Ethiopia 2009 - Pt. 2
It was Saturday, April 18th, and time to "get to it." The first orphanage we visited was Abenezer's. I was about 3-4 hours away. When we got there, the kids were seated in the middle of a large field. There were huge smiles on their faces and it was easy to see that they were bursting with curiosity. Taking pictures and showing them the digital screen was very fascinating to them. I'm sure the vast majority rarely got such a treat. It was a little awkward at first for two reasons. First, it seemed we were just killing time until the presentation(s) started, which was anyone's guess. So, we didn't know whether we had 2 minutes to play with them or 20. Secondly, as a former schoolteacher, my physical interaction with students was limited to handshakes, high-fives, and shoulder-pats. Hugging children or picking them up is a good way to start a scandal in U.S. public schools. It took a couple hours for me to realize it was okay here. I performed a couple "magic" tricks (like the one where you pretend to take off the end of your finger) and then had fun showing them how to do it. I also juggled three rocks for them, which was a big hit. I taught some how to juggle with two rocks and they soaked up the praise and clapping from their peers and me. The activities started with a presentation from Steve and Debbie, pastors from Georgia whose church sponsors the entire orphanage. One building was almost completed and a second had been started. It was a blessing to see how they were touched by meeting the kids face to face and seeing firsthand the work that was being done. Next, the kids were divided by age group and, one group at a time, were fed an Easter feast inside the finished building. We continued to play with the kids in the groups that were waiting. When everyone was done eating, we started handing out gifts. Each child received a backpack along with six notebooks and a pen and pencil. Without these supplies, the kids can't attend school, but now they will get to go. In addition to the school supplies, they also received blankets and kazoos. They were overjoyed and very grateful. We left around 2:30 or 3:00 and headed to lunch.
Lunch was provided in the home of the mother of one of the translators who accompanied us. It was the first time I had Ethiopian food and it was awesome. After the meal they provided the traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony. They roasted the beans over glowing charcoal, then took the crackling beans around for everyone to inhale the smoke. The whole process took over an hour. I think me waiting an hour for coffee would be like my wife watching someone at a candy store make fudge from scratch. Despite the enormous need for patience, the end result was delicious.
After lunch we headed back toward Addis. There was another orphanage we were to visit and time was limited. We got there shortly before dark and only spent 20 minutes or so. I lost it at this place. It was called "Hope for the Hopeless." I mentioned earlier that I was a little hesitant to be as physical as I wanted at the first orphanage. The kids at this place didn't give me any choice. They crowded around me and hugged my legs tightly. They grabbed my hands and arms and just clung to me, squeezing my fingers and smiling ear to ear. Most of these kids had no family, and one might expect that their hearts would be hesitant to open up and show love for fear that their love would not be reciprocated. On the contrary, to them, it seemed worth the risk. Rest assured, there were no "polite" hugs like so many in the U.S. give. These were unbridled, whole-body/whole-being hugs full of reckless abandon, as if it were the last time they would hug someone. We took a very short tour of the place and one of the older boys proudly showed me his bunk. I told him it was very nice and he smiled. For the rest of the tour, he held my hand. I had learned on the way over the it is common for men to hold the hand of their best friends. It's nothing sexual at all, simply an act of friendship. I learned he was seventeen and was the oldest one there. I thought, "Wow, if I held the hand of a 17 yr old boy as a teacher in the states, I'd be fired in an instant and would have to register with the state." By the time the tour was finished, it was completely dark, and I was glad. Glad because I could not control the tears streaming down my face as the kids once again showered me/us with squeezes, hugs, kisses and "I love you's." First day, and I was already messed up.
(Pictured below is the 17 yr old, whom I got to spend more time with on a subsequent visit)