The Christmas Day Grain Feed

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Uryadi’s Village is a project that takes a very important approach to helping those in need: they work WITH the local community, customs, and officials. One of the things I heard about again and again while on our visit to Ethiopia, and even saw plenty of evidence of, was foreigners coming in with (sometimes) great, inspired ideas of how to transform a difficult situation, and failing to consider or work with the locals. Sometimes this involves the wasting of thousands and thousands of well-intended dollars, which is very discouraging.

As an American adoptive parent of three children from Ethiopia, I’m sensitive to the “white savior complex” idea. One defined by affluent American or European citizens “serving” third-world countries in a misguided attempt to build up their reputations. One needs only to spend a bit of time in the Ethiopian countryside to see that there are a lot of happy people who are not in need of ‘saving.’ Depending on how one defines that term, they could probably help ‘save’ stressed out affluent visitors in many ways. But just like everywhere in the world, there are people who really are in need of support, or opportunity, or a helping hand.

It’s complicated, right? So if you just pull the race and identity piece away for a moment, and focus on true need, it’s a little more straightforward. There’s a baby who has been abandoned under a tree, in a ditch, or worse, and it will die if it’s not cared for. Here’s a family with a special-needs child who don’t have access to healthcare and have no resources or information on how to best care for their child. Here’s someone in front of you who is hungry, thirsty, in pain. Uryadi’s Village is doing this kind of work, in a place where the need is great. What they are also doing is integrating into the local economy by buying local services, sending children to local schools, and hiring local workers.

When we were planning this trip, Jennifer shared with me about the grain feed they do a couple of times a year, and invited us to help. Our trip was first an opportunity for my kids to reconnect to their heritage, and related, we were very interested in visiting, learning more about, and helping at the Village in any way we could. I enthusiastically accepted, and our family purchased half the grain for the feed.

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Uryadi’s Village is in a neighborhood of Soddo that has many impoverished families and community members. The international connections, enthusiastic volunteers, and foreign visitors who bring donations and share their time and talents in many ways at the Village; that kind of wealth can be shared to benefit the local community, and it is shared, in a number of ways. In the case of the grain feed, the local churches are invited to submit lists of parishioners who are in need. Churches of all denominations are included, and the pastors and Imams manage the recipients. In this way, those in need are being determined by authorities in the community, not by Uryadi’s Village.

When we arrived Christmas morning (not early, because This is Ethiopia and the 8:30am invitation didn’t inspire any sense of urgency in anyone) there was a crowd growing outside the gate. There was a great deal of confusion because those pastors took their jobs very seriously, and wouldn’t allow us to serve people until they were marked off their lists. Some churches brought twice as many people as they had warned the village of in advance. People of all ages came with bags, many of them repaired and carefully folded in order to receive their grain. We had to make on the spot decisions about how much to distribute in order to leave no one without. There was a lot of winging it!

People with disabilities, young women with children, many elderly, some of whom were blind and led by children, came with gratitude to receive a supply of life-giving food. This was a combination of corn and wheat, purchased locally, and typical of what is ground together to make bread or porridge.

My favorite part was receiving the people, looking beautiful people in the eye, taking their hand, welcoming them, wishing them well and helping them unfold and open their bags. It was very simple…sharing of the abundance with those who had less, and I was grateful to be involved.

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Heavy bags of grain were slung on shoulders for the walk home. Our children, Jennifer and Mike’s children, the older children of the Village, walked people home to help carry their grain. My boys were great and involved helpers, my daughter helped to fill bags or hold them open while grain was poured in. She was enthusiastic and present, which I was proud of, because she is eight and can be very self absorbed.

It was a great project, a great example of simple service, and we were honored to be involved! I continue to admire how UV creates programs like school sponsorship for neighborhood children who are not orphans, but whose families are struggling to afford their education, or the decision to hire a local grinder to grind grain for their baby formula rather than bringing in equipment of their own. Participating in the local economy, working with churches and government officials, being aware of local customs and priorities; it’s a great way to help.


South to Sodo

While we were in Addis we went to the museum, we walked through some of the shanty town areas, we visited the old orphanage, we drove through the Mercado, and we rode up to the top of Mount Entoto. None of it was particularly beautiful. Bustling and fascinating and crazy in many ways, and the food is unique and the people are beautiful and friendly, but Addis isn’t a lovely city in my opinion.

The drive up the mountain offered some different scenes, and I felt the living situations and villages along the way seemed happier, more open and clean, and without the crush of the urban environment.

But it wasn’t until we drove away from the city, South toward Sodo, that I got a true glimpse of the beauty of Ethiopia. Our drive was along the edge of the Great Rift Valley, and it has a distinctly African vibe. More agriculture, beautiful trees, a hilly landscape. The villages were much smaller, but seemed to be thriving, and the built hardscapes had a craftsmanship about them that wasn’t evident in the scrap-metal dwellings in the city. I couldn’t get enough of the scenery and the view, it was so beautiful and vast. There were pastoral towns with traditional huts, really so beautiful.

On the road in southern Ethiopia - Addis Ababa to Arba Mich

Photo credit: Boundless Ethiopia Tours because I couldn’t get any great shots on our drive!

When we passed through small villages, lots of people walking and moving things from one place to another. Sheep, goats, donkeys employed carrying various burdens. Hand-built donkey carts and ‘wheelbarrows,’ lots of clever ways to move things.

Transportation is a major issue here. In fact, our costs for transportation are some of the highest expenses of our visit to Ethiopia. Vehicles are precious, gas is not so plentiful, roads are poor, distances are far. Our drive to Sodo was about 4.5 hours, plus an hour break for lunch. You cannot imagine the size of potholes our driver, Alazar, had a to avoid or creep through, not to mention the constant risk of hitting a person, an animal, or a “bajaj” which is a small three-wheeled motorized transport mechanism that serves as a taxi. It was a pretty exciting ride!

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Sodo is larger than I expected. They have major water and power issues, but about 250,000 people. Check out motorcycles lined up for gas at the local station!

https://vimeo.com/user93235151/review/308367593/734dbed25d

Sometimes we drive by this station and there is not a single vehicle anywhere…because they are out of gas!

Here’s a video of the drive through Sodo to our hotel, Lewi Resort:

https://vimeo.com/user93235151/review/308366877/7c94352f0a

I have to be honest, one of the greatest challenges of this part of our trip is that we don’t have a clear agenda. We are here to help at Uriyadi’s Village, but nothing is concrete except the grain feed on Christmas morning. We are also here to just expose our children to their home country and culture, which involves just being here. Walking around, taking it in, doing small tasks, spending time with friends, etc. For two type-A personalities, it’s actually a little unnerving and takes a lot of intentional focus on being present and supportive.

The best intro to the UV project is here.

We got to tour Uriyadi’s Village, and it is so very impressive what has been done here. The craftspeople who have carved this permaculture landscape out of the property, and those who have built the locally-appropriate houses and buildings here, I just commend them all. It’s lovely, it’s clean and healthy, they have a place for all of the important functions of home and childcare. Can you imagine achieving something like this in Africa? I’m honored to call Jennifer Crooks a friend, and I think what she and her family and her team are doing here is really exactly what it is intended to be: The best case scenario for orphaned and at-risk children when adoption is no longer an option. It’s rare to see a project come together to achieve its intended goals, but especially rare when the deck is stacked against you politically, culturally, financially, physically, and geographically. And somehow, they have done it. The Crooks’ tenacity, perseverance, and unwavering dedication are truly admirable.

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Addis and Layla House

Of about 90 million people in the country of Ethiopia, there are an estimated 4.3 million orphans (numbers from 2017). In 2010, there were 2,511 Ethiopian orphans adopted by American families (many others by European, Canadian, and families from other foreign countries). In 2016, that number had dropped to 133. In January, 2018, Ethiopian parliament officially banned foreign adoption.

It is a tough place to grow up if you are a person without resources…such as a parent with an income, a network of relatives and friends, opportunity for education, a direction for your life.

The political climate today in Ethiopia is very hopeful and on the move. New Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed seems to have made many positive moves toward peace and progress. 2018 has been a remarkable year of achieving near gender parity in government, with the appointment of Sahle-Work Zewde (a well-respected, well-educated woman) as president, and female appointees to head both the Ministry of Defense and the intelligence agency now called the Ministry of Peace. Locals we have spoken with in Addis Ababa are filled with hope that the political conflicts of the last few years are resolving. But the orphan crisis doesn’t have a reasonable solution yet. Domestic adoption is being promoted and is on the rise, but it will only have a very small impact on the number of children here in need of families.

Our agency and orphanage closed down around 2013, and the property that housed the children eventually changed hands to another organization, Sele Enat. We visited the property last week as a family. It looked just the same as it did when Alex, Melkam and Ellie lived there. It seemed much smaller, of course, to Alex in particular, but it even seemed smaller to me. We visited the various outside spaces and rooms and reminisced about where they slept, where the ate, where they had school.

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Our first Christmas card as a family of five had a photo of us taken right on these steps at the orphanage…so we recreated it (now six)!

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There is only one nanny who works on the property who was there when our kids lived at Layla House, her name is Bizuayehu (you can call her Boozay for short!). She took one look at Ellie and said “I know your face!” and she really did. She hugged Ellie and held her face in her hands and they both cried. It was so wonderful for Ellie to be remembered, and to know that there were lovely, caring nannies who took care of her when she was a baby.

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I often marvel at how our family was built. Eight or nine years of wrestling with God about whether or not we were destined to be a childless couple, then the options: Fertility treatment, domestic adoption, foreign adoption. Our choice to adopt internationally felt right from the beginning, and our pursuit of Ethiopia was a surprise to us both. Then the long process and paperwork and all of it, and one day, they sent us the photo of baby Ellie (then named Tarike) and we realized she couldn’t be coming home alone. How God brought our family together is like a complicated, orchestrated miracle to me.

Here’s Ellie in the baby room where she spent a lot of her early life. It is so tiny, and when we first met her, we sat for hours on the floor and just hung out with her and the other babies.

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I think I have the most wonderful kids in the world, and being here this week reminds me of how incredible it is that I get to be their Mom. They lost everything, everything, and they also gained the world. It’s truly an incredible story.

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What is difficult now is to see that the number of orphans is still so high, and that almost all of them have no chance of having a family of their own. I hope they change the law, and shore up the process so that the issues of corruption are reduced, because every child deserves a family who loves them.


Addis Ababa

The capital city of Ethiopia is populated by more than 3.3 million people. For the sake of comparison, L.A. has about 4 million people.

Among the things that strike a Westerner in Addis Ababa are the lack of resources and the chaos, balanced by beautiful, loving people, vast diversity, and an incredible cultural history. The lack of organized systems…danger is everywhere you turn, from the intermingling of cars and people on the roads to unprotected construction zones to missing sidewalks. I can’t tell you the number of near miss accidents we have seen or narrowly avoided in just two days…total adjustment of expectations of how people and traffic coexist. Pickpockets are notorious, beggars abound, litter and pollution prevail.

Today we visited the Mercado, the largest open market in all of Africa. We cheated a bit…we decided to just stay inside the nice van our driver, Alazar, was carrying us around in. It was a long slow procession through the craziest scenes. We really wanted the children to see it, and we also wanted to stay at arms length. Because honestly, it’s a lot, and we have a 2-year-old with us.

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Big trucks being unloaded by hand…boxes of table salt, soap, food, oil, everything you can think of. People selling scrap metal, used electronics, shoelaces, cloth, produce, spices, dry goods, I mean, you can’t even tell what’s really going on or what kind of commerce is being successfully achieved. It’s incredible to see.

There’s a new public campaign to try to change the local attitude toward taxes. Apparently, those who have enough income to have tax obligations tend to evade them, and generally people think that tax evaders are clever. There’s no tax structure, no replenishing fund that can be applied to the public good. Organized systems are obviously a really important basis for a forward-moving society. The current government is trying to provide the underlying structure that will give their citizens the support they need to flourish. Maybe the reduction in conflict and other issues that steal resources, will help everyone move forward.

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The day before, we visited the national museum in Addis, which houses fascinating relics, including the fossils of the oldest hominid ever found on earth, “Lucy.” I kept thinking that the British Museum must be dying to get their hands on some of these things. Amazing stuff, not labeled very well, barely secure, in a run-down building.

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Above are the remains of Lucy that they found, and below, the re-creating of the missing pieces for an upright model.

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Below is the throne of Haile Selassie I who was emperor of Ethiopia from 1930 to 1974 (prior to that he was Regent of Ethiopia from 1916). He is believed to be of the Solomonic dynasty (in the lineage of Jesus), and considered to be God incarnate by the Rastafari movement. He was dubbed “the Lion of Judah.” When Mussolini invaded Ethiopia in 1935, Selassie and his armies resisted, but he was eventually forced into exile. In 1941, after six years of brutal occupation, the Italians were defeated by British and South African forces and Selassie was allowed to return to his throne in Addis Ababa, where he remained in power until 1974. Prior to his official title, his name was Ras Tafari Makonnen, which is where the Rastafarian movement in Jamaica got its name. Read more about this incredible history…it is fascinating in its international influence.

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We ended the day by driving up Entoto Mountain, the 10,500 foot peak that overlooks Addis Ababa and is surrounded by Eucalyptus forest. It’s beautiful, and also very populated by families in traditional dwellings who do a lot of climbing up and down that road. Entoto is the area where Ethiopia’s famous long-distance runners do their training in the thin air. Impoverished women (always women) carry absolutely enormous bundles of sticks to sell as firewood for not much money.

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Returning to Ethiopia

I decided this blog might be the best place to share about our first time back to Ethiopia since 2011 when we brought our three children home. Facebook is a little too public and combines disparate audiences.

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It’s a hell of a trip, getting halfway around the world. This time we are doing it with children ages 14, 12, 8 and 2. Not a small undertaking.

Plus, having watched this video last month, my general anxiety about bacteria on airplanes was pretty high. Your welcome! and I’m sorry. I hope you get one of our seats on your next flight because we wiped every surface down with Clorox wipes as we settled in, and let me tell you, it was satisfying!

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I told the kids, expect it to be absolutely awful, and anything better than that will be a bonus! It wasn’t really that awful, honestly. I still hate Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, and that short flight between Paris and Rome was the worst, with no leg room and dreadful screaming toddlers (not mine, thankfully) who were inexplicably indulged by parents and flight attendants alike. The rest of it, well, we just got through it. The kids were troopers, the 2-year old was somehow amazing, and eventually we got to unfold ourselves out of airplane seats and collect our luggage (except that $15 umbrella stroller that makes life so much easier in airports which was lost by, you guessed it, the Paris staff). Spokane–>SLC–>Paris–>Rome–>Addis Ababa. Aren’t you grateful you are reading this from your comfortable home and not on one of those flights?!

I’ll spare you the details on jet lag and adjusting to +11 hours time difference, not to mention the fact that Addis Ababa is at over 7700 feet elevation (even the top of our local ski resort, Schweitzer, is only 6400 feet!). But there’s been a lot of this going on:

The Hilton Addis Ababa was a great choice for our few days in the capital city. Centrally located, lots of the kinds of comforts we like, including reliable and plentiful bottled water and a general feeling of safety. Here’s the view from the 10th floor overlooking some of the grounds:

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And right across the road is a glimpse at how many many people live, even in this bustling big city:

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These makeshift sheet metal dwellings house hundreds of people in pretty meager situations, without running water. Notice all the satellite dishes. We walked through this area yesterday afternoon to get to a traditional restaurant where we had lunch. Beautiful people, many of them very happy and friendly. Lots of chaos, construction, vehicles, stray dogs (including a tiny filthy white puppy that Alex wanted to rescue), work, life, washing, commerce, ingenuity, discouragement, hope. It’s a lot to take in.

 


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It has been a season of many firsts for our youngest child: Big girl bed, no more binkie, and going to school. Last week, her first dance class. Nana, these are especially for you!

So very excited to be there, when I pointed the camera at her before class she did this pose.

So very excited to be there, when I pointed the camera at her before class she did this pose.

Very intense...just watching her teacher at first.

Very intense…just watching her teacher at first.

...then working very hard to mimic all her moves

…then working very hard to mimic all her moves

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Starstruck!

So excited to see our little sweetie in ballet!!!


Milestones

My birthday will forevermore coincide with our ‘famiversary,’ as the days of passing court and bringing kids home from Ethiopia are intertwined so closely on the calendar. We just celebrated my 4oth birthday as well as our second year as a family. My husband surprised me with a trip to Western Pleasure Guest Ranch, an amazing place right in our own backyard! Many friends joined us for dinner and a fantastic evening gathering around the firepit, some stayed overnight, and some joined us on a beautiful trail ride on Memorial Day. Between the great outdoors, the horses, the friends and the dogs, my kids were in heaven (and so was I). Just a crew of little rascals running around with their friends, stopping into our cabin once in a while for a snack. It was such a relaxing time…does anyone else find that getting away from home is imperative to relaxing. Amazing feeling walking away from the laundry pile and the to-do list, even for a couple of days. Anyways, thank you so much sweetie…I couldn’t have asked for a more appropriate way to celebrate these milestones! Here are some shots from the trip. Ya’ll, go visit this ranch!

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Now, I wish you could hear the thunder of hooves that goes with these next two photos. This is the view from our cabin overlooking the meadow, in the morning as they are bringing in horses that have been out to pasture overnight. They were breathtaking running up the meadow towards the ranch!

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This guy is waiting for the herd to arrive…

 

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We went on a great trail ride, with amazing scenery around the Grouse Creek area. I loved every minute of it! But I don’t have many photos, so let’s skip to the part where the kids got to ride in the arena afterwards. So proud of their boots, and unable to hide their enthusiasm about riding. It was so much fun to watch them!

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So grateful for my husband, my kids, my friends, and for this beautiful place we live. Amen.