Monday, February 12, 2007

Wednesday in Ethiopia


We started the day with our usual breakfast in the hotel restaurant. We are getting to know the staff a bit since we see them every day, and they are so friendly. The woman always insist on holding Isaiah while we eat, and they pass him around and take him all over the restaurant. Thankfully I had heard about this being common before we came here, otherwise it might make me a bit nervous.

This was the day we were to visit Meskerem’s grave, so Dawit picked us up and headed to Layla house so we could pick up the social worker in charge of burials. As we drove into the cemetery, we looked around at all the graves and tombs, most of which are protected by metal cages. The cemetery is completely overgrown and run down, and the graves are in random locations with seemingly no organized rows. We sat in the van for a while as the social worker got out and talked with some of the cemetery workers, trying to locate Meskerem’s site. A little while later she came back and led us to where Meskerem’s body is. There were two above-ground graves about three feet apart, and right at the end between them was a small pile of unsettled dirt. The social worker pointed and said the dirt pile was it. No marking or anything – just a small, random, pile of dirt. We were able to meet with a person who makes the cement head stones, and ordered one to be made for Meskerem. They told us we could come back at lunch tomorrow to see it. The most emotional part for me was deciding what to write on the marker. We ended up putting Meskerem’s name with our last name, her birth and death dates, and “In our hearts forever”.

After dropping the social worker back off at Layla, we went to Kaldi’s for lunch. Kaldi’s is a blatant knock-off of Starbucks, down to the logo and the green aprons the staff wear. They sell pizza, burgers, sandwiches, pastries and all the usual coffee drinks. A caramel macchiato costs 6 birr, which is about $0.52.

Dawit dropped us back off at Layla, and drove Dad and Kathy back to the hotel. We hopped in the van with Gail and two 7-year old cousins, and headed off to pick up the rest of our embassy group at the Hilton. Sheryl and baby Abebaw were there, along with Mary and her 17 year old daughter, Brikti. Two and a half years ago Mary adopted Brikti’s younger brother and sister, so there is sure to be an emotional reunion when they get home to Chicago.

It was very hot as we walked up to the embassy, and Isaiah had already been asleep in the sling for about an hour. Once through security we were ushered into a waiting area with rows of chairs full of waiting people – mostly Ethiopian – and President Bush’s state of the union address – recorded from a couple weeks ago, streaming on the television. As our group waited, Gail went upstairs to the interview window, and one by one we were all called up to answer a few questions and sign final papers. Since Isaiah is a baby the questions were pretty basic, and we were done in about five minutes. Our whole group was in and out in about an hour, which I guess was pretty fast.

Gail dropped us off at the Hilton, and we did some final shopping then called for a cab to take us home. This cab was another of the beat up, blue and white Datsons, with a driver who barely spoke English. We very clearly communicated “Damu Hotel on Bole Road”, and even mentioned a few surrounding landmarks, and the driver confirmed he understood. We asked how much, and he said “40 birr” which we knew was a bit high, but we agreed. About the time it seemed we should be getting close to our hotel, I realized I didn’t recognize any landmarks, but figured we were just going a different route. Then the driver pulled up into some compound that looked like a motel, and said something like “Dablu Damu” and expected us to get out. There was quite a bit of tension and confusion as we tried to explain this was not the hotel. The driver was very put off as he pulled back out to the road and headed in the right direction. When we finally arrived at our hotel, the driver tried to act like we had mis-pronounced the hotel name and it was our fault. He tried to say our hotel is called “Demu”, not “Damu”, even though the spelling was right in front of us. Needless to say he was not happy when Brian insisted on only paying the 40 birr we had agreed on, which caused a commotion in front of our hotel that even the bell hop got involved in. Brian stood his ground, and finally the cab driver drove off, throwing the money on his dash in protest.

That evening we headed off to the Crown Hotel for traditional food and dancing show. Kathy stayed back as she wasn’t feeling well. We knew some of the people from our embassy group might be there as well, and we were hoping to connect with them.

Shortly before we left for the Crown Hotel we got to witness our first infamous Ethiopian Rain Storm. Within moments the sky was dark, there was thunder and lightning, and the streets had become rivers. People ran for cover at any nearby building, and cars splashed down the streets. We were safe and dry in our hotel room, and had a great view of the storm from our balcony. I got some of it on video tape, and soaked my skirt and some of our carpet in the process.

It was still raining a bit when our cab driver picked us up, and Dad was dismayed to find out the windshield wipers didn’t work. So combining traditional Ethiopian driving with very limited visibility made for quite the ride. For the first time Dad even reached for his seatbelt, but discovered it had long been broken.

The Crown Hotel is tucked away pretty far from the parts of town we have been around – out past the airport and through what seemed like a more commercial / industrial area. The restaurant where the traditional show is held is very large, and the architecture is mostly thatched-hut style, with traditional d├ęcor and mesobs for tables. We were taken to comfortable chairs along the back wall, and Isaiah slept in one of the chairs the whole evening. Mary and her family showed up a little while later, and were ushered to chairs next to ours.

The food was buffet style, and very good. It took a little bit of guts to dish things up, as nothing was labeled. I liked every thing I tried, but Brian soon discovered one of the dishes he tried was mostly made from stomach – which he wasn’t a huge fan of. The entertainment started with music and singing, and then progressed to different dances representing different regions of Ethiopia. The costumes were all colorful and beautiful, and the dancing was entertaining. The most memorable performance was of one woman who we now call the “head spinner”. She slowly started rolling her head around, making her hair flow in a circle around her. Then her head started going faster and faster, until it looked like it would literally fly off her body.

Once we were ready to leave we headed out to call a taxi, and found there were none around. The bell hop said we could give him 3 birr to call a cab for us, so we did, and found out we would have to wait about 20 minutes. By now it was after 10:00 and getting cold out, so we waited back inside the restaurant where the performance was still going on. Once our cab came, we loaded in and headed home. Thankfully the rain had stopped, because Brian noticed there weren’t even any wipers on the windshield. We must have been quite tired and rummy, because the ride home was just about the funniest thing to us. In the back seat, Brian and I were in hysterics almost the whole way, especially when the car would slow down to almost nothing on even the slightest incline. We also noticed that should my Dad even think about using his seat belt, he would have no luck as the entire panel where the seat belt would have been was missing. We made it home safe and sound, and 100 birr poorer.

The small pile of dirt at the bottom center of the picture was Meskerem's "site".

A car carrying a very full load.

Same full car.

Dad, Brian and me at the Crown Hotel dinner.

At traditional restaurants the servers come around with a hand washing basin.
Mary and her family.


Abby said...

Hi! I found your blog from someone else's blog who posts at

I have thoroughly enjoyed reading about your adoption journey. My husband and I are just starting ours & we think God is calling us to adopt from Ethopia.

Congratulations on the newest member of your family! I've started an adoption blog as well, but so far I only have 2 posts.


Brianna Heldt said...

Shana, do you know if they have many cemeteries in Addis? (We didn't see any and the thought actually crossed my mind while we were there. I wondered about what happens to the poor and the beggars and the orphans when they pass away.)

I am so glad you were able to visit the site and purchase the stone. She was loved.

Shana said...

Brianna, I don't recall seeing any other cemetaries. Athough I probably wouldn't even have noticed the one we went to, if it hadn't been pointed out.

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