Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Ethiopia -- images and video

My friend and roommate during the doma trip made the video shown below. It shows some great images and footage about the trip. I highly recommend it.

Ethiopia -- Later Reflections

I started to read a new book on the way home -- the title: The Hole in our Gospel. I've never been big on this type of book, but it came highly recommended, so I busily read as I flew home, and continued once I reached home. I highly recommend it if you're open to really thinking about your place in the world at large.

Richard Stearns is the author of this spiritual book. He left a cushy job as CEO of Lennox Corporation to accept a drastic drop in pay and a huge increase in travel and work (not to mention heartache) as the new CEO of World Vision. As he described the people, villages and Churches he'd visited in the third world -- the world where people struggle just to make it through to the next day -- I couldn't help but see Bora and the various other needy places I've personally seen in Africa.

I don't want to get too preachy, but the Hole Stearns refers to is the inability of those of us who live in the richest country in history to realize and be motivated to help those who are starving, dying from HIV, dysentery, Malaria, or have to carry contaminated water on their backs three hours a day and are still dehydrated, or are the victims of civil wars and unrest, or of exploitation. How can we call ourselves Christians, or even enlightened if you're not a person of faith, and let these things happen without lifting both hands to help?

I'm left with an empty feeling -- knowing I need to do more, much more, but am not sure where to begin. I'm certain it will become more evident with time and better listening to the needs of the world.

We've received so much, and I can no longer accept that others must have so little simply because of an accident of birth country, skin color or language.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Ethiopia Day Eight -- Outrage and Regrets

It was the final day in Ethiopia, and would be a long one -- our plane departed at 10:30 in the evening, and I was expecting another night of limited sleep.

We stayed at the guesthouse until late morning, delayed by the untimely return of our laundry -- it seemed the weather had been too wet to actually "dry" the clothes, so they were returned somewhere between damp and soaking.

Eventually we departed for the "Red Terror" museum, a tribute to those who suffered during the years when the fascist "Derg" government tortured and murdered half a million Ethiopians. The Derg came to power on the coat-tails of a series of increasingly militant student demonstrations in Addis in 1974. I found it ironic Haile Selassie, who wanted to be remembered as Ethiopia's education emperor, was essentially overthrown by activist students and professors.

The Derg, which started out as an idealistic communist government was eventually siezed by dictator Mengistu. In Mengistu's attempt to consolidate power, he launched a series of brutal massacres and crack-downs that would have been the envy of many a brutal dictator. Eventually ousted in 1991, Mengistu was granted asylum in Zimbabwe (birds of a feather...) where he still lives today.

We were led through the museum by a "Red Terror" survivor who was able to provide graphic descriptions of the brutalities inflicted on the Ethiopian people. He urged us to "never forget" -- much as holocaust survivors have done since the end of World War Two. The similarities are frightening. I was moved, horrified and eventually outraged that such brutality could be inflicted on a people I'd come to think of as gentle and welcoming.

Next we moved to the National Orthodox Church, where Haile Selassie and his queen are entombed. It was beautiful, and built entirely with the "private" funds of the emperor -- although I'm sure he got them from the people. At this site was the Ethiopian equivalent of the tomb of the unknown soldier -- guarded by two armed soldiers who angrily waved away one of our party as he tried to take a picture. I never understood their reluctance to be photographed. On the grounds were several people begging for help -- suffering terrible injuries or illnesses. Although I don't generally like to pass out money on the streets to beggars (you're likely to be quickly swarmed), I was so moved I couldn't help but press a few birr into a couple of outstretched hands.

After lunch we toured the National Museum -- a bit of a disappointment, really, other than the extensive exhibit on "Lucy" and other early hominoid fossils discovered in the Rift.

Then we spent a couple of hours shopping -- I already had most of the toys and trinkets I wanted, but ended up purchasing two replica spear tips (hey, our surname is "Spears" after all), and a bayonnet used during the border war with Eritrea. I'll eventually mount those on a framed board and display in my basement somewhere.

After dinner we loaded into the van for the last time, and traveled to Addis airport to join a completely full flight to Washington DC. Goodbyes were sad but blessedly brief before we entered the main terminal -- our guides had become close friends, and it was sad to leave them behind. I hurried into the terminal ahead of the group, trying to keep my feelings under control. The airport security and check-in were complete chaos, and it took almost all of the three hours prior to the flight just to reach the gate. I found myself in the back row of the Boeing 777, tired and a bit overwhelmed by emotions from the day.

On the long flight home, I spent considerable time thinking about everything I'd seen in this remote country. I'd experienced joy, hope, anger, surprise and love. I regretted having to leave, but would be happy to see my family again soon (and get over the now nasty cold I was sporting). As we made the long flight home, I knew I would be back to Ethiopia again -- and more than just my upcoming trip to complete our second adoption from the country. My real question was: how could I make a difference for these people who had won my heart.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Ethiopia Day Seven -- sadness and hope

A good night's sleep at the Addis guest house, a good breakfast, and we were ready to go by the middle of the next morning.

The first stop was the Addis Fistula clinic made famous in the documentary "A Walk to Beautiful". If you haven't seen this film, which is very moving, and won a 2009 Emmy, you can purchase it by linking to the website here. Or keep your eye (and DVR, if you have one) on your TV guide, as it still airs fairly regularly -- definitely worth the time to watch.

Most Americans are unaware of fistula's -- a birth related injury to the mother which can cause her to be incontinent, among other issues. The condition is brought about by a number of factors not normally seen in the U.S., but fairly common in Ethiopia, where an estimated 10,000 cases occur each year. The injury is repairable with relatively inexpensive surgery in 90% of cases, but since most women are unaware of this, they don't seek treatment. Instead they become ostracized in their villages, often retreating to a hut to live out the rest of their lives in isolation and misery. It's a terrible situation. In the 1960's, an Australian couple founded the Fistula clinic in Addis to perform the repair proceedure free of charge. The scope of the clinic has since been expanded to include physical rehabilitation and social assistance. The clinic even finds a place for the 10% of women who's fistula can not be repaired. It is wonderful and inspiring work, having helped some 35,000 women since it's founding. I'm humbled by the enormous human impact the founders have had on so many lives. Lives that would have otherwise persisted in physical and emotional pain.

After a quick lunch, we made our second stop at the Beza Entoto Outreach Center (BEOC). This is a much more recent NGO (started in 2007), providing aid to a community of people living in abject poverty on Entoto Mountain in the outskirts of Addis, most of whom are HIV positive. Most of these people, also social outcasts because of the stigma attached to their disease, live under deplorable conditions with no real means to meet their daily needs for food, water or shelter. The Outreach center was set up initially to feed the Entoto residents, but quickly expanded to a job creation project, teaching women to make jewlery from coffee beans and scrap metal. Their plans extend to additional job training, and other product production as well. BEOC also provides a child development program, adult education and health care as well. While not as well funded as the fistula clinic, it was inspiring to see so many of these outcast and socially discarded people happily at work producing jewelry and interacting. Another amazing effort on the part of a few motivated and giving individuals.

After a short rest back at the guest house, we went to Yod Abyssina, a cultural restaurant (the best I've sampled so far) in Addis. Their program included traditional food, drinks, dancing and music. It was wonderful.

The night was essentially a repeat of prior one -- piano bar, followed by a Raggae club. I again bowed out after the piano bar, knowing my cold was getting worse, and realizing I'm just not a night owl anyway.

That night I couldn't stop thinking about the strength and generosity it would take to drop your life in Australia (or the U.S.), and dedicate yourself to helping the poor and suffering in distant Ethiopia. How does a person make such a decision for themselves and everyone else in their lives, I wondered as I drifted off to sleep.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Ethiopia Day Six -- Grace

We actually were able to sleep in at Lake Longono (sort of). Breakfast was informal in the resort restaurant, and we had plenty of time to gather things and shower -- again. It was almost
like being at a U.S. resort.

But relaxing at a resort wasn't why we were here, and after the brief but welcome respite, we were on the road again, heading back toward Addis. The reason for our late departure was a planned stop at the Ziway Pentacostal Church to sample their sunday service. I didn't realize it, but pretty much all protestant denominations are lumped into the "pentacostal" category in Ethiopia -- the actual origins of the particular church we attended in Ziway were not clear to me.

Ziway is a moderately sized city in the rift, with a number of large agribusinesses surrounding it. It's size and wealth was noticable compared to where we'd been the past five days -- funny, but without having been to Chencha and Bora, I would have thought of Ziway as a poor town, too. The church was a nice cinder block building, and was just filling up when we walked through its doors. Church services last about three hours on Sunday, and there is a fairly casual drifting in and out of the congregation. Everyone was dressed in their nicer clothes, and attentive to the two pastors. The service cycled through an endless do-loop of: song - scripture reading - preaching. We sat through two or three cycles, then headed back to the van. The service was so different from a Catholic mass, I didn't really know what to think of it -- and of course, it was all delivered in Amharic.

The route back to Addis was unexceptional. We stopped for a quick drink in Mojo on the Nazret highway -- I'd been here four weeks ago on my last trip to Ethiopia. There were many big construction businesses located along the route to the capitol -- many apparently Chinese owned. Once in Addis, we ate lunch at the Island Breeze, a restaurant I'd dined in before. This time I was smart enough to pick one of the Mexican specialities. On my last trip, I ate Ethiopian food there, and it was my last meal before getting sick.

By mid-afternoon, we pulled into the drive of the Addis Guest House, a hotel close to the airport, and familiar territory for me. It was actually nicer than any of the guest houses I've stayed at for my adoptions. We had time to clean up, and I sent out my clothes to be washed -- reasoning it would be nice to arrive home with a suitcase full of clean rather than dirty clothes -- and I needed a shirt to wear on the plane (this figures into a minor panic on my last day).

Then we were off to the Bier Garden, a restaurant, owned (rumor has it) by Germans, and featuring their own brews. I found the beer to be average, but we met up with the medical team there to wish Amy and Bill a fond farewell before they flew back to the U.S.

After dinner, we searched for a shopping mall so Dan could buy some pants -- it seemed he was ripping about a pair a day, and was reduced to a "shorts only" wardrobe currently. Dan rejected the sixty dollar designer jeans he found at one shop, but I did snag a T-shirt for Kenneth while there.

Then we traveled to a piano bar, to catch a bit of the local nighlife. It was entertaining, but seemed a bit like professional karoke. Some of the group traveled on to a Reggae club, but old "early to bed, early to rise" me couldn't hack it. Besides, I was developing a sore throat, and didn't want it to turn into a full-blow cold (it did anyway).

As I settled into bed, I thought about the huge gulf between Bora and Addis, and another huge gulf between Addis and Omaha (or pick your U.S. City). We really did live in a priveledged place in the world, and the question I was asking myself was -- What obligations does recognizing the gap create for those of us so lucky?

Postscript: The spelling police (in other words, Paula) have informed me that the town I called "Dhorze" is actually spelled "Dorze", and "Soto" should be "Soddo". For anyone out there trying to follow my travails on a map, my apologies.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Ethiopia Day Five -- Cold Slap of Reality

Dhorze was quiet the next morning as we packed up our things, and prepared to head out. We were definitely on "Africa Time" as the food finally arrived about an hour after our scheduled departure. I and serveral other team members spent the spare time walking down a dirt track to a small Ethiopian Orthodox church and having an informal tour. The interior contained a number of iconic pictures and other items and, of course, the holiest of holies, which only the priests may enter. I understand each Ethiopian Orthodox church's holiest of holies contains a replica of the Ark of the Covenant (for those who are unaware, the church claims to hold the "real" ark in the Axum church Our Lady Mary of Zion -- brought there for safekeeping by Solomon's priests before the Babylonian conquest). The visit was interesting, and illustrated the spirituality of the people of Ethiopia.

On the way back to the cultural village, we had to fend off a small army of people hawking items for sale. While the cultural village is an economic boon to Dhorze, all the "selling" definitely has changed the tenor of the town. I'd hate to see something similar happen to Bora, but I'd also hate to begrudge them the opportunity to improve their circumstances, too. Development is a tough road to walk.

We took mountain roads with spectacular views for the next three hours, until we reached Soto, where the larger group had our last lunch together. From here on, the Vision Team and the Medical Team were headed in different directions, although we would meet up again one last time in Addis later in the trip.

The Vision team made its way to Lake Longono. We first checked into a resort hotel -- the nicest one we stayed in during the entire trip. But before we could enjoy the modern bathrooms, we loaded back into our van and headed to a medical clinic on the opposite side of the lake.

I was expecting to see a model for the Bora clinic perhaps ten years in the future, but that's not really what we found at Lake Longono. The couple who run the clinic were on leave in the United States, and a young American woman and her husband were in charge. It seemed the recent past had been quite stressful for her -- a lost baby during an extended delivery the night before was, perhaps, a major contributor. For whatever reason, she was frank about some of the challenges the Longono clinic faced -- staff turnover, too many sick and not enough resources, and many mandates from the government that were unfunded and imposed with short notice. As I listened to her frustrations, I realized doma needed to take some of these concerns seriously. And while the Bora clinic would be different from Longono in some fundamental ways, it would still encounter some of these same issues. The visit was a cold slap of reality -- providing aid in Africa might be fulfilling, but it was also hard work, full of potential problems and pitfalls.

We didn't stay at the clinic terribly long -- it was busy, and there wasn't much more to learn. We returned to the resort, and I took that long awaited steamy shower, getting the cleanest I'd been since leaving home. After a nice dinner, we gathered chairs outside and gazed up at the stars, marveling at how brightly they'd shine in the deep darkness of night here. Eventually we drifted back to your rooms and turned in for a night of deep sleep.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Ethiopia Day Four-- Jumping the Fire

The medical clinics in Bora were completed the prior day, and my night's sleep had come without a massive throbbing headache like I'd awakened to the prior morning -- I guess making an improvised pillow out of my camp and airplane travel pillows worked.

We rose a little later this morning, knowing we had a taxing walk back to Chencha. Then the worst news of the day -- though we would drive through Arba Minch that day, there would be no showers.

This is a good opportunity to comment on bathroom arrangements, in general. As you might suspect, the ferengi (foreigners) could not have anything to do with locally sourced water. Most water used by the people of Bora came out of streams, which were contaminated by feces both animal and human. Water was the perfect source for parasites and other potential infective agents. So we used bottled water brought to Bora from Addis Ababa. There could be no showers, despite the hard labor and sweat of climbing up and down the side of the mountains. The best I could manage was a partial wipe-down using a bandana and a little bottled water inside my dirt-floored hut. Similarly, toothbrushing required light use of bottled water.

Toileting was a completely separate matter. There was a pit dug for bathroom needs behind the church (horrific smell!), or there was the false banana grove, which was a B-Y-O-TP affair. All of us had to figure out a way to come to grips with this primitive aspect of the trip, as holding it for three days, particularly given the physical nature of the hikes, wasn't an option.

After tearful goodbyes at the chief's hut, we climbed the mountain back to the church. From here, we first walked to the future medical clinic's site, and then another half mile further along the spine of the mountain. There, opening up before us, was a view of the Great Rift Valley -- both Abeyo and Chamo lakes in the distance, separated by a strip of land known as "God's bridge". It was beautiful and a fitting goodbye for Bora. After a few minutes watching, we returned to the church and began the long march back to Chencha.

The hike out was difficult, but the net elevation change was down, and it wasn't as tough as getting there three days ago had been. At one point one of my companions, laboring to trudge up a long slope, looked over to see a young girl laughing at him. She then proceeded to press a handful of beans into his hand, as if saying: "you need these more than I do". It might have been the only thing she had to eat that morning, or perhaps even all day. The incident just brought home again the generosity of these people -- they had almost nothing, yet they readily shared that little with a stranger.

Once we reached Chencha, I sat on a terrace with about half the hikers, drinking a coke while we waited for the slower team members. An old man kept trying to approach, and the proprietor of the shop became increasingly aggressive in his attempts to send the old beggar on his way. I'd found the hard-scrabbled aspect to Chencha I'd missed when we'd been here three days earlier. By the time we were loaded into the vans, we'd attracted an uncomfortable crowd of people. But before anything could happen, we were on the road to Arba Minch.

If I'd hoped to linger in Arba Minch, I was to be disappointed. We simply picked up a local guide, and then proceeded to Lake Chamo. Our team loaded into two steel-hulled boats with 15 and 25 horsepower outboards, and we motored out into the lake to see Hippos and Crocodiles. The viewing of the animals was incredible. Although we kept a respectful distance from the Hippos, there was more than one occasion where I could have reached over the side of the boat and touched the back of one of the Crocs. The highlight of the tour was seeing one particularly huge crocodile lounging on the shore with his jaws agape -- I thought it's head looked like that of a T-Rex. The guide said this one was about 23 feet long, but there was a 34 foot monster they encountered sometimes!

Back from the boats, we again headed into the mountains to the village of Dhorze, and night at its "cultural village" -- the tourist version of the real experience we'd just had at Bora. The cultural village was a collection of two bed huts (with real beds and everything) run by two partners who were Rastafarians. I won't even try to describe the Rasta movement/religion other than to say it includes dreads and Bob Marley music. I kept hearing "Rasta-man never die!" and various other calls and chants all the time we were there. We all congregated in the main building where I was introduced to Tej (Ethiopian honeyed wine), and we had a large dinner.

Soon after eating, we went outside with our chairs to a large bonfire, where we were entertained by native dances and music. First the dance troop performed for us, and then eventually dragged each of us out around the fire, put a leopard "skin" around on necks and handed us a spear. Then we danced. I hope there is no permanent record of my dancing efforts!

After dancing came the fire jumping -- the dancers first built up the fire, then dramatically leaped it's flames. One Rasta-man who appeared to have over-enjoyed his Tej, was particularly animated. When he jumped the fire and staggered into the wall of the compound of the far side, I thought he should have considered himself lucky. But instead, he backed up for another attempt and...landed directly in the fire! After an instant, he sprang out of the embers, slapping his clothes and hair. Apparently he suffered no injury, other than a hole in his shirt and the smoldering dreads.

"Rasta-man never die! But sometimes he gets burned a little," Dan shouted. It was the funniest thing I'd heard all day.

Soon afterward, I turned in -- allegedly, we had a long day ahead of us the next day (compared to what?, I wondered), and I wanted to start fairly well rested. I thought about the four different worlds I'd experienced just that day -- beautiful Bora, hard-scrabbled Chencha, the lake leviathans, and the wierd Rasta hybrid of Dhorze. I was finally starting to get this country, and that had me a little concerned.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Ethiopia Day Three -- Need

I first awoke a bit after 4am, my head throbbing. Maybe it was the altitude -- afterall, we were near the summit of a 10,000 foot mountain. Or, perhaps, it had been the uncounted but numerous cups of wine I'd had with our spagetti dinner the prior night (which had, undoubtedly, helped my dancing). But I really thought the problem was my pillow -- a camp pillow which seemed to prop my head up about half the distance it needed to go. Pain radiated from my neck to the back of my head. After trying to go back to sleep for an hour or so, I got up in the dark, and went out into the Cheif's compound to sit in a rickety chair and wait for dawn.

A bit later, the Cheif's daughter-in-law rose to start the breakfast fire, and greated me warmly. Soon other members of his household were up and about -- these people stayed up as late as anyone the prior night, but they were up early, ready to face the day, unlike the delicate ferengi (foreigners) who were sacked out in the huts. Eventually everyone woke, and we headed back upslope to the Bora church for some serious clinic work.

The climb was more difficult than I'd remembered -- had we really walked that far down during the night? Were we really that wimpy? I had to rest a couple of times before finally reaching the church, where there was a crowd already waiting.

I spent the morning as a runner, much of it shadowing cases handled by the attending doctor. There were many cases of pain (treated with garden variety pain killers), parasites (treated with a drug we called "the stinky pill" in the pharmacy). But there were more serious problems as well. A woman came in with a abcess in her foot caused by a large splinter, and it took minor surgery to treat it. Or the young baby who came in with a horrible infection in his eyes -- the doctor commenting that he would probably lose his sight, if he survived at all. Or the toddler who had to be hydrated with an IV. Seeing the suffering and pain of these people was hard to watch, and I understood how the permanent medical clinic would change many of their lives for the better.

After lunch, I walked to the site of the permanent clinic, about a quarter of a mile along the ridge of the mountain summit. My task was to try to come up with a strategy for getting clean fresh water for the clinic's needs, and thinking about how water might be supplied to the church, school and other residents as well. There was a dry hand-dug well near the building site which had water most of the time. Ultimately, we decided a new well would need to be drilled and cased to insure adequate clean water.

During the afternoon, I manned the pharmacy during a flurry of activity. By the end of the day, the doctor and nurse practioner had seen over two hundred patients. While the aid wouldn't permanently heal all of their ills, there were many people who would leave the clinic healthier than when they'd walked in. I felt like we'd done something important. As the group walked back to the Chief's enclosure, I was thanked by several people for the assistance the medical team provided. I felt unworthy -- afterall, all I'd done was count a few pills. The entire experience was humbling.

That night we had a feast. The Americans purchased two goats, which the Chief slaughtered (a grizzly, but mezmorizing experience). A storm blew in, and we ended up eating in the barn, sharing the goat meat with neighboring residents. Again, there was singing, but the rain stopped the dancing and big bonfire. I turned in fairly early -- exhausted by my early morning, and the stress and excitement of the day. As I fell asleep, I kept thinking about that child with the severe infection in his eyes. In a U.S. hospital, he would probably have been fully healed. In remote Ethiopia, even survival was a question. I knew what we were doing would help, but it was only scratching the surface of the need in this vast rural country.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Ethiopia Day Two -- The Warm Welcome

We were up early the next morning -- Dan had promised this was going to be a long day also, and that turned out to be no lie. We packed our things into our two vans to ride up into the mountains to the town of Chencha, and from there begin the walk to Bora. I'd heard about this hike, and was a bit nervous about it... ten kilometers of ups and downs starting at 8,000 feet elevation and ending at 10,000.

Chencha was off the pavement, and up a steep but wide gravel roadway. I could well imagine the challenge of keeping this route maintained during the heavy rains from July through September, and saw a road grader and bulldozer parked near the bottom, a testament to the challenges that existed each year. Construction equipment in rural Ethiopia was definitely a rarity. The town was described as hard-scrabble, and a supposed center for child trafficking for some of the factories near Addis Ababa, but I couldn't detect those aspects of it as we only stayed a brief time before beginning our trek.

The trail was challenging, even for a reasonably well trained runner such as myself. The altitude played into the equation, as well as the steep grades. Neglecting shorts, I found myself quickly sweating into my jeans and t-shirt in the sixty-something degree Fahrenheit day. As we walked, strung out along the trail in small groups, we were enthusiastically greeted by every person we met -- a hand shake, a shoulder bump, kind words that sounded like "sorry, sorry" and included downcast eyes -- almost making me feel like I was receiving an apology. The experience was moving.

About half way through the hike, I saw our bags laying on the ground along the trail. They'd made it to here on the vans, which had taken a long route around -- just passable without the additional load of their human cargo. Here the bags were picked up, not by animals as I'd expected, but instead by human porters -- mostly women. I saw one woman, probably in her early forties, loaded down with two heavy suitcases strapped across her back, and a sleeping bag in her hand. She was marching up the mountain trail ahead of me, and easily arrived at the clinic before I did -- ha! so much for training. I was a little disturbed by the human effort required to accommodate our comfort and convenience, but understood this was the way for these locals to earn some much needed cash. I'm sure they were at least well compensated by our group.

Once at the top of the mountain, we saw, not a village but instead a church and school. Bora wasn't a village in the conventional sense -- there was no collection of homes around these two buildings. Instead the people lived on nearby farms that dotted the valleys and slopes of the mountains. The clinic was expected to serve a population base of about 8,000 people in the area.
Clinics began soon after the balance of the team arrived. As part of the vision team, my job varied depending on what was needed. I spent some time in the pharmacy, counting and filling prescriptions from bulk containers for the doctor/nurse practitioner. Much of the rest of our time was spent shadowing the docs as "runners" (although turtles would have probably been faster than I was). Occassionally, we took breaks to entertain or interact with the children that gathered in the chuch courtyard to catch glimpses of the strange ferengi (foreigners) who were visiting Bora. There were also a series of interviews going on with female adult patients of the clinic, to try to get a better handle on the child-birth and early childhood mortality rates in the area. Part of doma's core mission is to improve the survivability of childbirth for mothers and babies, and the statistics gathered from these interviews would be helpful in understanding the magnitude of the problem.

At the end of the first day's clinics, we headed downslope on a twenty minute steep decline to the Chief's hut, where we would all overnight. Along the way we were again greeted warmly by everyone we met. I was beginning to feel a bit like a local celebrity, and no one on the team was unmoved by the obvious outpouring of goodwill.

The Chief's compound was a walled enclosure with four huts (two for cooking, one for the chief and his animals, and another sleeping hut) and a barn of sorts. Everything was barred shut at night to keep hyenas and other predators out. We ate a dinner of spagetti, bread and wine (purchased in boxes from Addis, as opposed to a local brew), and settled back around a bonfire built in the middle of the compound. There we were entertained by children chanting and singing local songs, and dancing. We were all able to join in or stand back as we wished. I particularly recall the strong and strangely beautiful voice of one of the young granddaughters of the chief, as she called out the song "verses". She couldn't have been older than ten.

Tired, I was one of the first to turn in, collapsing into a deep sleep quickly after I bedded down despite the continuing hub-bub outside. I remember thinking to myself, as I drifted off, that leaving the roadway behind was almost like a trip back in time. These people were living the same way they had for generations -- the only thing modern being their clothes, which looked a bit like Salvation Army cast-offs. They lacked so much from the modern world -- transportation, medical care, proper diets, etc. Even a simple steel pan or a pocket knife here would have value well beyond what we would ever assign it. But, I mused, they had something we seemed to have lost. Bora had a sense of community, and a sense of belonging that seemed to have been sacrificed to our frenetic lifestyles. As I slipped into sleep, I wondered how we could provide the benefits of the modern world, without forever altering this wonderful dynamic, this vibrant culture.

Truly, it had been a day filled with warm welcomes.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Ethiopia Day One -- Fatigue

After flying to Washington DC the night prior to the start of the trip, I met the other members of the doma International Vision trip team in the Dulles airport as we awaited boarding for Ethiopian Air flight 501. These were going to be my traveling companions for the next few days, and I was anxious to meet them and get a sense of the group dynamics. Dan was our leader, a fundraiser for doma and a minister. His parents Steve and Barb were making the trip as well. Then there was Rich, who was my roommate for most of the trip, and Armin, a connection of Dan's through his church in Columbus, Ohio. My initial reaction was excitement -- even in the Dulles airport, this looked like a great group to travel with, and I thought we'd have a great adventure together.

The flight is a thirteen hour ordeal. I've been on plenty of these long flights before, and knew exactly what to expect. I was blessed with an empty seat next to me, and I took a sleeping pill soon after we took off, and the time passed quickly. When we landed in Addis Ababa the next day, I was ready to get going, and going was the order of the day -- in an eleven passenger Toyota van. We were accompanied by driver Cesay, and translators Eyob and Daweet (my apologies for mangled spellings). We drove roughly ten hours south from the capital to the city of Arba Minch. I included a map above showing the country of Ethiopia. Our route was directly south of the capital through the moutain towns of Hosanna, Sodo and finally into the Great Rift Valley to Arba Minch near the shores of Lake Chamo.

The travel was a bit trying -- the road was bumpy and dusty, although to the credit of the Ethiopian highway department (or whatever they call it), it was decently paved all the way until about an hour outside of Arba Minch. The country was beautiful -- mostly dry with of spots of green. If you imagine Ethiopia as desert, well there are some parts that are, but the geography of the country is dominated by mountains stretching from north to south, adjacent to the the lower and hotter (but hardly desert) lands of the Great Rift. Driving this route, you'd think every square foot of land in Ethiopia is either farmed or grazed, even the steep sides of the mountains. Cattle, goats and donkeys continually blocked the roadway, and slamming into one was a definite risk.

During the drive, I was most impressed by the human effort needed to get water. Everywhere we went, women and children (but not the men), were marching long distances with yellow plastic multi-gallon jugs to fill them with the life-giving fluid they needed for the day. In many of the towns and villages along the way, there was a public wells where water was dispensed, but we also saw many places where rural people gathered water from open streams or even smallish ponds. I could well imagine these people spending a good portion of their time and their available calories doing nothing but collecting the life-giving water their family needed to survive until tomorrow. Later I was to learn a good portion of the rural population is perpetually dehydrated, and infested with waterborne parasites -- small wonder, given the effort to gather water, and the obvious risks of contamination.

We stayed at a tourist hotel in Arba Minch, meeting up with the doma International medical team there. The medical team was a group of seven Americans -- six women, and one man -- plus another driver, and a translator. We would be working with this group over the next three days. As I ate a late dinner in the hotel dining room and listened to Dan and Armin make plans to check out the Arba Minch nightlife, I was nearly nodding off into my plate. A short time later, I was in the room Rich and I shared, climbing into the mosquito-netted bed, and thinking we had a big day ahead of us. Tomorrow we were heading to Bora, the village where doma would be constructing a medical clinic later this year. It would be my chance to see how rural life really worked in Ethiopia, and I was anxious to get going. It was these thoughts that filled my head as I drifted blissfully off to sleep.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Home Again - Ethiopian Trip Intro

After a life-changing trip to Ethiopia, I find myself at a bit of a loss to explain to people the things I saw and the experiences I had. I laughed (a lot), I cried, I toiled (a little), and I learned. I hope I'm bringing back a permanent appreciation for the challenges and struggles many in the world deal with on a daily basis.

The trip was the doma Vision trip to Ethiopia, the second such trip. Doma is a faith based non-governmental organization attempting to bring medical care to approximately 8,000 people in a remote area of Southern Ethiopia. Currently, Vision trips overlap with a medical team trip, and the high point are the temporary medical clinics run in the village of Bora over a two day period. The Vision team supports the medical team, but that is only part of what we are there for. The rest is about cultural exchange, understanding the lives of the poor of east Africa, and about nourishing our own souls.

How to communicate the experience, however, is the challenge -- and I have an approach to try, which will either succeed in painting the broad picture of what happened out in the "bush", or will fail miserably. I will be using each of the next several posts to describe a theme and set of observations from each day of the trip. There's no way to adequately describe everything, so I'll just hit a highlight or two from each day -- the ones that gripped me the strongest. Hopefully, this will capture a tiny sliver of the experience of exploring this beautiful land, the birthplace of three of my children.