Goodbyes in Dese; Drive to Lalibela

The goodbyes were excruciating.  Some of us just watched, perhaps wanting to protect our hearts from the pain of leaving so many good friends.  Other members of our team just laid their hearts out there.  In particular, Grace and the three teenagers on our team were hugging and crying so much, that Steve had to go outside the gate three times to coax them onto the bus for our “early” departure.  As the bus rolled down the hill, we caught faces of teenage boys and their tear-streaked faces.  We saw little girls chasing and sobbing as they offered one last wave. 

The bus was quiet for a long time.  Somehow, this one short week in Dese had left some indelible footprints in our soulds.

The drive from Dessie to Lalibela proved much more “fun”!

For several days prior we’d all been told that the drive would take a mere six hours. Indeed, on the map, the distance between Dessie and Lalibela is much shorter than the distance between Addis and Dessie, a trip that took us ten hours. The trip to Lalibela, it seemed, would be a relative snap. We were all done with the “work” part of the mission trip, and the team was in a good mood. For what was to come, that proved critical.

Our first inkling that the “six hour” prediction might have been a tad optimistic came the night before we were to embark. Our driver, Girma, told us that he wanted to leave very early the next morning, because the trip, he said, might take slightly longer than six hours. He seemed concerned about some road construction.  Despite this new information, our minds were on leaving our friends in Dese, and I don’t think anyone really internalized Girma’s words. We were all thinking sort of, “six hours . . . maybe six and a half.”

Twelve hours and eight minutes later our bus pulled into Lalibela. It was dark, and we were exhausted . . . but still, it had been a great day. There was more laughter (thanks primarily to Kurt), more great conversation, more deeply beautiful terrain, and more heartfelt emotion, than any one day deserves.

Kurt kept us laughing hysterically with his “characters” throughout the entire trip, but his most popular – Nigel – made his debut an hour or two into the Lalibela drive. Just FYI, Nigel was a soft-spoken, extremely quirky Englishman, who joined our group by hijacking our bus. He was a riot. I miss Nigel.

The drive was also a great opportunity for the team members to decompress and converse about the incredibly intense week we’d just spent with the children and teachers at the Hope School in Dese. Fresh from the experience, with memories so clear we could touch and feel them, the conversation was deep and meaningful. It was a great time to spend with one another, sharing and recallng what we’d all just experienced.

The drive also gave us the opportunity to see some of the most beautiful country in all of God’s creation. Many Ethiopian’s believe that in their country long ago existed the Garden of Eden. It is not too hard to believe when the rainy season turns the mountainous plateau into so many beautiful colors of green. Breathtaking vista followed, absolutely breathtaking vista.

One particular stretch of that road is worth mentioning specifically. The slowest, most unnerving part of the trip was a section where the bus climbed to an altitude of over 10,000 feet. The fog closed in; the dirt became thick, deep, red mud; and the narrow road became a single lane, which had to be shared by traffic from both directions. We stopped for many long minutes in a tense standoff with a large yellow construction truck. During the standoff, when Girma and the other driver tried to figure out a way to pass one another without both getting stuck in the mud on either side of the narrow center lane, the bus was surrounded by the local villagers begging for anything we might be willing to hand them through the windows. The thick fog, and the worry that we might have to spend the night on a bus rendered helpless in the mud, gave the whole experience a surreal quality. But, with some strong prayer, in fairly short order, we got around the truck, the fog lifted, and we were on our way.

A few hours later, we were sitting safe-and-sound, at the Roha Hotel in Lalibela. Though at times we weren’t sure we would, we made it in time for a nice dinner and a couple of bottles of St. George.

Jennifer and I were lucky enough to have spent our eleventh anniversary on the road that day, and we could not have thought of a better way to spend it, or with better people to have spent it with.