Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Court Trip - Post 8 - On The Streets

When we were finished eating lunch, we headed out again to do some more shopping. The driver took us to a row of shops near the post office. Traffic was a little worse (if that's possible). It was Monday. People were back to work and school was in session. Vans drove around loaded with sweet little children in their matching uniforms. Children walked down the streets in groups -- the lucky ones -- who got to attend school. We noticed that their "uniforms" seemed to be by age groups. The 7/8 year olds all wore a green sweater vest. The older kids all wore a red sweater, etc. They were all happy and skipping along. They knew they were blessed to be able to attend school. How I wish my children could see and understand how blessed they are!!

At one particularly horrendous intersection, with cars, vans, and trucks going in all different directions, I was in the back row of seats in the van and out of the corner of my eye, I saw the very top of someone's head, going out INTO the middle of traffic. My heart lurched and I exclaimed, "Is that a little kid?!" (because it was so low to the ground that I thought it had to be a TINY little kid!). Amanda looked out the side window, looked back with a devastated look on her face and replied, "No. It's a crippled man."

We looked out the side window and were shocked. Never have I seen anything like it in my life. Both of his legs were completely bent, like he was squatting as low as he could, but they bent in a strange way so that he was walking on the sides of his feet, with his hands behind him -- like a sort of twisted crab walk. He was weaving his way through the crowded, crazy streets. It was heart-breaking and amazing at the same time. How had he survived to this age in that condition? What caused his deformity? Was it something easily treatable or correctable if he only lived someplace where he had access to medical care? What strength of spirit drives someone in that condition, in that poverty, in that state of life to carry on, to go out and do whatever he can to survive?!

There was no shortage of things to marvel at on the streets in Addis.

We saw meat hanging in the open, dirty air.
There was, at times, amazing beauty -- trees covered with beautiful lavender blooms, exotic colorful blooms, smiles on faces that would light up a room. There was life! But, there was also death, decay, and destitution -- a dead dog just laying in the middle of the sidewalk decaying, people laying and living on the streets, deformed and crippled men and women laying on the street corners begging to survive. I saw a woman laying asleep on the street with her bare breast hanging out of her shirt, her nursing baby sitting next to her awake and alone.

Beautiful trees tucked amidst the shacks.

Gorgeous countryside

With children running out to chase the van and beg for food.

The people were always beautiful though! They had on rags, but they also had smiles on their faces and a twinkle in their eyes. Friends - men, women, boys, and young girls - were so loving to one another. Men embrace one another. They hold hands. Boys and teens walk with their arm slung around their pal next to them. I had read about it in my travel guide, but it was so heart-warming to see. A very conservative country - Ethiopia outlaws homosexuality. Men and women do not ever display romantic affection in public. But same gender affection is common. Friend to friend, brother to brother, sister to sister, they are close. They care for one another and love deeply. A true community.

Workineh and our driver

Men on the streets of Addis

I saw so many grown men, dressed in tattered clothes, stop to have their shoes shined by the adolescent boys trying to earn money for food or for their families. I kept thinking that surely they didn't really have the money to have their shoes shined, but I suspect that many of those men grew up doing the same for their families. They knew what those boys were facing and they wanted to help them.

While we shopped at the row of stores, my other saddest experience in country occurred. A young boy, probably 8 or 9 years old, approached me and said, "shoe shine, miss?" I said, "no thank you" and kept walking but he followed. "Please Miss. Please. Shoe shine?" I looked around and it was crowded. There was a man selling maps on the streets, another 2 selling jewelry, another selling watches and hats. I couldn't. If I did, they'd all come. I couldn't create another near incident! "No thank you, honey." He looked like he could cry. "please Miss," he begged, "the other kids, they get to go to school. I no go to school. I have to do this. Please. No business today." My insides were being shredded. I had to get away before I burst into tears. "I am so sorry, honey. No thank you." I started to duck into the nearest store before I lost it, but not before he lowered his head and said, "it's ok, Miss. God bless you." Ugh. There it was. The final blow. I felt sick. I tried to get myself together. I fought back the tears and tried to catch my breath as I thought about how my sweet Markos, IF he survived, might have been doing this same thing in a few years in order to survive. Thankfully, when I left the store, the crowd had dissipated a little but he was still there. I quickly handed him a pack of peanut butter crackers. His eyes lit up just a tiny bit and he said, "thank you, Miss! thank you!" Oh, how I wish there was more that I could have done for that sweet one!

Eric gave a Nutri-grain bar to a mother holding her infant daughter as she begged, "please sir, food for my baby." and we watched as she really did give the whole thing to her daughter. I wondered what or if she ate that day.

But again, once the word gets out that you have food, that you have money to spend, the beggars come from everywhere. Our driver had gone to round the remaining shoppers of our bunch up. When he was gone, the beggars surrounded the van. They begged. They pleaded. They put their hands in the windows, and after the windows were closed, they began to try to get them open. Quickly a man, dressed in all green, carrying a club came. He yelled at the children and the beggars. They scattered as he picked up a rock to throw at them. We don't know if he was a policeman or a security guard for the shops, but he stayed with us until our driver returned.

As we drove, we saw funny and marvelous things, too. All the men, especially, were amazed by the scaffolding that surrounded all the buildings under construction. It was bamboo poles tied together.

As I have said before, there seemed to be no rules of the road at all. We saw hilarious things tied to the tops of cars or piled into the back of trucks.

One of our favorite pictures of things piled onto the top of a vehicle.
We also saw trucks filled to overflow with giant burlap sacks of potatoes and men just standing on top of them. We only saw one car seat for children in one car. (it was probably some American visiting there!)

And, I was surprised to see VW Beetles everywhere. At first, I was cracking myself up by hitting Eric and exclaiming, "red one!", "blue one!", etc. (because our children insist on playing the 'punch buggy', 'slug bug', or whatever you call it, game ALL THE TIME, thereby driving us NUTS!). I didn't want him to miss them too much! ;-) But, after a while, there were so many that it just became annoying. I took a few pictures of some of them just so when I showed the kids the pictures, I could say "blue one!" and hit them as they looked at the pictures. :-) ha ha!

We also passed little shops all along the roads. And, we saw some open air type "markets" where people just spread their goods out on the side of the road on a blanket to sell them. We saw potatoes, tomatoes, tennis shoes, shirts, bags, just about everything you could imagine. But, I was glad that we didn't shop there. Seemed far too chaotic for me! Like our malls on Black Friday!

Ethiopia was definitely someplace where you saw everything. Shocking, devastating, beautiful, amazing, heart-breaking, heart-warming....in the same day, in a matter of minutes, sometimes in the same moment! It was exhausting, the most crazy emotional roller coaster you can imagine! But, I can't wait to go back. I wouldn't have traded that time for anything!

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