Friday, June 27, 2008

Lately, I have been missing Ethiopia. I know we weren't there long, but I have been home just long enough now to be totally settle back into typical American routine.

I have been missing constant interaction with people on the streets, the value of long conversations over freshly roasted coffee, and living with the mentality that time, distance, and plans do not take precedence to relationships with others.

I have found that the question I am asked most often in regards to our trip is, "What stands out as your favorite moment?" Truly, this question is so hard to answer- there are too many!! However- I can say my favorite thing about the trip was the people. Ethiopians are the most welcoming people I have yet experienced. Through my travels- I have met many wonderful and hospitable people. However, never have I been in a country that was so eager to welcome foreigners. This isn't something I am proud to admit... but we arrived in Ethiopia expecting to be pick pocketed, heckled, and at least have a few unpleasant run ins with strangers. This is partially because this has been a reality in every other country I have visited. Also, the guide books had us convinced that the streets of Addis Ababa were pretty rough and tough. Nope. Not one tiny problem. In fact, more often than not when we looked lost - people would approach us and ask if we needed help. Many people were eager to talk to us because we were farangi (foreigners), but not one of them had anything negative to say- they were just genuinely interested in what we were doing in their country. I don't blame them for wondering!

My opinion of Ethiopians is that they are warm, genuine, passionate, and timeless. I was also quite impressed and humbled by the great pride they have in their country. Almost everyone seems to have a solid knowledge of the history of Ethiopia. Whether it is explaining the line of rulers for the past 100 years, descriptions of the regions and 150+ tribes of the country, ancient trade routes, landmarks, or discoveries made (most notably coffee and the first human skeleton- "Lucy")- they are eager to share the richness of Ethiopia with others.

Despite living in conditions that in some cases are almost intolerable, they live with the kind of faith that can move mountains. Miracles are a reality, as people rely on prayer to heal when no other resources are available- we heard countless testimonies of this. God is with his people and revealing himself in awesome ways. I suppose when people die in your community every day, there is a consistent shortage of food and water, and general hardship all around- God feels it is necessary to take more dramatic measures. After all, isn't when we see his work in our life personally that we truly believe? It would be really easy to go to Ethiopia and see the suffering and think God isn't there. It is that bad. BUT- HE IS! And his people know it too!

So- my point in writing this post..... obviously, I was touched and inspired by the people in Ethiopia. In saying this, I don't just mean the individuals I got to know- I mean the people in the streets, the mini bus drivers, the shop owners, the saratanas, the guards.... you get the picture- all of them! Here are a few of the faces we did get to know- that will remain in our hearts forever (very cheesy, but also true!)

From now on, I am not going to keep posting only about Ethiopia. If something comes to mind I really want to share on this blog- I will! BUT I as I mentioned before- I also spent a lot of time putting pictures and words together for a presentation. I feel like if I keep trying to re-hash out all the details I will never move on with my life! I hope that makes sense, I don't want to keep my experiences or thoughts to myself- and by no means do I want to forget! I just don't want anyone expecting me to tell story after story about Ethiopia on this blog and not post about the rest of life that is happening now!

Sunday, June 22, 2008


While in Ethiopia we spent several days teaching children at the House of Hope, ages 2-7. This was a bit of a surprise assignment, but we were more than thrilled to take it on!

When we walked into the classroom we were greeted by twelve children beaming at us with some of the biggest brightest eyes I have ever seen! Our hearts were instantly captured. On the first day, we had another teacher with us in order to translate. She introduced us and then each of the kids took turns saying, "Hello my name is ____. How are you?" It was so cute! Some of them had this English phrase down pat, but others required more time and great concentration.

Thankfully, Jon is a kid magnet and I have some experience teaching kids, but not enough that I have a memory bank full of lesson plans to draw on! The first day we were given a few suggestions by the other teacher, but the rest of the days we were on our own. The language barrier was a bit challenging at first, but we benefited from this in the long run as it forced us to learn some basic Amharic very quickly! It really didn't take long to establish a basic routine- our primary goal was to teach them English since all of these children will be adopted by families in the US. Each day we went over English vocab including- the ABCs, counting,colors, animals, and body parts. We also taught them a few songs that were repeated each day. Head, shoulders, knees and toes was a hit! However, since there was such a wide age range- activities were split between the beginning and end of class time and the middle section of class pretty much turned into to a Montessori approach.

During this time, we let each of the kids pick an activity to work on. Some picked coloring,others picked writing or counting workbooks, and a few of the youngest enjoyed story time. As each child worked on their assignment of preference we were impressed by their diligence and eagerness to learn.

All of the kids were nothing less than absolutely adorable! We could tell you stories about each of them. But for now, just one short story......

The first day we were told that one of the little girls didn’t speak. During class time she was attentive, but mostly kept to herself. Each
day she became more and more engaged with us and others. She adored being read to- and would giggle and smile continuously throughout each story as she sat on our laps. After a few days, we were delighted to hear beginning to talk!

Of course, we don’t know much about her circumstances before coming to the House of Hope. However, it is likely that
her mute behavior could’ve been a result of trauma. For young kids, this doesn't even have to mean witnessing something horrendous. Any time children are separated from their primary caretaker- which may be due to death, poverty, or abandonment, this constitutes trauma in and of itself. It is common to see kids who have been through trauma demonstrate a developmental regression of some sort. Often times these children are able to catch up and recover their abilities after receiving specialized attention and adequate care that ensures a safe environment. So-it was so encouraging to see how well cared for the kids were at the House of Hope -it was also amazing to witness a child's transformation and maybe have played a small role in it!

* Photos of the children weren't allowed- sorry! You'll just have to trust us that they were cute as a button!*

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Hi there. I just want to leave a quick note to say I am so encouraged by all of your responses to our posts about Ethiopia. It means a lot to know you are so eager to hear about our trip. Trust me- we have a lot we want to share! In addition, the people of Ethiopia need to be heard and we hope to be an avenue for their voice in some way, shape, or form. I haven't had as much time as I would like to devote to posting- but this is a good thing! I have actually been busy with work and pursuing further work opportunities, therefore leading to a delay in posting. As all this unfolds, I will post on that as well... now I feel like I am going in circles.

We are working on a comprehensive PowerPoint. Please note, I really feel like nothing we ever come up to share our experience will ever do it justice! You just will have to come with us next time on one of our mission adventures to really understand...Anyway- so I will try my best to post stories and keep going with the blog. I am a true believer that well told stories are the best way to share, and these stories are ones I really long to share- they just may be a bit delayed. If you are interested in getting a copy of the power point (don't worry it isn't a lame one, it is mostly pictures) please let me know and I will make sure you are on our distribution list. Wow, "distribution list" that sounds so official.... don't get your hopes set too high- this is just me doing my best to match photos with some facts/stories. Alrighty- hope you are all well! Love ya

Thursday, June 5, 2008

First Day Out

After a goodnight of sleep, we woke up ready to start exploring Addis. Our second day in Ethiopia proved to be a quite an adventure!

Guided by our friend (now GREAT friend!) Richelle- we made our way all the way up Entoto by minibus. The Entoto mountains surround Addis Ababa, and a historic Orthodox Church is located on the highest peak overlooking the city. Emperor Menelik II built his palace near the Church and lived their with his family before the modern city of Addis was established. One day his wife was overlooking the valley and had a vision. She told her husband that a new city should be started and their empire should move down the mountain- thus Addis Ababa (which means "New Flower") was founded.

Now, I am not going to lie. I wasn't excited to take the minibuses. They were cram packed with people- and as I mentioned before- the traffic in and of itself scared me. BUT I hopped on in willing to just go with the flow and let myself really "experience" the culture. It was def. a demonstration of trust. We had no idea what was going on and just followed along as Richelle led us from one mini bus to another asking in Amharic "Where are you going". Each mini bus has a mini route that goes to a designated place. So it honestly took about 15 rides to get up Entoto. We traveled this way for about an hour. Each mini bus slightly different. Some with many seats, others with a few and lots of floor space. One thing the same- each of them did not accept an empty inch so we always waited to take off until a few peoples laps were occupied. I felt like such an outsider- mainly because I didn't understand anything being spoken around me. The bodies next to me were SO close, but all I could do was smile. I had nothing to say besides the few words I had picked up at this point such as hello, please, and thank you. I wished I could talk to people or understand what the drivers were yelling out the window.

Anyway- we made it up to the top- and it was beautiful! A sight to see. That was the first and last minibus ride. A few days later, a minibus exploded from a bomb likely placed by terrorists. a few days later, it happened again. Needless to say- no more minibuses for us. Thank the Lord for protection. However, our friend Richelle continued to ride them daily. Minibuses are the cheapest way of transportation and for most people, the only option to get to and from work or the market. I was struck by Richelle's statement, "Afterall, my life is worth no more than anybody else who rides the minibuses." It is true. I was sort of ashamed by my fear realizing most people don't have the luxury of paying for drivers or taxis to take them from place to place without fear. As our time in country continued, I would continue to be reminded over and over again of how fortunate I am.

Below: Entoto Church and some kids that couldn't get enough of having their photo taken.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Arriving in Addis Ababa

The first leg of the journey was an overnight flight from Chicago to London. Quite uneventful except for the funny coincidence that we were on the same flight as a few of our friends from church who were on their way to India. Our layover left us with about 7 hours to hang around in London. It was the middle of the day so we decided to store our bags at the airport and hop onto the tube. Thankfully, we have been to London before so we weren't feeling rushed to go see all the city has to offer in 7 hours. Truthfully, I don't even remember what stop we got off at. We just wanted to walk around and stretch our legs and get some coffee. It was a nice afternoon, but by the time we got back to the airport we were feeling pretty tired!
Just happened to walk by and notice this landmark....
I thought this guy was too cute. Wish our dog was that well behaved!

The next flight was direct from London to Addis Ababa. I really hadn't slept at all and was not feeling great by this point. Again, nothing too eventful except that the guy sitting next to us on the plane resembled Jon's older brother in an almost scary way!

At about 7:30am their time, we finally landed in Addis. As soon as the plane turned off- we could tell it was HOT! The airport was about what I expected- decent size, pretty modern, a little dirty. Customs didn't take terribly long went smoothly. After getting our bags and going through security- we headed out to begin the adventure.

Jon's Dad was gracious enough to give us Hilton points, so for the first and last two nights of our trip we were able to stay at a really nice and comfortable place for free! This turned out to be a huge blessing! As soon as the crowds of people parted a bit- we instantly saw the Hilton's outpost at the airport. The Hilton's airport staff greeted us promptly and walked us out to the taxi lot to take the Hilton Shuttle bus. Such an easy connection was beyond wonderful since we were both feeling quite disheveled and exhausted.

We hopped on board and made our way out of the airport and onto the streets of Addis. It didn't take long for me to become overwhelmed with feelings of fascination and fear. The fear due in part to the absolutely INSANE driving on VERY busy roads with people just jumping into the middle of the road to cross as they please. It was so crowded and so busy- I was a little taken off guard by that. Fascination set in as I tried to take in the surroundings which felt like a fantasy world. For any of you who have traveled internationally to place that isn't extremely "westernized" you may be able to relate to my feelings. I have done quite a bit of traveling, but this was maybe the first time I was bewildered by the differences mixed with some odd feelings of familiarity. Sort of that, "Whoa. Where the heck am I, how did I get here, and am I crazy??" feeling.

It is virtuously impossible to describe Addis Ababa. Some words that come to mind are -Dusty, dry, hot, crowded, smelly, smogy, colorful, vibrant, active, secretive, historic, grieving, trying, fighting, hilly, surprising, and urban. Quite a complex place.

Taking photos in Addis proved to be very difficult. Whenever a government guard is in sight it is best not to snap photos- or so I was told. I decided not to risk trying. Their were guards all over the place. Also- any sort of government building, space, institution, or monument- no photos. Many of the locals were not keen on getting photos taken either and several of the orphanages also have no photo rules. Anyway- I will post my best efforts to capture some typical sights on the streets of Addis.