We learned that Shalom Children's Home in Awassa, where Dawit lived for 4 months, was celebrating its one-year anniversary today, and they would wait for us to arrive so we could celebrate with them. What amazing timing! Spence and I set off with Bethany staff Sisay and Kate, and our driver Asserat.
Once outside of Addis, the scenery changed dramatically. Roads clogged with fume-laden vehicles gave way to open plains, small towns and donkey-drawn wagons. Kids herded goats alongside the road. Cows that seemed to belong to no one wandered around willy-nilly. Close-set compounds were replaced by mud huts with grass roofs. The countryside was gorgeous. In some ways we were simply leaving the city for the country, but it felt like we were entering a different country.
We were all pretty astounded by the livestock running around loose, crossing roads in front of cars, causing traffic to come to a standstill. I'm not sure how ownership works, but I felt sure that every cow, goat or donkey belonged to someone, that there was some unwritten code of that's yours, this is mine. To people who have so little, each animal must have great value.
About 2 hours into the drive, we stopped at a hotel in Shashemane to use the bathroom and have a macchiato in the courtyard. This was the first of several stops that made our journey to Awassa so memorable. The five of us sitting there drinking incredibly sweet, wonderfully rich, caffeine-laden coffee was just the thing I needed to relax and soak up the slow-paced culture.
We headed out again, then stopped for lunch at Sabana Resort/Restaurant alongside Lake Langano. As the dry landscape turned strikingly mountainous, this dramatic lake seemed like a mirage in the desert. The restaurant was perched on a cliff overlooking the lake and down below people swam and splashed. Lunch options were a mix of Ethiopian, Italian and American fare, and Johnny Cash and James Taylor rocked in the background.
We learned we needed to hurry as the Shalom staff was waiting for us. We dropped our bags at the Lakeside Hotel, which incidentally wasn't lakeside as far as I could see, sponged off (did I mention how hot Awassa was? I actually took a full-blown cold shower), then headed to Shalom.
We were greeted by the entire staff, including Israel, Abreham and one other man whose name escapes me, and a feast of cake, popcorn and other traditional snacks (I can't remember the name of the barley snack). They made a short speech about the accomplishments of the orphanage in one short year, all the staff helped cut the cake, and they served a traditional coffee ceremony. After the fanfare died down a bit, I revealed to some of the staff that we had sent our dossier to Ethiopia on June 6, the very day Shalom opened, so the day was special to me in two ways. We talked briefly with one of Dawit's nannies using a translator, who told us Dawit likes to play in the middle of the night. I asked when he usually sleeps. She said, "When he's sleepy." Spence videoed the discussion so we could show it to Dawit later.
They gave us a tour and I saw small pictures of Dawit posted on bulletin boards in a couple of places. The babies there are clearly loved, Dawit especially as he came to Shalom very young. The baby beds are painted bright colors, and small pictures hung on the walls, they said, for babies' enjoyment. We were blown away by the love and caring that emanates from the staff.
After our visit we went to a place (restaurant?) for Cokes and orange sodas. I started feeling slightly weird and decided to forego dinner. I think I was partially scared that I would get sick and not be able to make the trip back to Addis. But I went to bed early and was fine the next morning. I woke fairly early, about 5 minutes before a herd of monkeys stampeded across the roof of our room, making a serious racket. We ate breakfast and headed to the fish market on our way out of town.
Hordes of men and boys were cleaning and selling fish alongside Lake Awassa. Our light skin attracted lots of followers hoping to get a birr or treat of some sort. I make a dumb mistake and covertly gave a boy a sucker from my backpack. I was soon mobbed by young boys. You'd have thought I was giving away hundred dollar bills. We checked out some cool Marabou (birds) and Columbus monkeys.
On our way back to Addis we made a quick side trip to a small town called Wondgenet. There we hired a guide to take us on a walking tour of the hot springs up on the mountain. I say "we," but I mean Sisay and Asserat, who negotiated with a slew of young men to choose one lucky boy to be our guide. We paid him 50 birr for about an hour's tour. It was cool to hike up the mountain and touch water that was 130 degrees. Locals come up here and pack the hot sand around their bodies for healing. We were frequently followed by one man or another, one of which carried a large machete. (I tried not to walk at the back of the group, lest I disappear.) At another location men were huddled around a bubbling spring of steam that pooled for a minute then tumbled down the mountain. I chuckled at Sisay who, always stylish, walked in cowboy boots and a pressed button-down and never broke a sweat.
We stopped briefly for lunch and one more time at the same hotel in as before for macchiatos and potties, then rolled into Addis about 6 p.m. to meet Shadley, Dan and Esias for the first time. We enjoyed visiting with them over Birtukan's amazing dinner of wat, tibs, spinach, carrots and injera until we couldn't stay awake any longer.
Tomorrow: Dawit, ours, forever!