It has been just over 3 weeks since our team from All God’s Children International (AGCI) and Rain City Church visited the government-run orphanages in Addis Ababa (see my previous post “A Hard Day in Addis Ababa“). I am now back in the safety and relative luxury of the bubble which I’ve carefully created for me and my family here in Seattle over the past couple of decades. However, what I experienced in Ethiopia then, and in the days that immediately followed, will stick with me forever.
When we returned back to our guest house after visiting the orphanages, I felt an overwhelming sense of helplessness and despair for those children. How could they ever have the opportunity to break out of a generations-old cycle of poverty, let alone survive, without the benefit of family and a support structure capable of preventing them from falling through the cracks?
The next day, we flew to Mekelle, the capital of Ethiopia’s Tigray region. The landscape was beautiful in an Arizona desert sort of way. The beauty of the surroundings, however, was obscured by the reality that the rocky soil was not exactly conducive to a healthy, sustainable existence. The evidence of that reality lay in the rundown buildings and tattered clothing which seemed to be the unwitting uniform of the people–especially outside of the city. This is the stuff I expected to see long before we arrived in Tigray.
What I did not expect, however, was to see the smiling, joy-filled faces of so many otherwise orphan children and their grateful guardians (often single parents fighting serious health battles of their own or other relatives). These children in Mekelle and Samre were not hopeless like the kids we met in the orphanages in Addis Ababa. Instead, they shared with us story after story about how the Educational Sponsorships they received through AGCI allowed them to go to school and help support their families.
At this point, I could drone on about my feelings; eventually segueing into an appeal for you to consider helping these kids. Well, if a picture is worth a thousand words, and videos can deliver 60 pictures per second, then I have a feeling that the following vids will be much more effective. Many of the people I met (including the tireless, dedicated local AGCI staff) and the things I experienced are captured by Tati in these videos when she took a similar trip about a year ago. I urge you to please take the time to watch this series (about 22 minutes total) as they do a much better job than I could ever do in this blog.
Getting here from Seattle took almost exactly 24 hours: arriving at the airport 3 hours before the flight, one 14 1/2 hour flight to Dubai, a couple hours in that airport, and a 4 hour flight to Delhi. Arriving in New Delhi you could see from the air the dichotomy of big nice buildings next to shanties as well as the pollution which lay like a big blanket of thick fog over the city.
Leaving the airport took about an hour: winding our way to immigration, finally finding and filling out the official arrival forms which were in short supply, standing in line and passing through immigration, walking straight through customs, locating our bags on the luggage carousel, and making our way through bunches of people to meet up with our fearless leader and our ride. The forms were the weird thing for me. Why were the forms in short supply? This seems so silly as there are large planes arriving often. An old man made the rounds, carefully placing on the tables a few forms at a time from his ample supply. It struck me as funny that these would be so carefully rationed. Then the sour faced immigration officer barely said a word other than, “go”. He was the same with my daughter who almost always gets a kind or curious smile at these official desks. The baggage area was clear and efficient, but we had to make our way through an entire plane load of returning Indian army men …a touch intimidating! Then through the maze of exits, through the third crowd of people holding signs to meet incoming foreigners, just a moment, and then seeing Paul. We made it! Three weeks was a LONG time apart. Hugs all around. 🙂 https://www.instagram.com/p/BM0jXFdFNcw/
From the baggage claim area to the parking garage, the air seemed to get thicker and stinkier with each step. By the time we were all the way out, our eyes stung a bit and we talked about making ourselves breathe through our noses. “Should we get our masks out?” asked my very sensitive-to-change T. Not yet, let’s let our bodies make some of the adjustments. The cigarette smoke and car exhaust was amplified in the covered airport pickup area. You could see the haze in the air, even just looking from one door to another. (For an insightful article on the pollution of New Delhi, read http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/04/160425-new-delhi-most-polluted-city-matthieu-paley/)
We were met by a car with a driver and guide. This feels so luxurious! We make our way to the car which is a Toyota Innova; not available in the US, but almost just like the Kijang we rode in Indonesia and a seating arrangement like a slightly miniaturized minivan. Seat belts in the front and middle seats, upper belt but no connection/bite to be found for the back ones. If this ends up being the same car we ride all over in a couple weeks, I will have to dig around and find them, I am sure they are there somewhere! I don’t want to go for long drives without that safety feature.
The roads themselves are pretty bad. Huge potholes and (completely unnecessary) speed bumps abound. As we get on to the main road it gets a little better.
“Don’t even worry about them driving in the lanes,” Paul comments as I am looking ahead. I think he misread me. I’m not worried even a bit. At home I would be concerned about driving anywhere like we are (I really like knowing and following the rules), but somehow I am comfortable with the fact that lane use is not a thing here. Drivers move fluidly all over the road to avoid ruts, potholes, or each other, usually on the left side of the road, but not always. Sometimes, a couple times every minute, a high beam flash or a horn communicates that someone wants someone else to move. It is just the language of the drivers.
There isn’t a ton to see as it is totally dark and in the middle of the night. We can see that things are just different…cars are parked an odd spaces on the edges of the road, empty shelters which I guess might be a restaurant during the day, a couple abandoned street food stands, and several wild dogs just standing in the road.
The kids and I are taking it all in and Paul announced that we are just about here. We turn off the main road (about the size of a four lane highway) and onto a side road. This road is about as wide as a nice residential street, but both sides have cars parked, squeezing the driving space, but the road is deserted now at 4:15 am.
We climb the stairs to our apartment. Paul did a great job scouting out the place. We think the manager may have read the blog and offered him an upgrade to a bigger place. We are in a huge, newly renovated, 3 bedroom apartment! We enter at the foyer and remove our shoes. The clean marble floors are nice and cool. Off to the left are a kitchen, living room/dining room, bedroom with attached bathroom, and a powder room. To the right are two more bedrooms each with attached bath. (There is actually a 4th bedroom there too, but it is shut off and under construction.) The main hallway is about 6 feet wide and extends from K’s bedroom door, along the length of T’s room, through the foyer and door, past the powder room and my bedroom on one side and the kitchen on the other through to the living room. The living room has three comfortable couches. Wow, this place is great!
Apparently they don’t install plumbing with p-traps here. As a result, the sewer smell comes up through the drains. To combat the smell, 2 marble-sized urinal cakes sit on every sink and shower drain. The resulting strong camphor smell permeates the place. When you close the bathroom doors for a while, then you can instead smell the smoky garbage/sewer from outside. Potayto-potahto.
We picked our rooms and set our bags down. I do some unpacking. We brought beef jerky and protein bars for snacks. Paul picked up some tea, coffee, cookies, and bread at the market before we arrived. The management has stocked the fridge with several liters of bottled water and a liter of milk. We munch on some beef jerky and drink some water. Flying that long definitely dehydrates you and when you only have short naps on the plane for that long, you body clock is all messed up. We are excited to be here, but exhausted, hungry and can’t stand the thought of food!
Then we decide it is time to sleep. We all slept from about 5:00 to about 9:00 I thought. Later K told me she got up at 7:00, talked to us, and then took a shower. Hm, I totally missed that, apparently I was tired! After three weeks without Paul and then traveling, I was ready to be “off-duty” for a few hours!
The Seahawks game started at 7:00 am our time. We missed most of it, but awoke in time to see most of the fourth quarter. What an ending! Go Hawks!!
After a semi lazy morning of sleeping in, showers, and some work/school work it was time to get out, walk around the neighborhood, and find some lunch. The kids and I are pretty dazed, but Paul guides us along as we see things for the first time. This is so much like Indonesia! The roads with cars, scooters, auto rickshaws, and bikes all weaving in and out of each other. Sidewalks that are molded cement pieces placed on top of deep storm drains that are mostly in place between uneven driveways and trees.
We made our way to the Green Park Market, a strip mall of sorts about a 5 minute walk away. We walked up and down the two blocks checking everything out. There are store fronts with lots of little shops selling everything from underwear to groceries, hair salons, and cafes. There is a broad sidewalk in from that leaves lots of space for vendors to set up shop selling food, flowers, vegetables, scarves, or henna. We found a shop where we could buy some peanut butter and Nutella to go on our bread and a few other supplies. Then we got momos from one of the three stands selling them outside. These delicious dumplings are stuffed with chicken, paneer (a kind of tofu consistency cheese), or vegetables. I imagine we will be buying these often.
Back to the apartment. It wasn’t a hugely long outing, but we want to break the kids in gently.
I notice that there are many men about, but very few women and no children. Men are wearing long, dark pants and any variety of shirt you can imagine, most long sleeved. Women are dressed in everything from full saris, to colorful jilbab/hijab, to slacks and button-down dress shirt, to jeans and a T-shirt (though this last is much less common).
It did not seem that anyone noticed us at all! I know that even though we tried to wear clothing that would somewhat blend in, we stick out like a sore thumb. While traveling in other areas of Asia, we were stared and pointed at on a regular basis, but here we received only fleeting glances. If we made eye contact with someone, we may receive a half-hearted smile in return for ours. Interesting.
We are in a good neighborhood in the “nice” part of town, but most people we know would still be shocked at what is here on our block. Next to our nice apartment building is an old, broken-down brick building in which several people live. Across the street is a park in which people bathe out in the open, their clothing hanging on the fence while not needed. There is trash all over the place. Men lay in carts on the side of the road most of the day. (Still trying to figure this one out. Maybe they work transporting things in the morning and evening and just wait the main part of the day?) Stray dogs wander or lay where they like until some car honks at them to get out of the way. Cars honk constantly, I mean constantly! Sometimes I get the giggles hearing how incessant they can be during the day, though, thankfully, they quiet down at night because the road is theoretically closed from midnight to 6:00 to through traffic.
In the afternoon, the kids did some homework and then we all crashed asleep. “Just 20 minutes” easily turned into several hours. Oops!
We woke, watched some tv and munched on beef jerky and dried mango. We intended to go out again for dinner, but we started watching a movie and then had a nice long video chat with Michaela, our dear friend, in Germany. Mid-way through the call the kids said goodnight. My eyelids were getting very heavy, so we said goodbye to Michaela and fell into bed before 10:00.
I slept hard until about 3:45. The first horns started honking outside just before 5:00 and the neighborhood pack of dogs had some sort of barking challenge going on shortly after that. Instead of laying frustrated, I decided to write about these first 24 hours. I can’t believe how much and how little we did and it seemed like the longest 24 hours ever!!
I will leave you with this clip of the street outside our door.
So, our first couple of days here I noticed a lot of differences between the U.S. and Indonesia.
First off, most of the locals here wear long sleeves even in this H☀T and sticky weather! Many of the Muslim women here wear headdresses, too! I believe they are called hijab. And even worse, the hijab are normally dark-colored so they soak up the sun and heat even more. If that were me, I would either faint, or get heat stroke.😰 🌞
Another thing that’s different and sort of fun is that some of the companies here have names that have to do with their location. For example, when we were driving through Jakarta I saw a store called Transjakarta. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a picture of that, but I did get some photos of some other companies!
The third thing is TRAFFIC. Oh. my. word! It’s crazy!!!😳🚙🚘🚗🚕🚖 People don’t really stay in the lanes and kind of swerve around other cars to get to the place they’re going a little bit faster. Let me rephrase that: People don’t stay in their lanes and when they do it’s not for long! And people will swerve around other cars to get where they’re going a little bit faster, especially motorcycles! Man, if you’ve gone to California and you didn’t like how the motorcycles drove on the lines, you won’t survive here!😝 The motorcycles ride on the lines, drive on the opposite side of the street than they’re supposed to be on, go on the sidewalks even when it’s crowded, and sometimes they have up to families of five squished on the same bike.
Oh yeah! I forgot to say that there are also some horses that ride along the side of the street. You can ride them around town! I haven’t tried it yet, but I hope to! They look really fun!🏇
The fourth difference between the U.S. and Indonesia are the bathrooms!😝🚽🚿🛁 So, there are these things I call bum guns. And whenever you go #2 you have to squeeze the lever on the handle and water will come out. Then, you clean your bum with it. It tickles!
Also, the water that comes out of the faucet isn’t clean for drinking, so whenever you brush your teeth you have to go to the water dispenser, get a glass of water, and brush your teeth with that. Another different thing about bathrooms are the showers!🚿 Since there is more water pressure in the morning, unless you take showers in the AM you will get C ❄ LD showers every day!