Today was our first foray outside of Addis. We met up with the Baer family in the village of Dahley about an hour drive to the higher highlands Lagetafo. The rolling hills of the countryside are breathtaking: lush, green and extremely fertile. It’s raining and muddy here and many of the locals were plowing fields with oxen. Between us and the village is a large gully with a creek about 15 feet across. The Baer’s asked each of us to grab a handful of eucalyptus saplings, which would be planted in the field surrounding the library we funded, and we crossed the creek by stepping on stones. (SIDE NOTE: Eucalyptus, a non-native tree, is used widely by Ethiopians, including erecting scaffolding, wood for fires, fencing, framing for houses, etc., because it’s fast growing and strong.)
The Baer’s were very well organized for our work day and broke us into two groups – one to mud side of the school house and one to create a stone path in front of the framed-up library. We had no tools and this was intense physical labor, compounded by the pouring rain. The mudders were scooping up mud from the river bank with a make-shift shovel, corrugated tin with sticks nailed at each end, and slinging it on the short side of the school house while the sidewalkers were gathering armfuls of rocks from a heaping pile and carrying them to the designated area to create a path. Although we were prepared with waterproof jackets, boots and pants, all of us ended up soaked and cold (it was only about 50 degrees.) A few hours into this back-breaking work, it was time for lunch. We all assembled in the school house before heading back across the creek to the bus.
Here’s where the day got interesting. Because the rain had picked up, the creek we crossed to get to the village was now a raging waterway about 40 feet across. We waited about an hour to see if the rain would let up and the river recede back to the dabbling creek. No such luck. Then someone mentioned the idea of spending the night in the school house. God bless Sally Baer for taking the lead in figuring a way out!
The plan called for four village men to serve as anchors and help all of cross the forceful, thigh-deep river. First, Sally and Tom’s children were carried across, as was Luke, the family dog. Now it was our turn. One by one, with a death grip on the villagers, we each navigated the piercing cold rushing water to the other bank.
Emptying our boots of murky water and wringing out our socks, we loaded onto the bus and headed toward Habti’s house where Tisgey was cooking a vegetarian Ethiopian lunch for us. (It is a fasting time of year where most meals are limited only to vegetables.)
Habti’s house, a project similar to Habitat for Humanity, is still under construction, but we were happy to be out of the rain. We were greeted by several children who kissed us on both cheeks and showed us where we would be sitting for lunch.
Tisgey delivered an incredible meal and not one of us had any room to spare. Then she began the process for a traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony by wafting the smoke of freshly roasted coffee beans toward each of us. This is no short event and several local children joined us for laughs and miming (some speak Amharic and some Omaric and all of us were out of our league.) Then they began singing to us. This was an ‘ah-ha’ moment for me as I realized that these kids are truly happy. No matter the weather or lack of medical care or the hunger pains in their bellies, they are making the most of every moment and finding joy in giggling through songs (some in English!) and in reciting the alphabet for us. It was a special day for all of us!
That night our travel guide, Habtu, had arranged for a fun outing where entertainment was combined with dinner. It was a lively celebration of Americans attempting to dance Ethiopian-style, professional Ethiopian singing in high falsetto, and even a birthday cake (with fire torches!) for me! Definitely a birthday I will never forget.