Ethiopia Street Fest

Thank you to everyone who came out to support us at this year’s Ethiopia Street Fest in Little Ethiopia last weekend.  We have a great time previewing the t-shirts, water bottles, and totes that we are making to sell at our second annual Benefit to Help on September 24th.  We met a lot of nice people who are going to help us spread the word about our benefit.  Hope to see all on you on September 24th!

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Ethiopia 2011 Day 13

Today we set off on the worst roads we have ever driven on! After 90 minutes winding along very narrow roads through the mountains we came over a hill and saw the Genok School off in the distance. Driving closer we could hear the singling voices of the students gathered to greet us. The sight of their big beautiful smiles still give me goose bumps! We found out about this school from our good friends at A Glimmer of Hope. They are building a new school here as well as a new Health Center. The day before we arrived they had just finished drilling the first of several wells that will provide clean drinking water for the students and the entire community. We are so excited to announce our new project – the fundraising for the desks and chalkboards at the Genok School.

The current school was built by the community three years ago and is a very rustic structure made of twigs and mud. The students crowd into three classrooms and sit on rocks and the ground . There are three grades – first, second and third. When the new school is completed (which will be in time for the new school year) there will be four classrooms and four grades. The community is so excited about this amazing community development project from A Glimmer of Hope and the are responsible for widening and improving the road so the construction vehicles and supplies can get through.

If you are interested in helping to support our new project at the Genok School you can make a donation here. Buy a desk and enrich the educational future for these amazing kids!

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Ethiopia 2011 Day 12

Today we spent the day in the car. We had to drive about 250 kilometers to get to the Mekele so we could visit our new school project tomorrow. The drive from Axum to Mekele was through a very remote part of the country but we were surprised to see that a new road connecting the two towns was about 50% done. Along the way we saw several large caravans of camels which the locals use to transport goods to markets in the area. The drive took us through some of the highest mountains in Ethiopia which provided us with some of the most amazing views. We arrived in Mekele several hours after dark so we had a late dinner and climbed in to bed. As I fell asleep my mind drifted off with anticipation of seeing the new school project and meeting new students.

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Ethiopia 2011 Day 11

This morning we met our friends from REST (a local NGO that has helped us with all our projects at the Zata School) to discuss giving micro-finance loans to residents of the Zata community. Our first stop was a home near the school where a local priest and his family lived. He and his wife have six sons, the four middle ones are currently attending the Zata School. Currently they farm several acres of land and grow crops that they use to feed their family and sell the left overs at a local market. With the help of a translator we were able to offer them a loan to buy a motorized irrigation pump that will allow them to grow more crops so they can sell them at the local market.

Our next stop was over the hill and down in the valley where many of the local residents have plots of land. We met a farmer and his wife who were working in the field tilling the solid with small hand hoes. They have four sons and one daughter who are all in school. They were also interested in a motorized pump so they could irrigate their land and grow crops that required more water. Currently many of the farmers are growing similar crops like potatoes and corn, but if they could grow tomatoes or fruit they would be able to make more money selling them at market.

Our last stop of the day was to meet with five women who each were interested in loans to help provide for their families. The first woman knew exactly what she wanted – two ox, five sheep and five goats. Done. The next was interested in a pump, the next wanted one ox, the third wanted a water pump, the fourth simply wanted a replacement hose for a pump she already had, The final woman was in her mid 50′s and not sure if she could pay back a loan because of her age. She had plenty of land to farm but she felt that at her age she might not be able to work hard enough to pay the loan. So I asked her if there was something else she could do besides farm. She hesitated and than said there was something she could do but we may not approve it. With the help of our translator we discovered her dream to have a coffee and tea stand. Our friends at REST said that she could make a profit selling coffee and that it was a good idea. We gave her the loan and she began to cry with joy, saying she thought we were angels. Walking back to the school I turned to Laura and said “I could do this every day!” Climbing back into our cars at the school the children began to crowd around us begging us to stay and play soccer with them. Knowing we had a long drive ahead of us we had to settle for big smiles and lots of friendly waves. This too was another best day!

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Ethiopia 2011 Day 10

So the day we’ve been looking forward to has finally arrived – we are going back to the Zata School. After a two hour drive we came over the hill and could see the school on the horizon…and 1300 students parading out to greet us! The feelings of joy and excitement washed over us as we heard the chanting and singing of our beloved students! All of the children from both the morning and afternoon sessions were there to welcome us, along with all 29 teachers and the new principal.

We got a tour of the campus and saw so many changes and improvements that had been made since our visit in 2009. It was hard to believe that “Friends Helping Others” – a small group of friends with a dream of helping kids have a better future – had been able to have such an impact on these wonderful kids lives. New shutters and doors, new desks and concrete floors, a new library with books – not to mention the water well and bathrooms.

The best part of our visit was getting to spend time with the students. We sat in on their lessons and were able to experience what it was like for them to go to school here. The highlight of our day was hosting an art lesson. We brought crayons, markers, colored pencils and paper with us so the kids could draw pictures! None of them had ever drawn with color before – what an amazing time we had watching them draw pictures and color with their imaginations going wild.

When they were done, Amedeo took their portraits with their drawings (we can’t wait to share their art with you all) He had so much fun getting them to smile and capturing their personalities in the photos! In a trip full of best days this unforgettable day was certainly the best of all!

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Ethiopia 2011 Day 09

This morning we flew from Lalibela to Axum. In addition to being a possible location of the Ark of the Covenant, the city of Axum is famed for its giant granite stelae. Dating from around 300-500 AD, most the Axum stelae seem to predate the arrival of Christianity to Ethiopia. Their purpose is almost certainly religious, but the details are not known for certain. The stelae were most likely funeral monuments for Axum’s ancient rulers, who may have been buried in tombs beneath them. Some have altars at the base with grooves cut into them to carry away blood from sacrifices. Christianity was adopted by the royal family in Axum in the 4th century AD, and by the population at large in the 5th century, which means these stelae date from a fascinating period of religious change. It was great to be back in Axum but all I could honestly think about all day was that tomorrow we were going back to the Zata School.

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Ethiopia 2011 Day 08

This morning was another early start. Laura and I woke up at 5:30 to go to a prayer service with our guide Terry. Today was the feast of St. Michael, so the locals were gathering at the rock church named for him at dawn for prayers. Terry arranged for us to get the beautiful big white prayer shawls that they everyone wears so we would be respectful of their traditions. It also helped us to blend in and not stand out as tourists. Ethiopians are incredibly spiritual and their faith is very important to them. As we entered the church and could hear the melodic chanting pf prayers it was as though we had traveled back in time to the 12th and 13th centuries when these churches were carved from the stone hillsides.

We returned to the hotel for breakfast and left with Amedeo for our morning excursion. Farther afield from the churches in the town of Lalibela lies the monastery of Ashetan Maryam. This remote monastery lies at an altitude of almost 4000 meters on Abuna Yoseph, the high mountain overlooking Lalibela. The church is carved out of a cleft into a cliff face so the best way to get there is by mule. So we set off on a two hour ride up the mountain. Several times during the journey we had to get off the mules because the trail was too steep and rugged. But it was well worth it – the views from the top were breathtaking!

After our adventure we went to Terry’s family’s house and met his parents and brothers and sisters. One of his sisters made coffee for us – what a treat to share an experience like this in someone’s home. This amazing day ended with an incredible sunset from the balcony on our rooms at the Mountainview Lodge. It’s moments like this that I have to remind myself this isn’t all a dream!

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Ethiopia 2011 Day 07

We left our hotel this morning at 4:30 for an early morning flight to Lalibela, a town in northern Ethiopia, known for its monolithic rock churches. Lalibela is one of Ethiopia’s holiest cities, second only to Aksum, and is a center of pilgrimage for much of the country. Unlike Aksum, the population of Lalibela is almost completely Ethiopian Orthodox Christian.

When we arrived we were met by our guide Terry who had been our guide two years ago during our first visit. After checking in to our amazing hotel, the Mountainview Lodge, we had the morning free so Laura and I went for a walk in the neighborhood near our hotel. It wasn’t long before we had lots of children parading with us through the narrow streets.

After lunch we visited the first group of rock-hewn churches. During the reign of Saint Gebre Mesqel Lalibela who ruled Ethiopia in the late 12th century and early 13th century, is said to have seen Jerusalem and then attempted to build a new Jerusalem as his capital. The great rock-hewn churches of Lalibela were not built with the help of the Knights Templar; abundant evidence exists to show that they were produced solely by medieval Ethiopian civilization. The most amazing of the 13 churches is the Church of St. George which is carved nearly 50 feet deep into a solid hillside of rock and has been referred to as the “Eighth Wonder of the World”.

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Ethiopia 2011 Day 06

After five days in the Omo Valley it was time to start heading north towards the capital, Addis Ababa. We stopped for lunch at a local place and were greeted by children with big smiles. Throughout our drive we were constantly reminded of how of the work the women in girls in Ethiopia do. They carry large heavy loads of wood, crops and water on their backs – walking miles and miles each and every day. When we would stop to take their photos they always greeted us with big smiles. Amazing! Laura was always quick to give the girls ink pens – her way of rewarding them for their commitment to hard work! Every now and then we would see a man working hard in a field plowing with oxen and what seemed like ancient wooden plows. After a full day of driving we arrived in Arba Minch for our overnight stay. The view from our hotel overlooked Nech Sar National Park with Lake Abaya in the distance. Such a beautiful place to end our stay in the Omo Valley and a reminder of the breathtaking beauty Ethiopia has to offer.

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Ethiopia 2011 Day 05

Woke up early and started the day with our new best friend – Ethiopian coffee! While making our coffee, our barista Jemal told us about himself and his family. He was married with a son (who’s name means Love) and despite his age he attends the school that we visited the day before. He works at the hotel in the mornings and evenings and know that an education is the only way he can ensure a good future for his son. Kind of starts you off in the right frame of mind when your barista is as motivated as Jemal.

We left the hotel at 6:30 and headed off to the Mago National Park where the Murci Tribe live. We had heard a lot about this tribe and were really excited about seeing them. Stories and photos can’t prepare you for actually meeting them face to face. Just before reaching the village we came across three teenage boys along the road. They were naked with their bodies painted with white paint (made from gypsum) in spiral and geometric designs.

When we got to the village we me with the tribal elders and negotiated with them to take their photos. We gave them a gift of razors which they use for grooming. The Murci men are proud warriors and the woman – despite their disturbing lip plates – are quite beautiful. In fact, our guide Daniel explained that their beauty is why they have their lip plates. Hundreds of years ago other tribes would kidnap the Murci women and take them back to their villages to be their wives. So the Murci men inserted plates in the women’s lips so they would not be attractive to other tribes. Now the lip plates are considered beautiful and the women create and decorate their own plates to be the most beautiful. The bigger the plate, the higher the status of the woman. Clearly beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

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