To Ethiopia with Love

Two and a half years have passed since I clicked the “Sponsor Me” button on Compassion’s web site. Thus began the years of correspondence and of brightly colored pictures arriving in my mailbox.

I had heard of people traveling overseas and actually meeting their sponsored child, but I never dreamed that it would be possible for me to meet Wubalem, the little girl I sponsor in Ethiopia. It wasn’t until one day last summer that I even considered the possibility.

I was planning to go visit my sister who lives in West Africa and was checking around for the best flight options. On that particular day, all the connecting flights flew through Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. All of them.

I got in contact with Compassion immediately and they helped begin the process of making this trip possible. I filled out paper work, cleared background checks and applied for visas for my mom and I.

Our time in West Africa came to an end, after spending five wonderful weeks with my sister. We boarded the plane and flew over the Sahara desert and landed in Ethiopia.

046O3539The next morning, we got up at the crack of dawn and climbed in the Compassion vehicle and headed South, through the Rift Valley.

046O3647046O3611046O3683 046O3724We passed shepherds, herding flocks of sheep and oxen and even a train of camels. They weren’t so keen on sharing the road, so we pulled off and let them pass before we continued on our journey.

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We arrived at the Project around 2pm where we met Wubalem’s school teacher, pastor, and principal. They ushered us into the office. The smell of incense and freshly roasted coffee met us as we stepped inside. A coffee ceremony was being prepared for this special occasion.

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Without warning, Wubalem entered the office. Tiny, timid, but with big, trusting eyes.

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She greeted everyone there in the traditional way, and then sat next to me. There was silence for a moment, as all eyes were on me, then her, then back to me. I wasn’t sure how to proceed. “Did you have a good day?” I asked, looking at her. After the translator interpreted, she nodded. I knew that her eighth birthday was coming up. “What would you like to do for your birthday?” I asked. Her eyes shone as the words slipped from her mouth. “Maybe we will eat cake.”

But best of all, she told me that she would like to become a pilot when she grows up. Why? So she can fly to America to visit me.

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After a thorough tour of the school grounds and church building, we climbed into the Compassion vehicle and headed across town to Wubalem’s home where we would have the chance to meet her family.

We parked on a quiet street and walked towards Wubalem’s home. She lived in a poor section of town, but it looked clean and well kept. As we rounded a corner in the street, I could see through an open gate to a small gathering outside one particular home.

We stepped through the very same gate and moments later, were met by her family and a few curious neighbors. Wubalem’s dad greeted me first, speaking the few English words he knew, “I am Wubalem’s father.” Her mother emerged from the doorway and wrapped me in a tight hug. She told me through tears how much she loved me and appreciated what I did for her family.

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Throughout the visit, it became so evident to me that these people knew Jesus. There was light in their eyes and joy in their faces, in spite of the few possessions they had.

We were invited inside and sat down in their small, one roomed home. Crowded into their living room space, we exchanged stories. Wubalem’s mother sat across from me, cradling her baby girl. “You have helped my family so much. I am grateful to God for you,” she wiped the tears away from her eyes as she spoke. “God is so good to let you come and visit my family. Thank you, thank you.” she said.

“I grew up without a dad, but God always provided. No matter what. So, I am so happy to be able to share whatever I can with other people. And I have waited for this day to come for many months. I could not wait to meet you!” I said.

Wubalem’s father spoke up next. “Every time I think of you, I pray that God blesses you in return for the ways that you have blessed my family.” I let the words sink in slowly. Wubalem’s family prays for me. Somehow it had never occurred to me that these beautiful people from half way across the world prayed for me.

This sponsorship was so much bigger than I had ever imagined. It wasn’t only about what I could give to a needy child and her family. It was about a relationship that was impacting both of us. That day, I learned how giving and receiving intertwine.

The visit came to a conclusion much too soon, but the memory lives on forever in my heart.

046O4192 046O4254After the visit, we drove further South to this lake, where we watched the sunset.
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046O4520046O4584046O4562046O4649The people were so friendly and hospitable. The culture, so ancient, so rich and intriguing.

046O4672046O4662046O4674046O4689046O4677046O4713046O4728046O4748046O4731046O4757046O4798046O4795Back in the capital city, our hostess drove us around and introduced us to her favorite places and foods. She even took us to the cultural museum, knocking out her whole day just for us.

046O4802046O4805046O4827046O4833046O4902As the last sun set over that African horizon, we loaded our bags into our hostesses’ car and drove to the airport. It was hard to say good bye to this beautiful country with its charming people.

046O5177Goodnight, Africa.

So long, West Africa {part 5}

The time came too soon. The time to leave…

It meant hugging my nieces and my sister and her husband good-bye and getting on a plane and leaving them. Not knowing exactly when we’d see them again.

046O1556046O1533046O1633046O6821046O6771It meant saying goodbye to sunrises over that now-familiar African horizon.

046O0949 046O9342046O9310046O9355Goodbye, dust and smoke.

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Goodbye, little mill at the end of the road.

046O3375Goodbye to the neighbors.

046O3491 046O3493Goodbye to the friends I made on those evening walks around town.

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Goodbye, red roads with run-away mules stopping dead in their tracks to stare.

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Goodbye, darling children who lined up to have their picture made.

046O9984Goodbye, African sun.

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Hello, long ride in an airplane!

046O3531The journey of my time in Africa didn’t end in West Africa.

Part six, soon to follow.

Baby Aviella {Africa: Part 4}

Two weeks (to the day) after we arrived in West Africa, my niece was born.

I babysat the older niece during my sister’s labor and delivery. The moment that I got the phone call that the baby had arrived, we were dancing and twirling in the living room. “You can come and bring Talia up to the hospital,” the brother-in-law said. I grabbed a flashlight and locked the house and we walked hand in hand up the dusty street to the Baptist Missionary Hospital. Talia talked non-stop. “Are we donna do see da baby? Is da baby a boy or a dirl?”

Once we arrived at the hospital, I had trouble finding the correct room. We went to the wrong ward, then we found out that they had been moved to a private room away from the maternity ward. Finally, a nurse figured out who I was looking for and led me down a long corridor. “There,” she pointed to a doorway with double doors leading into the delivery room. I knocked, but there was no answer. Moments later, the doctor appeared and told me to sit and wait on a bench in the hallway. “They’ll bring the baby out momentarily.” I got my first glimpse of the bundled up new niece through the glass doors that led to the delivery room.

In that same hallway, I caught this moment of my brother-in-law introducing Talia to her new sister, Aviella Joy.

046O8741The remaining weeks that we had with my sister’s family revolved mostly around this little girl. Sleeping, eating, changing. Oh, and yawning. Because quite frankly, being a newborn is exhausting.

046O9053 046O9499 046O9515 046O9520 046O0926 046O0853046O1396046O1411The neighbors raised eyebrows very un-approvingly at the sight of my putting Aviella in the fufu pounder for pictures. Just for an extra safety feature, my mom stood just out of sight of these pictures, arms extended- ready to be my extra set of hands in case something went wrong.

No one was harmed in the making of these pictures. In fact, Aviella slept soundly through the whole incident.

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In the African market {part 3}

It took many months to prepare for our trip to Africa. So long in fact, that I thought maybe, just maybe the six weeks would stretch out into forever. But they didn’t. And now nearly nine weeks have passed since I returned home. How time flies.

I love to travel and experience new cultures like nothing else in the world. To say I was excited about this trip would be a huge understatement. I was ecstatic. 

046O6300Very quickly, going to market became the highlight of my weeks in Africa. There was so much action to capture, so many bright colors to fill the frame of every picture with. Not to mention, all the laughter and happiness.

046O6308 046O6310046O6546 046O6538 046O1239 046O1185046O1152046O6597046O6601046O6603046O6511046O6661046O3018046O6709046O3021 046O8084046O3028046O8072046O8148Till later.

To Africa {part 1}

It all began a year ago. That’s when I found out that my sister who lives in Africa was expecting her second child. My mom had flown to Africa when their first child arrived. This time, I wanted to go along too.

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Thus began the months of applying for visas, booking tickets, getting vaccinations, and investing in a stack of brand new memory cards to hold all the pictures I would take. I planned to travel without a laptop because I wanted to fully immerse myself into the culture- without spending those weeks editing pictures. I don’t know if I’d travel again internationally without a laptop (coming home to 7,500 + pictures to sort through and edit, was a daunting way to deal with jet-lag) but it worked for this short-term trip.

IMG_2936Destination: Africa.

046O3918It was a blustery October day in 2013 when we boarded the plane headed to Africa. We had two layovers and twenty-two hours of flying time ahead of us.

In the weeks that led up to my trip, I had a lot of work to do. There were wedding packages to complete and send off to clients, some of whom I’d only photographed a week before I left the country. I underestimated how much there would be to do before leaving the country. In the 48 hours before I flew to Africa, I got three hours of sleep. Needless to say, I slept a good portion of our time in the air.

Besides the four totes we carefully packed for my sister and her family, we packed our own belongings carry-on.

IMG_3060This depicts why I love airports so much:

IMG_2947For someone who had only flown for two hour segments at a time, the fourteen hour flight over the Atlantic felt long and tedious but also, ironically; luxurious. Here’s why: I love the timelessness that encompasses airtime.  Time seems to disappear as you float in the clouds. There’s a strange and wonderful detachment from the earth. Time fades. I know that time doesn’t literally stall, but it feels as if it does. There are those wonderful hours upon hours to read or stare out into the black abyss of the Atlantic ocean at night.

Watching the world clock blink in front of me, “Accra, Ghana 5:25PM. Addis Ababa, Ethiopia 8:25PM. Bangkok, Thailand 12:25AM. Washington, D.C. 12:25PM.” There was also that map that I kept going back to that showed our route with a tiny little airplane on it indicating where in the world we were and how much longer we had left on that flight.

Being fed meals in the middle of the night, however, was a strange encounter for me. I gave a few too many blank stares to stewardesses as they awakened me from sleep to offer me food. “Um, I don’t usually eat in the middle of the night, but thank you.”

IMG_0788 My first African sunrise (in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia):

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After arriving into the country, we spent the night at a guest house and got up at sunrise to catch the Northbound bus with hopes of arriving at my sister’s house that night.

046O5868046O6047046O5933046O5833To be continued.