Written on 11/9/2007
So, an eventful couple weeks have gone by here in Africa and I’ve had no time to write or post a new blog entry. Now, as the hectic lifestyle that I’ve been living is calming a little bit, I can share with you what I thought I was going to post two weeks ago. I’ll catch you up on the last couple weeks in the next blog post. So now, the second chapter in the story that is my week…
Beep, Beep, Beep, Beep, BEEP, BEEP, BEEP, BEEP!!!! Click. Your alarm clock seems to get angrier the longer you take. It seems to start yelling. It takes much longer to both hear the alarm and wake up on Tuesdays and Thursdays than it does on any other day. Your morning routine is cut short on these days and you are reduced to a shower, getting dressed and heading out the door. The shower is more pleasant however, because Tibibu isn’t up as early on these days. So it’s hot steamy water for the entire time. It makes waking up not so harsh. After your shower, you walk slowly and quietly back to your room to pick out your clothes. Never jeans on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Not long pants in general. Either shorts or pants that roll up. You’ll be playing soccer and the ball is always caked in dirt. And with the kids as short as they are, the more fabric there is to grab on the legs, the more they will. On your way out to the living room you wonder if Sarah is even awake yet. You haven’t heard a sound and your supposed to be leaving in five minutes. It’s 6:20am. Out of nowhere, she emerges fully dressed and actually more ready than you are and asks if you’re ready to go. “Yeah? I just have to put on my shoes.” How does she do that?
You walk out the door into the frosty morning air. In Ethiopia, during the months of October, November, and December, the mornings feel like Seattle on a winter morning in January. The nights are very cold and it takes a while to warm up, but once it does, it’s an eighty-five degree day in Twin Falls, Idaho. Except green. And in Africa. The walk to the taxi is short as they stop just fifty yards from the front gate of the compound. You hop up on the curb and look up the hill to see Pastor Mattewos running his short but round frame down the hill toward you. “I always run in the morning during October. It is very cold,” he says. You hop on a taxi easily at this time of the morning, which is the point of getting up so early. School is the opposite direction and is on a route traveling outside the city. Heading into the city in Addis at 8am is like driving from Bothell to the heart of downtown Seattle at rush hour. And you’re on a roller coaster. With no seatbelts. So you get up earlier to get a taxi more easily. Still a roller coaster. The faster they go, the more people they can get, and the more people they can get, the more money the can make. Still no seatbelts.
The ride to Mexico Square takes about twenty-five minutes on these mornings. One Birr and seventy cents (just under twenty cents USD). You hop off and walk around to the other side of the large traffic circle. Down the street is Mimmo Café. It’s here that you’ll have your breakfast. A burger and a macchiato. You laugh inside every time you order because it never occurred to you to have a burger for breakfast, but you saw some people having one and you thought you’d give it a try. Now you’re hooked. You eat and talk, but waste no time. Pastor always wants to be on time for the morning devotional. Only twice has the door even been unlocked before you get there, but you humor him anyway. After the three of you finish, you exit the small café through the hanging plastic bead curtain and hang a left down the busy sidewalk. Passing beggars, street vendors and the daily paper salesman trying his hardest to convince you to buy the Amharic paper that he knows you can’t read, you focus on the conversation at hand. It’s hard to say no to giving five cents (Birr) to the man with no arms and no feet every Tuesday and Thursday, but it’s what you’ve been advised to do. You have to fight it every time you walk by. You hate it. You see the same thing every fifty yards as you walk the twenty minutes to the feeding center. When you get to the front door, Mohammed is there to greet you. You were scared of him when you first met him. He doesn’t smile a lot and since he has one leg, crutches, and carries a stick with which to chase people off, you were hesitant to be his best friend. Now, you and Mohammed exchange the normal greetings each time you see one another. His smile has come out more. His large hand envelops yours as you say, “Seulam,” and he pulls you into his chest and rests his head against your neck. He is quite gentle. You stand outside for about fifteen minutes as the three of you wait for the office secretaries to arrive with the key. It’s a good thing you rushed through breakfast. You might have been late.
Upon entering, you set your bags in a side office and make your way outside at the back of the office. You hop down the stairs to where the food is prepared and served and are greeted by fifteen smiling faces yelling, “Eyasu! Kwass! Kwass! (Joshua! Ball! Ball!).” You give them all hugs and various forms of high fives, handshakes and knuckle pounds, then you run back up the stairs to the office and grab the soccer ball you purchased for the feeding center. It has provided more joy for the children than they have experienced in quite a while. Their soccer balls usually consist of a milk bag filled with dirt and sewn together with a shoelace. This one is a real ball. You hurry back to the children and run with them around the kitchen to the parking area. You hope nobody has used it for its actual purpose. They haven’t. A cement area about twenty feet by thirty feet with corrugated tin walls about seven feet tall on one side, a sheet metal gate on another, and cement walls from the building on the other two create the indoor arena. Four parking markers made of a concrete base with a three-foot rebar pole sticking out the top make your goals. You are both the referee and a player. You usually have the girls be on your team since the boys don’t want them. Then you purposefully set them up to score a bunch so the boys are slightly humbled. In a fun way. They score a ton on their own. The games are usually five-v-five and include a goalie. The rest of the kids are fine just standing next to you and holding on to your pockets. You try to take their hands in yours as much as possible. You wish you had more hands so that you could hold all of them at once. For the next hour, they feel free. They can be kids. Something they seldom are. This ends with Pastor Mattewos being the bad guy. It’s time to go to the cement benches and tables and listen to a bible story. The children sit attentively as either Mattewos or myself gives them some biblical principal to grasp. God’s faithfulness. Justice. Peace. Love. Honesty. Brotherhood. Patience. These are all set within their context of being mostly homeless, but at least incredibly poor. Some have no families. Most only have one parent. There are three young girls that come every day. Meherat is ten, Amalework is 7, and Yenninnish is four. They always smile even though they have no home and only live with their mother. Their father left them when Yenninnish was born. They’ve never seen him again and because of his leaving, they have lived in destitution ever since. You love sitting with them and seeing Amalework’s big smile as you play with the short braids on her head. Yenninish stares with a small grin. Meherat tells you, through Mattewos, that she basically takes care of her sisters, as her mother has to work to provide for them. She won’t tell you what her mother does though. She says she doesn’t know. You know she does.
The children love it when you tell stories instead of Mattewos. It isn’t that his are bad by any means, but you are a little more animated. It’s a little more exciting. After the story, the children line up to get their food. Two white bread rolls, two bananas and a plastic mug filled with warm milk. They like to bite the ends off the rolls and shove the bananas into the hole. Then they eat it like a banana burrito. It makes you think of Mexican food. You long for a taco. A burrito. Nachos. You snap out of it and realize that every one of the kids inhaled their food and are heading back up to the street to go to work or go back to their parent. Ibrahim is twelve. He has no family. He’s on his own. He comes to the feeding center in the morning and then makes his living as a shoe shine boy. He works from when breakfast is over until sundown. He doesn’t eat lunch. I hope he eats dinner with his wages. If he makes enough. I’m not sure where he sleeps. You pray for him and the others as they leave. You wish they could stay all day and play soccer or teach them or just be with them. But they have to leave. They have to make a living.
After they go, you take the ball back to the office and spend the next hour or so reading ‘The Brothers Karamozov’ as you wait for the injera and wot to arrive. When it gets there in the truck you head back down the stairs and watch it come to the kitchen. Men carry stacks of injera on their heads that must way fifty pounds and stand two feet high. Once on the tables, you start folding. First in half and then in thirds, so it looks like a piece of pizza. You stack on injera on a plate and stack the plates five high. Then they go to the table in front of the window where they will be passed out. As the people file through the entrance, they give their ticket to the woman in the booth. She gives them a token and then they stand in line for the injera. You hand them one injera and they give you the token. This exchange occurs over 700 times over the next two hours as people continue to come. When they get their injera, they sit at the same cement tables and benches and wait for the woman to come around with wot. She gives each person two ladles of hot soupy wot atop their injera, which they have unfolded. The time flies by and you finish quickly. Then it’s back upstairs to hopefully check email. After you get through maybe two, Mattewos is ready to go. He has to be back to the Ayer Tena HOPE School to teach. You say your goodbyes and head out the door. Sometimes the morning seems too routine, but the soccer and the children make it new every day.
You walk back to the taxi stop and head home. Once there, you need to take a short nap. Although short, these mornings wear you out. Emotionally, physically and spiritually, you are exhausted. Sometimes sleeping makes things easier. When you sleep, there is no confrontation. But then you dream. You realize quickly that this place is being etched onto your mind and heart. Deeply. You won’t forget it. Ever.
Thursdays look like Tuesdays except for the addition of Bethany and Maren to the day. They teach on Tuesdays so they can’t come. But Thursdays, we all get to go.
So that’s it. That’s my week. Hope you enjoyed and sorry it took so long to get the second part up.
PS- Here are a few things of note that occurred since my last post.
Arsenal tied Manchester United 2-2 and remain number one in points in the English Premier League. It’s huge here.
British guy is still here. I don’t think he’s an idiot anymore and once I’ve gotten to know him a little on a one-on-one basis, I’ve seen a different side of him.
Bethany, Maren and Sarah planned and flawlessly executed a surprise birthday party for me with about fourteen of our closest Ethiopian friends. I wish that you all could have been there, but it was very special to have our new friends celebrate with us.
I’ve been sick since Tuesday. Not fun. I’m never eating cheese here again. I was sick the week before as well. Not as bad though. I think I’ll be better by the weekend.
That’s about it. Talk to you soon!