Ethiopia!! It's GREEN GREEN GREEN. From weeks of dry heat in the Sahara desert, the lush landscape is very welcome. The northern region of Ethiopia is mountainous, and we climb 11,000 feet back and forth on switchback roads. I'm awestruck at the scenery, marveling at the power of the earth. The altitude and fresh air are reviving, and I even enjoy the daily mid-afternoon rain. It's nice to finally be in pants and a sweatshirt!
Ethiopia is another world. They speak Amharic, a very elongated language. I immediately try to learn the word for "thank you." It takes me three days to pronounce it correctly: "om-a-sa-ga-nalu." Yikes. That's a lot of syllables! Ethiopia also runs on a different calendar. It's currently the year 2005. No joke. There are 13 months in a year, and the new year starts in mid-September. Even the daily time is different. The sun rises at 1 AM and sets at noon...about 7 hours behind a western clock.
People are EVERYWHERE! We drive through villages and kids run up to our car and bang on the windows. Women walk on the side of the road carrying yellow jerry cans of water on their heads. Men herd cattle and goats. They take up the entire road, and we literally push the animals out of the way like bumper cars.
The poverty is the worst we have seen. I'm very emotional in this country; I cry at least once a day. I've learned how much I really love children...and how attracted to me they are. I always have a little guy holding my hand or hanging onto my leg. If we stop the cars at any point, kids start running toward us from all directions. You can hear little feet scurrying across the mountain range! They are incredible: long skinny legs, white teeth, rags for clothes, flies on their faces. The kids have these funny little hair cuts with shaved patches of hair in different designs.
I've given away tons of clothes to children on the side of the road. They actually run after the car yelling "t-shirt, t-shirt" which is reassuring to know they truly need what I can provide.
We visit the churches of Lalibela. They are 11 very famous churches, each carved from one slab of rock into the ground. These enormous incredible churches are essentially hidden in giant holes. Remarkable. People flock from all over the world to see them. Our visit was a huge moment for me, personally; two years ago, I saw a 60 Minutes special on the churches of Lalibela. I vowed to see them at some point in my life. 26 months later, here I am! Life truly is what you make it.
In the village of Lalibela, I meet a 13 year old boy named Yohannas. He was born in the countryside into a very poor family. School in rural Ethiopia ends after grade 4, so an ambitious 9-year-old Yohannas moved to the "city" to continue his education. He rents a little mud hut, shining shoes in the street to pay his rent, and is currently enrolled in the local middle school. Each morning, I wake up to Yohannas perched outside the car waiting for our daily adventure. He teaches me local traditions, invites me to his hut for coffee (smooth little 13 year old), beats me at pool, and quizzes me on the capitals of Europe (he knows them all!). Yohannas dreams of going to Italy although I learn he has never tasted pizza or pasta. So, on our last night together, I take him and his two best friends to an Italian dinner to order every pasta on the menu. They had never been to such a fancy restaurant! After dinner, they went to the bathroom and returned with wet hair and clean faces. They took showers in the bathroom! Although we all laughed in the moment, my heart was aching. Running water is a luxury to these boys. Yohannas told me he'll never forget that meal. Best $10 I ever spent.
Speaking of food...Ethiopian food is gross. Every meal consists of bread called "injeera" which is a flat circular pancake that looks like a dirty dish rag. It is cold, dark grey and has little holes all over. Meals are served family style with one huge circle of injeera with a bunch of stews/sauces poured onto the middle. We break off bread from the outside and dip it in the sauces, essentially eating away the plate from the outside in. We've learned that the orange goop is the best sauce...and the green stuff is nasty. Haha.
I suffer from a moment of temporary insanity and decide to feed raw meat to a wild hyena...from my mouth. In Harar, a city famous for their hyena population, there are hundreds of hyenas that live within the city limits. Wild, carnivorous animals walk around like they own the place. Every night, there are hyena feedings. A super buff man stabs raw meat with a twig, then places the twig in your mouth for a wild hyena to devour mere centimeters from your face. Yep, frickin scary...and yes, hyenas laugh just like they do in The Lion King.
One of the charity partners on our trip is ActionAid, a worldwide nonprofit that provides local needs to impoverished communities. We visited a clean water project in Northern Ethiopia where a new, purified water well was built 6 months ago. Prior to this well, women walked 4 hours through hyena infested land to the nearest water source to fill containers with contaminated water. Then, they turned around and carried gallons of water on their heads 4 hours home. Daily. As you can imagine, a well has changed their lives. They have clean water. Less disease. More time. Less injuries (can you imagine what that walk does to you?). Women are now going to school, starting businesses, raising their families, and working to develop their village. The women threw a celebration for our visit...dancing and singing in the fields. Incredible!
And finally, Ethiopia brings our first orphanage clothing delivery! We visit Hawassa Children's Center in Southern Ethiopia. This is home to 120 orphans, most of whom have lost their parents due to AIDS. After meeting the children and being so moved by their stories, the WCL team distributes a new tee to every child. The shirts are red, yellow, and green - the colors of Ethiopia! Some of the kids jump up and down in excitement, but a few are very sick and weak. I can only imagine the trama they have survived. Hawassa orphanage is an all inclusive living environment with dorms, kitchens, gardens, a clinic, counselors, and job training. The kids walk to the nearest town for school...and WCL Africa bracelets help purchase their school uniforms. These kids are SO eager to learn. Please purchase a bracelet and help an orphan receive an education!
A huge thanks to Spider 9! Their purchase of custom tees for their employees provided new t-shirts for the Hawassa orphans.
Click here to support this delivery and purchase from the Africa Collection.
From where the grass really is greener,