Adventure in ET – Part 6

If you’re just joining the journey, catch-up here:
~ Adventure in ET – Part 5

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Tuesday, September 2, 2008 – Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

A quick word about the weather.

It is the rainy season in Ethiopia. Everyday we’ve had thundershowers, primarily in the late afternoon and overnight. The temperatures have been around 80 in Addis, and mid to upper 80’s in Awassa. We are very thankful to be here during the rainy season as the weather is pleasant. The Ethiopians are all wearing long sleeves, pants and jackets. That seems like a bit much for us Michiganders, but in contrast to how hot is gets here, 80 is chilly.

We visited two museums today. The first was the Ethiopian National Museum. The second was at Addis Ababa University and is housed in what used to be the emperors palace. The museums were interesting, but not particularly captivating. At this point I think our group is very tired and just wants to get our children. Nevertheless, it was good to understand at least a little of the culture that our kids were born into.

After the museums and lunch, Sami took us on a shopping trip to some specially selected shops. We found, again, that our bartering skills were severely lacking – even with all of our Dutch blood. Katrina had a woman happily wait on her as I watched from the other side of the store. I was glad to see Katrina finding things that we had been looking for and planning to purchase. However, I was getting a bit nervous about the stack of merchandise our helpful attendant was gladly piling on the counter for us. 

Once the selecting and piling was finished, I joined Katrina at the counter. I knew this was the time to put my hard-bargainer game face on. Well, either I had a poor game face or our lovely assistant knew that if it came down to Katrina getting the goodies or me killing the deal to save a buck or two, Katrina wins every time. So, as the attendant went through the pile to confirm our purchases, Katrina voiced a cheery “okay” after each one. What Katrina didn’t realize was that every time she said “okay” she was not only agreeing to purchase that item, but also agreeing to the tagged or stated price. I grinned (painfully), instinctively clutching my wallet. In an effort to save some face, I got the attendant to round-down the price from 1345 birr to 1300. My last-minute bargaining saved us 45 cents US.

(Katrina here: Chris is being so nice with this moment—it could have been an icky time for us. I have no interest in bartering and actually find it distasteful because the prices are cheap and as I look all around me I can’t justify 50 cents. And it must be written all over my face. Oh, well. Chris was very generous.)

We shopped at a few more stores. Then Sami drove us to a coffee bean shop that was supposed to be the best in Addis. I want to describe it as a hole in the wall, but everything here is a hole in the wall. And yes, this coffee shop had roasted coffee, ready to grind and brew. Everyone in our group purchased mass quantities, all the while wondering what we’re going to do with all of the coffee we’ve purchased over the past couple of days. Katrina and I alone are bringing home 7 kg (about 15 lbs). But at $4 US for a kilo of roasted Ethiopian coffee, the more the merrier. We’ll have to pack our beans strategically to avoid an airline surcharge for overweight baggage.

Today was also the day that two of the couples in our group got their children. Things seem to be going well. Apparently it didn’t start that way as one child cried the entire time at the orphanage. One of the children is a 6 month old boy who seems happy and content. It makes the rest of us long to get our children. It also makes us wonder how well (and quickly) our new children will attach to us.

We had dinner tonight with just one other couple (a brother and sister) from our group. It was a nice dinner at the Green View. Yep, pizza – again. I don’t think any of us are particularly fond of Ethiopian food. We shared an interesting discussion about church and faith. Both of them are Catholic by upbringing. He is quite involved with his church. Katrina had a nice conversation with her about faith.

We finished the evening with a 9pm visit from Alemu. Visa forms for our girls needed to be completed so Alemu could take them to the embassy in the morning. I must say, I felt a little uneasy with his unfamiliarity with the forms. Our social worker in the States said that Alemu would know how to handle all the paperwork. Honestly, I think we knew more than Alemu. Oh well, it’s done. Praying for uneventful processing with no glitches.

Tomorrow, we get our girls!

Adventure in ET – Part 5

If you’re just joining the journey, catch-up here:
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Monday, September 1, 2008 – Awassa to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

I know in Mexico they call it Montezuma’s revenge. I don’t know who to blame while in Africa, but somebody (or something) took some serious revenge on me last night. Part of last night was spent fumbling around in the dark for small green pills with an unpronounceable name. By process of elimination (no pun intended) I think I found the desired medicinal binding agent. Down the hatch it went. I feel better this morning. We’ll see how breakfast goes…

This last morning in Awassa we were taken to some shops that would be able to sell us traditional dress. Most of us wanted to at least get our children dress from their birth country. In the midst of the shopping, our guide Alemu got into a heated discussion with one of the vendors. Apparently Alemu felt this vendor should be a little more flexible with his pricing. The vendor held firm. Can’t blame him. It’s easy to be firm when you have Americans standing in your shop that want your stuff, will likely never be back, and are standing with money in their hands. I don’t think we were helping Alemu’s cause.

Katrina and I have never been good shoppers. I’m too cheap and she’s indecisive. We wandered from store to store not buying anything. Meanwhile, the rest of our group was negotiating deals and hauling bags of goodies back to the van. We kept our cool in the tension and did end up getting some nice (and affordable) traditional gowns for the girls, as well as for us and our boys.

We had lunch at the same restaurant as the previous day (the Lewi). Afterward, Alemu said we were going to a place to buy coffee beans. We were excited because we wanted to share with our friends back home the excellent coffee we had been enjoying.

Our driver, Sami, took us to the south side of Awassa. As we spotted a market similar to those in Addis, Sami pulled off the road next to an alley. Alemu shooed us out and led us down the alleyway to a busy intersection. We crossed the road and went directly into the crowded, muddy, smelly marketplace. 

In the market, we saw people carrying dead and alive chickens, huge buckets of eggs, other small livestock and various plastic and indigenous crafts. Eventually, we came upon four women selling coffee. Here, I need to pause. You see, each of us in the group had a vision of buying coffee that looked much different than what we were about to experience. Even after four days in this 3rd world country, we still anticipated buying coffee that had been roasted to various levels of darkness, packaged in a breathable foil pack, and given a creative name to indicate its flavor or region of origin. Seems we had been brainwashed by Mother Starbucks. The women selling coffee in the market were sitting under umbrellas in front of 50 pound burlap bags that were also shaded by large umbrellas. These bags did contain coffee beans – but they were green (unroasted) beans. We all stood motionless for a bit. I cast a nonchalant sideway glance hoping to spot a bag of brown, roasted beans. Nothing.

Alemu pressed the buying by asking a lady in our group how many kilos she wanted. She responded with savvy and asked the questions we were all pondering. Then she bought some of the green beans. The rest of us did likewise. Katrina offered comfort to the group by stating I know someone at work who buys unroasted beans and that a simple hot air popcorn popper will roast them just fine. I joined the attempt at consolation by suggesting roasting techniques I observed two days before at the coffee ceremony. Others said we could just “google” it. In the end, we were able to justify our purchases and comfort ourselves in the ability of the internet to answer all of life’s tough questions. Katrina and I bought 3 kg of raw beans for $7.50 US. A steal, roasted or not.

After the coffee debacle, we headed back to Addis Ababa. We all dreaded the 250 kM trip. The van seats had padding only slightly softer than the bed in Awassa.

All in all, the trip went smoothly. The only excitement was when Sami nearly hit two dogs and a donkey. Dodging animals that lazily wander across the road makes travel in Ethiopia frustrating. The roads are always busy and littered with people, carts, taxis, large trucks and animals. Horn-honking is a language as well as genre of music in Ethiopia. Unfortunately, as music it is cacophonous, and as a language rarely interpreted correctly. Still, honking horns are an integral part of the sensory experience of Ethiopian life.

As we entered the outskirts of Addis, heavy smog enveloped us. It stung my eyes and others complained of feeling dirty. We stopped for dinner at the Green View restaurant, which had excellent pizza. 

The trip to Awassa was an amazing experience. Despite the arduous journey, it was well worth it – pants bugs and all.

Adventure in ET – Part 4

If you’re just joining the journey, catch-up here:

~ Adventure in ET – Part 3

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August 31, 2008 – Awassa, Ethiopia

We were beckoned again this morning to prayer by our Muslim friends. Not to be outdone, a rooster offered his morning call to worship. (perhaps he was a Muslim rooster?) Awakened from our sleep, we started the day.

I should mention a bit about our hotel here in Awassa, the Lewi. It is very nice – a bit nicer than the Desalegn in Addis. However, one noticeable difference is the bed. The mosquito net hanging over the bed was new (we are now in malaria country). But the real uniqueness of the bed was its extreme firmness. I’m not talking a super firm, padded mattress like we’d find back in the States. This puppy is box spring firm. In fact, we checked to see if we were sleeping on the box spring, it was that hard. The funny thing is that we actually slept pretty well. I think our good sleeping can be attributed mostly to exhaustion rather than an affinity for overly firm mattresses.


The view outside our hotel again brings together a poignant dichotomy. In the alley outside our room is an unfinished building and more tin roof shacks that people call home. Clothes lines crisscross an open courtyard where garbage is everywhere. We have a clear view into a makeshift restroom. What I see is hard to reconcile as I anticipate a hot shower, a breakfast buffet and a strong coffee.


A quick update on my red, sore, itchy eye that I developed on the plane ride over. God answered prayer as it is nearly back to normal with only a little tenderness and itch. I’m thankful that it was nothing more than a slight irritation rather than full-blown pink eye.

Well, the biggest event of today was meeting our daughter’s mother. At breakfast our group had a nervous giddiness as we anticipated meeting the relatives and caregivers of our children prior to their being adopted. We were well aware of the emotions those meetings would likely invoke.

The meetings occurred at a neutral site. It was actually the place our girls spent their first couple of days away from their mom (“M”). It was a very small clinic about ½ mile from Lake Awassa. It had a little kitchen, sleeping room with about a dozen cribs and an office. The bathroom was open-air and smelly. There were a half dozen turtle shaped kiddie potties lining the cement wall. The clinic was surrounded by walls and fences which enclosed a small yard. In the yard we saw several lizards about 6-8 inches long climbing on the concrete walls.

We didn’t know who was to meet their child’s family member first. The order was pre-arranged. Katrina and I were chosen to go first. I wanted to go first, mostly because I dislike prolonging stressful situations.

As we waited, we milled about in a gated 20ft x 20ft cemented courtyard. This courtyard bordered a dirt road that was busy with activity. As Katrina and I contemplated our role as pioneers for the group, we were suddenly summoned to the interviewing office. Almost on cue, a woman appeared at the gate. She was traditionally dressed with a white wrap that covered her head and body. She was about 3-4 inches shorter than Katrina and shuffled her feet a bit. She made little eye contact with anyone and seemed embarrassed or ashamed.  It was M, the birth mother of our girls.

We proceeded ahead of M into the office and situated ourselves in chairs – me on M’s right, a young male social worker across from M, and Katrina directly across from me. The social worker did the interpreting and Alemu used our camera to videotape the next 20 minutes. A third gentleman, the director of this clinic, was also there with his assistant.

After we all settled into our chairs, there was a few seconds of awkward silence. I contemplated how to handle the ball that was clearly in our (my) court. Observing that Katrina was getting emotional, I knew I had to lead. I stepped into the tension by introducing myself and Katrina. M responded in kind. I carried the conversation further by telling her where we lived, which led to the photo album we had prepared for her. It was the only thing we could give her – no gifts or money or anything of value is allowed to be exchanged. The album was a simple way to give M a glimpse of the life her daughters would experience as part of our family.

I opened the album, bridging the gap between my leg and M’s. I explained each photo to her (through the translator). The second photo was of our boys. In that photo they are holding a photo of our daughters. M recognized her girls and pointed curiously. As I told her the names and ages of our little men, she began to relax. I sensed she was pleased to see our boys so happy, holding construction paper hearts and a photo of her girls. This was a welcomed change from the sadness she brought with her. This was also the first time I experienced the common Ethiopian practice of taking-in a quick breath as a way of acknowledging something or someone. She did this several times during our meeting. I found this behavior to be inviting and honoring.

We slowly worked through the rest of the pictures. M saw pictures of the girls’ room and I told her how we would home school them. I showed her a picture of our kitchen and eating area, at which she became more animated. After observing the poverty and hunger in Ethiopia, it is easy to understand why.

The conversation continued and we all relaxed a bit. Despite her outer timidity, M was forthright and firm with her answers. She began making more eye contact with Katrina, and even cast a few sideways glances at me. We asked some general questions and learned a few things about M, our girls and their extended family. I asked what kind of work M did. The social worker said that M is very sick and lies down often. Katrina asked if she would like something to drink. She eagerly took the water we had brought with us. It appeared to us that she is not doing well. 

We asked M about her religious beliefs. She said she is Orthodox Christian. This was a great opportunity for us to share our faith. We told her we are Protestant Christians and went on to explain how faith and church life is very important to us. We had talked earlier about the many adopted children in our church and showed her a picture that include adopted children of color. That resulted in a quick draw of breath and a smile.

The last page of the photo album had a handful of Bible verses written in Amharic.  There was also a brief personal note from Katrina and me. We wanted to be clear with M that our faith guides our parenting. During and after the meeting, Katrina and I felt a powerful connection with M in regard to faith. Katrina asked M if she had a favorite Bible verse. She hedged a bit. My guess is that M is illiterate. Nonetheless, she offered some advice that was an encouragement to all in the room: “Don’t count on any other; count on God.”

Our meeting coasted to a natural close. It became obvious to us that life for many Ethiopians is about survival, not specific personal details of likes, dislikes, and dates. Katrina asked M about things the girls like. She grinned and said they are very happy children and that one of the girls really likes toys. Her advice to us was they have each other, they will help each other, and everything will be all right. When asked how she wanted her girls to remember her, she simply said that she wants them to know that she is okay and not to worry. It was a sad moment. M is far from okay. 

Despite a staid countenance, it was obvious that M still very much cares for her daughters.  When I asked her if she had any questions for us, she made a simple request for pictures of the girls – many pictures. She smiled wide as we promised as many as she would like. Her request brought home the reality of why we were sitting in this room together.

We finished with the compulsory photos of the three of us. When those were complete, Katrina kneeled in front of M and took both of her hands. She told M that she was her sister and that she would care for her girls as a sister would. I told her that we loved her and she responded that she loved us as well. I followed with a last word of saying we would pray for her. She responded likewise – and I believe her.

With that, we all stood. Katrina and I both shared with M the customary cheek-to-cheek series of three hugs. I also received a handshake as a show of respect. Our meeting felt complete. Each shared a confidence that what was happening was good. We found M to be a loving mother who wants the best for her girls. I believe she saw us as parents who desire to provide the love and faith that will allow her girls to thrive.

Katrina and I watched M walk through the courtyard and toward the gate. She stood there for a moment. Katrina had left my side, overcome with emotion. I looked around, wondering what I was supposed to do. Quietly, M walked off – I didn’t see where. 

A few minutes later, we noticed a woman standing near the main road. Katrina asked me if it was M. I said I didn’t think so; I thought she had walked the other way. We watched the woman for a few more minutes.  Perhaps it was her? She was holding something under her shawl that could easily be the album we gave her. As we wondered, a blue and white taxi pulled up. The woman turned back to look at the gated courtyard where we stood. She waved and got in. It was M. I waved back, sick in my soul with guilt. She was standing out there alone, much like she has been alone the past few months. It felt unfair. Even though we wouldn’t have been able to communicate well, I wish I could have stood with her those last few minutes. I wish I could have paid for her taxi. I wish I could tell her – again – that I will work hard to be a good dad for her daughters. I regret missing that opportunity. But I’m confident she knows Katrina and I will do our best. Her wave was both confirmation, and blessing. 

While we waited for the others in our group to meet their children’s caregivers, we interacted with local children walking up and down the dirt road adjacent to the clinic. A man from our group went to a small food stand just outside the gate to the clinic and bought lollipops for $0.10 US each. He handed these out to kids as they passed by. Me and another man from our group joined him as word spread of the “white people with candy”. As they came for the candy, we also took photos of these children. They are absolutely fascinated with seeing their own face on the back of our cameras.

Towards the end of the morning, Katrina decided she’d get in on the action. She purchased 10 birr of candy and, naively, stood outside the gate with all of her candy exposed. Suddenly, about a dozen kids made a mad dash for her. One of the clinic assistants, as well as Sami our driver, had to provide security as she distributed the lollipops.

After our emotional meetings we had lunch and then headed into the countryside. Our intended destination was a “coffee ranch.” We passed through a typical middle class residential community in Awassa. As we did, our guide insisted on showing us some coffee trees growing in the wild. Sounds a little strange, but this is the birthplace of coffee, you know.

We stopped alongside the road on a hill outside of town. There, we saw some coffee trees. It was a bit underwhelming. If there were hot cups of brewed coffee hanging from the branches, that would have got my attention. While gawking at the trees, we interacted with a small community of about 30 men, women and children. Some were excited to see us, some tenuous, and some actually ran away. A very tall man wearing a white skull cap stepped forward. He appeared to be the “chief”. He led us up the road a bit and gave us a tour of the residence of an old gentleman. 

A typical middle class residence in Awassa is a circular grass hut about 15 feet in diameter. The hut is made with bamboo (or something similar) and has a conical, thatched grass roof. The inside is thickly coated with soot from the cooking fires. There was a cot for sleeping, a cooking area, two goats and a small cow (yes, they were inside the hut). There were no windows and it was extremely dark. Our group commented on the darkness and our guide retorted with, “why do you think they have so many children?”  We all laughed and a man from our group commented that he was planning to construct his own hut (no, it wasn’t me that made that comment).

The people in Ethiopia are all extremely friendly and gracious. The children laugh and wave and smile. Their eyes are inviting and warm. The adults are gentle and pleasant. It makes for a wonderful interactions despite the language barrier.

We all pinched ourselves as we boarded the van thinking only National Geographic photographers get to experience what we just did. Touring the hut was certainly a highlight. We continued to the coffee ranch which was still about 45 minutes away.

We entered the old capital of the Southern Region (can’t remember the name of the city) which was very busy. In the poorer sections, kids came very close to our van and were insistent on running alongside us. Our guides spoke harshly to them, yelling at them to go away. They were concerned that one of the children would get hurt, which would mean trouble for all of us. It must have been in the midst of this yelling that we lost our way. There was confusion as to how to get to the ranch, so we simply pulled over and looked for a teenage boy who could show us where to go. That’s how Jamal enters our story. He became our guide, and the envy of his friends.

The road to the ranch was the worst we’d seen to this point: slippery, unpaved, and very rocky. But we were determined and made it to the ranch – with Jamal’s guidance. The “ranch” was really a posh resort tucked away in a jungle-like setting. Several bamboo bungalows greeted us. It was obvious this was a retreat for the wealthy. But we were not there to enjoy such Ethiopian opulence. Unbeknownst to us, we were there to trek through the wet, slippery, muddy jungle.

We began our jungle hike heading down hill, following a man who’s English was bad and tour-guiding worse. Fortunately, Alemu was with us. Unfortunate for Alemu was that some bug had crawled up his pant leg and was making its presence known in an unpleasant way. Alemu erupted into a strange jig and grabbed, swatted, pulled and pinched at his upper thigh region. It was quite humorous seeing this confident, authoritative man thrown into a panic over a bug.

Not to be outdone, Katrina decided to do the “I’ve got a bug in my pants” jig. (Katrina here: my jig was nothing like Alemu’s because I actually killed mine right away and another lady in our group also had a visitor in her pants. Those were sneaky bugs that don’t bite until they got above the knee. I’m not making this up!) I’m glad these ladies and Alemu were at the front of the pack, absorbing the wrath of mysterious African biting bugs. The rest of the group didn’t have any trouble.

Down the trail a ways, we climb up to a cave where the daughter of some Ethiopian king hid for five years while her father fled to Europe. She not only hid in the cave, but also stashed some weapons that apparently helped in the regaining of power by the Ethiopians. After being a bit confused by the story, and thinking the King to be a wimp for leaving his daughter behind, we trekked back out, past the pants bugs, and on toward the elusive coffee trees (this was supposed to be a coffee ranch, right?). We did stumble upon about a dozen trees planted sporadically. I had seen enough and was ready to settle into one of the posh bungalows for a “mekato”. But I was mistaken as apparently we still needed to take the wildlife portion of the tour. 

We walked quite a bit more, all the while getting muddy. We entered a gated area. I cynically wondered what they were keeping in, or out. We trudged on. Finally, we slowed to a stop as our non-English speaking guide pointed to the trees. It was hard to see at first, but eventually we made out a Colobus monkey. These monkeys are black and white, rather large, and have a long tail with a big tuft of white hair on the end. As we began to focus our cameras, suddenly 4-5 monkeys chased each other through the treetops. It was pretty neat. Then, on cue, a single monkey perched in a leafless opening for the perfect photo-op. 

With monkeys seen and photographs taken, we made one last stop to view the garden used to supply the ranch restaurant. The lettuce was interesting as far as lettuce goes, but it was a relief that our next (and last) stop was the restaurant for a drink and the use of a clean restroom (Katrina here: a twenty star restroom by Ethiopian standards—I took a picture of it, I loved it so much).

As we relaxed with another Mekato, we enjoyed seeing “Jamal the King” have a Coke (major treat for him) and interact with us “frenges”. I’m sure we made his month with an 80 birr tip ($8 US). As we rode back through the town, he sat a little taller, basking in the awe of an admiring crowd who watched him ride in a van with a bunch of “wealthy” Americans.

Adventure in ET – Part 3

If you’re just joining the journey, catch-up here:

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Saturday, August 30, 2008 – Addis Ababa to Awassa, Ethiopia
Well, it was a rough night for most of our group. Based on reports at breakfast, jet lag was rampant. Me and another fellow both got about 4-5 hours of decent sleep. The rest didn’t and were up doing various other activities. At 3am, the Muslim calls to prayer began over the loudspeaker somewhere within earshot of the hotel. I didn’t hear them until about 5am when my alarm went off. It was about that time Katrina finally fell asleep. I roused her gently around 6am. Fortunately for her, misery loves company and she was well accompanied at breakfast.

We began the 250 kM trek to Awassa, the birthplace of our daughters, around 8:20am. We were excited about seeing more of Africa and getting closer to the day when we would meet the birth mom. We headed South East out of Addis, which was different from the tour route of the previous day. The scenery was also different – a bit more industrial and a few less people. We had to stop about 10 minutes into the trip to get some rope to secure our luggage to the roof rack of the van. As I’m writing this, I wonder how our luggage was secured prior to obtaining the rope?

Anyhow, while stopped for the rope we were immediately greeted by young boys, probably 7-12 years old, selling their wares: wafers (cookies), gum/candy and other items. We were too far away from the central city to give them a meal ticket. They didn’t appear to be as destitute as some we’d seen, but nonetheless were very poor. Two of the boys were friendly with wide smiles. They also were eager to have their picture taken. While taking a photo of these two, a third joined them and promptly gave the universal sign for “you’re #1”.  I missed this gesture as I took the photo, but the rest of the group didn’t. We all laughed at my “photo of the day.”

Continuing out of Addis, we drove past a military camp, air force base and a prison.  We were not allowed to take photos near these areas since doing so meant we would be imprisoned as well. We observed construction in progress on several buildings, the biggest of which were probably only 4 or 5 stories. There was a steady stream of animals and people wandering both sides of the road.

After a couple of hours, we stopped in a small town to have a “mekato”, which we came to discover is like a macchiato. We pulled into a small gated parking lot of a decent, middle class hotel nestled among the shacks of the poor. Needless to say, the Ethiopian “mekato” was enjoyed by all – even the non-coffee types.

After our drinks we continued the dusty trek South. We were slowly losing elevation as Addis sits, on average, at about 2600 meters. The countryside was green with rolling hills and mountains in the background. The ride for the next hour was pretty monotonous. The roads were paved and in very good condition (no freeze/thaw cracks here). We passed through a few small villages, which all began to look the same.

About the time we were coming down from the caffeine of the mekato, our guide Alemu indicated we were entering Diebre Zeit. Diebre Zeit is the town where our girls are staying. It is also where the children of two other families are residing. As we drove through, there was a nervous tension in the van. Someone asked where the orphanage was. As we approached a “Y” in the road, Alemu pointed and said, “down there.” I felt nervous, excited and sad.  Everyone was quiet for a moment, replaying that vision we have each replayed many times – the day we meet our Ethiopian children. The noise of the town and the endless honking of horns brought us quickly back to reality.

The images from the journey from Addis to Awassa are difficult to describe. As the miles passed, a heavy sadness settled on all of us. Hoards of people simply wander along the roads. Cattle, donkeys, horses, dogs and goats accompany them. We saw grass huts in for the first time while in Ethiopia. These huts were very small, typically 8ft x 8ft mud “cubes” that served as living quarters. It became common to see the youngest children, those under 3, not wearing any pants. Occasionally an older child could be seen simply lying about 5 feet from the road, head in hands, watching the traffic. Groups of men would be sitting and chatting at the mud cubes apparently having nothing to do – whether by choice or circumstance.

I found myself asking, “what do these people do?” I began to ponder how my “doing” is tied to my “being”. These people appear to be doing little or nothing. Yet, they exist, and are pleasant and smiling. Their demeanor is a sharp condemnation as I sit here in a very nice hotel (even by American standards) journaling on a laptop while waiting to fill my stomach at breakfast. My musings are more than an intellectual journey into social justice theory. This is about identity; who am I really, and where do I go to find that identity?  I wonder the same for these people. What is it like to wander, traveling and sleeping with your animals, which are life to you? Our backpacks are stuffed with purified water, hand sanitizer, and a plethora of lotions and creams to make us look and feel good.  As we condition our skin and pamper our bodies, Ethiopian eyes are looking. Their arms reach inside the van, and the few English words of “money” and “you buy” or “it is good” assault your ears and conscience. It is overwhelming, and at times, crushing.

Our trek into the poorest of the poor lasted several hours. At one point the sad familiar was broken by the sight of a young man dragging an 8 ft water snake across the road to a group standing nearby. The snake appeared to be a good 6-7 inches in diameter in the middle and likely made for a good meal that evening.

For lunch we stopped at a very nice restaurant (no, we didn’t eat snake). Katrina order roasted lamb and I went exotic with a plate of spaghetti. Others went ethnic. Alemu had us all try some injera bread covered with traditional Ethiopian spices. Injera is like a rubbery pancake, grey in color and has a tangy, almost vinegary taste. Traditional Ethiopians spices are slightly warm to the taste with more of a curry flavor than tomato. It’s good, but I can’t eat much of it.

After lunch we stayed at the restaurant for an Ethiopian coffee ceremony. A young girl roasted and ground the coffee beans. She poured the ground coffee straight into the water and then heated the coffee until steam came out of the pot. While waiting for the coffee to heat, a large tray of popcorn was passed among our group and then around the restaurant. The coffee was excellent, as was the experience. What wasn’t excellent were the bathrooms. The dirtiest we’d seen yet. No toilet seats and just all around filthy.  Ok for the men, but the women practiced their hovering skills.

As we neared Awassa, the landscape became greener and there was more agricultural activity. Corn (or maize) is the primary crop. We also recognized some soy beans and rice. There were people weeding the tef fields – tef being a valuable crop. I believe our guide said it is used in food for those that need a gluten free diet.

We stopped at Lake Lagano (about 70 kM from Awassa) for a break. Upon entering the very bumpy and stony road that went for about a mile to the lake, we were approached by several children selling their wares. These children were ill, dirty, and extremely poor. A few had noticeably rotten teeth. This contrasted with the resort on the beach on Lake Lagano where some in our group took a paddle boat ride before we had a cold drink of Fanta, Pepsi, or water.

As we left the lake resort, we decided to stop at a very small craft stand. The crafts were made by the women living there. Proceeds supported a woman’s clinic. As was typical, our van was mobbed by the children we had to shoo-away on the way in. A few in our group bought items after some hard bartering. We bought two simple stone carvings from two of the children. They cost us $1 US each. We passed on buying the live gecko on a stick that one of the children had, but only because we didn’t know how to pack him in our carry-on! (apologies to our sons back home)

We finally arrived in Awassa around 4pm. We were all very tired, but not too tired to pass on the often mentioned, and much anticipated, “hippo ride.” We drove a couple miles from the hotel to the shore of Lake Awassa. All eyes were on the “white people”, or “frenge” as we made our way through the crowd to the boats. We found out later that most of the reason for the spectacle was that Americans are the only ones who take the hippo ride.

The ride was fun, but a little nerve racking. For one, there were thunderstorms all around the lake with rain obviously falling in some areas. We left our rain jackets at the hotel as we were tired of carrying them all day inside the van (it rains a lot in the van, you know). Second, the boats we were riding in were barely navigable. The hulls flexed and the bottom was filled with a couple inches of water. At the halfway point of the ride, after assuring us that only small crocs (caimans, we believe) are in this lake, our hippo guide bailed a bit of water. We all made nervous jokes about the seaworthiness of the vessel. He seemed relaxed, but that offered little comfort to us Americans with expensive digital cameras and no lifejackets in sight.

After seeing four hippos who treated us with a couple of yawns and a pseudo breech out of the water, we made a slower than desired voyage back to our adoring fans at the boat launch. Upon reaching dry land, we once again made a spectacle of ourselves.

For dinner, Alemu took us to a popular pizza place. It was not so much a pizza place as it was the home of an ADHD Butcher and the “Dancing Fry-Guy.” Words are inadequate to describe the scene. What is certain is the FDA would have shut this place down in an instant. In brief, picture a 3ft diameter flattened wok sitting above a 3ft square pit  of fire. In this wok-like pan is oil. Into the oil the “Dancing Fry-Guy” ceremonially places meat supplied by the ADHD Butcher. The butcher gets the meat from sheep carcasses hanging in a white booth next to him.  Both the Butcher and the Fryer dance and flail and gyrate as part of the cooking activity. Fry Guy tosses oil on the fire to make a ball of flame while Butcher bangs and twangs his knife in a maniacal rhythm of slicing and dicing. The fried meat is combined with some peppers in a bucket and served. 

All parts of the sheep are cooked – yes, all. When Fry Guy and Butcher are done, only the spine remains – which is hung trophy-like in the “bacteria booth.” It is good entertainment, and certainly a unique Africa treat. Oh, by the way, the pizza was very good, as was a green pepper/guacamole-like sauce they served with it that had a little bite and was rather salty.

As if our day had not been eventful enough, we made one last stop for “good beer” since the beer at the place that fries sheep carcass apparently had inadequate brew. We wouldn’t know…

Adventure in ET – Part 2

If you’re just joining the journey, catch-up here:
~ Intro
~ Adventure in ET – Part 1

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Friday, August 29, 2008 – Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

(Katrina here, Please note: I’m sure many of you were worried for me as to whether I was able to use the hair dryer this morning after Chris’ crazy electrical moment. I was. I have no hair issues to report at this time! But it was interesting to wake up three hours later and read that account while Chris was able to keep sleeping.


We had heard that the Ethiopian people are very sweet natured. It is true. The sound of their speech is very soft and easy and they are very humble. We had also been told how important it is for us to try and use their language. Well, we’re mostly getting laughed at and then talked to in English. “Chigger alem”, I guess or “No problem.”)  


We had our first Ethiopian coffee this morning. Very strong, and good. Drank it straight-up – no Splenda here! Spent breakfast with another couple traveling with us. We had a nice time chatting and discovered they go to a church similar to ours in the Detroit area.


After a really good (and spicy) breakfast we settled into our first full day in Africa. Katrina napped as I tried to get my mind around why I’m even here (I do know why, but I was in a deep-thoughts kind of mood). I spent an hour or so thumbing through the Bible, looking specifically for verses about adoption or being chosen as God’s children. I became a bit frustrated as I searched for that clincher verse from which to write this really great expose’ that correlates God’s adoption of us (His children) to our adopting of our daughters (Yididya and Melat). In the end, the last verse the Spirit led me to was, “In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9) I may not be able to get my head and heart completely around why I am here (other than the obvious). But the steps of these ten days were determined in eternity-past by a faithful and loving God. In that, I must rest content. This part of my story is as much about my own dying to self as it is about bringing home two orphaned sisters who need love, care, and Jesus.


On another note, I woke-up with a puffy, red, and sore eye this morning. Similar to pink eye, but hopefully not as bad. It still bothers me tonight, but I don’t think it is any worse. I’ve been putting antibiotic ointment on it with hopes of doing a self-cure. We’ll see.


At 2:00pm we were taken by our driver, Sami, to accomplish two things: get our flights outta here confirmed and then take a driving tour of Addis. After having no issues with the flights, we set out on an interesting journey around Addis Ababa – the capital city of Ethiopia.


Addis is a dichotomy. It has the extreme poor, as well as the wealthy. Just outside our hotel room, men and women work along side each other to build very nice homes for government officials. The workers use a restroom, which we can look down into. It is basically metal corrugated roofing slapped together. I suppose the poor and the rich living together is true in any big city, but it seems especially noticeable here.  


Later, we saw a man eating from a rain-soaked bag of garbage sitting in the street. If that wasn’t shocking enough, he got chased away by another man who apparently wanted the garbage as well. More startling was the sight of a man dressed only in the remnants of plastic bags. I spotted at least a half-dozen blind people. There are many children begging. We were told not to give them money. Instead, we are to give them a ticket for a free meal. We bought 40 tickets for the equivalent of $2 US.  Pretty amazing. The sad thing is these tickets are used to barter for other things. We observed a few kids trading the tickets for suckers.


Men and boys urinate in the streets. Men were washing themselves with the reddish-brown water running down the roads from a rainstorm (it’s the rainy season here). This was the same water into which the urinating mentioned above was occurring. And for good measure, this water was used once more to rinse large plastic bags that I assume would carry something of value at some point. 


Very few people appear to be doing anything. Most just lean against buildings along the sides of the road. When we stopped to purchase the meal tickets, we were mobbed by 4-5 men selling necklaces and maps of Ethiopia. They were very insistent, even sticking their arms inside our van. It was a little uncomfortable.


There are goats, cows, and donkeys free-ranging in the poorer parts of the city. There are also dogs here and there and an occasional cat. At one small open area, three boys were playing soccer about 20 yards from a very dead and bloated cow.


Traffic is crazy. The air very smoky/smoggy. Everything runs on diesel and horns are continuously honking – although politely. People are constantly crossing the road wherever they wish. Driving lanes are non-existent. During our whole 1.5+ hour tour I think I saw only two stoplights.  


Overall, it was an enlightening tour. I felt sad that so many like our daughters will have to grow-up in the squalor of the poor section of the city. Yet, I was excited to think that God has chosen them to be a part of our family and come to America where they will have the opportunity to thrive, be fed, be warm and drink clean water. We are blessed people.


In true American fashion, after our tour we stopped at a coffee shop (Kahli’s) that looks strangely like Starbucks (no mermaid on the sign, but the baristas do wear green aprons). All I can say is Starbucks has nothing on Ethiopian coffee. Pike Place seems like Sanka compared to ET coffee. Oh well…


We ate at a Thai restaurant tonight. Katrina commented that we had to come all the way to Africa to eat our first Thai food. Tomorrow (Saturday) we head to Awassa, which is where our girls were born and where their mother still lives. We will meet her either Saturday or Sunday. We have much anxiety about that meeting. We have a small photo album to give to her showing our home, church and family. We also included some Scripture in Amharic (the primary language here) with hopes that a gospel seed will be sown. The girl’s mother is HIV positive and knows her life is ending soon.