2008 – Delivery

The plane landed with a jarring thud. For the first time I took more than a cursory notice of my two fellow seatmates both looking noticeably concerned.

I must admit I was exhausted and had not paid much attention to them before then. They seemed to be good friends and talked most of the flight.

They were young and affable enough and the thing that stuck in my memory was the Mohawk haircut of the one sitting closer to the aisle.

I reassured them that as Addis was 2,500 meters above sea level, the air was thin, often causing the plane to land with a bang.

As the plane was taxiing to its gate, we started making up for lost time and chatting away. One, Axel, was a musician who had been inspired by Ethiopian music during his first visit nine years ago. He had written several songs in Amharic and wanted to perform in Ethiopia.

The other, Martin, was a film maker and did not know Africa but was excited to be in Ethiopia to accompany his friend and to make a documentary. I told them about the Ethiopian association I had started in 2001 while living in Ethiopia, the Ethiopian Food Appeal. Before we went our separate ways, I gave them my contact numbers in Addis and they promised to be in touch.

It was Sunday and it had taken me eighteen hours to get to Addis through Istanbul and Khartoum but that did not stop family from immediately taking me to a gathering of fifty relatives to celebrate my arrival and the return of an Uncle who had not visited Ethiopia in twenty-four years. After copious portions of doro wot, (chicken and egg), and enjera, and dancing to the latest Ethiopian rhythms, I was allowed to go home to rest. A dear friend had lent me her house and it was cozy and inviting. I woke early on Monday and the real work began.

I was also there to help the Atron Community Project which helps educate and feed about four hundred street children, mainly young girls in Addis; and one of my favourite ventures, sixteen orphans living in a home environment with a surrogate mother and father, established by two young artists from the Ethiopian Diaspora of Atlanta, Georgia (Artists for Charity).

How I was going to do all of this in less than fourteen days was beyond me. But with the wonderful help of good friends like Max and Mai Jarrett (task force members) and family living in Addis (Adenew, Almaz, Blen, Temesgen, Eyob and Beruk), I succeeded.

The Deputy Executive Secretary of ECA, Mrs. Lalla Ben Barka and the Executive Secretary, Mr. Abdoullah Janneh, although not in Addis, left instructions that trucks could be used to transport the goods since the EFA was originally established by ECA staff members, including myself.

Thanks to the generous contributions of colleagues, friends and strangers who had attended the several bazaars I held throughout 2007 in Geneva at Awash Restaurant, at the WHO Solidarity Fair, and in the US as well, I raised 15,000 dollars.

A special thanks to Maria Dweggah for providing me a space at the WHO fair and to Reverend Gary Miller for allowing me to speak on these activities and on the UN, at his wonderful church in Hartford, Connecticut. The fundraiser at WHO raised more than 5,00 francs suisse and more than 4,000 dollars was raised in the church in Hartford. I wish to convey a special thanks to advisory board members, Tyrone and Dianne Butler.  They continued to raise money for the Ethiopian Food Appeal throughout 2007.

I was amazed at how Addis had changed in just one year. 2007 marked the Ethiopian millennium (year 2000 in the Julian calendar) and one could see that the city had been hard at work constructing roads, buildings and other infrastructure in time for the September 11 millennium celebrations. Thousands of Ethiopian Diaspora poured in from all over the world to be a part of history.

Still, even with the improvements, Ethiopia retained its very endearing flavour with cows, goats and donkeys haphazardly occupying the streets, and scores of street families begging for alms. These were constant reminders that so much still needed to be done to improve the lives of the ordinary Ethiopian.

Given my limited funds, I was advised to buy used clothes for the children. I ventured that I would need about two thousand pieces of clothing. Combing the used-clothes markets soon made me realize that buying from the many garment factories that had sprouted up outside of Addis might prove cheaper. In fact, I was able to purchase brand new cotton t-shirts, shorts, blouses and gym clothes for less than the price per unit for used clothes.

Soon several trucks from the garment factory arrived at the house where I was staying and I spent the next two days counting each item and sorting them for the children. I then set out to get school supplies (exercise books, math books, pens, paper and pencils) and had those separated into a thousand packets. I then bought packets of cookies and sweets for each child.

My German flight mates called me and asked if they could come along for the deliveries. Martin brought his video camera and Axel brought his guitar. We left around 5.30 am on a Thursday morning. We were a caravan of one flatbed truck, one mini-van and two four-wheel drives, fourteen people all in all. Our first stop was the Melka Oba School in the Oromo region of Ethiopia.

The EFA has delivered more than eight tonnes of food and clean water supplies to two hundred fifty school children here especially during the worse part of the drought there from 2002 to 2004. The children were lined up dutifully waiting for our arrival. Fresh wildflowers were presented to us and speeches were made. I showed the children the article from UN Special written about them last year.

They enjoyed seeing the photos taken from my trip last year and for many, these were the first photos they had ever seen of themselves. I was struck by how small the kids still seemed despite one year of growing and I wondered whether the clothes I had purchased would fit. We spent several hours at the Melka Oba School handing out gifts to each student individually and Axel gave an impromptu concert singing his songs in Amharic.

Even though the children speak Oromigna, and not Amharic, they started to sing along to the few words they recognized. They were amazed that I could dance iskista, the typical national Ethiopian dance where you shoulders shake and your hips stay still.

We were then reminded by the principal that eight hundred more children were awaiting us at the Sodore School about thirty minutes away. We made our way there and visited each classroom, made speeches and handed out clothes and school supplies and then held an open-air concert for the entire school. We danced and sang till it was time for the children to attend to their duties as shepherds and herders.

In Addis, I went Christmas shopping (Orthodox Christmas, 7 January) for the sixteen Artist for Charity children who had given me their wish list the week before. I spent a full day buying everything on their lists and then presenting them their presents on Christmas Day.

We had cakes and drinks and watched them perform a special show they put on just for us. We were amazed at the talent pool of these children who sang, danced, drummed, recited stories and poetry and told jokes. We were struck by the fact that they were living pretty normal lives despite having lost their parents to AIDS, suffering themselves from AIDS and once living on the cold streets of Addis.

{mosimage}They now had dreams and hopes for the future. They told me that a beautiful young lady named Beyonce had come to visit their home in November when she performed in Addis. They had no idea how famous Beyonce was but proudly showed me the pictures taken with her.

I visited the home three times during my two-week stay. During the last visit, Axel performed his songs, the kids danced and sang along and Martin made a film which is being turned into a documentary in Germany.

I already have quite a few projects lined up for future visits.  The children in the rural schools need access to electricity and so we want to see if we can have a power line put in from the main road.  It would be great to help build a library for the school and to stock it with books in Oromignia, Amharic and English.

Their clean water supplies are dwindling, so I would like to build a well. In addition, I would like to provide them with a library since they have very little reading materials.  Of course, with the food crisis in full swing, we will need to continue to deliver food.

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