Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Reflections on our trip

Wow, what a whirlwind of emotion.  I am really, really enjoying our trip, but my heart goes out to some of the people I see here.  There is clearly a good deal of poverty around, but there are also people who live okay.  The amount of begging is tremendous.  The people here who are guiding us tell us we can’t give or we will suddenly have a group of 40 around us begging.  But we were driving in a car and mother’s with daughters in hands come asking for money for food as well as small children.  I have to say no.  But we were discussing it and Josh pointed out that the Bible says, ‘do onto others as you would have done to you.’  There was a stop light where no one was around so I could give someone 1 birr (about 9 cents American) to hopefully set a good example for Josh.  It really is tough not to give anything to the children and people.

I feel the best I can do is buying hand-woven scarfs, local art etc to help subsidize the small income of some of the local residents and hopefully help their economy by spending money here.  But I just wish we could do more.  Obama is very popular here (sorry Rich), and I just wish America could find a way to help more over here.  But that is another, longer and maybe more controversial post, so I will stay on task.


A brief story from an American Ethiopian I met on the plane.  He said that he went to public school and there are kids who have enough to eat (live a middle-class life over here) right next to kids who are starving.  He said as a boy at 10, he heard a 7 year old neighbor boy crying in the street.  When he inquired what was wrong, the boy said his mom told him it was the girls day to eat.  They had to rotate days to eat.  For 8 months, this 10 year old snuck his lunch to this boy.  His parents couldn’t afford to feed all the hungry so his food was for him, so he snuck it away figuring two meals a day was plenty for him.


Oh, and the driving here.  There are no stop lights.  Well, we saw one, but it wasn’t active (possibly due to the fact that the government turns off electricity about once a week for a few hours or a day to conserve).  So, we are driving around and have to cross an 8 lane road (I wouldn’t call anything here a highway).  All this with no stop signs and no stop lights.  It was an adventure.  I never felt unsafe driving or walking through the streets (though I have never been known for my judgment).  But I think the general consensus is that life here is safe.  But the resources are thin.


Oh, and all cars are old used cars from elsewhere.  It seems to rain at night, and many cars have no functional windshield wipers.  The one I drove in from the airport had wipers but no defrost.  The driver kept wiping the windshield with his hand.  Heck, that is kind of how I drive and do car care, but my wife beats me up regularly for that trait of mine.


The streets are lined with shops (called trading centers) that are little boutiques but not like we might see in America.  They are six to eight feet in length and often not even 3 feet deep.  They are selling scarfs, t-shirts, vegetables, fruit, anything they can.  Apparently these people are often very poor.  If you look interested in something and inquire, they give you a price, if you pass, they lower the price and follow you down the street in a desperate attempt to make a sale.  They are all very welcoming, not just at the shops but everywhere.  Apparently, Americans or outsiders are treated with the utmost respect.  A good number of people speak English, but usually just the more educated people.


Oh, a quick story.  So, we are at a restaurant having a milk shake for me and of course, a beer, for Bill and Kristen and Barb, but mainly Bill.  We are ready to pay and Bill decides to inquire if they take credit cards.  Bill asked the manager, not our waitress, but a guy who had been a bit attentive to us, if he can use a credit card.  The guy is receptive and says sure, no problem.  He takes the card.  A few minutes pass and we see him conversing with another manager-type guy.  They are looking at the card, the front, the back, the numbers etc and he puts in his pocket.  It becomes clear that he sees this as a gift and was just being polite taking this token from Bill.  Bill eventually summons him back over and tries to explain how a credit card is used in America.  Good news, he still has his card and all is well, but it was a bit humorous.  I am pretty sure the manager guy saw it as a nice plastic trinket some strange American gave him.


One other neat experience.  We went to a zoo, but it basically had 8 or so lions and a few monkeys.  But in a little garden area, people were sitting and monkeys were playing.  So, the kids and I went in and played with the monkeys.  We started by holding out our hands and we shook hands.  The monkey took a liking to Emily.  Before too long, he was on her back and Patrick too got in on the action.  Of course, all the while, Kristen (often a bundle of nerves) was trying to summon us onward as she was worried about ringworm or other issues.  But we won out and it was one of the highlights of the trip so far.  Of course, one of the many highlights, but fun nonetheless.


It has been very educational, fun, joyful, yet sad.  We have met many nice people, learned a lot and have only touched the tip of the ice berg.  Until next time.  Mike



  1. Mike, I am sure the credit card Bill tried to use was no good anyway, he figured by the time they found out he would be out of the country. Keep an eye on him most likely he will get in more trouble then any of the kids. The monkey story is great let the kids enjoy that kinda of stuff they'll never have the experience of the animals in nature in South Bend. My thoughts and prayers are with all of you. Please let Bill know it is alright he did not let me know when you where leaving, once again he has neglected another person.

  2. Woohoo! By my calculation, it is about 8:20 pm in Addis Ababa. Not sure if you'll be meeting the kiddos tomorrow, but regardless, you'll officially be joining the CHSFS travel group. Alright!!! So excited for you. Know that you are in our thoughts and prayers. Can't wait to read more updates!

  3. As the "Designated Worrier" I feel it's well within my rights to say, "Post another update!!! Today is day three since your last update."

    Ollie, Ollie, Oxen-free!


    Just my way of saying we're thinking about you guys and excited that you'll be meeting "my new niece and nephew." Can't wait for you guys to post a new family photo!

  4. I agree with Brian and Cam. We want to know what you guys are doing. You raised expectations by posting so often in the beginning of your trip. Of course, we realize that you are a bit busy. Hope all is well. By the way, Aunt Bobbi left me a message asking that I convey to you that the Mother Theresa Mission is in Addis Ababa. She thought since you likely won't get back there again that you might like to visit-but only if it's a safe idea. I suppose you don't want to drive three hours out of the way to see the world's second largest ball of twine!

  5. I agree...more posts. We are learning a great deal through your travels and experience. Hope all is well, thinking about you often.