Our mission work completed, Wednesday was scheduled to be simply a "tourist day." Segay insisted on seeing us to the airport for our flight to Lalibella. Because he had only one of the "Glimmer" vehicles at his disposal, we were somewhat concerned that it might cut things too closely since our group would have to be taken in two trips (the hotel had a shuttle, but Segay's hospitality was not to be denied.)
As it turned out, there was not problem; our flight was delayed almost three hours. Once on board, the short hop took only about a half hour, but when we landed we found ourselves in much different countryside, surrounded by high mountains. We left the tiny airport with its gravel runway, and piled into a hotel shuttle for the half-hour ride to the town, which took us to the top of one of the tallest of those mountains. Considering the driver's steering was as casual as any we have seen in Ethiopia, the view of the valley far below, with the dropoff starting only inches past the edge of the road, was... riveting.
Lalibella is a small town, a cluster of tiny rock houses and modest hotels clustered on any semi-level ground that can be found. It seems to be devoted almost solely to its tourist industry, but the effect of all the foreign money is obvious, as the houses were definitely a step or two above what we had come to expect (it is a curious thing to see a house made of mud with a satellite dish.) However, in some areas, we saw very traditional homes, neat round huts made of stone, often with an outside staircase curving around to lead to an upper floor. I mentioned to Mike that they reminded me of the Hobbit homes in the Lord of the Rings movies, and he told me that Tolkien had once visited Ethiopia, which explained not only the huts, but many of the familiar place names: Gondar, Roha, Goha.
The attraction in the town is the cluster of ancient Orthodox churches that King (now Saint) Lalibella had had constructed in the 12th century. The whole top of the mountain is made of rose basalt, very similar to the pink granite of Enchanted Rock, north of Fredericksburg. On his orders, 40,000 workers labored 23 years to carve churches directly out of the native stone, ALL IN ONE PIECE. (Some are no longer of a single piece; following an earthquake in the early 1950s, UNESCO arranged to have a few of the churches' tumbled columns rebuilt with blocks of the same stone.) To build them, the workers carved straighht down 30, 40, 50 feet into the solid stone, leaving a block in the center, which was then hollowed out into a church complete with columns, arches, and engravings.
The most impressive of the churches is the Church of Saint George. Unlike the other churches, this one was built in the shape of a cross as seen from above, and has no internal columns. It also has many reminders of the story of the Great Flood: a large stone at one corner of the hole represents Mt. Ararat, where Noah's ark came to rest, and the opposite corner has a semi-circle representing the rainbow. And of course, the windows on the lowest floor are not carved all the way through, to keep out the waters of the flood.
All of the churches are still actively used, nearly a thousand years after their construction. We saw many priests and monks, and had to remove our shoes and hats to enter each of them (a somber and silent man followed us from place to place, silently tending our shoes, and assisting on the narrow and uneven steps, paths and tunnels that lead from church to church.)
Exhausted from touring the churches, we retired to the hotel, a few of us sampling the goods at the souvenir shops across the street. The locals clearly look for any opportunity to forge a link with the spendthrift Americans, as both Obama and Oprah have namesake shops there. After a dinner that was, if not good, at least accurately described (none of us could complete the "Dry Cake" listed as the nmight's dessert) we went to our rooms. About 3:00 in the morning, I was awakened by the sound of dogs (hyenas?) barking, and went to the window to enjoy one of Lalibella's other great sights.
Gondar and Addis Abeba, while not modern by American standards, do have extensive lighting at night over the streets and on many of the building fronts, and so the sky is largely washed out with light pollution, as in the United States. But with the moon having already set, the sky in Lalibella was as dark as any I have ever seen. I remember seeing dark skies while camping as a boy, and sometimes even being able to make out the vague smudge of the Milky Way across the sky. But here it was so bright and distinct that I thought at first it must be a cloud, until I realized I was seeing stars in it. In fact, there were so many stars in the sky over Lalibella that I could not make out even the most familiar of the constellations, because of the thousands of "new" stars scattered among the old ones. This too will be one of the many memories I will carry home from Africa.
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Sometimes an in-country flight will simply be cancelled if there are not enough passengers. We had planned to fly back to Addis Abeba on Thursday, so that even were that flight cancelled, we would still be able to make it to the capital in plenty of time for our Friday night flight home. Fortunately, there were no problems, and so we have spent the last day relaxing, doing final shopping, and (for me) catching up on this blog. We fly out tonight for Washington DC, a sixteen-hour flight plus an hour in Rome for refueling, and then will have an eleven-hour layover at Dulles Airport before continuing to Austin late Saturday night (we're going to be on the wrong end of an eight-hour time change too, so you can probably count on our NOT making it to church this Sunday.)
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I have found Ethiopia to be a land with a surprisingly strong religious presence. The touch of the Ethiopian Orthodox church permeates everything. The people here are warm and welcoming, generous even in the midst of terrible poverty, and despite the troubles that plague this nation, confident and industrious. These are people who will touch your heart, and sometimes break it: we were advised not to give to the many beggars that line the street, as doing so only invites many others to gather (although none were ever persistent or threatening.) But when a dirty four-year-old child looks up at you with big brown eyes, holds out her hand, and says simply "Hungry," it would take a stronger person than I am not to give something.
When you consider how much difference even a small amount can make when given by us from the nonchalant wealth of our American lives, it becomes imperative that we do something to help these gentle people. I have sometimes guiltily reflected that for me this trip was something of a "boondoggle." The money that was spent to send me here would have easily covered the cost of another hand-dug well in another village; the cost of four tickets nearly equals the price of a deep-borehole well. I decided that my best purpose, the only way to justify my presence here, is to be enthusiastic about this good work, and to try to spread that enthusiasm to those I left behind in America. If you have enjoyed what I have written, and if it moves you to give something to the missions of "Water to Thrive," I have repaid a small part of the debt I owe.
Once again, allow me to express my gratitude to the people of Abiding Presence for funding this trip. Thank you to our hosts and guides (and new friends) Mike and Meredith Koch of "Water to Thrive," for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and to Dick Moeller for his patience with my long-windedness on his website. And thanks also to Jim Sorensen, who introduced us to this ancient and beautiful culture, and whose inspiring daily devotions helped us to see these new experiences in the light of scripture. We return to you as changed people.
Dohna'hun, Larry Cline
Monday was an amazing day for all of us.
We left our hotel about 8:00 in the morning to repeat our bumpy trip. Whereas the day before the streets had been full of people swathed in white scarves on their way to church, today was a market day, and commercial activity was in evidence everywhere (much of it spilling into the streets, of course.) The gravel road section of our trip was especially full of people casually walking the miles from town to town, many or most of the women balancing amazing burdens on the tops of their heads. (Especially fun to see are the baskets with a trussed chicken sitting on top, looking around from his high perch on some lady's head.) We never did figure out how they do this, particularly the ones who would have items stacked two high. Nor could we understand how the "walking haystacks" got their six-to-eight foot loads up there. The weight of a haystack may be manageable on one's head, but how did they pick it up in the first place?
There had been no farming on Sunday, as that had been a day of rest (quite a relative term in Ethiopia) but today we saw many men plowing their fields, some with women following close behind spreading seed. When the rainy season is right around the corner, there is no time to waste. The plows are simple affairs of a long pole yoked to the two largest cows available; a second pole with a small iron plowshare is attached. As the oxen pull it everything forward, the farmer presses this second pole into the rocky soil with one hand, while using the other hand to loudly pop a rope whip over the cows' heads.
Our plan this morning would be to meet with the village elders, and get their opinions regarding the needs of Robit. We would gather in one of the classrooms at the school since there would be no classes that day, not for the Memorial Day holiday America was celebrating, but for the 21st anniversary of the Ethiopian peoples' overthrow of the puppet dictatorship the Soviets had set up after Hailie Salassie died in the mid-'70s.
As the elders began filing in, we noticed one thing right away: owning a gun is a sign of prestige. While we had seen the occasional rifle carried along the road, by the time the 32 elders had seated themselves, there were no fewer than ten AK-47 assault rifles in the room with us. Many appeared old, but all seemed well cared-for, and we had little doubt they were loaded. The chief elder was a man named Fante, who struck a very impressive figure, dressed traditionally with a large white cloth draped over his shoulders and a matching head wrap, his AK-47 sitting casually between his knees. (I spent the first half of the meeting wondering why he seemed so familiar, until I realized he looks remarkably like a young Danny Glover.) He is also a great leader; last year he set an example for the others by donating 600 birr (about $36, a huge sum there) to the fund to build the well, even though he himself lives too far out of town to use it.
The elders had brought a young woman with them as a translator (a teacher from the school, I think) and were eager to talk with us. In general, Fante spoke for their group, and Mike for ours. When we asked what the top three concerns were in the village, there was quite an animated discussion as the elders debated among themselves, trying to limit it to three.
There seemed to be general agreement that the biggest need is for a bridge over the river that runs through the village. When we had seen the river the day before, it was just a stinking fetid stream about five feet wide, and only a few inches deep. However, during the rainy season it swells to nearly a hundred feet across. We had seen the remains of a bridge that had been built, washed away, and rebuilt year after year until the people of the village had finally given up. Right now, the people could wade across, or step carefully across using a couple of logs that had been placed as a foot bridge, but soon the village would be completely divided. Sometimes, we learned, this separated families for months at a time. And of course, diseases, many that might be quickly and simply treated on this side of the river, could on the wrong side easily prove fatal with no way to get to the care and medicines only a few hundred yards away.
The next concern was for more and better latrines. Typically a single outdoor pit latrine serves several families. This works fairly well in dry weather (although it cannot be pleasant.) But again, the rainy season makes problems, as the river will often overflow its banks and even the berms the government out along the banks at some point, flooding the town and filling the pits to overflowing. Obviously, it is not a sanitary condition.
Finally, there is of course malaria. All of us have been taking anti-malarial drugs since we got here, but fortunately the mosquitoes have been few in number (in fact, I have not been bitten once during the entire trip, partly because I'm rooming with Lane the Human Bug Light, who attracts any insects in the area.) However, after the rainy season, they swarm by the billions, coming into the town from the marshy area only a few miles away. Mike and Meredith had heard of this marsh on previous trips, but had never seen it, so after the meeting broke up, we arranged to be driven out, hoping optimistically that we would see some simple way to drain a swamp.
We were surprised to find that Robit is much closer to Lake Tana than any of us realized. Already the largest lake in Ethiopia at about 90 km across, during the rainy season Tana swells out of its shallow banks to flood what was now serving as pasture land for hundreds of cattle. It was this pasture land that would remain wet and swampy in the months after the rainy season, a perfect breeding ground for malarial mosquitoes as the water slowly recedes. It was a stark but picturesque scene, with many children alternately driving their cows (how they distinguished their own from the others, we had no idea) or swimming naked among the water birds.
As we were walking back to the trucks, I was able to get a close-up view of a team of oxen pulling a plow in an adjoining field. The farmer was amused that I would be interested in such a mundane activity, but offered to let me try my hand at it. I was winded after plowing a single crooked furrow, but he good-naturedly (if insincerely) complimented me on my work as I put gave the team back in his experienced hands.
We had planned to look around the village a bit more after we returned, but instead it turned out that we had an unexpected treat in store. Fante owns a "bar" in the village, and invited us to join him for some recreation. We sipped sodas as a local man sawed away at a "masinko" (a traditional bowed instrument that could be described as a cross between a banjo and a one-string violin) and a woman sang what were (evidently) hilarious songs. The men (many of them the elders from the meeting, along with Mengiste, the doctor we had met the day before) would call out verses a line at a time, and she would sing them back, as both she and the player danced about in the small room, occasionally joined by one of the spectators. Once the two had worked up a sweat, people would sometimes come forward and plaster a small bill to their foreheads. We only caught a word now and then, but we did recognize "ferenji" (foreigner) several times in the ad lib song. We later found out that she had been singing "I hope the ferenji come back often, so I can make more money with my songs."
We enjoyed Fante's hospitality for about an hour before we had to leave because of gathering clouds. Fante hitched a ride in the back of the first SUV to the village where the gravel road ends. Bruhanu, our driver, said that the walk of some 18 kilometers --twelve miles-- would have otherwise have taken him about two hours, but that a city person might have needed as much as three. I'd hate to think how long it would have taken any of us.) Meredith later said she had tried not to think about the AK-47 sitting behind her every time the truck hit a bump.
After lunch at the hotel, Lane and I got a ride back to the marketplace outside Fasilidas' palace; he was suffering from soccer withdrawal, and desperately wanted to take a ball with him when we made our final visit on Tuesday. We rode back in one of the tiny "Bajaj" tricycle taxis, which slowed to a crawl trying to get up the mountain to the hotel, but made it all the way. Dinner that night was with our "Glimmer" hosts at a small local restaurant, where we all ate local food, drank Dashen beer brewed right there in Gondar, listened to masinko music, and enjoyed watching two women and a man doing the popular "G'zsta" dance, in which the participants snap their shoulders back and forth as fast as possible. At the height of the dance, the young man's shoulders were no more than a barely visible blur. (It was this dance that some of us had tried after a few Dashens on one of our first nights in Addis Abeba, only to wake up the next day with sore muscles.)
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It would have been hard for Tuesday not to have been an anticlimax after such a memorable day, but we enjoyed our last trip anyway. Since we knew we would be leaving Gondar on Wednesday, several of us we took the opportunity to "lighten our luggage" by leaving those horrid CLIF bars for the hotel staff, and giving Segay, our "Glimmer of Hope" host, a large bag of shirts to distribute as he saw fit. As we were driving on the gravel road, I saw an old woman with no shoes, and we stopped so I could give her my flip-flops. She seemed very grateful, especially since the bag of grain she was carrying must have weighed a good fourty pounds. That road is hard enough to ride on; I can't imagine walking miles of it with bare feet.
I also gave Bruhanu the last box of my Slim Jims, which I had been sharing with him for the past few days, and which he seemed to enjoy greatly (once he figured out how to open the plastic wrappers, and got over his suspicion that the long thin snacks were actually "snake meat.")
Every visit to Robit taught us something new, and this trip was no different. Visiting the medical extension office, we learned that traditional medicine, while discouraged, is still sometimes practiced in the village. For example, diarrhea in small children is sometimes treated by pulling one or two of their baby teeth, which of course can lead to later complications as their adult teeth come in. And while a single dose of an inexpensive antibiotic would be more effective, the traditional "cure" for an eye infection is to make cuts near the eye and allow blood to flow in; many of the children in the village bore the telltale scars of this questionable treatment.
Before we left, Lane got his wish. Behind the school is a nicely laid-out soccer field, and as soon as he took out the new ball he had bought the night before, boys from the age of eight on up miraculously appeared. By the time the game was over, there must have been thirty players on each side. Those of us too old and slow to participate stood on the berm of the river to get a good view, surrounded as always by the small children, who love to hold our hands, examine our wristwatches, see their photos on the digital cameras (they've only rarely seen even mirrors, much less photos of themselves) or to furtively reach out and stroke our mysterious white skin. (One little boy was also fascinated by my very un-Ethiopian pot belly, and would bravely reach out for a poke whenever he thought I wasn't looking.)
Finally the game ended, and Lane awarded the game ball to some of the older players (the schools each have a ball, but the graduates had not had one until now.) We sadly made our ways back to the SUVs for the last trip back to Gondar, taking last pictures, shaking hands with the adults, and hugging the children. As always, we were hailed with shouts of "You! You! You!" all the way out of the village.
We may never see Robit again, but it will remain in our memories forever.
On Sunday morning, we loaded into two 4WD vehicles for the trip out to Robit. To get there, you first cross Gondar back out to the airport, a trip of only about fifteen minutes. That's where the pavement ends. From there to the village of Robit is only 32 kilometers (about 20 miles.) The first fourteen are a bone-jarring washboard gravel road that will practically shake your fillings loose. But then it gets rough.
On a good day the trip will take about two hours, but unfortunately it had rained hard the night before, and shortly after leaving the gravel road, the lead vehicle became mired in the muck. Dozens of the local people came out to push, pull, or just watch and offer advice. After about twenty minutes of fruitless effort, someone noticed that, although the hubs of the front wheels had been switched to 4WD, the front drive had not been engaged (our driver, Bruhanu, blamed it on the fact that the other man was "just a city driver.") That done, the truck pulled free and we were on our way again.
To get to Robit, you don't really drive on a road per se, but mostly just follow the footpaths that cut between the fields and the tire tracks of the last vehicle to have gone that way. You make the best speed you safely can, but often you have to slow to a crawl as you bounce through deep ruts or over bumps, or dodge dogs snapping at the tires, people walking to and from the markets and fields, donkeys laden with various burdens, and the occasional cow or goat that refuses to yield. Without fail, every time we passed a group of houses, laughing children would pour out, shouting and waving. It seemed strange to think that this would be the most exciting thing that would happen to them all day, but then I recalled my own son waving at every train that he saw when he was young, and how it made his day if an engineer happened to wave back. We could do no less.
Finally we arrived at Robit, a dusty stretch of mud houses set back in the trees. As we had seen all along the way, the children ran out, shouting "You! You! You!" at us (strangely, in the areas out of "town," they always yell "Ciao! Ciao!") Unfortunately, we arrived too late to join the villagers at their church service as we had hoped, but we were still excited to finally be there. We drove all the way to the river that divides the village, and then turned into the school yard.
Robit has seen a lot of changes in the past few years. Just as "Water to Thrive" worked with the non-governmental organization ODA (Oromia Development Association) to build the wells in Sendafa last week, "Glimmer of Hope," a large Austin-based charity, has been working with a local NGO, the Organization for the Rehabilitation and Development of Amhara (ORDA) to in Robit. In addition to partnering with "Water to Thrive" to dig a deep-borehole well, "Glimmer" has broken ground on new school buildings and a Medical Extension Office in the past year. Our mission was to check on the status of those projects.
As soon as we got out of the trucks we saw part of one project underway. About a hundred men, women, and children were standing in a line near the edge of the schoolyard, passing buckets of cement from hand to hand. As we approached, we saw nine huge holes in the ground. In the bottom of each, a wooden form had been built, and the cement was being poured into these form. we were told that these would be footings for a twelve foot water tower that would provide pressure to eight new water stations once the well was complete. Because the area floods every year, it was necessary to construct these massive footings to prevent the tower from sinking into the rain-softened ground.
In the United States, such large excavations would be done "quick and dirty" using heavy equipment; in fact rather than nine holes, one large one would likely be dug. But these holes were perfectly square, their sides perfectly vertical. It was really a beautiful piece of work. We were amazed to learn that not only had the holes been dug entirely by volunteers, but they had been dug BY HAND. Furthermore, all this precise work had been done in only the past seven days.
Next we toured some of the school buildings. They are rather spare by American standards, but much better than their stick-and-mud predecessors of 1969. On many of the outside walls, large maps, English lessons, times tables, science diagrams, and historical information have been painted; this is an ingenious way of dealing with a shortage of charts and maps that might not hold up as well. Inside the classrooms, children sit three to a bench in front of narrow desks (in some rooms, the desks were jumbled and in disarray; we later found out that the reason for this was that because of shortages, they are shared with another nearby school, carried there and back daily.)
There are approximately sixty students to a class. On the desks in one room, cards had been taped down at each place, with Amharic lettering. Our translator, Adona, explained that each showed the student's name and "vision" of his future. We were pleased and impressed that, rather than seeing themselves as future sports stars or entertainers, these students wanted to be called "doctor," "teacher," "engineer."
While the new buildings are quite nice, they are largely empty. There is little or no laboratory equipment at the high school, and the library has not yet received its books. Students share tattered texts, consumables like workbooks are almost nonexistent, and basic items like paper and pens are in short supply.
In one room, we found a young man spending his Sunday afternoon studying. Although he was clearly in his mid-twenties, everyone has "agreed" that he is twenty, the maximum age to attend the school. In a place like this, you don't allow ambition to be denied. Speaking through Adona, the man revealed that he had been a lackluster student a few years before, when his class was visited by Meredith's father, Dick Moeller, on an early Water to Thrive trip. Mr. Moeller had challenged the students to become teachers, to help their nation by helping to build the next generation. It was that visit that had inspired the young man to study harder, and he now had plans to become a teacher in that very village.
From the school, we went out to the site of the new deep borehole well. Although Robit has several hand-dug wells of the type constructed in Sendafa last week, they are not adequate for the needs of the 6000 men, women, and children who live there (with more in the surrounding area.) To supply sufficient water, it was determined that the new 2500-feet-deep well would have to provide 3.7 liters per minute. In fact, it produces over 10 liters per minute, so it should be able to keep up with growth of the village for some time to come. They're still waiting for the submersible pump, and the government is somewhat behind on bringing electricity to the site (their part of the agreement) but once in place, the well will be a great boon to Robit.
After we left the well, we visited the new medical facilities just outside the village. Unfortunately, although the buildings were completed a couple of months ago, they are still not operating at full capacity, mostly because of chronic shortages of basic supplies. Records are kept of every visit and the treatment given, but because no individual patient files are kept, it can be difficult and time-consuming to search back through the records for a medical history. Even more frustrating, much of the equipment that the center has been given remains unusable, again because of inadequate electrical service.
However, back in the village we met an inspiring young man. Mengiste Habtu runs his own private clinic from a two-room building of sticks and mud, with a sheet for a door and a dirt floor, just like the homes beside it. Although he too is always short of supplies, the twenty-six year-old man dispenses whatever health care he can with what he has. Asked why he does not try to work at the clinic, Habtu explained that he cannot support his family on what the government pays doctors there. Although he now has a four-year degree, he is studying at night to become a full-fledged medical doctor. In the meantime, he desperately needs a microscope; much of the disease in Robit is caused by parasites, and without being able to examine blood and stool samples to determine the exact organism, he must treat every case crudely, with broad spectrum medicines. We promised to try to secure one for him, and on our way out, most of us managed to slip him a few hundred birr to purchase medicines.
The skies were now beginning to threaten rain. Rather than risk getting caught in it and stuck somewhere, we bid goodbye to our new friends, promising them we would return the next day. We piled back into the trucks and began the bumpy two-hour trip back to Gondar, the children giving us an escort to the edge of the village.
Reply to Larry Cline
Reply to Larry Cline
Sorry for the lateness of this post. Gondar is a wonderful city with many great features, but reliable internet service is not among them.
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Friday started early, as we left the Beer Garden Inn before dawn to catch our flight to Gondar, a few hundred miles to the northwest. We were pleasantly surprised to see that the turboprop plane for our Ethiopian Airlines plane was quite modern, in fact better than a lot of commuter planes I’ve been on in the states. The flight lasted less than an hour, and we landed at a much smaller and less advanced airport than we had left in Addis Abeba.
The first thing one notices about Gondar is there are a lot more trees there than in the capital city. Addis Abeba (in fact much of Oromia) has been largely deforested over the years, as the growing population has used up many of the trees for building materials and firewood. But the drive to Gondar from the airport was on a road lined with tall shady trees. The result was that it seemed a bit cooler, although the temperature was probably mid-70s as it has been for the whole trip (eat your heart out, you sweltering Texans.)
The city also seems a little less hectic than Addis Abeba, probably due to the much calmer traffic. But with fewer automobiles comes a great increase in the number on pedestrians, and since there are few sidewalks, everyone walks in the middle of the street. In addition to people, there are a great number of the familiar horsecarts and donkeys carrying various cargo to and from the markets. Donkeys take their own time getting out of the way of vehicles; we also stopped a few times for flocks of sheep coming down the road. I noticed that our driver used these delays to test the gears in our SUV; we seemed to have only first, second, and fifth.
After crossing the city in second gear, we finally reached our destination, the Goha Hotel, on the east side. To get to it you take a series up sharp switchbacks up a steep hill until you come to the very top, where a guard in a blue uniform snaps off a salute to anyone entering the hotel grounds. The view of the city from this spot is breathtaking, so we all piled out of the vehicles to enjoy the sight and stretch our legs.
Our plan after checking in was to head straight out to Robit. It’s about a ninety minute drive, but without a fully functioning vehicle we might not make it there (or back) so we decided that while it was being repaired, we’d have to just tough it out by having a wonderful brunch in gorgeous surroundings.
Although we had not seen any rain so far in the trip, Ethiopia’s rainy season begins around the end of May, so we’ve been watching the skies for a few days; it’s just a matter of time, and once it hits, heavy daily rains will be the norm beginning between 2:00 and 3:00 every in the afternoon. Mike had explained that because the “road” to Robit is so poor, we cannot risk travelling it in bad weather, so if we didn’t have two good vehicles by 1:00, we’d have to cancel today’s visit. Unfortunately, by that time we had heard the vehicle could not be repaired anytime soon, and a new one would have to be found for the next day.
Gondar is an old city that has seen a lot of history. In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, it rivaled many of the cities of Europe as a crossroads of art, culture, and commerce. With such a rich history, there is of course much to explore, so we decided to do some of our “touristing” a bit early. Our first stop was a castle we had seen from our mountaintop view, the palace of King Fasilidas.
Fasilidas was the first of six kings to make Gondar their capitol city, and he and his five successors’ large stone castles are all located within the same walls. Our excellent guide “Hugo” had an encyclopedic knowledge (all self-taught, we were very impressed to learn) of the history of each one, and regaled us with interesting stories for over two hours.
We learned that one of the kings had suffered from a skin condition, and that King Louis XIV of France dispatched his personal physician to assist. The doctor stayed for many years learning and writing of the Ethiopian culture and history. In his writings, he said that the palace in Gondar was the most elaborate and beautiful in the world. Even allowing for a bit of exaggeration for the benefit of his hosts, that’s quite a statement considering this was a man who had walked the halls of Versailles. However, it was sobering to think that only two-and-a-half centuries later, the fortunes of Ethiopia had fallen so that the royal palace of Menelik (which we had seen in Addis) was little more than a larger and more elaborate version of the mud huts of his subjects.
The best-preserved of the castles was that of Johann, Fasilidas’ son, who was particularly well-loved by his subjects because he eliminated the collection of tributes and taxes, and instead wove baskets to sell to fund the operation of his castle. Many of the other palaces had been in good shape until early in World War II, but were now in various states of ruin. The Sudanese and their Italian supporters had occupied Ethiopia in the late ‘30s, and with the coming of the war, the British had bombed the site of the castles, which were being used as military headquarters. Even though the beautiful castles had been largely destroyed, the guide seemed to bear the British no ill will about this, considering it an acceptable cost for driving out the hated Italians.
From the palace we crossed town to the Baths of Fasilidas. Fasilidas’ father had, to great controversy, converted from Orthodox Christianity to Catholicism. Criticized by his ministers, he finally abdicated, and Fasilidas had himself very publicly baptized into the Orthodox faith, in conjunction with his coronation. The baths still stand today, a small palace suspended over a large pool somewhat larger than an Olympic pool. To this day, the pool is flooded from the nearby river once a year in late January (Othodix Epiphany) in celebration of the baptism of Christ. Tens of thousands leap into the cold waters in one of the four great religious festivals of the Ethiopian year.
Our car was still not repaired in time on Saturday for us to try to get to Robit, so we spent the morning touring the Ploughshare Womens’ Training Center outside Gondar. This is a wonderful operation where widows, HIV/AIDS sufferers and other disposed women can live and produce goods to support themselves. We watched as they made the craft items, farmed their fields and orchards, and went about the process of daily life. After we had done some shopping at the center, they made us feel especially welcome by performing an Ethiopian coffee ceremony for us, burning incense and preparing their very stout coffee in the traditional manner over a charcoal brazier.
After lunch, we again gathered Hugo for another day of tourist destinations. From the beautiful view at the hotel, we had spotted a castle on the opposite side of town from Fasilidas, and that turned out to be one of our stops. This was the castle to which one of the empresses, who had from some twenty years acted as her young son’s regent when the king had died, had been banished after he took power. We were surprised when, in the tiny museum section, the empress herself made an appearance: Hugo pulled back a cloth from what we had thought was a table, but which turned out to be a glass-topped coffin containing the bones of not only the empress, but two later kings as well!
Our other stop on Saturday was the Church of Debre Birham Salassie. The stone walls have twelve towers (one for each of the apostles) in which monks and nuns now reside; the chief priest lives in a small apartment over the main gate. The church itself is only a plain rectangular structure, but inside the mud walls and even the ceiling have all been elaborately painted in colorful pictures illustrating stories from the Bible. Three centuries ago, a single monk worked for years to create the beautiful works. In this way, the lives of Christ, Mary, and the saints and Crusaders were brought to a largely illiterate congregation. Many of the stories were quite familiar (if somewhat alien; the Orthodox tendency is to show the Triune God as three identical old men) but their church also has a rich theology of the life of Mary, the “Queen of Heaven,” not only the tales we know from the Gospels, but also stories from her early and later life, and one wall showed these.
Gondar was once called the “City of 44 Churches” but the Dervishers from Sudan raided the city and destroyed all but four; this church and its beautiful and inspiring paintings is one of those that survived. The legend has it that bees in the large trees around this church attacked and repelled the Muslim invaders, who decided that it must be a sign that Allah wanted them to spare the church.
As we were leaving, I stopped to pick up a rock from the yard in front of the church. Our guide asked why, and I explained that my daughter had asked that I bring her back a rock from Africa. We agreed that if any stone can be blessed, it would be one from this inspiring place.
Gondar is a wonderful place to be a tourist, but we were impatient to finally see Robit. Sunday we would finally get our chance.
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Correction to my earlier post: When I asked Jihar about all the small corrugated metal boxes outside many of the business, I thought he answered “goat,” but he actually was saying “cot.” These boxes, about as long and wide as a coffin, and perhaps twice as deep, are rented out by some of the poor as a place to sleep, quite literally one step above sleeping on the street.
Sorry that it has been a couple of days since the last entry. We are safe and well after landing in Gonder. We have been having quite a few issues with internet so bear with us. We flew out very early Friday morning and spent time resting and sight-seeing in Gonder. Unfortunately the S.U.V. broke down friday night and we were not able to get out to Robit, but we were able to see the Womens Training Center and the Falasha Village. The Womens Training Center is a fabulous place run by a lady outside of Gonder. She basically takes women with HIV and other social/debilitative problems and gives them a place to live, eat and earn money. She trains them in a skill and teaches them sanitation, family planning and many other things. It is a really great program and We were all very blessed to meet all of these women and families.
We are hoping that we will be able to get out to Robit so that we will be able to do the things we came for. We all appreciate your prayers and support. We will fill you in as internet and time allows.
Today was a day that will live in all our memories for a long time. This morning we returned to the Sendafa villages one last time to dedicate the three hand-dug wells that were built there over past the ten days.
First we went to the Lotole well. This one was most significant to me because it was on this well that we had done the most actual physical labor, gathering rocks from the nearby fields to help construct the base. Like all three of the wells, it was now complete with a shiny metal pumphead, a sturdy wooden fence to keep the animals away, and a stone tablet with the dedication:
WATER TO THRIVE
BUILD WELLS -- CHANGE LIVES
LOTOLE HAND DUG WELL
ABIDING PRESENCE LUTHERAN CHURCH
SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS
CONSTRUCTED BY THE OROMIA DEVELOPMENT ASSOCIATION,
WATER TO THRIVE AND THE COMMUNITY
Most of the 40-some local people gathered to witness the opening were were men and boys; as usual, the women and girls were either back at home tending to chores, or at school if they were lucky enough to be enrolled. However, one tiny ten-year-old girl, whose job in the family is to gather the water, had decided that she would skip her classes today to see the opening of this new marvel. She unexpectedly found herself the center of attention as she became one of the first to draw water from this new clean supply. She was very shy at first, but relented to having her picture taken dozens of times as she pumped water into her 15-gallon jug.
Then Lane, our budding ambassador, offered to carry it back home for her. You could see that she found this rather shocking, but agreed and helped him to wrap the heavy jug in the cloth she had brought and place it on his back. They started back for her family's compound, about half a mile up a hill across a rock-strewn field, looking quite the pair as he towered over her. The older and "larger" of us struggled to keep up their pace, while teasing Lane that he was probably now engaged. Lane later admitted that he was having a hard time climbing the hill, too, and couldn't imagine how such a little girl made the trip carrying such a load every day, especially since before the well, she had gone about three times as far.
We reached the compound and were welcomed in by the women and girls there, who seemed excited to have been included in the day's events. One of them was an old woman of 84, the matriarch of the family. We learned that the young girl we had met was actually her grand-daughter (we suspect that the translation was probably great-granddaughter or great-great-granddaughter) whose own mother and father lived in a different compound a mile or two away, but who had been sent there to take care of the old woman. Grandmother seemed a bit wary of all the attention, but welcomed us into her home.
Like most of the dozen or so buildings, it was a square structure about fifteen feet across, built of mud slathered over sticks of wood. The roof was made of thatch over wooden frames, with an earthenware chimney over the peak to block the rain while letting out smoke from their cooking fires (fueled by the patties of dried cow dung we had seen piled high outside.) Along the sides, dirt "shelves" about eighteen inches high and deep serve as seating, storage for their few belongings, and a place to sleep (although there was also an old mattress leaning against the wall that would have been placed on the floor at night.) There was a large round wooden bin that we were told held grain, a large clay ewer that we suppose holds the water after it is brought, a traditional Ethiopian coffee pot and a few dishes, and some scattered pieces of clothing. A wooden door and a single rag-covered window, and that's the way the woman has lived her 84 years.
Her son, who could speak a bit of English, was eager to show us his son's home. It was rectangular, a bit larger than the grandmother's house, with a second room set apart by a sheet. Several photos were tacked to the mud wall, including one the man proudly pointed out of himself as an Addis Abeba policeman (obviously taken several decades ago.) He explained that his son is one of the men on the well council that the ODA sets up for each site (probably one of the men we had seen at the well.) I asked about some fire-scorched triangular frameworks leaning against an outside wall of the house, and he explained that they roof pieces that had been salvaged from another house, and that his son was soon going to use them to begin construction on a home next door for his mother-in-law.
As it was time to go on to the next well, we took final photos of the family and expressed our thanks and goodbyes, using the very few words of Amharic that we have learned. Unfortunately, we found out that most of the people in that area speak Oromic, one of the other 80 languages used in Ethiopia. Only those who have spent time in Addis Abeba (like the old policeman) have learned much if any Amharic, much less English.
The second site, the Chebseta well, was dedicated to the memory of John and Viola Opella, Meredith's grandmother, and the in-laws of Dick Meuller, Water to Thrive's founder. It was at this site that the ODA had planned the big ceremony. Over a hundred of the local people came, many dressed in what were obviously the finest clothes they owned, some even arriving on horseback for the special occasion. A ribbon was tied across the gate in the fence, and cut by Meredith. The ODA presented each of us with a beautiful shirt made in the traditional Ethiopian style. Each member of the ODA administration made a short speech, as did Mike and Meredith (the local boys, not interested in waiting for Nazif's translations, fought over the wrapping paper from our shirts until a local man twisted one's ear.)
Most of the local people had gathered close to watch the dedication, but I noticed that one woman had decided she wasn't interested, and had climbed down into the dirty spring site they had always used, and begun filling her large water jugs, using an empty paint can to scoop up the contaminated water. One of the ODA people translated for me when I asked why; it turned out she had thought that she could not use the well for a few days yet. The council had told everyone that there would have to be training first. That's technically true, but we decided that with all of us there we could bend the rules for today. I invited her up, and she was glad to come up and try out the new pump. (I also emptied one of the jugs she had already filled, which must have weighed a good fifty pounds; she carries two of those every day.)
The third and final Sendafa site was the "SERDO HAND-DUG WELL, WATER FOR THE CHILDREN, IN HONOR OF ANN MITCHAM - MOTHER'S DAY 2012." (Mitcham was a dear family friend of the Meuller's.) There was much less ceremony at this site, but as at the other two wells, several women "dropped in" to the dedication, pleased to shorten their trips and fill their jugs from the new well.
All of us on the Water to Thrive team were completely overwhelmed by what we saw today, the contrast of heartbreaking poverty with warm hospitality and friendship that we were shown by the people of Sendafa. The new wells, serving over 640 people, will provide water that is not only more convenient, but which will drastically reduce the incidence of water-borne disease in the happy laughing children, quite literally changing many of their lives. Once the sites were confirmed by ODA's hydrologist, to bring these three wells to fruition took only ten days and 200,000 birr, or about $12,000. To see the joy on the people's faces from something so simple for us to give, something we so take for granted, is not something I will ever forget.
After returning to the hotel, most of the group retired to their rooms. Bobbie and I walked to the nearby Bole Medhane Alem (Savior of the World) Cathedral, the biggest church in Africa (and the source of the early morning prayer calls I've been hearing.) Although it was closed, we were granted a grand tour by Fre, a young man studying to become an Orthodox priest. Learning I was a Lutheran, he quizzed me on what I was seeing in the many elaborate paintings and frescoes that decorate the sanctuary; I passed his test, but I was glad he hadn't asked about the more obscure saints shown. I think he was a bit scandalized to hear we have a female pastor, but we decided that, at least as far as religion goes, we have more in common than not.
After walking around a bit more, we headed back to the hotel and met with the others and with our ODA friends for a farewell dinner at the Beer Garden. Tomorrow before dawn, the six of us will fly west to Gondor, the next leg of our adventure.
This morning we got in the first real traffic jam we've seen. As we were approaching the the highway, traffic entering all four sides of the intersection (at the same time of course) and all wanting to turn left resulted in a complete gridlock. No amount of gesturing, suggestions from one driver to another, or horn honking could unsnarl it (and believe me, they tried a lot of each.) Finally a policeman strolled up and, waving and blowing his whistle, quickly sorted it all out. We had seen police at a couple of intersections before, invariably the ones with the slowest flow of traffic, leading to the question of whether their presence was the result of the heavier traffic, or its cause (since everyone tends to obey the rules a bit more closely when they're around. Now we know. The plan this morning was to ride back out to complete the work on the wells, and maybe even to visit inside one of the homes. There was a bit of delay when we found that our contact inside the village was out getting supplies, so Nazif suggested we stop at a coffee shop he knew at a mall along the way. I had had a cup at breakfast, and I've decided one of the four-ounce cups a day is my limit (I often drink six regular mugs of coffee in a day at home) so I looked around the mall instead. Very small by the standards of U.S. malls, it had maybe six shops on each of its three floors. Items were more upscale than what you find in the street shops: bridal gowns, appliances, electronics, and the like prices were comparable to what you'd expect at home, maybe a touch lower. One thing: if you buy furniture, you have three flights of stairs to carry it down. Once outside, we were, as usual, approached by beggars. It's heartbreaking to turn them down, especially the kids, but you quickly find that if you succumb to one "ten birr please sir" you'll have twenty kids standing there in seconds. Three boys (one for some reason wearing a party hat) had set up a shoeshine stand, though, and I decided that I could justify "tipping" them if I were paying for a service. I figured it wouldn't make my dirty boots any worse to have some polish on them, even though they're canvas and suede, but that didn't matter anyway: they didn't have any polish, and the "shine" was just slightly less-muddy water rubbed across them with great enthusiasm. They all got their ten birrs. Mike bought a tray of apples at the grocery store and passed them out. One little girl literally jumped for joy at the treat. Nazif explained that apples are so expensive here (even if you're not charged the fereji price as Mike had been) that she had likely never before had one in her life. Imagine tasting your very first apple! Nazif finally was able to get in touch with our contact, and got a surprise. It seems that after the team left yesterday, the men in the village had gotten on a streak and had completed the work on the wells a day early! Therefore we would not be needed until tomorrow morning's dedication ceremony. Of course this was good news, but it was a disappointment to miss seeing the homes. So instead we rode about five miles past the village area, and visited the market in Sendafa City. This was a bustling little community, more advanced than the villages, but still worlds away from the advances common in Addis Abeba. The market is a lot like an open-air flea market in the United States. There were a few "shops" inside semi-permanent structures of wood and sheet metal, but most of the stalls were no more than a blanket spread on the ground, and if the seller was lucky, a tarp propped up on a few eucalyptus poles to keep the sun of her head. All the essentials of life are available there: vegetables, spices, clothing, cooking utensils, baskets, great piles of mix-and-match shoes, you name it. Chickens are carried around by their feet if alive, or by the neck if not, and there were quite a few worried goats tied up here and there. The people were (as usual) quite friendly, and most (though not all) greatly enjoyed our efforts to take their photos. One thing we had not seen before were horse-drawn two-wheel carriages, which are the mode of transportation inside the market, as well as on the highway that runs through Sendafa City. In Addis Abeba, people get around in chunky little blue-and-white Toyota taxis (or almost identical Russian-made Ladas) or else in minivans (also painted blue and white) that have been converted for passenger use. The latter have eleven seats, including the driver's, so naturally, at rush hour in the afternoon, they each are carrying between fifteen and twenty passengers. We've seen them so full passengers are literally hanging out the windows. In the "suburbs" between Addis Abeba and Sendafa, little motorized tricycles taxis carry three or four plus a driver, but these are apparently too small and easy to squash for many to use them in the city. Waist-high little burrows (or donkeys, we can't decide) never seem to be used for transportation, but are common carriers of goods. We've seen them loaded down with all manner of items,being driven down the roadside. (We even saw three of them carrying their loads down the highway on their own; we don't know if they had escaped or just knew the route.) When not being used, they donkeys are turned loose on the side of the road or in median to eat whatever grass they can find. Apparently they know to keep out of traffic, as do sheep, which huddle in little herds in the median. Goats, on the other hand, will run off (or chew through a tether) so many shops have a goat box made of corrugated metal sitting on the sidewalk, keeping the goat in one place until... needed. (Goats seem to fare poorly here; we've seen great piles of fly-swarmed goat hides --lower legs and hooves attached-- for sale in the medians, with skinned goat heads neatly lined up along the curb.) Addis Abeba is Ethiopia's capitol, so there are diplomatic missions from all over the world located here. Heading back, we cut through the section of town where several African embassies are located. The look of the embassies tends to reinforce your general impression of the nation. America's embassy is huge, secure-looking and (note to Hillary Clinton) ugly as heck. The Russian Federation embassy is big, but looks like it has seen better days. The British embassy is large, powerful-looking and welcoming (a big sign out front wishes Ethiopia good luck in the upcoming London Olympics.) Angola, on the other hand, has theirs fenced in with what appears to be locally-scrounged corrugated metal. Lunch was a surprise: "Rodeo Addis," a Texas-themed restaurant! It would have been at home anywhere in San Antonio, with cowboy boots, posters of John Wayne, and longhorns scattered all around the walls (and a parking attendant wearing a way-too-large Stetson.) They didn't seem too surprised or impressed to have six actual Texans with them, but the food was certainly good. Next we went to the offices of the Oromia Development Association, our hosts in Addis Abeba, where we met with the organization's administrators. In addition to working to provide clean water for the 54% of the residents of Oromoia (Ethiopia's largest province) who have none, the ODA also provides health services and education, contraception supplies and information, AIDS / HIV screening and care, and general education. So far, they are active in 132 of Oromia's 304 districts, although they add more all the time. Part of their general philosophy is that those receiving the services should also have a stake in things, so (with the wells project, for example) the families benefiting from the new water supplies will each give a small fee that goes into a general fund for the upkeep and monitoring of the wells. They help the villages open a bank account in the city for these funds (often the first anyone involved has ever had) and oversee the village council that is in charge of the well. (Another of the ODA's focuses is gender equality, so each of these village councils must have at least several women as members.) All this is done on a budget of only 24-30 million birr (about $1.5 - 1.8 million) per year. Essentially all of their funding comes from charitable donations from the United States ("so God bless America" one said) orchestrated by groups like Mekane Yesu, Glimmer of Hope, and of course Water to Thrive. They are justifiably proud of their successes so far, and eager to continue in their growth. In fact, they are in the process of building a modern new office building top house their growing staff. But, like apparently most Ethiopians, the administrators of ODA are born businessmen: much of the new building will be rented out to a bank, so that it serves as a new source of funding, rather than an expense. Tomorrow will be our last day here before we say goodbye to our new friends and fly to Gondor. Dohna'hun, Larry
Tuesday was a long day.
Lane and I had a late dinner in the Beer Garden before going back to the room to watch some TV. The Africa Action channel shows reruns of American crime dramas, there's always soccer on somewhere (which he loves), and the English-language feed of Al Jazeera is much better, journalistically, than I would have expected.
We were trying to stay up late so that we would sleep through the night, and finish the adjustment to the eight-hour time difference. No such luck. At 2:30 in the morning I was wide awake with no going back. The door to the balcony was open so that we could get some fresh air, and I could hear packs of dogs running in the streets. You see them everywhere during the day, but mostly by themselves; at night the streets belong to them. Along with the fresh air, a few mosquitos got in. My doctor's advice about slamming vitamin B-12 was apparently correct, because they never seem to bite me, but their humming near my ears was driving me crazy, so about 3:30, I turned on the light and hunted them down with a flip-flop.
Right at 4:30, I started hearing chanting. I hadn't seen it, but I guess there's a mosque somewhere nearby, and it was time for the first Call to Prayer. I went out and stood on the balcony to listen to the haunting tones of the chanting. He completed the call a little after 5:00 and I went back to bed to see if I could get a couple more hours' sleep. We may pray to a different God, or to God by another name, but whatever one's faith, it would be difficult to hear that sound echoing through the still, dark streets of the city without being moved.
At least the first time.
At 5:30, someone nudged the Imam again, and a second call to prayer began. I don't know when this one ended. I do know he was still going strong at 6:15 when Lane woke up (and stopped talking.) I may have dozed off for a few minutes there, and for all I know the man stopped to catch his breath too, but he was singing at 6:45, and still going at 8:15 when the gathering construction noise finally drowned him out.
I gave up and got out of bed, and was suddenly and violently ill. It seems I had made a grave mistake the night before, by eating the two half-dollar sized slices of tomato that had come on my sandwich ("You ate the tomato?" Nazif later exclaimed. "Even I don't eat the tomato!") Local produce, washed in local water, is like drinking the local water. I had screwed up, and boy, was I going to pay for it. I managed to get dressed and down to the lobby in time to leave, but Mike could see I wasn't going to be worth much (which was true; I had gotten out of breath just putting my boots on.) He suggested I go back to bed and catch up with them in the afternoon, and I was happy to comply.
The rest of the group went back to the Sendafa villages we had visited the day before. Today's work would be building fences and installing the pump heads on the wells. Not as many of the locals were there this time (although more of the women, who had been at a funeral on our first day.) They had not known we were coming back, and without that motivation, few had shown up. It didn't really matter, as there were too few tools for more, and not really enough work for more to do, but it did demonstrate what Mike had said about our purpose: that we weren't really there as labor (not that we're worth much anyway at this high altitude) but more as inspiration. The fact that we are there helps the women shame the men into getting around to doing the job done. It also gives them (especially the children) a rare look at the outside world. Even Addis Abeba, only 20 miles or so away, is like the Emerald City to them; they can scarcely imagine America. Meredith said that they will talk for years about the day the ferinjis (foreigners) came to visit.
The group came back, and we met for lunch about 2:00. I was still in pretty bad shape, so I ordered the most innocuous thing I could find on the menu, a toasted cheese sandwich with tomato (I made it clear I wanted the tomato left OFF.) It finally came: a triple decker pile of toast, cheese, and about half a head of freshly-washed local lettuce. I picked at the bread that was least damp, and went back to my room to eat another of those horrible CLIF bars and another bottle of water.
The plan was to meet in the lobby at 4:00 to ride to the top of the mountain and see the palace of Emperor Menelik. Everyone was there on time except Lane. We waited a bit, and I went back up to make sure I hadn't somehow locked him in the room (you need a key to get OUT as well as in) but he was nowhere to be found. Finally we asked the doorman, who remembered seeing him going down the street. Mike went to see if he could find him, and the rest of us began considering how we would go about telling Sandy that we had lost her son in Africa (the first thing I decided was that I would let MIKE tell her.) He was still out at 4:30 when Lane came strolling back up the drive. He had gone to a nearby photography shop to see about getting a cable for his camera, and had lost track of time after people started coming up to chat with him. Lane's about six feet tall, with a shocking mop of curly blond hair, so he tends to stand out here. People wanted to have their picture taken with him, talk with him about America ("My cousin lives in Michigan, do you know him?") and to touch his amazing hair. No harm, except to our nerves.
With Lane properly chastised about wandering out on his own, we were ready to visit Menelik's palace. Another harrowing ride through the street took us to the base of the mountain. From there it's a steep climb of about five more miles before you top out at about 10,000 feet. Amazingly, there were many people WALKING up the road, to get to the Orthodox church at the summit (also some dare-devil boys riding down the steep hill on carts cobbled together from sticks and what looked like skateboard wheels.) We also saw may women carrying down HUGE bundles of twigs, four feet across and eight to ten feet long, of the eucalyptus trees that grow at the top.
The palace, which sits just behind the church, was built in the 1870's. It consists of several separate buildings each made entirely of whitewashed mud and stone, with thatched roofs and floors of wide hand-hewn juniper boards. The throne room (about half the size of APLC's sanctuary) had separate entrances for the ministers and other people, and adjoining rooms with hooks made of cow horns where meat would be hung. Amazingly, everything is still in good condition after all this time, even though the only real maintenance is an occasional re-painting and new thatch for the roof. Nazif explained that the juniper wood is very resistant to decay (and Mike, who builds decks for a living, said that those floors would cost tens of thousands in the U.S.)
With the sun going down, we rode back to the hotel. FINALLY starting to feel like myself, I choked down another CLIF bar and bottle of water (and even risked a Slim Jim) and turned in. Wednesday will be another day at the wells.
May 23rd update
My bad- I've been told that the call to prayer was not Muslim, but was actually from one of the many Orthodox churches in the area, which also occasionally do them. Although, thankfully, not this morning.
Today was our first full day in Addis Ababa. We started the day by leaving the Kaleb Hotel (which unexpectedly tripled its rates since the last time a W2T group stayed here) and moving next door ino the Beer Garden Inn, a combination microbrewery and hotel established by a couple of expatriot Germans. After breakfast, the ODA (Oromia Development Association) drivers arrived to take us to see three of the wells that are under constuction thanks to W2T. Riding in a vehicle in Addis Ababa is an exciting experience. The only operative traffic law seems to be "blow your horn and keep going." Imagine if all the world is the passenger pickup area at the airport. Cars park two deep anywhere, cut in and out of traffic, and mostly (but not always) drive on the right side of the roads, all as fast as possible. Cows, goats, sheep, donkeys, and fearless pedestrians walk right down the middle or cross at will, sharing the streets with cars, trucks, busses, and vans, many of them spewing black smoke. All of them tap their horns constantly, not so much as a warning, but as public notice of "here I come." We've seen three traffic lights; only one of those was working, and not a soul paid a bit of attention to it. Every direction enters the intersection at the same time, and works things out with a combination of gestures and horn honking. We finally left the crowds and traffic of the city, and went out into the country on on a surpisingly modern and well-maintained highway. The driver of the truck I was in was Jihar. I asked him if he had ever heard of NASCAR. He hadn't, but liked the sound of it. Lane wanted to know if they had speed limits in Ethiopia. Jihar understood the question, but not the concept. (I did later see a "40 kph" sign; we were doing about 90 at the time.) About 20 miles outside Addis Jihar pulled off the road and fastened his seatbelt. We all decided that it must be a REALLY good idea to do likewise, and it turned out to be true. Entering the villages of the Sendafa region, there were only "implied" roads; without being strapped to our seats we would literally have been bouncing off the roof. The "villages" we saw consist of maybe a dozen houses each, small round buildings maybe 20 feet across, made of mud slathered over wooden poles, with a thatched roof. Most of the families get by on subsistence farming of potatoes and grains, although rocks seem to be the biggest crop; it's ing that they are able to plow their fields at all, especially with only hand tools or ox-drawn plows. They also raise cattle and goats, which roam freely though the pastures and fields. The cows do lead to one small industry that would surprise a lot of Texas ranchers: cow pies. Cow manure is collected and placed in large holes dug in the earh, and allowed to ferment for a few months. When good and ripe, it is taken out and mixed -- by hand -- with straw, and spread into a flat patty aout the size of a dinner plate. Once dried by the sun (still with hand prints visible in them) the patties are stacked in piles as much as 12 feet high, until they are taken to town and sold for fuel, three for one "bir" (about 2 cents a cow pie.) Some of the housing compounds had ten or twelve of these giant piles outside their fences. We visted three wellsd in various stages of completion. They are placed with the help of a hydrologist, who determines whether there will be sufficient water. Another factor in their placement is to make them relatively convenient to as many of the compounds as possible. Once complete, not only will cleaner water be avilable, but the trip will have been reduced from an hour-long walk (or more) to just a few minutes. The three wells of Sendafa (named for the nearby river) are all hand-dug wells. Mike and Meredith explained that these are much more economical than the bored wells. Also, the people who will take advantage of the newly-available water are able to help more in their construction, digging by hand about 15-20 feet down, until sufficient water is there in the bottom. One of the wells is only a few feet away from one of the present water-collection sites. It's fed by a spring, and flows into a depression at the bottom of a wash. Cattle and donkeys drink from it, tromp right through it, or "do their business" where it can run right into the water. And this is best source of water the people have; the river was even worse. The wells we saw today are nearly complete, fully dug out and lined with concrete culvert pipes. Two of them had fresh flat pads constructed of concrete and the easily-avialable rocks, but for the third, we helped by gathering rocks out of the field and mixing the concrete with the local men and children (later we heard that most of the women were attending the funeral of one of the village people.) I'm sure they all got a kick out of my "Little Engine That Could" impression as I huffed and puffed. I was going to write it off the being in worse shape than I had thought, but Mike explained that since we're at a pretty high elevation, it would be a while before we would have any endurance (I like his explanation better.) Eventually I joined Jo and Bobbie, who had decided that "supervising" from under the tree was a better idea. Meanwhile, Lane was the toast of the town. Every time he took a picture of the local boys, they would cluster around him to see the result. Sometimes all you could see of him in the pile of excited boys was his ever-present hat. Nazif, our host, explained that the school is too small to accomodate all the kids at once, so the older ones (5-7th grade) go in the morning, and the smaller ones in the aternoon. It's about a 45-minute walk each way. In town, the youngest ones would also attend "KG" (kindergarten) but not this far out. We weren't quite able to finish today, as the owners of some of the tools we needed were also at the funeral, but tomorrow we'll help set the pumpheads, and construct fences around the wells to keep the animals out. After lunch (and naps) Nazif took us to his favorite coffee shop (passing probably 50 more on the way) where we drank the stiffest coffee I've ever had. Espresso is weak by comparison. We then went to the rustic Taitu Hotel, the oldest inn in Ethiopia, built in 1898 and named for the wife of the emperor at that time. Nazif said it's one of his favorite places to come and think and study (he's working on his MBA.) Well, I see that the heavy dose of caffeine has led me to write WAAAY too much, so I'll close for now. We are all falling in love with this country and its beautiful people, and are grateful for the chance to have experienced them. Dohna'hun (good bye), Larry
Well, we made it. This morning (at least it was morning where were at the time) saw the sun rising over the desert of Egypt for the last few hours of our twelve-hour flight into Addis Ababa. We’re eight hours ahead of San Antonio here, so there’s quite a bit of adjustment, but in the end everybody decided to just stay up and tough it out for the rest of the day, to get ourselves on Ethiopian time as fast as possible. Fortunately, Ethiopia coffee is the strongest in the world. After lunch and a couple of espressos, we spent the afternoon touring the national museum, as well as a larger museum at the university that’s housed in Emperor Haile Selassie’s old mansion. We enjoyed meeting many of the local people, who are wonderfully friendly and hospitable, and obviously very proud of their country and its heritage. After an hour of shopping in one of the local markets (and another harrowing ride in town, where traffic rules are nonexistent) we all got cleaned up for dinner. The Oromia Development Association, which is working with us in some of the nearby villages, treated us to an authentic Ethiopian dinner, right down to eating raw beef with our fingers from a communal plate. A band played upbeat music on traditional instruments while dancers with no sense of fatigue at all delighted us with their energetic moves. (Some local beer was instrumental in getting a few of us lumpy Lutherans up to try it too; video will be online soon unless we can raise enough bribe money to stop Lane from posting it.) At this point we’ve each had less than an hour of sleep in the last 30+ hours, and are riding on enthusiasm and caffeine. But after a long-awaited night’s rest, we’ll be ready tomorrow to get in the field. Once again, let me express my gratitude, and that of the rest of our little group for the wonderful opportunity APLC’s generosity has afforded us, to represent you in this good work. Warmest regards, Larry Cline