I looked at Fikre with surpise, and said, "Today? Shouldn't we bring a Thank-You gift? What is the custom here when visiting someone's home?" Fikre smiled back at me and said, "Ah yes, that would be a good idea. We will stop and purchase some gifts." I asked what would be appreciated by the families we were visiting and he suggested we purchase coffee beans and sugar. Both are considered a treat and would be very well-received.
Shortly after our quick stop at a roadside stand where they used an old-fashioned scale and weights to measure the coffee and sugar we requested, we arrived at Kind Hearts to a sea of little faces anxious to see us. It felt like bedlam for awhile as little arms reached, and little hands grasped, and little lips kissed.
A few hours later, Fikre motioned me to the edge of the schoolyard where Beniam and Fitsum (a little boy and a little girl that attend Kind Hearts) waited with big smiles that they could hardly contain. (Beniam is sponsored by the Beal family, and Fitsum is sponsored by my parents!)
Beniam's little brother, who looked to be about 2 or 3 years old, had been standing near the doorway and seemed to be visibly upset, but his mother gestured to him with a smile and he climbed onto her lap and began nursing. He also has an older sister, maybe about 7 years old, who sat quietly with us, listening with great interest. Her mother explained that she is very thankful for Kind Hearts because Benaim's sponsorship enables him to have food everyday and an education. Without the sponsorship, they would struggle to feed the other kids and none of them would have the opportunity to go to school. (The older sister does not attend school.)
We chatted for about 40 minutes before we needed to go visit Fitsum's family. I asked if I could see the bedroom and she grandly pulled back the little curtain in the doorway to show me a dark room with little pinpoint shafts of light that revealed a single bed. I looked up at the tin roof with the holes that let the sunlight through, and asked if it got wet when it rained. She smiled and said, "sometimes but it's not too bad." She then gestured back to the main room (which was barely 10x10) and explained that her father slept on the floor in that room, while she slept on the small bed with all 3 of her children.
As we stepped out into the bright sunlight to say our good-byes, I asked her if the swelling on her neck was troublesome. She explained that she has goiter and most of the time it really doesn't bother her, but when it swells, it becomes hard to breathe. I complimented her on her tidy home and told her that I could see how much she loved her children and that she was a good mother. I told her that she can be very proud of Beniam because he is such a good and sweet boy who loves her very much and is working hard in school.
I also told her that the Beal family in America loves Beniam and prays for him and his family, and that I would tell them about our visit. She hugged me again and again, as Beniam took my hand and with a big smile, he waved to his mom and pulled me along the path as we walked to Fitsum's.
The next day, we prepared a big feast for the children and we invited their care-givers too. There were about 70 adults that arrived for that meal and as we explained to them why we were in Ethiopia and how far we had travelled to spend these precious days with their children, I picked out Beniam's mother in the room and nodded to her as she smiled at me and put her hands over her heart in a gesture of appreciation.
Next blog post ... My visit to Fitsum's home.