Day 4

The Beatles have nothing on us!  (Or perhaps I should update this reference and use the Jonas Brothers as an example instead.)

PictureSaturday morning, when the group was dropped off at the Hope feeding kitchen, we were greeted with jubilant cries and shouts from the hundreds of children lined up to get breakfast.  As we walked down a short hill to this cement picnic-table-like area, the children clapped and cheered and held out their hands for high-fives from us.

They treated us as though we were celebrities; it was truly surreal. Several team members took pictures of the children and then showed the children the photos – a camera is a very important instrument to connect with the people here, especially the children, many of whom have never seen what they themselves look like.  Imagine never having the resources or opportunity to look at yourself in a mirror, you are that poor.  This would have to alter your concept of identity, your own individual identity.  Of course, in our appearance-obsessed country, limited or no access to mirrors would probably be a healthy thing.  But I am finding more and more that using the U.S. as a reference point for anything in Ethiopia is an act of gross incongruity.

I have been thinking more of Cairo, which looks very modern and Western and almost “first world” next to Ethiopia.  I have yet to see a block of this city that doesn't have drab blue or green corrugated tin “walls.”  Concrete buildings with a foundation are outnumbered by these makeshift metal “structures.”

PictureThere are no sidewalks here.  I am not sure what if any services the city provides.  Today on the way to church, I saw an orange and white cat lying dead on the side of the road, and I wondered how long it would take before the body was discarded.  I am an animal lover, truly, and yet seeing that cat today did not affect me much, nor has it deeply disturbed me that cats as well as dogs are treated like pigeons or rats here.  There is no SPCA, and as much as I love animals, I would appalled if there were such an agency, because the people here are in such desperate conditions – THEY need the resources.  In the U.S., seeing a farmer drag a baby cow by its left hind leg across the street to market would make me weep uncontrollably.  Today, at this very sight, I associated the cow only with food, not feelings.  The human suffering I have seen here would makes that weeping seem superfluous, a luxury.  In my mind, there is a hierarchy, where, even though all creatures are “God's creatures,” humans should be privileged in that hierarchy.

PictureIn our group, we have talked much about the idea of “the least of these,” and I never knew what that really meant until I came to Addis.  That there are places like the feeding kitchen and schools sponsored by Hope and the Sisters of Charity Hospital for the Destitute and Dying, all of which embrace the poorest of the poor shows me Christ in action. “The LORD works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed . . . the LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.”  Psalm 103

We just returned from a very long day. It was emotionally draining to say the least; filled with highs and lows. We left at 8:00 a.m. for our second journey to Hope's feeding kitchen. Yesterday, we fed the adults, mostly men, lunch which consisted of two ladle scoops of soup and a roll of injera. The men were hungry, yet gracious, and the experience was more than humbling.

Today was different – a whole different matter altogether. The Hope feeding kitchen is simple, basically several concrete tables set under a corrugated metal structure protecting those who visit from the elements as best as possible. There is a small kitchen with a window that emulates a concession stand at a baseball game. Inside this small structure was a sweet girl named Hannah who seemed to be overseeing the operation from beginning to end. Her frame was small but her kindness and warm glances helped me to remain strong in a time that has been my lowest so far.

Today was different from the moment I got off the bus. I could hear sweet small voices that filled the air with song. We entered the building differently than we had yesterday with eager anticipation to find the children who were signing. Once we came around the corner of the feeding kitchen we walked through a gauntlet of tiny faces, stretching out their hands, and cheers from approximately 400 beautiful children. I did as those who went before me, and gave high fives and smiled as much as I could.

Today was different, as I was overcome by emotion. I am not sure if it was the fact that the children seemed to be so excited to see us despite what they were dealing with, or that they were alone. These were not children accompanied by a parent. They were street children, mostly orphans. I just started to weep. Emily, Todd and Lil's youngest daughter, and Hannah made it okay just to stand in the kitchen and experience this unexpected emotion. I will be forever changed because of this experience and it is pretty cool that God made it a safe place just to weep for the children today.

The children were beautiful. Their smiles would warm the hardest of hearts and they LOVED to be photographed. Mostly, I think they have no idea just how stunning they are. But I fell in love. I was able to get myself together for a short period of time to take photos and help Hannah with the dishes. While Liv and I were rinsing cups, Hannah told us that her father was dead and that she lived with her mother. We asked if she had siblings and she said, "Two weeks, brother dead" and the tears started to flow yet again. Hannah looked at me and said, "why you sad?" and my heart ached for the injustice that this young girl has endured. To hear her utter "dead" so easily clearly meant the reality of death was all too familiar. Lil had mentioned that if I was already struggling it was only going to get worse.

We arrived at the Sisters of Charity Hospital for the Destitute and Dying. Todd said a prayer in the bus and asked if there was anyone who wanted to stay behind? Almost all of us were willing to go despite the unknown. Todd challenged us to find God in this place and to look for his compassion and grace. I really wasn't sure that I was going to get through this experience, but I found it to be a lot easier than the first stop.
The hospital has earned its name, with cots filled with individuals who were destitute and near death. We walked from ward to ward and each room was no easier than the next. Again, the people were friendly and warm despite their situation. Yes, there were tears both from the Ethiopians in the rooms and from our group, but I was overcome with appreciation for this place.

I did see God. I saw him in Bonnie. She jumped right in with a smile, touch and pure compassion. I was in awe with every gesture of love she gave. She touched, kissed and embraced everyone that came near her, and she moved around the room with excitement to make contact with as many patients as she could. I tried to follow her lead as best as I could.

The room with the children and babies was the place where I thought I would have the most difficulty, but when I looked at them these children, I saw my own children and I could not get enough. I wanted to touch each one. I wanted to hold each one. I simply could not leave the room. Their tiny hands were so desperate for touch. I did my best to tickle as many as possible. The laughter from these precious beings was priceless. I cannot tell you how thankful I am that they have clothes and a bed and are fed. The alternative is devastating – abandonment or death.

In response to Todd's challenge, I did see God today on more than one occasion and I think that he is very much alive in Ethiopia. I am forever changed.