Friday, April 15, 2016

Chaotic Happiness

It’s Friday night, 11:00pm. We leave here tomorrow morning at 7am for our eight hour van ride back to Addis. After months and months of planning, the week is done. It is the day for good-byes.

My first thought when I woke up this morning was that this was going to be a very long, emotional day. We were to go to Meserete first for foot washing and the feast, then to CHDA to see the food being distributed to the families of the children, and then back to Meserete for a dinner with the church leadership.

Our day always starts with breakfast, followed by a devotion, written by a member of Rob’s church (thank you Susan Dunn!). She does a really nice job writing them, and today’s in particular really seemed to be appropriate for what was to follow. Today’s theme related to assuring us that we should “not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.” (Galatians 6:9)

It’s an appropriate lesson for today because although it’s been a rewarding week, we are all very tired. While we long for our own beds, and a shower with actual water pressure (or even hot water), we start to wonder if it’s all worth it. These kids have so many needs, and we come for a week and then leave. Is there a lasting impact on the kids here? Is the time and money well spent?

We talked about how we are starting to see the impact of our work, how sick some of these kids were when we first met them. Now, they are going off to college, starting businesses, breaking the cycle of poverty. We also know that there are people here who will continue to be with them, who have the hardest jobs of keeping these kids on the right track. This is a marathon, not a sprint. The kids in Meserete are on the right track, even as new children come into the program. We are at the very early stages of our work at CHDA, and the needs there are overwhelming. But, over time, and on God’s timeline, it will get better.

So we head off to Meserete. The kids are waiting for us, and I search out the faces with which I am most familiar. Kerima, Abobew, Selama, Nuredin, Hanook, Ranni, Nathnael, Kalkidan, Kebaye, Abel, Habib, to name just a few. There are others with whom I’ve spent time, but do not know their names.

As Rob goes about telling the story of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet, we go about setting up the stations so we can wash the feet of the children. This is an optional activity for the kids. Some of the girls are not comfortable with this, and some of the moslem kids will not participate.
The kids sit down at one of seven stations, and one by one we take turns washing their feet. Some giggle because they’re ticklish, some giggle because they’re typical kids, and some just watch us soap their feet, rinse them off, and then dry them. There are some kids we feel a special connection to, so will relieve the person at that station so we can wash his or her feet. All the while, the church staff are giving us clean water and dry cloths. After the last of the kids are done, they start asking to wash our feet. I think some of them are doing it for fun, but some of them take it as seriously as we did. One of the boys started crying while he was washing my feet. It was quite touching.

By the time I was done, six different kids had washed my feet. The last boy was the most thorough, even washing between my toes. He also insisted on putting my shoes and socks back on, which was good since I suspect I had the cleanest feet on the planet at this point, so it was a good signal to the others that I was done. The kids who really wanted to wash had already found me at that point.

As feet were washed, there were several activities. The kids could have their nails or face painted, or play outside. Several of our team started painting nails, but by the end everyone was painting everyone’s nails. Yes, I’m the proud recipient of a pink pinkie nail, and five pink toe nails. Glen was rocking Duke blue nails on one hand and Carolina blue nails on the other.

As the morning progressed, someone started playing songs on the keyboard so there was singing (loud singing) and dancing. There were people everywhere. It was loud, it was boisterous, it was, as Martha Jo described it, chaotic happiness. It was fantastic.

Next came the feast. A lot of people in our community, as well as family and other friends, donate money for the feast. A friend’s grandson donated his cash. The local girl scouts troop donated money. One-hundred sixty-five children were given a meal of injera, carrots and potatoes, bread, bananas, and soda (a special treat), and depending on their religion, a spicy sauce that either had meat or, if the child was Greek Orthodox, didn’t have meat. (Easter in Ethiopia is in May, so the Greek Orthodox are in their fasting season.) The moslems can eat meat, but it must be done a certain way, so there was a table especially for them. The Christian children had no restrictions on their diets, so could eat regular meat. Interestingly, one of the families, comprised of a brother and sister, headed to different tables. The older sister received her meal from the moslem table. Her younger brother got his meal from the table with the meal for Christians. Someone guessed that he did not have the high scruples of his sister, so went for the table with the shorter line.

After the feast, we gathered for a photo and said our good-byes. Yes, there were tears (both from the team and the kids). Yes, it took a very long time. Yes, Kerima was hanging on to me, sobbing. And yes, the older kids started out by laughing at the kids who were crying, but by the end some of them were crying too.

We then gathered inside for a photo with our team and the Meserete staff, packed everything up, and said our good-byes. And surprise, surprise, the kids were still outside when we went to leave, including Kerima. We loaded into the van and headed off the CHDA.

One of the many things I like about working with Children’s Hopechest is how they look after all the needs of the kids in their program. The sponsorship money doesn’t just go to supporting the child. When a care point reaches 50% sponsorship, each family receives a monthly portion of teff (used to make injera, a staple here) and cooking oil. Because we haven’t reached that point yet (half way there), the families aren’t receiving regular food rations through the program (some independent fund raisers have been done to provide the $500 it takes to purchase the supplies for roughly 100 families). Enough money was raised this year to purchase another supply, so we went to CHDA to see the families receive their supplies. We arrived a bit late, so everything had been distributed, but we were still able to see the families with their teff and cooking oil. The adults were very grateful and thanked us repeatedly.

We passed out mangoes, took care of several care packages that hadn’t been distributed on Tuesday, and spent some time playing with the kids. It wasn’t nearly enough time, but given the long day, we came back to the hotel to rest for a bit before moving on to our next activity.

The boy with the typhoid diagnosis was at CHDA today. He looks great! He was all smiles and giggles. I loved seeing him. His mother was very grateful. I have a photo of the two of them that I will post if I can get decent Internet (it may need to wait until tomorrow night when we’re back in Addis).

After a brief interlude at the hotel, we headed back to Meserete for dinner with the church staff and elders. Rob preached a short sermon, the children’s choir sang (these were members of the church and but for one, were not in the program), and we were each presented with certificates and small gifts. The women received either a head scarf except for Jayde and Theresa who received a scarf like piece that is to be wrapped around their waists. The men received Ethiopian shirts.

Then we ate a traditional Ethiopian meal, followed by a coffee ceremony. It was quite the spread and very good. Ethiopian coffee is incredible, but it’s not a good idea to give me coffee at 8:00pm. Let’s just say it’s after midnight as I write this and I’m not tired…

Then back to the hotel to wrap up the end of a long day. Tomorrow we leave at 7am for the eight hour drive back to Addis. We are driving instead of flying so that the members of our team for whom this is their first trip will see the beauty and diversity of the Ethiopian geography. If the weather is good, we will stop to see the wild baboons.  Several trips ago, we saw small monkeys jumping from tree to tree along the side of the road. I’ve made this trek many times now, but still will be watching as much as I can because it’s so amazing.

My final observation about Kombolcha:

This town of roughly 150,000 is changing significantly since my first trip here. New factories are opening. A train line is coming through, running from Djibouti to Addis. The train station is built and ready for business. Kombolcha will be a distribution center for goods coming from the gulf through Djibouti to the rest of Ethiopia. With all of this comes jobs. We are told that people are moving here from Addis. Already, the number of cabs (funny looking enclosed blue and white three wheelers, seems to have tripled since last year. Things are looking up for this area. It’d be nice if there was once a day that we weren’t needed here and that all families could earn a living wage (which isn’t much).

But that day is a long away. Children’s Hopechest has two care points here. Compassion International also has a presence, as do others. We are the only organization that comes to visit. The only organization that makes a sustained, holistic investment in the community. Still, there are over 4000 kids on the waiting list to get into a care point. There’s a lot of work yet to be done in this city.

In this morning's devotion, we listened to "God of This City" by Chris Tomlin. Here's an excerpt.

Greater things are yet to come,
Greater things are still to be done in this city.
Greater things are yet to come,
Greater things are still to be done here.

You're the Lord of Creation.
The Creator of all things.
You're the King above all Kings,
You are.

You're the strength in the weakness.
You're the love to the broken.
You're the joy in the sadness.
You are.

We'll be back next year. Greater things are still to be done here.

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