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Friday, December 3, 2010

She gave me the traditional 3 kisses as she invited me into her home ...

As we made our way through the traffic, dodging pedestrians and gasping for fresh air amid plumes of black exhaust fumes, Fikre leaned over to me and said, "We were able to arrange for you to visit the homes of two of the children today."  Months earlier, I had contacted Sarah at Children's Hopechest, asking her to arrange for me to make a few home visits while I was in Ethiopia.  I explained to her that I understood the care the kids were getting at the care-points and the needs we were addressing, but I wanted to better understand where the kids were living and in what conditions.

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 was so excited that he took the lead and quickly started to outdistance us, as he kept looking back over his shoulder and beckoning us to follow him.  Fitsum slipped her hand into mine and we followed Beniam for about 20 minutes as we walked to his home through the beautiful Ethiopian countryside.

The views were stunning as we crested a hill and walked down into a valley to cross a small river on stepping stones.  Then back up the hill on the other side, through a field of Tef (wheat), along a mud path that was deeply rutted with livestock tracks and hoofprints during the rainy season.  Then across another river, and we grabbed hold of Eucalyptus tree trunks to pull ourselves up a steep incline where several mud & stick homes were clustered on the edge of a hill. 

As we came around the corner of the house, an old man who seemed to be waiting and watching for us, looked up, eyes wide with surprise, and quickly ducked into a dark doorway.  Suddenly a small woman appeared and shyly approached us.  A conversation in Amharic ensued and then she gestured to me to come into her home, where she embraced me and gave me the traditional and affectionate 3 kisses, alternating from one cheek to the other and then back.  Fikre explained that she had said they were expecting a visitor but not a "Firenge" - a foreigner - and she was so nervous and very honored to have me in her home.

We ducked through the doorway into the darkened room, and as my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I noticed how the interior walls of this mud & dung hut had been painted repeatedly until they had an almost smooth, glossy coat.  Beniam disappeared into an adjoining room (their bedroom) where he rummaged through a few sacks of clothing looking for his school uniform. 

His mother explained that he was embarassed to have forgotten to wear it, especially on a day with special visitors.  When he could not find it in the bedroom, he came out and we had to stand up to look in the small wooden chest that we were using as a bench.  And there it was, with a few other items of tattered clothing.  He grabbed it, went into the other room to change, and emerged with a proud smile on his face to come and sit by me, while I talked with his mother.

Beniam's mother explained that her husband had died about 1 1/2 years ago of AIDS.  He had gotten sick and had just wasted away.  I asked if she was sick or any of the kids, and she said, "I was tested and am not infected," raising her hands and eyes toward heaven in thankfulness.  When her husband died, her elderly father moved in with them to help her with the house.  She does not have regular work and it has been a struggle to provide for her and the 3 children and her father.  As we spoke, I could hear voices from the other side of a tin partition, and she explained that they rent the other room of their house for income and they put up that piece of tin to separate the two rooms.

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.


Rebekah said...

And I assume that she appreciated the sugar and coffee. :) What a sad story, especially with her goiter! Sounds like a candidate for surgery to me. :( Interesting how she's still feeding her youngest! Loved all the pictures!

Debb said...

WOW! A richness that surpasses all material things.....

Apryl said...

With all of the chaos of the trip, I never got to hear details about these visits. These kids and their families were so amazing to me. Beniam's mom is simply stunning, and I can only picture the gratitude that you are describing. I was just telling my sister--the kids, families, teachers were so, so gracious and thankful.
thanks for the great post, looking forward to the next :)