Today was Ethiopia's New Year of 2001 (they are on the coptic calendar and 7 years behind us) and the streets were only half as crowded today as they have been since all the goats/sheep had been bought and slaughtered for the new year! Yesterday, we saw everyone on the streets purchasing their goat or sheep, binding its legs and throwing it on the roofs of their vehicles similar to how we strap down our Christmas trees to our cars! We witnessed one woman bind up the legs of her goat and then throw the goat upside down over one shoulder like a purse! It was pretty shocking to see that the goat was still alive and occasionally thrashing about over her shoulder but she didn't seem to mind that she was carrying her dinner home on her shoulder. Although these things seem strange to us, for them, it is their way of life. Once we arrived at Gladney's foster care center to pick up Yalfal and Kinetibeb for the day, the other children in the house came running and we are getting more attached and familiar to many of their friends! Inside the house resembled a bubble factory filled with giggles and squeals from all the bubbles the children were making and Brad warned us to stop at the entry and he would get Yalfal and Kinetibeb so we wouldn't slip on the bubble-slick floor! We were so pleased that they both acted thrilled to see us and welcomed us with big smiles and hugs! Yalfal was so excited to go wth us, she ran straight towards the gate to leave!
Today was a day to visit many of the orphanages in and around Addis Ababa and it was a very sobering experience. For those of you traveling soon, prepare your hearts and minds for this day. I am not sure any of us were prepared to see the conditions in which these precious orphaned children live in and call "home". It will probably be the only "home" they will know before they "age-out" and will be forced into the streets unless they are adopted, which for many of them, will never happen because of their age. It saddens me that these children are not known about by most people and that there is not an awareness about these "left behind" children from most people.
First, we visited the Kolfe Boys orphanage and as everyone, who has previously traveled, has said, we had such an amazing time with these young boys! These boys/young men are mature beyond their years as their youth has been cut short by their life experiences. When we drove up, it was raining but we were greeted immediately by a host of boys who were eager to meet us and offer their affections to us. They were perfect gentleman as they proudly guided us through their "home" which included all the different "bunk buildings" where they sleep separated by age groups, their kitchen where we met their "house mom" who cooks for them, and finally their "common room" where they eat, study, watch movies, play ball, and many other things in this huge cemented room. Once we entered the "common room", they began to do gym stunts, playing basketball (as many of us joined in as well!), playing with and chasing Yalfal and Kinetibeb and mostly, just wanting to talk and spend time with us. They wanted to know about America and you just couldn't meet these boys without just falling in love with them all! It was definitely the highlight of the day and as we left, we exchanged emails with many of the boys and delivered the care packages we were given from other families to which the boys were elated! We were touched most deeply by these boys who are so positive amidst their living conditions and who are so focused on their studies to which they understand the importance of their education. It was truly a blessing that we were able to spend time with them and get to know them if even for a short while. Our lives have been changed by meeting these amazing Kolfe boys!
We were also taken to an older girls orphanage and thankfully, their housing was much more adequate than we had seen at Kolfe. They girls were typical girls, very playful, friendly and excited to prepare their coffee ceremony for us! Their rooms were very clean and had posters of American movie stars and pop singers on their walls! It was amusing to see Britney Spears plastered on the walls of an Ethiopia orphanage! It made me want to collect posters of more wholesome people and send them to the girls! I have a feeling that they may not be so into Britney Spears but using her posters mainly just to decorate their walls with something!
We then arrived at the third orphanage which was the "home" for younger boys and girls. Driving into the gate was incredibly overwhelming as children came running in every direction. The grounds looked similar to a campground with crude housing for the children. For us, this was definitely the most upsetting to experience. Upon arriving, all of the children gathered around all of us and Ryan began handing our Beanie Babies and lollipops to all the children. It was craziness and excitement all at once. Yalfal and Kinetibeb had stuck close to us while visiting the other orphanages, but they began to strongly push away from us while watching the "gifts" being passed out. We were holding their hands not allowing them to stand in line to receive the "gifts" because we knew, now, the "gifts" were for the other orphans. In our hearts and minds, they were no longer orphans, they were our children who we had been providing for knowing that they didn't need to just "survive" anymore. However, seeing them forcefully break from us and run towards the "gifts" being handed out, demonstrated to us that nothing really had changed in their minds. It was sobering to witness this reality, and so the remainder of our time their was eye-opening, sad and stressful to say the least.
The drive home was very quiet as we were all pensive and processing our experience. We had been "stretched" in a way that took us by surprise and left us uncomfortable, discouraged, saddened, and heartbroken for these precious children. Many tears have been shed with a desparate desire to meet the needs of these children, but feeling overwhelmed and incredibly inadequate in knowing how to help. The Lord is sovereign and He knows their needs better than we do. I pray that we all will be open and obedient to how the Lord might use us to further His kingdom and bring glory to His name!