Saturday, January 5, 2008
My Journey to Ethiopia By Eucharia Mbachu
This gallery of photos in this website tells my story, which took place during my visits in some African countries.
My most recent visit was in April this year to Ethiopia, that visit had changed my life. This country has historical and glorious significance to me. An ancient land that has been celebrated in the Bible and elsewhere in history, Ethiopia enjoys the enviable status of being the headquarters of the African Union (formerly known as the organization of African Unity).This role has made it the center of African diplomacy and international relations.
My pictures captured many aspects of life in that nation’s capital. The shades and colors embodied in the individual pictures that excited me the most were the photos of young Ethiopian children struggling with life and trying to make their best out of their peculiar circumstances on the streets of Addis Ababa. Through their acts of courage and forbearance, during difficult times they have remained undaunted. Although poverty and disease in Africa have made life difficult and perilous to these young children and seemingly foolhardy Ethiopian children, they remain hopeful. Their stories deserve the attention of the world.
My intention for going to Ethiopia was totally different from what I came back with. On April 21, 2007, I attended a conference that lasted about five days. At its conclusion, I checked out from my hotel and headed to the airport. Before I could check in for my flight I learnt about some technicalities that deserve immediate diplomatic attention. I left the airport to settle this matter and this gave me some more days at the capital. In light of these changes, I decided to stay at another hotel. One driver who had served us well at the conference proved very helpful when I felt the need to deploy his services around the city. He accepted my offer to drive me around the city. This gave me the opportunity to immortalize my memories in video and pictures.
About a mile or so as we were driving, I saw three young boys, the oldest I came to know was 13. The two others were twelve and eight respectively. These children were sitting on the hot ground at a temperature of about 90 degrees. The heat of that day was just another painful reminder of what homelessness meant to these children on the streets of Addis Ababa who are condemned to live with and feed on trash.
When I first set my eyes on the I immediately ask the driver to stop. I watched them for a brief moment from the car and I saw how orderly and organized they were, I was held in aware and captivation, as they took their turns to eat from the plastic bag full of ‘ncahra’ (the Ethiopian local food). This delight of the day was their lucky meal picked from the trash bin. After a brief moment of careful observation from a distance I inched towards them as a journalist looking for a good story would. However, if that was my intention, the set of circumstances ruled otherwise.
Rather I asked if I could sit with them, they immediately made space for me. Not only did I sit with them to ask questions, they also invited me to eat with them. The eight year- old boy took my hand and dipped it into the plastic bag, I came out with my palm full of njara and they all broke out laughing. I too joined in their laughter. What should I do, eat the food from the trash? After all, in the United States of America, we do not even eat food without washing it and washing our hands. But here we are picking food from the trash, and eating it? I felt I had no choice but to eat the food, immediately it was like a covenant between us. There were tears streaming down my face.
I finally asked them, “Why are you on the street without your parents?” The oldest boy told me he had no parent; I don’t have parents, “they are dead”. He went on to say that he was living with his uncle who often abused and maltreated him; and sometimes would hit him with sticks. He quickly added that he did not mind as long as there was a place to stay and be able to go to school. But his hopes were dashed out when the uncle asked him to go and live with his cattle. Under these circumstances it was almost impossible for this child to go to school. Whatever were the hopes for him to secure a home they got quashed. Hence a place to stay was gone, food, only God knows where and when one would come along his way. After some months, he ran away, walked for weeks with little or no food or water, sometimes passersby would stop and gave him something to drink or eat. He had no idea where he was going, other than there was a place called Addis Ababa, the capital city, were impossibilities are made possible. Finally, one day a truck driver stopped for him and asked where he was going. He responded, “I don’t know”. The kind driver was going to Addis Ababa. That is how Robin (not real name) got to Addis.
The 12 -year old said his mother was dead but he was living with his father. He went through the same ordeal Robin went through. His case is slightly different in the sense that his father sometimes would not allow him to come to the house. Rather he forced him to go out and live in the streets in order to collect money for his drinks. When he refused, the father started beating and hitting him with sticks and starving him. He too would go for days without food unless he went to the farm to pick fruits to eat. As the abuses became so unbearable, he too left. He did not know where his father lives or how to get back to his village. The third and fourth boys, the eight- year old and the other twelve- year old kids were born on the street. Their mothers, brothers and sisters all live on the street. The youngest among the kids has no clue as to what was going on around him. They bigger kids call him “baby”, they protect and treat him so.
You may wonder how I communicated with these kids. I speak English but know nothing about their language. They too were trapped in their home language and spoke no English. The driver came to my rescue in his own Ethiopianized English. After we finished eating, it was time for photo opportunities. We took some before I left, I gave them 50 Birr (about $5U.S dollars) in their local currency. “Don’t call me stingy and mean spirited;” This amount was big money in Ethiopia. As I said before, I felt a sense of duty towards these kids. I told them by tomorrow that I would take them to the store to get some clothing. I asked where we could possible meet. They said “we are homeless, we don’t have any particular place to stay” Then they pointed towards a bridge, saying “sometimes when it’s too hot we go there for a shade”
Finally, we agreed to meet at the same spot the following day at noon. I got there at 1 PM because the driver who wanted to make quick cash by telling me how his car engine was broken down and needed $800 from me for the repair, delayed my arrival. Although I had paid him in full for the two days, he did not show up. The hotel was able to get a cab for me, but I didn't even know the name of the street we were in the day before. It was not stupidity on my part; I was simply carried away. Struggling with this quandary, I sought the assistance of my first Taxi driver for directions. He was not very cooperative. He changed his mind only when I offered to pay him some money was made. He asked us to pick up and this we did so he could take us to the children. Upon his arrival we drove to our meeting place. As soon as the kids saw me they ran towards me, and each gave me a huge. Present was another boy at age twelve who was with them when we got there. They told me the four of them stayed together but he was not there when I first met them. He also has a mother and two sisters who live on the street.
I knew they had not eaten all day, and so first thing of the day was to take them to a restaurant. They ravished the food and soda in seconds. I ordered more and more food. Suddenly I realized they were eating not because they were hungry, but because their survival skills dictate that they eat like the proverbial camel to preempt famine tomorrow!
From the restaurant we went to the ‘mecato’. As we were driving they saw their friends who were homeless kids running and chasing our car in motion. While on the road we got delayed by traffic lights. And these kids who were chasing our vehicle tried to force the door open. When we got to the market, we had over fifty homeless men, women and children following us, pushing, and sometimes trying to steal. One of the boys got lucky, he patiently followed us, did not say anything. He caught my attention and I asked the big kid if they knew him. “Yes, we do” was his answer. But later on they confessed to me this boy was a stranger unknown to them. They simply wanted me to help him as well. This is how kind -hearted these poor homeless children are. So whatever I bought for them I also bought for him. I spent far more than I had budgeted for them. I bought under-wears, slippers, towels, soap, tooth brushes, toothpastes and a bunch of other household effects.
Remember these kids had not taken bath for weeks before our meeting. Their desperation was shown by their lack of shoes, and their faces, legs and hands had scores of sores. What they wore, were torn and falling off their tiny little bodies. I was horrified by the large crowd following me in a foreign country. Some of the other kids were very wild. Because I did not give them anything, they started to throw stones at us. In fact, the little boy was hit with a stone on his face, it got swollen, I took hime for treatment.
Later we went to the public bath, paid and waited in line for about an hour. Although I paid for each one for a separate bathroom, all but the oldest boy refused to bath alone. They decided to bathe together. It took more than an hour to finish. God! Who knows how long they had not taken a bath... From there we were very tired; I took them to my hotel, we had a nap and afterward left for dinner. After this ceremonial dinner, I asked myself about the future of this relationship with the kids. Should I ask them to go back to the street and be picked up in same place the next day? Looking at my own life and the fears I had for my own younger brothers I quivered and searched for a way out for these struggling kids. From that moment on I decided I was not going to let them go back to the street. Caught in this fix I had no inkling about the future. But one thing that was very strong in me was the idea of God and His power to will and concretize realities. I came to believe that my missed flight back to the US was a divinely inspired prologue to this drama.
With this confidence, I started asking around how to get an organization that can help tackle this problem. I had only two days to get back to the States. It was difficult. I guess there are about an estimated three million homeless people in Addis Ababa alone. They are people who have come to accept homelessness as part of life. Oh, homelessness! How lamentable to register that a number of women, children and elderly persons roamed the street of Addis Ababa in search of home and security? I was so exhausted that I just lay on the couch while they were taking a nap in the bed. I ordered coffee, and when the steward came. I asked if he knew someone who could take care of the kids for me while I made more permanent arrangements for them. He promised to help but wanted us to discuss it after work. He closes at 10 PM everyday. He told us to meet him outside of the hotel for fear his employer might not take it kindly with him if he found out. I was scared at first. I was apprehensive about meeting a strange man in a strange place at night with these four kids. It was frightening to meet him at one dark corner at night. I felt the need to get the kids off the street! This was greater than the fear in me being out late at night not knowing where I was.
Before we got to him, he had already made plans where the kids would sleep and it would cost about 180 Birr a night for each child. These kids refused to sleep separately. We made an agreement that I would pick them up very early every morning. I acted on that agreement. I became a Robin Hood, because my finances were going down and I had to develop a new strategy for us, especially for the kids to survive. This is what I did. Every morning before the hotel guests come for breakfast, I would go down and get as much food as we could eat for breakfast. At first, the workers were looking at me as if “something must be wrong with her”. But as days went by and they started seeing the kids with me, they became sympathetic. We finally got a place close to the Sward’s family house where he would take care of them.
What I currently do and what you can do!
My friends and readers of this column, this is my story and experience in Ethiopia. Now I send money every month for their maintenance and upkeep. Schools are out; I really don’t know what they do every day. I have no physical access to them. I would have loved to visit them but it’s very expensive. I rather use that money towards their upbringing than on transportation. I try to call them at least once a week along with sending emails. As you read this story, take time to look at the videos and pictures, you will notice a great difference between when I first met them and the transformation they have achieved. There are lots of challenges to raise them and at the same time pursue the other needs for women and children in Africa. Please make a generous donation; nothing is too small or a big one. May God bless you! I know that the good Lord who made it possibel will sustain us all.
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