Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Tears of Angels

April 27, 2012

Life in Ethiopia is hard. Our Ethiopian daughter had lost both her parents and two siblings by the time she was four. It's not an uncommon story here. Electricity and running water are commodities that many can't afford. Poverty is rampant and getting worse. We spent the week with children with a wide variety of living conditions, but most come from one room houses with stick and mud walls, dirt floors, and tin roofs. They walk and run up to thirty minutes to school with their toes sticking out of their shoes (if they have shoes).

You would think that such a life would harden these kids. You would think that they would push people away for fear of losing them. You would think that emotion was something they could not afford when they don't know from where their next meal will come or if they will have a roof to sleep under the next night. You would think wrong.

Our last day in Kombolcha was full of emotion. As the day began, we were anxious because we knew all 160 kids would be there when we arrived and we had a hastily devised plan on how to keep things organized for three hours until lunch was served. We were overwhelmed as we carried out our plan with mixed levels of success. We were happy because even though it was chaos, we were still having fun and loved spending time with the children. We were sad when we had to say our good-byes and leave.

First, the feast. All of the kids were given a full meal that included injera, the lamb, shero (I didn't have any  but I understand it was the spiciest food the brave in our group have had), potatoes, and carrots. They also received Orange Fanta or a Coca-Cola (no complaints from the kids about which they received). There was enough food that if any of them wanted seconds, they could take them. Needless to say there were lots of full tummies in Kombolcha today. The entire meal, plus plates, fed almost 200 people and cost $1000.

Because our group had passed out the meals and helped clean up, we didn't eat until after the kids were done. One member of our group, who had insisted that she didn't want to see the sheep (although I think she did) said before we ate "I've only known them for a few days, so I'm just going to eat them." We were also treated to a traditional coffee ceremony. The meal was very good, and once again we were treated to a home cooked meal that can't be matched by the restaurants.

Tummies full, it was time for what we knew would be the hardest part of the trip; saying good bye.

The staff had lined the kids up outside to sing us some songs. I've gotten to the point that I recognize some of the church songs when they're sung in Amharic, although not to the point that I can sing along. The kids started singing, and I saw immediately that a few of our group started to tear up. Next, we were asked if we wanted to say anything to the kids. I've taken a lot of pictures on this trip, but I decided then to put the camera away. Given the emotion that was starting to come out, some things are best left unrecorded.

Rob gave a very moving talk about how he and Candy had promised to come back and they did. The kids are part of our lives and we will always remember them. We will take their stories and their spirit back with us to our churches and to our friends and family in America. And, we will be back.

I didn't realize the impact his talk had on the kids until we stood with them for group photos. Several of the kids' faces were streaked with tears. One little girl started to sob. Like a wave that comes on shore covering more and more of the sand, the kids, one after another began to cry. When you see our group photos, don't expect the best pictures in the world, because most of us were doing all we could to keep it together.

And finally it was time for goodbyes. One by one the kids came to give us hugs. By this point, most all of them were crying. I've never given so many hugs in one day. Some would give me a solid but brief hug, but some didn't want to let go. They would grab me around the neck and squeeze tight and hang on. My shirt became wet from their tears. Even the older boys, who tried so hard all week to act like grown ups had tears in their eyes. They would walk up to me offering their hand to shake, but didn't object in the least when I pulled them in for a hug. All around me, other members of our team were surrounded by children reaching out for hugs and that last touch before leaving for the day. For at least thirty minutes, the only sound coming from over 180 kids and adults was the sound of crying. Even the staff of the drop in center were wiping away tears. We were told later that the ferengi (foreigners) always cry when leaving a drop in center, but this was the first time that the kids have cried. The ride back to the hotel was unusually quiet as all of us were deep in our thoughts, not wanting to let the moment go.

We have become a member of these kids' families, and we have welcomed them as members of our own families. Even though we are separated by thousands of miles and even though next week we will return to our regular routines and they will continue to try to be a kid while surviving from day to day, we have developed a strong bond. Our resolve to help these children, our children, of Kombolcha has grown stronger. We would do nothing less for our extended family of Ethiopia.

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