Yesterday we had a wonderful day. We hired a driver through Helen, Ayella, who drove us north of the city to and area called Debre Labanos. It was about a 2-3 hour drive. We saw the most beautiful countryside I have ever seen. This is one part of Ethiopia where the new and successful floriculture industry is thriving. Leaving Addis we drove up and over Mt. Entoto…gave a quick wave to Mr. Wassi Hu…and descended down the other side of the mountain into sweeping green valleys lush with grasses and flowers. I am sure 75% of the population in Addis has know idea how beautiful their country is on the other side of the mountain. As we drove farther along round thatched roof huts with cow dung siding replaced the corrugated steel shacks of the city. We passed through a couple of bustling villages…maybe about a half mile strip of condensed shacks where children played in mud and standing water, older boys kicked soccer balls, fuse ball tables were crowded around, women tended to their daily chores, and buses loaded and unloaded their passengers. Donkeys, cows, goats, and dogs wandered the streets. I put dogs in the same category as the others because they really are not domesticated, as we would assume. If a person has a dog it is for guarding or herding…not for companionship. Most of the dogs in the city are stray and wild. Not to be approached of petted by any means.
We reached the Portuguese Bridge about midday. Any road not on the main road is exceptionally rough to travel. The roads we took yesterday were no exception. I’m not sure about the elevation we ascended to on our drive but the air was definitely thin. We went for a hike to the bridge. We paralleled the ridge of canyon that in width could easily be compared to the Grand Canyon. Baboons played and feasted on prickly pear cactus and grass just below us. On this canyon there were no safety rails, so there were a few times where there wasn’t a whole lot of room between the edge of the cliff and our path. We walked through a gate, which apparently was the border between private property and government land. A self-appointed ‘guide’ for the remainder of the hike joined each of us. We really had no choice as they wouldn’t take no for an answer. They all were around 20 years of age. The Portuguese Bridge crossed a river, which created a waterfall just beyond the bridge. It truly was a breathtaking site….and at times I was still pinching myself that I was standing at a waterfall in Ethiopia.
As I mentioned earlier, Noah loves taking Polaroid pictures and showing them off. At one point of our hike I was walking along and realized he wasn’t behind me. I went back a few hundred feet to look for him. Children of the local farmers, with their herding staffs, surrounded him in hand, showing off his pictures to them. I stood back and observed for a minute. He is very expressive in his hand gestures and was rattling off what I figured was an explanation of who he was and why he was with this white woman because all at once they took their eyes off him and all turned their eyes on me. I called his name and he ran to me and put his arms around me, glancing back to the children as if to say, “See…I told you so.” For the remainder of the trip they followed at a safe distance observing Noah and his new mom.
The only down part of the whole hike was at the end when we were finished and our guides become somewhat aggressive in wanting us to buy their souvenirs. Not only were they aggressive but also about 15 more boys came from nowhere to try to sell their things to us. One even tied a pendant around Noah’s neck and told him his mom would buy it for him. Fortunately Ayella stepped in and pushed them back for us and we made a quick walk to the other side of the gate where they could not follow.
Our next stop was the monastery at Debre Lebanos. The road into that was lined with lush forests. Every now and then we would spy families of baboons. There were also pockets of children who would chase our car for handouts. It’s so hard to ignore them…so very very hard. There were also large groups of elderly sitting on the side of the road holding their hands out for handouts. The actual monastery was an oasis in such a dire surrounding of poverty that lined the streets the mile or so before we reached the sacred grounds. Once inside the monastery, we were greeted by a very gentle and kind monk who gave us a tour. He reminded me of Jeff’s oldest brother Don in his quiet demeanor. When we approached the front of the building Noah did the sign of the cross. A defining moment that sealed the deal of our question of what faith, if any, was he raised in. Once inside the church he stayed by the side of the monk the entire time, asking questions, pointing to things etc. At one point he asked where the stain glass of Jesus was and was very relieved to find it front and center behind the alter. Noah is Christian.and last night he was telling Helen that he lived around the corner from a church in Dessie.
We had to stop and use a bathroom on our way back to Addis. Ayella pulled into a village and got out at a restaurant. (loosely used term: restaurant) We were traveling with another family, Lucy and her young daughter who she had recently adopted as well. Her daughter had to use the bathroom but when Ayella came around to her door to take her, Demamie went crazy. Something about where we were must have triggered a memory of her relinquishment because she screamed blood curdleing terror filled screams. Maybe on the day she was abandoned a man took her away from her mom in the back of a car. Who knows…except the screams she had were like no other I have ever heard. Ayalla shrugged his shoulders and took Musse to the bathroom and left Demamie to scream. When we figured out she thought she was going to be pulled from her mom again, Cindy, Lucy and I were able to piece together the sentence, “Mommy will go with you to the bathroom.” So Lucy, Demamie, and I got out of the car and ventured into the restaurant. When we walked in it was clear that it was no place where women were welcome. In the corner was a black and white tv flickering Aljazzera news while elderly men with their shephard staffs sat watching the going ons on the world. Of course there was no indoor plumbing so we walked past the men to the back door and saw Ayella in the very rear of the property. Musse came out from behind a thatched screen holding his nose, indicating that it was a pretty stinky hole on the other side of the curtain. Lucy led Demamie to the hole and stood watch on the other side. A very sweet older gentleman followed us to the back of the property and for a few moments stared at Lucy and I. He then motioned to her…he sensed her discomfort in the situation and surroundings that she was in. In very sweet broken English he spoke to Lucy…”Do not be scared…I am your brother…you are my sister.” Pretty cool. The men at the restaurant were very curious yet very kind to us. We shook hands when we left and when I got back to the car all I could say and think was, ‘that was SO cool!’ It was, beyond a doubt, the most enriching bathroom break I have or ever will have in my life. : >)
On our way out of Debre Lebanos I became overwhelmed with the contrast of beauty and poverty under the same sky. It can be overwhelming at times. For about 15 minutes I held my head out the window while the fresh Ethiopian mountain air blew on my face. Children tending their herds, women on the side of the streams doing their laundry waved excitedly when we passed. They have so little yet they have so much as they know no better. It was a defining day in my life…one I will never forget.