I have been waiting to share my most life-changing experience in 2015 with my friends and readers, but have been so overwhelmed with life that it has been pushed to the back burner. I did share a small amount (for me – small) on HowDoesShe as well as on Becky Higgin’s blog, however for me and my own personal history, I wanted to record my experience in more detail. My memory is really awful and I know things have already started to fade, so I want to record as much as I can before it’s all gone 🙂Warning: This post will be long and extremely photo-heavy. Feel free to move along if you don’t think it’s for you 🙂
So, I found out I had reached my fundraising goal to go on this expedition about a month before the actual expedition date. That wasn’t a lot of time! Deb from Canadian Humanitarian made all of the travel arrangements, so that was nice, however I had to get immunized ASAP because I had to send my yellow fever immunization certificate with my passport, and a passport photo (which I had to get taken because I didn’t have extras on hand) to Ethiopia to get my VISA. It felt hurried, but everything came together nicely. Then I had to pack. Deb sent a detailed information package that made choosing what to bring super helpful. I managed to pack light, even with bringing donations with me. This proved to be a blessing later. My one regret, however, was the carry on bag I chose to bring, which wasn’t a rolling one. I was kicking myself later as we were walking for hours through different airports. Oh, and my laptop that was in said carry on? It weighs a ton.With all of the prep work going on, the time flew by and before I knew it, the day to leave had arrived! Ready or not – I was headed to Ethiopia!
Day 1-2: Travel
My husband drove me and the Northcotts to the Calgary Airport to catch our flight, which left just after midnight. We got there early enough to catch a bite to eat and visit a while before we had to go through security. I felt all strange saying goodbye to my husband and best friend who I have never traveled without before. I knew I was about to experience something that would test me and also show how strong I was – and that it would be good for me. I still had knots in my stomach as I walked away from him and toward my Ethiopian adventure. Once we made it through security we had some time to kill before our first flight from Calgary to Toronto was going to be leaving. I took out the coloring book and pencil crayons I brought to pass the time while we waited.
I was starting to really get sleepy but I find it almost impossible to sleep anywhere except in a bed. It seemed like a long wait (even though it wasn’t) before we finally loaded the plane. I was lucky enough to sit by the window (my favorite spot to sit) and I even managed to dose for about 20 minutes during the 4 hour flight.
We had a layover in Toronto for a few hours, where we met up with two more of the team members coming on the expedition, Mike and Connie. We visited and got to know each other a bit over breakfast in a cafe in the airport. It felt strange listening to them catching up with the Northcotts because they both had been on expeditions in the past and had lots to reminisce about. I felt like a fish out of water. I used the opportunity to go and purchase a travel pillow – the kind that has those soft little squishy beads in them. By this point I had gone almost all night without sleep and I was HOPING I would be able to sleep at some point on the long 13+ hour flight to Addis Ababa. We headed to check in to the Ethiopian Airlines desk and, let me tell you, – the process is sure interesting. Depending on your ticket (your seating, I guess) they give you a colored dot sticker and then call your color to have you board. Sounds like it would be a really organized process, right? Yeah, no. Once they call the first group to board, anyone and everyone almost rushes the gate and boards whenever the heck they want. Awesome. I was a bit worried because Deb had told me that sometimes they re-weigh your carry on luggage and charge a sur-charge that you MUST pay (in cash, of course) or you can’t board. This is, of course, illegal and unethical seeing as it is a transfer from an Air Canada flight where our carry on bags had already been weighed and checked in. Thankfully that wasn’t the case with us, and we boarded just fine.
What a flight! I’m no stranger to long flights. You might remember our trip to China a few years ago.
This was a different experience altogether.
The airplane was fairly new, however the airline simply takes the seats out of their old planes and installs them into the new ones. Perfect sense, right? Ha ha ha! The chairs were comfortable enough, and they give you a blanket (though it seemed like only random seats were given blankets) as well as an eye mask, socks, and a travel tooth brush/paste. They had screens on the back of every seat and free movies to watch – all new and recent releases, which was great! The picture on mine, unfortunately, would freeze – often- then quickly catch up to the audio which made for a painful time watching anything. My headphones also only worked on one ear, but I made the best of it. I tried to catch some Zzzzzs after several hours on the plane (after all, by this point I had been awake for nearly 24 hours) and I think I managed a few winks though they were interrupted constantly by people banging into me as they walked down the aisle – that and the cart going up and down the aisle. Did I mention that I really dislike sitting in the aisle seat? I know that a lot of people love it because of the easy access to the aisle, but I think those people are nuts. I had such a hard time getting into a comfortable position to nap. I am a sleep snob, I guess. I have to be laying down and in a bed to sleep. Go figure. The only way I managed to get any sleep at all was by putting in some ear plugs, wearing the eye mask, pulling on the blanket, and kind of shifting on my side on the seat.
They feed you on Ethiopian Airlines. A lot. I found the food quite good and they keep bringing it. I was too stuffed to finish most of the meals/snacks they brought. I was impressed.
Finally I saw on the little map that we were nearing Addis Ababa. Things were getting real now! Suddenly I was feeling wide awake.
Day 2 – First day in AddisBy this time it was morning in Addis time. Addis is about 9 hours ahead of us in Western Canada. My body really wanted to sleep but we had a full day ahead of us! We gathered our things and left the plane. We were greeted with an insanely long, winding lineup filled with people. I asked what the line was leading to, and it was just the line for the passport check. Crazy!!!
It was my first taste of how Ethiopia does things. Quite a different experience than any airport I had been in. We settled in for a long wait, and Deb struck up a conversation with an older gentleman, obviously of Ethiopian descent, who was in line behind us. We found out that he now lives in Toronto and is back to visit in Ethiopia for a few weeks. He expressed interest in the charity and took Deb’s information so that he could meet with her about being involved somehow. It was a fortuitous meeting, for sure!We were in line for about 2 hours when they opened another lane that allowed us to get closer to the front of a line a lot quicker than it would have. We were nearly to the front of our queue when we looked over to our right and saw a bunch of Ethiopian nationals move a rope partition and start their own line where they started walking in front of those who had been waiting for hours in line and going up to the passport desk. Really? So that’s how it works here? You just have to break every rule and be pushy? I was not impressed (could be because we had just stood in line for 2 hours after a 13 hour flight and little sleep.) Soon a security guard came over and yelled at them, then directed the passport officer to not take anyone from that “fake” line. As soon as the guard left, the same line budgers kept on going and the ticket officer kept taking them. So annoying – and eye opening. This wasn’t North America for sure!
I didn’t have to be annoyed long because soon it was our turn to be checked. We made it through that check point and on to the next hurdle to jump through in the airport – picking up our luggage and getting through security. I was prepared for another crazy long wait to get through the security check. We picked up our luggage (hooray for it all making it there!), making sure to not accept help from anyone, got our bags onto a cart and headed toward the security line. A security officer off to the side called Dr. Northcott over and they chatted for a quick second before the guard waved us over. What was happening? Apparently, once the guard knew we were from Canada, they just let us bypass security altogether and waved us on through! What?! Okay. I wasn’t about to complain. I found it ironic that so much time was spent checking passports, but once we gathered our luggage we didn’t even have to go through security before entering the country. Dorothy? We’re not in Kansas anymore.
Ahhhh…fresh air! After over 24 hours inside buildings or airplanes, it was wonderful to step outside into the sunlight and see palm trees and hear tropical birds singing. It was a little surreal and was a stark reminder that this was a whole new world. It put a smile on my face.
I had to hurry to keep up with the Northcotts and the others as they headed to the parking lot to find the drivers who would be there to greet us. I had a hard time maneuvering the luggage and the masses of people, but I managed to not get lost in my first few moments in Africa. I was worried about pick-pockets (which I had been warned about) but I was fine.
It was hot! We left decent October weather in Canada, but this was close to 30°C. I was huffing and puffing by the time we found our drivers who were there with the vans – the vans that I would become very familiar with by the end of my two weeks there. Oh, and the aroma was very distinct. It was the smell of exhaust, animals, incense, and poverty. It would be a smell that I would become very accustomed to.
There were many hugs and greetings between the Northcotts and the drivers – even Mike and Connie remembered them and had a little reunion.
I felt out of place. I was out of place. I was in Ethiopia.
The drivers loaded the vans with our luggage, shook my hand with enormous smiles and greetings. I instantly liked them, though I didn’t even know their names. That would change – soon, I would know their names and come to love them.
I boarded the van and prepared for the drive of a lifetime. My eyes were glued to the windows as I watched the city of Addis pass by as we drove.
My first impression was one of mild surprise. I didn’t know what I was expecting, but I don’t think I realized how modernized much of Addis would be. It’s a city! A city with some distinct differences, however.
Difference #1 – everything is made from concrete. All of the buildings are pure concrete. Which means they take a long time to build, which means there are hundreds of half-built buildings everywhere you look. Every city block was under construction, it seemed.
Difference #2 – Streets are in pretty rough shape. I used to joke that the only great thing about winters in Saskatchewan (when I lived there) is that driving was better because all of the pot holes were filled in with snow. That’s nothing compared to the condition of the streets there. Most streets have large cracks, pot holes, and concrete that has warped in crazy ways. It certainly made driving on them very interesting -especially if you were sitting in the rear of the vans. Add to that, seat belts aren’t really a thing there – and every drive turned into a big adventure.
I am quite sure I couldn’t drive there simply because rules of the road are more like….suggestions. Our driver, Getu, joked that you have to learn the rules before you take your driver’s test, but you forget them as soon as you pass. Lanes are implied though no one bothers staying in theirs. If there is a space big enough for your vehicle (or even if it’s NOT) drivers will go there. I can’t tell you how many times I was wide-eyed with teeth clenched, seeing HUGE trucks squeezing in between two vehicles on the road where there was no lane and clearly not enough room for it. NUTS! And there are maybe 2-3 traffic lights in the entire city. Can you believe it? There are many traffic circles, but when there is an intersection, drivers just budge their way in and across, while the Canadian passengers have a death grip on the bars in the van. Here is a peek at one such intersection from a bird’s eye perspective. This is in Addis:
Difference #3 – there weren’t any department-type stores. Every store is specialized in one thing and you have to know exactly where to go to find what you are looking for. Our drivers were amazing at knowing just what tiny shop on what tiny street was selling just what we need.Difference #4 – jay walking was a very common thing and people of all ages were walking anywhere on the street they could. Many were selling things, some were just going here or there. I was always fearful someone would get hit by a vehicle, but they are pretty great at jay walking there.
Difference #5 – Shacks. Everywhere. Amid the modern, very westernized buildings were many varieties of shacks and lean-tos. It was a stark contrast between the “haves” and the “have nots” there – and believe me, the have nots really have next to nothing. It seemed like I was watching a documentary out the van window as we drove along. It was surreal. It took a while to have what I was seeing sink in.
Difference #6 – Armed soldiers were everywhere, it seemed. So different from what I’m used to. I saw armed men situated outside all kinds of different establishments and was warned when I should put my camera down. I wasn’t about to test the waters!
There were many other differences, but let’s get on with things, shall we? Now, where was I?We stopped off at a hotel – I think it was the Hilton? to exchange money. We were told to bring US cash with us to exchange. I had sent my money ahead so I only had a small amount of US dollars on me to switch over to Ethiopian Birr.The money was much filthier than what I was used to – I was amazed it held together. We loved whenever we’d get newer bills and didn’t want to get rid of those. They don’t have a lot of larger bills so we had quite a wad that we had to carry around. I quickly put my bills and my cards in my money belt, which I would become very used to by the end of the two weeks. It was interesting to drive into the swanky hotel grounds when right on the other side of the fence there are people living on the streets and in shacks made from old mattresses and cardboard. I wonder what goes through their minds when they see people going in and out of the hotel with their fancy cars and nice clothes. After the hotel we headed to the Eden House, which is a large house where the Canadian Humanitarian offices are located with several bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchen, living room – and where we would all be staying. It was very different because we drove down this really torn apart street, with piles of rubble (which is actually building materials) and what looked like an alley.
We pulled up to a high concrete fence with barbed wire along the top and a large metal gate. This was the front of the house. I thought we had been going in some back way, but that is how neighborhoods are set up there. They had one of the security guards who they always have on duty, open the gates so the vans could drive in.
Inside the gates was a beautiful yard with gorgeous greenery including a hibiscus tree or two, which were in bloom. The house was two storeys high with marble floors all over. It was lovely.
There were four bedrooms and 2 bathrooms on the upper level – one for the Northcotts, one for Jane, one for Lynn, and one for Connie and I to share – and a bedroom/storage room on the main level where the CH office was, the kitchen, another bathroom, and a large livingroom/dining room. Mike stayed in the bedroom/storage room on the main level. There was plenty of space for our smaller expedition.
My room had two single beds with a wall of closets, complete with drawers, which was really nice. Each bed was quite low to the ground (as most beds are there) and had a mosquito net around it. These nets were on a frame so it didn’t feel at all claustrophobic. I found it cozy actually. And the mattresses were SO COMFY! The bathroom upstairs had all of the conveniences – bathtub, shower, toilet, sink. I learned on the first day that often the power goes out (like, often) and when that happens, there will be no water pressure. Sometimes the water just stops altogether. If that happens, they have large water barrels, filled each day, that we can use to wash using a water pitcher with the cool water. I had the joy of doing this twice over the 2 weeks – and it wasn’t bad. We also learned to shower, even on a good water pressure day, using the water sparingly so that others could also have hot water. I didn’t find that unpleasant. We were in Ethiopia, and I knew things would be different. I was happy to experience a different way of living. After unpacking, we discovered on our first day there that a breaker had blown so there wasn’t electricity in my room. We hilariously searched around the house to find the breaker switch board but couldn’t anywhere. We found one but it didn’t have the breakers to our rooms. We knew there had to be another one someplace, and eventually found the breakers behind a painting that had been hung up on the wall.Besides that, I don’t remember a lot about the first day. I think we went out for pizza either for lunch or supper. I think it might have been lunch. I had been crazy jet lagged so the first day or two kind of blur together. So, food – I was pleasantly surprised that nearly every kind of cuisine you can imagine was available in Addis, and for phenomenal prices. For example – this day we decided to eat at an Italian place and I ordered pizza – pepperoni, I think. The cost was around $4 Canadian. When they brought me my pizza I was shocked to see that they brought me a pizza – as in, an entire pizza! WHA?! I knew I would be having leftover pizza for a least another meal or two. Their pizza there is thin crust and baked in huge stone-style pizza ovens. So good. Some of our expedition members decided to nap on that first day, but I knew that staying awake until bedtime would be the best shot I’d have at fighting off the jet lag and getting used to their time zone quicker. By the time bedtime came around I was ready for some sleep and slept soundly all night – even with dogs howling outside the slightly open window. I packed ear plugs and an eye mask for just such an occasion 🙂 The temperature was so pleasant during the daytime and at night – staying very temperate at around 20-25 degrees celsius every day and around 15-20 degrees at night. Perfection.
Day 3: – Training and First Day at a Center (Gulele)
The morning was filled with breakfast at the house (left over pizza for me!) and then getting the dining/living room organized to fit as many seats as possible. We were going to be having the staff members from the different centers in Addis coming to the house for training.
Before long the employees began to arrive. We had quite a few show up, which amazed me after seeing the traffic and knowing how far some of them had to travel. I felt a bit out of place as I had never met any of these people and being in a crowd of people I don’t know is not my idea of a good time. It was one of the things I knew would constantly be stretching me and pushing me out of my comfort zone on this expedition – and I was ready to be stretched!
But they create some beautiful pieces that they can then sell, like this gorgeous dining room set:
Then they grind them, by hand, and brew the coffee grounds in their traditional coffee pots, which have different chambers inside. Very cool.
This is one of my favorite photos of these two – they are our amazing drivers Getu and Ketema. Like I said – they made the entire experience that much more enjoyable with their good humor and nature. I always looked forward to hopping in the vans for a ride anywhere with these guys.
As we left SSCM, I took a photo of the facility which was draped in flags for Flag Day. Very festive 🙂 I also couldn’t resist photographing this older gentleman who was quietly observing the goings on at the facility. I think everyone wanted to photograph his timeless face, but was shy to ask, until I did. LOL!
After lunch we made our way to the second center we would be visiting on our trip, Kirkos – which was located quite close to the Bow. This place was different, for me, from Gulele. The center looked somewhat the same, but it was the kids who seemed different. These kids were immediately warm and friendly, took time to talk to us (in wonderful English, I should mention), and hug us.
The other group worked on cards for their sponsors – using 4X6 cards I donated from my Project Life card stash. They were so careful and serious about what they would write, knowing it would be going to their sponsors. So precious.
I, of course, spent my time photographing every child in attendance while they worked through each of the classes. I loved getting a chance to see and speak with each child, individually, and to see their unique characters. It was a highlight for me.
It was hard not to notice how much they love each other and how affectionate they are with one another.
That morning I sure didn’t feel as bright-eyed and bushy-tailed as I had been previously. The Hyenas had been in the city (the house is located near the edge of the city, so it was common to have groups of Hyenas wandering into the city to scavenge) so the dogs were going crazy barking and howling. The window in our bedroom didn’t close all the way, so it sounded like they were right there in our room with us. I had brought ear plugs, which helped a little to mute the sounds but seriously – I was convinced the zombie apocalypse was occurring out there!The first thing on our agenda for the day was a trip out to another one of the CH centers – this time in Kality, which is located on the outskirts of Addis. The purpose of our visit was to give a “Days For Girls” presentation which covered female reproduction and hygiene, as well as provided a kit for each girl in attendance which included all of the following:
|PC: Days For Girls website|
Many girls miss out on going to school once their period begins – mainly because she doesn’t have access to feminine hygiene products. The Days for Girls program donated several of these re-usable hygiene kits which we handed out to the girls after having the reproduction and hygiene class, presented by Dick and Deb.The drive out to Kality was beautiful – we went the highway route which took us outside the city and allowed us to see some lovely scenery. The highway was in the process of being completed and was a bit rough in patches, but will be beautiful and functional when it’s finished.
There were already several young women and some of their female guardians there when we arrived. And soon several more made their way in through the gates.
Deb took over from there and (after any of the men were asked to leave) explained the Days for Girls feminine hygiene packets. She explained how they work and how to care for them.
After the Days for Girls presentation, we visited for a short while. I went over to a little hut near the back gate of the center where there were some women busy cooking over a fire, preparing a meal for the students who were in attendance.
He was super shy and didn’t even want to look at me, at first. But, he really couldn’t help stealing a glance or two, and every time he did, I would make a funny face or play peek-a-boo with him. It wasn’t long before I got a shy smile.
The company was located in a little Oasis, right in the city. It was like a tropical paradise in there.
Sabahar is a fair trade organization who focus on sustainability and providing work opportunities for artisans in Ethiopia. It was neat to see.
The lighting was quite dark which made getting good photos really difficult, but I got what I could.
Day 6 – Organizing, Entoto Hill, Hilton, Gulele (part 2), and Home VisitsDay 6 was a much easier, laid-back kind of day, which was a good thing since I had slept terribly the night previous. I had some oatmeal for breakfast, had a hot shower (amazing) and even got an internet signal so I was able to post a few photos and answer some emails. We had the morning basically to ourselves to do whatever we’d like to do. We started by organizing the massive number of donations that we would be taking to the Halecu center the next day – putting together back packs for each child, gathering books that would go into the new library at the center, and gathering other supplies that we would be taking. Halecu was a village a couple of hours outside of Addis where we would be staying for a couple of days.
Mike, Connie, and I decided to use the rest of the morning for heading out with Getu for a tour up Entoto Hill and a visit to the palace built by Menelik II and used it as his headquarters during the founding of Addis Ababa. We also were looking forward to checking out St. Mary’s Church.
As we drove the winding road up to the top of Entoto Hill, we passed by many women who were carrying enormous bunches of firewood/kindling down the hill. I could only imagine the weight bearing down on their bent frames. Getu said that the bundles of kindling weighed about 100 lbs and that these women made the trek up and down the mountain twice per day. I just couldn’t imagine.
It was difficult getting a photo as we drove past. If we stopped to take a photo, we would be expected to pay them.
Once we neared the top of the mountain, we pulled over and climbed up to a look out point where we were able to get a beautiful view of the city. It was a bit of a smoggy day, so the photo isn’t the clearest. We ran into a large tour group there who were from Germany, I think. Many of the group were taking several photos of the locals near by, but when they would hold out their hands for a donation, the tourists ignored them and walked away. I paid one woman I took a photo of – even though she didn’t see me take it. She had been spurned by some of the other tourists, and I felt bad.
We continued on up to the top of Entoto and first decided to tour around the palace museum. We had to leave our cameras and phones so that we couldn’t take any photos inside. I was super hesitant to leave my camera equipment, but they had little lockers where they would be secured. Getu also stayed outside to keep an eye on things, which made me feel better.
The museum was a tad underwhelming, though it was kind of cool to see some of the old artifacts from their previous royal families. We had a tour guide take us through, and it maybe took 15-20 minutes total.
Getu then acted as a tour guide around the grounds where he showed us the old palace buildings where the King could see for miles all around. It gave us some great insight into the history of the Ethiopian Monarchy. The palace consisted of several different buildings which looked quite primitive compared to what we’re used to. It was even considered primitive back then, compared to the palaces he abandoned to come to Addis.
The St. Mary’s Church on Entoto Hill was very interesting looking. Their churches are painted in vibrant colors with murals of their saints painted on panels along the walls. It is still in operation, I guess – and there were several people there to worship outside and around the church.
We passed by some eye-opening sights. I could hardly comprehend that what I was seeing were homes. Places where people actually lived.
We greeted the mother outside the building, who then led us, not into the house, but around the side. Here we had to traverse through a narrow (and I mean NARROW) passage between the side of the house and the metal fence. I had to turn sideways, suck in my gut, and shimmy through about 20 feet of this, with the pointy ends of nails poking through my clothes as I went.
The ladies in the compound were laughing and cheering me on. I had visions of getting stuck and I am already a little claustrophobic. But, I thankfully made it through and around to the back of the home where I saw the actual living accommodations of the student and his mother. It was a tiny lean-to set up between the back of the house and the back fence, with pieces of corrugated metal and other scraps (tarps or what have you) for a roof. We couldn’t even fit inside to visit, so we kind of sat on a small mattress that protruded out into the entrance of the shelter.
Day 7 – Halecu, Elementary School, HotelWhat a day this was! We arose bright and early, packed up some overnight bags, and boarded the vans for the couple hour drive to Lake Ziway, and the village of Halecu.
I was having some interesting tummy troubles (nothing major) and was experiencing some light-headedness. I think it was due to the anti-malaria medication I had just started prior to heading out to Halecu, which was Malaria hot spot. So the drive there wasn’t the best. I just sat quietly, enjoying the scenery and hoping to make it to the hotel before my gut exploded. There was a lot of beautiful scenery to take in, as well.
Watching the country side pass outside my window felt somewhat like watching a documentary. It was a strange, out of body experience. The acacia trees, the grass/mud huts, farmers, even herds of camels – it was a little mesmerizing for me.
We arrived at the hotel (Hoteela Betaleem, aka The Bethlehem Hotel) and were able to get our rooms. They were pretty nice and I won’t lie – I was looking forward to a couple of nights with a room to myself. The rooms had a bed, TV, table, shower, bathroom, sink – everything you’d need.
We had a short break before we headed out to the center in the village of Halecu. It was only about a 10 minute drive from the hotel. It was incredibly dusty, as they were experiencing a severe drought, and the herds of cattle roaming the streets kicked up quite a cloud of dust.
We weren’t expecting kids to be there (we thought they would be in school – but school was out that day) but we were surprised to find the children there waiting for us with big smiles and even some flowers for Dr. Northcott.
As more kids arrived at the center, they would immediately go to the water pump and get themselves cleaned up. These kids were brand new in a brand new program and haven’t had the benefits of being in a program like this. These were kids who were just at the beginning stages of the transformation that these programs would make for them. I was excited at the prospect of watching that transformation occur with these kids over the next few years until they resemble the kids at the other centers – healthy, happy, and with a bright future.
As I was taking photos, the kids were so anxious to see the screen at the back. I’m sure these kids, who live out in a remote village, rarely catch a glimpse at a photo of themselves.
The kids and their leaders had the center decorated with balloons and the traditional scattering of grasses on the ground. They wanted to welcome us in style! We all gathered by the center, out of the hot sun, and prepared to be served a treat, traditional coffee, and have the children sing for us.
After they sang for us, Dick sat down and started singing some kids songs with them. I think the favorite was “The Wheels On The Bus”.
After the welcome and snacks, the kids asked if we wanted to take a walk with them from the center to their elementary school to check it out and see what projects they are working on there. It was just a short walk, they said. It will be fun, they said. So, off we went.
They said it wasn’t going to be far, and I suppose for them it wasn’t far. It ended up being about 45 minutes of walking along a dusty, and then sandy, trail through the grassland in the oppressive heat with minimal water (I mean, it was going to just be a short walk!) and all of my camera gear in my backpack. I don’t know if you have ever walked on sand before, but it isn’t easy. I couldn’t believe the distance these kids had to walk every day, twice a day, to attend their school, which was quite a ways off from the village. These were children ages 5-10 years old! I couldn’t imagine sending my little one off on such a walk every day to get to school. But, these kids do it and they stick together with one another to make the walk more enjoyable.
I knew that these kids probably made the walk in a fraction of the time we were making, but I was touched that they insisted on walking along side us the whole way. One little guy, Yosef, held my hand the entire walk. We didn’t speak the same language, but affection knows no boundaries.
During the walk we saw some interesting sights – herds of cattle, beautiful country side, and even some of these guys hauling hay.
We finally arrived at the school and headed for the shade on the side of the school house.
I mean, just look at these kids
Once we had a chance to rest for a few minutes, the kids showed us their fruit trees that they are charged with caring for. They have built little shelters from sticks with thorns to offer a little shade and keep animals away from the plants as they grow.
They also showed us the fruit orchard they have growing with a variety of different fruits. All of the plants looked very wilted and parched from the drought. They were not doing well at all.
The kids have the job of carrying water from their nearby well and watering the plants. They also have to dig small wells around each plant to allow the water to stay near the plant and nourish it.
We grabbed some hoes and started to help with the work. The way their hoes are designed makes the work easier, using the weight of the hoe and momentum to do most of the work for you.
We hadn’t brought extra water and it was hot and dusty. I had to cringe a little when I saw the kids guzzling down the water from the filthy watering can. But a tiny part of me was envious that at least he could get something to drink
Watching the dust blowing around these kids, I got a sense of the dire situation these people are in. They received a fraction of the rainfall that they usually expect in that region and their crops are failing. It was scary to think about the awful state these people would be in, in a few months.
I was relieved that, when it was time to head back, the vans had appeared to drive us. I won’t lie – I felt like I got too much sun and wasn’t feeling so great. When we returned back to the center, we first quenched our thirst with some warm bottled water we had brought with us from the house in Addis, and then had a small packed lunch of buns and cheese. We were able to finish eating before the kids returned (they walked from the school) so we then helped hand out lunch to the kids. Because it was a special occasion, the kids were given some soda to drink with their piece of bread that they get for lunch. They were in heaven!
It was amusing to watch the kids shaking the soda and being totally enamored with how it would fizz and bubble.
After lunch a few different things were happening. We gave every child a name tag and lined them up to be weighed and measured, then have their photos taken, then go in to see Dr. Northcott for a physical examination. It was a well-oiled machine. It helped that this was the fewest number of kids that we had to work with at any of the centers. There was only 25 in Halecu (seeing it was a new program.)
Dr. Northcott said that as he examined each child, he would ask them if they had any health concerns to tell him, and without exception, they all said “no”, and without exception, they had something that would require attention. They just aren’t concerned with themselves at all. He showed us some children who were suffering from the effects of malnutrition – lacking in basic vitamins and things like Iodine in their diets. Some children had yellowing hair, others had absolutely tiny limbs, and others had bad cases of head lice. There were many medical problems, but thankfully these would be treated and these kids would be feeling better in no time.
After the measuring and photos were finished, there was still quite a wait for the kids to get in to see Dr. Northcott, so Connie and I spent an hour or so breaking adult sized multi-vitamins in half for the kids to have each day. Costco donated a few bottles of these vitamins but they needed to be smaller for the kids. We ended up with blisters but had a great chat and knew we were helping out.
In the meantime, Mike was teaching his karate basics class to the kids in the room that would be used for their new library.
Not long after that, it was time for us to start getting ready to head back to the hotel. But first, we had to say our goodbyes to the kids while they had their snack of delicious bananas.
Back at the hotel we had a couple of hours to ourselves, which was bliss for me. The first item of business? SHOWER!! I have never had so much dirt and dust on me and on my clothing in my life. My socks were grimy and my clothing was so filthy I didn’t even want to pack it up in my suitcase. It did feel amazing to have a nice hot shower and get all cleaned up.
After I was cleaned up, I sat on the bed with my laptop and a (sort of)internet connection, editing the photos from the day and even watching some TV. It took some time to find a station in english, but I found a movie channel as well as CNN. I ended up watching some news and then catching half of a movie – can’t even remember which one. Mustn’t have been very good.
Day 8 – Halecu (part 2), Home Visits, Swimming
We had some time before the rest of the kids were to arrive, so Connie and I decided it would be fun to teach the kids some action songs that we knew. I did songs like “Once There Was A Snowman” and “Do As I’m Doing” and Connie taught some songs she had learned in Girl Guides. The kids really got into it and didn’t want to stop, even when I was getting pooped out.
Jayne and Lynn weren’t there for the morning as they were at another building teaching some business classes to the parents/guardians group. After playing some games we took some pictures of the gorgeous kiddos while we waited for the rest of the kids to arrive.
Once the kids had all arrived, and washed up, we started by having Connie teacher her bullying and self-defence class. The interpreting was trickier this time since the language was a different and it didn’t translate as well, but the kids got the gist of what she was trying to teach them.
Later we had the kids each draw a picture of some of their favorite things so that I could bring them back to Canada to share with my friends here. They were SO intent on what they were doing and took great care to do a very good job on their drawings.
They drew things they loved like the trees, or their school, their friends or the water pump. Some were different from the list I might see from kids in North America, but other things were just the same. Kids are kids, no matter their circumstances and no matter where in the world they live.The kids had a simple lunch of bread and some water, which us volunteers also enjoyed. It was delicious bread!
We were waiting for the book shelf that we had ordered the day before to arrive. Once it did, we were ready to roll for the last portions of the day’s activities.
The other half of the group each received a new toothbrush and were taught proper dental hygiene. It was so adorable watching them learn how to use a toothbrush for the very first time.
Each group switched and was able to do the other activity – it was very enjoyable for all of the kids. Just as the day with the kids was drawing to a close we had a couple more special presentations to make. First I was able to hand out the photographs that I had taken the day before to each of the kids. They absolutely loved them!
Then I explained the Project Life album and cards that we were donating to their center and showed them how it worked. The loved that, too. (But I think were still a bit preoccupied with their photographs.)
We also gave out some toys that had been personally donated by some friends back in Canada.
There was yet another presentation to make! We gave each child one of the backpacks we had been putting together before. They each were beyond ecstatic with the backpacks AND the blankets and other goodies inside. These backpacks contained more possessions than these kids ever owned,
It was so satisfying to see the kids who received the blankets sewn by some of the YW in our ward, including my own daughter. These kids were beyond thrilled with them.
Before long, it was time for the kids to head home, and for us to head out on some home visits. I first got a photo with the little girl who stole my heart and whom I decided we were going to sponsor as a family. Her name is “A” and she is a complete little doll.
As we were driving away we caught a couple of the little boys already playing with their little cars on the dirt roads on the way home. They just couldn’t wait!My group made our first stop for our first home visit in Halecu and I was happily surprised to find out that we would be visiting the home of the little girl I am sponsoring.She lives with her grandmother in a mud hut with a small yard and some chickens running around.
We were able to visit with her and her grandmother, who was beaming with pride over “A”. We asked her if “A” ever talks about school or the center and she shouted “OH yes! She loves to talk and talk about the center and she has been talking in ENGLISH all the time.” She was so grateful that “A” was chosen to be in the program and has a chance at an education and a future!
It was a one-room hut and was very dark inside. They had few possessions and I had concerns over how poorly the crops in the area were doing because of the drought they were experiencing. How were all of these people going to eat when their crops failed completely? I knew that “A” would be fed at the program, because of sponsorship, but what about everyone else?
Our second home visit was to another hut – a woman with several children. As we approached, she embraced us and kissed our cheeks, over and over and over again. It was a profound show of gratitude that I don’t believe I had ever experienced before in my life. And I hadn’t, myself, really done anything for her, except been there to show support and visit with her.
Just walking across the road from our hotel felt like I was in a documentary film.
It was crazy how different the grounds of the neighboring hotel looked – it was like a completely different world, stepping through the gate.
Day 9 – Lake Ziway and Scholarship Students Dinner
We woke up feeling refreshed after a good night’s sleep and joined at the hotel patio for breakfast. It was nice because we were able to pre-order our breakfast the night before so it would be ready for us in the morning. One of the staff members had prepared a gorgeous coffee ceremony, complete with blossoms from the trees in the garden. I was definitely going to miss this place!
After breakfast (I had french toast) we walked across to the other hotel grounds to find out about a boat tour around Lake Ziway.
We were told that the wait would be about an hour or so, so we settled in at the edge of the lake to visit for a while until a boat returned to take us on our tour.
It didn’t seem long before our boat arrived. It was larger than I expected (thankfully) and we were outfitted with life jackets and led onboard.
The lake is large, but not very deep. It was a bit windy that day, so we were given a nice spray from the waves against the boat – a lot. I was hiding my camera under my vest much of the time to protect it from getting too wet. But I did manage to capture some of the view as we motored past on our way to one of the many islands.
Our first stop was on one of the larger islands on the lake – where a small temple was built at the top. We didn’t realize that the lake tour included a nice hike up to the very top of the island, but we were about to find out!
We started the hike up the rocky trail and tried our best to keep up. It was difficult because it was hot, rocky, we weren’t planning for a hike and didn’t have the best footwear, and we were distracted by so many neat things to see. I especially was fascinated by the large numbers of HUGE spider webs which were filled with hundreds of big spiders all hanging out together. Thankfully there weren’t any webs along the path, but they were almost everywhere else. So cool!
I was also distracted by the flora and the glimpse of little lizards now and again.
It really wasn’t more than a half hour or so of hiking before we reached the top and saw the small chapel/temple at the top. Like the other temples we saw earlier this one was brightly painted and had murals of their saints along the side.
Over to the right was another small structure – I’m not sure if it was the living quarters for the priest who was there or not. It makes me marvel that there is a priest there for the family who lives on the island – of course, he may also be there for the tourists who come through.
After a brief stay at the top, we made our descent (much more easily than the ascent) and stopped to take a group photo in front of one of the large trees on the island. It’s difficult to portray the magnitude of these trees, but they are enormous and breathtaking.
As we were preparing to leave the island, an old woman came out of the hut to offer us some flat bread she had prepared for us.
We graciously took the bread and sampled it (it was incredibly sour and not very tasty, but such a sacrifice for this woman to prepare for us) and many of us tipped her with some birr we had on hand. I wonder how many people visit her island every day, and how often she offers this bread to others.I also had to take a quick photograph of, who I can only assume was, her husband.
Soon it was time to head back to the docking area and head back to our hotel. The tour was a definite highlight for me.
We had a quick lunch at the Bethlehem hotel before loading back in the vans for the drive back to Addis.
The scenery is always breathtaking in the countryside. I could have just stared out the window for hours. I tried my best to capture some scenes as we zipped by the highway – it was a decent road so it was smooth enough to get some shots.
Then they tried some Twister and thought it was hilarious.
Each of the students (once they all had arrived) took turns introducing themselves and what they were studying. These kids came from off the streets before they were brought into the CH programs, and now they are all in University studying things like Engineering, Heavy Duty Mechanics, Medicine, and more. Not only that, but many of them are at the top of their classes – not taking for granted for one minute the blessing it is for them to be there. Amazing.
After that it was supper time! We ordered in some traditional Ethiopian food, which these kids were more used to. In prior years they had tried buffets and even pizza, but these kids weren’t accustomed to eating that food and it didn’t go over well. This was much better, and why not? Just look at that deliciousness:
Once we were done eating, it was time to give out some well-deserved awards to these amazing students. They were awarded based on their grade point average and what kind of students they are. The top two were awarded with a cash scholarship and new laptops:
Day 10 – Laundry, Alemgena, and TeddyI woke up feeling like a truck hit me. I think it was a combination of a bad Chronic Fatigue day and adverse effects from my anti-malarial medication. I felt dizzy and exhausted. Blah. Thankfully there wasn’t a LOT going on. The day started with doing some loads of laundry (much needed after our very dusty few days in Halecu) and we learned how to use the interesting machines there. You first fill the barrel with water from a hose. Once it is full, you add your clothing and your soap and set the timer for it to agitate. Once that is done, you drain the water out the back tube (we drained it into the toilet – the washing machine was in the bathroom. You would not believe how BLACK the water was after just one load of clothing from our Halecu trip. The machine looked a lot like this one:
After draining the barrel, you fill it with clean water and then run a rinse cycle. If the water is still black, you repeat the rinse cycle. Then you put it in the second cylinder and set a spin cycle. It gets them pretty dry, but you still need to hang them on the line outside. We learned that using the machine and air drying leaves our clothes quite stiff. Still, at least they were clean!
We stopped by a really amazing pizza place for dinner – I can’t remember what it was called, but it was delish. I ordered a meatlovers with mushrooms and onions. It was a-mazing. Even with sharing my pizza with two others who wanted to sample, I still ended up with leftovers. I was also finally starting to really feel better by the end of the evening. What a relief! Especially since I was facing another late night of editing so we could have the photos to give the kids at our next visit to Alemgena.
Day 11 – Shopping, Kality (part 2), Yod Abyssinia (part 2)This was a day that started out great and ended on a sour note. You’ll notice that there won’t be many photos documenting this day – the reason is, my CF card became corrupted when I tried to get the photos off at the end of the day. ARG!! The worst part about it was, I had taken 60 portraits of the kids at Kality and it had gone SO smoothly, too. I had a good little cry and then came to the conclusion that there was nothing I could do about it, and worrying would only make the remaining days in Ethiopia less enjoyable. Things worked out okay in the end. The images I have are mainly from my iPhone and I caught a couple from other expedition members.So, we had some gift items to cross off our lists so a few of us went out shopping! Our first stop was back at Sabahar where I bought a scarf for myself as well as for my mom, mother-in-law, and sister-in-law- beautiful silk ones. Gorgeous! We stopped at the best place to buy traditional Ethiopian coffee, and I wanted to pick some up for Christmas gifts for the kids’ teachers.
We then stopped back at Hannah’s shop to pick up a few more little trinkets. My favorite stop of the morning, however, was at a little pottery cooperative where women in the community get together to make pottery completely from scratch. It was amazing to see them work the clay, which they apparently have to do for hours before it’s ready. Then they created beautifully detailed pottery creations – all shaped and painted by hand.
I bought some beautiful little pottery hens, which I adore. It felt great to support the Kechene Women’s Pottery Co-operative.We had lunch back at the house (left over pizza for me, ha ha!) then boarded the vans to head out to Kality, the same place where the “Days For Girls” presentation had been made the week previous. Our group ran into some trouble as there was an accident which caused an enormous traffic jam. I was getting nervous because I had 60 kids to photograph and light disappeared quick when it was sunset time. Eventually we made it to the center where the kids were already working on their sponsor cards. Once everyone had arrived, the kids were lined up in front of the center to be divided into groups. But first, they welcomed us with a few fun little songs they had learned. They were 60 of the most beautiful, precious little faces.
I found a little corner against the building to start photographing kids while the other half took the karate class with Mike. The process went so smoothly and I managed to photograph all 60 kids in under 40 minutes. It was kismet! Too bad I would lose all of those photos when my card wrecked.
Dinner was at another Yod Abyssinia restaurant where one of the scholarship students was performing as one of the musicians. This restaurant was much more cozy and personal, much nicer to enjoy the music and dance.
Day 12 – Merkato, Alemgena (part 2), Employee Appreciation DinnerIt was starting to register that my experience in Ethiopia was coming to a close. Only 3 days left!! This morning was free time, so Connie, Mike, and I decided to go check out the largest open-air market in Africa – Merkato. This market is huge, covering several square miles and hundreds of booths/shops. Getu drove us to the area and I could not believe how packed it was.
We didn’t really have another activity planned to pass the time while the rest of the medicals were being finished up, so we decided to try paper airplanes with this group. We weren’t sure how it would go with this older group who probably had the chance to make them before. They caught on the instructions quickly and were having a BLAST throwing them around. The boys would throw them at the girls, chasing them like any teenagers would. It was fun to watch how much fun THEY were having with a simple piece of folded paper.
Before it was time for us to head back, I was able to hand out their photographs from our previous visit, as well as the Project Life album and card kit. They, like all of the other centers, were so thrilled to have photos of themselves and expressed a lot of gratitude for them.
Day 13 – Lunch at the Bow & Kirkos PresentationThe day started out a bit slow and lazy so Connie and I decided to go for a walk around the neighborhood. During the day, it is a perfectly safe neighborhood and we went as far as the college and back through the community to the house. On the way back we stopped at the bakery to pick up some fresh bread for the house (so good, and SO inexpensive) and also bought some water from a booth around the corner. Connie was so easy to talk to and we had some really great visits during the two weeks we were there. I knew I was going to miss that lady when we returned home.We had lunch back at the Bow hotel – this time I ordered a HUGE burger that I could not even come close to finishing. The woman who the Northcott’s rent the Eden house from also joined us for lunch and she was lovely. She seemed very grateful to have tenants like the Northcotts who take care of the property and even fix it up on their own. Another highlight from the entire trip, for me, was what came next. We headed back to the Kirkos center (for the 3rd time) where they had something very special planned for us. We didn’t have to plan or prepare anything – just show up and be entertained. It was blissful!We were waiting for the other van to arrive so the kids played games with us, including a form of freeze tag. They are FAST and I am NOT. Needless to say, I didn’t do well at that game. LOL!
Once the rest of the gang had arrived, we were seated and two students (one of them was my “teacher” from our first visit!) began by being the Masters of Ceremony and narrating the program. They did a wonderful job speaking in both Amharic and in English.
The program consisted of several traditional Ethiopian dances by their dance club who have won gold at the city championships against professional dance groups. And they were amazing. They even had us up dancing with them for a while. I tried my best, and even though I had taken dance for many years as a child/youth I could NOT keep up with them. My muscles were screaming at me after about 5 minutes and my legs would not do what my brain told them to do after a while. LOL! I don’t know how they do those moves.
Some of the younger children presented a mime/skit which told the story of a student who was poor and his teacher introduced him to the CH program directors who gave him some school books and welcomed him into the program. The best part of the skit, for me, was at the end when they gathered in a group and posed while another student pretended to take their photo. Then they switched positions and had a different student take a turn taking a photo. Clearly they had seen a visitor or two taking photos (a lot!)
Day 14/15 – Packing, Kality Birthday party, and Flying home!
The last day in Ethiopia was kind of a blur. I spent the first part of the day packing up and tidying. I was really worried about the weight of my luggage – I didn’t want to go over and pay charges. We each got two pieces of luggage to take home, and I hadn’t really purchased much to bring home. When I weighed my suitcases I realized that I was actually WAY under weight. The rest of the group heading back to Medicine Hat spread out their stuff (the stuff the Northcotts were bringing back for the silent auctions and other things) into the suitcases to more evenly distribute the weight. I also had to carefully wrap and pack my pottery. I managed to fit them into my carry on so that they wouldn’t get jostled around in the cargo area. I even fit my laptop into my backpack so I could carry it on my back more easily. I was in great shape for our trip back home later that night.
We had one last important stop before heading to the airport for home – back to Kality! Remember, this was the center where all of the images I took of the kids were lost. I was nervous about having to re-shoot all 60 of the students and what their expressions might look like after having to go through the process again. It was the day of their center birthday party that they hold quarterly for all of the students who had birthdays in those 3 months, and I didn’t want to take a lot of time away from that. The whole team worked together and we managed to get all 60 kids photographed in under 25 minutes! It was an Ethiopian miracle 🙂 The best part was, the kids had the same happy, bright, genuine expressions on their faces as the first time around. It was so great to see.
I didn’t have photographs to hand out (those would be handed out a few days after I left) but I was able to present the center with the album and card kit, which they loved.