Monday, August 22, 2011


Hey guys!
I hope whoever’s still reading this had a good summer…I apologize for not updating my photos sooner but I’ve had a crazy summer and it took a lot of time for me to edit all my photos down to a “showable” amount.

So anyway, after much deliberation, my final project is this:
I have put together a collection of about 60 images that I will be making into a book, which will be an artistic photo essay of my whole experience. If anyone wishes to buy a copy of this book from me, please let me know! However, again for confidentiality reasons, I can’t publicly publish it.

Secondly, I have created a Flickr account on which I have more of the photos that I am most proud of. Just as an added precaution—I know it’s annoying, but I don’t want my photos getting stolen—I had to add a little watermark..sorry about that. And again for confidentiality reasons, they can’t be public, so anyone wanting to add me as a Flickr friend in order to see the images, my Flickr username is Sophie M. Brill and the e-mail address is Please, add me and enjoy, I’m so sorry it’s taken so long!

Love to all of you, and once again, thank you for following my experience! 

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Ciao, my beautiful Ethiopia...

Friday, April 15th, 2011
So, after the three shortest, most fleeting three months of my entire life, I have arrived back in Saratoga. I am still a bit jetlagged and experiencing major culture shock, not to mention the fact that I miss my dear Ethiopian friends terribly, but other than that I feel great!

Saying goodbye was heartbreaking. A goodbye ceremony was held for me on Saturday morning, and I walked there alone with a terrible feeling of foreboding. When I entered through the gate, the children all ran up and jumped on me like they did every other day. That day they were all looking up at me with wide eyes and asking, “Today go?” “Today America go?” They had asked me this a few times before, but I’d always been able to smile and shake my head and say, “No go to America, today I stay.” Today, however, I had to nod and try to smile while saying, “Yes, today I go to America.” I hated saying this, and I hated even more to see the look of sadness that passed over a few of their faces, especially my precious Faren’s. As soon as I saw the look of disappointment cross his face when I confirmed his suspicion that I was, finally, leaving him, I hoisted him onto my hip and didn’t let him go until I was literally stepping out of the gate.

The children all gathered and sat in a circle in the living room at Little AHOPE, and Jambo, the social worker, told them in Amharic that the time had finally come to say goodbye. He asked the children to stand up and a few of them shyly offered things that they would remember about me, and then I had a chance to say a few words. I basically just thanked them for welcoming me into their lives and allowing me to love and get to know them, but I know I could have gone on forever about how much I love each and every one of them—not to mention the staff—and how fervently I will be thinking of them and wishing them healthy and successful futures.

The children then sang a song called “This Is The Day,” and then it was time for a group photo, and to say goodbye. I held myself together up until the moment when I looked at Faren and saw that his eyes had welled up with tears and he was staring straight ahead with a stony but utterly helpless look on his face. It broke my heart, and I hugged him tightly and cried along with him. A few of the other children cried as well, which made it just so much harder to say goodbye to them. I wish I could have just said goodbye like any other day and spared them the drama of a whole goodbye “ceremony,” but Jambo said that this would have confused them if I’d just disappeared, and he said that they wanted to chance to show their appreciation. Still, it sucked.

I said a shorter goodbye to Big AHOPE, but it was just as hard. Most of the older kids at Big AHOPE are withdrawn and guarded, and much less willing than the younger ones to allow outsiders to get close to them, but once I had cracked their shells they revealed themselves to be real, sensitive human beings on the brink of becoming adults, and beginning to truly face the reality of their situations. They knew that I most likely wouldn’t be back anytime soon, and that they’d probably never see me again, but they still smiled and shook my hand and wished me all the best and waved goodbye at the gate.

The reverse culture shock that comes with returning to the States after being in Africa for three months is much more intense then the culture shock was getting there. I feel so safe in a car; the highways are empty by comparison and people actually drive more or less according to traffic laws. Downtown Saratoga feels like a ghost town compared to the overcrowded, bustling streets and sidewalks of Addis Ababa—even the side dirt roads that were virtually inaccessible to cars had more people traffic than downtown Broadway in Saratoga Springs. People totally ignore me when I walk down the street, and I absolutely love it. Excessive florescent lighting now gives me a headache, and eating an apple with cheddar cheese just makes my day. For the first few days I caught myself doing double takes every time I looked up and saw another white person, especially if they were driving a car. Four dollars for a sandwich converts in my head to roughly 70 Birr, which sounds like a lot of money to me. Houses aren’t tucked behind gated walls or sheets of rusty tin, scaffolding is made of metal and looks safe to stand on, and there are no sick, motherless children running around tugging on people’s jackets begging for money. It’s cold outside. The air is clean. The dog barking outside has a home. People eat different things for lunch every day. It’s a very different world here.

Before I left, I thought a lot about what I should bring to give to the children, like toys or clothes or something along those lines. I did bring a few things—I went to A.C. Moore the day before I left and bought little nothings like stickers and pencils and bouncy balls to bring with me. I realized as soon as I got there that the kids aren’t used to actually owning anything, and while receiving little presents is very thrilling for them, as soon as you start handing things out they start to fight over things, or want more of something, and usually they refuse to share—they are, after all, just kids. It was a nice feeling to hand a child a toy and see their eyes light up with excitement, but I realized quickly that, for the giver, it’s more of a fast rush, which will, most of the time, quickly lose its meaning. Also, as soon as you started giving things out, they would see you only as the “bearer of little gifts,” and that’s all they would expect or even really want from you. I knew that I wanted the kids to see me and want a hug, or to play a new game, instead of a toy car or a lollipop. I learned that the most meaningful gift one can possibly give to these children is simple, unconditional love and affection, and that the ‘rush’ you get when this child, this new friend, gives you a simple hug will stay with you far beyond the moment when they let go.

I know that, if I ever go back, many of the children will no longer be there, or perhaps they won’t remember me. I think that I definitely learned and was changed more than any of them did in those three months. However, even if I never see them again, even if they forget me tomorrow, I can only hope that at the end of the day, the people they are growing up to become will be just a tiny bit different—happier, more secure, even just plus one or two dance moves—because I was a part of those three months of their childhood. I have more to thank them for than they will ever know. I only hope that I was able to return just a tiny part of the favor.


P.S. I took about a million photos there that I’m extremely proud of, but for privacy reasons and to protect the HIV status of the children I can’t post pictures in which the children are easily identifiable publicly online or sell them for publicity purposes. I will put together a slideshow to show friends and family, and I’m trying to figure out how to post them privately online and just provide viewers with a password. We’re also working on making a photo/informative book with the usable photos for AHOPE to sell…I’ll keep you posted! Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

So, my amazing aunt from Pennsylvania sponsors an Ethiopian boy through a Christian organization called Compassion. When she heard that I was going to be here, she contacted the organization to arrange that I visit her sponsored child.

On March 12th, a driver and a translator for Compassion picked me up in Addis Ababa and drove me to Ambo, a town about two hours (150 km, roughly 100 miles) away. In Ambo we were met by the boy, who is nineteen years old and studies at a university in eastern Ethiopia. He had come back to Ambo just for the weekend in order to meet me. We went to his home, which was a small stucco house off a dirt road in the hills. Standing just outside of their gate, one has a gorgeous view of the mountains. Inside their property they have a small garden next to the house. There we met his mother, his two sisters, and two of their neighbors. Inside, we sat down in a small living/dining area. The kitchen and sleeping area were hidden by a doorway covered by a long curtain.

Ethiopians honor guests by performing a coffee ceremony. Ethiopia is famous for its coffee—for good reason, Ethiopian coffee is definitely the best coffee I’ve ever tasted—and they generally drink it black with a lot of sugar. A traditional coffee ceremony is when they roast green coffee beans over a bowl of hot coals on the floor, before grinding the beans very finely by hand—they don’t use filters—and heating the coffee over the same coals. It is served with sugar in very small cups. Popcorn is also traditionally served at a coffee ceremony. Except for making the popcorn, everything is done (usually by a woman) sitting on the floor in front of the guests. The room fills with smoke and smells like roasting coffee beans. At our guest house, Selam, our wonderful cook/Ethiopian mother/friend performs the coffee ceremony the day of or before a volunteer departs. She also serves cake.

So anyway, the boy’s mother served us injera and performed the coffee ceremony while we all sat around and talked. He is studying civil engineering, and plans most likely to go into construction. His mother described him to us as a “free spirit,” and he looked embarrassed but pleased. He showed me pictures that my aunt had sent him of her family and talked described how grateful he was to her, and how much he wants to meet her. It was a short visit, but it was very sweet, and I’m very glad I went.
It was also the first time I’d traveled far out of Addis Ababa, and I got to get a good luck at the countryside. Addis Ababa stops very abruptly, and suddenly it’s all hills and planes and it’s absolutely gorgeous. For lack of a better description, it looks exactly like Africa. There are huge, rolling mountains in the distance, and on the planes there are those trees with the flat tops—I don’t remember what they’re called—scattered all over the place. We went through a few small villages, which were mostly clusters of mud huts and hay bales.

I have suddenly become Ethiopia’s designated mural painter. Last Thursday I commented on a painting of some shepherds and stars that had gone up in the classroom at Little AHOPE, and mentioned idly to the teacher that I’d love to do some kind of painting somewhere while I’m here. She looked at me and asked with surprise why I hadn’t asked earlier, and then told me that I was welcome to paint the rest of the classroom if I wanted to. So I went straight to the classroom and dug out some of my favorite children’s books from their collection and went to work. That day I painted a giant Cat in the Hat on one of the walls. Then the teacher, who we all call “Miss,” asked if I would paint Spiderman on another wall. I thought it was a bit weird that a schoolteacher would want a giant Spiderman painted on her kindergarten classroom’s wall, but I started Spiderman on Friday, and when the children came in to see my progress, they were all very excited—they hardly glanced at Cat in the Hat. (I think Cat in the Hat’s much cooler, but I guess he’s not terribly popular in Ethiopia.) Anyway, since finishing Spiderman I’ve also painted Winnie the Pooh, Barney (their idea, not mine), and flowers in the Little AHOPE classroom. I’ve started a painting from the children’s book Guess How Much I Love You in the classroom at Big AHOPE, and they want a Spiderman as well. On top of that, one of the nurses is married to a man who teaches English at a local private elementary school, and last week he asked me if I’d be willing to come to his school and paint something. So on Thursday (March 17th) he picked me up from AHOPE and I got to visit his school. He had told his fifth grade class that I was coming, so for the first half hour I stood in front of the class answering questions they’d all prepared (it felt very much like that other English class I’d visited) and then I got to work. They also requested a Cat in the Hat, which I was more than happy to do.

On Friday (March 18th) Selam taught me how to make one of the wet sauces often served with injera. Selam is an excellent cook and she taught me a few new cooking tricks as well as the recipe. We couldn’t make the injera itself, not having the pan/machine thing they use to cook it, but we whipped up the sauce and then went out and bought the injera from the bakery around the corner. It was actually very simple—just onions and tomatoes and garlic and potatoes and oil, as well as water and a ton of a spice I don’t know how to pronounce. I’m going to try to bring some of this spice home with me.

On Sunday (March 27th), two American women arrived from Seattle. They’re on the board of AHOPE for Children, so they’re basically in charge of all the funding for AHOPE Ethiopia. Obviously this is kind of a big deal, so everyone seems to be bending over backwards for them while they’re here—I actually had to give up my room in the guest house, cuz it was apparently one of the nicer ones. Anyway, on Monday the cooks at AHOPE made a huge, amazing meal, and I decided to help in the kitchen that day. I didn’t do all that much—I basically just cut cucumbers and arranged the salads and watched as they bustled around expertly whipping up meals for both the children and all of the staff. They did let me try to make injera though, which was a bit exciting. Injera (the flat, sourdough crepe-like bread that they eat for basically every single meal) is cooked on a stove that is a flat surface griddle thing over a fire. The batter, which is just teff flour and water, is poured onto the stove in a spiral pattern, usually from the outside inwards. The cooks do it quickly and expertly, and they end up with a large, very thin pancake. I was slow and clumsy, and my injera was extremely fat and uneven. They served it anyway, and I was very proud of myself.

On Tuesday (March 29th) Camille and I went to the Mercato. We’re both in the process of scrambling around to finish our gift/souvenir shopping. The Mercato in Addis Ababa is the largest open-air market in Africa. It’s huge. We were there for a good two or three hours, and we didn’t even see a fraction of it. You can literally buy anything you could possibly need somewhere in the Mercato—you just have to know where to go. It’s always extremely crowded and there are lots of pickpockets—foreigners are especially advised not to bring a bag or even wear hanging jewelry. My camera was out of the question, unfortunately. We saw sections where shops sold nothing but spare car parts, or hot peppers, or toilet paper, as well as sections for traditional clothing, or beverages, gadgets like cell phones, TVs, computers, etc.

This will probably be the last time I blog before I leave…I'll be leaving this coming Saturday (April 9th). I absolutely can’t believe it—these have been without a doubt the fastest three months of my whole entire life. It’s going to be an extremely busy last week—it’ll be full of pictures and painting and coffee ceremonies and last-minute touristing and shopping and not to mention spending every single possible minute with these kids who have stolen my heart and will most definitely be keeping a large part of it when I go. I’m dreading saying goodbye to them. I promise I will write again when I get back to the States. Till then…I hope everyone’s having a good beginning of the springtime!
See you guys soon! All my love!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

First of all, I’d like to apologize for not writing in such a long time. I don’t mean to leave anyone hanging—I guess I’ve just been too busy with everything here to sit down and write about it. Also, the few times I have actually sat down to write, I’ve experienced massive brain farts and ended up daydreaming about teaching Waldorf rounds and word games So, once again—my apologies! (I feel like I’ve been apologizing a lot in this blog, is that true? Sorry…again. Ahahah.)

I can’t believe that my time here is already more than halfway over!! Time passes very strangely here—by day three I remember feeing like I’d already been here for months, and then I blinked and suddenly I had already been here for over a month. I have the feeling that these next five weeks are going to fly by even faster than the first seven did. I already know I’m going to be sad to leave. Aurele, the Israeli volunteer, left this past Friday, and as I watched him say goodbye to the children, especially the little ones, I tried to imagine myself doing the same. I started tearing up, so I stopped thinking about it.

A lot has happened since the last time I blogged. A week ago, two of the children from Little AHOPE were adopted. I didn’t actually hear about the adoption until two days before they left, so I was shocked and sad to see them go. It was a girl named Sosina who’s about 6, and a boy, Phillipus, who’s probably around 8 (they don’t know their exact ages), and they were adopted by an amazing woman who has already adopted ten children—on top of having nine of her own. They have a farm on an island off the coast of Washington, and this incredible woman has homeschooled her entire army of nineteen kids.

For three or four days before they left Ethiopia, Sosina and Phillipus stayed with their new adoptive mother at a guest house nearby. When I visited them there, they were dressed in brand new clothes, had a few new toys and Sosina’s hair had unbraided and pinned up into a neat, adorable ballerina bun. They played well together and were both very excited by their new surroundings.

On the day before they left the country, their new mother brought them back to the Little AHOPE compound so that they could say good-bye to their friends there. Sosina’s extended family—who had also visited her on Family Day—were also there to say their goodbyes.

I never got to know Phillipus very well, but Sosina was one of the coolest 6-ish-year-olds I’ve ever met. She has an insane amount of energy and she’s not afraid of anything. She seems to attack life with a passionate energy I’ve never seen before in someone so young. This day, however, she was quiet. She started to cry as soon as she arrived at the compound and was reunited with her friends, and for most of the afternoon she didn’t say a word to anyone around her. We were finally able to coax a smile out of her when I took out my camera and her friend started to pose with her for pictures, but that was about all we got until her family arrived.

As soon as they arrived, her family members rushed to her and covered her with hugs and kisses. It was extremely emotional. Sosina sat on her godmother’s lap as they talked with her new adoptive mother and the social worker, and she still didn’t say a word. After a long conversation, they asked to have pictures taken, with Sosina and her new family. I took tons of pictures and promised Sosina’s Ethiopian family that I would make sure they received prints. They were very grateful and they are some of the kindest people I’ve ever met. It was a very bittersweet day for them, but they had had time to prepare for it, and they were obviously very happy that their little girl had found a family who could take care of her.

After Sosina’s family had said their last goodbyes, all of the children were gathered to say one last goodbye to Sosina and Phillipus. They were dressed in white, traditional Ethiopian dresses. The children sat on the floor of the living room and sang a few of Sosina and Phillipus’ favorite songs. Then a few of the children stood and said a few parting words—wishing them luck for the future, thanking them for their friendship, and asking them not to forget them. More tears were shed when it came time to say their final goodbyes.

A few weeks ago I finally made contact with Layla House, which is an orphanage operated by the adoption agency Adoption Advocates International (AAI). Conveniently, it’s also within walking distance of AHOPE. Thanks to Emma Dodge Hanson, I already had the number of the volunteer coordinator at AHOPE, and the director of AAI, who has asked me to do a photo shoot in Opportunity House, Layla’s compound for the children with special needs. During the past two weeks there have also been two girls and a teacher from the Waldorf School volunteering at Layla, so I’ve started getting involved with volunteering there as well as AHOPE. Layla House is incredible. It’s much bigger than AHOPE, both physically and in terms of the number of children living there, and it seems to be incredibly well run. Since AAI was founded, they have placed over a thousand children. Layla house has an almost 100% adoption rate. There are gorgeous murals painted on almost all of the walls of the compound, and in the outdoor play areas there’s a lot of sunlight and greenery. Two of the volunteers there right now are actually girls my age who were adopted from Layla when they were younger, and who are now returning for a few months to volunteer and visit their biological families. I’m really excited by this opportunity to get to know them and become involved at Layla, and I’m hoping to be able to be there at least once a week for the rest of my time here.

Last week I visited the Fistula Hospital here in Addis Ababa. Obsteric Fistula is an abnormal opening between the birth passage and adjoining organs which occurs as a result of tissue death due to prolonged and obstructed labor. I won’t go into details, but basically, women who are unfortunate enough to experience this injury are thereafter unable to control their body fluids. This happens all too often, especially in the more remote, tribal areas of Africa, and as a result of this these women are shunned and often forced to live alone, separated from the rest of their tribe.

In 1959, Drs. Reginald and Catherine Hamlin from Australia came to Addis Ababa to work at a hospital for three years, performing surgery for women suffering from Obsteric Fistula. They ended up establishing the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital—now called the Hamlin Fistula Hospital. Catherine Hamlin, now in her late 80’s, still works here as a surgeon; her husband died here a few years ago. Now, an average of 3000 procedures are done every year in the main hospital as well as in the five outreach centers which have been established across Ethiopia. The patients receive medical as well as psychological care, and 95% of the patients are able to fully recover. Cured patients are given a new dress and are able to return home to a new life. Those 5% who are unable to fully recover are unfortunately in need of life-long support from the hospital. Some are trained as nurse aids, and others live together in a rehabilitation center for chronically injured women until they are judged competent enough to be part of a cooperative or micro enterprise. The Hamlin Fistula Hospital is truly an amazing place, and I encourage everyone to learn about it and donate lots of money to the work they do there.

In my English classes, I haven’t made a ton of progress, partly because I’m not an English teacher and partly because I’ve been a bit sick lately and I’ve missed a few days. However, I recently decided to ditch the plan of trying to actually teach them how to speak English, and instead I’m teaching them to sing a few of the rounds which are still imprinted in my brain from my Waldorf childhood. They seem to enjoy this, so hopefully by the time I leave they’ll have a nice little repertoire built up.

Also, now that Aurele’s gone, I’m now in charge of taking a group of children from Big AHOPE over to the Little compound once or twice a week. The ten older children are all assigned activities to bring to the little kids—card games, Simon Says, Connect Four, dancing, running races, etc. The little kids love the company and the games, and the older kids obviously enjoy being the ones in charge. They have a mixtape of crazy dance music that they bring, so a dance party usually ends up breaking out in the living room, which is always a hit. Some of the caregivers even join in.

Soo, I hope this enough to hold you guys over for another…while. I’m sending everyone reading this—and even a few that aren’t—all my love and good wishes for the spring!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Who knew Sophie had such motherly instincts! I'm in love with these children. Screw college, I want to take them all home with me and be a full-time mother of little Ethiopian beauties.

I won't say I have a favorite, but I've grown particularly close to one seven-year-old boy. His name is Faren and he is relatively quiet but incredibly smart--he's been my main Amharic teacher here and his English is excellent. He came to AHOPE only a month ago, and apparently he was only about half the size he is now. He came from another orphanage, and before that he was living with his grandmother. Last week he was sitting on my lap in the van on the way to visit the clinic, and he had been gazing out the window without speaking for awhile when he suddenly pointed outside and said something to the nurse sitting next to me. She pointed to a little mud hut--only recognizable as a home because of the door and the laundry hanging outside--and told me, "He remembers where he used to live!"

Last Sunday was Family Day at AHOPE. A few times a year, the orphanage invites any relatives, old friends or neighbors of the children to visit them for a day of celebration This was to celebrate Christmas. There was a small program, when a few staff members and older children spoke, followed by two short skits from the children of the Big and Little compounds, and other than that the day was devoted to playing and enjoying each others' company. It was a very bittersweet ady for everyone. When children are brought to the orphanage, they are often brought in by relatives who are simply unable to support them. The orphanage collects the addresses and contact information of any family members or friends that exist, but for children, there is no one at all--some of them are found living on the streets before they are brought to AHOPE. The children who were reunited with family and/or friends obviously had a very exciting day, but it was another story for the children for whom no one was there. Still, all of them were engaged in the skits and almost all of them joined in the games and the dance party that broke out after lunch, when the children took over the stereo system that had been brought out for the day. Overall, we tried to ensure that everyone had a good time, and the day was definitely a success.

One of the regular AHOPE volunteers is a woman named Karine who comes from Philadelphia and has been living with her husband here in Addis for a little over two years. She volunteers as an English teacher at AHOPE, but she also works at a hospital where her husband is a surgeon. Yesterday--Friday--she took me and the other two volunteers to visit this hospital. It's called the Cure hospital, and it's run by an American organization that works to offer free health care to children in third world countries. This particular hospital specializes in healing children who are born with deformities such as cleft lips/palates and club feet. For children who are still rather young--under 5 or 6 years, one of the doctors told us--club feet can usually be cured simply by manipulating the bones and casting the feet for a few months, followed by physical therapy. For more severe cases and older children, they can usually fix the problem with surgery and physical therapy. Apparently the success rates are between 85 and 96 percent--most of these children will be able to walk normally. Cleft lips are fixed with surgery. This hospital has a team of full-time doctors and surgeons, and they often bring in doctors from out of the country--we met a group of South Korean doctors and a photographer the day we visited. In some tribes, children who are born with deformities are said to be cursed, an often they are simply hidden away from the world. They are not sent to school and they are not let out in public, and with time their problems only get worse. However, being at this hospital made the outlook appear promising--people travel great distances and make immense sacrifices to bring their children to these hospitals, and they success rates are high.

We also drove to the top of a mountain overlooking Addis, and visited an Ethiopian Orthodox church. It was a beautiful church, painted with the colors of the Ethiopian flag and built next to the home of the Ethiopian leader who established Addis Ababa as the capitol. As we climbed the mountain and got further and further away from the city, we saw women--from teenagers to at least 60-year-olds--carrying immense loads of wood down the mountain, apparently to sell at the markets in town. Karine told us that one of her American friends, a man who worked out regularly and had always been in decent shape, had once tried to lift one of these loads and couldn't. Why they don't use carts or wagons I have no idea--these loads were huge.

This past week has been an interesting one for us at the AHOPE guest house. The electricity here is a bit spotty; once in awhile it turns off for a few hours in the afternoon, but most of the time we have a steady flow of power at the guest house. Tuesday afternoon, Camille and I heard a loud bang around 2:30 p.m., and the power went off and didn't return until about 11 that night. We were unable to cook, so we ended up eating peanut butter and sugar--the peanut butter here is extremely salty by itself--sandwiches for dinner. We played around in the dark with candles and flashlights and cameras before finally giving up and going to bed around 9. Wednesday afternoon we had a thunderstorm, and the power went out at around 3. This time we were in bed by 8:30. Thursday the power was out between 3:00 and 8ish, and we had almost given up on cooking and showering when the lights finally came back on. We cooked up a huge hot meal and enjoyed the hell out of it.

During our long hours of darkness, however, we ended up having a few interesting conversation. At one point Camille asked us what things we miss the most. We thought about it:
1) Cheese/milk/yogurt/meat. They don't sell refrigerated dairy products here.
2) Fresh air. The pollution here is pretty terrible and I feel as if I've been smoking a pack a day.
3) Fitting in. Ooooohh my gosh how I miss fitting in.
4) Internet. It'd be nice not to pay 25 cents per minute to talk to you people!
5) Safe, free tap water. You know you're in a sketchy place when the water bottle I bought yesterday has the label "AquaSAFE." Great.
...That's about it. And those are mostly just luxuries that no one reeeally needs to get through their day. Even without those little details, we're still living an incredibly luxurious lifestyle compared with most of the people around us. The phrase "Appreciate what you've got; there are starving children in Africa" really has a whole new meaning when you're seeing those children up close and personal.

We also had a conversation about little random things that have caught our attention. There is one man we see almost every single day at the top of the hill we have to walk on the way to the orphanage. He always stands on the sidewalk, usually talking to someone--almost always a different someone--and he always wears the same grey blazer, a pair of purple pants, a cap and he carries a cane. We have affectionately named him Michael Cane.

One thing I've noticed is that a large number of people do actually give money to people begging on the streets. I've been giving away quarters and granola bars here and there, but it's not uncommon to see people giving out 1 Birr bills to a woman sitting on the sidewalk holding a child in one hand and a cloth to collect coins in the other. It's slightly different from the US, where most people seem to more often than not turn a blind eye to the poverty on the streets.

The people here are very patriotic and proud to be Ethiopians. For example, I've noticed that whenever I make friendship bracelets with the children, 99% of the time the first three colors they ask for are green, yellow and red, in that order--the colors of the Ethiopian flag. A lot of the adults and older children speak at least a little bit of English, but they are always very eager to teach us Amharic, if only to increase our vocabulary a tiny bit. Amharic is an extremely difficult language to learn--not only are many of the sounds completely foreign to us Americans, but apparently the grammar is very different and complicated as well, and it has a whole different alphabet. Still, I've been carrying around my little red notebook and I try to record the new words I learn each day. I'd like to say that I plan on really picking up the language while I'm here, but unfortunately I highly doubt that's ever going to happen.

So, all in all, it's been a very eventful third week here in Addis Ababa. It's been extremely hot here, and I'm trying to enjoy it a little bit extra because I hear America's been experiencing some crazy winter storms lately. I'm not gloating, I'm just appreciating :)

Love to everyone! Th-th-th-that's all, folks!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

So I was at the orphanage last week and I started talking to a girl hadn't seen there before. She was older--about 17--and obviously not one of the orphans at AHOPE. Her English was hard to understand but we had a fairly long conversation during which she apparently invited me to visit her English class the next Friday. I didn't really make any commitment but yesterday at around 6:30 I was getting ready to leave Big AHOPE and go make dinner at the guest house when she suddenly showed up claiming that we had an "appointment" together and I had to come with her.

I was confused and hungry, but I had apparently agreed to this, so I followed her, not really sure where exactly we were going. We walked a few blocks and then entered a building and climbed to the third floor, where we stood around in an empty hallway, obviously waiting for something. People started showing up and waiting with us, and I got a lot of weird looks and a few scattered questions about who I was. Then at around 7:00 people started filing out of a door next to us, and the people in the hallway started filing in, my new friend and I included.

It was apparently an evening English class for adults. We sat in the very front row and I studied the notes on the board; apparently the previous class had had a "Free Speaking" session, and there was a list of assorted topics of conversation. I kept looking at my watch, not wanting to be rude but feeling guilty because I had been expected for dinner at around 7 by the other volunteers. I tried asking my friend if it would be rude to leave halfway through, but my question fell on deaf ears.

The teacher walked in at about 7:15 and announced that instead of the planned "Free Speaking" class, they had a special guest who was there to answer questions in English for an hour. He motioned me to the front of the classroom. I was totally unprepared and had not expected this at all, but I ended up standing in front of about 40 English students from the ages of around 15 to 45, and they asked me an assortment of questions for literally a whole hour.

Their questions were very interesting; they asked me everything from what I'm studying in school to what I'd look for in a future husband. They asked me about my family, about my religion and "life philosophies," my opinions on gays, how I find Ethiopia, and they asked me to sing an "American song" for them. They asked me if I'd had any "Hard or wonderful" times in my life, and what they had been like. They asked me "If God were to show up tonight and tell you that you're not going to be alive tomorrow, what question would you ask him and what would you do with your remaining time?"

I was exhausted by the end of it, but I ended up talking with a bunch of them afterwards and was amazed by their open, honest curiosity and their lack of expectations. Ethiopians in general are a very open, friendly group of people, and I felt if I am being welcomed into their culture with open arms.

Our daily schedule is so far pretty repetitive. We usually get up between 7:30 and 9, and go to Little AHOPE in the mornings. We two or three hours just playing and goofing off with the childre, before they have class from 11-12. At 12 the children have lunch and we usually stand around outside or play with the infants, before eating with the staff around 1. Lunch at Little AHOPE is always a traditional Ethiopian meal of njera, which is a flatbread rather like a thick crepe, except not at all sweet, together with some kind of meat or vegetable sauce. You're supposed to use the njera as a 'scooper' and you eat with your hands. There is always coffee served after. Ethiopian coffee rocks.

After lunch we usually go back to the Guest house for a few hours to rest. We stay there until about 4:30 before walking up to Big AHOPE, where we stay until it starts to get dark. After that we walk back to the guest house, cook some sort of dinner and watch a movie or two.

Tuesdays and Thursdays we go from Little AHOPE to the CDC, which is daycare center about a half-hour drive from the orphanage. There are lots and lots of children there, and they are always extremely full of energy and ecstatic to see us. Those days are usually the days when we actually take naps after lunch.

Again, sorry about the infrequent updates! Hope you find this interesting!

All my love!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Hi everyone!

I'm sorry it's taken me so long to update, but unfortunately you guys are just gonna have to get used to these rather infrequent updates. The internet here is irregular and difficult to find, and also costs me 25 cents a minute.

I got in on Monday, three hours later than I was supposed to arrive, after two consecutive overnight flights. Thankfully the driver had waited patiently and delivered me straight to the guest house, where I slept for two hours before going to the orphanage that afternoon.

The guest house is like a 5-star hotel compared to what I was expecting: It is surrounded by a tall wall with a large gate which you must knock on and be let through by a guard, all of whom are extremely friendly. The house is three stories tall and looks like it is straight out of Europe. There is running water--we even get hot showers, as long as they are short and are taken about an hour apart!!!! There is a woman who comes in every day to make us breakfast and do our laundry and is like our angelic mother away from home. For the first few days, it was just me and one other volunteer from Israel living in the guest house, but on Thursday another girl arrived from Colorado,who will also be staying until April. We eat lunch with the staff at the orphanage every day and at night we usually cook our own meals, the supplies for which usually come from the small market/grocery stores around the corner.

AHOPE Ethiopia is comprised of two children's homes, as well as a Child Development Center, or CDC. Little AHOPE is home to the children ages 0-7, and is also where the office is. Big AHOPE is about a ten-minute block from Little, and houses the children ages 8-15. Both are within walking distance from the guest house. The CDC is like a daycare center where children receive tutoring and medical care, and I have yet to be there.

They have put together a makeshift schedule for the volunteers, which is followed fairly loosely. Three days a week we will be teaching grades 1-4 spoken English for an hour in the afternoons, and two days a week we will be at the CDC in the mornings. Most of the rest of our time will be spent at Little AHOPE. I will, of course, carry my camera with me at all times!

Addis Ababa is a large, very hectic city. The streets are lined with mud or metal houses and shacks which are mostly small shops or marketplaces. One of the first things that struck me was when I noticed a building obviously under construction: the scaffolding was literally made of wood--literally narrow tree trunks without branches. It's pretty hot here--usually getting to 75-80 degrees Fahrenheit every day, and the sun is extremely strong. The streets have few traffic lines marked, which are rarely followed anyway. Apparently only about 50-60 percent of the drivers here actually hold a legitimate drivers license. The taxis are large blue vans from the 70s which hold about 10 to 15 people at a time. My first ride in a taxi ended after about 2 minutes at the top of a steep hill when the van stumbled to a stop because of a flat tire. It is not unusual to see a scene like designer bag, a begging cripple, a lonely, small child and a brand new Isuzu Trooper equipped with a GPS system all within about 50 feet of one another. The sidewalks are crowded and Westerners are quite a phenomenon, and we frequently receive catcalls and whistles and are called "Foreigner," in Amharic, but it is rarely meant negatively; on the contrary, most of the time they only want to say Hello and ask us how we are doing.

The children are absolutely adorable and amazing. At Little AHOPE they are full of energy and games and will literally fight each other for our attention. They love to play soccer and climb all over each other and the volunteers. In school they are learning how to say various parts of the body in English, and how to multiply numbers by 2. They are cheerful and full of laughter, and a delight to play with. At Big AHOPE, the children are obviously more mature and eager to make more of an emotional connection, and they have just as much, if not more energy to throw around. I brought embroidery thread and showed them how to make friendship bracelets, which was a huge hit; I already wish I had brought more. These are the children I will be teaching English, but they reciprocate by trying to teach me Amharic. So far I have learned how to say "Hello" and "Good bye," "Thank you," "Bread", "Coffee," how to count to ten, and a few other words. I feel like an expert.

I'm sorry if my entries are scattered and not very well written--I will be writing most of them in rather a hurry. I hope, however, that this gives at least a bit of insight into the amazing things I am experiencing over on this side of the world.

In case anyone wants to call me, I did get a cell phone: the number is 0912193761. The code for Ethiopia is +251, and then you must drop the first 0. I'm not sure if I've gotten it to work yet, but the guest house also has a landline, and I'm usually home after around 7 p.m. (11 a.m. in New York). I don't have that number on me at the moment, but I can post it next time, and if anyone wants to call me there before then, you'll have to contact my parents! I'd love to hear from you!

Till next time! All my love!