Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Monday in Ethiopia

Monday Morning

Gail had told us that we needed to be back at Layla at 8:45 Monday morning so we could ride to the US Embassy to get Isaiah’s final HIV test done, along with a few other children whose families would be coming soon. Dawit picked us up at around 8:00, and we were at Layla by 8:30. We were early, and there wasn’t really anyone around who could tell us what to do, so we just hung out for a while and watched some of the older kids play in the court yard. At first there were mostly boys playing soccer, then slowly some more kids came, and slowly they started noticing us. Some girls were doing acrobats on the concrete steps by doing a handstand, then allowing their feet to fall over their heads into a “bridge”, landing one or two steps higher. These girls were incredibly flexible, able to almost fold their bodies in half, with their back being the inside “hinge”. I also saw a boy randomly doing the splits out in the court yard.

Some of the volunteers started to arrive, including Hailey, who we found out would be accompanying us to the Embassy. We also got to meet Nate, who is Merrily’s son and lives in Ethiopia, working at the orphanage full time.

We all piled into a van, with Jamal as our driver, and headed off. It was about a 30 minute drive to the Embassy, and we saw such extreme contradiction the whole way. We would see a business woman dressed in western business clothes, click clacking along the sidewalk in her high heels, walking right past cripples and beggars on the same sidewalk. We saw a tall, beautiful glass building, surrounded by metal shacks and lean-tos which people call home. We drove through dusty, dirty, poverty infused areas, then by a lush, thickly treed, gated compound, which is the President’s palace.

As we approached the Embassy, we pulled down a side street to park the van, as vehicles are not allowed to stop in front of the Embassy (safety reasons, I guess). We crossed a busy, four-lane street, and stood in line waiting for an armed security guard to wand us with a metal detector and search our bags. Then we headed up a ramp and into the building, where we waited in another security area, and walked through a metal detector and had our bags x-rayed. The building we were in was very small and unimpressive. I guess I was expecting something a bit grander for an Embassy. We were all ushered into a tiny room where there were two technicians with gloves on, ready to draw blood. The three older kids who were with us went first, and they were so brave and did amazing. Then the two babies were called up – Ababaw and Eftalem. I made Brian go with Eftalem and hold him, as I didn’t think I would be able to stomach watching him go through pain as his blood was drawn. Also, selfishly, I didn’t want him to associate me with pain. The technician had a hard time finding a vein, and after torturing Eftalem with a needle in his arm for about five minutes to no avail, she resorted to pricking his finger and squeezing the blood out one drop at a time. The poor guy screamed the whole time, and I literally felt like I might faint just from watching. I don’t know how Brian did it. I got to be the one to comfort Isaiah afterwards which was rewarding for me. Soon we were off and on our way back to Layla.

Monday Afternoon

Dawit picked us up from Layla, and we told him we wanted to go shopping. We thought we might want to go to the Merkato, since that is the shopping district we had heard about. We for sure at least wanted to drive by it, since we were told Isaiah was found some where around the Merkato, near the mosque. We drove by the mosque and took pictures of it. The Merkato is way different than I expected. I was envisioning something like an open air market with vendors all in a square. What we found was street after street, block after block, possibly for miles; of stores, shacks, booths, and everything in between. There are people everywhere, of all walks of life. Anytime the car even slowed down, we had beggars at every window. It is hardest for me to see the young children – some only three or four years old, dressed in rags and begging for money or food. But there are people of all ages begging. We give some of them one or two birr, which is practically nothing. But in reality, we could give away all the money we came with, and we still wouldn’t have put a dent in the problem, or done more than feed a few people for a day or two. It’s hard to process it all, and I’m sure I will be trying to for a while.

We ended up shopping at a smaller area called the Postal District on Churchill Street. There were about 15-20 little “shops” in a row, and Dawit came along to help us negotiate, as well as feel safe. We found lots of little treasures, like traditional clothing for Isaiah and Emma, textiles, and ebony animal figurines. We also started to get the hang of bartering, but there really wasn’t a lot of negotiating room since Dawit’s presence caused the sellers to offer us a pretty fair price to begin with.

Next we drove to the Piazza shopping area, where we tried a few stores before finally finding one that had an Ethiopian soccer jersey, which my dad had to buy for a friend. They were very expensive compared to the prices we had just seen, I think 350 birr each (about $40 US).

Once we were back in our hotel and had regrouped, we decided we should walk outside to find a place to eat. Our hotel is right next to the Peacock restaurant, which supposedly is very well known, although we have yet to find anyone who’s actually eaten there. Next to the Peacock is the Elephant Walk, which is a very trendy, nice looking restaurant. The Elephant Walk was completely full, including the parking lot, where apparently waiters will come serve you in your car. So we walked over to the Peacock, decided it looked a bit too dingy, and decided to walk on. We didn’t immediately see anything on our side of the street, so we decided to cross the street – a death defying act, for sure. We saw a sign that said Pizzeria, and we thought it had an arrow pointing which direction, so we headed down a road (more like a dirt alley) in the dark. The further we got down the road, the more uncomfortable I was getting, and the less confident we would ever find this restaurant – or that it would be worth going to. The road was mostly lined with corrugated metal fences, with one or two random vendors along the way. There were a few people walking, and one was a woman in business clothes, so I decided to stay close to her. We found ourselves at the end of this alley, and when we looked to the left we thought we saw lights about 250 yards down that could be coming from a restaurant. Sure enough, when we got to the lights, they were illuminating the entrance to what looked like “little Italy”. There was a courtyard done in Italian décor, with about three little buildings off it. We walked into what looked like the main restaurant part, and were a little tentative when we realized we were the only ones there. We were so far from anything else though, and it was getting late, so we sat down and ordered. We ended up having pretty good food, and excellent service.

Merkato
Mosque near where Isaiah was found.
Daily acrobatics.

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