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.

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