Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Journey Back To Addis

March 15, 2015

We've spent the better part of a week in Kombolcha. It was a fantastic time. I love watching the kids at Meseret growing and flourishing. A few of the kids are preparing to leave the program, as they have finished school. One of them came to me on Friday to talk about all of her great plans. She was getting ready to work as a waitress, but also wanted to start her own business. She was very proud (rightly so) of her accomplishments. As one of the goals of the program is to help the kids become self-sustaining, she is definitely a success story.

We were awake early to check out of the hotel and begin our journey. The plan had been to leave at 6:30, but we weren't ready to pull out until 7:00am. We posed for a group photo in front of the Sunny Side.

Our team. Don't believe everything you see!

So, this photo is kind of an illusion and would never be able to published in a newspaper. We wanted the whole team, but didn't have someone to take the photo. So, this photo is actually a composite. Myndi took one picture and then Rob took another. Through the magic of Photoshop, everyone was combined into one picture. If you look closely, you can see who was edited in.

The trip was pretty uneventful. In fact, it seemed to be the fastest we've taken the trip. We had to stop once for a bathroom break, and stopped to see the baboons. There was one stretch where what seemed like 15-20 baboons were lining the road. However, there is one hillside that reguarly has baboons walking around in an open field. A group of us walked up a steep hill (away from the baboons) with a spectacular view. A few locals followed us up the hill, hawking various handmade items, including a hat with a tuft of baboon hair sticking out of the top. Benjamin and Ty each purchased one.









Ty and Benjamin sporting their baboon hats, along with the guys who sold them to us.
Note the spectacular view behind us!

Our only stop was for lunch, about two hours outside of Addis. It was a spectacularly sunny day, and (knowing how cold it was back home) we enjoyed the time outside, soaking in the warmth.
Once we returned to Addis, we unpacked our now empty suitcases. I was anxious to start posting my blog entries, but learned quickly that not only did we not have Internet, but we also didn't have electricity. No way to recharge our devices! What would we do? How would we survive without Internet? :-)

I also needed to purchase Addis Tea, so Benjamin and I walked down to the corner to see what we could find. A sign of our comfort here is that we are willing to take these treks on our own. When we came the first time, we didn't go anywhere without a translator.

Benjamin was wearing his Ethiopian soccer jersey, so many of the kids were yelling "Ethiopia!" at him as we walked by.

At the store, I managed to convey to the store clerk what we were looking for. I needed ten boxes, but because Rob Tennant had beat me to this store, there were only five left, which I purchased and bagged up. I needed five more boxes, so we wandered from store to store. We walked into one store, and me, thinking I was being clever, held up a box of what I had already purchased, thinking I was indicating what I wanted. The clerk shook her head no, so we walked out, only to be chased down by the clerk asking us to return. A new woman, dressed in head to toe in black, with only her eyes showing, spoke perfect English, asking us what we needed. I explained to her I needed five boxes of Addis Tea. After some more explanation, it seems that the clerk thought we were trying to sell her our tea.

We walked back to the guest house (still no electricity), had a nice dinner, and sat around talking. Most everyone was pretty tired, so wandered off to bed. Neither Benjamin nor I were tired so we sat in the living room and played cards (he clobbered me). The electricity and Internet came on for about ten minutes, which gave me time to check in with Lori. Unfortunately, it went back out and would stay out for the rest of our time in Addis.

Tomorrow will be a very special day. Benjamin is being baptized. He spent some time tonight talking to Rob. It will be a memorable day.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Feast Day and Good-Byes


March 14, 2015

Friday. Our last day in Kombolcha. The end of a great week with the kids. A great day because of all of the smiles as kids are eating the feast. A sad day knowing many of those smiles will soon be replaced with tears. A humbling day because of the foot washing ceremony. A satisfying day because we have seen how well these kids are being cared for by the staff at Meseret Christos. A reflective day as I think about all of the things we have experienced in the short time we've been here.

We have a full day scheduled. We will go to Meseret for foot washing, the feast, and good-byes. We'll then go to Grace Baptist to observe the food distribution to the families of the kids in that program, take pictures of the kids that have been sponsored, and hang out with the kids. Then, we'll head back to Meseret to have dinner with the church leadership.

First, the foot washing.

Foot washing
We started this a few years ago, as part of one of Rob's Bible lessons. Each of our team takes turn washing the feet of the kids, just as Jesus did in the Bible. It's very special to us, and we take it seriously. Some of us seek out kids we've become especially attached to. The kids are able to opt out if they're not comfortable with it. I'm not sure how many choose not to participate. It's a well oiled machine, as we are taking turns washing feet while others are making sure we have clean water and dry towels. Since we are kneeling while doing this, we take turns to give our knees a break. In what seems like no time, all of the 150 kids who want to, have had their feet washed. Many of the kids, then, ask to wash our feet. They, too, take this very seriously, meticulously soaping our feet. Four different kids asked to wash my feet; I must have had the cleanest feet on the planet!

Benjamin, getting his feet washed
I was especially touched when one of the translators, Taweke, asked to wash my feet. I have known him for many years, as he was originally at Grace Baptist when we first visited in 2009. We are connected through Facebook and I am proud to call him a friend. As he was washing my feet, he prayed for me. It was very moving, and even now as I write this, can feel the emotions from those few minutes. I gave him a big hug afterwards and thanked him for everything.

Benjamin rocking the painted
fingernails.
As the kids were finished getting their feet washed, they participated in finger and toe nail painting. Benjamin was sporting brightly colored digits. Zelalem and Ben Johnson walked away with bright pink fingernails. While Benjamin spent an hour tonight scraping the polish away, Zelalem and Ben continue to proudly sport their nails.

A highlight of the day was when one of the kids started banging on a drum in the corner. Suddenly, three or four of the kids were banging on the drum, while others started singing and dancing. Benajmin quickly got into the middle of it and was having a grand time dancing with the kids. Ethiopian dancing has some distinctive moves that have to be seen to be fully understood. The kids were teaching Benjamin some of these moves. Most of the kids, and even the adults, were singing, and dancing, and clapping. It was a spontaneous moment, but one that will be a defining moment of the week. The laughter and joy were infectious. Even the older kids who tended to be a bit stand-offish were enjoying themselves.

Next came the feast. There are three tables of food. One table is for the Christian kids. It had goat, injera, bread, a vegetable dish of potatoes, carrots, and onions, and soda. The second table was for Moslems, which had the same food but the goats had been blessed by a Moslem cleric before being killed. The final table was for the Greek Orthodox kids. Since it is Lent, they are fasting, so there was no goat available (I believe they had lentil). We jumped in to help serve and were told to be sure to give generous helpings. There was plenty of food so every kid that wanted seconds or thirds or even fourths was able to have it. We also give the kids mangoes and bananas. There would be no one hungry at the end of this day!

I have to say a word about how the mangoes were eaten. Mangoes have a tough (not tough like hard to bite, but tough as in durable), but edible skin. The kids would slowly massage and knead the mango inside the skin until it was mush. Then, they bite a small hole in the skin and squeeze the mango through the small opening, similar to a "gogurt." It was fun to watch.

After clean up, and passing out inflatable globes, it was time for good-byes. We were told to line up at the gate and the kids would say their farewell as they left the compound. I think there was an intention that if the kids were to say good-bye on their way out they would not linger. And that worked for some of them. However, many of them stayed and kept circling through again and again. A few of the kids were sobbing. There is one girl, Karima (sponsored by Lori's aunt and uncle) who seems to be especially connected to me. Throughout the week, she has a tough persona. She's full of smiles, but she doesn't take anything from anyone. Today, she cried and cried. I held her tight, and she just sobbed in my arms. Some of the kids start out teasing the others who are crying but by the end, they are also shedding tears. Natnael, another kid who always seeks me out, tried very hard not to cry, but you could see he was at first holding back the emotion, but finally could not stop from crying.

I'm not sure why they are so emotional. I was very surprised the first year we were here when they started crying on the last day. One of our translators later told us that the ferengi (foreigners) always cry, but this was the first time he'd seen the kids cry too. We're only here for a few days, they know by now that we are coming back next year, yet they are so emotional when we leave.

I'm also given several messages to pass along to sponsors. The overall theme of the messages I'm to pass along are to thank them for their support and to God Bless them, asking when they are coming to visit, thanking them for the care package, and to let them know they are doing well.

So the good-byes go on for at least forty minutes. I don't want to leave, so am happy to hug and console as long as I can get away with it. Karima comes back to me several times, and meets me again just as I'm about to get into the van, still sobbing uncontrolably.

It is a quiet and reflective ride to Grace Baptist.

Our agenda at Grace Baptist is two-fold. First, we are to observe the distribution of teff and cooking oil to the families of the kids at the care point. Typically, a care point needs at least half of the kids sponsored before such a food program can begin. Because of the generosity of our family and friends, along with others on our team, we were all able to donate enough money to start the food program before that benchmark was reached. In fact, there should be enough money to pay for two months of the food program. Hopefully, before then, we'll get to 50% sponsorship.





The kids at the new care point
Benjamin hamming it up with one of the boys at Grace Baptist.
We also needed to take pictures of the 20 kids who are already sponsored. Myndi and Ben took care of the pictures, while Patricia, Benjamin, and Ty sang with the kids. Brittany was on the floor playing games with other kids. These kids are between the ages of three and ten. They're the age the kids at Meseret were when we first came here in 2009. I'm looking forward to getting to know these kids better. We spent an hour or so hanging out and having fun.








Amy, Yonas, and Aden,
staff at Mesert Christos
After a quick rest at the hotel, it was back to Meseret to have dinner with the church leadership. It was a great feast, and it was nice getting to talk with everyone. There are three people who spend the most time overseeing the program: Yonas, his wife Amy, and Aden. It is obvious how much they care about the kids. Wednesday, one of the kids was off in a corner not participating in the activities. Yonas went over to him and spent at least half an hour with his arm around him, counseling him. The love they have for these kids is a joy to see.

It will be an early morning tomorrow, as we head back to Addis. The plan is to leave at 6:30 am. I can't believe the week is over already

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Volleyball and Bicycles

March 13, 2015

It's Thursday already. Months and months of preparation are put into this week and just like that it's over.

The setup for today was exactly like yesterday: Bible story followed by a rotation of rec, music, and crafts. Today, the kids are making bead bracelets. Rec includes volleyball, which was a blast and something the kids definitely enjoyed. Ben Johnson had a parachute rope, to which Glen tied colored ribbons and strung it up across the yard.  It was clear that the kids have played this game, as they were pretty good at it (much, much better than me!, but that doesn't take much). At first, Glen and I tried to get them to rotate positions after every side out. That quickly became too much to worry about, especially with the larger groups, so we just made sure everyone had a chance to serve.

The older girls tend to keep their distance, especially the Moslems who are wearing head scarves. One girl was standing off to the side, not participating much. After everyone had a chance to serve, I held the ball out to her for a turn, expecting that she would decline. However, she took the ball and killed it! She served at least five times, most of the balls not even having a chance of making it both over the net.

Again, all of the kids received bananas and bread.

One of the things I love about these trips is the people I meet on our teams. New to the team this year are Brian Guy, an attorney with the federal government in Washington, DC. Tom Davis, the founder of Children's Hopechest, had spoken at his church which gave Brian the opportunity to start sponsorship. Anna Gardner is a member of Hillsong Church and a college student and works as a nanny. Ben and Patricia Johnson also attend Hillsong, and are from Washington state. All four of them are wonderful people. It was great getting to know them. All four of them sponsor children in Kombolcha. Anna's claim to fame is that she was the first to sign up for sponsorship at Grace Baptist, the new care point.

When Ben and Patricia did their home visit, they learned that their child's mother, the primary wage earner for the family, had passed away. The father was disabled and was not able to work. However, because he was a veteran, he had been given a small amount of land in Kombolcha. Through conversations with the dad and Fikre (our Children's Hopechest facilitator), Ben and Patricia decided to buy a couple of bicycles so the father could start a bicycle rental business. The father did not know they were going to make this purchase. I wasn't there when the bicycles were delivered, but it was apparently quite touching and the dad was very appreciative of the Johnson's generosity. The dad also received information about how to maintain the bikes and run the business. This gift reinforces the philosophy that we want to help these kids and their families become self sufficient.

Tomorrow is feast day. We will also be saying our good-byes, which is always emotional for us and the kids.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

More Home Visits! and a Dark Trek

March 12, 2015

Today was the first true day of the Vacation Bible School. We're a small team, and each of us have been assigned a station. There are two sessions, one in the morning and the other in the afternoon. The kids are supposed to come either before or after school, depending on their schedules.

Last year, many of the kids skipped school and came during both sessions. This year, Candy had sent along red and yellow wrist bands so we could tell when they were supposed to be there. We knew very quickly, though, that they were not going to work. We found them on the ground, and somehow, some of the kids had multiple wrist bands, some of the same color, and some with each color. Myndi observed that these kids only see us for a few days per year, and if they want to attend both sessions, so be it. Our only concern was whether we had enough supplies.

Each of us are assigned a station. Rob starts out with a Bible lesson and then the kids rotate to one of three stations (music, crafts, and rec). Benjamin and I have been assigned to rec, along with our friends Glen Bogdanovich and his son Ty and our new friend Brian. For rec, we divide the group in two. Half start out playing hot potato and the other half can throw cloth frisbees, do a bean bag toss, or play with a parachute.
Hot potato is fun. The kids sit in a circle, passing a ball around while someone looks away and counts to three (in Amharic, it would be "Aunt, Zost, Hoolet"). Whoever has the ball on Hoolet is out and has to come help count. This continues until there is only one person left. We try to keep them on their toes by sometimes counting to four ("Arat"), or only counting to "Aunt" or "Zost"). It is a loud and joyous time.

After twenty minutes everyone rotates to the next station.

Another problem we had last year was that some kids decided they didn't want to do a certain station, so would slip back into their favorite activity. We'd often end up with the same kids several times over. This year, Candy had each of the kids wear name tags with one of three colored stickers (blue, orange, green). It was very easy for us to see where everyone should be and help find their way back to the right group.

At the end of the rotations, everyone comes back together and we distribute the bananas. The kids leave, and we had back to the hotel for lunch.

After lunch we go through the same program. Sure enough, several kids have returned for more. Sometime during the day, Natnael, a 12-year-old sponsored by my boss and his wife, hands me an envelope, letting me know it is a gift for them. How touching to know that he wants to give them a gift with the very little that he has.
We are scheduled for three home visits today.

Our first visit is to the home of Kabaye. She is sponsored by our friends the Dineens. She lives close to the care point, so we are able to get there pretty quickly. Time is against us, as we don't get started until after 5:00 and the sun is setting around 6:30. We are scheduled for four total visits, as Ben and Patricia Johnson are visiting the home of a child sponsored by someone they know from their church.

Kabaye's home is along a narrow, stone and dirt path under a canopy of trees. As is typical when walking, the path is littered with animal "bombs" from the goats and other wild animals wandering around. Her home is typical of what we've seen, a small one room house with mud walls and a packed dirt floor with a small rug, and cushions lining the outside. There is a single light bulb attached to a cord hanging from the ceiling. Kabaye's mother is not yet home from work when we arrive, but her older sister and nephew are there. We are told that the mother is on her way home.

Kabaye's mother and father are both day laborers. She shares this small home with her parents, her sister, and nephew. Five people live in this small home. I can't imagine how crowded it gets. As we prepare to leave, Kabaye's mother arrives. She is very thankful for her daughter's sponsorship and tells us that she really enjoys receiving pictures of the Dineen family. She especially loves pictures of the youngest boy (Matthew is seven years old) and would love for him to visit. 

It's 5:30 now, so after saying our good-byes, we quickly head back down the pathway to the van.
We had forgotten to buy gifts for the home visits, so we make a stop to purchase oil and coffee. Unfortunately, nothing seems to happen quickly in Ethiopia, so by the time everything is purchased, it's clear that dusk will soon be upon us.

The outside of Mohammed's home.
The inside of Mohammed's home.

Our next visit is to the home of Mohammed. Mohammed is fourteen and lives by himself. He has a sponsor (whom we do not know) but the Bogdanovich's are giving him some extra support to help him with his needs. I can't imagine taking care of myself at that age, but, with some help from neighbors and others in his community, he is completely on his own. His home, though small, is neat and organized. There are bugs crawling across the floor, but everything else is well kept.

We head back out to continue home visits, next dropping off the Johnson's and a translator at a home and drive on, heading towards Nuredin's home.

Nuredin is sponsored by the French's. We drive a very long distance to get to his home, at least seven miles. His home is close to the highway so we arrive without much of a walk. It's definitely starting to get dark. Nuredin's mother runs a coffee shop from her home, so there is a small porch with tables and chairs, underneath a tarp. Because of time, we never go inside the home.

Nuredin's family used to live in Woliso, which is south of Addis. She has two sons (Nuredin's brother is also in the program). After the boys' father died, their mother moved them to Kombolcha. Nuredin's grandmother also lives in Kombolcha, at whose house he sometimes stays (she lives much closer to the care point). One of the more touching moments occured when I played a video that Dawn French, his sponsor, had made with my phone before we left. First, his face lit up when the video started playing, even before the translator told him what Dawn was saying. I then asked him if he would make a video for Dawn. He was hesitant at first, needing several prompts from me. After a few moments, though, Nuredin started talking on his own. I haven't seen the video yet, but I'm sure it'll be a special treat for Dawn and the French's.

By now, it was completely dark. Poor Seada (sponsored by our friends, the Wise's) was in the back seat, quiet as a mouse. Fikre had gotten a message to her family to let them know she was on her way. Seada's house is close to our hotel. I had told Benjamin that I would like him to go on this visit. However, when we got out of the van, he and Myndi were directed to stay put.
Seada and her younger sister on the floor of their home.

The trek to Seada's house was very interesting. I wish there had been enough light to take pictures. The walk started on a rickety wooden bridge that traversed a smelly river (it's down stream from a brewery, which most likely was dumping waste into the water). The next half mile (in the pitch dark) was over a rocky path, sometimes no more than two feet wide, with a steep drop to the river on the left. People were walking both ways, sometimes passing shoulder to shoulder to stay on the path. Seada took turn after turn, never looking back and never hesitating. While we had our devices lit to show us the way, she needed nothing to direct her home.
 
While we were walking I started to wonder how we were going to get out of there. Seada would not be coming with us. I asked Yfruit if he knew how to get back, and he answered in the negative.

Seada, her sister, and her parents.
Finally, after what seemed like about half a mile, we arrived at Seada's home. It was typical of the homes we'd seen. Inside, her mother and little sister were waiting (her sister must be one of the cutest little girls ever). We were invited in to sit and talk. However, at this point, because of the lateness, I didn't want to keep them. We posed for photos so we could figure out how we were going to get back to the van.

As we were taking pictures, Seada's father shows up. Turns out he had been waiting for us at the bridge, but because it was so dark, he hadn't seen us. We took a few more pictures and then headed back down the narrow, rocky path and across the rickety bridge. 

Then, we headed back to the hotel to eat dinner.

While I was eating, Lori called. I walked outside to talk to her. Her news was not good (we'd already had bad news on the home front. Leia, our dog of nine years, was not doing well and had been back and forth to the vet (she's fine now, but we were worried)). Lori told me that our neighbors were moving. Benjamin and Drew have been friends since they were three years old. We shovel a path between our two houses in the winter to make it easier for them to get back and forth. Lori told me that Drew would be calling later that night to tell Benjamin the news.
At 11pm (4pm in Massachusetts), Drew called with his news. Benjamin asked no questions and said, simply, "OK. Bye." I encouraged Benjamin to ask some questions about when he would be moving and what his father would be doing. Benjamin only asked questions with my prompts, and finally hung up. There was no emotional reaction.

Benjamin and Drew at three years old.
Tomorrow, we continue VBS. We are done with our home visits.

Additional note: Ben and Patricia Johnson, and the translator had decided they didn't want to wait for us, so took a small taxi back to the hotel. The taxis in Ethiopia are interesting. They are small three-wheel vehicles, painted blue and white, usually with a curtain for a door. The driver sits in front with a steering wheel that looks more like what you'd see on a bicycle. There are hundreds of them driving around Kombolcha.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Care Packages! and a Home Visit

March 11, 2015 - Care Package Day\

Care packages ready
for distribution.
One of the best parts of this trip is handing out care packages. Candy Tennant, an organizer extrordinaire, has each of the sponsors send team members care packages for each of the kids in the program. It was a challenge this year because our team is small and we're only allowed two fifty-pound suitcases each. Candy had to specify what the care packages could contain, trying to keep them as small as possible, while still making it personal for the kids. This year, she asked that sponsors send a t-shirt burrito, a rolled shirt containing a toothbrush, toothpaste, underwear, and a few small personal items as well as a note and pictures. We also ask that candy not be included, since the kids don't have access to dental care. Needless to say, many of the sponsors find following these directions to be difficult.

As much as the kids enjoy getting the "stuff", they really enjoy the letters and photos. Some families send cards that play a song when opened, or even better, have a recorded voice. The kids will carry the pictures around with them for the rest of the day, asking each of us if we know their sponsor family. I love it when one of them shows me a picture of someone I know. And they get excited when I say that I know them. Of course, the next question is sometimes to ask when they are coming to visit. 

The kids come out to the back yard, a few at a time, and receive their t-shirt burrito. A translator sits with him or her and reads the letter. Ben Johnson and I are the official photographers, making sure we get a picture of each child with the package and then pictures as they go through the contents. It takes awhile to get going, but eventually we're going on all cylinders, getting kids through. At our peak, we had five kids matched up with five translators. At the end of the day, only four of the 150 care packages had not been distributed. There was one mixup where a child got the wrong package. I'm not sure how that got straightened out.

Nuredin,sponsored by the French family

Rani, sponsored by the LaBonte family

Awel, sponsored by my cousin Patty

Abebaw, sponsored by the Douglas family

Leave it to me to make things more complicated, but I've had two requests to Josh, who is making sure the kids get the right packages. Some of the care packages have red marks. The red marks indicate that the sponsor is a family we know, so I'd like to get my picture with the child. Some of the packages are marked with a small x. Some of the families that sponsor kids did not send care packages. Friends of ours prepared their care packages, so I have asked to be told when they come through so I can be sure to make a note so our friends can see their packages being opened. 

Inside Henok's home. This is the extent of the home. Fikre,
Children's Hopechest employee extraordinaire, is
sitting to my right. Henok is to my left, and Henok's mother
sits in front.
Another highlight of the day was our home visit. I had asked for four visits, each to a home of friends here in Belchertown who sponsor kids. I had asked to visit the homes of Henok (sponsored by the Masse's), Siada (Wise), Kabeye (Dineen), and Nuredin (French). I'm not sure who all I will get to visit, but do know that today I got to visit Henok.


Henok lives in a small house at the top of a steep, cobble-stone road. Henok leads us up the road, through a corrugated metal gate that leads to someone else's yard, through the neighbor's yard, through another corrugated metal gate that leads to Henok's house. Henok is an only child, living with his mother who is a day laborer. Their house is small, about seven by 12 feet. It has a linoleum floor, but mud floors and a corrugated metal ceiling. Small mats surround the exterior of the room. In the middle of the room, Henok's mother is preparing coffee for us.

Henok's mother welcomes us into her home, asks us to be seated on a small wooden stool, and offers us coffee. The translator politely refuses, making note that we are pressed for time. I presented her with oil and teff (the grain used for making injera). 

Henok, his mother, and I standing in front of their home.
Henok is an only child. His father left when she was pregnant, and has since passed away. They were living in Woliso (located south of Addis Ababa) but then moved to Kombolcha (located northeast of Addis Ababa) when Henok was young. She is a day laborer. They are living in government housing, which costs 8 birr per month (less than $1/month). She emphasized to me that her sonn is a very good boy and a good student. She is very grateful for the sponsorship and how much it helps her and her son make it every month. 

After getting some photos taken, we head back to the care point to distribute the rest of the care packages and then go the hotel to finish the day.

Tomorrow, we start the vacation bible school. It's a small team this year, so hopefully we have enough people to keep everything moving smoothly.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Meeting new kids, reacquainting with old friends

March 10, 2015    

One of the lessons you learn quickly in Ethiopia coincidentally coincides with one of those life skills you learn in grade school; the notion of flexibility. Nothing seems to happen on a definitive schedule. This morning, we were supposed to leave the guest house at 6:00am. The plan was to drive to the new care center (Grace Baptist)and get to know the kids as well as get pictures of the children who have already been sponsored (20 out of 100 sponsored already! Yea!). Then, we were to go to the hotel for the night. Somewhere along the way, plans changed so that we were going to spend an hour at Grace and an hour at Meseret. Then, the plans changed that we were going to go to the hotel and then to Grace without going to Meseret.

At Grace, we were to give the leaders the hygiene kits because some of the kids were so young that they felt they should not have them (they may not know how to use a toothbrush, there are needles in the sewing kits, etc.).

So everyone is up and ready to go at 6:00. All the bags are on the porch, ready to be loaded. Everyone has had breakfast, gotten our water for the day. For all of my trips here, this is the first time the team is ready on time. The problem? No translators, no vans, no drivers. They finally show up at 6:45am. To their credit, we are loaded and ready to go at 7:00am. We start our journey through Addis to Kombolcha.

Addis, like many big cities, has an air of excitement in the morning. As the sun rises, people are out walking to work, walking to school. Everyone is going somewhere. Unlike other cities in the United States, Addis is very much a walking city. It's very expensive to own a car here. You pay to value of the car, and then your taxes are 100% of the car's sales price. Although the city is crowded with cars, there are many more who depend on public transportation to get to where they need to go. There are queues for taxis and buses everywhere. The buses are packed with people. A new light rail system is in the final stages of completion, which should help with the congestion at the bus and taxi lines.

We work our way through the city, stopping for gas (so much for that theory about why they were late). This will be an eight hour drive. One hour of the drive is getting from one side of Addis to the other. Finally, we are on our way, full speed ahead.
And, let me say that by full speed ahead, I mean full speed ahead. Our driver doesn't seem to like using his brake pedal. If there is a cow in the middle of the road, his answer is to blast the horn, speed up, and go to the other lane to go around it. If there is a person walking in the road, he blasts the horn and goes full speed ahead. Later, as the roads get windy, he seems to enjoy seeing how he can accelerate into the turns. Along the way, there are bumps and dips, giving me some serious roller-coaster like air time and one pretty big head-banger on the ceiling of the van. Seventy miles an hour (130 kpg) is pretty fast when you're navigating people, taxis, and livestock.
Two hours into the ride, our driver pulls over to a restaurant. What we thought was a bathroom break turns into mealtime for the driver and staff. Some of our group decides to order food as well, which then turns into an hour stop.

I've posted photos of the drive before, so you should look at past trips for the beautiful scenery along the way. We've talked about flying into Kombolcha, but I think it's useful for new team members to see the diverse geographies of Ethiopia, from the plains to the mountains to the desert, to the rolling hills of Kombolcha. Along the way, we saw baboons hanging out by the road. It happend pretty quickly, so there was no chance to get pictures.

After about eight hours, we do a quick checkin at the hotel, reconvene in the lobby, and head off to Grace Baptist. I've been here once before, in 2009, when the kids now at Meseret Christos were here. A division in the church forced the kids to relocate and it's only now, many years later, that things have been resolved. The great thing about the ensuing turmoil is that there are now two care points instead of one which means 100 additional children will get care and nourishment.

We walk into the church to see a hundred beautiful little children, ranging in age from three to ten. Many of their family  members are there. They want to meet us and know us better. I introduce the members of our team that are there, and send regrets on behalf of those who aren't there yet (update on the rest of the team: they landed in Addis, stopped by the guest house to get showers and change clothes, and headed out to Kombolcha only to have the brakes overheat. No telling when they will arrive). Brittany is still not feeling well.

Next, as the rest of our small group starts mingling with the kids, a few of us pull out the sponsored children and take pictures. (However, I only had a partial list since Rob was supposed to bring the complete list with him and he has been delayed in the other van.)

As we're taking the photos, Zelalem comes to let me know that the kids are waiting over at Meseret after all, and we need to leave right away. Meanwhile, the church leaders decided we should distribute the hygiene kits to the kids after all (good too since their family members were there to supervise). We decide to distribute only a few of the kits ourseveles so we can get some photos, and have the staff do the rest. We do this, and we're off to Meseret.

I've known the kids at Mesert Christos since 2009. They were the age then that the kids at Grace are now. It is amazing to see how much bigger they are every year. Even though I expect changes, I am amazed at how tall they've grown. My biggest surprise, though, was little Rena. Last year, I had done a home visit with a boy who had a little sister and brother. His sister was sick and very thin. She had some sort of head fungus, which meant her head was shaved.

The rule is that only one child per family can participate at the care point unless a sponsor has already been lined up. I was very much hoping we could get this little girl into the program. When I returned after last year's trip, we approached a family at our church who had expressed an interest in sponsorship. They decided to take her on. This was Rani.

Rani is the middle child in this picture. Her head had
been shaved because of a fungus.
Rani, this year, is one of the happiest kids I've seen here.
Although this picture doesn't show it, she was one of
the happiest, bubbliest kids at the care point, so full
of energy.
She was happy, bursting with energy and enthusiasm. Her hair had grown out, and she had put on some weight. She looked like a very healthy girl. She is the poster child for the importance of this program and the influence it can have.

Again, since the rest of our team wasn't here, we introduced our small team. I explained to the group that Pastor Rob and the rest of the team were on the way and we would see them tomorrow. At the exact moment that I finished my sentence, Pastor Rob and the rest of the team showed up at the door. Hollywood couldn't have scripted it better. Loud applause ensued. We were all happy to see everyone.
We mingled with the kids for a bit, saying hi to the very familiar faces. Benjamin and Ty were instant attractions and had a great time as they made instant friends. (Play has no language barriers.)

After play time, we headed back to the hotel for dinner and a restful night (no Internet here either). Tomorrow, we distribute care packages to the kids. I'm grateful that we have everyone, as the distribution is a huge, but important and worthwhile, endeavor.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Benjamin and Ty boarding plane!
Ready to go!
Sunrise over Africa!

March 8: The Journey Begins

March 8, 2015

After a long, uneventful flight, we landed in Addis at about 8:00. I didn't get any sleep on the plane, but did catch up on some movies. I watched "Interstellar" (stay away from this one), "Penguins of Madagascar" (another one to avoid), and "Imitation Code" (a must see).

Benjamin didn't sleep either. Usually, when he doesn't sleep, we pay for it later. Keeping my fingers crossed.
The airport usually takes two hours to navigate through. You have to wait in line for your visa, wait in another line to pay for your visa, and then wait in yet another line to have your passport and visa inspected and have your picture taken. Then, you wait for your bags to claim your bags before proceeding to another line to make sure your bags are your own. Finally, you're supposed to send your bags through a final x-ray machine. Last year, though, we had seen Becka David, the person handling our trip's logistics, direct us around that line and right out the door. Becka wasn't there this year. Should we try it anyway?

There was one slight hitch to trying anything so brazen. Half of our team hadn't made the flight. For the sake of this story, I'll split our group into three parts; the Kombolcha 6, the North Carolina 5, and the California 2. The Kombolcha 6 include Myndi, Glen, and Ty Bogdanovich, our friends from Belchertown, Benjamin, and Brian Guy from Washington D.C. The six of us were able to make our flight out of Dulles.

Saturday morning, four hours before our flight, I started receiving messages from Lori and Candy Tennant. The NC5's flight had been canceled due to mechanical problems. They were going to drive to Dulles, miss the flight, and fly the next day. They would meet us in Kombolcha.

Shortly thereafter, I get another message. The wife of the person handling our trip's logistics had fallen ill on their flight from California. She was being taken to the emergency room. They, too, would miss the flight and may come on to Ethiopia, depending on her health.

So, we were a small group with no one handling our logistics. Our logician also had the contact information for the staff in Ethiopia who were to meet us and take us to the guest house.We could make a run around the xray machines, but if something happened, we had no way to contact anyone.

Our decision was made for us, as a porter walked over to us, took hold of the first of our three carts, and started walking around the xray machines. I held my breath and followed, hoping we didn't get in trouble. Fortunately, no one paid notice. Zelalem, one of our guides in Ethiopia, saw us and waved us over. We were free! He escorted us out of the airport terminal to the parking lot where our vans, drivers, and other staff were waiting, including Fikre and Yfruit.

Fikre and Yfruit work for Children's Hopechest, the organization that coordinates the sponsorship programs. I've known Fikre and Zelalem for six years, having met them on my first trip to Ethiopia in 2009. At the time, both were working for Hopechest. Zelalem now works for One Child Campaign, the organization that is handling logistics for our trips. Fikre continues to work for Children's Hopechest. Throught the power of Facebook, we are in contact with them throughout the year.

As the drivers loaded the vans with our luggage, we greeted our friends, marveled at the warmth (it was 20 degrees when we left Massachusetts, but close to 80 in Ethiopia), and loaded up for the trip to the guest house.
We arrived at the guest house, tired, but anxious to get online and update our loved ones that we had arrived safely and to get news about the rest of our team. Alas, WiFi was not working. So, most of us rested. Benjamin and Ty grabbed a soccer ball and went into the street to start a game of soccer with some of the other kids. There were about ten of them, formed into three teams, taking turns playing on the narrow, cobblestone street. It was amazing to watch how soccer brought this group of boys, none of whom could understand each other's language, play a game they all seemed to love so much.

After lunch, and more soccer, we drove to Kaldi's. Kaldi's is the local coffee chain. If you glance too quickly at the logo, you would think it was a Starbuck's (I'm sure that's not coincidental). We sat and enjoyed the down time. The kids had ice cream, others had coffee, and others had juice (including avocado juice, if you can imagine!).
Back at the hotel, we all went to lay down. Most of us were up for dinner, but Benjamin, who went to bed at 4:00. Tomorrow, we leave for Kombolcha, scheduled to leave at 6:00am for the eight to ten hour ride. With the jet lag, I'm certain that all of us will be awake.     

Monday, March 9, 2015

Kombolcha Ethiopia 2015

March 6, 2015
Tom and Benjamin are packed and ready to go 360 pounds! It is mostly donations, a little clothes for Tom and Benjamin, some snacks, homework, and cameras and electronics. 

We will drive to Hartford tonight for a 7:22 to flight from BDL to Dulles where they will spend the night. They will be joining Glen, Myndi, and Ty Bogdanovich at Hartford!


They had a quick bit to eat and were off! They spent the night at Dulles and were back at the airport early Saturday  morning  for their 12 hour flight to Ethiopia. 
The other group of travelers ran into some difficulties. 4 of the team were not able to fly from NC to Dulles due to mechanical issues. They rented a car and drove to Dulles to fly out a day late. One team member had a medical emergency and she and her husband were unable to fly out on time also! Tom and 5 others flew to Ethiopia on time with no problems! The other 6 flew out on Sunday and arrived in Ethiopia this am. 

Here is the 1st group Team Kombolcha in Addis at the guest house. 
They left at 6 am this morning for Kombolcha! They will be vising 100 new kids today. 
The Team Determined, arrived in Ethiopia this am (all 6) they started their journey to Kombolcha, but are having van troubles. Please keep praying for them!

I talked to Tom today, he said the drive to Kombolcha was good and they all made it alive! He said the driver was a little crazy, he got some air time and some head bumps. He said they would be stopping to buy some MOOZ (Amharic word for bananas) on the way to the center.

Benjamin and Ty spent a long time Sunday playing soccer with Fikre and about 10 Ethiopian boys in the street near the guest house. They had a great time! 


Wednesday, February 18, 2015

FAQ About Our Work in Ethiopia

Here is some information about the work we do in Ethiopia.

Why are we involved with Ethiopia?

We have two children adopted from Ethiopia. When we adopted them, we committed ourselves to give back as much as possible. This is the birth country of two of our children. It is now our country too.

What do we do in Ethiopia?

In 2009, Tom visited Ethiopia with others from around theU.S. to visit care centers that served single orphans(one parent deceased),double orphans (both parents deceased and living with family such as siblings or extended family) and children in desperate need. The care centers provide food, counseling, and medical care to these children who face daily challenges such as finding a meal or going to a place where they receive care that they are not receiving at home. These children are not eligible for adoption.Rather, they will stay in Ethiopia, and hopefully break the cycle of poverty so prevalent in the country.

Children’s Hopechest, a non-profit faith-based organization based in Colorado Springs, hosted the trip. The group visited many care centers, spending time with hundreds of kids and getting to know the leadership of the centers. The intent was to match each of the care centers with a church in the U.S.  that would assist with the center’s operation.

We, along with a family (Rob and Candy Tennant) in NorthCarolina who also have children adopted from Ethiopia, decided to work with acare center located in Kombolcha, a town of about 85,000. Kombolcha is about a ten hour drive from Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia.

Lori or Tom have visited annually since 2012. Along with the Tennants and others from around the country, we conduct a vacation bible school for about 175 children between the ages of 10 and 16. As we have known them for5+ years, we have watched them grow and mature. We know many of them by first name.

Why Children’s Hopechest?

When we were looking for a way to become involved, we were not satisfied to go to a place and do nothing but paint a building or build a swing set. We wanted to get involved in a long term relationship with an organization. We were attracted to Children’s Hopechest goal of helping the care centers as well as the children become self sustaining.

How Does Children’s Hopechest Work with Care Centers?

The primary activity with Children’s Hopechest is through sponsorship. Children are sponsored by people in the United States, for$38/month. The money does not go directly to the children. Rather, Children’s Hopechest staff in Ethiopia distribute the funds for the operation of the care centers, provide uniforms, school supplies and tuition for the children’s schooling, and purchases essential supplies such as cooking oil and food for the families of the children at the care point.

We also do fund raising for specific projects and activities. For example, we were recently able to raise enough money to have a bathroom and shower facility built at the care center. The money went to local laborers, thereby helping to improve the local economy. This year, we are using the funds we raise to purchase towels and wash clothes for the new showers,dishes, and an injera maker. Because we look to the care center’s leadership for guidance on where they need money, we will make purchases while we are there.

We also use funds to purchase food for the children. We will buy oranges, bananas, and bread each day while we are there. We will also purchase food for a large feast that will consist of lamb, potatoes, carrots,injera, and as a special treat, soda.

More About Sponsorship

Children’s Hopechest believes that it is important for sponsors to develop a close relationship with the children. Letters are strongly encouraged to and from the kids. Letters come from the kids written inAmharic (Ethiopia’s official language) and translated to English.

A group visits the care centers annually, bringing care packages from the sponsored families. Sponsors are especially encouraged totake the trip to get to personally know their children. While in country, we visit the homes of the children, getting to know their families and understanding better the situations they come from. Over the years we have gotten to know some of the children and their families very well.

Last year, one of the older boys drowned while swimming in a ake with his buddies. He had passed his school exams and had developed into a leader. When we heard the news, we were all in shocked. It so happened that his sponsor was going to Ethiopia last spring. While there, he went to the home of the boy’s family to express his sympathy. It was a heart wrenching moment as all of us grieved at the loss of this boy.

All of the children at the original care center are now sponsored. Last year, a second care center opened, with about 100 children between the ages of 3 and 6. In the few months that we have been working with them, over 10 of the kids are already sponsored. We will be visiting this care center as well this year.

Ways To Get Involved

  • Sponsorship. There are many kids at the new care center who need sponsored. You can get more information at: http://www.hopechest.org/community/chda/sponsor/.
  • Read our blog. We leave this year on March 6.Tom will be updating our activities at http://laughners.blogspot.com.
  • Go with us! Our next trip will most likely be mid-March of 2016. Let us know, and we will answer any questions you may have.