Saturday, February 28, 2009

Ethiopia at Random

Just some random things we learned that I thought were pretty interesting:

* Ethiopia is called the "Island of Christianity" because it is bordered by all Muslim nations. It is now completely land-locked with no ports.

* Over 74 million people, 57% under the age of 20.

* Their main bread, injera - is made of a grain called teft. That we don't grow in America. It was reallllly good and was used to pick up different sides like Duma (chicken), spicy beef, spinach, lamb, etc. In this picture, the injera is the 'tablecloth' spread under the food with boiled eggs in the center. Injera looks just like an Ace bandage rolled up.

* Ethiopian food is REALLY good. Their attempts at American food, not so good. Now their Chinese.....

* They have a custom called "gusto" where you feed each other a bite of the meal. It is to signify your love and respect for that person.

* Ethiopian people are very affectionate. We would see young men walking down the street holding hands or with their arms around each other. Women would often walk holding our hands. Completely platonic and after getting use to it, very loving.

* Ethiopians, no matter how poor, will offer you anything they have. Extremely generous and kind.

* The capitol of Addis has a very low crime rate, especially when compared to America's big cities.

* In Ethiopia, every month has 30 days except for the 13th month which only has 5.

* They are 7 years behind us and the year flips in September. Some boys told us the legend is that the news of Christ's death was not brought to Ethiopia until 7 years later so that is when their calendar years started.

* Their clocks have the hands in opposite positions as ours.

* Ethiopian boys think I am a Hollywood actress from TV or the movies. (Just threw that one in to see if anyone was reading this!) But some really did!! Just ask Jerry!

* Ethiopian dial-up internet service cost me 1 berr a minute (or 10 cent). It would then take at least 10 min to actually bring up my first page. Conspiracy anyone???

* An actual coffee ceremony is actually made up of 3 stages: Abale, Towna, Bereka. So three rounds of coffee that take many hours of socializing and friendship.

* Children are forbidden to drink coffee in front of their parents. Teenagers must take it to another room.

* Children (or any younger) are forbidden to speak in front of an elder unless asked a question. We broke that rule a-lot!!

* Culture forbids marriage until after your education is finished and you have worked 2 years to prepare or have money for a family.

* Ethiopia is the sight of some of the oldest fossil finds ("Lucy") and the reported birthplace of coffee.

And some random Ethiopia shots:

Ethiopia - Day 5: A day's lessons

Day 5 in Ethiopia, for some reason, was my most emotional day, and painful --- literally. We started out splitting up into several little mini-buses to travel to Addis Abada University. I think that possibly a wager had been put forth before we boarded as to which van could get there first. I'm thinking my driver probably made a healthy 500 berr ($5), at least. On our way, he hit a speed bump with such forward velocity that his passengers all went airborne and proceeded to make indentations into the top of the bus with our noggins. Oh... so THAT'S what speed bumps are for??!!?? Ouch.

The museum at the University was once a palace of Emperor Haile Selassie. But I don't remember much about it as I was learning too much about a fascinating young woman named Eyerusalem Haile. Her and the other LDP (Leadership Development Program) students met us at the university and served as our tour guides. LDP students are formally Compassion sponsored children who are then chosen to attend University as a sponsored college student. These kids were definitely the best and the brightest.

Eyerusalem (or Jerry for short) was enrolled in the project as a young girl. Her family practiced Orthodox Christianity, a very prevalent religion in Ethiopia. Orthodox Christians believe that Christ is only one, and equal to, 11 other angels. They view converts to Protestant Christianity as traitors and often persecute them. Jerry told me that she was saved at 13 years old and underwent physical and emotional punishment from her family. But she also praised God when her mother and sister eventually came to realize that Jerry had something they were missing in her love for Christ. When a family member was sick, they would ask Jerry "pray to your Jesus for her." Eventually, her mother and sister converted to Christianity and her father left the home.

Jerry is now a Senior Engineering student. She and 10 other college students use their own funds to rent and supply their own home for street boys. She said they will pray for God to lead them to the right boy and when they find him, usually they are told "I do not have a mother or a father." She said that they then tell the boys -
"You do have a Father and His name is Jesus. And I am your sister and this is your brother. We have come to show you how much your Father loves you."
How unbelievably mature and awesome is that!!! Currently they have 7 boys living in their rented home. They supply their school fees, food, and clothing. Recently, the government found out what they were doing and after some initial resistance, they have issued the group their own office to work out of. All 7 of the boys are now Christians!!

So to re-count - Jerry was saved at 13, because she was in Compassion, because she was sponsored by a gentlemen in Canada. She then brought her mother and sister to Christ. And now has helped to bring 7 boys to the Lord. So 1+2+7 = 10 people affected (so far!) because of one sponsorship of $32 a month. And this girl is no where near finished. Her love of Jesus permeates every word, every smile, every touch. She radiates His love and will undoubtedly be bringing a huge family of believers into the Lord's presence with her.

Another LDP student later told us, "To me, Compassion is not about the clothing, or the shoes, or the school supplies. There are other organizations that could have assisted us with that. The greatest gift Compassion gave me was the gift of my salvation and my relationship with Jesus." Over lunch, 4 of the students gave their testimony about where they had come from and where they were now. One of the boys, who had had to drop out of school after 1 year when his parents couldn't afford to contribute any money for a school wall but later re-entered after he was registered with Compassion - told us:
"All of you, when you sponsor one child from any country, you are improving one family. So, you have to never give up. We hear that there is the economic crisis in your country. But we are praying for you. So God bless you, you are doing so many things, please never give up."

We then split up to visit the students homes and projects. My group stopped in to visit Jerry's project and were greeted with a mini-praise band of young men who treated us to Amharic praise songs and then had us join in with our very weak and straggly version of our own English version. Sorry guys, but we were pitiful. The Ethiopian people will be making up the Heavenly choir, that's for sure! Us American's may have dinner dish duty....

So here's where my break-down happened. I'm not known to cry a lot and often hold my emotions until I lay my head down at night. But to see these 20-somethings praising God, knowing where they came from, and seeing where America is. It broke my heart. They have it. They know what is important and it is not what car you are driving or how much you make per hour. And even more powerful was knowing that in all my weakness and my insecurity in myself - God allowed me to be a part of this mission to bring those children to Him. Even in my little sacrifice, He has multiplied it for His glory. And that is amazing.

After leaving the project, we left for Jerry's home where her mother and sisters were waiting and dressed in their traditional Ethiopian wear. They had the coffee beans roasting and the popcorn and bread ready! Jerry's home was situated on the side of a mountain in a little village of several other houses. As we descended down the rock steps to her house, it reminded me of Snow White's little cottage. Her family was so generous and began bringing out injera (the spongy bread you use to eat with), 3 sides, bananas, and oranges. Now after a full lunch, bread at her project, and then bread at her house - I could not eat another bite. And her mom was so funny, just like my Granny "go ahead, eat, eat.... I'm worried about her not eating!" This was a buffet any Southern woman would have been proud of! I asked Jerry if it was a typical meal and she whispered "only on holidays". So these white people in your home counts as a holiday! Very, very humbling to think they had prepared for days for our 2 hour visit.

Earlier in the week, one of the translators had asked me if this is what I thought Ethiopia would be like. I told her no - that we in America are use to seeing poverty. We have all seen the scruffy, homeless bearded man on the park bench. We have seen the soup kitchens. We have even seen snapshots of the poor and hungry African children. So that didn't really shock us. But what shocked me was to see that that snapshot is only a piece in a landscape of poverty. That it just never ends but is repeated over, and over, and over. And it is something they see every day. Not just when they go downtown or flip open a newspaper.

So for these kids to have grown up seeing that poverty with no role models to show them they could be more or have it any other way - Compassion has made a HUGE difference. And what impressed me most is that for each older Compassion student that I met, if they were getting ready for grad. school, or just preparing for a career - when I asked them if they would try to move away or come to America, they ALL said, "There is no way. You have seen it here. I have to stay to do this... or this... or help these people." Compassion prides itself on the integrity of it's organization - and I have seen that not only is the organization doing what it says it does - but it has instilled that same integrity into it's graduates. Integrity, humility, praise. Lessons many Americans would do well to learn.

Snapshots of the landscape of Ethiopia:

We interrupt this program for an announcement...

I wanted to take a little side-track from Africa to let you know about the newest member of our (a-hem) family... Gracie the Puppy. Those of you that were in the states at the time of her arrival, thank you so much for reprimanding my husband. Those of you that were with me in Africa - No, I haven't kicked him or the dog to the curb.... yet.

So far she has been a pretty good little pup. Except for occasional puppy blunders which dot our floor. And who could resist these two sets of puppy eyes????
For those of you not on Facebook who haven't heard the story -
I rush in from one of our many busy Africa days to check my email and find it empty. How dare he???!!?? (In his defense, the messages didn't come through until a day or so later). So I zip over to Facebook to see if anyone else loves me. I quickly find as his status: "T is wondering how much trouble he will be in when Tracy finds out we have a new puppy?" WHAT???? This man who had said, a mere hour before I left for Charlotte, "How could I be so stupid to let a dog ruin my house?? We are NEVER having another dog again!" Never say never, I guess...

So under his status were about 5 other messages telling him how dumb he was and how I was going to be pretty mad on my return. SO... I left him my own message saying "Didn't think I would check FB did you??" With my own status as "Tracy is wondering how to inflict physical pain on my husband from Africa. He will be sleeping outside for 2 weeks when I get home."

I wasn't thinking about it, but those were my last words to him for 3 days as we left for rural Nazareth the next morning. whoops. He REALLY thought I was mad. REALLY mad. (heehee, take that Mr. Puppy-Man).

He just better be glad I love him so much and over-looked any extra family members when I returned home as I was just so glad to see them all. But you can believe, the next little 'present' we find in the house, that dog is the property of the boys, I had nothing to do with it!!

I'm throwing in some random pics of Braeden's b-day cake (only 8 days late!) and Addison with her newly adopted Ethiopian baby. That she did love, BTW. We thought we had left it at the Steak-N-Shake in Charlotte as we couldn't find it the next morning. That brought about a wealth of tears and "my baaaaaby. I want my baaaaaby." So glad he was just hiding under the couch.
(Must have been the culture shock.)

(I do have a third child, he just doesn't pose for me as often...)

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Ethiopia - Day 4: I am a success

I forgot to mention that last night for dinner we all dined at an Ethiopian Chinese Restaurant. How weird does that sound?? Even weirder, it was some of the best Chinese I have ever eaten. The bowls of different kinds of dishes just kept coming out to be passed around and were all very quickly emptied. Such a relief, as I can tell you, the group wasn't all that excited to be going to eat Chinese that night. Dog anyone??

((Bear with me on this blog as I felt I was rambling through lots of facts and examples. But all things that I really think is important for you to know, because I didn't before I went.))

Day Four began with a long bus-ride into the countryside to visit 2 projects. While yesterday's rural area had been marked with shacks and trash everywhere, this little village looked to have the same economic status, but yet they took pride in their little town. Large rocks were stacked to make dividing walls, roads were good, and they had a Foosball table on every corner. The boys and men all gathered around under shade trees. I guess checkers has finally met it's match as the neighborhood gathering game of choice.

Once we safely made it to our first project, we were treated to the cutest little angels dancing and singing for us. Even the 3 year olds had more rhytthm than me (it's very sad...) After the obligatory coffee ceremony, the teenagers performed a drama titled "I am Saved". These kids were talented! Although I had no idea what they were saying, it was like an opera - their acting was that good.

We learned so much on this day as it focused on Compassion's Complimentary Intervention which provides medical help to those that need it. Now I knew that the kids got their shots, got AIDS medication if needed, got their physicals. But I had no idea, how far-reaching their help really is to these children. We met a 17 year old boy who had been blinded as a child. Compassion sent him an hour away to the hospital in Addis and when they couldn't help him, he was referred to a specialist in Kenya! His statement, "Praise the Lord. I'm good. I'm alright." Another case was of a boy who was bed-ridden because of severe arthritis. Compassion helped him to get surgery and now he is able to move around with the aid of braces. Not only does Compassion assist children in such severe cases, they also help with shoes, clothing, supplemental foods and vitamins, and health education. Their parents are trained in HIV prevention and treatment and older children are counseled on life issues, family planning, and abortion. All children receive a health evaluation twice a year which is recorded and tracked in their permanent folders.

We then moved on to another nearby project that seemed to be a little Eden set apart in the midst of the shacks. We were greeted with the voices of the high school choir and a tunnel made of little smiling faces. They ushered us into a green, grassy compound with lots of shade trees, room for playing ball, and even their own garden and baptismal pool! This project showed us how they help the children to learn vocational skills to aid them in acquiring a job after graduation. Children have a set schedule in which they have computer time, voc. ed., tutoring, reading time, and recreational time. I was impressed when shown over 8,000 little tree seedlings that are grown into fruit tree plants and then given out to the children to plant at home! But maybe my being impressed has something to do with how cool I think it would be to have an orange tree in my backyard!

After lunch we visited the home of an 8th grader with juvenile diabetes. Compassion purchased a heifer for him which is then used as income when the milk is sold. The boy goes to the project twice a week for medical check-ups and receives his insulin shots as part of the Complimentary Interventions. His home was nice compared to the others we had seen with a small room for sleeping and a main room with a cabinet, fabric ceiling, and pages of an old car calendar on the wall as art. It also had a radio and a bare lightbulb in the ceiling but the mother told us that she didn't have the money to have the electric company come out to repair the line. When we asked her if she had any worries or needs she would like us to pray about, she said "I praise God and thank you for helping my child. Pray for his health, I have no other worries." Can you imagine having your electricity cut off and being able to say "I have no worries"???

The saddest part of the whole experience was when we asked the boy if he had a sponsor and he said yes. When we asked to see his letters he hung his head and said that his sponsor had never written him!!!

Again, a parallel: on the way back to Addis, I sat on the bus beside Masresha. She had been a translator for us on the trip and worked at the main Ethiopian Compassion office. She told me that she had been sponsored for 16 years by the same woman who she called "Mama". I asked her if the sponsor had other children, and she said that, "she has 5 children.. but 6 including me!!" She said it is good to call your sponsored child a member of your family or your son/daughter as they really look at us as their second parents. I was afraid that my children's mothers would be offended if I did so, but she said that the parents are so grateful for our help and that they also see us as family members. When she found out that I was an Advocate for Compassion and had come on this trip to gather pictures, experiences, and info, she became excited and said:
I came from the projects, became a sponsored child, went to school and then the university. I now have a job and support myself and can take care of my family. I am a success. IT MAKES A DIFFERENCE.... YOU GO AND TELL THEM THAT!!

Masresha supports herself, her mother, and her two teenage sisters. She is putting them through school and told me, "Oh, they WILL go to University."

So now, exactly one week after I returned home - I have really started to reflect back on my trip and all the emotions are brought up anew. On one hand I know, I saw, I felt the difference that Compassion is making in these children's lives. I heard so many testimonies, met so many adults, that Compassion had touched. And on the other hand, I am feeling very small. That my little monthly check really doesn't make that much of a difference when you look at the whole picture. That my writing to my children can't really impact them all that much. I'm only one little mommy for goodness sake!! I'm just a drop in an ocean of need. BUT.... then I think of the graduate who said that she, "holds her sponsor's letters as more valuable than gold". The senior with a 4.0 who lit up and ran to get his photo album of mailed pictures to show off "his family". The girl who calls her sponsor "Mama" and counts herself as an adopted daughter. Those children are successes. They do not hold their head low. They have been given something more valuable than shoes, cows, or even medicine. They have been given love. And that love is what pushed them to be more, to love more, and to be proud of themselves in the midst of the dust and the dirt.

I work with little ones every day. I play with little chubby fingers and touch little dirty mouths. I love little ones. But still, I remember, the only time I cried on the trip was when talking to the teens and graduates. Not a cry of desperation or despair, but a cry of hope. I cried because I know I am not as strong as those young adults. I cried because we cannot bring every child to the point where they can say "I am a success." I cried because my small $32 a month may one day allow my child/children in other countries to look back on our years and sincerely call me their 'mother' also. And I pray, that at that time, my children, all SIX of them given to me as gifts by God, will be able to rejoice in the hope that we will one day be together in eternity as one family of many different colors and races. Then I will know that I am a success.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Ethiopia - Day 3: The finger of God moving..

First thing this morning (after a Pop Tart breakfast), I randomly opened my Bible up to the following verses:
1 O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you,
in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
2 I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory.
3 Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you.
I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands. (Psalm 63: 1-4)

At our first stop, a Child Survival Program (CSP), the sanctuary had the following banner:
In Amharic, it says, "The finger (or hand) of God moves here." That could not be more true.....

At this program, we were greeted with the cutest little smiling faces, all handing us roses. We were also treated to our very first coffee ceremony!!! The first of many, many more but really one of the best. The Ethiopian's are very proud of coffee as one of their biggest imports and also as the birthplace of coffee. In the ceremony, the green coffee beans are roasted, then ground, and then brewed for you. Often, they serve it with a little raw sugar and it was yuuuuuummmy. Now usually my coffee takes on the color of a pale khaki (little coffee with my cream?), but this was awesome. It was most often served with huge, round loaves of bread that sometimes were flavored with herbs and usually a sweetened popcorn.
We were told that at each CSP, they are able to serve 50 mother/child units. At registration, over 1000 show up in hopes of being chosen. The women come to the project once monthly to meet together and share, in addition to a weekly home visit by the project workers. The workers teach the mothers about prenatal health, proper breast feeding, family planning, and the need for frequent feeding, child development and enrichment, and hygiene. Vaccines and supplemental food are also taught about and administered for the babies and their growth is tracked and monitored by the health workers. At this particular project, 8 of the 50 mothers also have HIV.

After babies graduate from the CSP program, they are automatically enrolled in the Child Sponsorship program until they reach college age. So for these babies, they are not only given a strong foundation, but continued care and love throughout their school years! Take a look at these little cutey-pies!!

After a bag lunch at the church, we headed out in different directions to visit the homes of some of the babies in the project. This was our first home visit that I wrote about yesterday.
The family had 3 children and the baby was in the project and was supported by Compassion. It was my first taste of what poverty really is. The home was about 8 X 4 feet with mud walls and a dirt floor covered with a couple empty fertilizer bags. The windows and door were old tin but left holes and openings everywhere for the insects and cold/rain to sneak in. The family had one bench and two dish tubs inside. And while the mother praised Compassion and what it had done for her baby, I couldn't take my eyes off her little boys and their sad little faces. I cannot fathom how the Angels who work in these projects pick which child benefits and which does not. Which child will receive vaccines, which will not. Which baby will one day go to school and which must stay at home. To have seen the healthy little chubby faces just that morning, and then to see a little baby pull itself up to the door of the shack was the most huge parallel yet. This baby had bloody knuckles and no body strength or real mobility at all. I could tell it was obviously delayed, both physically and intellectually. And no mother that I saw. He (or she) just drug himself around to see what the excitement was all about.
I think that is the most impacting photo I took on my trip. God made that child. And why is that baby any less deserving of having their basic needs taken care of then my own three children? Why is that baby any less deserving of early intervention therapy than any of the children I serve? Why? Go back to the 50 accepted / 1000 requested figure. What if that mother had been pregnant, in line, and turned away?? Compassion is able to only help so many, and that is heart-breaking. Yet.... when we asked the mother on our home visit if she had any questions for us, her answer was, "How can I ask anything of them when they assist me so much?" And what have I DONE??? I have sacrificed nothing compared to the mothers of those children.

Another group was impacted even more than I. They returned visibly shaken after a visit to a mother's home who had HIV. She also had 5 children under the age of 12 and refused treatment. In Ethiopia, the medicine must be received in the main city of Addis once monthly. So the mothers often choose not to receive the medication in fear of being ostracized by their neighbors or family. The group said that she also says that, "she knows that God will heal her". When they gathered around her to pray, she just started to sob and the rest of the group joined her. One of them told me that her oldest is a 12 year old daughter who you could just see the depression and sadness on her face. Knowing that one day very soon, she will most likely be left alone to care for her 4 siblings.

Later in the week, a mother at another CSP project told me about her volunteer work with disabled babies in the area. She was excited when she found out that I do the same job (but I get paid for mine). We were even able to compare baby sign language! She lamented since college programs are not available to her, she is unable (but would love to be able) to go to college to be a speech or physical therapist. So instead, she volunteers her time to teach baby signs to deaf children, play with the blind, the delayed, the sick. In her words, "so many, so many disabled children." When I asked her "why so many?" She replied that the mothers work too hard while pregnant with no prenatal care. Then when their babies are born they do not get the adequate nutrition or the needed vaccines to keep them healthy. We learned that 90% of the CSP babies achieve their developmental milestones (walking, sitting up, talking) on time.

So back to my "why?" questions. Because of the children. Because of the ones that DO grow up to be engineers, teachers, doctors, accountants. Because of the ones that ARE able to smile and play as children. Because of the mothers who are able to hold their healthy babies and hear the news that they have a parent who loves them and gave His life for them. So that one day they will no longer have to live in a shack but in His mansion. Because no job done in the name of Christ is too small or too insignificant.
"Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you.
I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands. "

Just to add to my previous post, these were the neighborhood children that I played with at the CSP project. Again, compare them to the Compassion children pictured yesterday and ask yourself if Compassion's work is making a difference for the children ....

To contribute to the Child Survival Program fund.

To search for and sponsor a Compassion child.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Ethiopia - Day 2: A little piece of Heaven

This morning I began the day as a typical traveler - throwing up. So much for being the brave newby to actually try the new foods on the breakfast buffet! I was smart and stayed away from the fresh fruit and uncooked items. So we're guessing the white stuff that looked like oatmeal probably had milk and I just didn't react well to that. So for the rest of the day, I stayed green. Tomorrow's breakfast = Pop Tarts.

We began by visiting the main Ethiopian Compassion headquarters. After a brief worship time with the office staff, the main Director gave a presentation to sum up their country and Compassion's work. After singing praises in Amharic, the comment was made that this was, "a little piece of Heaven" as we were so different but united in our love for Christ. And while I liked hearing the singing of the adult workers and their enthusiasm for the Lord, I have to say that it didn't even compare to hearing the voices of the children in the projects praising Jesus. THAT was a little piece of Heaven in my eyes.

A quote that stuck out to me was "Children are robbed of their joy and happiness because of poverty. Compassion brings back their smiles, singing, and joy." I could never imagine at that point how true those statements would become in the next week. Nor could I envision the feelings seen and described by the primary Compassion physician - "It is hard to see an adult with hopelessness, but to see that in the eyes of a 3-4 year old is heart-breaking." That is something we do not see in the children on America's playgrounds. No matter how poor a family is, children here have the opportunity to work hard, study hard, and be a success if they put their mind to it. In Ethiopia, that is often not even an option. Just to attend elementary school requires school fees and uniform purchases to be made. When struggling to feed hungry babies, that uniform is last on the parent's list of priorities. The above little boy is 7 years old. He cannot attend school because he has to take care of his 4 yr. and 18 month old siblings while his mother works for less than 90 cent a DAY. He is 7 years old. What chance will he have without an education? How can he be a child who laughs and plays carefree when he is caring for a toddler 6 days a week? In the 30 min that we were in his home, he never smiled nor showed any emotion. That is hopelessness.

Some additional facts about Ethiopia and Compassion's work in this country:
*There are 74 million people in Ethiopia. 57% of those are under the age of 20.
*74,680 children are registered in Compassion's program.
*311 church-partner projects in the country. The largest of all Compassion areas.
*155 students in the Leadership Training Program (Compassion university scholarships).

On a short tour of the office, we met the translators who translate the children's letters to their sponsors. We saw the slots where sponsor letters are placed for the country project administrators to later hand out to the waiting children. And I was able to drop off Abbie's doll for her little girl Marta to later be delivered! Not that I ever had any doubts, but it was nice to see that after my hard work writing letters, they aren't just trashed in a Colorado dump but are categorized, entered as data, and tracked in the main office.

After lunch at a really cute little cottage restaurant in the middle of what I thought were the slums (I was later to find out the entire city is what I thought were the slums), we headed out to our first center visit. Our journey through the capital city of Addis Abada was an adventure in itself. Billboards look like they were placed in the 1970s. Buildings are being worked on with rickety scaffolding made of sticks and twine that our OSHA would have a field day with. Men were working on power lines with no bucket or safety harnesses. The city is so congested with no real lanes of traffic. Cars, trucks, and buses just push their way into traffic with the honking of horns and slamming of brakes. I literally could have reached out the window and touched the cars beside us from our bus most of the time. Not to mention the pollution and smog which would was wafting in those windows.

At our first project in Addis, we were immediately swarmed with children young and old. All saying hello and asking our name. Within 3 minutes I had 3 permanent attachments that never left my side or would let go of my arm or shirt-tail! The other travelers nick-named me the "Pied Piper" due to my entourage. The children had pretty good English and had a great time playing with my magna-doodle. With them naming my drawings in English and then teaching me the Amharic versions. Of which I can't remember a single one!! It is true that the young learn language better. (Yeah, that's my excuse.....) I felt like a celebrity with my own translator and body guard. The translator was a dirty little boy in ragged clothing who knew more English than all the others and would let me know what they were saying. I later found out that he is not registered in the project but was there with several other neighborhood children just to check out the commotion. The church projects have little playgrounds, libraries, and classrooms. Some with computers. They usually have walls surrounding them and rightly earn their name as 'compounds' as they are truly a little safe place for children where they would run, play, laugh, and sing. Later in the week, I was to realize how safe and happy those compounds were.
When driving through the city of Addis or countryside villages, the children we saw living on the street or wandering about did not have the smiles, the joy, or the laughter of these children. This was a little piece of Heaven.
My bodyguard is the bigger boy in a white shirt. This kid was so cool and would keep the younger ones from swarming me to the point where I couldn't breath and was good about finding my magna-doodle or sticker pad when they were ran off with excitedly. He later broke my heart when he told me he did not have a sponsor, that he was very poor, and that his father was sick. What do you say to a young man like that? At this point so early in the week, I was still speechless. I hadn't yet seen the good Compassion is doing, the hope this boy could hang onto, or the opportunities that others had capitalized on. All I could do was hug him and tell him that Jesus loved him and I loved him.
This little girl brought her younger sister to the project. Our Ethiopian translator and tour guide told me the next day that you can tell which children are Compassion children. They at least have shoes and decent clothing. Keep in mind that for a child to be registered in Compassion, they are picked from, "the poorest of the poor". Are you seeing the consistencies in Compassion registered vs. neighborhood children?? The light in their eyes, the joy in their face became more evident in the days to come....

Ethiopia - Day 1: A Plane ride of Caged Animals

Now I can't promise that I'll keep these coming everyday but hopefully they will form a pattern. I had all these great plans of blogging while I was away. Wonderful, interesting, and well-written blogs to stimulate your mind and release the congestion in mine. But on day 1, when I hadn't slept in about 30 hours, I realized that intelligible talking was a task in itself, much less writing! So the entire trip, I reverted to just journaling little points to remember, so I may need to bring my writing up a notch to share with all of you to keep you from leaving me on Day 2 after you are bored to tears ....

The never-ending plane ride. Oh... my.... goodness.... How do some of you take multiple world-wide travels a year?? At one point, on meal number 3 of our flight, one of the other passengers asked, "don't you just feel like caged animals where they just keep throwing you food, whether you want it or not?" At hour 16 of my traveling day, with very little sleep the night before due to excitement, my roommate and I were pretty sure that we were at the stage of sleeplessness where you start to loose your mind!

And to add to the insanity - the planes are now equipped with t.v. screens over-head set up with GPS which let you see exactly where your little plane is on God's big Earth. Nice. Not. It is pretty much finger-nail-pulling torture to look up every 3 minutes and see you are still over the never-ending Atlantic Ocean or Sahara Desert and Ethiopia is still thousands of miles away!!

My first flight out of Charlotte had been delayed 2 hours. Four hours alone in an airport before your first ever out-of-country experience does wonders for your nerves..... But, I did get to Washington 20 minutes before my time to meet my party so all was well. Especially after I stocked up on chocolate in the over-priced gift shop. How could I have forgotten to pack minature Snickers?? Ready to go!!

Once we got to Ethiopia, we stumbled into our hotel and collapsed into wonderful, actually pretty cushy mattresses and pillows....

The next morning, our trip leader gave us the run-down with the following quote which will always stick with me (thank you, sweet Mama JoAnn)
"You are not here by accident. You are here for a reason. For you to have come to Ethiopia, at this time, this year, in 2009 - not last year, not the year after - is not an accident. God has his plan for you. Remember that."
The River Nile. The Ethiopians are proud that all rivers run down into Africa from their country. We were also told that the oldest human remains, "Lucy", were found in Ethiopia and that it is called the "Island of Christianity" as it is surrounded on all sides with Muslim countries.