Waiting to board our flight to Gambella.
My roommate in Addis, Rebecca.
Our awesome, fearless leader, Kiersten.
We would have been lost without Matthues as our guide.
My room was on the left.
These trees are beautiful and I want one in my backyard!
The view outside of my room.
The many trucks filled with supplies for the Sudanese refugees.
These precious children who were following us.
Just a herd of cattle trotting down the street. No big deal - happens every day in Powell, OH!
This was taken just before the old woman came and chased the children away.
Bathing, washing clothes, washing cars. You can do all of this in the Baro River.
We all loved this dead tree in the middle of this field.
More Baro River.
Fuzzball by the Baro River.
Our team in front of the Baro River.
The young ones loved to have their picture taken.
Our wonderful walking tour leaders.
A basketball scout just needs to come to Gambella and Viola! He will have a winning team as these men are TALL!!
Where we had every meal. We are inside because we couldn't handle the flies.
I was so excited to begin my morning with my Ethiopian tea that I love. Even though I have some at home it just tastes better in ET. Kind of like how Dr. Pepper tastes better in Texas. Wass loaded up the van for us and were on time with our 5:45 am departure to the airport. It was a good thing we were all so excited to be going to Gambella because none of us were happy about getting on a plane again. We had a long line when we got there but an uneventful check in. We headed to a waiting area and the ladies and I were all lamenting the fact that we forgot to bring toilet paper. We sat there for a few minutes trying to think of how to get some in case they didn't have any in Gambella. With no good ideas we stood up to head to our gate and as soon as Kerri stood up we saw that she had been sitting on a roll of toilet paper and hadn't noticed!! We all laughed and decided that God really wanted us to have that toilet paper and ask and you shall receive!
We boarded our plane to Gambella and we were happy to see that it was bigger than we thought it would be. I sat next to a man named Dilargachew, who was from Gambella and worked in Addis. He was a social worker and knew all about Brothers and Sisters orphanage where we would be working. He said he is trying to get into college in the US, Europe, or Canada. I told him that I would try to help him if I could. He wants to be an economist and return to ET to work. We exchanged information and he said he would try to find me in Gambella so he could give me his transcripts.
I should mention that people kept telling us all about how hot it was going to be in Gambella. I faced this with the approach of 'Bring it on!' I lived in Baton Rouge, LA and Houston, TX for 7 years and feel fully equipped to handle intense heat and sweat. I can still remember what that heat felt like. So I was very curious to step off the plane and experience this heat for myself. We got off the plane and Ok, yes it was definitely hotter than Addis but I wasn't too impressed yet (was probably in the low 90s). My initial observations of the landscape were pretty much aligned with the images I had formed in my mind of Gambella. I had thought, perhaps, that it would have been a little more lush than it was. We gathered together and collected our luggage off of one big cart. This was kind of a free for all. We then had to wait for some carts because we had so much stuff between all of our donations and luggage. We hauled it to the front of the airport and were picked up by three of the men working at Brothers and Sisters. We loaded up into two separate SUVs and made our way across the VERY bumpy road towards Gambella town. Not too much to see along the way except lots of short trees and scrub brush , most of which was dead. We did see the occasional mud and grass hut and I sucked in my breath as I imagined if that is what Kewogo's home looked like. When we began to enter Gambella town we straightened our backs and became more alert. The first thing I noticed were these beautiful trees with huge red flowering blooms on them. They were gorgeous and I wondered if these were the red flowers Lila talks about. She has mentioned numerous times about the red flowers in Gambella. These just had to be it. As we watched people walking down the streets I felt as though every face I saw reminded me of Kewogo. The people in Gambella have such a distinct look. Kerri and I had coined the phrase 'Hair Alert' as we are very interested in the different hairstyles of women and girls with the same hair as our daughters. Suddenly there were too many hair alerts to count. Then........we saw the river. The Baro River that identifies Gambella. The one that feeds into the Nile. The same river that Lila and I sit and look at on Google images. The same river of so many of her stories. As we looked at the river we saw people bathing in the river, washing clothes, washing cars and buses, and simply swimming in it. It was quite a sight.
We then pulled into our hotel and it was kind of as I expected. There was a small office and an outside patio with several tables and chairs. There was a restaurant and a bar. The rooms were small guesthouses with two rooms to each house. We checked in, dropped off our bags, and then headed to lunch. We started outside but realized quickly weren't up to the task of managing the flies so we headed inside. I was able to have my tegabino shirro which I love. Except it was solid instead of soupy so we knew next time to ask for shirro normal which became a joke for us. After lunch we headed to our rooms to rest and exhaustion had set in and I took a three hour nap despite the intense heat in my room. I had a ceiling fan but it proved to be worthless. I woke up completely drenched in sweat but feeling much more rested. At 4:00 pm we headed out on our walking tour led by Matthues (who is employed at HH and came with us to Gambella) and three other men from Brothers and Sisters. One of the men, Yilma, is the director of Brothers and Sisters orphanage. As soon as we rounded the first corner what do my ears hear? Could it be? Seriously? New Direction??!!! I can't even escape the boy bands halfway across the world!! "Oh! Oh! Oh! You Don't Know You're Beautiful!!"
Our walk was incredible! It was surreal to be in the very same place where Lila roamed around for the first few years of her life. We went straight to the river and it was bustling with activity. There were lots of people milling about and engaging in conversation, games, and simply hanging out. There were fuzzball tables set up and the young boys and young men were playing on them. We did get lots of looks as I do believe the 7 of us were the only white people in all of Gambella, but I soon discovered that if you smiled at the people there they almost always smiled back. I immediately noticed the abundance of mangoes in Gambella. There were big bowls filled with them and my mouth watered as I watched people eating them. Fruit is the one thing I can't live without when I travel and I begin to feel panicky at the thought of not having any. We made our way over to a shady spot underneath a tree where there were a few benches and a woman was serving coffee and tea. I declined; one because I don't drink coffee, and two because I was scared to drink the water even though I was pretty sure it was bottled. We had a nice time just watching the people enjoy the day and there were even some kids nearby who were served some coffee, too. So this is why Lila can drink a full cup of coffee! I noticed some old scratched out lottery tickets on the ground next to my feet. Andrew loves lottery tickets so I picked them up and put them in my purse to take home to him. After a while, we continued on our walk and we saw children playing in the street, half-naked, being silly. One group of kids started following us and we gave them our water bottles which caused them to erupt in cheers. They kept following us and we headed out over a field and they were playing a kind of peek-a-boo game with us. We took some pictures of them and then all of a sudden we saw a very old woman making her way up the hill with the use of a walking stick. She had a very determined look on her face and was not happy. She began speaking to the children and shooed them away from us. They quickly dispersed and when she seemed satisfied that they were safely away from us, she made her way back down the hill. It was quite the scene and we all loved how it showed the love and protection that that this woman demonstrated over these children. Another awesome thing we saw were lots of huge trucks lined up on the streets. We were told that they were filled with supplies for the Sudanese refugees that are living in surrounding Gambella. But then I never saw the trucks move so I wondered when or how these supplies were delivered.
Hot, filthy, sweaty, and dirty we made our way back to our hotel. We headed to dinner and Nate and I split the fish cutlet. It was pretty decent. We quickly came to discover that ordering our meals at the hotel would result in pure comedy every time. We were definitely not short on laughter during mealtime. That evening we started our nightly tradition of going around the table and sharing our favorite moments from the day. Mine was simply walking the streets in Gambella as I pictured Kewogo walking the same streets, eating mangoes, and swimming in the Baro. I still couldn't believe that I was actually here. I kept thanking God over and over for the chance to be here and have this experience and serve with this team. After dinner I went to my room and took a shower. There was no hot water so the shower was cold but it felt great because it was so hot. It reminded me of my first few days at Baylor as a Colorado girl not accustomed to the Teas heat and melting. My only relief was to take a cold shower. I was immediately sweaty after my shower but it felt good to be clean. I couldn't wait to begin our work at Brothers and Sisters the next day.