't take praise and worship lightly. There was lots and lots of passionate singing and dancing, and an amazing worship band and leader.
I eventually got over myself and happily returned the next week. It was so refreshing to see a combination of Ethiopians and "white people" at church together. A lot of the foreigners were adoptive families, some were visitors like us, and others looked like they had been there a while. In any event, Ethiopians know how to worship and they have a fierce love for their Savior!
Our last weekend in Addis, we headed about 30-45 minutes out of the city to the Entoto Mountains. After spending 2 weeks in a large city that has no emissions standards, I was in desperate need of some fresh air. One of the things that I loved about making this trip out of the city was seeing the different parts of the city as we drove through it - parts that we had not seen before. The further we got out of the main city, the scenery changed to more of the countryside with a plethora of donkeys walking and working along the way.
Once we started on the road up to the top of the mountain, it was instantly more peaceful and serene. There were loads of pine trees, eucalyptus trees that came from Australia, and just that overall mountainous feel. And then.....coming around every corner on the way down the mountain.....was one of the saddest sites that I laid my eyes on during this trip. Women, young and old, were trudging down the mountain. Tied to their backs were huge mounds of tree branches and logs that spanned half the width of the road. These women were hunched over from the weight, some with a look of fierce concentration on their faces, some with a look of agony, but all of them hardened. This was their job. They live at the top of the mountain, and carry down branches and logs to be used for various things, then walk back up the mountain and do it all over again. I’m not sure how many times they do it in a day, my guess is 2 or 3, because that is hard work and a long walk back uphill.
My first question was, why don’t they use trucks or donkeys for this??? The trucks can’t get up and down that mountain very easily, and not everyone owns a donkey. There were some donkeys along the way, but these women need to earn money and this was their only option. We would see them stop along the way for rest, and I just wanted to cry for them. But this is their reality and what they are used to. Somehow, that doesn’t make it ok for me. But who am I to judge; I don’t live in that world. I have not become de-sensitized to it like the people who live over there, and I hope that I never do.
Once we got to the top of the mountain, we visited the historic mud palace and the museum. Both pretty interesting, but even better, was the picnic that we had afterwards! We walked a little ways into the forest and our host (who is American) served us peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, yogurt, popcorn, fresh mangoes, and cookies. It was divine and just what we all needed! A refreshing and thoroughly enjoyable break from the big city. I wish I would remember to get out of Houston more often for a little chance to recharge.
Livin' Like the Locals
A few things that we experienced during the trip made us feel like the locals. Specifically for me, those included the following:
• Taking the “public transportation” (i.e. old, crammed packed buses affectionately known as “blue donkeys”) to the fancy Sheraton Hotel to go swimming one Saturday. You can pay to just swim for the day, and the day that Patty & Lauren were sick, I went with our hosts. Needless to say, I now understand why Ethiopians win so many races. They come out of nowhere while you are patiently waiting for a bus and beat you to it. Sneaky little buggers. Finally, we caught the 4th bus home :-);
• We decided to cook at our hosts house one evening, so we went to three different stores to get all of the ingredients – one for the produce, one for the meat, and one for the bread. They do have “all in one” stores, but apparently those are only good for certain things, and really expensive for the others. Needless to say, for a girl who loves grocery shopping, it was fun for me to see the different places and walk around;