Friday, April 18, 2014

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Journey Home

Our trip home deserves a post of it's own...

So, health wise, we'd had a fairly uneventful trip. Both Michael and Allison were really tired, which caused some problems with headaches and minor stomach issues. Otherwise, medically, we did pretty well. I was relieved when we got on the airplane that we'd made it unscathed.

However, thirty minutes into the first leg of the flight from Addis to Rome, Allison laid her head down on the tray table to go to sleep. I got up to go to the bathroom and when I came back Michael told me that Allison had gotten hurt, and sure enough she was sobbing.

The woman in front of her had reclined her seat very quickly and in the process, Allison's head got pinched between the tray table and the seat. Allison hurt her neck when she tried to get unstuck. Allison was in a lot of pain. Every time she moved her head, she was in agony. I gave her 400mg of ibuprofen and ice. Jen, the nurse that was with us, took a look at her. The main flight attendant came back to look at her. Eventually, they moved her up to first class so she could lay down flat. While it helped, every time the plane hit turbulence, she started crying again. With Jen's approval, I gave her another 400mg of ibuprofen. Nothing was working.

3:00am - An ambulance was waiting when we landed in Rome (for refueling and a crew change). The paramedics looked at her, felt that it was whiplash, and suggested a medicine they could give her that would take 10 minutes to work. However, Allison is allergic to a lot of stuff, and the last thing I wanted was for her to have an allergic reaction 30000 feet in the air over the Atlantic Ocean. Given this, and the extreme pain she was in, we decided to get off the plane and have the ambulance take us to an emergency room for x-rays and medicine.

Michael, meanwhile, had no interest in getting off of the plane. His words, when I told him we were going to get off the plane in Rome, were "I can't believe I'm saying this (since he always wanted to see Rome), but I don't want to get off." I felt I didn't have any choice, but Glen Bogdanovich offered to take him the rest of the way to the U.S. I made sure Michael had his passport, the boarding pass for the next flight, and a letter for Glen giving him permission to bring Michael into the U.S. I told Rob what was going on, asked Glen to let Lori know what was going on and got off the plane with Allison. Glen gave me some cash in case we needed it. We walked right onto the ambulance and drove off.

4:00am - After a long drive, and an intermediary stop at the airport medical clinic, we arrived at an emergency room in a run down hospital. I didn't have the slightest idea where I was, how we got there, and how we were going to get anywhere afterwards. The paramedics, who spoke English, left. Allison had received some shots at the airport clinic and while they were helping, she was still in pain. As we sat there, people arrived and were seen, all speaking Italian. The admitting nurse knew enough English to get us registered and we waited and waited.

5:00am - We are called to see the doctor. His first question to us was, "Do you speak Italian?" After I said no, he gave us major attitude. He spoke to us in English, but was not friendly at all. Allison got x-rays, the doctor said nothing was broken, wrote us a prescription for pain killer and a neck brace (now I had to figure out how to find a pharmacy) and told us we were released.

So I didn't know where to go, so I asked the doctor to help us get a taxi to take us to a hotel. Big mistake. He got indignant again, found us a security guard to call a cab, and disappeared without even a good-bye. The security guard called us a cab.

When the taxi arrived, I explained to the driver that I didn't have any currency, I needed to get to a hotel, but didn't know where one was, and asked if he could take a credit card. He looked at me and said, "I don't speak English."

Finally I was able to ask him to take us to the airport, since I figured (hoped) there would be a hotel there. I showed him my credit card, which he was able to take. When we got to the airport, I saw a Hilton, which I pointed to, and he dropped us off.

5:30am - We check into the hotel. The guy at the front desk was very friendly, but was really confused about why anyone would want a room at 5:30 in the morning. He told me that checkout was at 11am, to which I replied to give us the room for two nights. He also told us that the airport had a pharmacy that would stock pain killers and neck braces (never heard of pharmacies in airports!).

We got to our room. I called Lori to let her know what was going on. It was 12:30am in Massachusetts, but I needed to let her know. She was already awake, waiting for us to call. Glen had already been in touch (via Myndi). And then we slept.

The day was a combination of sleeping, eating, making phone calls to get flights changed and other logistical issues, going to the airport to get Allison her medicine, and sleeping some more. We wandered around the airport grounds a bit. The medicine helped Allison a lot, while it lasted. She could only take it every 12 hours, so by the end of the time, she was in a lot of pain.

Statue of Leonardo da Vinci at
the Rome airport.
La Plute: A sculpture by famous artist Jean-Michael Folon.
Our hotel is in the background.

After 10 days of not being able to eat fruit,
Allison enjoys a fruit salad (yummy, yummy).

My new favorite dessert, tiramisu, an Italian specialty.
The plan was to get on the same flight that we had left that night. We wandered over to the airport at 7:00pm to figure out the logistics. A very friendly woman at the Ethiopian Airlines counter knew all about us, and told us to be in the hotel lobby at 1:30am to take a shuttle to the airport. We went back to our room, slept until 12:30, and got on the shuttle with the flight crew that would also be boarding the plane. A man met us at the airport and accompanied us through the airport.

Things were going very well until we got to security. Because we had gotten right off of the plane onto the ambulance, we had not gone through customs. So, our passports weren't stamped correctly, so the woman at security was not going to let us through. Our guide and her argued (loudly) for 15-20 minutes. She called someone, yelled at that person, and slammed down the phone. The two yelled some more. Meanwhile, the flight crew had left. I had fears that a) we were going to miss the plane and b) we were going to be stuck in Italy until someone figured out how to get us back to America.

Finally, she relented. We went through security, got on the plane (much to the confusion of lots of passengers), took two seats, and were on our way.
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Postscript:

1. Allison's neck was sprained. By the next day, it was feeling much better and after a few days she was back to normal.

2. Our doctor had never heard of the medicine Allison had been prescribed. Lori's sister looked it up and found that it was a pain killer most commonly given to livestock.

3. I'll never be able to thank Glen enough for his help with Michael and all of our luggage that also continued on as well as for making sure Lori was informed. It's a good feeling when you know someone has your back. He's a great friend.


Day 7: Friday


It's hard to believe that it's Friday already. Last week, leading up to our departure from the U.S., seemed to take forever. Today we have the feast, goody giveaways, and good-byes to say. It will be a long day.

The Bible story today is about serving others. Rob tells the story of how Jesus washed feet. Today, we will wash the kids' feet. Eight of us took turns washing feet. About thirty of the kids chose not to have their feet washed, mostly the older kids. We had gloves for these dirty feet, but several of the group chose not to wear them. I started out wearing them, and made Michael and Allison wear them. To be sure, the kids' feet were filthy. Even after taking my time to clean them, there was still dirt on the rags when I dried them.

Eventually, though, I shed the gloves. To me, it contradicted the message of servitude by having these blue gloves on while showing these kids that we were serving them. They were a barrier between my hands and their feet. I felt that they said I will serve you, but only if I am protected.

After we were done, the kids washed our feet. Natnael immediately found me and washed mine. The water was COLD! Not one child had reacted to the cold water, so I made sure I did not mention it either.

At the same time, some of the team were painting faces. I think the two most popular selections were hearts and the Ethiopian flag. The kids loved having their faces painted.

I heard later that some of them were wiping their faces clean so they could be painted again. These kids love the attention they receive this week. They love being held. They love being touched. It doesn't surprise me that they wanted their faces painted again.

After the foot washing, we handed out bags packed with goodies. The bags had been donated and included a small book with pictures depicting scenes from the Bible. It also included a stuffed turtle. The team supplemented the items with water bottles, granola bars, pens, and hygiene kits. The hygiene kids came in hand sewn bags by Lori's aunt and a colleague at work and her friends. each kit contained a toothbrush and toothpaste, chap stick, a wide toothed comb, band aids, alcohol wipes, soap, and a rubber band bracelet. Fikre explained the contents of the bag in Amharic, which none of our team could understand. The kids roared with approval as he was talking right before he pulled the pens out. They definitely like getting pens! Next, we handed out Amharic Bibles. Samantha, my niece, raised money to buy a Bible for everyone. There were two versions of the Bible; a standard Bible with a blue or brown leather cover with a bookmark for the older kids and a paperback Bible with pictures for the younger ones. About 40 of them returned the Bibles, as they are Moslem and it would have been dangerous for them to take them home. (Some of the kids from Moslem families have become Christian but have not told their families as it would be trouble for them.) The Bibles will be left at the church for them to use when they are there.

Then came the feast. There were three stations set up. One was for the Moslems. They could only eat meat from an animal killed by a Moslem. The second station was for the Greek Orthodox kids. Since it is Lent, they are fasting on meat. The final station was for Christians who did not have any dietary restrictions. The woman at one of the tables was serving the potatoes and carrots and the meat, so I jumped in to help. It was the longest line of the three. I found out later I was serving the Moslem kids. Fortunately, I didn't break any rules about serving Moslems. I was scolded for not giving the kids enough carrots and potatoes. I was all too happy to give out more. I was worried about making sure there was enough for everyone. There was no reason to worry. They had enough so that the kids could come back for as much as they wanted.

And then it was time for good-bye.

Two years ago, the good byes took a very long time as everyone was crying. I wondered if it would be the same as they had learned we return every year. Sure enough, the tears started to flow. Even the kids who showed the tough personal all week had wet eyes. A few of the older boys were joking about the kids who were crying, but by the end some of their eyes were misty too.

Natnael and friends. I decided to give Natnael my
Notre Dame cap.
I had decided earlier that I was going to give Natnael my Notre Dame hat. At first, he thought I was giving it to him to wear just that day. Zelalem came over asking about it. Natnael's eyes lit up when I told them that it was his to keep.

A few of the kids wouldn't let go or kept returning. Natnael, Seada, Abebaw, and Karima, especially were repeatedly back at my side. The kids were finally shoed out. We took a moment to regroup, and started packing up to return to the hotel.

After a bit, when we thought the kids were long gone, we gathered for a group photo. Sure enough, many of the kids were still there, standing on top of the bus yelling at us. We were mobbed on the way to the bus. Another round of hugs and we were off.

Team Photo. It takes a lot of people to pull this off.
In the afternoon, some of us went to meet with a pastor who is trying to get a care point started with support from Children's Hopechest. It was a great conversation. If all goes well, there should be another 150 kids to sponsor by June. We learned that there are over 4000 kids in Kombolcha on a government waiting list to get into such programs. The government is eager to support organizations looking to create such care points.

While at the pastor's house, we had a traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony. I'm not a coffee drinker, except for when I'm in Ethiopia. The ceremony starts with green coffee beans being roasted over an open fire. The coffee maker, traditionally a woman dressed in a white dress with her head wrapped, walks the still roasting beans around the room so everyone can smell the aroma. The beans are then ground and put into a clay pot with water over the fire. Right before the coffee is served, a bowl of popcorn is passed around. The popcorn is air popped and has sugar sprinkled on top. The coffee is served in small cups. A spoonful of pure (not processed) sugar is added, and wah la, a great cup of coffee. It was Glen's first cup of coffee ever. I don't think he was very impressed, but I LOVED it!

We said our good byes and headed back to the hotel to pick up the rest of the crew for dinner.

Dinner was back at the church with its leadership. We had a great time eating a traditional Ethiopian meal, listening to music, and lighting sparklers. The church leadership is doing a great job with these kids. I can't wait to return in two years.

Tomorrow evening we meet in the lobby at 5:30am so bags can be loaded for a 6:30 departure to Addis. It's much harder to think about getting up at 5:00 then it was a few days ago.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Day 6: Thursday

Overall, today was a fun day, but also sombering in a way that probably foreshadows the day that is to come tomorrow.

Our rec activity today was in two parts. Michael and Glen had been saving large water bottles all week (We go through a lot of water here. It is really dry.) They put rocks in the bottom of the bottles and set them up as bowling pins. The kids kicked balls into the pins to knock down as many as possible The kids loved this activity. There were water bottles flying everywhere! John, Michael, and Glen had quite the time picking up and setting up pins. One of the best at it was a girl who was wearing a long skirt and shoes with heels.

Patty, Aaron, and I played hot potato. We had two circles, each with a yellow bean bag. The kids would pass the ball until I yelled "Abook!" (Stop in Amharic.) Aaron had the great idea to involve the kids in yelling Abook. The kid holding the bean bag was out. As kids were eliminated, they joined us in calling Abook. We would count softly to three, "Aund, Houlet, Sost" and then yell "Abook!" I think some of the kids intentionally got out so they could yell with me since we were having so much fun. As the "out" group got bigger and bigger, the "Abook" got louder and louder.

Patty played along with the kids. Sometimes I think she was being targeted as she seemed to continually be amongst the first to be out.

After 90 minutes of kids cycling through, we all joined together, handed out bananas and bread, said goodbye to the kids, and left for lunch.

For the afternoon session, we did the same thing. However, most of the kids had attended in the morning, so they tended to float around to the activities of their choosing. It was a bit chaotic.

During the afternoon good-byes, two things happened that showed how hard tomorrow is going to be. First, as I was sitting on the stage getting a drink of water, the Tennant's sponsored child approached Rob to ask if he was returning next year. He assured her that he was coming back, but presumably because of the language barrier, it was a long conversation and I'm not quite sure she understood what he was telling her.

A few minutes later, Natnael came up to me and gave me a big hug. As his arms were wrapped around me, he whispered, "Prayer?" while pointing at himself. He was asking me to pray for him.

Now, I've always felt awkward when it comes to praying out loud. You wouldn't think it would be so hard. Whenever I'm asked to pray in a group, I'm extremely self-conscious. I listen to other people pray and they are so eloquent in their words and sound like they're having a genuine conversation with God. I, on the other hand, feel like I'm stumbling over my words, repeat myself, and tend to have much shorter prayers than anyone else.

Nonetheless, I'm not going to tell a young boy who has just asked me to pray for him "no" and besides, he is unlikely to judge me anyways since he can't understand most of what I'm saying. So, I took his hand, led him over to a quiet space in the room, sat down, and put my arm around him. And I prayed. And it was allI could do to get through the prayer because I felt I was going to cry. I felt as if I had been given a great responsibility with what I'd been asked to do and if I didn't do it right, I would be failing this young boy. I did the best I felt I could and hope I did him justice.

As I was praying with Natnael, with my arm wrapped around him with my hand resting on his shoulder, I felt something brush up against the hand on Natnael's shoulder. It was the Tennant's sponsored daughter. She was sobbing. I lengthened my reach to hold her as well as we prayed. I gave each of them big hugs after we were done. Natnael leaned over to me and whispered ever so quietly into my ear: "thank you."
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During the lunch break, Allison, Michael, Glen, and I went for a walk. We headed towards the edge of town, which unfortunately was all uphill. There are mountains bordering Kombolcha with some large hills nearby. Michael really wanted to hike to the top. It was my intention to walk thirty minutes out and thirty minutes back. Unfortunately for Michael, there was no place that served as a natural entry to the hills as the entire road was bordered by houses. We tend to stand out around here, so we got lots of "hellos," lots of "selams", and lots of stares. A couple of the three wheeled taxis (which are are everywhere) stopped to ask us if we wanted a ride. We politely declined. Fortunately, the return walk was all downhill, so it was much easier. Still, it was a hot, sweaty walk. We got rained on a couple of times. We were grateful that there was still time to put our feet up for a few minutes before we returned to the care point. Still, the walk did Allison in. She did not feel well at dinner. I told her to go to her room and lay down and I would go up to check on her when dinner was served. I told her that if she was sleep, I would leave her. Allison was asleep when I went to get her and has still not awoken.
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Besrate was there today! Allison and Michael helped him open his care package. He especially loved his red shirt, immediately changing into it. His big news is that he is no longer living with his sister. Instead he is living with his uncle. He would not elaborate on why there was this change, only saying he didn't want to live with her anymore.
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Tomorrow we enjoy our feast, distribute hygiene kits, water bottles, pens, turtles, and Bibles, and say our good-byes. Should be an interesting day.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Day 5: Wednesday

Today was care package day, the day when the kids receive packages from their sponsored families. Today was also the day we get to do a home visit.

Allison and Michael really want to visit Kalkidan's home. Since Lori had gone last year, my preference was to go to someone's house sponsored by a family we know. Luckily we were able to do both. But first the care packages.

One lesson we've learned here is that all of the planning in the world doesn't amount to much once the feet
Kalkidan playing the egg game while things were still
under control.
Michael with several of his admirers.
are on the ground. Flexibility is the name of the game. The "plan" was to have all of the kids do rec while waiting for their care packages. Rec would occur in the back room with the dirt floor. Glen and I spent nearly an hour last night planning activities. The "plan" involved splitting the kids into eight groups and having them rotate through the stations. While we were setting up, the kids arrived...with no tranaslator. Needless to say, chaos ensued. The jump ropes we had laid out for a hopscotch game were no longer on the floor. Balls for a hot potato game became projectiles, bouncing off people's faces. A cloud of dust enveloped the whole space.

Note the ever present Abebaw (spondored by
Carey Douglas) in the blue sweatshirt.
As Glen and I were trying to get things under control, I was called by Rob to help with the care packages. We had counted on having half of the kids arrive the the morning and the rest in the afternoon. However, most of the kids arrived in the morning, completely throwing off the system. A big lag was underway and
Each station included a translator and a member
of our team to explain some of the items in the
care package.
things were going very slowly. Two stations were originally set up, but we found that four were really needed. Each station consisted of a child, a translator, and a member of our team to explain the contents of each care package. For example, some of the packages contained wash clothes that are compressed and wrapped in plastic. It was confusing for folks. The chap stick needed to be explained for a copule of the translators. The kids got a kick out of the cards that played music. One card had a recorded message from her sponsor familyr, the Dineens. Her face lit up when she heard their voices.

I had given Emily, the member of our team
Kids anxiously waiting for their turn to
receive a care package.
coordinating the care packages, a list of the kids sponsored by families that we knew. When one of them came out, I took a short break to have my picture taken with him or her. There were a couple of instances when I couldn't break away, so Michael or Allison had their pictures taken. When Kalkidan came out, both Michael and Allison helped her to go through her care package.

At lunch time, a few of us got to go on a home visit. Michael, Allison, and Patty went to visit Kalkidan and Abebaw's home. When Lori went to visit last year, she was surprised that they had electricity and a television. This year, the television was gone. Theirs is a two room home, one for the parents and the other for the kids. Kalkidan and Abebaw sleep on a thin twin mattress. Their older brother, who works, sleeps on another mattress.

While the rest of us waited on the bus, John had started talking about Belete, the boy who had drowned. The girl with him, who I thought was his sponsored daughter, started crying, which made Ginger's sponsored daughter start crying. 

At the next stop, John asked Allison and Michael to join him so they could see another home. He specifically
asked Allison to take pictures. After about 15 minutes, Allison comes rushing into the bus in tears. She sat down next to me and explained that we had visited Belete's mother and aunt, that the girl that was with them was Belete's cousin. John nad brought a care package for Belete's mother. Allison said she held it together until she walked out the door, at which point she started sobbing. She didn't cry for long, but it clearly touched her.

The next stop was to the house of Ginger's sponsored child. Again, Allison went in to take pictures. While we were waiting, Michael handed out rubber band bracelets (given to us by the Vachets and Becky Pobliego) and pens. Lots of kids came running for the pens and bracelets, and an adult asked if she could have one of the bracelets.

Next was our stop. I want to understand as much as possible the lives of the kids sponsored by families we know. This year, I chose to visit Natnael's home, sponsored by David and Linda Gregory.

Natnael is a thirteen year old boy, a head shorter than Michael, but the same age. I had spent time playing with him two years ago. He had been distant at first, but quickly warmed to me. This year, he was quickly by my side, reaching for my hand whenever possible. He was very excited to have me visiting his home.

Natnael's home. He lives here with his mother
and three siblings.
Natnael lives with his sister, two brothers, and mother in a 12' by 15' one room apartment. There is no electricity, nor is there a window. The natural light comes by way of the open door. Natnael's mother is a cleaner, but also cares for her kids. Natnael's older brother goes to school, but his younger siblings are at home. They are extremely malnourished. Natnael's father passed away while his mother was pregnant with her youngest. I didn't ask how but I learned that malaria is the most common reason for death in Kombolcha.

The family has only lived in the apartment for six months, having recently moved there because the
Two of Natnael's siblings and their mother. Their
oldest brother was in school when we visited.
mother decided she needed her kids to be in a nicer and bigger place in a better neighborhood. She was extremely grateful that Natnael was being sponsored and the opportunity it was giving him. She says she would love to have her other kids in the program but the current rule is that only one child per family can participate unless a sponsor steps forward. Last year, Abebaw, Kalkidan's brother, was not in the program until our friend Carey Douglas, who was on the trip, agreed to sponsor him.

We gave the family gifts of cooking oil and coffee and said our good bye. She again tanked us for what we were doing for Natnael.

On the bus, I asked Fikre about one of Natnael's sisters. She had been sitting quietly next to her mother. She had lesions on her face and crusted bumps on the top of her head. He suspected it was a fungus that could be treated with a topical cream. I asked what kind of access to medical care she might have. He replied that because she is not in the program, she cannot be seen a the care point. A doctor plus the medicine she needs would cost about 150 birr. That's the equivalent of about $10. In the U.S., you can't hardly walk into the doctor's office for $10. I gave Fikre the money and he said that the care point staff would take her to get care. (I later got word that they had taken her to the doctor, she had received cream, and it would be cleared up within a week. She has a follow up appointment next week. Once again, it's amazing how little it takes to make such a big difference.

Back at the care point, we continued handing out care packages. It went very smoothly, and the kids were very appreciative. They especially love receiving photos of their sponsor families. Many walk around asking each of us if we know the people in the photos.

When I sat with the Wise's sponsored child, Seada, and the Masse's sponsored child, Hanok, I pulled out my phone. Last spring I had chaperoned a trip to Nature's Classroom at Cape Cod and had taken pictures of Jaden Wise and Colby Masse after they had done their "camouflage" session. I showed them the photos, which got smiles.

Back at the hotel, and after another long dinner, I joined the group outside for sugar cane. Sugar cane grows natively in Ethiopia and is quite the treat. Sugar cane looks like bamboo from the outside, only it is thicker (3-4 inches in diameter). The sugar cane is quartered and you rip off a strip of the fibrous material with your teeth, chew on it to pull out the very sweet juice, and then spit out the remaining pulp. While the taste is not bad, it feels like you're chewing on wood. I have a rule that any food you eat should not require more work than the enjoyment  you get out of said food (For example, buffalo wings are too much work for too little return. Same goes for ribs.)

The day was then done, and it was off to bed. Tomorrow is the last day of the formal VBS before the feast on Friday.
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Two other notes:

1. Speaking of the feast, the main course arrived at the care point today. They have the three lambs tied up out back. I tried to take pictures of dinner, but it kept moving.

2. Still no Besrate. Yonas says he is taking national exams at school, but should be here tomorrow.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Day 4: Tuesday

A relatively uneventful day.

We arrived at the care point, mingled with the kids, and ran through our VBS program.

I'm in the rec group this year. There were supposed to be three of us, but John stayed at the hotel because he was sick, so Patty and I ran the show. Our space is half of an enclosed structure with a dirt floor. In the corner is a pile of rocks and an old ladder with rusty nails sticking out of it.

I want to keep it simple. While there are plenty of translators, you can't always depend on having one nearby. I also wanted to keep it calm since I had heard from last year how dusty it got. We had two games.

First, we created a 3x3 grid on the wall, first with chalk and then with masking tape, and numbered each of
the squares. The kid was blind-folded and told which number to find.

Second, we laid out jump ropes in circles and had the kids toss bags into the circles. There was a large circle and two small circles. After the kids got bored, I formed the jump rope in a circle and held it aloft for the kids to throw the bags through. Over time, I made the hole smaller and smaller.

The kids had a great time, and it was great to see Patty enjoying herself too.

It was interesting to see the low standards at least one of the translators had for these kids. The smaller circle I had formed out of the jump ropes were about eight inches wide. The translator told me the circle was too small and took it upon himself to make it bigger. As soon as he left, I made them smaller again. While the kids couldn't hit them at first, after time many of them were nailing it. I can't help but wonder whether there are low expectations for these kids.

After 90 minutes, the kids gather in the sanctuary for bananas and bread. There were supposed to be oranges, but none could be found in Kombolcha. After our good-byes, we went to the back office to debrief, eat our lunch, and rest. Jen, our resident nurse, brought chocolate peanut butter. It was delicious!

Michael had been outside during the morning session and had gotten overheated. Jen gave him an electrolyte packet to add to his water. He proclaimed it was gross, but we made him drink it. Riana tried to make it easier for him by giving him a nutribar to eat between drinks. That didn't help much. Joy gave him a squirt of her liquid water enhancer. Michael liked it then and was able to finish it off.

Allison's station is crafts. She's been a great help to Bre, who is running that station.

We returned to the hotel. Michael, Allison, and I took a short walk. We tend to stick out in Ethiopia so were the subject of many stares.

After our walk we headed back to the care point to do the VBS for the second group of kids. To our surprise, many of the kids had returned. Apparently, many of them had received permission to miss school so they could come to the drop in center all day.

It was pretty hectic, but we managed. I spent time with Seada, Noredin, and Abebaw as well as the ever present Karina and Kalkidan.

Back to the hotel, another long dinner, and down for the night.

Allison and Michael went down for sugar cane with Fikre and the others. Michael loved it, while Allison didn't care for it.
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Still no sign of Beserete. I will ask if I don't see him tomorrow.


Sunday, March 23, 2014

Day 3: Monday

Being ready to leave at 5:30 was not a problem for us, as we were seriously jet-lagged. Allison woke up at 1 a.m. and worked on homework (impressive, eh?) Michael rolled around in bed. I woke up at 2, but was able to go back to sleep until 5 (I hadn't had a good sleep since the hotel on Friday night). My wakeup call was the call to prayer from either the Greek Orthodox church or the mosque down the street that was said over the loud speaker. The call went on for a long time.

Unfortunately, while we were ready to leave at 5:30, the luggage wasn't and by the time everything was tied down it was almost 6:30.

I've written before about the amazing journey from Addis to Kombolcha. The geography varies from what you would see in the Great Plains states to the barren hills of parts of eastern Washington to the lush forests of the Pacific Northwest to the deserts of Arizona to the hills and mountains of southern California. Along the way, you drive through small villages bustling with activity, past the traditional Ethiopian wood and mud huts with thatched roofs, livestock everywhere, and people walking to destinations known only to them even in what is seemingly the middle of nowhere for unimaginable distances. As was the case with each of my other trips, I didn't want to take my eyes off of the scenery. There was something new to see around every turn.

I did use some of the time to study. When I was in Kombolcha two years ago, the kids were desperate for me to learn their names. I'm terrible at remembering names, so I had printed photos of the kids sponsored by our friends and family and wrote their names and the name of his or her sponsor on the back. I drilled myself until I had them down. I had also printed out a sheet of common Amharic terms and tried to memorize as many of those as possible. (I really want to learn Amharic.)

At our lunch stop, a small boy came walking by.
Michael and Glen running after the shepherd boy
to give him a rubber ball.
Glen asked Fikre if it would be okay to give him some food (we were eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches). Allison and Michael thought it would be nice to give him one of two small rubber balls they had brought with them. By the time they got the ball of of the bus the boy was far down the road. Michael and Glen decided to run down the road after him. It was a bit disconcerting to see Michael far off in the distance but I knew he was in good hands. After Michael had given the boy the ball, the boy wandered into the nearby field full of livestock. Apparently, the boy is a shepherd.

The shepherd boy returning to get some
food for his friend.
A few minutes after their return, the same boy comes walking back from the direction they had come with another boy. I'm not sure whether it was his brother or a friend, but nonetheless, he also got a sandwich and the other ball. They were very happy and grateful.

Finally, after ten hours of driving, we arrived at the now familiar Sunny Side Hotel. It's certainly not a Hilton, but it's pretty comfortable and the staff are friendly and helpful. Glen and I are sharing a room, and Allison and Michael are roommates. Initially, our rooms weren't in the same building, but they quickly rearranged our rooms so we were across the hall from each other.

After a brief rest, we were off to the care point to meet the kids. We were brought to the front of the room for introductions. I immediately started searching for familiar faces. They had grown a lot since I'd first met them five years ago. 

My drilling served me well. The first child I saw was Karima, sponsored by Lori's aunt and uncle. She is a spark plug (I had spent a lot of time with her two years ago). Her face lip up when I called out her name. Next I saw Natnael, sponsored by my boss and his wife, David and Linda Gregory. Then came Henok, sponsored by our friends the Masse's. Finally, I saw Seada, sponsored by our friends the Wise's. Over the next ten minutes, I found most of the kids I had come to know. However, I couldn't find Kalkidan, the girl we sponsor. Nor could I find Besrate, sponsored by our friends the Morris'. I had visited his home on the last trip.

We were then seated, as the children had prepared a short program for us. One girl welcomed us, and then a choir sang us two amazing songs. All the time, I was looking for Kalkidan and Besrate.

Belete in 2012
One face I knew would be missing was Belete. Belete was an older boy who was highly regarded by the other kids. A joyful personality, he had the traits of a natural leader. In 2012, someone had donated hair bands. The girls thought it would be fun to try to get the boys to wear them. None of the boys thought it was something they should be doing, until Belete put one on. Suddenly, everyone was sporting a head band. Everyone loved Belete.

Last November, we learned that Belete had drowned. I, as I'm sure was the case for everyone who knew him, was devastated. There would be no Belete at this visit.

After the program,we mingled with the kids. I still hadn't found Kalkidan, so asked Fikre to find her. After a minute, there she was, much taller than I'd remembered her, and even more graceful but the same beautiful smile. She gave me a big hug and then got hugs from Michael and Allison.

Michael and Allison were immediately swamped by kids hugging them, kissing Michael, and running fingers through their hair. It was great to see them interacting with the others and having a good time.

After thirty minutes, we said our good-byes and promised to return "tomorrow." Tomorrow is in quotes because it is one of the words the kids seem to know and were constantly asking us that one word as we were leaving.

We returned to the hotel, had dinner (which tends to take forever, and turned in for the night. Tomorrow, our first day of Vacation Bible School.
-------------------
I had mentioned that Patty had her travel plans altered by United and was supposed to fly from South Carolina to Philadelphia to London to Addis. I learned before we left Addis that United had sent her from South Carolina to Philadelphia to North Carolina to Dulles to catch the next day's direct flight on Ethiopian Airlines. United hadn't offered Patty a hotel, so she had to spend the night at the airport (sleeping behind the ticket counter).

Patty had spoken to Lori, who gave her detailed instructions on how to navigate customs and baggage claim once she got to Ethiopia. Becka David, one of our coordinators, and Zelalem went to pick her up at the airport while we left for Kombolcha. Patty was waiting for us at the hotel upon our arrival. She was tired, but grateful to be with us. It was great to see her.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Day 2: Sunday

I remember the first time we drove through the streets of Addis. We had arrived to bring Daniel home. It was late at night and we were exhausted. It felt strange and uncomfortable. Everything was unfamiliar. No recognizable stores or restaurants. Our route to the hotel involved lots of twists and turns.

This is my fifth trip to Ethiopia. What was then unfamiliar is no longer so. The airport parking lot, once overwhelming because of its chaos, is a welcome sight. The ride through the city is now as easy as riding through Chicago or Boston (not that I would ever drive here...). I am comforted by what I recognize (places where we've eaten dinner or shopped, landmarks, buildings) and impressed by the new construction that has taken place since my last visit.

We arrive at the guest house, check in, and unload the bags. Fortunately, we didn't have to haul every upstairs. The elevation in Addis is very high and walking up stairs, even for someone in good shape, is tiring. This place has no elevator, so the thought of carrying fifty pound suitcases up to the third floor is tiring in of itself. We were able to leave the bags with donations in a small room on the first floor.

A quick lunch and a power nap and I was ready to go. However, the kids had not slept on the plane either so were wiped out. After lunch, they collapsed. They had wanted to go for a walk, but I couldn't bring myself to wake them up. Lori and I have always had a rule to not wake a sleeping child. We can't always follow that rule, but it's a good general principle. At 3:30 though, I started to worry that if I let them sleep much longer they wouldn't sleep that night. However, they were sleeping so peacefully, I left them alone.

Michael came down at 4:00. Allison was still sleeping. Knowing I would get grief for not waking her, Glen Michael, and I left anyways.

Boys playing soccer in the road's median
So here's another sign of how comfortable I am now in Addis. Six years ago, we would never have ventured out on our own. Three years ago, we only walked when we had specifically asked our guides where it was okay to go. This time, we just went. The others in our group didn't seem too keen on what we were doing! We walked by stores, past lots of people hanging out on the streets, and saw a bunch of kids playing soccer in the road's median with a ball that looked like nothing more than a big ball of string. Michael was tempted to go play with them, but opted out. We stopped by a store to buy bananas (we paid the equivalent of $1.50 for a dozen bananas).

Bananas are amazing here. In the U.S., our bananas come from Mexico or South America. So that they're not rotten by the time they get to us, they're picked when they're still greet. They're (sometimes) yellow by the time they get to us.

In Ethiopia, bananas are picked ripe from the tree. As a result, they're sweeter and have much more taste. The others at the guest house enjoyed the nice treat and Michael was thrilled to share.

Thirty minutes after our return, Allison comes sauntering down, still half asleep, but unhappy that I didn't wake her up. I offered to go on another walk, which she agreed to. Fikre, a member of the Children's Hopechest staff, went with us so we could buy minutes for our mobile phone.

On our earlier walk, a street vendor was selling socks and Michael saw a pair he really liked. Fikre asked the man about its cost. Fikre told us that they cost 20 birr, but he had negotiated it down to 18 birr (a difference of about 20 cents). Michael is thrilled with his new acquisition.

After our return from the walk we had dinner, got a quick talk from Rob and Becka about the week, and went off to bed. Although wakeup time will be early (we are leaving at 5:30 am), chances are we will all be awake as jet lag means most of us will be up long before then.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Kombolcha 2014: The Journey Begins

This will be my fifth trip to Ethiopia, and my third to Kombolcha. While I'm not nearly as anxious as I have on previous trips, I'm still pretty excited to see the kids I've gotten to know so well since my first trip in 1999.

Lots of familiar faces in this 1999 photo. 

Playing Duck, Duck, Goose in 1999. This is
Besrate, sponsored by our friends the Morris'.



One new aspect of this trip will be the inclusion of Allison (16) and Michael (13). Benjamin went with Lori last year as a nine year old.

I am excited to see how the two teenagers interact with the kids of Kombolcha. They both have big hearts, so I know it will be a good experience. Also going on this trip are our friend Glen Bogdanovich and my cousin Patty. Glen's wife, Mindi, went last year.

The trip started easily enough. We picked up Glen at a parking lot, and then went to meet Michael and Allison at their schools.

The itinerary is a little crazy. We are flying out of Boston on Friday, staying the night at a hotel near Dulles airport, and meeting the rest of the group Saturday morning for a 10:15 flight. Despite some unexpected traffic in Boston, we made it to the airport in good time. Lori dropped us off and we said our good-byes.

 At Logan airport. It's scary how much I
look like my father in this picture 
(in the hat that used to belong to him). With me are
Allison, Michael, and our friend Glen Bogdanovich.

Lori had called United, who assured her that we would be able to check our nine suitcases (50 pounds each) through to Addis. Our first surprise came at the check-in counter. United would not check our bags through since had more than a six hour layover. We had to get our bags in D.C. and haul them to the hotel. We had a very nice porter (I think he was from Ethiopia) who helped us get our bags off the conveyor belt and to the hotel shuttle stop. Despite being told the shuttle would take five minutes, we waited almost another hour outside (temperature was about 20 degrees) for its arrival.

Late night pizza, good night's sleep, breakfast, and what I knew would be the last decent shower for ten days, we loaded our bags in the shuttle for a return trip to the airport. We met up with the rest of the group and took off for Ethiopia.


 
On the plane, ready to fly.

There was another snag. I received a text from Patty at 6:30 am that United had canceled her flight out of South Carolina. She would not make the connection in D.C., and in fact been rerouted through Philadelphia to London and then on to Addis. Since Patty had never been to Ethiopia, this was not welcome news. I spent the next three hours trying to call her to no avail. Finally, as we were boarding, she called to give me her itinerary. What she told me didn't make any sense, as the time she was to arrive in Addis was an hour before she was supposed to be landing in London. I don't think time travel has been invented yet. I suggested she get more info from United. I also gave her Zalalem's phone number and assured her someone would meet her at the airport in Addis.

Uneventful flight. Watched several movies, ate lots of bad airplane food, and unfortunately didn't sleep a wink.

It wasn't for the lack of trying. I sat in the middle seat between the kids, and they were really fidgety.

Landing was easy, customs took a long time (45 minutes) but was uneventful, baggage claim went off without a hitch, and we were released into the warm Ethiopian sunshine and the country I've come to know so well over the past six years.

Monday, March 17, 2014

 Sponsor kids with connections to Belchertown! Way to go Belchertown we can make a difference!!!
 2014 Kombolcha team!


 Allison and our sponsor daughter Kalkidan ready for a home visit.
 2014 team at Enoto Mountain.
 A sneak peak.

More to come...

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Afternoon update from Kombolcha: Today is care package day! It's been a crazy day of anticipation as each child is waiting for their name to be called!! The children are LOVING their care packages. John Logan is feeling better but Laken has tummy issues and stayed back at the hotel. Ginger is not feeling 100% but is participating in camp. I think Rob slept last night! Please continue to be in prayer for our team.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Tuesday Update- John Logan has a stomach bug- and Ginger Burks is not feeling well- please continue to pray for them. Rob is trying to go to sleep now. The camp went well today. The children had a great time and didn't want to leave! There are a few minor logistical issues- the area for Recreation has two HUGE mounds of dirt on them. But Glen is doing a great job of working around them. There is no internet so we don't have any pictures to share yet. Joy Sturgill, Allison L and Stephanie C. had a dance off during camp and the kids loved it! Tomorrow is Care package day!

Monday, March 10, 2014

On Friday March 7, We arrived at Boston airport with 9 50 pound bags and 7 15 pound bags. We checked in hoping that we could check our bags all the way to Ethiopia! Well United said that our lay over was longer than 6 hours at Dulles and we would have to take all our bags with us on the shuttle to the hotel! 


 Saturday morning, our world travelers are ready to go!
 Ready for a really long flight to Ethiopia!
 Sunday morning in Ethiopia, spending time in Ethiopia in devotion.
 Monday morning, just before 5:30, loading the van for Kombolcha!
 The team is ready for the drive to Kombolcha.

Lori here, 

The trip is going well, it has started with a few road bumps! Rob, our team pastor was sick and one team member had her flight cancelled and didn't make the flight with the team. Rob is feeling better and Patty is now with the team! There is no internet in Kombolcha, and it is not looking like there will be any for the week! So I will update what I can. 
The team arrived in Kombolcha today. The kids sang to the team. They spent time loving on the kids and playing with them! The girls thought Michael was cute and liked telling Allison that. Tom said that Allison and Michael had kids all around them. Tom is specifically looking for all of  the sponsor kids of our friends and families. He spent time with 3 or 4 of them today.
One fun thing from today, while eating their picnic lunch Allison and Michael offered a kid on the side of the road some food. After he walked away, Allison said I should have given him one of the balls I had in my bag. They ran back to the van to get a ball, by the time she dug through her bag, he was a long way down the road. She was ready to give up! Glen told her to run, and together with Michael they ran after the kid to give him a ball! Soon the kid ran back with a friend asking for another ball. They gave him a ball, and gave them empty water bottles from the van. The kids posed for pictures with Allison and Michael!
Now we need to wait for internet to see pictures and hear stories in their words! 

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Our bags are (almost) packed. We're (almost) ready to go.

Dear friends and family,

Michael, Allison, and I will leave for Ethiopia on Saturday, March 8. We fly to Dulles airport on Friday night with our friend Glen Bogdanovich (for whom this is his first trip. His wife Myndi traveled with Lori and Benjamin last year). On Saturday morning, we'll meet up with my cousin Patty, and many friends as well as soon to be friends.

Seven suitcases full of donations and one bag
with Allison's clothes. More bags yet to pack.

We will arrive in Ethiopia on Sunday, spend the night in Addis Ababa, and make the ten hour drive to Kombolcha on Monday. We'll spend late Monday, and Tuesday through Friday with the kids. Next year, we will begin working with a second care point, so we will also be visiting that location. We'll drive back to Addis Ababa the next day, spend Sunday and Monday attending church and being tourists and will leave Ethiopia late Monday night, returning to the U.S. early Tuesday morning. Ethiopia is eight hours ahead of Eastern time.

I will post photos and other info about our trip as time and Internet access allows. Thank you for your prayers and support during our trip.

Tom

P.S. Did you know you can set Blogger up to receive an email when this blog is updated? Go to http://www.blogger.com and login with your Google account. Click on the "Add" button under "Reading List" and add "laughners.blogspot.com."