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.