Sunday, August 24, 2008

Day 16 of 19 … “Children’s Heaven”, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Friday, August 15th,

We meet Hanna at "Children's Heaven" ... a place for teen girls whose family has been infected by AIDS to come for a half day program and love.

We eat breakfast each morning about 9:30am which is included in our stay. Each of the waiters now gets to know Tigist better each time and she falls into their arms while blowing them kisses. She won’t sit in the high chair as she is use to sitting in a chair like all of the other kids at the orphanage. She’ll throw her bread away (very far) if she is not understood. But then she melts your heart by saying, “Mama? Mwaa! Ababa? Mwaa!” She calls me Mama, Mommy or Amaye (Mother in Amharic) She calls David Daddy, Papa or A’baba (Father in Amharic.) She makes us laugh, she makes us cry. And it is a good thing she is so cute as we would be insane by now.

She is used to tea for breakfast and lunch and porridge or oatmeal for breakfast. She loves potatoes and injera (the traditional bread). She loves her dabo (spelling?) which is bread and makes a complete mess everywhere she goes. Her tummy is so big, I don’t know if she is bloated or just a 2 yr. old. I have apologized a hundred times so far for the messes that she makes, but they are always happy to clean it up as they understand the messes of a 2 yr. old. Or is she 3? I have no idea. I can’t wait to get her to a dentist and doctor for them to tell me better what age they think she is. The breakfast buffet is top of the line buffet offering everything we could need. We always miss lunch (as we have chosen not to eat outside of the hotel as we are trying diligently not to get sick like most people seem to do while here.) So breakfast gives us much needed energy for each day and what it holds…which is a lot.

Today we’ve planned to meet with Hanna Fanta of Children’s Heaven. It is the place for teenage girls to come for ½ the day for part of their sponsored program. I wish I could write everything that I’ve seen, but because I want to post this on the blog, I will only write what is appropriate for this type of forum. We were greeted by Hanna outside where she led us to a room where 40 or so beautiful smiling faces were sitting. There were 3 rows of about 15 girls. They welcomed us by introducing themselves one by one ... their name, hobby, grade and what they want to be when they grow up. Although soft spoken, you could sense the humble confidence that emanated from within.

After a traditional song & dance with beating of the drums, they offered us popcorn and a wheat and nut snack (kolo).  Hanna gave us some to take home. And of course they made coffee for us, actually everywhere we go they offer us coffee. We bought some traditional clothing for Tigist and they had us sit down, showed us clothing and offered us tea and coffee. It reminded me of when you go to those fufu stores like Gucci or Tiffany’s (I don’t, but I hear about it) that they serve champagne or wine), it was like that but in Addis 3rd world style…they took good care of us until we found what we wanted. We spent about $220 American dollars on 15 items. Wasn’t bad and her clothes are adorable. She will attend church at the Ethiopian church first and wear some of her new clothes. They make the coffee fresh for you by roasting, grinding and brewing it. Takes about 15 to 20 minutes, so when you drink it, it is purely fresh, full of love and really and truly good. You pay $3 for a shot of this at Star Bucks.

The few hours that we spent there were just precious. One of the girls actually did Tigist’s hair in my favorite way. I watched carefully of course and I’ve got it down now how to do it. Tigist at one point was sitting on a young girls lap. They were all feeding her and she was feeding them popcorn. I took this time to speak with Hanna where I said to her, “I don’t know how you do it!” I succeeded in holding back the tears while sitting for so long in front of these children. When you are my age (an adult) you just know what their future COULD be and you don’t know if they are going to have it. You can hope and pray, but you also know how life works. I see a boy here today (when boys are not a part of the program) and his sister come and hang out here. Hanna said the other day, their Father died from AIDS and their Mother is currently very ill. The oldest of the 3 siblings came just 2 days ago all the way from his home to tell Hanna the news. He was shaking and crying, explaining to her that his Father has now died. He fell into Hannas arms like a child to a Mother and wept as she comforted him. The younger 2 now come here to Children’s Heaven and just hang out, although I don’t think they are officially a part of the program.  

Hanna then told me that the girl that is holding Tigist right now gives her a bit of a hard time. The young girl who must be about 11 had been raped when she was 7. She was seven … what do you remember about your child when they were seven?  Probably not fighting off an animal who was violating them as they were walking to get water. Probably not! This would be a common story. The streets are not safe for the children. Today I must have seen 3 sets of 5 & 6 yr. olds holding hands while running across the INCREDIBLY busy streets going to somewhere, who knows.

Another girl who was the very last to introduce herself was so timid and so quiet. She too was the last one that David and I hugged as we hugged each and every one of those girls before we left. As David hugged her, Hanna explained that she is having a very hard time. Her parents are gone, and her sister doesn’t like her and does not want her to stay at their house. Where is she to go? Children’s Heaven is only a half day program. There are not enough funds to house these children nor are there funds to do much more than the bare essentials … if that. As it was my turn to hug her, I kissed her, hugged her and looked into her eyes and told her that she was beautiful and that I loved her. She let go, but I held her longer, letting her know that I cared.  Her precious little head melted into my chest and I felt for a moment that I may have offered her a minute of unconditional love as would a Mother to her child. I looked her again in her eyes and I said in Amharic, “Ewedehalehu” … I love you! Again, today it took everything in me to hold it together until I was out of their sight. When saying good-bye to Hanna and her co-worker, I said we would keep all of them in our prayers … truly. Tears came again as I realize that I walk away and have my needs met. Again, I don’t know how she does it. She said she doesn’t …. That it is God. 

Tigist was so good as she hung out with us for 3 hours. She fussed a bit here and there, but it all worked out. She is use to being around lots of children and people coming in and out. She calls every car a “beep-beep” because when they come to her big steel locked doors at the orphanage, that is the sound that she hears. From our hotel window, she sees the round-about as people come and go. She waves to them, blows a kiss and says, “Ciao!” It is really cute cause she really means it.
We didn’t have any more room in our luggage for donations to Children’s Heaven, but a guitar that David gave to her and 3 big boxes of beads that a lady from Utah donated that we promised to pass on. David teared up as he passed on this guitar to Hanna and the program. When we first met Hanna a few months ago, she had wished that she had a guitar to learn how to play. So David said, “Done!” I’ll bring you mine. He explained to her that he’s played this guitar for 20 years. It’s been with us through hard times and made little children smile as he’d play for them during worship at different schools and churches. That he was now proud to play it one last time for the girls and then bless it and pass it on with love. Hanna’s co-worker, Asere, said later that it meant so much to him what David had said and that he made sure that he “touched” the guitar first before anybody else, so that he in turn might be blessed in the work that he does. He, like Hanna, has a heart the size of Texas for these girls and knows of their pains and their hope for a bright future. When all of the girls introduced themselves, most of them said that when they grow up, they wanted to be a doctor. The rest said, Artist, Scientist, Biologist, Teacher … it was encouraging to see what Children’s Heaven is doing for these beautiful girls. Giving them hope where there was none.

Today was hard. Tomorrow we leave. We will not forget. We’re thankful for Children’s Heaven!

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