Part 9: To Harar

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During the three other times I’ve been to Ethiopia, I’d never ventured outside of Addis.  So this trip has been a completely different and interesting experience.  One of the cities I’ve wanted to visit for a long time, for a variety of reasons, is Harar, an ancient walled city in eastern Ethiopia.  It is actually one of the oldest cities in all of Africa.

After our trip to southern Ethiopia, we had one short night in Addis, then off we went to Harar.  The first hour or so of the 9 hour drive is on a brand new absolutely gorgeous freeway, just as nice as anything in America. No people, no cows, no goats walking on the road, no big trucks in oncoming lanes passing at the last minute. Heavenly.

 freeway!

After the freeway comes normal Ethiopian 2-lane highways complete with walking people, all sorts of animals, plus desert.  I suppose it is exactly what most people imagine when they think of Africa.  But let me tell you, it is really different from the cool, lush greenery in Addis and down south.

monkeys

Here in the desert we saw tons of cactus, acacia trees, and even quite a few wild monkeys.  We threw a few old brown bananas to some of the monkeys and caused much screeching and running.

There are also camels, some domesticated and others who seem to be living out in the wild, including one camel napping in a relaxed fashion in the middle of the highway. Apparently being taller than most of the vehicles on the road can give you a superiority complex.

Camel

Supposedly there are also lions in this area, but happily we didn’t see any of those.  Sophie did see a hyena, however.

Once we made it through 4 hours of relative flat driving, we made our way up into the mountains, where the scenery is as beautiful as any I’ve seen anywhere.

Mountains

Along with having vegetation different from Idaho mountains, it was also much more densely populated.  There were houses and little fields everywhere, which also meant that traffic on the roads never quit.  Always there was another slow-moving truck to pass, or a minibus intent on passing us.  It was utterly normal for drivers to take the exact center of the road as long as no one else seemed to be needing part of it, and many, many times I’d see oncoming traffic in our lane, passing someone. Then add in sheep, donkeys, and random children running out into the road– yikes.

Always it seemed to work out, usually because both our driver and the driver being passed slow down to let the passing car in.  And at least twice it was only the grace of God and the alertness of our driver that kept us from killing a silly child. It was much more nerve-wracking than normal mountain driving.  And sadly, getting through those mountains takes a good 3-4 hours– 4 in our case since our driver is the sensible type and says, “I think slower is better.”  (Hooray again for Dawit!)

We had a hotel reservation in Dire Dawa, a town an hour or so from Harar.   I’d done it to keep our stay in Harar shorter, since Harar hotels aren’t known to be all that great.  And that hotel was better than ours in Harar, by a long shot.  But it turned out to be quite a bit of extra driving, both to get to Dire Dawa, and to find our hotel there. The hotel is called the Selam Bluebird, and is at the edge of Millennium Park.

We got two rooms for the 6 of us, on two separate floors.  After the long drive, we opted to eat dinner in the hotel  restaurant, which was utterly empty.  Not a good sign. The serving lady found us difficult — we were slow to decide what to order– and she mildly chastised Lidya for not speaking better Amharic, which greatly irritated Sophie and me.  Lidya’s Amharic is coming back by leaps and bounds and she can express herself in Amharic remarkably well– truly a miracle considering she’s been surrounded only by English for 8 years.

We had reasonably ok Ethiopian food for dinner, plus french fries, which made Julianna very happy. She likes Ethiopian food ok (her fave: the injera) but overall she much prefers mom-cooked food.  Funny side note: the worst food on the whole trip according to all the girls was on the airplane.

Halfway through dinner, the power went out. At that point it was still light, so we finished our dinner, and then decided it might be a good idea to get settled into our rooms before it went fully dark.  Before going up, we asked at the desk for candles, and a few minutes after getting up to our rooms, they were delivered to us.  Not likely any hotel in the US would hand out such fire hazards to their guests.

Just about the time we were settled in to sleep, the power came back on– hooray for A/C!  The fan noise and the cool air made for a good night of sleep, even for Emily and Julianna and me who all shared one single bed.

Dire Dawa hotel

Breakfast was supposedly included with the room, so we went down half an hour before the end of breakfast time to find very slim pickings indeed– a few eggs, potatoes, and a dab of firfir.  An Ethiopian man coming in after us chastised them for the lack of food. When the worker asked if we wanted omelets, we happily accepted, only to get billed at the end of breakfast.  Apparently the omelets weren’t part of the free breakfast.

Ah well.  Off we went to Harar.  The drive was blessedly short- only about an hour.  We had reservations at Hotel Belayneh, which is at the edge of Old Town.  The old town is surrounded by a wall, with many gates and we were next to the Shoa Gate.

This hotel was by far the worst one on the trip which is pretty much what I expected.  The whole place was dirty, the bathrooms stunk, and we had water a couple hours a day max.  There were several good things though. First, it was a mere $45 a night for THREE rooms.  And even better, the rooms all had balconies, on which we sat for hours at a time watching the chaos in the marketplace just below.  The color!  The action!  The noise!

Harar Christian Market

It was ALMOST worth the dirt and the need to bucket-flush the toilet to have the fun of that view.

Harar Market

(Bucket-flushing, for the uninitiated, is when you fill the toilet tank with a bucket so that it will have enough water to flush. The water was brought into each bathroom by workers. Not ideal, but it works.)

In Harar we were blessed to spend some time with Lidya and Zeytuna’s extended family, who were utterly thrilled to see them.  Such a blessed time!

People recognized and welcomed Lidya and Zeytuna everywhere we went, it seemed.  And let me tell you, Ethiopian hospitality is amazing.  Always people want to feed you and offer you coffee, and make sure you’re sitting someplace comfortable.  We had friends of the family invite us into their homes, and perfect strangers in restaurants send people searching the streets for the french fries that Julianna craved.

One lovely family friend invited us for dinner and then when I complimented her shoes, she offered to give them to me. (I refused as graciously as I could, and barely talked her out of it.)  She served us dinner complete with gursha, an Ethiopian custom of hospitality that involves tucking (stuffing) choice bites of food into your guests’ mouths.  Yikes!  Such a foreign (and frankly uncomfy) tradition — and yet I loved the sweet heart behind it, and of course her obvious love for the girls.  Once again, proof that all our girls have people who love them on both sides of the world.

Zinash

Part 8: Visiting and Driving

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Sunday

After the enormous events that had unfolded on Saturday, we felt kind of in a daze– ‘did that really happen?’– on Sunday.  But Sunday was our last day in Soddo and it was packed with going-away activities for my sister Sophie, who has worked there as a missionary for 5 years.

Sophie and sweet Jake, the assistant guard dog

The morning was spent making a birthday cake for little Elen, a toddler Sophie has cared for since she was born. We also prepped the fixings for fried rice, since later we were making dinner for a missionary family who had been in Addis for awhile and was just driving back to Soddo that day. The mom has been one of Sophie’s best friends in Soddo, and Sophie was very eager to have a little more time with before we left.

soddo (2)

At noon it was time to head off to Amarech and Elen’s house for the birthday/ going away party. Our trusty driver Dawit dropped us off, and then on our request headed off to the town where Emily’s birth mom has lived in the past.  Maybe, maybe he could find something about her while we went tot the birthday party.

soddo (4)

Amarech’s house was full of people whom Sophie has loved and known for years, and it was really fun to be in on the celebration. As is typical in Ethiopia, we were urged over and over again to eat, eat, eat. They served us injera and wat for the meal, and then there was fruit and coffee and cake for dessert.

soddo (3)
The girls and Sophie and I sang happy birthday to little almost-4 year old Elen American-style, which everyone found very funny. And then Sophie and Lidya sang it Ethiopian style too. Little children hung in the doorways watching the party, and periodically neighbors dropped in too, greeting Sophie, some of them staying and eating too. Goodbyes were hard that afternoon. So many people love Sophie and are sad that she is leaving.

soddo (10)
One interesting side note. Amarech, adoptive momma to little Elen, has been a foster mom to many babies for many years. We learned after talking to Dr. Mary that Amarech was also Julianna’s foster mom during the month or so before she went to Kidane Mehret in Addis. When Amarech heard that Julianna was one of ‘her’ babies years ago, she gave Julianna extra kisses.

soddo
After the birthday party we headed back toward the Soddo Christian Hospital compound on foot, and were good and sweaty by the time Dawit caught up with us in the van. Unfortunately he hadn’t been able to track down Emily’s birth mom, but she was still so happy to have met her dad that she felt peaceful about not finding her.

soddo (1)
In the evening we had a nice meal with Sophie’s friends, who have 6 children. In an interesting ‘it’s a small world’ set of circumstances, the family will be moving to Kenya soon where most likely the dad, who is a pediatrician, will be working alongside our daughter’s sister in law at Kijabe Hospital. As they are all such nice people, I am sure they will enjoy each other.

 

One interesting side note: The Soddo Christian Hospital compound is an absolutely lovely place with comfortable homes in which doctors and their families live all ringed around beautiful gardens and a big playground for children.  Every effort has been made to help missionaries feel comfortable, right down to a huge generator that kicks in within 90 seconds after a power outage, which is a huge luxury in a place where the power disappears often.

 

Monday

We headed out of Soddo on Monday morning. Emily and Julianna were both wishing they could have somehow had more time with their families. But we’d done the best we could with the limited time we had, and were so grateful to have gotten to see them.
On the way out of town we paused at a roadside stand for Coke since my stomach was threatening revolt, and Coke usually helps on car rides. We had two extra people with us—an older missionary couple who was headed to Awassa for a little rest and relaxation.
Apparently Awassa is a bit of a tourist spot. Awassa is a 2 hour drive from Soddo, and we got there just in time to drop off the missionary couple and then eat lunch with Marcus and Esther, friends of Sophie’s. Marcus is the helicopter pilot with whom she’s been flying heli-missions for several years into remote parts of Ethiopia.

soddo (7)

We ate at an interesting restaurant which is actually a culinary school. You pay a set fee for the meal and are served a 5 course dinner, something different every day, depending on what the students were being taught to cook that day. This day’s offering consisted of a very nice quiche, potato soup, a salad, crepes wrapped around a filling that reminded me of rich meaty spaghetti sauce and then cake for dessert. Most of the girls liked the potato soup the best—its taste was most familiar and least intimidating to them. I really liked the quiche.

soddo (8)
After lunch we were treated to a tour of the helicopter place, and spent some time visiting the families who live on that compound. The kids there have a sweet spot to grow up—a big yard with swingset, slide, trampoline, and even a zip line—all looking out over Lake Awassa.

Emz
soddo (9)After visiting them we went next door to a rather posh looking hotel where Emily and Julianna swam, and the rest of us just chilled out. We had dinner there too—some very underwhelming hamburgers and fries—before heading over to the Norwegian Guesthouse which was just a little further down the same lake.

 

By then it was getting on toward dark. It has been a really nice place of quiet retreat for Sophie, and it is run by friends of hers.

Our elderly cabin was up a little hill and consisted of a living room, tiny kitchenette and a couple of little bedrooms where each bed was equipped with its own mosquito netting. It’s malaria country, you know. I found the mosquito netting both charming and concerning, and spent several minutes making sure the girls had been properly mosquito-sprayed.

 

The toilet was attached, but outside, and in desperate need of bleach and a scrub brush.  I was less than impressed.  But hey, we were only staying one night. It would be fine. Sophie went to visit with her friends for a few minutes, and a little later she came back with some bad news.

 

The couple we’d driven to Awassa, who was also staying here at the Norwegian guesthouse, had gone out to dinner nearby, and then decided to walk back to the guesthouse in the dark through a rather sketchy area of town. They ended up being assaulted and robbed. Sophie saw them right after it happened, and invited them to come sit in our house with us for awhile to settle down and catch their breath.

 

They have been missionaries in Africa for decades, and are obviously the sturdy sort. But they were shaken up emotionally and beaten up physically, and definitely were distressed from that terrible turn of events. Sophie decided to sleep next door in their cabin with them, just in case their injuries ended up being more serious than it seemed at the moment. (They ended up being ok, though quite bruised.)
We were all shaken up by this happening, Lidya and I especially, and wondered if we were safe with that crime happening so close by. But Sophie reminded us we were in a guarded, gated compound, not out walking on a dark road like they had been. Still it ended up being a restless night of sleep.

 

Tuesday
The next day we were up and away at 7, eager to get back to Addis at a reasonable time. Dawit, our wonderful driver, had been away from his wife and baby daughter for 4 nights by now, and I was thinking happily of our lovely guesthouse in Addis, which was sounding even better in my mind after the less posh digs down south.
We were in Addis a little after noon, and before heading to the guesthouse we stopped for lunch at one of the most popular ferengi (foreigner) restaurants in Addis, a hamburger place called Sishu.
It first opened in a lady’s house, but soon became so hugely popular that she moved it into a warehouse.

It is decorated less ornately than is typical in a fancy Ethiopian restaurant– it feels clean and modern and western– and has  utterly fabulous hamburgers and fries– yum!! Heaven for foreigners who can sometimes feel tired of eating Ethiopian food or questionable imitations of American fare.

It also has the second-nicest bathrooms we’d seen the trip—the nicest being in our Addis guesthouse. Ours (we decided) were an Ethiopian 10—as nice as you were ever likely to see in Ethiopia. The ones at the Sishu were a good solid 9, and even had paper towels to dry your hands after washing. It’s the little things, people!

More on bathrooms later.  After one more night in our posh Addis guesthouse, we were headed to Harar the next morning.  And that’s when the bathrooms really got memorable.

Part 7: The goodness of God

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Looking back, I can only imagine how nerve-wracking it must have felt for the young man, answering the barrage of questions from Lidya and Sophie and me.

The goodness of God

The story he told is, I suppose, not so different from many others.  Of a high school student, and young love and a baby. Of wishing to do right by the child, and trying for awhile to make everything work.  And finally of grandparents stepping in and making a decision. He told his story with humility, and in a straight forward way.  His good intent was clear, as was his longing for a happier ending, one that didn’t end with an orphanage and a child lost to him forever.

Lost, that is, until twelve years later a man came to his family’s village asking questions and showing photos of a baby in the arms of a nun.

 

And the father saw the pictures and knew it was her and the grandfather, in whose home this baby had lived for a year, saw the pictures and knew the same thing.  And they wondered if it wasn’t an ending that God had in mind after all.  Maybe there was more to this story.

And now here we were, hearing the story and looking in this young man’s face– he’s 32 by now– and all we could see was  Emily’s cheekbones, and her incredible, unusually beautiful eyes.

I think our hearts felt it even then. But still we wanted more surety, for the sake of our precious Emily’s heart.

We asked if we could meet the man’s father and talk to him too. And we kept praying. We drove with Dawit to a little house in Soddo.  (This was the family’s town house, where Tarikegn and his brother and father live and work all week, while the grandmother lives full time out in the countryside on the farm.)

Once out of the van as we walked toward the house, I introduced Tarikegn to all the girls, not specifying which we thought might be his. But his eyes lingered on Emily.

Still Lidya and Sophie and I played judge and jury, asking questions and praying God would guide us.   At this point Sophie and Lidya were tag-team translating, since we’d had to leave Dawit back to watch his car.

And Tarikegn and his father continued to answer us with humility and patience, never asking us for one thing.  Each detail fit what we knew or added to the story, answering questions  that Emily and I have wondered for years.  The timing was right. The story fit my momma-instinct that my girl had been well loved. It felt right.

And individually each of us loving Emily came to the same conclusion– the protective momma, and the fierce big sister, and the aunty who’s lived in Ethiopia long enough to be jaded about (many) Ethiopian men. We all believed this was her daddy. And Emily?  She felt it too.

And  when I got the nod from her, I introduced her to him and she gave him a shy hug and he laughed with delight.  And we all didn’t quite know what to do then. Because none of us had ever done this moment before– the one where you realize a stranger is something much more important.  But still for this moment you are unknown to each other.

So we set about to remedying that.

Those eyes

I dug a photo album out of my purse, one I’d prepared JUST.IN.CASE the miracle happened and God opened a door and we found someone.  And his rapt attention on the album…oh… he was such a daddy, looking at his little girl, catching up on years he’d missed.

Looking at the album

After I’d shown him every photo, and we’d clicked a few more pictures of our own, they asked us if we’d like to come inside.  There wasn’t a light in the living room/bedroom and it was getting late, but we went in anyway.  (The man in blue is grandpa, and the one in red is dad’s brother.)

We took turns asking questions then– talking about what he did for a living (knee work– the Ethiopian word for work that takes strength) and what Emily wants to do when she grows up (maybe a teacher– they loved that answer).  And I told them what a friend-maker she is and what a gift she is to our lives.  The grandpa then said they’d been praying they would see her again.  “It is God who brought her to us.”

Inside

He did indeed.

When we didn’t dare stay any longer, we went out into the yard again, admiring the pretty landscaping, especially the tall beautiful sugar cane.

Breaking sugar cane

Tarikegn strode up the hill with purpose and broke one down for Emily to take along.  Once he had one broken up, he decided that wasn’t quite enough and went up to break one more down, which he carried back to the van for us.

The time felt so short.  We had just met him and now we needed to say goodbye.  It was hard, and sweet all together.

I thought of the corn earlier in the day given to us by Julianna’s dad.  Now there was sugar cane for our sweet Emily from her dad.  Then there was their American dad at home working hard, graciously making this trip possible for them.

Sweets for the sweetAnd above it all their heavenly Father orchestrating every moment of it all. Fathers just love to give good gifts to their children.

I don’t know if we’ll ever have a day that feels more awash in the goodness of God.  He is good.  All the time. God is good.

Saying goodbye

Part 6: Talking to strangers

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The plan for Saturday was first to  visit Julianna’s family, and then to do a little investigating to see if we could find anything at all about Emily’s family. Since all we knew about her was the police station where she’d been relinquished, that was a very big question indeed. We’d sent a searcher out a few weeks earlier to that town. He had spoken with a government official who had asked for $200 in exchange for information about the father, who he claimed to know.

Now, in Ethiopia small bribes are not uncommon at all. In fact, police pull drivers over regularly asking for money. But $200 is a very big bribe around here. And Sophie and John and I didn’t like the fact that the only information he had was about the father. Right or wrong, our instinct was that a man might claim to know something in exchange for money,  whereas a woman might be more motivated by the heart. What we were most hoping for was information about Emily’s mom.
So on that Saturday afternoon after leaving Julianna’s joyful family reunion, we were willing and eager to hunt for Emily’s family. But we all, including Emily, understood that the chances of finding good information were slim. Our searcher had been able to get the phone number of the man who claimed to be Emily’s father, which would enable us to talk to him without the government official’s involvement. But our searcher himself was not available that afternoon to talk with the supposed father.
Oh, we didn’t know what to do. But we had to leave Soddo in 36 hours, and we had come such a long way. I couldn’t stand leaving without trying for something at least. We decided to have our trusty driver Dawit call the man, and ask if we could visit him in the village where Emily had been relinquished. So on our way back to Soddo from Julianna’s village Dawit did so.
So there we were in the van, pulled over at the side of the road next to Sophie’s favorite hamburger place in Soddo, listening in on Dawit’s conversation with a stranger who might be Emily’s dad, but probably wasn’t. When asked if we could go to his village, the man said he was actually in Soddo working today, at the bus station. The same bus station that was just a few blocks from our location now. He could meet us there, he said.

At the bus station
A nervous conversation ensued between Sophie and me. We so much wanted to ensure we were getting reliable information for Emily. We didn’t like the idea of meeting this stranger at a bus station—we couldn’t quite even figure out why he was there since supposedly he lived out in the country. But maybe if we talked to him awhile, and everything seemed ok, he could take us to his village to meet more family? We were so uncertain. But what else could we do?
We drove to the bus station and then our driver Dawit called him again to tell him we were there. This time the man told Dawit that he was very close, that he was taking a bajaj to the bus station and would be there very soon. Again we were uncertain. First he’d said he was at the bus station and then he wasn’t. As we waited for him to show up, we realized we didn’t know his name, or anything really about him.
After a few nervous minutes of waiting, a young man appeared at the driver’s window. So young. Sophie and Lidya and I all guessed he was maybe 25. After a quick hi at the window, he appeared to reconsider, and stepped away from the van to use his phone. In seconds Dawit’s phone rang and we all laughed, even the young man. Apparently before talking with us, he had wanted to be sure he was approaching the right people.

Dawit opened the passenger front door and invited the young man into the van to talk with us. He pulled out the paper and the pictures that our searcher had shared with him.

We had decided before he even got into the van that we would not identify Emily to him unless we came to be reasonably sure that there might be a valid reason to believe he was a relative. And we were so eager to know the truth that thinking back I’m not sure we even introduced ourselves properly but just began asking him questions. What do you know about this baby? Why do you think you are the father? Tell us the story as you know it.

We were wanting to know if his story would match what we knew, and as he spoke, all of our intuition was on high alert, trying to judge if he seemed trustworthy and was telling the truth.  Above all, we wanted our precious girl not to be hurt. You can bet we were praying hard for all the wisdom and guidance that God could give us.

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Part 5: Joyful Grannies

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On we walked, with our young guides reassuring us that it was close by. Sophie had a picture of the house in her head– a rectangular house with two front doors and a round children’s hut off to one side. When we entered a clearing and were pointed toward a house, Sophie said, “This looks different. I don’t know if this is it.”

Julianna Family (4)

Little children stood in front of the house looking at us curiously, and soon a couple of ladies appeared as well. We said Julianna’s dads name again and they said he wasn’t here. We still weren’t sure if we had the right spot, but then an older lady spotted Julianna and burst into tears, shouting and running into our midst and hugging and kissing Julianna. A younger lady ran into the house and quickly emerged with an album.

The album I’d sent to them from America years ago full of pictures of Julianna.

This was most certainly the right place.

Then the pandemonium began.

Someone told us first that the lady kissing Julianna was a grandmother on her dad’s side, but later dad said his mom was not living, so we think now it may have been an aunt. Another lady, a neighbor, kissed Julianna with equal enthusiasm. Children ran to get Julianna’s father and sibings, and now Julianna’s step mother hugged and cried over Julianna.

People ran into the house to get chairs, and insisted we sit down in the shade under the trees while we waited for Julianna’s father to come from the fields.  When finally he did come, I don’t think I have seen anyone happier this side of heaven.

Julianna Family (10)
He hugged her and then raised his hands to praise God for the gift of her presence.

Julianna's Dad

 

When Julianna’s grandmother, the mother of her mother appeared, sobbing hysterically, I was immediately in tears too. She couldn’t stop looking at Julianna’s face and hands.  Oh the tears. Oh the joy.

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Julianna Family (5)
The boy in the photo above is Julianna’s older brother. His joy was a quieter one, but I think he was just as happy as anyone.

Julianna Family (14)

The crowd grew as more and more family and neighbors appeared. I had brought my computer so I could show a video of Julianna playing the guitar and singing. I knew that she might be subdued when meeting many strangers, so I wanted them to get a glimpse of the real her– a child who actually is far from subdued.  Everyone pressed close to glimpse the video.
Watching a video

In a bit we gathered family in the front of the house to try to get some pictures. The crowd pressed in, and I got a piece of paper and tried to write down names of actual family, so we could maybe later identify people in the pictures.
SO many people

This photo shows many of her relatives, with her sister Bruk just arrived and hugging her.
Julianna Family (3)

And here is much of her family, except for some sisters close to her age who had not yet arrived.

Julianna Family (8)

This photo is of Julianna’s great grandmother on her mother’s side. What a gift, to see so many generations together.

great-grandma (640x480)

Back under the tree in the shade again, Julianna’s smaller sisters arrived.
Julianna Family (6)

Hana (in the brown top) is a year or so older than Julianna, and Conjit (in white and pink) is probably another year older than her. Julianna’s father was radiant with happiness to see so many of his children together.

Julianna Family (12)

Soon it was evident that preparations were being made to feed us. Sophie and I were both concerned that they might be killing animals, and making more of a production than they could really afford, and we wondered if we should leave. But we had come from such a distance that I couldn’t bear to leave so soon. And then I was told that they were cooking corn. This seemed to me like a reasonable feast with it being corn harvest season.

We settled in to stay awhile longer. Soon corn was brought out to us– tougher than American corn, but fairly sweet. We quickly began copying Hana’s way of eating the corn, picking it off the cob kernel by kernel. Julianna’s dad gave a joyful speech, and then the uncle did. With the help of the translator, I was able to tell Julianna’s dad thank you and to pray for all the assembled family and neighbors.

They wanted to hear Julianna’s voice, but she was shy. So we thought of questions to ask her, and soon she warmed up, telling people about her life in America. The crowd was huge by now, but any time she spoke, everyone went silent, hanging on her every word.

Julianna’s grandma asked if she could bring her some milk, but we told her that would not be good for Julianna’s tummy. They coaxed us to eat more, and Sophie said we’d be expected to eat all the corn. But when Hana saw Julianna was struggling, she snatched the ear of corn out of Julianna’s hand and set it back on the table. I broke mine in half and gave it to a couple of the little children.

Finally it was time to go. We slowly and reluctantly gathered our things together and walked back toward our van. Many hugs were shared at the van door before we all waved goodbye. Oh, it was hard to leave. But what a blessed visit it had been.

Julianna has many, many people who love her on both sides of the world.

Part 4: This should be easy

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When we got into Dawit’s van on Saturday morning to go visit Julianna’s family, we thought we knew where we were going.  Sophie had been there before, after all.  How hard could it be?

We were hoping to visit Julianna’s birth father and some of her siblings.  They live on a main road just outside a little town called Bombay.  The name came because the town was bombed in the 1930’s by the Italians.  It’s about an hour and a half from Soddo, half on nice asphalt and half on gravel.

We stopped at the Bombay health center since they have the best bathrooms in town.  And even these were scary– squatty potties with enough rusted out spots on the bottom edges of the doors that you could not be sure of complete privacy.  Most of us took one look and decided the need was not that urgent.  (It didn’t help that there were men moving rocks right in front of the bathrooms.)

In Bombay Sophie couldn’t remember the exact road they lived on, since she hadn’t been driving last time.  We had brought Mesfin, Sophie’s translator along, and he thought the best way to get directions was to ask at the family’s kebele– a kind of govt office that keeps track of citizens for tax purposes.  So several times we stopped and asked for directions to the kebele, with all sorts of varying answers.

Around and around the main city streets we went.  Each time we stopped, we gathered crowds of curious children, drawn by the sight of white faces in the windows.

AChildren

 

Finally we were vaguely directed out of town, and off we went.  I had seen pictures of the house before, and Sophie remembered it had a big open front yard.  But she was puzzled because it was described as a short drive and then a 10 minute walk.  She remembered the house as being right on the road.

A bit down the road, still uncertain, we paused yet again for directions, and were directed down an even bumpier little road.  But the person directing this time looked very certain, which was encouraging.

We drove along the edge of a little swamp, which made Sophie sigh.  She had treated Julianna’s family multiple times for malaria, and now she knew why they were so prone to it.  Our best guess is that malaria was probably the cause of Julianna’s birthmom’s death.

Past the swamp, sure enough, the road came to an end. Here our  driver would wait while we walked on, now guided by neighborhood children, who said the house was very close.  Anticipation was rising.

AJulWalk

We have sent pictures several times to Julianna’s dad over the years, but only my sister Sophie had seen him, and he didn’t know we were coming.  What if he wasn’t even here?

Part 3: On the way to Soddo we saw…

(Sights completely normal to people living in Ethiopia, but unusual and charming to this Idaho girl.)

SoddoDrive (5)

  • No stop lights.  Not one.
  • Exactly two stop signs, complete ignored by everyone. (This total includes many miles of driving in Addis).
  • Goats and sheep and cows walking down the road, driven by children spinning ropes.

STA_2447

  • A dozen or so people daubing mud on the walls of a house.
  • Gaggles of Muslim girls clad in long dresses and scarves that were all the colors of the rainbow.  ( The girls say this following photo is of Oromo girls.)

Walkers

  • A farmer plowing a field with a ox and an old-fashioned plow.

SoddoDrive (1)

  • A boy balancing precariously on the back axle of a horse-drawn cart clutching the cart for dear life with one arm and and cradling a chicken in the other.
  • Preschoolers standing on the sides of highways, some with no mommas in sight.
  • A lady walking with a  tray of injera balanced on her head.
  • A man walking with a potted plant balanced on his head.

SoddoDrive (3)

  • A girl walking along in a long skirt and a head scarf and wearing a striped shirt emblazoned with “Obama” in huge letters.
  • Kids riding flat-bed donkey carts while standing– their own personal chariots.
  • A bare-bottomed baby riding on his momma’s back.  (“Do the mommas get peed on?” I asked Sophie.  “Yup.”)
  • Heavily loaded donkeys trotting purposefully down the road with no owner evident.

SoddoDrive

  • After many, many miles of swerving around people walking on roadsides, a sign warning of people walking.
  • After many, many miles of cows everywhere on the roads, a sign warning that there were cows ahead on the road.

And finally a few words from Emily and Julianna about driving in Ethiopia.

SoddoDrive (4)

Emily: In Ethiopia people walk in the road as much as they do on the side walk  and People honk all the time and they tail gate but we  haven’t see very many cars dents so they must be really  good drivers.  I am just over joyed that all of my driving will be in the US.

Julianna: I was having a great time but my sister Lidya was not. She was holding on for dear life.   Our driver was swerving around people walking in the road, and around other cars.

Mary:  Our driver, Dawit, is excellent, and much more cautious than most. But still often you need to pass goat herds and bajaj‘s and slow moving trucks. I did a lot of reminding myself that God is in charge of our lives, and not the driver of the oncoming truck.   And we made it safe to Soddo!

Here’s the view out the front door of our guest house, which is on the grounds of the Soddo Christian Hospital compound.

SoddoDrive (9)

Part 2- Thursday in Ethiopia

We arrived in Addis last night around 9PM, right on time.  Always when you get off the plane after so many hours of travel, you’re  soooo ready to just get to the place where you can lay your head for the night.  But there are hurdles.

First you wait in line to get your visa, or permission to stay in Ethiopia for 30 days.  This consists of a piece of paper glued inside your passport.  One visa times 5 people takes a bit of time.  Then you shuffle into yet another line to pay for those visas–$50 a person currently.  I have yet to understand why the same worker can’t do the paperwork AND take your money.  But on the bright side, our visa paperwork took so long that by the time we were finally done, the line to pay was  almost non-existent.

Next on the agenda was changing some  US dollars into Ethiopian birr, which can be done on the other side of that same big room. At that counter, while I was filling out that form, an American lady came up to me and asked how I’d gotten then to change my birr into dollars, which of course the opposite of what I was actually doing.  Turns out they wouldn’t take back her birr, and as she was leaving the country that evening, she was a little distressed.

By that point, I was already in the middle of my transaction.  But Lidya and Zeytuna, who also wanted birr, were able to trade some of their dollars for some of her birr.  So we were able to help her situation out a little anyway.  Ten minutes after we left that counter, she was still standing there earnestly discussing her predicament with the bank person.

The next airport line was to get your passport stamped.  It was by far the longest line, and snaked through the whole center of the big room.  By the time we got to the front of that line, it had been a good hour since we’d landed.  Then it was on to the luggage carousel, where we happily discovered that all 6 of our bags had made it to Ethiopia.  Hooray!

We flopped them onto a luggage cart and made our way out to the parking lot, where, just as agreed upon, the GT guesthouse driver was there holding up a sign with “GT” written on it.  He flumped our luggage efficiently into the back of his van and we were off, zooming our way toward the guesthouse.

The guesthouse was a 15 minute drive, the last bit of which went down what looked to me like an alleyway, but was actually a (probably pretty normal) residential street, with lots of high fences and gates and greenery on both sides.  In Addis there appears to be very little zoning.  It is completely normal for a nice hotel to have tin-roofed shacks living in its shadow.

At the guesthouse gate, our driver honked, and the big metal doors screeched open.  Inside was a nice big courtyard, and the entrance to a big weloming building, where Lewam, the owner of the guesthouse, soon welcomed us.  Lee grew up in Ethiopia, but spend enough time in America that she speaks perfect English and also has a good understanding of how to help us finicky Americans feel comfy and at home.

The guesthouse is just lovely! Our apartment was on the second floor and consisted of not one, not two, but three bedrooms and bathrooms, along with a kitchen, and a nice sized dining room/living room.  There was even a balcony where we could look out over the neighborhood.

Greeting us in our apartment was my sister Sophie who had arrived earlier in the day, and was just as thrilled with the accommodations as I was.  The apartment allowed Emily and Julianna to sleep in a big king room with me– an additional bed had been added to make that very comfortable.  Then Lidya and Zeytuna got the second room and Sophie the third.  All in all it should work well.

We got our bags stuffed into the appropriate bedrooms, had a quick phone call with John, and headed off to bed. The girls were all asleep practically instantly, and we all managed to sleep pretty well, considering it was broad daylight Idaho time.

The next morning the guesthouse ladies brought us breakfast around 9:30, and several of  the girls had to be awakened to come eat. We had french toast, scrambled eggs, firfir, fruit, bread, and injera.  They even made special gluten free (teff) pancakes.  And of course fabulous Ethiopian coffee and chai tea.  There was lots left over, which we tucked into the fridge for later in the day.

Once breakfast was done, it was errand time.  One of our six big suitcases actually wasn’t ours– we were delivering it to a missionary living in Addis.

When we called to talk about where to meet him, he mentioned a hotel to Sophie that turned out to be literally visible from the guesthouse.  Talk  about convenient.

Since we had several errands that day, we’d arranged for the services of Dawit, a driver who had also helped us with several other visits.  It was fun to see him, and to find out that he now has a wife and a baby daughter.

It was raining pretty hard on the drive to drop off the bag, but the rain let up just a bit when we handed off the suitcase full of goodies to the young man, and he was thrilled with the care package from home.

The next stop was the grocery store–  a rather American-style one called Bambi’s where somehow I managed to spend $90.  It should  be enough for at least 4 meals plus some car snacks for half a dozen people, but I was still rather surprised at how fast that bill added up.

Some of Kibrom’s family lives here

Next on the list was a visit to the family of Kibrom, the man who owns the only Ethiopian restaurant in Idaho.  He has many brothers and sisters in Addis. We had packages to deliver to them from him, and they very graciously invited us to lunch too.

Kibrom’s family with my sister and daughters

We were a dab intimidated thinking of trying to converse with people we’d never met before, but they turned out to be delightful.  Two of his sisters are nurses and his younger brother is half way thru medical school.

His beautiful sister and her baby

 

We had a lovely Ethiopian meal together, followed by a coffee ceremony and then some chai tea and more bread.  We felt incredibly spoiled, and blessed to be invited to their home.

Coffee

Another lovely sister roasting coffee. I wish I could share the wonderful aroma with you.

It rained off and on all afternoon complete with thunder and lightning, but again by the time we had to be back outside, the rain let up and we barely got our feet damp as we made our way back to the van.

By that time, it was nearly 5PM, so we headed on back to the guesthouse to relax for the evening.  We were all feeling the effects of jet lag.  Lidya and Zeytuna got a nap in before dinner, and Julianna and Emily got inspired to make french fries in our little kitchenette and make some videos.

Want a little tour of the house where we are staying?  Check out this videothat Emily did.

GT Guest House Tour- Addis Ababa from Mary Ostyn on Vimeo.

I am hoping to share more pictures tomorrow, if the internet in Soddo cooperates.  But for now I am off to bed.    We are driving to Soddo in the morning!

Part One | Part Three

Part 1-We’re off!

Here we are this morning with our 6 checked bags and 6 carry-on items. Yikes! So much for packing light. However, 2.5 of our checked bags are things we’re delivering for other people, and there are 5 of us, all girls, traveling for 16 days. I think we could have done worse.

At the airport this morning

As I write this, we’ve made it all the way to Houston. Julianna was getting a bit stir-crazy by the end of that 3 hour flight, so hopefully she will survive the next two flights, each of which is 9+ hours. Wow. I am very much hoping for seat-back TV’s to broaden the entertainment options. We also have some movies on my tablet, which should also help.

So far the only hitch we’ve had is that I managed to forget the plug that lets my Fitbit download onto my computer, which means that although it will still count my steps each day, it won’t tell me how well I sleep each night. (Sob.) Such a first-world problem. John wanted to go back and get it for me, but I decided I’d rather get to the airport 15 minutes sooner. And it turned out to be a good thing. The Boise airport was hopping this morning, and the security line was longer than I’ve ever seen it.

Anyway, we’re off! Next time I update you, we should be in Addis!

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We’re off tomorrow!

After years of wishing, and months of planning, and days of packing, we are finally ready to set off on this great adventure to Ethiopia. We leave Tuesday morning, which is a ridiculously few hours from now. We’ve got meals planned for the guys at home, and hotels planned for the girls who are going, including, blessedly, my sister Sophie who has lived and worked in southern Ethiopia for the past five years. It will be such a blessing to have her there to translate and share her experience, and just hang out with.

Soddo

I’m really excited to finally be able to see Soddo, the place where two of our girls were born.  Soddo has also been Sophie’s workplace for the past five years, where she has cared for many pregnant women, offering them medical care that they might not otherwise get.   She is closing that chapter in her own life now, but her friend and fellow nurse Jody Ross will continue on in that important work.  (Sophie and I would both love it if you’d support Jody in continuing that work, if you feel so moved.)

Sophie

 

We’ll also be visiting Harar, one of the most ancient cities in all of Africa, and the place where two other daughters were born.  Some of our girls will be visiting extended family on this trip, though I will only be sharing as much about those visits as our girls are comfortable with me sharing.  Harar

My sister has warned me that internet access will likely be spotty, especially in Harar, and possibly even in Addis at times. But I will be writing as much as I can each day, and taking photos of all that we’re doing, so that I can use the internet whenever and wherever it happens to be.

Be praying for our family when you think of us during the next two weeks, will you?  For safety and peace of mind for all of us when we are apart from each other, that we can be a blessing to the people we meet along the way, and also (most of all!) that this trip will be a blessing to our precious girls and their extended family.  Doubtless this trip will stir up many emotions in us all.