Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Day 4 in Ethiopia

Admit it, you've been holding your breath for this post and you're nearly blue.

Day 4 in Ethiopia was far and away my favorite day. No, it wasn't the day on which I met Nina. No, it wasn't the day on which the U.S. Embassy cleared me to leave the country with her as my daughter (those two events occurred on the same day, for the record). That day was memorable, no doubt. But more because I almost died of exhaustion than because the day was truly great by anything close to resembling Webster's definition of the word.

Thursday, however, was great.

In all of my mental planning prior to going to Ethiopia, one thing I knew for sure was that I wanted to truly live the experience. I wanted to connect with the people. I wanted to take in the sights, the smells, the feelings. That was a little hard to do while praying to remain upright minute by minute, but by Thursday I felt so good that I was ready to dive in.

One place I'd wanted to go so badly was the Fistula Hospital, which is right up the street from HH. I'd seen a documentary on this horrendous obstetrical ailment, and I so wanted to go to the hospital to spend time with these women, many of whom have been completely ostracized by their families and villages because of their condition.

But, without someone to care for Nina, I wasn't comfortable going there. I feared, frankly, that the sight of Nina might remind many of these women of what they'd lost and that was the last thing I'd wanted to do. To go to the Fistula Hospital, I needed to go by myself, which wasn't going to happen on this trip.

Some of the families in our group wanted to go to a government orphanage: Enat Alem. Now, as I understand it (and my understanding changes constantly as the information changes), there are no truly government-funded orphanages in Ethiopia. They are all private. But some are run with more funding than others, especially those funded by international sources such as the U.S. This particular orphanage, Enat Alem, operates with far less funding than Hannah's Hope, and many of the children at Hannah's Hope initially spent some time there (or at Bethzatha Children's Home). Families whose children spent some time there understandably wanted to visit.

I decided not to go to Enat Alem. There were 3 main reasons behind this decision. One: I needed to see something hopeful. The sun was out for the first time and I needed to go somewhere that wouldn't make me sad. Two: I'd have to primarily carry Nina since she hated the sling I brought (as did I). Three: By carrying Nina, I wasn't altogether confident that she'd be protected from whatever illnesses might be present at the orphanage and I didn't have someone to hand her off to so I could mingle with the kids. How could I lean over a crib and have an exchange with a baby if the baby were coughing and Nina were right in his face by virtue of the fact that I was holding her? I was simply too worried about what she might be exposed to. And I know that's a bit wrong. But there were too many unknowns, and with her heart situation (and not fully knowing what that entailed) and the fact that she'd been hospitalized at 3 weeks of age with pneumonia, I just didn't want to take the risk.

Plus, like I said, I wanted to find some joy. I wanted to connect with one person. For me, connecting with one person meant more than handing out miscellaneous what-nots to 100 people at that point. Doing much for many is valuable, no doubt, but it keeps us in a state of seeing only the whole rather than the parts that make up the whole. And in Addis Ababa, the whole represents poverty, lack, sadness, and hopelessness. I needed to find a part that showed a different side; a side I knew was there.

After breakfast, I learned from the mother of another traveling mom (the very adventurous mother of another traveling mom!) that there was a boy who lived across the street from the hotel named Danny. Danny was, apparently, a terrific tour guide.

Haley and I decided we needed to find Danny.

This wasn't hard to do, as he hangs out just outside the Union Hotel gates all day long, talking to the security guards and, quite possibly, waiting for us Americans to ask him to take us somewhere. He'd already given the adventurous mom's mom a tour and had taken another mom's sister to a place to buy some CDs.

We asked him if he'd walk us around and he agreed. We decided to head to the Addis Ababa Golf Club.

So, along we walked, quickly learning that his English is quite good and also that the golf club was a bit further away than we'd thought.

Over the river and through the woods...

Okay, not really. But over a bridge that crossed a major highway.

This is the first picture Danny took using David's brand new and quite expensive camera. Was I a bit nervous? You bet. Then, I thought, "It's a frickin' camera. Get a grip, Elizabeth."

Up and over the bridge we walked. So many people sat on the sides of the bridge with medical issues --- gaping wounds, missing limbs, loss of spirit. I doubt these folks ever moved. I can still see one man who sat with a huge gaping hole in the back of his hand that was clearly infected. Danny pointed at his own hand and motioned toward the man and said, "Cut."

"How could he get such a cut?" I asked.

Danny didn't really understand my question and we kept walking.

We offered most of the folks sitting on the bridge lollipops. I remember thinking, "This is so ridiculously outrageous. We are giving these folks lollipops like we're at a carnival. And I realize they don't have access to these here, but lollipops? How about a sandwich? Or BandAids? Or prayers?"

As we crossed onto the other side of the highway, Danny began telling me about his brother and sister as well as his parents, who both work. His mother works washing clothing and his father works at a printer. His sister's name is Eyerus and his brother's name I can't remember, which is killing me, so if anyone meets him, please ask and report back!

We spent a couple of hours with Danny. He loved my cameras - both still and "mobile" as he called my video camera. At one point he asked me if he could keep them. I wanted to leave them with him more than you can imagine. He simply LOVED taking photos and videos with them and I have a video he made that, while I get nauseous each time I watch it because he was all over the place, I'll treasure forever because it has his voice on it. He introduces himself and just talks and talks. It's fantastic (as long as you don't look at it).

But, there is no way for him to print his pictures there. There is no way for him to charge the camera or purchase batteries. It was a gift that made no sense. Otherwise, I would have left them with him in a heartbeat. Because come on, it's a frickin' camera.

I did blow up two great photos of him to 8x10s and sent them to Almaz to give to him. I doubt he has any pictures of himself and I hope he enjoys these.

Before I go on, here is Danny...

Here we are at the golf club.

We finally began to walk back to Hannah's Hope where we planned to spend a few hours with the kids, and ultimately to say Goodbye.

As we were leaving the golf club, Danny said, "I teach you say 'Welcome to the Addis Ababa Golf Club.'"


He said a word. I repeated.

Now, to put this into perspective, I have a B.A. in Japanese. I lived in Japan for a summer. I LOVE languages. And Japanese is not an easy language, per se. But compared to Amharic? Compared to Amhharic, Japanese is cake. Simple Simon.

He spoke. I repeated. He finished the sentence and started uttering 2 words at time. I repeated. Then 3 words. I repeated. Finally, the full sentence.

I forgot.

We started at the beginning. Again.

Each time we finished, he'd say, "Again."

Finally, I said, "What is this, Danny School?"

"Yes," he said. "Now, again."

I never got it.

I started asking him how to say Stop or Go or Dog. I don't think I said any of it correctly.

When we got near HH, I started to reach into my pocket. This kid, I don't know how to explain this, but he never asked for anything. So many people came up to us on the street or to the sides of our van begging for money, food, anything. They had nothing to give us, they just wanted whatever we had. It was a constant life of giving on our part for 4 days, which we were happy to be able to do. But at some point, it got to where we all started feeling as though, to many of these people, all we were were Americans with "stuff." Whether we emptied our pockets or had nothing from the start, the result was the same: they moved on to the next van or the next person on the street.

No connection was ever made. Many of these folks didn't even say Thank You. It was just "More? More?"

But not Danny. He escorted us around. He answered our questions as best he could. He asked for nothing. In fact, at one point I wanted a photo of a woman and her child on the street to whom we'd given the stupid lollipops. I asked him if he'd take it because he had my camera. He just started taking the photo and I was like, "Um, Danny, can you ask? I mean, can you ask if it's okay?" He goes, "It's okay." I looked at the woman like, "Uh, okay, thanks. Yes, I'm a stupid American."

Anyway, we were leaving to head through the gates of HH and I was reaching into my pocket and his eyes would dart, every so subtly and ever so quickly, to my pocket. He was wondering if I was taking anything out of there. He was wondering if I'd give it to him. It could have been a lollipop. It could have a been 1 birr (about 10 cents). It could have been 100 birr (about $10). It could have been a Kleenex.

Honestly, had it been a Kleenex, I have no doubt he would have graciously accepted it. It wasn't a Kleenex and it wasn't a lollipop. But I slipped it to him without any fanfare and a hope that when he got home he was ecstatic. I hope it's the most money he ever made giving a "tour." He deserved it.

There was another occasion later that day when he arrived at the gate and offered to carry all of our donations up to HH for us. I thought, "Crap, I've got nothing." But he just said "goodbye" with his beautiful smile after dropping us (and all our donations) off. He's an amazing, beautiful, grateful boy of eleven, and I will forever be grateful that on that day, that fourth day on which I felt fantastic and the sun was shining, I connected with him.

I hope he was inspired to continue giving without expecting, and I hope it helped to instill in him that when you do that, you'll succeed. I think Danny will do something great some day and I sure hope to see him again. He's a smart, resourceful kid. And in any country, even one of the poorest in the world, those kids don't fall through the cracks.

At about 5:00 that evening, we headed to the airport for our 10:15 flight back to Washington D.C. It was a weird feeling. We were all ready to get home. I was, especially, as I was ready to return to my entire family. And at that point, I can honestly say that I didn't have feelings of "I can't wait to come back." Honestly, I was happy to be heading home and had NO thoughts of returning for a LONG time.

But it's been nearly 2 months since we returned. And now, honestly, I cannot WAIT to go back (with a prescription for sleeping pills). That trip had its own mission: meet and bring home our daughter. But it was an emotionally exhausting trip that took turns that weren't anticipated (even for a planner such as myself). It was a whirlwind 4 days.

Now, having seen, smelt, and felt the reality that is Ethiopia --- ALL of it --- the poverty, the beauty, the despaire AND the hope, I would like nothing more than to return with my travel group --- this time to do something different. To be on a different mission. A mission that reflects the hope and the joy I found in Danny's face.

To that end, I'm working on a little project. Stay tuned!


Trendy Mindy said...

LIZ! - omg you always inspire me!!

Tears always tears - where is my phone - I need to call you!!! Love Mindy trendy Mindy that is...:)

Dawn said...

Ooooo - loved day 4! I can't wait to have some amazing experiences like that. And I'm very excited to hear what you're working on! Don't keep us hanging like you did with day 4!!

Michael and Michelle said...

I can't wait to meet Danny!!! Sounds like you had a GREAT day!
by the way....what kind of wrap did you have???


be_a_Mary said...

well said. i miss our time together. i wish in country we could process better. i'd love to go back to serve. when we were at Enat Alem there was a German gal working, volunteering to hold babies. She planned to be there for 2 months and it was her first day. And I thought, now THAT is a job--to take care of these babies as they await their families--to make sure that when they meet their mother they are healthy and emotionally able to attach. I would love to care for the people there--the hungry and lame and orphaned. Daniel was a SWEET boy.

The Redman's said...

Oh- I love your posts about your time in Ethiopia! We never met Danny-- he sounds like a pretty fantastic kid. I'm constantly thinking about what a return trip would look like!

Can't wait to hear what you're working on.


Megan said...

Oh I loved this post. I so want to go and give Danny a great big hug. And I love the second picture of him. What a stud!

We need to do lunch... :)