The loooooong trek home

(Written by team member, Debbie Wyne)

Day 8, Sintaro Village Update, Feb. 7, 2015

Its been a short night, but I’m excited because I get a nice, hot shower this morning! The Sabana has been a lovely place to stay and it’s been delightful to be where things are clean and everything is working.  The only thing not in operation is the wifi.  Still.  How many days has it been now? We’re coming to the conclusion that the lack of wifi has more to do with the government’s control over it and we think that the upcoming elections are driving the lack of wifi availability.  I’m sure my family is wishing they would hear from me, and it is frustrating that there is nothing I can do to communicate.

The morning atmosphere of the lovely restaurant is delightful.  I only eat a few bites of banana bread because this is the day we get on a plane to start our flight home and I am nervous about eating anything that may set my stomach off again.  As I eat I realize that the birds have made themselves very comfortable inside the restaurant.  They are flitting about and chirping and sit on perches all throughout the restaurant putting on quite a show for us.  I almost feel as if I’m inside an aviary!  In fact, if a plate is left unattended, the birds will swoop down for a little breakfast themselves! It seems that in Sabana, the early bird get the pancake!

The team assembles for our final day together.

The team assembles for our final day together and the journey home.

As we drive out of the gated resort, the local kids spy us.  They’ve learned that if they perform for the tourists that some may take pity on them and offer handouts.  They run into the dirt “road” in front of us and dance and do handstands.  I have to say, that it’s not at all cute to me.  It’s a dangerous and uncomfortable situation and from all we’ve learned about how to best provide assistance without negative repercussions, we know it’s best to ignore this begging behavior and just keep on driving.  If you’re interested, I highly recommend the book, “When Helping Hurts”.  It was required reading before going on this trip and it was very enlightening.

We have about a 4 hour drive ahead of us to return to Addis Ababa, so we settle in.  By now I’ve become accustomed to the sights along the road, but today I see a few new things.  As well as the goats, cattle, donkeys pulling carts, and a plethora of pedestrians, I also see 3 camels–including an adorable baby camel, baboons, an ostrich, and even a dead hyena in the road. The morning is still cool and once we hit the main road (which is asphalted), we are able to open the windows and enjoy a nice breeze without too much dust.

Along the way, we stop at the Strawberry restaurant for a restroom break and a snack.  Once again, I pass on the food, but I am thankful for a flush toilet.  I haven’t given you many details of our bathroom situation, but trust me when I say this is a luxury! My perspective has certainly changed from when I was here just a few short days ago.  Last time I was here I feel as if this is a very remote place and severely underdeveloped.  Now, I feel like I’m living in the lap of luxury by comparison to what I’ve seen in Sintaro Village and on the road along the way.

We finally reach Addis and I’m happy because we’re almost there, but it takes f-o-r-e-v-e-r to get anywhere here.  Traffic is horrible and our driver is assertively, but safely, pushing his way through the throng of diesel spewing trucks, people and livestock.  We’ve left the windows open because it’s quite hot now and the fumes and odors that flow in are stifling. We have a 2pm appointment at the Azee Cafe with some Hope Enterprises representatives and we slowly make our way the final kilometers.

I must interject how thankful I am for our wonderful driver this week.  He has traversed some of the most difficult terrain imaginable and has safely avoided untold obstacles along the way.  Well, there was the dog incident, but I’m trying desperately to forget that… He is aware of the size of our small bus, down to the millimeter it seems, as he has narrowly brushed by all kinds of living things in motion. Also, we learn today that while he has been with us this week, his wife has given birth to a daughter!  He hasn’t seen her yet and he doesn’t even know her name.  Later we are told that she is Eldonna, which means “gift of God”.

At the Azee Cafe we enjoy some Ethiopian coffee by ordering cappuccinos and macchiato’s. My traveling companions assure me that this is the best coffee in Ethiopia So I purchase some whole bean coffee to take home and share.  Kindri and Lori meet up with the people from Hope while the rest of us snack on Tiramisu and cream puffs.  It’s been hours since I’ve eaten my small little helping of banana bread and I can’t help myself but try it.  I say a little prayer that my stomach stays settled.

You may have noticed a number of references this week to Italian food. At some point in history, Italy occupied Ethiopia and they’ve certainly left their mark, when it comes to the food here. I’m glad because I love Italian food!

Another 20 minutes of driving through Addis and we arrive at The Amenities, which is the small hotel where me met on our first night here.  We’ve arranged for a couple of rooms where we can shower and prepare for our flight home.  We have no power, but there is running water. I’m anxious to wash off the road grime before spending so many more hours traveling.  I’m the first to use the “shower”.  Once again, this is not the quality of facility we westerners are used to.  All I have is a handheld water wand, a small “shower pan” to stand in, and cold water.  I manage to get myself clean and even wash my hair, and I must admit that it feels refreshing!

We’ve been so hopeful that we’d have wifi here, but alas, it only stays connected for about 15 seconds at a time.  I’m at least able to send a quick text home to let my husband know that I’m in Addis and headed home soon.  I’m also able to get off one of my updates to Facebook from several days ago.  After about 30 minutes, I give up.

We’ve asked for our dinner to be ready for us by 5:30 so that we have time to eat and make our flight.  At 5:45, we’re told it’ll be ready by 6:00.  At 6:15, we finally sit down to eat.  Kindri, Lori and Teri are finishing another meeting and come to join us with minutes to spare. Last time Teri was here she nearly missed the flight home and we do NOT want to be in that position again!

Traffic is light and it looks like we have plenty of time after all. I feel like I can breathe again.

There are several hoops to jump through before we can get on our flight. We go through our first x-ray security scan before we even can enter the building. After a few more steps in the process, we go through the final x-ray and we are at the gate.  Lori and Teri both are pulled aside and have their bags inspected yet again, by hand this time.  Their bodies and pockets get a thorough pat down too. Somehow I’ve managed to escape this additional search. We have two hours before take-off and we are in a holding room with no access to purchase water or to use restrooms.  I’m already thirsty and after the toll taken on my body this week, I’m ultra aware of the importance of staying hydrated.

We are on the plane!  I have a window seat and the middle seat next to me is still empty as the doors are closing.  Yes–it looks like I’ll get a little extra room to stretch out!  I have my personal celebration too soon, as a passenger is re-seated next to me.  Double darn.

Addis is at such a high elevation that the planes cannot take off when they are fully loaded with engine fuel, so we must make a stop in Rome for refueling.  Oh, how I wish I could hop off this plane and enjoy beloved Italy for a few days!  I was just here in the Fall and would dearly love to spend much more time in this country.  I peer out the windows hoping for a glimpse of the Vatican City or the Coliseum, but it is dark and all I can make out are twinkling lights.

We are on the ground for about an hour and then continue the journey to Washington DC. The rest of the flight is long, but uneventful. I doze off and on. Once we land in DC we clear customs without incident and check in for our next flight to SFO. The local time is 7am, but our bodies think it’s dinner time, so we go to Chipotle for Mexican food! It tastes fantastic and we marvel at how we can drink water out of the tap!

Unfortunately, our flight is delayed due to weather at home, so we spend a few extra hours waiting. It’s okay though. Now we have time for a Starbucks coffee too! Eventually we board for yet another six hours of flight time.

My husband picks us up at the airport, and we’re happy to see one another, but also very happy that we don’t have to take BART home! I calculate that we have now been traveling for 42 hours!!!

I get a happy greeting from my beautiful dogs and then unload everything out of my suitcase and off of my body right into the washing machine. Next stop: a long, glorious, hot shower. Oh my goodness, hot running water is so sweet!

I will try to stay awake just a few more hours and then I’ll collapse into bed with happy dreams of my time in Sintaro Village. I will be thinking about this trip and processing all I’ve seen and experienced for a long time to come. I’m glad so many of you have joined me on my written journey and have enjoyed the stories. My prayer is that what I’ve shared challenges you to step out of your comfort zone to pursue areas of your life where you can serve others and share the love of Jesus. I would really mean the world to me, if you would share with me how you’ve been impacted by what you’ve read!

     Thank you for all of your kind words of support and your prayers for me and the rest of the team.  They sustained me this week and gave me strength!

Leaving Sintaro

(Written by team member, Debbie Wyne)

Day 7 Sintaro Village update, Feb. 6, 2015

     I awaken early today.  I throw on some clothes and go off on a hunt for wifi.  There hasn’t been wifi here for so many days that I’ve lost count.  First world problems, right?  I find that the building next door has it and I find a place to sit for a few minutes to send iMessages to family.  It is limited conversation, but good to connect.
     After breakfast, Worede arrives and our luggage is loaded into the bus by the “Billhops”.  That is what their name tag says and Kindri and I find this amusing.
     Today we are driving part of the way to Addis and plan to have an afternoon of R&R at a lakeside resort.  But first, we stop at Roggie, which is another village receiving sponsorship through Hope Enterprises.  Hope has just celebrated 10 years here and it’ll be interesting to see some of the things we may have to look forward to.
     The geography of this area is much, much different than Sintaro.  It is brown, dry, flat and dusty.  There are few trees.  As we drive down the “road”, we encounter another vehicle and we much back up to find a spot for them to pass.  We keep the windows closed to keep out the dust and without any moving air it feels like we are in an oven.  So much for taking a shower and putting on fresh clothes!
     Worede calls ahead and one of the school teachers meets us to let us into the school grounds.  They have a nice fence around it and a gate with a lock.  There are buildings everywhere! Here, in the middle of what seems to be nowhere, there is a beautiful school that now has 550 students!  They have students all the way through 9th grade now and are building additional classrooms to house high school students!  A well has also been dug and fresh, clean water is now available at several water collection stations!  These are the types of thing we have to look forward to in Sintaro Village!
     We return to the main road and drive a little further to Sabana, the resort (a loosely used term) where we will spend the night.  This is the nicest place I’ve seen since I left America! It has a definite Ethiopian flair with the architecture and furnishings, but it’s clean, quaint, and even landscaped! We drop off our luggage and head to their restaurant for lunch.
     The restaurant is beautiful.  It’s a round building with windows that open out facing a lake.  Cynthia says the muddy water looks like milk chocolate, but it is still a pretty view. The restaurant has the feeling of being outside.  In fact, some birds even fly in to be next to us and enjoy the view.  Everything on the menu looks delicious and I’m glad that we will eat here for dinner tonight too so I can try two different meals! I have some pasta with fresh grilled vegetables and it is delicious.  The rest of the afternoon is at our leisure.  I decide to sit outside of my little bungalow and enjoy the view and the nature around me.  I pull a table in front of me and put my feet up. The breeze is beyond delightful and there is a plethora of beautifully colored african birds, hopping and chirping all around me.  If I shut my eyes and listen, it is an orchestra of music! The birds explore and come nearer and nearer to me and it seems we are enjoying watching one another.  Ahhhh, it’s delightful to have a bit of downtime to reflect on all of the events of the last several days.
     As I sit in my beautiful spot, I hear voices in the distance.  I look to my right and see two people walking just outside the fenced property lines.  They are walking up the hill from the lake carrying water jugs and immediately my mind shifts back to the poverty of this place. My first impulse is to call out and wave at them because of the connection I’ve felt with others like them in the last several days.  Somehow I think they will recognize that in me. And then I realize where I am.  I’m no longer in their world.  From where they are, it appears that I sit in a place of affluence, power and separation.  In fact, from their perspective, I do.  And the inequity and the truth of that, breaks my heart.
     Kindri comes over and sits outside with me. She recently moved to Uganda to operate her own camp for kids and I am thankful that we get a some time alone to really talk and catch up. After awhile it is time to meet the rest of the team for debriefing and dinner. It is a good time to review some of the details of the trip. After dinner, Kindri comes with me back to my room and we enjoy our talk so much that we are surprised to find it’s almost midnight! Today has obviously been a much different kind of day then the rest of our week, but it’s been a wonderful and much needed time of transition as we prepare to return home.
     Tomorrow we make the final trek back to Addis and we have a full days worth of activities before we head to the airport for a late flight back home.  Please continue to be praying for me and the team as we finish our travels and process all we have experienced.
The team arrives at Sabana

The team arrives at Sabana

Harvesting “False Banana” with Joy!

(Written by team member, Debbie Wyne)

Part 2, Day 6 Sintaro Update, Feb 5, 2015

     After having such a wonderful visit with my sponsored child, Hailu, and his mom Hanna, Lori and I walk back to meet with the rest of the team. They have also been on hut visits and we’re looking forward to sharing our experiences, but our day isn’t over yet. There is a scheduled meeting with the village elders that will happen first. The rest of our team goes on to their next hut visit while Lori, Teri and I head towards the gigantic tree that the elders meet under. The men are sitting in the shade waiting for us. As they see us coming, someone runs to the church down the road and comes back with a bench for us to sit on, and a table to put in front of us. This feels very meeting-like! The village elders sit on the dirt in front of us. The dynamics of this can’t be missed.  In this culture, the men have the authority and the women seem to have no voice. I see that others have gathered to listen in and I observe how the young men place themselves behind the elders and any females present are the furthest away from the action. How powerful it must be for them to see us–three women–in a position of authority and respect!
     This is a meeting of three entities: Worede is representing Hope Enterprises, the elders are representing the village, and of course, we represent our church and the sponsorship of the projects here. Joseph interprets as Worede introduces us (although I am the only one new to them as they know Lori and Teri from other visits), and begins the meeting with updates on the progress of construction of the school and the well. He has good news to report that the meeting with the government the day before was fruitful and that he has the necessary papers to move forward with the well!
     Then it’s our turn. Lori, sits between Teri and I on the bench, and is our spokesperson. As Lori addresses the elders, I am praying over her words. Knowing Teri, I can imagine that she is doing the same thing. An image of Moses holding up his staff during battle flashes through my mind. If you’re familiar with the story, you know that the Israelites are successful in the battle as long as Moses’ arms are up, but after a time, he tires and can no longer hold them up in the air. Aaron and Hur, knowing the importance of what is happening, come alongside Moses and physically support his arms until they are victorious. At least that’s how I remember the story going. 🙂 Lori is the one doing the talking, but Teri and I are supporting her in prayer.
     Lori does an amazing job of reminding everyone of the original goals of the projects, and how far we have come. She reminds everyone of their part in accomplishing our goals and continues to affirm our partnerships with one another towards that end. We are really hoping that they are hearing the message that we want to give them the tools to become self-sustaining, but that they also need to be doing their part. It is a subtle, but firm message.
     Now it is the elders turn. Their faces have been firm, so I don’t know what to expect. The first elder to speak is the one who gave up his land (the government paid him for his lost crops) to build the school upon. He speaks in a loud, firm voice. I wait for Joseph to interpret. The elder has expressed, very eloquently, thanks to God for bringing us to their village and the work that we have done. Once again, I hear the expression that we are like Jesus among them. We all laugh as he explains that the children have great joy to see us, as do the men, the women, and even their animals are happy to see us! One by one, several elders speak and have much the same message. They reiterate over and over that we are the answer to their prayers. The last man to speak talks and says how happy they were to have us all visit their churches on Sunday and how much that meant to them to have us join with them in worship. He says when we didn’t return on Monday because we were all sick that they were very worried for us and joined together in prayer for our health. Knowing that so many people in America were also united in prayer at the same time is a beautiful image of the global church!
     The meeting is over and the elders rise.  I say my goodbye’s to each one of them.  It seems we look deep into one another’s eyes to convey what we have  no language for, shake hands, and lean in to touch our right shoulders to one another.  I’ve observed that this seems to be a custom here.
     Now it’s time to visit Lori’s sponsor child!  His family lives close to a “road”, and since it’s getting so late in the day we decide to ride up in the van rather than hike.  After our hike to Hailu’s house in the hot sun, I’m happy to hitch a ride.  It’s a bumpy uphill ride, but better than some of the other “roads” we’ve traversed.  When we get to hut we are in a beautiful area. Much of Sintaro is very wooded, hilly and green.  Unfortunately it seems the mother is not at home so we wait a minute to figure out what to do.  Do we wait? Do we look for her? Meanwhile, the neighbor women have come out of their huts and spied us.  They are keeping their distance and I smile at them and wave them over.  They laugh, about what, I don’t know, but they come closer. We greet one another and they begin to talk with our interpreter, who then tells us we are being invited to come over to see how they make “false banana”.  False banana is a staple of their diet.  It is made from the stalks and roots of the “false banana” tree–so called because it looks like a banana tree, but doesn’t produce fruit.  This is something we’ve been wanting to learn more about, so we anxiously accept her invitation.  Unfortunately, I never learn this woman’s name, but I’m going to call her Joy because that’s what she is full of.  She has an infectious smile and laughs the whole time we are together.
     So, we all head over to Joy’s hut and she walks us around the back.  There is a grove of false banana trees there and she shows us where she has already begun the work.  Basically, you shuck the pulp with the aid of a crude and flat metal instrument, and then you put the pulp in a lined hole in the ground and ferment it for a number of days.  It goes through several different fermentation processes before the next stage of preparation begins.  Joy sits down and begins to demonstrate how to shuck the pulp.  She has a long flat board propped up at about a 45 degree angle and she places what I believe is a frond from the tree, flat on the board.  Next, she throws her right leg up and holds the top of the frond in place with her right foot.  Using the tool, she works from the bottom of the frond towards the top, collecting a white, mealy consistency pulp.  She’s laughing the whole time she’s doing it.  I think she never thought she’d have such an audience doing her daily food preparation!
"Joy" is teaching us how to harvest the false banana

“Joy” is teaching us how to harvest the false banana

     Can you guess what happens next?  Have you learned anything about my adventurous spirit yet through my writings?  If so, you know that I want to try it too!  I relay my request through our interpreter and everyone bursts out into riotous laughter!  Joy is definitely game so she guides me over and gets me set into position.  I throw my leg up on the board and many non-flattering photos are taken, I’m quite sure.  I start using the tool to work at getting the pulp and they find my shortcomings hilarious.  After several valiant attempts at doing it myself, she places her hand on mine and guides me in the necessary rhythm to have better success.  There is definitely an art to harvesting the false banana!  We are all having fun together and bonding through the language of laughter.  The non-flattering photos are definitely worth it for this moment!
     Now we learn that Lori’s boy’s sister has returned to their hut, so we head back next door to do our hut visit.  This hut is much, much larger.  And darker too.  When I first walk into it my eyes have not adjusted and I literally can’t see anything.  I remember how much more light came through Hannah and Hailu’s hut earlier and I realize that this is a much nicer hut and is probably much more comfortable in poor weather too.  Just by comparing the two homes I can already see that my little Hailu and Hannah really are the poorest of the poor.
     After my eyes begin to adjust I realize that there are baby chicks flitting all about and I must watch my step carefully to avoid stepping on them. We are getting a tour of the hut and I turn on the flashlight feature of my phone so that we can see.  This hut has a partitioned area that is basically a bedroom.  There is a mat on the floor for sleeping.  There is also a kitchen area with the remnants of a fire.  It’s a large hut, but it is now full of people and I can’t move around to see much more than that.  Lori is speaking with her family, but I can’t hear much of their interaction.  I learn later that the two cows outside come in and sleep with them during the night.  They are someone else’s cows and they get paid to take care of them.  Lori prays over her family, we say our goodbye’s and turn to leave.
Lori praying with her sponsor child and his family

Lori praying with her sponsor child and his family

     As we start to walk back to the van, Joy calls us back over and wants to show us the next step in the process of making false banana?  It’s late and I know everyone is anxious to go, but can we?!  I’m told that yes, we can stay a few more minutes.  Joy welcomes us into her hut and she’s just inside the door and she has some of the fermented pulp in a woven basket.  She’s moving it around with one hand and shaking the basket with the other.  As she does so, she collects a fine white powder which falls through the basket and resembles flour.  Again, she is all smiles as she shows off her technique.  Meanwhile, she’s stoked a fire and she’s getting ready to cook it. I’m squatted down on the floor next to Joy so I don’t notice how thick the smoke has become.  Pretty soon the rest of our group can’t take it anymore and they step outside.  The rest of the group is anxious to go, and it breaks my heart to leave when we’ve made such a connection.  How I wish I could’ve spent the day walking through Joy’s day with her and learning the ins and outs of being a woman in Sintaro! She knows we really have to go this time and we hug goodbye.  She’s still smiling and laughing and I know I can’t go without one more hug.  We wave goodbye and I wonder if/when we’ll be able to pick this lesson back up.
     As we begin our drive out of the village, the sun is starting to go down and some clouds have come in, in the distance.  These are the first clouds I’ve seen and it creates a beautiful sky with the rays of the sun shining down over Sintaro.  We begin our drive away.  I don’t think most of the locals know that this is our last day in the village and we won’t be back tomorrow.  But I know it, and a sadness comes over me that this truly is goodbye.  Kids run next to the van, waving goodbye with big smiles on their faces.  I open the window wide and lean out waving, and saying “bye!” over and over again. I hold eye contact with each person as long as I can before they are out of sight.  It is a bittersweet goodbye. I have fallen in love with this place and these people and I will miss them.
     The ride back to the hotel seems longer tonight.  Most of the rest of the team is chatting about their day, but I sit quietly because I want to take in every last detail and capture every moment in my mind.
     It’s late when we finally get back to Awasa and we decide that Gelato sounds good, instead of dinner.  We stop for a scoop a block away from our hotel, say our goodnight’s and head off to our rooms.
     Tomorrow we begin the trek back to Addis, so I begin to organize my belongings to pack. Once I get that done, I head to another building in search of wifi for a few minutes and then finally collapse into bed.  They journey is not yet over…

Hut visits–meeting my sponsor child!

(Written by team member, Debbie Wyne)

Day 6 Sintaro Update, Feb 5, 2015

     I’m still feeling well today–unfortunately, Kindri, our team leader, is not.  She decides to stay behind to rest and recover, and I know that this is a wise decision.  The rest of us plow on ahead with a full list of items to do today.  This is our last day in the village and we want to make the most of it.  Our plans today include following up on many of the medical issues we’ve seen with the health post worker, purchasing and dispensing medications for some ailments our doctors have diagnosed, reading sponsor letters to the rest of the children, participating in a meeting with the village elders and hopefully we’ll get to do hut visits with “our” own sponsored kids.
     We stop along the way to pick up medications and also our interpreters.  We are concerned for several of them because yesterday they too, were complaining of stomach issues.  At the agreed upon stop we find 3 of them, and we are so happy to hear that they feel well enough to join us.  However, Joseph is missing.  We are assured that “he is coming”, and sure enough, we pick him up a little further down the road.
     I get the joy of reading sponsor letters to the kids again today! Berhano is my interpreter, and we jive well together.  I pull 10 kids out of the class at a time.  Now, I’m reading their names much more comfortably and they know what to do as I point and communicate through gestures where I want them to line up to come outside. One-by-one they sit on the step next to me as I read.  I’m starting with the older kids, and as we’ve experienced before, they’re much more comfortable with us. When I ask them questions they are much more apt to answer.  I hear many of them say how thankful they are, to us and to God, that they can go to school and that we are here.  Otherwise, I experience many of the same things as I did yesterday.
     As we each finish up with our morning tasks, we are ready for lunch, but it is not quite ready for us.  I decide that this is a good time to do a little classroom visit! 😉  They see me coming through the window, but as I approach I stop just shy of the door.  I peek my head around the corner and give just a little impish wave.  As expected, they wave back.  I hide behind the threshold for a moment and repeat the process.  Pretty soon, they are waving and encouraging me to come all the way in, and I happily oblige.  Several of them call different things out to me, all at once, in an effort to engage me.  I grin and pantomime that I want them to be ve-r-r-y quiet.  They silently wait for what’s going to happen next.  I stand tall and put my hands on my head and quietly being to sing “head, shoulders, knees and toes” and they immediately get excited because they know this one!  We sing it over and over again and pretty soon I realize that the rest of our team has joined me in the room and we are all doing it together!  Well, everyone except Mark, who is busily photographing and videotaping with his camera!  When we start doing more songs together that require jumping, turning around, and hip wiggling, Mark teases me that this footage of me is going to go viral on Youtube!  I made a decision before leaving home that I was going to go “all in” with the kids, and this is proof that I have!
     We finish up and head out to lunch.  Unfortunately, lunch still isn’t ready. While we’re standing outside waiting there are some kids milling about and it doesn’t take long before I’m in the middle of them.  My music girls from yesterday appear and one of them looks at me to see if I recognize her.  She says her name as if to question me, “Lemlem?”.  I greet her as an old friend, excitedly exclaiming, “Lemlem!!”, and draw her into an embrace as if she was an old and familiar friend.  We are smiling and having fun!  As we let go of one another, I step back and then look back at her and excitedly start the greeting again, as if for the first time.  We hug again, and repeat this 5 or 6 times.  Now it is funny and everyone else wants to do it.  I cheat and look at their name tags, but I get lots of hugs in!  I truly hope that if/when I’m able to make it back to Sintaro that I will see Lemlem and she will run into my arms like today!
Lori with some of the children of Sintaro--including Lemlem!!!

Lori with some of the children of Sintaro–including Lemlem!!!

     Since these are my singing girls, we begin singing our little ditties together again.  I sing a phrase (just tones, no lyrics) and they echo it back.  Pretty soon, we’re all dancing and wiggling again!  My back is to the rest of the team, but I’m pretty sure I gave them a pretty good show!
     Lunch is ready and everyone is eating today!  After all the stomach problems we’ve had this week, this is big news!
     After lunch, we begin our hut visits.  All of us on our team have sponsored a child and this is our opportunity to go to our child’s home with him/her and meet their families.  We are particularly excited about this because we really hope to develop more personal relationships with people in the village, especially the women. We know that through them we will learn a lot about the workings of the community. In this culture, they are strangely absent because they are busy fetching water and doing most of the work for their family.  They work hard, and are often alone.
     Lori and I are together and we start hiking with Worede (our Hope contact), Joseph, our interpreter, a guide, and a few more.  My little guy, Hailu walks in front of me.  He is so small and as I watch him walk barefoot down the path, I’m struck by how much responsibility these kids have at such an early age.  It’s a long, long hike down a narrow washout, and he makes this trek probably every day. It’s so steep that all of the men we’re walking with are worried about us slipping.  We take it very slow, and several times they reach out to offer their support to make it through some of the particularly challenging spots.
Hiking to my sponsor child's home.  He's the little one on the far left of the picture, wearing his green school uniform.

Hiking to my sponsor child’s home. He’s the little one on the far left of the picture, wearing his green school uniform.

     We pass other villagers along the way, heading either up or down the hill.  I’m excited to meet up with some women on the trail.  They are happy to meet me too and we end up taking some pictures together.  I ham it up for the camera and have them laughing.  One of them is carrying a load of wood and she starts to set it aside for the photo.  I pick it up and hold it instead and they think it’s funny that I would do that.  I’m not really sure why I do such things, but I think I just want to show them that I’m a woman like they are and I’d be doing this job too.  As we pass others on the trail, they join us and pretty soon we are a large group again.
     Finally, we get to Hailu’s hut.  It is perched on a hillside and has a beautiful view of the valley below.  We stand outside of the hut, but quickly realize that his mom is nowhere to be found.  There is much talking among the locals and Joseph informs me that Hailu’s mom is at a prayer meeting that the women hold every Thursday afternoon.  This is news to us and wonderful to hear.  I suggest we sit in the shade to wait (primarily because I’m hot and  exhausted at this point) and while we sit there, an older woman approaches.  She comes straight to Lori and I and emotionally greets us.  It turns out that this is Hailu’s grandmother. We talk with her for a few minutes and then Hailu’s mom, Hannah, joins us.  I don’t understand a word she says, but I can tell from her emotions and the way she touches me that she is overwhelmed with thanksgiving for the impact that has been made in Hailu’s life.  Joseph interprets and confirms what I already know. To her, I represent hope.
     We enter into her hut and there is much scurrying about as she tries to establish a place for us to sit.  Like others we’ve seen, the hut is round, with a thatched roof, and has a dirt floor.  The walls of the hut are not tight knit and light enters in.  It occurs to me that wind and rain would certainly enter too.  Chickens are roaming freely inside of the hut.  The hut is probably not more than 12-15 feet from one side to the other.  The only “furniture” are 2 or 3 crudely made wooden tri-pod “chairs” which are only about 8 inches off the ground, and a flat piece of wood, which she covers with a cloth for me to sit on.  As I sit, she begins to talk, and I reach out and hold her hand. She tells me that she prays to God for help and relief and she says that we are like Jesus sitting in front of her.  Her heart is overflowing with thankfulness and several times  she says, “thanks be to God!” It is humbling to be used so profoundly as an instrument of God’s grace and provision in the life of another and I’m overwhelmed with love for this woman.  I’m emotional and having a hard time keeping it together!
     As we continue talking, she allows me to ask her some questions about what her life is like. She shows me where she sleeps with Hailu and his 3-year-old brother.  It’s nothing more than a collection of a few pieces of fabric and what looks like a hide of some sort.  When I ask, she tells me it’s very cold and uncomfortable–especially during the rainy season when the water runs right through the hut.  I’m pleased to see that they have a mosquito net, although it is riddled with holes. The “kitchen” is just an area where she burns a small fire and cooks over it–INSIDE the hut.  There is nowhere for the smoke to ventilate, so I know they are breathing it all in. I learn that she buys a few beans and then resells them at a profit to support her family.  When I ask about Hailu’s dad, Hannah becomes angry and indignant in her tone.  I learn that he is away most of the time and is regularly intoxicated.  He basically does nothing to support the family because he spends all of his money, presumably on alcohol.  She says she survives with the support of her mother and uncle, who have now also joined us in the hut.  I also learn that she gave birth to both of her children right where we are standing.  I tell her she is a very strong woman, and I say that because I truly see that in her.  She is the poorest of the poor, doing everything she can to survive and support her children.
     It is time for us to go and I ask if I can pray for her.  She literally falls to my feet and I am crouching down to grasp her hands.  We hold on to one another as if for dear life.  I speak in English and no one interprets.  There is no need.  We have all joined our hearts in prayer together.  I can no longer control my emotions as I pray aloud and I sense that everyone is sharing the moment with me.  When I say “amen”, everyone in the hut echoes “amen” also.  Hannah and I embrace and I don’t want to let go. We step outside the hut, take few pictures together–me, Hannah and Hailu, and it is time to say goodbye.  She holds my hand and leads me up the steep embankment back to the trail.  I turn and wave goodbye and seal this moment in my memory.  I feel we are family now.
There is more to tell of my day, but I will write that later.  Trust me though, it’s good.
Mark, Cynthia and Caitlin go on a hut visit and meet the neighborhood!

Mark, Cynthia and Caitlin go on a hut visit and meet the neighborhood!

Reading sponsor letters and building relationships

(Written by team member, Debbie Wyne)

Day 5 Sintaro update, Feb 4, 2015

     Today is a great day! We continue with health assessments of the students, but decide to utilize some of the local help to assist us in doing some of the tasks.  This frees me up to do something new!  I am SO excited because I have the privilege of reading the sponsor letters to the children!  All 150 students have their costs covered by someone in our home church community, and many have written personal notes to their “kids”!  An interpreter is assigned to me, and each child gets some one-on-one time as I get to relay words of love and care from their sponsors. Each time a team visits from our church, we bring sponsor letters and have the children write notes or draw pictures to send back.  Last time a team was here, they took a picture of each child with their parent.  We’ve made copies of those photos and enclosed them along with their sponsor letters too.
     The children listened with rapt attention.  Their eyes light up when they see the photo of themselves with their parent.  In Sintaro Village, people don’t have mirrors, let alone cameras, so they don’t get to see what they look like.  I think they are fascinated to see a picture of themselves!  They also peer closely at the pictures of their sponsor families and it seems they are excited to be able to take their prized envelopes with them to really study all of their envelopes.
     It warms my heart to read the sweet notes.  Sometimes the letter will ask a question, and I’ll wait for an answer.  The littlest ones are very shy, but are warming up quickly.  The older ones seem to feel a little more comfortable interacting with us and are more apt to reply.  One question that I ask a couple of times is, “what do you like to do when you are not in school?” .  One little girls answers meekly, “running”, and several others tell me they walk to collect water.  It is sobering to realize that life outside of school carries so much responsibility for a 5 year old.
     In the afternoon, I have an interpreter named Joseph.  He speaks very fluent english and is clearly a Godly man.  We’ve already had conversations about his faith, and it is evident in the way he carries himself and interacts with such kindness towards the kids.  As I read comments like, “God loves you”, “We love you and are praying for you”, “May the Lord bless you and keep you”, Joseph is placing one hand on the child’s head and another over their heart to extend the blessing.  I often join him by placing a loving hand gently on the child’s shoulder.  These are sweet, sweet moments.
     Flies are a constant presence when the kids are around.  It’s sad to say, but you can tell a lot about the health of the child by the number of flies on them. As I sit reading the letters, with a young girl snuggled between Joseph and I, I have a moment when I stop and realize what it is I’m doing.  I’m in Africa!  I’ve got one of those fly-covered, filthy, big-brown-eyed kids leaning up against me (like you see in the heart-tugging commercials), and I’m not bothered in the least.  All I see is a beautiful, sweet angel of a girl who is hanging on my every word.  She is God’s beloved child, and it is a gift to sit with her, flies and all.
Reading sponsor letters to the children--a privilege and joy!

Reading sponsor letters to the children–a privilege and joy!

     I am the final station and when the students are done with me, they scamper excitedly off to return up the hill to the school for their eye exam.  At one point, I look up and see one of the children exiting the fenced area of the health clinic (where others just stand at the fence to watch the action) and they are surrounded by people who want to know all about the treasured letter and photos the students have received.  There is giddy excitement as they share with one another.
     We take a short break for lunch and continue with the same routine in the afternoon.  I am happy to report that I am feeling much, much better!  In fact, I even eat some of the food at lunch!  Today I have more energy and am feeling much more my normal self.
     After lunch, Kindri and Lori travel to the government offices several kilometers down the road for a meeting with some government officials.  I say a prayer over them before they leave and head back to my post.
     Once we have seen all of the children, we walk back to the school.  All of the kids are there and once they see us, we get the same excited and joyful greetings that we’ve become accustomed to.  I stand just outside a classroom and 4 older girls are there with me.  We are doing our best to communicate, when one of them sings a little ditty.  I hear her, make eye contact and then echo back what she has just done.  She breaks out into a huge grin and does it again.  Of course, I follow suit and soon all four of us are making silly noises and laughing.  I’ve always said that music is the language of my soul.  🙂
     After a few minutes, the girls are shooed back into their classroom.  I’m standing just outside and the window is open.  The students can see me and they begin peering through the window.  I decide it’s time to get really silly, so I start making faces through the window.  The entire class erupts in laughter at the silly white woman!  Inside, I spy the girls I had just been singing with.  I lean my head through the open window and make one of “our” noises, and they reply from inside!  Now the entire class is engaged with me!  I start quizzing them on body parts (in English) and they joyfully join in the game.  I wander inside the classroom and the fun continues.
     The teacher now comes into the class with me (he’s been helping with the eye exams).  He tells me that the class wants me to take a group photo and I happily oblige.  I ask if they would sing a short song so that I can video tape it.   The teacher doesn’t quite understand, so I try to pantomime what I want.  Next thing you know, my whole body is in the game and I’m singing and wiggling my body to show what I want.   The kids think I’m hysterical and they begin to mimic me.  The whole class is a wiggly, silly mess! I clap my hands one time, and in unison, they follow suit.  Oooh, this is fun!  What else can I get them to do?  I jump up in the air, and they all jump!  Whatever I can think of to do, they do it also.  Pretty soon I start putting moves together and we all end up with our arms in the air, scratching our bellies and making “ooh, ooh” noises, and I tell them they are silly monkeys!  Let’s just say that I am thankful no one had a video camera on me in that moment of pure joy!
Building relationships in Sintaro

Building relationships in Sintaro

     Too soon, it is time to go.  Kindri and Lori are back from their meeting and the group packs up and heads back to our hotel.  When I return to my room, I use the restroom and discover that my toilet is no longer working.   My first thought was how thankful I am that this didn’t happen when I was so sick a few days ago! I get resourceful and figure out that they had turned the water off at the toilet. Why?  Who knows.  This is Africa.  I turned the water back on and was back in business–no pun intended! Ugh, the wifi is STILL out.  Not only that, the power is out too. Fortunately, there’s still some daylight left and I’m able to take a shower.
     The team gathers for dinner (although Kindri stays behind to get some rest), and then we call it a night.  It’s been a good, good day, and I’m excited about what tomorrow will bring!

Health assessments begin

(Written by team member, Debbie Wyne)

Part 2, Day 4 Sintaro update, Feb 3, 2015

     Our team gathered around 8am for some breakfast.  This is the first time some of us have seen one another since Sunday afternoon, so we share our war stories!  It is good to be reunited again!  I’ve nibbled on crackers and a banana in my room, so I pass on breakfast.
     Kindri leads us in a devotion and we focus on the scripture from Ephesians 6, which refers to putting on the full armor of God.  Several  phrases stick with me throughout the day:  “be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power”, “our struggle is not against flesh and blood”, and “take up the shield of faith”. I also share the gist of what I wrote to you all earlier today, about living in the promises of the Lord and not out of fear.  We have a time of prayer together and then we are ready to go!
     The first stop is to buy more crackers! The second stop is to go to the pharmacy to buy supplies.  Today we are going to begin doing health screenings of the students and we need a few things.  We need to stop at several pharmacies to find all that we need, but after a short while we are on our way to Sintaro!
     I am finding that I’m already feeling tired, and the day has not yet begun!  I have the front seat to myself so I make myself as comfortable as possible on the bumpy, dusty road, and shut my eyes to rest.  Other than feeling weak, I am otherwise doing well and I just want to keep it that way!
     When we arrive in Sintaro, we go to the school.  The kids are expecting us and as soon as they see us approaching they run towards us with excitement.  I can barely get out of our van because the kids are crowding around to shake our hands and offer us greetings.  They love to practice their English and I hear “Good morning!”, as well as greetings in their own language.  It is a holiday break for them but they are still dressed in their uniforms and in school because we are here.  They usher us into their classrooms and I’m amazed at how quickly they scamper to their seats.  These kids are so well behaved and respectful!  Because we are using one of their classrooms for our purposes this week, there are two classes worth of kids in one room.  They squeeze in, four kids to a desk, and the room is full!  Tashale, our interpreter is in a classroom with Teri, Cynthia and I and he translates to the students how happy we are to see them again.  I offer them an opportunity to ask us questions and they are interested to find out if the three of us are mothers, and if so, how many children we have.  Teri asks if they will sing a song, and immediately the room erupts with music and clapping!  After a bit, I realize they are singing a song in English reciting the days of the week.  They seem to enjoy it so much and don’t want to stop.
The children welcome us with singing.

The children welcome us with singing.

     At home, we have prepared name tags for each of the students.  Each tag has their name, sponsor’s name(s), and the number that has been assigned to them.  We hand out the name tags and butcher their names as we try to pronounce them.  Fortunately, our teachers and interpreters are there to help!  I anxiously look for the name tag of the child I am sponsoring, but he must be in a different classroom.
     After a bit, we get ourselves organized and head down to the clinic.  This is a short hike downhill on a dusty trail and 25 students follow, single-file in line behind us.  They are very orderly and quiet.  They are clearly on their best behavior. As we arrive at the clinic, they wait outside, ever so patiently, for us to get organized.  Today we will be documenting each child’s height and weight, providing an examination by the  two doctors we have with us, dispensing a de-worming medication, and praying over each individual child, by name.
Teri prays over each child.

Teri prays over each child.

     I begin filling out each child’s paperwork by recording their names and ID#.  I get to interact with each child individually and smile into their eyes.  As I’m bending down to write, several of them can’t resist and reach out gently to touch my hair.   Once that step is done, they head to the scales.  My job is now to record their height and weight, then they are ushered to the next station where Teri takes their pictures and prays for them.  It is sweet to watch their faces as they receive prayer.
     This is the oldest group of students and it is encouraging to see how much some of them have grown and how healthy they appear to be. They have been receiving assistance the longest and it is clear that the health education, medical support and meals we have helped provide are having an impact!
     As I finish up my task, I’m able to interact more freely with the kids while they wait at each of their stations.  Some of the students are very outgoing and anxious to talk to me and touch me. Others are not so sure.  I try to engage one girl in particular, and she doesn’t respond.  After awhile I just sit down next to her.  After a few minutes, she reaches over and touches my arm.  I turn to her and smile and she knows she’s safe.  As the line decreases, she slides down to the next seat.  As she does, she leaves an empty space next to her.  She looks over, pats the seat and encourages me to slide a little closer.  We do all of this without words, but she is learning to trust me.  It’ll be interesting to see her reaction to me as the week progresses!
What began as a very tentative interaction with this shy young girl, ends with a connection of body and soul.

What began as a very tentative interaction with this shy young girl, ends with a connection of body and soul.

The beautiful and joyful children of Sintaro

The beautiful and joyful children of Sintaro

     Next thing you know we have seen 50 students and it’s time for lunch!  We walk back up the dirt trail towards the school and when I arrive I am exhausted.  We’re at about 6,000 feet altitude here, but I know it’s more than that.  My body just isn’t functioning at 100% yet.  Lunch looks good, but I still don’t have an appetite.  I eat some crackers and drink some water in lieu of the lunch that has been prepared for us.  Others on our team are nibbling too.  At lunch we re–assess and decide that we can see 15 more students before we head back to our hotel.  Now that we have a rhythm down, it doesn’t take long.  These students are younger and, if the swarming flies are any indication, they are not as healthy.   There are a number of students that will need follow up care.
     Now we are waiting for our van.  They have driven to the next town so that Worede can meet with an official.  He is diligently working towards getting our well dug!  We wait for awhile on the clinic steps while some of the locals gawk at us from the other side of the fence.  They are fascinated to watch us swat at all the flies, I guess!
     Once again, the ride is hot.  Our driver turns on the “air conditioning”, but all it is blowing is hot air.  We want to open the windows to let in some outside air, but it is too dusty, so we wait until we are finally back on an asphalt road.
     Back at the hotel, we all shower and rest for a bit before meeting up for dinner.  We walk back to the Lewi, the place we ate on Saturday night.  I know I need to eat something to regain strength so I order spaghetti with marinara sauce.  That seems safe, right?  When it arrives it is a fish-filled sauce.  Perhaps they meant Marine-era?!  Needless to say, ordering food here is interesting.  Fortunately, the sauce is on the side, so I ask for a tomato sauce instead and some eventually appears.
     We walk back to the hotel, and call it a night.  We are all tired and need our rest.  Please continue to be praying for the health of our team.  Everyone still seems a little “off”.  Also, we are so hopeful that they will begin work on the well while we are here.  Join us in praying that details would be resolved and we can move forward.  The sooner the people of Sintaro have fresh water, the better!

Walking in God’s promises

(Written by team member, Debbie Wyne)

Day 4 Sintaro update, Feb 3, 2015
     Once the wifi came up last night I sent out updates and texted with family to assure them that I’m alive.  I stay awake for several hours and I’m pleased the find that my strength is returning.  After awhile, I return to bed and hope to find solid sleep.  I awoke around 5am and read through so many notes and comments of love, support and prayers.  It is such a HUGE blessing to know that I am not here alone.  Every one of you who reads these updates and joins me in prayer is walking this journey in spirit with me.  I’m overwhelmed with the love and support coming from so many.
     I wanted to share a quick story with all of you:  Several weeks ago, our church concluded a series which encouraged us to identify and live into the gifts that God has given us.  At the end of the series the question was posed, “what will you do now?”.  We discussed this question in our small group and several members of our group had very specific things that they wanted to step into.  My response was a little more broad.  I didn’t feel that I was being called to a particular new “thing” or a task, but instead, to a heart change.  The message I continue to hear is to trust the Lord completely, to live out my faith boldly and to “fear not”.  In fact, at home I wear a ring on my right thumb that says, “do not fear”.  I am learning that when I fully submit, that’s when the Lord can more fully display His power.  When I am weak, He is strong. Great (not just good) things happen when I allow Jesus control!
     Today, I choose to walk in the promises of God and not live in fear.  I’ll admit that the last day and a half has been no fun at all.  But I’m so beyond thankful for the ways that I have been provided for.  I can’t help but compare my situation with those around me in this country.  Today, I claim the Jesus’ promises to me.  He will never leave nor forsake me.  He will provide.  He brings comfort.  He sustains.  He is my strength.  He goes before me.  He prepares the way. He is my living water.  He is healer.  The Lord will fight for me.  He is my strong tower, my mighty fortress.  He has overcome.  …and so many more.  As I begin this new day, I have no fear.  He allowed me to face my fear (of getting sick here) and overcome it.  Literally, He even brought the monkey to my door! Haha!
     Now it’s time for me to shower and prepare for the day ahead.  I pray for each one of you today that you also choose to live your life purposely, boldly and without fear!  Great things are ahead!
     I will write more later.  My love to you all.

The Lord sustains and provides

(Written by team member, Debbie Wyne)

Day 3 Sintaro Village, Feb 2, 2015

     After being sick most of the night, I know that I’m in no shape to go anywhere today.  I haven’t had any contact with anyone since last night.  The wifi is still out and I have no way to communicate with anyone.
     Eventually there is a knock on my door and it’s Kindri coming to check on me.  I learn the everyone else on our team (except for Kindri) is sick too.  Teri hasn’t “popped” yet, but isn’t feeling well.  We agree that we must continue praying.  It feels like after such a great start of worship in Sintaro that there is some spiritual warfare in play here.  Kindri leaves to collect supplies and I continue to rest.
     She returns awhile later and has some Sprite (we cleaned out the hotel’s supply!), crackers and IV fluids.  Here you can just walk into a pharmacy and buy those kind of supplies!  How blessed am I that I am traveling with a nurse and she is still healthy!!!  She hooks me up and I take a liter of IV fluids. She comes back to check on me and says I have a little more color in my face.  I don’t feel significantly improved yet, and I tell her I think the color in my cheeks is because I’m hot.  She opens the door to my balcony to let a little fresh air in, and then she begins the second liter of fluids.  I began to doze and then heard a strange animal sounding noise and opened my eyes to find a monkey just outside my open door!!  I grabbed the IV and popped out of bed and quickly shut the door!  My second biggest fear of this trip is that a monkey would come into my room and steal my passport!  My adrenaline is pumping, but I fall back into bed, exhausted from the effort.
     After a bit, I need to use the restroom so I grab the IV bottle and go. Walking back to the bed, I notice that there is blood backing up into the IV tubing. As I’m trying to get settled  back in bed and put the bottle back up in the makeshift holder (between the wall and the headboard of the bed), I accidentally pull out my IV.  Great.  Now there’s blood and IV fluid dripping everywhere.  I can’t get the IV line to stop dripping and I focus instead on putting pressure on the back of my hand to stop the bleeding.  The wifi is STILL down and I can’t contact anyone.  I grab the phone in my room and call the front desk pleading for them to connect me with room 605 (Kindri’s room).  There is a language barrier and he doesn’t understand a word I’m saying.  Tears are filling my eyes and I’m ready to cry. He says, “I come up”.  I’m not sure what good that’s going to do, but I wait and wait, and when no one appears, I somehow manage to throw some semblance of clothing, grab the IV bottle (crimped in my hand to stop the flow) and walk to the next building to find Kindri.  I walk up one flight on stairs and feel like I’m going to pass out.  Fortunately, there is a couch there and I stop and rest.  After a few minutes, I proceed to Kindri’s room.  Poor thing, she’s been trying to nap and has already been interrupted once (by the front desk who came to HER room!), and now I’m a mess at her door. She stops the IV flow (I was just too distraught to realize how simple it was), and walks me back to my room.  We both decide that after a liter and a half, that’s probably good enough. I collapsed back into bed and fell asleep again.  I can’t believe how much I have slept–a sure sign that my body needed it..
     A few hours goes by and there’s another knock at the door.  Kindri has come again, and this time Caitlyn and Cynthia are with her!  They are up and about, but still feeling weak.  They stay for a few minutes and then Cynthia decides she’d better go lay down again.  We decide we’re all going to continue to rest through the night and hope to leave for the village at 8:30 tomorrow morning.  We will take it slow and easy, making sure everyone stays hydrated and doesn’t overdo it.
     I lay back down for awhile and heard my phone buzz.  Finally, the wifi is back up!!! It’s s-l-o-w, but it’s at least working.  I text my husband, who I know must have been really worried to have not heard from me in so long.  Sure enough, I have several texts and emails from him wondering what’s going on.  I also have a number of emails of prayerful support.  What a blessing to have so many standing in the gap!
     Despite all that has happened with health issues, I’m still so thankful to be here.  I’m anxious to experience more, and share the stories and pictures.  Please continue to be praying for our health and safety, that we would be able to learn more of the needs of the village, to be effective ambassadors of God’s love and provision, and to Him be all the glory! Amen!

The sights and sounds of Sintaro Village

Day 2 Sintaro Village, Feb 1, 2015

(Written by team member, Debbie Wyne)
     Dealing with such a massive time change always takes a few days. After about 5 hours of rock solid sleep, I awoke at 3:30 am (which is 4:30pm, the day before back home). I decided to read through everyone’s comments on my latest travel update and on the pictures I posted to Facebook. It’s so wonderful to have so many of you reading, enjoying, commenting and especially, praying for us. It is a great encouragement to sense your love from so far away!
     After tossing and turning, I finally just got out of bed. I steeled myself to step under the tepid stream of water in the shower and was pleasantly surprised to find it hot this morning. Praise the Lord for the small things!
     As I was in the bathroom, I began to hear chanting outside. I stepped out onto the balcony to listen more closely and amid all of the barking dogs and assorted animal noises, what I heard sounded like a Muslim call to prayer.  In the darkness of the morning, I found myself reminiscing back to just a few weeks ago when I was in Israel and heard much the same thing.
     Our hope for the morning was to have breakfast at 6:30 and be on the road to Sintaro by 7:15. Well, we must remember that we are operating on African time and “time” is a suggestion. Breakfast was served after 7 and our ride didn’t show up until well after 8:00. While we were waiting at the hotel, the power went out. I was warned this was a regular occurrence. We’ll see…
     Eventually our driver and guide showed up and we began the journey to Sintaro. Come to find out, the church service goes on until noon or so, so our guides weren’t in a big hurry to arrive. About ten minutes into our drive, we pulled over and three men stepped onto our bus with big smiles on their faces. These are our interpreters! Several of our team recognize two of the men because they’ve interpreted on past trips. Tashale is new and welcomes me with a firm handshake and a big smile. As I get to know him, I learn that he has one more year of study in Seminary and then he will be a priest!
     We travel about 45 minutes of bumpy travel, on primarily dirt roads, and I’m extremely thankful that we are traveling in the dry season.  I can imagine that passage on these roads when they are thick with mud would be nearly impossible.  As we travel along, the “road”–if you can call it that–is once again filled with pedestrians.  I see many, many women walking with large yellow containers and I know they are making their trek to collect water.  As we get closer and closer to Sintaro Village, the children on the streets greet us with big smiles and waves!  Because we are white and traveling in a motorized vehicle, we stand out.  They greet us with infectious joy!
Woman seen walking along the road, carrying a Jerry can to collect water in.

Woman seen walking along the road, carrying a Jerry can to collect water in.

Collecting water.  This spring water is what they use to all of their needs--including drinking, cooking, washing and bathing.

Collecting water. This spring water is what they use to all of their needs–including drinking, cooking, washing and bathing.

     Finally we are here! We’ve decided that we will split up and go to visit all 4 churches.  Teri and I go to the Catholic church with our interpreter, Tashale.  The building is constructed with mud and straw, and when we walk in we find about 15-20 people standing, hands raised, and we find out later that they were saying the Lord’s Prayer together.  As they turn to sit, they spy us standing at the back of the room and encourage us to come forward.  They seem to know immediately who we are.  Through the interpreter they welcome us and give us a chance to speak.  We say a few words and they respond with some of the most beautiful sentiments that I am having a hard time controlling my emotions.  They tell us that having us in their midst is like how the disciples must have felt when Jesus appeared to them.  They say that they sense in us God’s love and the Holy Spirit.  The thank us over and over again for the things we have done for their village and the difference it is making. I read joy, peace and hope on their faces.  After a verbal exchange for these few minutes, they applaud and let out an African cheer!  They all come up and want to shake our hands, and greet us with a holy hug.  There’s one woman in particular that gives me a full embrace and I feel a soul connection with.  I hope that we get an opportunity to spend more time together.
Debbie and Teri visit the Catholic church.

Debbie and Teri visit the Catholic church.

     This is the end of the church service and we all walk outside where we are met by many more of the locals–primarily children.  Word is out that we are here! The children gather closely and each holds out his/her hand and offers a greeting.  We try to learn some of the words they are saying. They are full of smiles and joy and laughter.  Many are wearing their school uniforms (even though it is Sunday) because this is the only clothing they have. They want to touch us and greet us.  We begin to learn their names and that each person’s name means something.  Interpreted into English, we meet “Better things are coming”, and “Miracle” and “Blessing”, among others.
     After visiting for awhile, we begin to walk to the site of the school.  This is our agreed upon meeting place with the rest of our team.  Also, Teri, who is an architect, wants to check out the progression of the new construction.  As we walk, I feel a little like the Pied Piper.  We are now a parade and the children are following us everywhere.  I feel their eyes on everything I’m doing.  I’m holding a water bottle in my hand and I sense eyes looking longingly at it.  I switch the bottle to my other hand and one little boy reaches out to hold my hand.  We walk hand and hand the rest of the way to the school.  It is a sweet and tender moment and my heart is melting.
     We walk onto the school grounds and our entourage stays outside the fence.  There is a respect for this place and the children won’t follow us onto the grounds.  They stay outside the fence and look through.  They watch our every movement and as soon as we look their direction they wave and smile.

Children “outside the fence”

     Teri was here last year and she is amazed at the progress in construction.  In addition to the latrine,  kitchen (where two meals are prepared each day for the students) and the main classroom, construction has recently been completed on a new classroom building. It is brand new, but already appears as if it is 50 years old by our standards.  Construction is well under way on two additional classroom buildings and two more latrines.  It’s hard to describe how rustic the construction is, but these are by far still the nicest buildings in the village.  Most of what you see are thatched huts made with mud, straw and cow dung.
Construction of the new classrooms is well underway

Construction of the new classrooms is well underway

     Once the rest of our team congregates, we take a hike (followed by many of the villagers) to the site of where the water well will eventually be.  Everyone is so anxious for this well to be complete.  We can’t underestimate what a difference access to clean water will make to the people here.  As we stand in the hot sun, we pray over this site and the clean, sweet, living water that will arise from here, hopefully soon! To God be the glory!
Our team hikes to the site  where we will drill for water.

Our team hikes to the site where we will drill for water.

The future site of the well!

The future site of the well!

We keep hiking and visit the clinic. We talk with the civil worker who has a HUGE job and responsibility of caring for the entire village here.  Kindri lays the seed to spend more time with her later in the week to observe and learn more.
We hike on even further and see where  it is that the women currently hike to to collect water 3 times daily.  I can’t even imagine how hard it would be to hike up and down that hill carrying the weight of the water.
     Finally, we return towards the school.  Our parade has grown larger and larger.  Some of the kids begin to practice the English they have learned in school.  I hear “Good Morning! How are you?”  and “I am fine, thank you”.  I begin to figure out that they have been learning the parts of the body and their numbers too.  As they say things like “ear” and “elbow”, I point them out on my own body.  They get a big kick out of when they said “tongue” and I stuck my tongue out at them!  We are laughing and holding hands on the walk all the way back to the school.
     Lunch has been prepared for us (by Hope workers who understand the importance of sanitation!).  It is traditional Ethiopian fare, but I find I don’t have much of an appetite.  I take samples of the food, but don’t eat much.  Lori isn’t feeling well, so she heads to the van to lay down for a bit.  When Kindri goes to check on her, Lori begins to vomit.  Uh oh.  We wait for awhile and when she is feeling better, we decide to call it a day and make the long, hot, dusty trek back to hotel.
     I go back to my room and take a quick shower and lay down to rest.  I am restless and not feeling very well.  A few minutes later, I too begin to vomit and have diarrhea.  Our phones don’t work, but we have wifi, so I send Kindri a quick email and Teri a text to let them know what’s going on. This is my biggest fear. Kindri (who is a nurse) shows up and offers me an anti-nausea pill.  I take it, but it comes right back up. I take another… same result.  And another, and finally I driift off to sleep for a bit.  I’m up off and on throughout the night.
     I managed to send off a quick text to my husband letting him know what’s going on, and an email to some friends asking for prayer.  Then, the wifi goes out and I’m completely isolated.  I have no way to communicate with anyone, so it’s just me resting in the presence of the Lord trying to get through it all.  My stomach still isn’t settled, but I manage to doze off and on all night.  When I’m not in the bathroom or fighting with nausea, I find I can’t keep my eyes open.  “Come to me all who are weary, and I will give you rest”.  Yes, Lord, please!!