On our second day we drove about an hour outside of Addis to the village of Dahley. As we drove through the city we saw children standing hungry on the side of the street, sometimes mothers holding babies looking for us to help. As we got outside of the city the scene changed. We were no longer surrounded by large buildings, but rather a lush green landscape with small huts made of sticks, mud and straw.
It was sprinkling rain as we pulled to a stop to meet Sally & Tom Baer and find out what we’d be working on for the next two days. I was in the group that went up to the library. Sally gave us a brief rundown of what their hope for Dahley was, specifically the library and medical center that were under construction. She asked us to create a rock pathway in front of the frame of the library so when the ground was muddy, as it was that day, it would be easier for people to access. We worked for several hours moving rocks and arranging them into a path.
Later in the afternoon we were asked to meet the mudders group in the school house before we left for Habti’s house for lunch. There Sally told us because it had rained so much the river had risen and she was not sure how we were going to get back across to our bus. Eventually they decided that we would walk across the river with help from some of the men from the village. The current in the river was strong and the water almost came up to my hips. It took four men to help us across. Although we had all worn waterproof boots and pants, they did not withstand the hours of standing in the rain followed by walking through the river. We all climbed back onto the bus (poor Tsuri had to get so many car washes this week!) and went to Habti’s hut to have lunch and a coffee ceremony.
The moment I got to the door of the hut, one of the school children wrapped her hands around my face and kissed each cheek. After we had eaten our lunch we went outside to bring food to the school children. Several of them came into the hut to eat while we drank our coffee. I sat in a room with about eight of the children and since I couldn’t speak the language or tell them stories or jokes, I resorted to my usual fallback of making fish faces. Right away they began laughing and making fish faces back at me. I was amazed for as cold and hungry as they were, a simple fish face brought about such big smiles. Anne Marie started singing the ABCs and the children joined right in and then started singing their own songs in Amharic. Mr. Blay, our travel guide and translator, said the songs were filled with hopeful words. It touched me that these children, who were living in poverty and showed such little love and affection, remained so happy, hopeful and loving. Tom Baer told us that two of the girls in the hut were twins, about 7 or 8 years old, that cared for their 3-year-old brother because their mother was unable to take care of them and no one knew where their father was. The girls were sweet and happy, just like the other children, and very protective of their younger brother.
The happiness, resilience and love of the children of Dahley, in spite of their circumstances, helped me see hope for their future. I am so happy I got to experience this and that I was able to do it while I’m so young.
The children and people of Dahley, and Ethiopia as a whole, have showed me a sense of hope I have never experienced. Wherever my path leads, I will continue to draw on that sense of happiness and wonder. Today, I am more excited than ever for what the future holds.