My Ethiopian Experience - The Details!

I have been waiting to share my most life-changing experience in 2015 with my friends and readers, but have been so overwhelmed with life that it has been pushed to the back burner. I did share a small amount (for me - small) on HowDoesShe as well as on Becky Higgin's blog, however for me and my own personal history, I wanted to record my experience in more detail. My memory is really awful and I know things have already started to fade, so I want to record as much as I can before it's all gone :)
Warning: This post will be long and extremely photo-heavy. Feel free to move along if you don't think it's for you :)


So, I found out I had reached my fundraising goal to go on this expedition about a month before the actual expedition date. That wasn't a lot of time! Deb from Canadian Humanitarian made all of the travel arrangements, so that was nice, however I had to get immunized ASAP because I had to send my yellow fever immunization certificate with my passport, and a passport photo (which I had to get taken because I didn't have extras on hand) to Ethiopia to get my VISA. It felt hurried, but everything came together nicely. 
Then I had to pack. Deb sent a detailed information package that made choosing what to bring super helpful. I managed to pack light, even with bringing donations with me. This proved to be a blessing later. My one regret, however, was the carry on bag I chose to bring, which wasn't a rolling one. I was kicking myself later as we were walking for hours through different airports. Oh, and my laptop that was in said carry on? It weighs a ton.
With all of the prep work going on, the time flew by and before I knew it, the day to leave had arrived! Ready or not - I was headed to Ethiopia!

This is my dog telling me he would miss me :)

Day 1-2: Travel

My husband drove me and the Northcotts to the Calgary Airport to catch our flight, which left just after midnight. We got there early enough to catch a bite to eat and visit a while before we had to go through security. I felt all strange saying goodbye to my husband and best friend who I have never traveled without before. I knew I was about to experience something that would test me and also show how strong I was - and that it would be good for me. I still had knots in my stomach as I walked away from him and toward my Ethiopian adventure. 
Once we made it through security we had some time to kill before our first flight from Calgary to Toronto was going to be leaving. I took out the coloring book and pencil crayons I brought to pass the time while we waited. 
I was starting to really get sleepy but I find it almost impossible to sleep anywhere except in a bed. It seemed like a long wait (even though it wasn't) before we finally loaded the plane. I was lucky enough to sit by the window (my favorite spot to sit) and I even managed to dose for about 20 minutes during the 4  hour flight. 
We had a layover in Toronto for a few hours, where we met up with two more of the team members coming on the expedition, Mike and Connie. We visited and got to know each other a bit over breakfast in a cafe in the airport. It felt strange listening to them catching up with the Northcotts because they both had been on expeditions in the past and had lots to reminisce about. I felt like a fish out of water. I used the opportunity to go and purchase a travel pillow - the kind that has those soft little squishy beads in them. By this point I had gone almost all night without sleep and I was HOPING I would be able to sleep at some point on the long 13+ hour flight to Addis Ababa. 
We headed to check in to the Ethiopian Airlines desk and, let me tell you, - the process is sure interesting. Depending on your ticket (your seating, I guess) they give you a colored dot sticker and then call your color to have you board. Sounds like it would be a really organized process, right? Yeah, no. Once they call the first group to board, anyone and everyone almost rushes the gate and boards whenever the heck they want. Awesome. I was a bit worried because Deb had told me that sometimes they re-weigh your carry on luggage and charge a sur-charge that you MUST pay (in cash, of course) or you can't board. This is, of course, illegal and unethical seeing as it is a transfer from an Air Canada flight where our carry on bags had already been weighed and checked in. Thankfully that wasn't the case with us, and we boarded just fine. 

What a flight! I'm no stranger to long flights. You might remember our trip to China a few years ago. 

This was a different experience altogether.  

The airplane was fairly new, however the airline simply takes the seats out of their old planes and installs them into the new ones. Perfect sense, right? Ha ha ha! The chairs were comfortable enough, and they give you a blanket (though it seemed like only random seats were given blankets) as well as an eye mask, socks, and a travel tooth brush/paste. They had screens on the back of every seat and free movies to watch - all new and recent releases, which was great! The picture on mine, unfortunately, would freeze - often- then quickly catch up to the audio which made for a painful time watching anything. My headphones also only worked on one ear, but I made the best of it. 
I tried to catch some Zzzzzs after several hours on the plane (after all, by this point I had been awake for nearly 24 hours) and I think I managed a few winks though they were interrupted constantly by people banging into me as they walked down the aisle - that and the cart going up and down the aisle. Did I mention that I really dislike sitting in the aisle seat? I know that a lot of people love it because of the easy access to the aisle, but I think those people are nuts. I had such a hard time getting into a comfortable position to nap. I am a sleep snob, I guess. I have to be laying down and in a bed to sleep. Go figure. The only way I managed to get any sleep at all was by putting in some ear plugs, wearing the eye mask, pulling on the blanket, and kind of shifting on my side on the seat. 

They feed you on Ethiopian Airlines. A lot. I found the food quite good and they keep bringing it. I was too stuffed to finish most of the meals/snacks they brought. I was impressed. 

Finally I saw on the little map that we were nearing Addis Ababa. Things were getting real now! Suddenly I was feeling wide awake. 

Day 2 - First day in Addis
By this time it was morning in Addis time. Addis is about 9 hours ahead of us in Western Canada. My body really wanted to sleep but we had a full day ahead of us! We gathered our things and left the plane. We were greeted with an insanely long, winding lineup filled with people. I asked what the line was leading to, and it was just the line for the passport check. Crazy!!! 
It was my first taste of how Ethiopia does things. Quite a different experience than any airport I had been in. 
We settled in for a long wait, and Deb struck up a conversation with an older gentleman, obviously of Ethiopian descent, who was in line behind us. We found out that he now lives in Toronto and is back to visit in Ethiopia for a few weeks. He expressed interest in the charity and took Deb's information so that he could meet with her about being involved somehow. It was a fortuitous meeting, for sure!
We were in line for about 2 hours when they opened another lane that allowed us to get closer to the front of a line a lot quicker than it would have. We were nearly to the front of our queue when we looked over to our right and saw a bunch of Ethiopian nationals move a rope partition and start their own line where they started walking in front of those who had been waiting for hours in line and going up to the passport desk. Really? So that's how it works here? You just have to break every rule and be pushy? I was not impressed (could be because we had just stood in line for 2 hours after a 13 hour flight and little sleep.) Soon a security guard came over and yelled at them, then directed the passport officer to not take anyone from that "fake" line. As soon as the guard left, the same line budgers kept on going and the ticket officer kept taking them. So annoying - and eye opening. This wasn't North America for sure! 

I didn't have to be annoyed long because soon it was our turn to be checked. We made it through that check point and on to the next hurdle to jump through in the airport - picking up our luggage and getting through security. I was prepared for another crazy long wait to get through the security check. We picked up our luggage (hooray for it all making it there!), making sure to not accept help from anyone, got our bags onto a cart and headed toward the security line. A security officer off to the side called Dr. Northcott over and they chatted for a quick second before the guard waved us over. What was happening? Apparently, once the guard knew we were from Canada, they just let us bypass security altogether and waved us on through! What?! Okay. I wasn't about to complain. I found it ironic that so much time was spent checking passports, but once we gathered our luggage we didn't even have to go through security before entering the country. Dorothy? We're not in Kansas anymore.

Ahhhh...fresh air! After over 24 hours inside buildings or airplanes, it was wonderful to step outside into the sunlight and see palm trees and hear tropical birds singing. It was a little surreal and was a stark reminder that this was a whole new world. It put a smile on my face. 
I had to hurry to keep up with the Northcotts and the others as they headed to the parking lot to find the drivers who would be there to greet us. I had a hard time maneuvering the luggage and the masses of people, but I managed to not get lost in my first few moments in Africa. I was worried about pick-pockets (which I had been warned about) but I was fine. 

It was hot! We left decent October weather in Canada, but this was close to 30°C. I was huffing and puffing by the time we found our drivers who were there with the vans - the vans that I would become very familiar with by the end of my two weeks there. Oh, and the aroma was very distinct. It was the smell of exhaust, animals, incense, and poverty. It would be a smell that I would become very accustomed to. 

There were many hugs and greetings between the Northcotts and the drivers - even Mike and Connie remembered them and had a little reunion. 

I felt out of place. I was out of place. I was in Ethiopia.

The drivers loaded the vans with our luggage, shook my hand with enormous smiles and greetings. I instantly liked them, though I didn't even know their names. That would change - soon, I would know their names and come to love them. 

I boarded the van and prepared for the drive of a lifetime. My eyes were glued to the windows as I watched the city of Addis pass by as we drove. 

My first impression was one of mild surprise. I didn't know what I was expecting, but I don't think I realized how modernized much of Addis would be. It's a city! A city with some distinct differences, however.

Difference #1 - everything is made from concrete. All of the buildings are pure concrete. Which means they take a long time to build, which means there are hundreds of half-built buildings everywhere you look. Every city block was under construction, it seemed.
Difference #2 - Streets are in pretty rough shape. I used to joke that the only great thing about winters in Saskatchewan (when I lived there) is that driving was better because all of the pot holes were filled in with snow. That's nothing compared to the condition of the streets there. Most streets have large cracks, pot holes, and concrete that has warped in crazy ways. It certainly made driving on them very interesting -especially if you were sitting in the rear of the vans. Add to that, seat belts aren't really a thing there - and every drive turned into a big adventure. 
I am quite sure I couldn't drive there simply because rules of the road are more like....suggestions. Our driver, Getu, joked that you have to learn the rules before you take your driver's test, but you forget them as soon as you pass. Lanes are implied though no one bothers staying in theirs. If there is a space big enough for your vehicle (or even if it's NOT) drivers will go there. I can't tell you how many times I was wide-eyed with teeth clenched, seeing HUGE trucks squeezing in between two vehicles on the road where there was no lane and clearly not enough room for it. NUTS! And there are maybe 2-3 traffic lights in the entire city. Can you believe it? There are many traffic circles, but when there is an intersection, drivers just budge their way in and across, while the Canadian passengers have a death grip on the bars in the van. Here is a peek at one such intersection from a bird's eye perspective. 
This is in Addis:
 I certainly didn't see anyone getting road rage, which amazed me. I don't think a North American driver would last long there. 
Another difference in their streets is the number of animals -everywhere. There were many people on the road sides with their herds of goats or sheep for sale, but more than that - there were horses, mule, donkeys, dogs, cows, and so much more just standing in the middle of the streets. I was so worried that they would get struck by a vehicle (and I guess they do) but I was told that many owners, when their animal has been worked near to death, allow their animal to roam the streets, and if they get struck - the one who hits them has to pay for a brand new one. Nice, right? Such a different culture.

Difference #3 - there weren't any department-type stores. Every store is specialized in one thing and you have to know exactly where to go to find what you are looking for. Our drivers were amazing at knowing just what tiny shop on what tiny street was selling just what we need.
Difference #4 - jay walking was a very common thing and people of all ages were walking anywhere on the street they could. Many were selling things, some were just going here or there. I was always fearful someone would get hit by a vehicle, but they are pretty great at jay walking there. 
Difference #5 - Shacks. Everywhere. Amid the modern, very westernized buildings were many varieties of shacks and lean-tos. It was a stark contrast between the "haves" and the "have nots" there - and believe me, the have nots really have next to nothing. It seemed like I was watching a documentary out the van window as we drove along. It was surreal. It took a while to have what I was seeing sink in.
Difference #6 - Armed soldiers were everywhere, it seemed. So different from what I'm used to. I saw armed men situated outside all kinds of different establishments and was warned when I should put my camera down. I wasn't about to test the waters!

There were many other differences, but let's get on with things, shall we? Now, where was I?
We stopped off at a hotel - I think it was the Hilton? to exchange money. We were told to bring US cash with us to exchange. I had sent my money ahead so I only had a small amount of US dollars on me to switch over to Ethiopian Birr.
The money was much filthier than what I was used to - I was amazed it held together. We loved whenever we'd get newer bills and didn't want to get rid of those. They don't have a lot of larger bills so we had quite a wad that we had to carry around. I quickly put my bills and my cards in my money belt, which I would become very used to by the end of the two weeks. It was interesting to drive into the swanky hotel grounds when right on the other side of the fence there are people living on the streets and in shacks made from old mattresses and cardboard. I wonder what goes through their minds when they see people going in and out of the hotel with their fancy cars and nice clothes. 
After the hotel we headed to the Eden House, which is a large house where the Canadian Humanitarian offices are located with several bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchen, living room - and where we would all be staying. It was very different because we drove down this really torn apart street, with piles of rubble (which is actually building materials) and what looked like an alley. 
We pulled up to a high concrete fence with barbed wire along the top and a large metal gate. This was the front of the house. I thought we had been going in some back way, but that is how neighborhoods are set up there. 
They had one of the security guards who they always have on duty, open the gates so the vans could drive in. 
Inside the gates was a beautiful yard with gorgeous greenery including a hibiscus tree or two, which were in bloom. The house was two storeys high with marble floors all over. It was lovely. 
There were four bedrooms and 2 bathrooms on the upper level - one for the Northcotts, one for Jane, one for Lynn, and one for Connie and I to share - and a bedroom/storage room on the main level where the CH office was, the kitchen, another bathroom, and a large livingroom/dining room. Mike stayed in the bedroom/storage room on the main level. There was plenty of space for our smaller expedition. 
My room had two single beds with a wall of closets, complete with drawers, which was really nice. Each bed was quite low to the ground (as most beds are there) and had a mosquito net around it. These nets were on a frame so it didn't feel at all claustrophobic. I found it cozy actually. And the mattresses were SO COMFY! 
The bathroom upstairs had all of the conveniences - bathtub, shower, toilet, sink. I learned on the first day that often the power goes out (like, often) and when that happens, there will be no water pressure. Sometimes the water just stops altogether. If that happens, they have large water barrels, filled each day, that we can use to wash using a water pitcher with the cool water. I had the joy of doing this twice over the 2 weeks - and it wasn't bad. We also learned to shower, even on a good water pressure day, using the water sparingly so that others could also have hot water. I didn't find that unpleasant. We were in Ethiopia, and I knew things would be different. I was happy to experience a different way of living. 
After unpacking, we discovered on our first day there that a breaker had  blown so there wasn't electricity in my room. We hilariously searched around the house to find the breaker switch board but couldn't anywhere. We found one but it didn't have the breakers to our rooms. We knew there had to be another one someplace, and eventually found the breakers behind a painting that had been hung up on the wall.
Besides that, I don't remember a lot about the first day. I think we went out for pizza either for lunch or supper. I think it might have been lunch. I had been crazy jet lagged so the first day or two kind of blur together. 
So, food - I was pleasantly surprised that nearly every kind of cuisine you can imagine was available in Addis, and for phenomenal prices. For example - this day we decided to eat at an Italian place and I ordered pizza - pepperoni, I think. The cost was around $4 Canadian. When they brought me my pizza I was shocked to see that they brought me a pizza - as in, an entire pizza! WHA?! I knew I would be having leftover pizza for a least another meal or two. Their pizza there is thin crust and baked in huge stone-style pizza ovens. So good. 
Some of our expedition members decided to nap on that first day, but I knew that staying awake until bedtime would be the best shot I'd have at fighting off the jet lag and getting used to their time zone quicker. By the time bedtime came around I was ready for some sleep and slept soundly all night - even with dogs howling outside the slightly open window. I packed ear plugs and an eye mask for just such an occasion :) The temperature was so pleasant during the daytime and at night - staying very temperate at around 20-25 degrees celsius every day and around 15-20 degrees at night. Perfection.

Day 3: - Training and First Day at a Center (Gulele)
The morning was filled with breakfast at the house (left over pizza for me!) and then getting the dining/living room organized to fit as many seats as possible. We were going to be having the staff members from the different centers in Addis coming to the house for training. 

We also helped Dr. and Mrs. Northcott fill out cards for the attendees - cards that included a puzzle piece to go along with the theme of each piece of the puzzle being vital to the big picture,

Before long the employees began to arrive. We had quite a few show up, which amazed me after seeing the traffic and knowing how far some of them had to travel. I felt a bit out of place as I had never met any of these people and being in a crowd of people I  don't know is not my idea of a good time. It was one of the things I knew would constantly be stretching me and pushing me out of my comfort zone on this expedition - and I was ready to be stretched! 

While waiting for more to arrive, I walked around a bit, taking some photos. I caught these two outside visiting in the yard:
I would very quickly get to know and love Bisrat (on the left) as he is central to the operations of the organization in Ethiopia and is a truly great guy. We saw him daily and he was an immense help. I also loved his sense of humor - he has such a quick wit!

Before long, everyone had arrived and we had a short little "ice breaker" activity, led by Lynn. We were to get into small groups and share something new we had learned with the others.

Dr. Northcott began the main portion of the meeting by handing out a couple of puzzle pieces to each person in attendance. He then asked one of the attending to take his piece up to the whiteboard and place his piece in the correct place. Clearly he was confused as to where to put it - there was no way of knowing where the piece was meant to fit! Then he called on another to also place his piece on the board. They each just chose a spot and stuck their piece down. Then a woman came and did likewise - equally perplexed by what they were being asked to do.

Dr. Northcott then explained that it is difficult to know where our piece fits when we can't see the "big picture". He then brought out the photo showing what the completed puzzle was to look like. 
Soon, everyone was able to bring up their piece, and the puzzle was soon completed.

The completed puzzle was a photo of a group of children in their programs. This was the "big picture" that they needed to keep in mind when running their programs and making decisions. It was a very effective exercise.

The rest of the meeting followed with training in areas such as prioritizing, and time management. 

The rest of the expedition members got just as much out of the training as the employees did, I think. 

Jayne was the official note-taker and did a great job at it!

After the training, we had lunch brought in from a restaurant across the street. I ordered the vegetable soup and it was so good. It really hit the spot. Most of the others ordered pizza, but as we all know, I already had my share of that!

We enjoyed lunch out in the yard. It felt amazing to soak up that sunshine!

Before everyone dispersed, we took a minute to take a group photo to remember the occasion.

We didn't have much downtime after the employees left before we were piling in the vans and on our way to visit the first education center of the expedition! So exciting!!

The first center we visited is one that is right in Addis - the Gulele center

The center, like all of the Canadian Humanitarian centers, is located inside large walls, with a locked gate and a security guard on duty. As we drove up to the gate we passed many happy children on their way to the center from school. They were curious about the white people in the vans, but of course they knew the Northcotts and knew we were expedition members there to visit them.

Our goal for this day was to get the children all through medical examinations with Dr. Northcott, then have me photograph each child to update their files and have a nice new photo to give to their sponsors. Some of the other expedition members helped with taking the child's weight and height and recording it, after they had seen Dr. Northcott. Then they sent them around the corner to see me and my camera. 

I was a little shy at first - as were they - but in seconds they had me laughing and vice versa. I learned quickly how to say things like "You are very Beautiful" (BETAM KONJO NESH) and "Smile!" (sahk) as well as "thank you" (Ama-say-gen-ale-ho). We went through almost 50 kids, if I remember correctly. They were so easy to photograph - so quick to smile. They all liked to peek at the screen on the back of my camera afterward - just to catch a glimpse of their own photo. 

After we completed the medicals and photos, we had some time for me to teach a class on the basics of photography. Now, I had no frame of reference for what these children could possibly know about photography, or even cameras. 

I had to have an interpreter, which was also new to me. But we got into a rhythm and it went fine. After the class, the kids took turns playing soccer and cleaning up for dinner. I took a few photos. I was timid about photographing the kids at first - and I think they were also timid at first - but we warmed up to each other after a while :)

I have to tell you about these two - when I was taking their photos, they were acting so cool, mucho macho. I mean, they are teenage boys. I had fun teasing them and we exchanged a few laughs. On our second visit to Gulele, I was handing out copies of the photos I took of the kids (more on that later) for them to keep, and these two were incredibly grateful. They almost had tears in their eyes and kept saying "thank you! So beautiful!!" Then they did me the HUGE honor of offering their dinner to me. I couldn't accept - I mean, this was their one good meal for the day - but they were very insistent. They wanted to show me their gratitude for my having given them a photograph of themselves. It was a special thing for them to have a photograph of themselves, and I quickly realized just how special. I loved the generous gesture these young men showed to me, and it won't be forgotten.

We ended the day having dinner at a beautiful Italian restaurant. I don't even remember what I ordered. - it might have been a burger. I think my brain was taking in everything I saw and experienced that day. It was a lot.

Day 4 - S.S.C.M, Shopping, and Kirkos

I slept like a log, then was up early enough to get in a shower before breakfast - only to discover the power was out, meaning no hot water, or even water pressure. That meant I got to become acquainted with the water barrel form of showering (dumping cool water over my head using a pitcher.) It was definitely refreshing! I didn't mind it. I had a bun from a local bakery and orange juice for breakfast and took some time getting online (I used an Internet stick from Bisrat most of the time - when it worked. I honestly didn't really miss the Internet most of the time.)

We started out every morning with a team meeting, outlining our schedule for the day, discussing how we are all doing, and being given instructions. 

We started out the day (which also happened to be "Flag Day") at SSCM (Supporting Street Children and Mothers) which is a place where students and guardians can receive vocational training in a number of areas including metal working, wood working, and hair dressing. 

We were greeted by the manager there who gave us a tour and updated us on the new and exciting things happening there. I didn't understand a lot of what he was describing, but he was sure passionate about it!

We were then treated to a tour of the facility and caught a glimpse at the wonderful work being done there. Not everyone is an academic, so this place provides training that will give them marketable skills and a chance at a career that will provide well for the them. The most popular program (among boys and girls) was the hair dressing program. It was packed!

 I was amazed by how they heat their curling irons - they heat them up over an open flame. So different than what I'm used to - but these students are pros!
 The metal  and wood working were really neat - they learn how to make all kinds of things. This kind of work is quite physically demanding, especially in the work force. They are not the most popular choices at SSCM for this reason.

But they create some beautiful pieces that they can then sell, like this gorgeous dining room set:

After touring the facility, we were treated to a traditional coffee ceremony. Now, this would be something that would become the norm during our visits in Ethiopia. It is a sign of respect and is quite the process. They take green coffee beans and roast them over hot coals until they are brown

Then they grind them, by hand, and brew the coffee grounds in their traditional coffee pots, which have different chambers inside. Very cool.

I am not a coffee drinker, and they are very kind about not expecting me to drink the coffee  - no offense taken - but from what I hear, Ethiopian coffee is quite thick and rich stuff. Nothing like it in the world.

They traditionally serve their coffee with popcorn, which is prepared kind of like kettle corn - with a little bit of sugar. It is quite good (and a bit addictive!). They also served us some bottled water, which hit the spot as the day was a hot one and they don't have air conditioning.

This is one of my favorite photos of these two - they are our amazing drivers Getu and Ketema. Like I said - they made the entire experience that much more enjoyable with their good humor and nature. I always looked forward to hopping in the vans for a ride anywhere with these guys.

As we left SSCM, I took a photo of the facility which was draped in flags for Flag Day. Very festive :) I also couldn't resist photographing this older gentleman who was quietly observing the goings on at the facility. I think everyone wanted to photograph his timeless face, but was shy to ask, until I did. LOL!

We had some time after our tour, so we headed to Churchill street to do some shopping. There were hundreds of stalls with people selling touristy stuff - most of the same types of things. We were told that you have to haggle for everything (mostly because we were white, 'Ferengi') except if we shopped at a place called "Hannah's". Hannah is a friend of the Northcotts and sells high quality goods for set (and fair) prices. It was a relief to shop there. I was thrilled to find an ebony carved nativity, which was the #1 thing I was hoping to find for myself. It was less than $10 CDN. Crazy. I bought a couple of small things, but I didn't have a lot of spending money at the time because my money transfer hadn't come in, yet. I even had to borrow some from Mike to get the nativity, which he was happy to lend. 

After shopping, we had lunch at The Bow hotel (Bed & Breakfast) in Addis. This place is owned by friends of the Northcotts (Raz and Asterwho used to live in Calgary, AB, but live in Addis most of the year now. Their B&B is rated #1 in all of Addis, and I could see why. It was clean, well kept, had beautiful rooms, and a strong Internet connection (which we expedition members loved!). We were led to a beautiful balcony restaurant that was all arranged for us when we arrived. 

I ordered a traditional Canadian breakfast with pancakes, hashbrowns, eggs, sausage, fruit, and more. It felt AMAZING to eat food that was so familiar. Connie ordered a salad (seeing as this was one of the very few places we knew would be safe to order fresh veggies) and it was beautiful!

We enjoyed visiting with Raz and Aster and spending a few minutes online - sending emails, posting photos, and chatting with loved ones - while we had such a strong internet connection. It was like an oasis in a desert! LOL!

After lunch we made our way to the second center we would be visiting on our trip, Kirkos - which was located quite close to the Bow. This place was different, for me, from Gulele. The center looked somewhat the same, but it was the kids who seemed different. These kids were immediately warm and friendly, took time to talk to us (in wonderful English, I should mention), and hug us.

I spent a lot of time visiting with this group of girls who were so brilliant and took the time to teach me to count in Amharic. They were so funny and loved to laugh as I tried to wrap my tongue around those difficult words. I then taught them how to count in french and german  - which they loved. The one girl in the center and I hit it off and I gave her the nickname of "teacher" which she ate right up.

Once everyone had arrived we gathered inside the center where we were all introduced. The kids were given the challenge to repeat back the names of all of the volunteers, which they did an amazing job of. 

We split up into groups - one group went out into the courtyard where Connie taught them a class on bullying. They were super impressed with her uniform and took her very seriously.

The other group worked on cards for their sponsors - using 4X6 cards I donated from my Project Life card stash. They were so careful and serious about what they would write, knowing it would be going to their sponsors. So precious.

I, of course, spent my time photographing every child in attendance while they worked through each of the classes. I loved getting a chance to see and speak with each child, individually, and to see their unique characters. It was a highlight for me.
It was hard not to notice how much they love each other and how affectionate they are with one another.

After the classes were done and we were spending some free time in the courtyard, I noticed one of the older boys hanging out near the back gate, so I went over and began to chat with  him. During the conversation he asked me about my family and I showed him a photo on my phone. I asked him if he had any siblings. He smiled, looked at all of the kids playing in the yard, and said "Yes. I have 50.". That choked me up and had me realizing how important these centers were for these kids. It wasn't just about getting an education or a hot meal - this was about a sense of family, belonging somewhere. 

It was enjoyable to watch the kids horsing around with Dick and Connie and others. They sure loved to have fun and laugh, which amazes me knowing what I do about some of their horrific backgrounds and sad circumstances many are in. 
I instantly fell in love with this group - and was overwhelmed by the love they willingly showed me, someone who had barely walked into their lives a couple of hours prior.

We had dinner at a gorgeous Chinese food restaurant in Addis - I can't remember the name. The inside was beautiful and clean, and the food was delicious. There are many workers in Ethiopia from China as China is involved in building much of the infrastructure there - so it really wasn't that strange to be eating at an Asian restaurant while in Africa :)

Around the dinner table we chatted about the day and what our feelings were. I don't get emotional often (except when I'm feeling the Holy Spirit) but I was very touched by the kids I saw that day and the great hope and faith they show. 

After dinner we headed back to the house where most people hit the sack. I had photos to edit so that we could have them printed and ready to hand out to the kids when we visited the center again. I had a few of these late nights, but I didn't mind the quiet and alone time to ponder on what I was experiencing. 

Day 5 - Kality, Kirkos (part 2), Home visits, Sabahar, and the Yod Abyssinia
That morning I sure didn't feel as bright-eyed and bushy-tailed as I had been previously. The Hyenas had been in the city (the house is located near the edge of the city, so it was common to have groups of Hyenas wandering into the city to scavenge) so the dogs were going crazy barking and howling. The window in our bedroom didn't close all the way, so it sounded like they were right there in our room with us. I had brought ear plugs, which helped a little to mute the sounds but seriously - I was convinced the zombie apocalypse was occurring out there!
The first thing on our agenda for the day was a trip out to another one of the CH centers - this time in Kality, which is located on the outskirts of Addis. The purpose of our visit was to give a "Days For Girls" presentation which covered female reproduction and hygiene, as well as provided a kit for each girl in attendance which included all of the following:
PC: Days For Girls website
Many girls miss out on going to school once their period begins - mainly because she doesn't have access to feminine hygiene products. The Days for Girls program donated several of these re-usable hygiene kits which we handed out to the girls after having the reproduction and hygiene class, presented by Dick and Deb.
The drive out to Kality was beautiful - we went the highway route which took us outside the city and allowed us to see some lovely scenery. The highway was in the process of being completed and was a bit rough in patches, but will be beautiful and functional when it's finished.

In about a half hour we pulled up to the Kality center

There were already several young women and some of their female guardians there when we arrived. And soon several more made their way in through the gates.

Deb and Dick welcomed and greeted those who were there - Deb knows everyone's names. I don't know how she remembers everyone.

Once everyone was situated, Dick began by giving a female reproduction and a bit of an anatomy class, explaining why girls get periods and why they are perfectly normal and healthy. It was eye-opening to hear some of the myths and misconceptions surrounding female reproduction that exist in certain cultures, particularly in the third world. I could see the "lights" going on as he explained the biology of it. 
 Bisrat translated - the two of them work seamlessly together.

Deb took over from there and (after any of the men were asked to leave) explained the Days for Girls feminine hygiene packets. She explained how they work and how to care for them.

After she finished her demonstration, each young woman was able to come up and pick out a packet to keep.

After the Days for Girls presentation, we visited for a short while. I went over to a little hut near the back gate of the center where there were some women busy cooking over a fire, preparing a meal for the students who were in attendance.
Hiding behind his mother's skirt was the cutest little guy I ever did see.
 He was super shy and didn't even want to look at me, at first. But, he really couldn't help stealing a glance or two, and every time he did, I would make a funny face or play peek-a-boo with him. It wasn't long before I got a shy smile.
He was just beginning to eat his little lunch of rice while we played.

His mother smiled as she watched the exchange.
As we were preparing to leave the center, he took his plate and reached it out toward me, offering to share. 
It meant so much that he, who had so little, was willing to share with someone he really just met. Such generosity.
I even got one extra little peek-a-boo from him as we started to drive away.

On the way home from Kality, we stopped at Sabahar, a company that creates exquisite handmade Ethiopian textiles. Kathy, the founder and manager, is friends with one of our expedition members, so she gave a little tour around the facility.

They use all natural dyes and make their own threads. They had many lines where yarn was drying after having been dyed.

These were cocoons where they get their silks from. So cool!
 The company was located in a little Oasis, right in the city. It was like a tropical paradise in there.

 The colors of their threads were so gorgeous. I just wanted to take a bunch home with me. Unfortunately for me - they don't sell their yarn because they go through it too quickly making their textiles.

 Sabahar is a fair trade organization who focus on sustainability and providing work opportunities for artisans in Ethiopia. It was neat to see.

The resulting products are exquisite. You just have to feel them in your fingers to understand the quality. Absolutely gorgeous. 

I purchased a few gifts here for some extra special people in my life - people who, I felt, deserve something a little extra special. I bought a couple of scarves, some handkerchiefs, and a tea towel. 

We headed back to Kirkos for our second visit.  I was looking forward to seeing those kids again. They were there to welcome us with their big smiles and open arms (did I mention they love to hug?). We started out by singing "You And I" - a song written and performed by Andrew Allen in support of the CH programs. They helped to perform the song at a concert while he was there on an expedition, and they loved to sing that song. 

After singing together, we split into two groups again. This time, one group went inside the center with Mike to learn some basic Karate and self-defense. They loved it.

The other group was with me, learning photography basics. This group was much more interested in what I was saying than the group at Gulele was. I think this was because they have a photography club at the center so the kids had some experience with photography.  My interpreter (and one of the mangers of the center) was Abiy and he was really passionate about photography, too. I would say a short sentence, and he would go on and on about what I had said. It was so cute. 

I had fun acting out different scenarios with them and showing them what kind of light is best in different situations. I felt better about that presentation, and think I did a much better job than the first time. 

After the classes, we had fun playing with the kids and learning some of their games. They love clapping games and playing tag. 

We didn't play long because we had some home visits to make. I was looking forward to visiting these great kids in their own homes and getting to know their guardians. But I was also hesitant because I knew that I would be witnessing these amazing kids in some disturbing circumstances. I wasn't sure how my heart would handle or process what I would be seeing. 

The first place we stopped (the group split up into two groups because most residences can't accommodate more than 2-3 visitors at most) was at a little boy's home. It wasn't too bad at all. 

His home had four walls, a roof, and even two rooms (a main family room and a room where they sleep) with some furniture, electricity, and even a little TV. It was a comfortable looking space, though quite small. It was nice to speak with his guardian and see the support he has at home. 
I caught myself thinking, "hey, I was expecting a lot worse." This wasn't maybe what we were used to in Canada, but it was safe and comfortable with the necessities of life (and even a few "niceties")
 The second place we stopped was a different story. This young mother lived in what I can only call a "hut" of sorts, put together with cardboard, tarps, and a couple of old mattresses for walls. It was tiny and I could see it offered no security whatsoever.

 This mother provided for her daughter by washing the laundry of the people who lived in the neighborhood. One day a tragedy struck when her little hut was set on fire and all of her belongings, including the laundry she had taken in to wash, were destroyed. She already made next to nothing, had to pay rent on her little hut, and now owed the people in the neighborhood for the clothing that had burned. She was in dire straits. 
 Through the interview process (one person asks questions while another records the information) we learned that Canadian Humanitarian had provided a couple of mattresses to make walls out of, as well as some basic necessities like a few new dishes/bowls etc. 
 When it came time to ask if she had anything to tell us that we could pass along to Canadian Humanitarian (giving an opening for them to ask for something or express some needs) and all this sweet mother said was her profound thanks and gratitude for the CH program and the blessing of having her child in the program. She didn't ask for a thing. It was amazing to me. I could feel a paradigm shift happening to me as I observed and listened to these humble, grateful people. 
I knew that I would never look at my Canadian home the same way again - my home in a safe country, with security for my daughters, and all of life's comforts. 

Dinner was extra special that night - we were headed to the Yod Abbyssinia! It's a traditional Ethiopian restaurant which not only serves traditional Ethiopian food (so good) but also provides entertainment in the form of a live traditional music and dance. The dancers are unreal and the music is very lively. 
 The lighting was quite dark which made getting good photos really difficult, but I got what I could.
The performers dress in the traditional clothing from the different regions they were representing in their dances. It was interesting to see the costume changes and to enjoy the different types of music. 
Now, the FOOD! It is so delicious. We had traditional injera (a sourdough flat bread - very spongey - made from teff flour) with a variety of different foods like Wat, Tibbs, and more, which you eat by tearing off a piece of injera and picking up some of the stew-like dishes to eat. 
I sat next to Ketema who tore off a piece, picked up a few different foods, then fed it to me. It was a sign of love and respect. Then I did the same for him. We did that around the table and it was a cool tradition to experience. Besides, his food combinations were awesome. He knows exactly what flavors mesh well together. 

Once we were home, I spent quite a while editing photos and getting them ready.  Then it was off to bed!

Day 6 - Organizing, Entoto Hill, Hilton, Gulele (part 2), and Home Visits
Day 6 was a much easier, laid-back kind of day, which was a good thing since I had slept terribly the night previous. I had some oatmeal for breakfast, had a hot shower (amazing) and even got an internet signal so I was able to post a few photos and answer some emails. 
 We had the morning basically to ourselves to do whatever we'd like to do. We started by organizing the massive number of donations that we would be taking to the Halecu center the next day - putting together back packs for each child, gathering books that would go into the new library at the center, and gathering other supplies that we would be taking. Halecu was a village a couple of hours outside of Addis where we would be staying for a couple of days.

Mike, Connie, and I decided to use the rest of the morning for heading out with Getu for a tour up Entoto Hill and a visit to the palace built by Menelik II and used it as his headquarters during the founding of Addis Ababa. We also were looking forward to checking out St. Mary’s Church.

As we drove the winding road up to the top of Entoto Hill, we passed by many women who were carrying enormous bunches of firewood/kindling down the hill. I could only imagine the weight bearing down on their bent frames. Getu said that the bundles of kindling weighed about 100 lbs and that these women made the trek up and down the mountain twice per day. I just couldn't imagine.

It was difficult getting a photo as we drove past. If we stopped to take a photo, we would be expected to pay them.

Once we neared the top of the mountain, we pulled over and climbed up to a look out point where we were able to get a beautiful view of the city. It was a bit of a smoggy day, so the photo isn't the clearest. We ran into a large tour group there who were from Germany, I think. Many of the group were taking several photos of the locals near by, but when they would hold out their hands for a donation, the tourists ignored them and walked away. I paid one woman I took a photo of - even though she didn't see me take it. She had been spurned by some of the other tourists, and I felt bad.

We continued on up to the top of Entoto and first decided to tour around the palace museum. We had to leave our cameras and phones so that we couldn't take any photos inside. I was super hesitant to leave my camera equipment, but they had little lockers where they would be secured. Getu also stayed outside to keep an eye on things, which made me feel better.

The museum was a tad underwhelming, though it was kind of cool to see some of the old artifacts from their previous royal families. We had a tour guide take us through, and it maybe took 15-20 minutes total.

Getu then acted as a tour guide around the grounds where he showed us the old palace buildings where the King could see for miles all around. It gave us some great insight into the history of the Ethiopian Monarchy. The palace consisted of several different buildings which looked quite primitive compared to what we're used to. It was even considered primitive back then, compared to the palaces he abandoned to come to Addis.

Getu pointed out the first Eucalyptus tree ever brought to Ethiopia - it was enormous! The Emperor Menelik II approved the planting of the Eucalyptus trees as a solution to the deforestation happening as trees were cut down in droves for firewood. The Eucalyptus tree is fast growing and can be harvested every 10 years. Now these trees line the countryside, especially on Mount Entoto. But this tree was the very first, and it's still standing tall!

The St. Mary's Church on Entoto Hill was very interesting looking. Their churches are painted in vibrant colors with murals of their saints painted on panels along the walls. It is still in operation, I guess - and there were several people there to worship outside and around the church.

After our visit to Entoto Hill, we made a short stop to the market nearby for Connie to pick up some things, then headed to the Hilton Hotel for lunch. I didn't take any photos - I guess I was too busy stuffing my face with the Cajun chicken and ice cream I ordered. The dining area was outside in a gorgeous covered deck. 

We had an enjoyable time visiting over lunch, and then headed to the nearby Gulele center for our second visit. This would be the first center where I would be handing out photographs to each of the students. Deb ordered 6X8 prints for each student and they turned out beautifully. I couldn't wait to hand them out to the kids.

But first, Jayne, Lynn, and I would be going on a few home visits while Mike and Connie taught their self-defense and bullying class.
We passed by some eye-opening sights. I could hardly comprehend that what I was seeing were homes. Places where people actually lived.

I thought these were some kind of wheelbarrow but was told they were also homes.

The first stop was sure a memorable one. We drove to a back street and entered into a gated area. I saw a building/home there and thought "Well, this one is one of the good ones". There were several women who came out to meet us, including this happy and colorful woman. I think she lived in one of the rooms in the house, but I'm not sure. I just couldn't resist taking a photo of her.

We greeted the mother outside the building, who then led us, not into the house, but around the side. Here we had to traverse through a narrow (and I mean NARROW) passage between the side of the house and the metal fence. I had to turn sideways, suck in my gut, and shimmy through about 20 feet of this, with the pointy ends of nails poking through my clothes as I went.

The ladies in the compound were laughing and cheering me on. I had visions of getting stuck and I am already a little claustrophobic. But, I thankfully made it through and around to the back of the home where I saw the actual living accommodations of the student and his mother. It was a tiny lean-to set up  between the back of the house and the back fence, with pieces of corrugated metal and other scraps (tarps or what have you) for a roof. We couldn't even fit inside to visit, so we kind of sat on a small mattress that protruded out into the entrance of the shelter. 

We couldn't fathom where she and her children fit in that tiny lean to which was stacked with their minimal belongings. We asked if they slept on the mattress we were sitting on, and she told us that she rented out that space to a tenant to help pay the rent. What? You mean she was paying RENT on that tiny little shack, with a leaky roof and no where to even sit? I could hardly believe it. I could hardly believe that her son was the happy, bright boy in the Gulele center - looking sharp and doing well in school. How could this child live in these conditions? And thrive? I was totally taken aback. 

I couldn't help but feel angry at the discrepancy between what I was seeing here, and the excess that I saw everywhere in North America. How can that be fair? How can we, who have so very much, turn a blind eye to people who are in such need, and who could have their lives changed with so little from us? It changed me in that moment. I couldn't ever forget what I was seeing or how it made me feel. Something had to change. 

Our second visit was to the home of a sweet girl in the program. They lived in a small room in a little community, surrounded by other rooms/apartments. It was smaller than most bedrooms here, and it was their entire house. There was no parent there, only an older sister who ran things while their father was away trying to find work. I could see the love and affection those two sisters had for one another and I realized just how vital our relationships with those we love are.

As we left their little home we came across this woman who was busy weaving in her doorway where there was some light. One thing I noticed about the people in Ethiopia - no one was idle. Everyone was busy doing something.
Our next visit was in a gated community which had a couple of clay walled homes. One of them was the home of one of the Gulele students who lived with his aging grandparents. And I mean AGING - they were both 98 years old. 
 They begged for a living, which was getting more difficult as his grandmother was going blind and deaf, and mobility was getting more difficult. I realized what a sacrifice it was for them to send their grandchild to school and the program when he could be helping them earn money or food instead. They truly want what is best for their grandchild and at great personal sacrifice. I admired them greatly.
I had to laugh because, when we tried to open the gate after our visit, we found that it was stuck pretty tight. As we tried to wrench it open we heard a shout from down the hill by their home and saw grandpa running (literally running) fast up the hill toward us, where he gave the gate a swift kick until it swung open. I couldn't believe how spry he was for his age! 

We made one final home visit - this time was to a nice little 2 bedroom home that housed about 7 people. The main room had some old furniture and even a little black and white television which was playing a documentary on Michael Jackson. Awesome.

The child's mother, grandmother, and other relatives all lived here together (they must have slept in the back room together - the room behind the hanging blanket). The mother had prepared a traditional coffee ceremony for us - again, at great personal sacrifice. I had to decline, but I was honored that they would do that for us. We understood that they felt it a great honor to have us in their home, which was foreign to me. 
After the last home visit, we headed back to the center where we caught the end of the presentation that Mike and Connie were putting on. The kids were totally enthralled!

I had the chance, once presentations were done, to present the kids with copies of their portraits as well as a gift to the center of a Project Life album and card kit to keep at the center to document the visitors to the center and give them a place to write notes to the kids there. It was very well received - the kids' faces lit up when they saw that they each got to keep a photo of themselves. It was such a treasure.

This was the little boy who lived in the lean to behind the house which we visited that evening. I hoped that his mother would enjoy having a photo of her son and feel proud of the young man he was growing up to be.
Inside the album, we placed a photo of our expedition group that we had taken the day before as well as some handwritten notes of love and gratitude to the people at the center. It was a nice little keepsake for the center.
One of the security guards who hadn't been there the day I was doing the portraits asked if I could photograph him. I realized that it wasn't just the children who rarely saw images of themselves. I was happy to oblige.
And, of course, there were a few others who wanted more photos of themselves. I could only oblige a couple before the sun was all but gone.

Then it was time to eat - on the menu: spaghetti. This was the meal where the two teenage boys offered me their meal in gratitude for taking their photo and giving them a copy. I did take some photos of the kids getting their food, but it was so dark that it wasn't easy to get a decent shot.

We had dinner at home, which I skipped because I was feeling quite physically and emotionally exhausted, and hit the sack after a very fulfilling and eye opening day.

Day 7 - Halecu, Elementary School, Hotel
What a day this was! We arose bright and early, packed up some overnight bags, and boarded the vans for the couple hour drive to Lake Ziway, and the village of Halecu. 
I was having some interesting tummy troubles (nothing major) and was experiencing some light-headedness. I think it was due to the anti-malaria medication I had just started prior to heading out to Halecu, which was  Malaria hot spot. So the drive there wasn't the best. I just sat quietly, enjoying the scenery and hoping to make it to the hotel before my gut exploded. There was a lot of beautiful scenery to take in, as well.
Watching the country side pass outside my window felt somewhat like watching a documentary. It was a strange, out of body experience. The acacia trees, the grass/mud huts, farmers, even herds of camels - it was a little mesmerizing for me. 
We arrived at the hotel (Hoteela Betaleem, aka The Bethlehem Hotel) and were able to get our rooms. They were pretty nice and I won't lie - I was looking forward to a couple of nights with a room to myself. The rooms had a bed, TV, table, shower, bathroom, sink - everything you'd need. 

We had a short break before we headed out to the center in the village of Halecu. It was only about a 10 minute drive from the hotel. It was incredibly dusty, as they were experiencing a severe drought, and the herds of cattle roaming the streets kicked up quite a cloud of dust.

We weren't expecting kids to be there (we thought they would be in school - but school was out that day) but we were surprised to find the children there waiting for us with big smiles and even some flowers for Dr. Northcott.
 I didn't get into a lot of the group shots because I was usually the photographer. But here is the group at Halecu - and we all fell in love with these kids pretty quickly. One thing I noticed quite quickly was that these kids were different than the kids I had met in the previous centers. I could tell that their clothing was in rough shape, they were very thin, and just looked like they were in rough shape. Still had huge smiles on their faces, though.

As more kids arrived at the center, they would immediately go to the water pump and get themselves cleaned up. These kids were brand new in a brand new program and haven't had the benefits of being in a program like this. These were kids who were just at the beginning stages of the transformation that these programs would make for them. I was excited at the prospect of watching that transformation occur with these kids over the next few years until they resemble the kids at the other centers - healthy, happy, and with a bright future.
As I was taking photos, the kids were so anxious to see the screen at the back. I'm sure these kids, who live out in a remote village, rarely catch a glimpse at a photo of themselves.
The kids and their leaders had the center decorated with balloons and the traditional scattering of grasses on the ground. They wanted to welcome us in style! We all gathered by the center, out of the hot sun, and prepared to be served a treat, traditional coffee, and have the children sing for us.

 Even the kids got in on the snacks, which they totally loved.
 This was a new center for the organization and these kids were brand new to the program. None of these kids had sponsors and this whole idea of having an education center, having their school tuition paid, and being fed was new to them.
After they sang for us, Dick sat down and started singing some kids songs with them. I think the favorite was "The Wheels On The Bus".
After the welcome and snacks, the kids asked if we wanted to take a walk with them from the center to their elementary school to check it out and see what projects they are working on there. It was just a short walk, they said. It will be fun, they said. So, off we went.
They said it wasn't going to be far, and I suppose for them it wasn't far. It ended up being about 45 minutes of walking along a dusty, and then sandy, trail through the grassland in the oppressive heat with minimal water (I mean, it was going to just be a short walk!) and all of my camera gear in my backpack. I don't know if you have ever walked on sand before, but it isn't easy. 
I couldn't believe the distance these kids had to walk every day, twice a day, to attend their school, which was quite a ways off from the village. These were children ages 5-10 years old! I couldn't imagine sending my little one off on such a walk every day to get to school. But, these kids do it and they stick together with one another to make the walk more enjoyable.
I knew that these kids probably made the walk in a fraction of the time we were making, but I was touched that they insisted on walking along side us the whole way. One little guy, Yosef, held my hand the entire walk. We didn't speak the same language, but affection knows no boundaries. 

During the walk we saw some interesting sights - herds of cattle, beautiful country side, and even some of these guys hauling hay.
We finally arrived at the school and headed for the shade on the side of the school house.

I mean, just look at these kids
Once we had a chance to rest for a few minutes, the kids showed us their fruit trees that they are charged with caring for. They have built little shelters from sticks with thorns to offer a little shade and keep animals away from the plants as they grow.
They also showed us the fruit orchard they have growing with a variety of different fruits. All of the plants looked very wilted and parched from the drought. They were not doing well at all.
The kids have the job of carrying water from their nearby well and watering the plants. They also have to dig small wells around each plant to allow the water to stay near the plant and nourish it. 

 It is hard work in the heat, even for kids who grow up being used to it.
We grabbed some hoes and started to help with the work. The way their hoes are designed makes the work easier, using the weight of the hoe and momentum to do most of the work for you.

We hadn't brought extra water and it was hot and dusty. I had to cringe a little when I saw the kids guzzling down the water from the filthy watering can. But a tiny part of me was envious that at least he could get something to drink
Watching the dust blowing around these kids, I got a sense of the dire situation these people are in. They received a fraction of the rainfall that they usually expect in that region and their crops are failing. It was scary to think about the awful state these people would be in, in a few months.
I was relieved that, when it was time to head back, the vans had appeared to drive us. I won't lie - I felt like I got too much sun and wasn't feeling so great. 
When we returned back to the center, we first quenched our thirst with some warm bottled water we had brought with us from the house in Addis, and then had a small packed lunch of buns and cheese. We were able to finish eating before the kids returned (they walked from the school) so we then helped hand out lunch to the kids. Because it was a special occasion, the kids were given some soda to drink with their piece of bread that they get for lunch. They were in heaven!
It was amusing to watch the kids shaking the soda and being totally enamored with how it would fizz and bubble.
After lunch a few different things were happening. We gave every child a name tag and lined them up to be weighed and measured, then have their photos taken, then go in to see Dr. Northcott for a physical examination. It was a well-oiled machine. It helped that this was the fewest number of kids that we had to work with at any of the centers. There was only 25 in Halecu (seeing it was a new program.)
 Even though there weren't a lot of kids to work through, the wait was still quite a while. These kids were so patient and well-behaved while they waited their turn.
 Dr. Northcott said that as he examined each child, he would ask them if they had any health concerns to tell him, and without exception, they all said "no", and without exception, they had something that would require attention. They just aren't concerned with themselves at all. He showed us some children who were suffering from the effects of malnutrition - lacking in basic vitamins and things like Iodine in their diets. Some children had yellowing hair, others had absolutely tiny limbs, and others had bad cases of head lice. There were many medical problems, but thankfully these would be treated and these kids would be feeling better in no time.

After the measuring and photos were finished, there was still quite a wait for the kids to get in to see Dr. Northcott, so Connie and I spent an hour or so breaking adult sized multi-vitamins in half for the kids to have each day. Costco donated a few bottles of these vitamins but they needed to be smaller for the kids. We ended up with blisters but had a great chat and knew we were helping out.
In the meantime, Mike was teaching his karate basics class to the kids in the room that would be used for their new library. 

Not long after that, it was time for us to start getting ready to head back to the hotel. But first, we had to say our goodbyes to the kids while they had their snack of delicious bananas.

Back at the hotel we had a couple of hours to ourselves, which was bliss for me. The first item of business? SHOWER!! I have never had so much dirt and dust on me and on my clothing in my life. My socks were grimy and my clothing was so filthy I didn't even want to pack it up in my suitcase. It did feel amazing to have a nice hot shower and get all cleaned up. 
After I was cleaned up, I sat on the bed with my laptop and a (sort of)internet connection, editing the photos from the day and even watching some TV. It took some time to find a station in english, but I found a movie channel as well as CNN. I ended up watching some news and then catching half of a movie - can't even remember which one. Mustn't have been very good.
I even had a chance to chat with Lyndon a bit online and find out that things were going well back at home. It's always a relief to touch base and reconnect with my loved ones at home. 
We met at the restaurant for supper. With lake Ziway so close (as in a block away) fresh fish was the obvious choice for dinner. I ordered grilled fish with rice and roasted veggies. The veggies weren't cooked very much, and it's not wise to trust uncooked veggies there, so I stayed away from those, but the fish and rice were amazing. I was so hungry! It's a good thing portion sizes are enormous in Ethiopian restaurants. 
I headed to my room after dinner, feeling quite a bit of home sickness for the first time. Maybe it was the chat with my husband, maybe it was the weight of the things I was witnessing, maybe it was exhaustion - but I had a good cry. I also had to stay awake into the night to finish editing photos so that we could get them printed to hand out to the kids the next day. It wasn't long before a migraine started, which was not a pleasant thing. Thankfully it only lasted a couple of hours and I was able to get some sleep. 
Day 8 - Halecu (part 2), Home Visits, Swimming
I slept quite well after my headache decided to hit the road, and met up with everyone at the breakfast table. After a delicious meal we headed back out to the village of Halecu and to the center. It was Saturday, but most of the kids were already there and cleaning up at the water pump.
After dropping us off, the vans had a bit of trouble getting back out of the yard. There was a ledge that it couldn't get over without some help. Too funny.

We had some time before the rest of the kids were to arrive, so Connie and I decided it would be fun to teach the kids some action songs that we knew. I did songs like "Once There Was A Snowman" and "Do As I'm Doing" and Connie taught some songs she had learned in Girl Guides. The kids really got into it and didn't want to stop, even when I was getting pooped out.
Jayne and Lynn weren't there for the morning as they were at another building teaching some business classes to the parents/guardians group. 
After playing some games we took some pictures of the gorgeous kiddos while we waited for the rest of the kids to arrive.
Once the kids had all arrived, and washed up, we started by having Connie teacher her bullying and self-defence class. The interpreting was trickier this time since the language was a different and it didn't translate as well, but the kids got the gist of what she was trying to teach them.

We decided to teach the kids how to make paper airplanes and they absolutely LOVED this simple idea. It took some time to help each of them learn how to fold the paper into the plane shape, and demonstrate how to throw them, but once they got the hang of it, it was party time!!

 Paper airplanes ended up on the roof, outside the fence, and everywhere else. It was actually sad because we opened the gate to go and retrieve some lost airplanes and we would see the kids from the village standing outside, yearning to be a part of what was going on inside. We left a few paper airplanes out there for them. I wished we had enough funds to support each and every child in Ethiopia.
Later we had the kids each draw a picture of some of their favorite things so that I could bring them back to Canada to share with my friends here. They were SO intent on what they were doing and took great care to do a very good job on their drawings. 

They drew things they loved like the trees, or their school, their friends or the water pump. Some were different from the list I might see from kids in North America, but other things were just the same. Kids are kids, no matter their circumstances and no matter where in the world they live.
The kids had a simple lunch of bread and some water, which us volunteers also enjoyed. It was delicious bread!

We were waiting for the book shelf that we had ordered the day before to arrive. Once it did, we were ready to roll for the last portions of the day's activities.
The kids were split into two groups and Deb explained what each group would be doing. She opened one of the suitcases we had packed and showed the kids the many, many books that had been donated for the new library at their center. Half of the kids went with Jayne, Lynn, and Mike to help put books on the shelves and to have a chance to read some of them. 


The other half of the group each received a new toothbrush and were taught proper dental hygiene. It was so adorable watching them learn how to use a toothbrush for the very first time.

Each group switched and was able to do the other activity - it was very enjoyable for all of the kids. 
Just as the day with the kids was drawing to a close we had a couple more special presentations to make. 
First I was able to hand out the photographs that I had taken the day before to each of the kids. They absolutely loved them!

 Then I explained the Project Life album and cards that we were donating to their center and showed them how it worked. The loved that, too. (But I think were still a bit preoccupied with their photographs.)

We also gave out some toys that had been personally donated by some friends back in Canada. 
There was yet another presentation to make! We gave each child one of the backpacks we had been putting together before. They each were beyond ecstatic with the backpacks AND the blankets and other goodies inside. These backpacks contained more possessions than these kids ever owned,

 It was so satisfying to see the kids who received the blankets sewn by some of the YW in our ward, including my own daughter. These kids were beyond thrilled with them.

 Such a precious group of children!

Before long, it was time for the kids to head home, and for us to head out on some home visits. I first got a photo with the little girl who stole my heart and whom I decided we were going to sponsor as a family. Her name is "A" and she is a complete little doll.
As we were driving away we caught a couple of the little boys already playing with their little cars on the dirt roads on  the way home. They just couldn't wait!
My group made our first stop for our first home visit in Halecu and I was happily surprised to find out that we would be visiting the home of the little girl I am sponsoring.
She lives with her grandmother in a mud hut with a small yard and some chickens running around.
We were able to visit with her and her grandmother, who was beaming with pride over "A". We asked her if "A" ever talks about school or the center and she shouted "OH yes! She loves to talk and talk about the center and she has been talking in ENGLISH all the time." She was so grateful that "A" was chosen to be in the program and has a chance at an education and a future!
It was a one-room hut and was very dark inside. They had few possessions and I had concerns over how poorly the crops in the area were doing because of the drought they were experiencing. How were all of these people going to eat when their crops failed completely? I knew that "A" would be fed at the program, because of sponsorship, but what about everyone else?

Our second home visit was to another hut - a woman with several children. As we approached, she embraced us and kissed our cheeks, over and over and over again. It was a profound show of gratitude that I don't believe I had ever experienced before in my life. And I hadn't, myself, really done anything for her, except been there to show support and visit with her. 

She cared deeply for her children and, like the others we had previously spoken to, was filled with gratitude for the opportunities that the CH programs were giving to her child.  It was humbling to listen to her. 
Outside, the kids were waiting quietly for our visit to close. I found this beautiful  young girl carrying her infant sibling on a sling on her back. Such a beautiful young woman who deserves a chance at a future.
 These families are very close to one another and help each other with everything. It is the family unit beautifully at work. I hurt for these little ones, though, who had so little - clothing literally falling apart, but who shared an easy smile with us strangers.
After home visits we had some time before dinner, so a few of us walked across the street from our hotel to a super swanky hotel which shared their pool facilities with people staying at the "Bethlehem" hotel. 
 Just walking across the road from our hotel felt like I was in a documentary film.
It was crazy how different the grounds of the neighboring hotel looked - it was like a completely different world, stepping through the gate.
It was lush, green, elegant, clean. It was situated right on the banks of Lake Ziway where we could see a bunch of large birds bathing - geese, storks, and cranes galore!

 Seeing how close they were to so much water broke my heart because of the thousands of people nearby who are suffering from the drought. 
A few of our group actually decided to swim while the rest just relaxed by the pool in the shade. I took the time to catch up on my journal writing. I heard the water in the pool was pretty cold - ha ha!
Dinner was fish, again (I mean, it was freshly caught from the lake and I couldn't say no!" and another late night editing in my room. I was going to miss having my own room, my own space, but it was our last night in Lake Ziway. My clothes were so filthy that I didn't even want to pack them in my overnight bag. I felt grimy to the extreme. Blah!
Day 9 - Lake Ziway and Scholarship Students Dinner
 We woke up feeling refreshed after a good night's sleep and joined at the hotel patio for breakfast. It was nice because we were able to pre-order our breakfast the night before so it would be ready for us in the morning. One of the staff members had prepared a gorgeous coffee ceremony, complete with blossoms from the trees in the garden. I was definitely going to miss this place!

After breakfast (I had french toast) we walked across to the other hotel grounds to find out about a boat tour around Lake Ziway.
 Walking across this street really made me feel like I was living in a documentary film!
 I absolutely loved the enormous tree in the courtyard of the other hotel grounds, and watching the enormous storks and cranes who roosted in the branches.

 The pathway to the edge of the lake passed right by the tree and gave us a really nice view.

We were told that the wait would be about an hour or so, so we settled in at the edge of the lake to visit for a while until a boat returned to take us on our tour.

It didn't seem long before our boat arrived. It was larger than I expected (thankfully) and we were outfitted with life jackets and led onboard.
The lake is large, but not very deep. It was a bit windy that day, so we were given a nice spray from the waves against the boat - a lot. I was hiding my camera under my vest much of the time to protect it from getting too wet. But I did manage to capture some of the view as we motored past on our way to one of the many islands.

 We passed by the occasional boat filled with travelers on their way from one part of the lake to another. This one was pretty full!
 I enjoyed watching these pelicans watching the fish that this fisherman was trying to haul in.
 Our first stop was on one of the larger islands on the lake - where a small temple was built at the top. We didn't realize that the lake tour included a nice hike up to the very top of the island, but we were about to find out!
We pulled ashore and hopped from the boat, narrowly missing getting our feet wet. We followed our guide along a path that crossed by an old hut and we saw a couple of elderly people watching from the shade. We also caught glimpses of some goats, sheep, and chickens. We were told that this is the last family who lives on this island, but that it used to have many more living there.
We started the hike up the rocky trail and tried our best to keep up. It was difficult because it was hot, rocky, we weren't planning for a hike and didn't have the best footwear, and we were distracted by so many neat things to see. I especially was fascinated by the large numbers of HUGE spider webs which were filled with hundreds of big spiders all hanging out together. Thankfully there weren't any webs along the path, but they were almost everywhere else. So cool!

I was also distracted by the flora and the glimpse of little lizards now and again.
It really wasn't more than a half hour or so of hiking before we reached the top and saw the small chapel/temple at the top. Like the other temples we saw earlier this one was brightly painted and had murals of their saints along the side. 
Over to the right was another small structure - I'm not sure if it was the living quarters for the priest who was there or not. It makes me marvel that there is a priest there for the family who lives on the island - of course, he may also be there for the tourists who come through.
After a brief stay at the top, we made our descent (much more easily than the ascent) and stopped to take a group photo in front of one of the large trees on the island. It's difficult to portray the magnitude of these trees, but they are enormous and breathtaking.

As we were preparing to leave the island, an old woman came out of the hut to offer us some flat bread she had prepared for us. 
We graciously took the bread and sampled it (it was incredibly sour and not very tasty, but such a sacrifice for this woman to prepare for us) and many of us tipped her with some birr we had on hand. I wonder how many people visit her island every day, and how often she offers this bread to others.
I also had to take a quick photograph of, who I can only assume was, her husband.
As our boat pulled away, I was struck by how simply these people live out their existence and how peaceful it seems. 
Our next stop on the lake tour was "bird island" which is essentially a small island completely covered in bushes/trees where large numbers of birds (fishers and others) come to roost. It was't an island that we could stop off at, we just slowed down and floated near it for a while to see the hundreds (or even thousands) of birds hanging out there. 

Finally, it was time to head over to the area of the lake where the Hippos like to hang out. The guide said there were hundreds of hippos in those waters, though we saw maybe a dozen surface. I was so nervous to be around them, knowing how dangerous they are, but we kept a safe distance. I was able to get a couple of shots of them surfacing using my telephoto lens. I can't explain how crazy it felt to be floating in their natural habitat and seeing them right at home.

Soon it was time to head back to the docking area and head back to our hotel. The tour was a definite highlight for me.

We had a quick lunch at the Bethlehem hotel before loading back in the vans for the drive back to Addis.
The scenery is always breathtaking in the countryside. I could have just stared out the window for hours. I tried my best to capture some scenes as we zipped by the highway - it was a decent road so it was smooth enough to get some shots.

We made one quick stop on the way home to buy a couple of watermelons then arrived back at the Eden house to discover that the power was out! With all of the scholarship students about to arrive for dinner and a program, and the sun quickly setting, it wasn't welcome news. I had a super quick "shower" with the barrel water, dressed, and brought my camera equipment downstairs to prepare to photograph the scholarship students as they arrived. With no power and very little light, I had to improvise and use my flash, which I diffused and bounced off the ceiling, along with a tiny bit of window light still available. We hung up an old table cloth on the wall as a make-shift backdrop. The photos turned out pretty good, considering the circumstances.

 While they continued to arrive, they filled out some cards for their sponsors in America. 

Then they tried some Twister and thought it was hilarious.
Each of the students (once they all had arrived) took turns introducing themselves and what they were studying. These kids came from off the streets before they were brought into the CH programs, and now they are all in University studying things like Engineering, Heavy Duty Mechanics, Medicine, and more. Not only that, but many of them are at the top of their classes - not taking for granted for one minute the blessing it is for them to be there. Amazing.

After that it was supper time! We ordered in some traditional Ethiopian food, which these kids were more used to. In prior years they had tried buffets and even pizza, but these kids weren't accustomed to eating that food and it didn't go over well. This was much better, and why not? Just look at that deliciousness:

 Once we were done eating, it was time to give out some well-deserved awards to these amazing students. They were awarded based on their grade point average and what kind of students they are. The top two were awarded with a cash scholarship and new laptops:

Others were awarded with brand new, handmade quilts - they were gorgeous:

It was a great evening, but the students had to head back before it got too late. Most of them were taking transit which is notoriously slow there. 

Before one student left, Dick noticed that he had no shoes. He measured the boy's feet against his own to see if maybe his own shoes would fit him. 
It reminded me of the place these kids really came from and their amazing stories of strength and overcoming adversity. Amazing.

I had some photo editing to do, but didn't stay up long as I was starting to feel under the weather. I headed to bed hoping for a good sleep and better health the following day.
 Day 10 - Laundry, Alemgena, and Teddy
I woke up feeling like a truck hit me. I think it was a combination of a bad Chronic Fatigue day and adverse effects from my anti-malarial medication. I felt dizzy and exhausted. Blah. Thankfully there wasn't a LOT going on. The day started with doing some loads of laundry (much needed after our very dusty few days in Halecu) and we learned how to use the interesting machines there. You first fill the barrel with water from a hose. Once it is full, you add your clothing and your soap and set the timer for it to agitate. Once that is done, you drain the water out the back tube (we drained it into the toilet - the washing machine was in the bathroom. You would not believe how BLACK the water was after just one load of clothing from our Halecu trip. The machine looked a lot like this one: 
After draining the barrel, you fill it with clean water and then run a rinse cycle. If the water is still black, you repeat the rinse cycle. Then you put it in the second cylinder and set a spin cycle. It gets them pretty dry, but you still need to hang them on the line outside. We learned that using the machine and air drying leaves our clothes quite stiff. Still, at least they were clean!

That morning some of the guys were busy painting the extra room where they would be moving the offices. It looked amazing! It was too funny that they found live wires and other "interesting" things about how that room was put together. Thankfully they were careful and no one got hurt. They managed to fix the electricity and paint the room a much more soothing color than the flourescent green it started out as.

After a lazy morning, we need to get some money changed and some other team members need to get online to do some work, so we headed to the Sheraton. Connie and I didn't have anything to do online so we decided to take a little walk around the hotel grounds. It was gorgeous!

After the hotel we headed to the Alemgena center (I cant remember where we had lunch - I'm thinking we grabbed something at the house before heading to the hotel.) 
Before we stopped at the center, we made a pit stop at a very special place. One of the CH students, "T" had started his very own shoe shop and we just had to check it out. This kid had no one left in the world when he was brought off the streets and into the CH program. He was quite sure that he had no future, and wasn't sure how long he would survive. But this young man has drive, determination, and a charistmatic personality that proved to serve him well in accomplishing some pretty big goals. He is currently studying heavy duty mechanics and running his shoe shop on the side to earn money and provide for himself. 

His shop is located in a tiny slot of space that wasn't worth much so it was just given to him. He managed to build it up so nicely that now others are coveting the space. He built shelves, a roof, and even created a "lobby" type front entrance out of tarps where he rents the space out to a young girl who makes and sells coffee while people wait for their shoe orders. T does shoe repairs and excitedly shared with us a little bit of the process. You could see the pride in his eyes as he told us about his shop and the success he is finding there. A true success story!!

This was our first visit ever to the Alemgena center, and not a great time to not be feeling 100%. I had about 50 students to photograph and I needed my energy. I was excited to meet these kids. 

Half of the group was working on cards for their sponsors while the other half was getting their medicals, and I was busy photographing kids as well.

After photos were done, we brought out the large parachute to play while kids finished up getting their medicals. We didn't have a ball to play with so Mike donated one of his shoes to the cause. The kids loved it and managed to get it flying pretty high. It even hit a few innocent by standers in the head. Oops!

While the kids were waiting for dinner, a few of the girls wanted to get some photos with me. I'm not really sure why, but I obliged. They are just a loving, affectionate group!

I spent some time visiting with some of the older kids who were playing some games and waiting for dinner.

It was one young man's turn to help prepare the coffee for dinner - he was grinding the coffee beans by hand. It was a lot of work.

Dinner was served and it looked delish! By this point I was really starting to get hungry. The kids were really enjoying every bite.

Two of the staff members also wanted a portrait done and were quite specific about how and where. They were adorable. I was happy to oblige them as well.

Before long we were getting ready to head out, but I had to get some photos of the kids helping with clean up. It was so nice to see kids helping out without arguing or complaining. Our North American kids could learn a thing or two about gratitude and co-operation from these kids.

The sun set quickly and the moon was a glorious full one. I wish I could have captured it better, but with the equipment I had - this would have to do.

We stopped by a really amazing pizza place for dinner - I can't remember what it was called, but it was delish. I ordered a meatlovers with mushrooms and onions. It was a-mazing. Even with sharing my pizza with two others who wanted to sample, I still ended up with leftovers. I was also finally starting to really feel better by the end of the evening. What a relief! Especially since I was facing another late night of editing so we could have the photos to give the kids at our next visit to Alemgena.

Day 11 - Shopping, Kality (part 2), Yod Abyssinia (part 2)
This was a day that started out great and ended on a sour note. You'll notice that there won't be many photos documenting this day - the reason is, my CF card became corrupted when I tried to get the photos off at the end of the day. ARG!! The worst part about it was, I had taken 60 portraits of the kids at Kality and it had gone SO smoothly, too. I had a good little cry and then came to the conclusion that there was nothing I could do about it, and worrying would only make the remaining days in Ethiopia less enjoyable. Things worked out okay in the end. The images I have are mainly from my iPhone and I caught a couple from other expedition members.
So, we had some gift items to cross off our lists so a few of us went out shopping! Our first stop was back at Sabahar where I bought a scarf for myself as well as for my mom, mother-in-law, and sister-in-law- beautiful silk ones. Gorgeous! 
We stopped at the best place to buy traditional Ethiopian coffee, and I wanted to pick some up for Christmas gifts for the kids' teachers. 
We then stopped back at Hannah's shop to pick up a few more little trinkets. My favorite stop of the morning, however, was at a little pottery cooperative where women in the community get together to make pottery completely from scratch. It was amazing to see them work the clay, which they apparently have to do for hours before it's ready. Then they created beautifully detailed pottery creations - all shaped and painted by hand. 

I bought some beautiful little pottery hens, which I adore. It felt great to support the Kechene Women's Pottery Co-operative.
We had lunch back at the house (left over pizza for me, ha ha!) then boarded the vans to head out to Kality, the same place where the "Days For Girls" presentation had been made the week previous. Our group ran into some trouble as there was an accident which caused an enormous traffic jam. I was getting nervous because I had 60 kids to photograph and light disappeared quick when it was sunset time. Eventually we made it to the center where the kids were already working on their sponsor cards. Once everyone had arrived, the kids were lined up in front of the center to be divided into groups. But first, they welcomed us with a few fun little songs they had learned. They were 60 of the most beautiful, precious little faces.

I found a little corner against the building to start photographing kids while the other half took the karate class with Mike. The process went so smoothly and I managed to photograph all 60 kids in under 40 minutes. It was kismet! Too bad I would lose all of those photos when my card wrecked.
Dinner was at another Yod Abyssinia restaurant where one of the scholarship students was performing as one of the musicians. This restaurant was much more cozy and personal, much nicer to enjoy the music and dance. 

Like I said, my evening wasn't great when I realized I had lost all the photos from the day, however there were a couple of bright spots - #1, it wasn't our first visit to a Yod Abyssinia restaurant AND I knew we would be going to Kality once more before returning home, so I would have another chance to get the kids there photographed. I just wouldn't be able to get them the prints before I left, to give them in person. Oh well - doesn't help to dwell on things we can't change.

Day 12 - Merkato, Alemgena (part 2), Employee Appreciation Dinner
It was starting to register that my experience in Ethiopia was coming to a close. Only 3 days left!! This morning was free time, so Connie, Mike, and I decided to go check out the largest open-air market in Africa - Merkato.  This market is huge, covering several square miles and hundreds of booths/shops. Getu drove us to the area and I could not believe how packed it was.
 The market is divided into specific types of wares and there is a "block" for everything from electronics to spices. You really had to know exactly what you were looking for, and then where to find it. Thankfully, I wasn't looking to buy anything and I was just there to enjoy the ride.
Connie and Mike were there to buy some specific spices, however, so Getu managed to maneuver his way through the narrow streets filled with people until he arrived at the spice market. It was nearly impossible to find a place to park so the best he could do was to stop long enough for them to hop out, then drive very slowly (you can't drive any other way down those streets). Getu asked me to keep the doors locked and keep my camera strap safely around my neck. It wasn't safe.

We had crawled forward quite a distance when there was still no sign of Mike or Connie. Getu was clearly worried so he pulled to the side (which was difficult when there were literally crowds of people and livestock pressing against us on every side) locked the van doors, and jumped out to run back for them. I'll admit, I was feeling a bit nervous alone in the van while the hoardes of people pressed in on every side as they passed. I was relieved, after only a minute or so, to see Getu returning with both Mike and Connie in tow. 
We made our way back through Merkato, being in awe at the sights. I couldn't capture well the crowds because I didn't feel comfortable taking photos when the crowds were pressing in on our van. 

We made one more quick stop on the way home - Mike wanted to purchase a specific kind of basket for making ingira and Getu knew just the little, out of the way shop to find one at. 

We had lunch at the Eden house (Ichiban) and then got prepared to head to our second visit to the Alemgena center. 

Connie gave her bullying and self-defense presentation which was well-received by the kids. 

We didn't really have another activity planned to pass the time while the rest of the medicals were being finished up, so we decided to try paper airplanes with this group. We weren't sure how it would go with this older group who probably had the chance to make them before. They caught on the instructions quickly and were having a BLAST throwing them around. The boys would throw them at the girls, chasing them like any teenagers would. It was fun to watch how much fun THEY were having with a simple piece of folded paper.

Before it was time for us to head back, I was able to hand out their photographs from our previous visit, as well as the Project Life album and card kit. They, like all of the other centers, were so thrilled to have photos of themselves and expressed a lot of gratitude for them.

We had to make it back to the house in good time because we had a special evening planned with the CH office staff and their families we had to get to!

The Canadian Humanitarian office staff (and our amazing drivers) are some of the most outstanding people I've ever met. They truly made our entire experience much more pleasant. We were having them and their families over to the house to have dinner with us. We ordered in traditional food, again, as well as prepared some canned ham and buns with cheese.

 We did some visiting with their families before digging in to dinner. Here is Dick with Ketema's family:

 Getu's family wasn't feeling well, so we weren't able to meet them, unfortunately.
 Bisrat's family is so cute and friendly. It was so great meeting and getting to know his wife and boys better. 

Connie gave Bisrat and his family some t-shirts that her sister had made and sent for them. 

Then Dick brought out his guitar and started playing some sing-along songs. It was a good time. The kids all wanted a chance to sit on Dick's knee and strum the strings. They loved it.

Even Getu got in on the guitar-playing fun. It was hilarious to see him sitting on Dick's knee!

 I took a group photo before everyone had to start heading home to get the little ones to bed. 
Since I didn't have photos to edit (I didn't want to chance ruining any more of my memory cards getting photos off) I made an early night of it and hit the sack after catching up on my journal.
Day 13 - Lunch at the Bow & Kirkos Presentation
The day started out a bit slow and lazy so Connie and I decided to go for a walk around the neighborhood. During the day, it is a perfectly safe neighborhood and we went as far as the college and back through the community to the house. On the way back we stopped at the bakery to pick up some fresh bread for the house (so good, and SO inexpensive) and also bought some water from a booth around the corner. Connie was so easy to talk to and we had some really great visits during the two weeks we were there. I knew I was going to miss that lady when we returned home.
We had lunch back at the Bow hotel - this time I ordered a HUGE burger that I could not even come close to finishing. The woman who the Northcott's rent the Eden house from also joined us for lunch and she was lovely. She seemed very grateful to have tenants like the Northcotts who take care of the property and even fix it up on their own. 
Another highlight from the entire trip, for me, was what came next. We headed back to the Kirkos center (for the 3rd time) where they had something very special planned for us. We didn't have to plan or prepare anything - just show up and be entertained. It was blissful!
We were waiting for the other van to arrive so the kids played games with us, including a form of freeze tag. They are FAST and I am NOT. Needless to say, I didn't do well at that game. LOL!

Once the rest of the gang had arrived, we were seated and two students (one of them was my "teacher" from our first visit!) began by being the Masters of Ceremony and narrating the program. They did a wonderful job speaking in both Amharic and in English. 

The program consisted of several traditional Ethiopian dances by their dance club who have won gold at the city championships against professional dance groups. And they were amazing. They even had us up dancing with them for a while. I tried my best, and even though I had taken dance for many years as a child/youth I could NOT keep up with them. My muscles were screaming at me after about 5 minutes and my legs would not do what my brain told them to do after a while. LOL! I don't know how they do those moves.

Some of the younger children presented a mime/skit which told the story of a student who was poor and his teacher introduced him to the CH program directors who gave him some school books and welcomed him into the program. The best part of the skit, for me, was at the end when they gathered in a group and posed while another student pretended to take their photo. Then they switched positions and had a different student take a turn taking a photo. Clearly they had seen a visitor or two taking photos (a lot!)
After the dances were done, the program coordinators presented each volunteer with a nice certificate and some photos that had been taken during our visits to the center. It was such a nice gesture.

Then it was my turn to present the photographs to the students who were so excited and anxious to have their turn, I needed help to hand them out!

Before we left, we all gathered in a circle and sang "You & I" together, which brought out some emotion in me. I saw the entire couple of weeks flash before my eyes and the bright futures I saw in the eyes of the kids as they sang brought tears to my eyes.
You and I short Kirkos from Bobbi-Jo Grunewald on Vimeo.

We headed back to the house to have supper. I wasn't feeling too hungry so I just had a PB&J sandwich and hit the sack. It was really hitting me that this would be my final night in the Eden house - my final night in Ethiopia!
Day 14/15 - Packing, Kality Birthday party, and Flying home!

The last day in Ethiopia was kind of a blur. I spent the first part of the day packing up and tidying. I was really worried about the weight of my luggage - I didn't want to go over and pay charges. We each got two pieces of luggage to take home, and I hadn't really purchased much to bring home. When I weighed my suitcases I realized that I was actually WAY under weight. The rest of the group heading back to Medicine Hat spread out their stuff (the stuff the Northcotts were bringing back for the silent auctions and other things) into the suitcases to more evenly distribute the weight. I also had to carefully wrap and pack my pottery. I managed to fit them into my carry on so that they wouldn't get jostled around in the cargo area. I even fit my laptop into my backpack so I could carry it on my back more easily. I was in great shape for our trip back home later that night.
We had one last important stop before heading to the airport for home - back to Kality! Remember, this was the center where all of the images I took of the kids were lost. I was nervous about having to re-shoot all 60 of the students and what their expressions might look like after having to go through the process again. It was the day of their center birthday party that they hold quarterly for all of the students who had birthdays in those 3 months, and I didn't want to take a lot of time away from that. 
The whole team worked together and we managed to get all 60 kids photographed in under 25 minutes! It was an Ethiopian miracle :) The best part was, the kids had the same happy, bright, genuine expressions on their faces as the first time around. It was so great to see.
We were led into the center and were seated while some of the women prepared (what else?) a coffee ceremony! 

The birthday party kicked off with all of the birthday kids seated at a head table with party hats and colorful plates and bottles of soda. There was a program for everyone including recitations and lots of dancing! It was a true party!

Soon it was time to sing happy birthday and enjoy some cake, soda, and cookies! I was stuffed but the kept wanting to serve us more.

What would a birthday party be without gifts? Each child received a gift from the center. They were all pieces of much-needed clothing. The kids were in heaven.

Dick was playing with my favorite little buddy (remember, my peek a boo buddy?) He looked like he had some pink eye, poor guy. But, he wasn't deterred by it - he was having the time of his life!

I didn't have photographs to hand out (those would be handed out a few days after I left) but I was able to present the center with the album and card kit, which they loved.

And that was it! Before I knew it, it was time for us to head back to the house, grab a bite to eat, board the vans with our gear, and head to the airport. It was a sad goodbye to Bisrat and Ketema (Getu had a family emergency to deal with, so he wasn't around to say goodbye to). I knew I would never be the same after this trip. The trip home seemed to take forever - we landed in Ireland for re-fueling, we almost missed our connection in Toronto (they really need to work on their connection system where luggage is concerned) and made it back to Alberta by just after lunch time on Halloween day! My hubby was there to greet us at the Calgary airport and we (and thankfully our luggage) were loaded up in the Northcott's vehicle and Lyndon drove us back to the Hat before dinner time. It was great to see the girls again, and to give my hubby a big kiss! The reunion was a bit overshadowed by the fact that it was Halloween night and the kids had plans to go trick or treating. Lyndon's sister and brother in law were there with one of their kiddos and we had a nice visit while the kids gathered candy from the neighborhood.

Things I couldn't wait to dig into when I got home? Mainly fresh veggies. They were not safe to eat in Ethiopia so I really, really missed them. Those and some really good beef and chicken. It's just not the same there. Other than that, I snuck some of my girls' candy and had a nice long snuggle with my hubby. It was great to be home, and I knew that my perspective was forever changed.