The Lunch Lady

Day 3 here in Ethiopia was really like Day 1 since I slept through the first 48 hours. After organizing our supplies late into the evening, we spent the morning waiting on a vehicle. And, about the time we gave up and decided to tackle a task within walking distance, the van showed up, only to leave while I was in the bathroom.

Yes, left in the bathroom. I know what you’re thinking, but I only went number 1 and opted for time-saving hand sanitizer because there was no towel. And, it’s not like I was part of a large group that could easily lose one of its team members. There were just 10 of us! When I emerged from the bathroom, the receptionist screamed out in horror. Terrified, I checked myself for blood and spiders but quickly understood what had happened when she called one of the fortunate staff members on board, and they turned the bus around.

As it turns out, getting left behind has its perks: riding shotgun, which means eating very little dust along the way.

Our goal today was to set up 2 facilities in the Mission Ethiopia site (i.e. place of employment and empowerment for at risk individuals) at Korah, the literal trash dump where 130,000 people live.

One room was being turned into a store to display and sell items made by the women (and one man) at the site. We wanted to make it beautiful…something for them to be proud of. Why is there a jewelry store in the trash community? I mean, people who live and forage for food amongst the garbage probably find their accessories there too, right? Not in a make-shift store. Well, mission teams and individuals are coming in weekly to visit with the ladies, serve them, worship with them, learn about them, etc. The last stop on their little tour of sorts will be this store where they can purchase items to support the ministry.

The plan for the other room, which is currently being used as a soup-kitchen-like cafeteria that serves two items to children who sit on benches and eat from their laps, was to turn it into a childcare center for the younger kids of the women at the site.



These rooms were pretty much plywood with a small low-quality chalkboard on one end. Look at 'em now!

Mission accomplished. In less than 6 hours. Thanks to a slew of Americans and Ethiopians working with us.

This is a picture of the lunch ladies and one of the gals who helped me serve lunch to the kiddos. We told the ladies to sit back and relax while we handled the food line. During lulls in ladling out that sauce, the women were schooling me in Amharic, teaching me words and meticulously correcting my pronunciation. Sheesh! However, I had a blast.

The lunch room in use.

Ooh, I did peeve off a few kids with the amount of food I poured for them. One girl shot me the stink eye right there in line because I gave her too much food and didn’t avert her eyes until she reached her seat where she could tell her friends about the new gal who wasn’t doing it right.

Got my first shower tonight, even though my odor was barely noticeable.


Sleeping Beauty

Although I arrived early Saturday morning, I did nothing but sleep until dinner time. Even then getting up was heavily debated. My dinner companions, who are also my housemates, included the owner Dave, an elderly volunteer Debbie, who is also my bunkmate and an extremely heavy sleeper, Dave’s parents, a married couple who are best friends with the parents, the top 3 of the Ethiopian staff within the organization, and another friend of Dave’s.

I arrived for the tail end of the celebratory events being held for the beloved employees. Had I flown in just 2 days earlier, I would have made it to the goat-slaughtering party. Yes. They paraded in a goat. Let him put on a smile and show for guests then callously cut him and cooked him up. And people were bragging about this party. Poor little goat. I think that’s what I’ve chosen for a pet. Not too loud. Bearable size and quantity of poo. Bonus lawn maintenance. Last but not least, I think my family could get accustomed to goat’s milk. I just won’t be telling the kids that the milk in their cereal was just squeezed out of fluffy’s ta tas. No. I’ll keep that to myself.

We were 8 minutes late for our dinner reservations, which is early for Ethiopia, but they’d impatiently given our tables away. So, it was on to the back-up restaurant. I knew what I was ordering before we even sat down. Believe it. Turns out the delicious-smelling yumminess being cooked on an open flame outside was a meat kabob, which was labeled BBQ on the menu. Although I ordered chicken and fish, I’m not quite sure what I was served. Still. Yum. E.

I stayed up late for a quick check in and skype call with Keith, whom I knew was having a hissy over not receiving confirmation on whether I was alive or dead. I slept till noon the next day, which meant I missed shopping, lunch, a visit to an orphanage, and church. Sinner. Ordinarily, I might be miffed that no one woke me for church, or for goodness sake shopping! However, apparently everyone known to the guest home tried unsuccessfully to wake me. Even the translator one evening after learning my name admitted being sent in from my group for one last attempt before heading out. I can’t blame them though. It takes more than a gentle whisper or flicker of the light to bring me out of the trance induced by my padded eye mask paired with the blaring white noise of an upright oscillating fan from my ipod ear buds.

The gang returned to pick me up for a “quick bite to eat” before working the rest of the evening. A lofty plan. Over 4 hours later we fought the mass chaos, including a group of young men who ran around in the street with a van door in tow, which had ensued over the excitement of Liverpool’s winning the African Cup…soccer. I tried to get outside at the restaurant to get a picture of the riotous mass running through the streets, but the owner protectively blocked the doorway and told me it was just too dangerous for me.

We did work half the night but only because we didn’t get started till 9 PM. Ugh!

Here’s a snapshot of what’s been happening in my absence:

You have correctly identified my apple slicer being used for a kiwi, the easiest fruit on the planet to cut. Keith’s a first timer though. Bless his heart. He’s new to the world of produce. He told the kids to eat it like an orange, of which the boys typically eat the peel solely to gross out Avery. Nothing was going to stop them from eating the fuzzy brown kiwi skin. Avery’s too. She was so sweet to share after having eaten all the flesh off her pieces.


The Lone Traveler

Why am I in Ethiopia?

Ah, many reasons.

1. We had hoped I could come back during the summer.

2. The stateside founder of the ministry we'll be working with was planning a trip in October along with a stateside volunteer. This should be a totally different experience with the Boss Man here.

3. There are several opportunities for me here this week...new developments within the organization and decisions being made...that will forecast the next 5-10 years. I would love to see those first hand...you know, since we'll be living here in a few months. God willing, of course.

4. I need to get to know the Ethiopian staff and those being served through the ministries here. A large part of what Keith and I will be doing here is relational ministry. That may not even sound like a real kind of ministry to some of you, but it is perhaps the most effective kind.

5. So, if you were moving across the ocean, wouldn't you jump at the chance to figure life out there? Even Ethiopia is getting less scary...I mean more totally awesome...the more I am here.

Are those enough reasons?

Why didn't I tell anyone, not even my BFF or my parents?

1. I did tell 2 friends (who have the luxury of flying for free) in September when Keith and I discussed the trip. Sadly, neither could join me.

2. You are aware of the communication situation between Keith and me. Not another word of making the trip until last week when he asked before purchasing a plane ticket, "So are you really going to Ethiopia?"

3. And the days leading up to my departure were filled with arranging child care and preparing food for 22 out of the 27 meals for which I would be absent. It really just slipped my mind.

So there.

How was my first solo international traveling experience?

First we should address the fact...the miracle...that I was even permitted to do so. I don't have a clue. You and I are seeing a new side of Keith. Perhaps my hauling the kids and Simon to Oklahoma and Texas proved to him that I'm wearing big girl pants and can keep track of my own passport. I will say he sent me off with a verbal list of instructions and walked me to the front of the security line. That sweet man.

One of the things Keith mandated was that I "make friends" with a traveler so that upon arrival amidst the chaos of baggage claim in Ethiopia someone might notice if I need assistance. Or if I happen to go missing. That lucky person was the gal in front of me to check in for my connection in DC. She and her husband were adopting from Ethiopia but were on this trip to go backpacking in Tanzania. For fun. Not my cup of tea, but I'll take what I can get.

I struck gold at the check-in counter with an airline employee who had been disapprovingly weighing everyone's carry-ons, shaking his head at them. Yes, they weigh and measure your carry-on bag! The limit is 17 pounds, and mine was 10.5 over. But, I had greeted him cheerily and pretended to understand his English as he tried to make conversation. He said something to the effect that he could tell my heart was happy for Ethiopia. So, he leaned down and quietly said he was going to just check that bag for free and then kindly waved me away when he saw my other carry-on, which was perhaps heavier than the first. Bless him!

I have no complaints about the flight accept that a flight attendant adamantly woke me from my first and only good nap, despite the pleas of the man and woman next to me to just let me sleep, so that she could force on me a gluten-free meal that I did not order. Peaking out from under my eye mask, I tried to shoo her away but she was relentless. Finally I took out an ear plug with one hand, the other holding the meal she refused to take away, and heard the woman 2 seats down say she did order a gluten-free meal. I handed it to her before Pushy Flight Attendant could even reach for the slip verifying that the meal indeed belonged to the woman in seat J and not to me in seat L.

The best in-flight movie was "Rock of Ages." Although I found it under the category Blockbusters, I felt it fit better in Classics. Stellar cast. Amazing music. You mean you haven't even heard of it? Me either. However, I must have the movie and the soundtrack. Hint, hint to anyone who is looking for a going-away gift idea.

At the horrific baggage claim, my backpacking friends were no where to be found. But the good news is that not a single stranger approached me offering help. I, however, tried to take a luggage cart from one man, whom I had assumed was an airline employee dutifully bringing in carts for arriving passengers. I later realized the guys with that job were wearing earthy-toned scrubs and not a navy Polo wind-breaker that I mistook for part of a Delta uniform. He politely told me he needed both carts. Awkward? Yes. But even more awkward was that he and his brother fell in line directly behind me to wait an eternity at customs. Born and raised in Ethiopia, they had spent the last 8 years in New York and their English was impeccable. The 3 of us traded stories of past, present and future as they walked me through customs and all the way to the man holding this sign:


A Blogger's Hiatus

Nope. This isn’t part 2 of our story. Just an update since my blogger hiatus.

What have we been up to for the last 8-10 weeks?

Avery asked Keith to dance with her stuffed Dumbo, who had dressed up for the occassion. We were all the captive audience. As you can see, Garrison is thoroughly enjoying the show.

At the end of July I loaded up the family, minus Keith, with Simon as my narcoleptic co-pilot and made the 11-hour drive to Oklahoma. After nearly a week with family and friends, I packed everyone back into the van and drove 8 hours to Houston. Lucky for the kids that Keith flew in for the final weekend with his parents so that I didn’t have to make the 12-hour trip home alone.

Saying our goodbyes in Oklahoma.

In Texas, the kids and their cousins made tie dye shirts and onesies for the new baby...with a little help from me.

Although shockingly I have no funny stories to tell about my travels, I could tell you about a mom who prepared for everything but Armageddon. To eliminate stopping for meals, I packed baggies full of nuts, fruit, veggies, chicken, and even more veggies. Plus one package of fruit snacks each. I am not the cool mom. No, sir. Each child had a cup of water, but I forbade them to drink any because of the no-stopping-for-a-potty-break philosophy. The seat pocket in front of each child was stocked with coloring supplies, a lacing toy for idle hands, and a trash/vomit bag with very clear instructions on what to do with it. They were also strongly encouraged to fill their backpacks with a blanket for naps in the van, a change of clothes just in case, plus an electronic game with ear buds so I wouldn’t have to listen. I have zero complaints about the entire experience, except that I missed my husband, and would do it more often if it weren’t for that.

We arrived home in time to unpack and get groceries before our friend Bisrat (visiting from Ethiopia) flew in. The kids and I kept him entertained for the week, and Keith joined us the latter part of his stay for some touristy expeditions in Atlanta.

In addition to poking fun at the volume of pillows with which Americans adorn their beds, especially guest beds, he enlightened us as to the low down, and I mean way low down, on Ethiopia. Although it’s nothing I can post here, it hasn’t dissuaded us from going. And, while it still seems a relatively safe place for foreigners, specifically Americans, we are grateful certain family members are not privy to such information. In fact, were we making this decision 15 or 20 years down the road, we probably wouldn’t be facing it with as much enthusiasm. But, with youth comes naivety, even in the midst of knowledge.

Sadly, we captured the majority of our experiences on Bisrat’s camera, and these 2 blurry shots are the only ones to show you. Ivan, who has been known to be sent to bed after dinner, was rewarded one evening for who knows what by getting to stay up 10 minutes past his siblings and teach Bizzy how to play Xbox.

The zoo was part of his ATL tour, but he escaped all the pics we took.

Here the kids are with one of their BFFs Worth.

Seriously, my kids are so stinkin' cute!

Avery, the ferocious tiger.

Then we had the super fun, never-ending, amazing wedding on Labor Day. Two of our very best friends got hitched in Atlanta over the course of a 4-day celebration. Yes, my dress was fabulous, but did you see the very handsome and sexy Keith in any facebook photos? If his job required him to wear a white button up and suspenders every day, there’s not a whole lot that would get done.

Thankfully, this was one of those kid-free weddings, so I divvied out the kids to the homes of 4 friends and didn’t think twice.

The following weekend our kids experienced all things beachy for the first time when we took our first ever. Yes, ever. Family vacation. Destination: Orange Beach, Alabama. Not the swankiest of retreat areas for adults or kids, but it was free. And, even better is that our getaway was with 2 more of our best friends and their kids.

I need to teach this gal some modesty!

So that Megan and I could have some quality beach time, Keith and Mr. Chris took the kids to some kind of museum. I didn't ask too many questions. I mean, we were getting a few hours without our kids. The guys could have told us they were taking the kids to learn how to throw knives and I wouldn't have batted an eye.

Next on the agenda was the biggest yard sale ever! I mean, EVER. The idea was a smallish fundraiser to get rid of the purged items in Round 1. We were overwhelmed by how much our fellow church members brought in to sell. Overwhelmed in the good sense that, “Gee, this is awesome how much people are supporting us. I feel so loved.” But also overwhelmed as in, “Are you kidding me? We’ve got less than 2 days to sort through the mounds of crap…I mean items to sell…that people have dumped on us…I mean donated. And, there is no end in sight.”

We just weren’t prepared for the department-store level of set up we’d have to do. Although I lost count of how many full trailer loads of donations Keith unloaded, it was such a blessing. We raised enough money for about half the airfare needed for our family to move. And, a sweet friend has already offered to host another one at the end of October to sell some of the leftovers.

A few days later, the paternal grandparents showed up for a 4-day visit. They headed home the same day Keith left for a scheduled “work” trip. Sunday night we returned from Tennessee, the home of some friends who took our newest family pictures. Much more on that weekend later. And, of course I’ll plaster the rest of the pics on here when we get them.