Friday, August 22, 2008

Wednesday in Ethiopia

I'm on a dedication roll, and this one is for Karen. I had conversed a few times with Karen before we went to Ethiopia and, honestly, I had SO hoped we'd be in the same travel group. She's just one of those people who makes it easy to feel like you've known her forever.

Karen and Curtis were the last ones to join us at the gate in D.C. prior to takeoff, and when they walked up, her first words were, "Liz Lyons, I'm going to hug you now." I thought, "This lady, me, we same."

Because the seat next to me was vacant the entire way to Ethiopia (I know, hate me), Karen came and ate dinner with me (after Curtis and I compared notes on the publishing industry). It was awesome to get to know each other over those first 24 hours and I'm so glad they live not so far away.

On Monday night, after my day of being dead, Karen knocked on my door at the hotel. I figured she was checking to see if I wanted to go have dinner. I said, "Yeah?" and she did not, in fact, ask me if I wanted to go to dinner. She asked, "Are you having another break down?" THEN she asked if I wanted to go to dinner! It was frankly quite funny (in hindsight).

So, on to Wednesday in Ethiopia. Now, I have pretty much NO pictures of this day because it was the shopping day and I didn't take my camera. I had Nina, my baby bag, and a sling fit for carrying nothing other than a dead squirrel, and without a third arm the camera wasn't going to make it. Plus, it wasn't a small camera I had with me. Note: pixel size is important when you're going to a third-world country to which you aren't likely to return in the next 3 months, which is why I conned David into letting me take his 10+ megapixel camera. However, who cares about pixel size when you don't even have the ability to take the camera with you anywhere!

So, if you're going to take a whopping camera of which Ansel Adams would be proud, take a smaller one too (if you have one) to throw into your pocket or something for these types of excursions. Especially if you do not heed my previous advice and choose to go by yourself. When I think about how much "easier" it would have been to have David with me and be able to say, "David, take Nina," or "David, take the camera," or "David, catch me I'm going down," or "David, please reach down my pants and grab 100 birr," I want to win the lottery, hire a nanny who speaks three languages and has experience running zoos and three-ring circuses, and head right back over to do it all again...WITH my spouse!

Anyhoo, we all met at HH around 9:00 to head to the shopping area. I don't remember how far away this place was. All the trips in the van started to run together at this point. And, as you'll realize after about the 3rd trip, when you leave HH, you can only turn right onto the highway. So you have to drive about 2 miles and then do a U-Turn in this roundabout and head back PAST the alley that goes to HH to get wherever it is you need to go. And everywhere to which you need to go requires a left-hand turn outside the alley from HH, which you cannot make!

We got there and parallel parked and, I'm telling you, upon our even considering opening the door to exit the van, vendors were already laying in wait. It must be how Tori Spelling feels as she prepares to exit her vehicle for a book signing. (Yes, I'm addicted to Tori & Dean: Home Sweet Hollywood. And I'm okay with that. We all need a little good, clean reality TV in our lives.)

We made our way through many little shops. With Nina in one arm, her bottle balanced sometimes by my other hand --- and sometimes by my chin depending on what I was doing --- there wasn't an ability to negotiate too much. It's too bad some of the vendors didn't realize this. They could have said, "This dress will cost 3000 birr" and I likely would have paid it because I was too tired to do the conversion and birr (or "beer" as Tim continuously referred to it, which was most hysterical when he continued to tell folks begging at the windows that he was "out of beer") still felt like Monopoly money.

There was, however, the vendor who kept repeating, "I give you good price. No forenjee price." I'm just spelling that word phonetically. I later learned, thanks to Karen, that it's the word for "foreigner." I thought he was telling me he would not charge me a "Frenchy" price. No, he would not, I thought, because I am not French. Plus, when you tell someone you are NOT charging them something, whether Foreigner or Frenchy, chances are you ARE. So I left. Communication issues sure can cause problems (and loss of income).

I bought some dresses for Nina and Grace and some outfits for the boys. I also bought some necklaces, a cross for Heather, and I think that's it. I thought a lot of thing were neat, but it felt a bit like being on the boardwalk after not too long; you know, a bunch of stores all selling the same stuff. And so it started to feel more touristy and less unique and I realized that while I thought I'd want to buy a lot of stuff there so I could say I bought it there, I could probably just as easily order it over the Internet! Plus, after about 40 minutes, I was drenched in sweat, Nina was less than pleased, and I was tired of reaching down my pants (or asking someone else to reach down my pants) to get money. So I called it a day and popped back into the van.

One of the craziest parts of this shopping experience was a phenomenon of which I'd heard, but had yet to witness: The Lady Cop of the Marketplace. This woman was shorter than I am (and I'm 5'3"...barely). She wore this crazy leathery coat that I figured she must have been roasting in and she wielded this huge stick, with which she'd threaten to hit (or actually hit, on occasion) those who were begging from the tourists and not allowing them to shop. The shop owners pay her to do this because if she didn't the people would stop shopping there. She would get so mean as she'd chase these kids away, and then turn and smile this HUGE smile at you. I stole this photo of her off of Karen's blog --- it's perfect and it makes me laugh every time I look at it.

We gave out as much candy etc. as we had from the van windows as we waited for everyone to finish shopping. I'm an idiot, so I hadn't thought to bring all my candy/lollipops/Twizzlers to the shopping area. Though, really, I would have had to stuff THAT down my pants too with no appendages left to carry things, so maybe it's best that I left it at the Union.

We left the shopping area after about an hour total and headed to a coffee store called Aster Bunna (bunna, pronounced BOO-nuh, is the word for coffee in Amharic). We drove down this very bumpy gravel road and finally arrived at this place. I mean, there are no maps there. You either know where this place is or you don't. I think just about everywhere is like that in Addis!

We went inside and learned that the beans were actually being roasted right in the back! David would have been in hog heaven and that was probably the point during the trip when I missed him the most (well, okay, the moment I almost died at the Embassy was one during which I prayed he might walk in the front door as well, but...).

I ordered 5 bags because that was all I thought I could fit in my luggage, but it killed me because it was only about $2.50 per 1/2 pound. FAR less than Starbucks and FAR better quality! Karen and Curtis bought, I think, 20 bags. David would have started some contest with Curtis to see who'd buy the most (and be able to fit it in his suitcase).

During this time, many kids from down the "lane" came up to the vans and Tim and Scott came outside and were giving them all candy. The thing is, they all just keep coming! And they don't politely stop when you give them one thing. It's not the U.S. and it's not Halloween. They don't know when they'll get more, so they beg and beg and beg. And it's candy, not fruit. I mean, they don't have dentists. And it makes me so sad that this is what makes up the majority of their daily diet.

This is why we were all thrilled to hand out our remaining Power Bars and other more "nutritious" items on our way to the airport on Thursday night! The kids aren't rude, they are just in survival mode. And when a child takes even ONE thing that another child believed belonged to him --- even something as small as a Tootsie Roll --- a fight can break out. Over a Tootsie Roll. It's heartbreaking. I mean, Jack and Henry will go to blows over a Tootsie Roll too, but not because either believes it might mean the difference between hunger and not. It broke my heart over and over.

After the coffee place, we went to Makush for lunch. This was a really nice restaurant that served Italian food and there was a lot of neat art hanging around available for purchase.

I ordered a 4-cheese pizza that would have served 2-3 (even though they said it only served 1) and cost just over $4. There were many Americans in this restaurant. Everyone was well-dressed, and it seemed many were having business meetings. It was really fun.

After lunch, it was time to head back to HH to collect our kids' passports and other documentation needed to get back into the U.S. Almaz gave us some great instructions including the "5 dumb things people do upon entering the U.S. with this paperwork that we should not do."

This is a photo of the babies' bassinets (Moses Baskets, in case you ever wondered what the heck a Moses Basket is) lined up in the room downstairs where the babies spend the majority of their days when not outside.

This is myself, Almaz, and Nina. Everytime I look at Almaz, it warms my heart. She's just beautiful, inside and out and I sure hope I get to see her again.

Finally, in the midst of yet another rain storm, Danny and Johannes drove us back to HH with all our shopping bags, our kids, our paperwork, and the majority of our sanity.

I think we then had dinner and called it a night. It was a full day! And there was only one more to go. The next night we would all head back to the Bole airport to get ready to board our flight back to the good old U.S. of A.


Jana said...

I love all the details and I'm really curious about the 5 dumb things. I'm sure I'll score a 4 out 5!! I still can't get over how cute little miss Nina is! And...I can't wait to meet Almaz, what a great lady.

Amber said...

ok seriously, we prob. passed each other on the streets of Addis! We went to all the same places. And once again I am braved the post office (shopping area) with your little one and without your hubby?! We left our little guy at home for that outing and it was still a little overwelming :) But fun!

Amber said...

p.s. I totally laughed at the pic of the lady cop....we saw her there and she actually helped us when a guy got a little to agressive with his begging! :)

Ella Marie Boutique said...

Check out Ella Marie Boutique for some adorable clothes for Nina. 20% of proceeds goes to adoptions and orphans in Ethiopia and Guatemala.

Look us up at and Look at to read my personal blog about adopting our second Guatemalan blessing.

Scott said...

You're dead on with the lady cop. When I first saw her, I didn't make the connection. But then I saw her chasing a kid down the road waving her big stick in the air screaming something in Amharic and thought "Only in Addis!"

Megan said...

OK I busted out laughing after reading your description of the lady cop and then seeing her picture...they two don't match! I can't wait to see her, I'll have to remember to bring a tiny camera, just for that. And I'm dying to know what the "5 dumb things people do upon entering the U.S. with this paperwork that we should not do" are.... Does that deserve a blog post all for itself?

The Six of Us said...

I found the Post Office SO nice! A little too touristy though. We heard the same "no ferenge price for you" but fortunately we had a driver who came with us at first and told us to drop the price in half.

I am NOT a bargainer, but being we were going to give our driver our left-over money, I decided to try and IT WAS FUN!

The Redman's said...

You could come to Portland on Sept. 12th-- Almaz will be in town!!! I can't believe we get to see her again!! :) I think she has quite a fan club back here in the states! She's an angel, for sure!!

Maria said...

ok, so what are the "5 dumb things not to do when you get home?"