Thursday, June 17, 2010

Travel Journal Part Three: ALERT Hospital and Sightseeing

Saturday, June 5th

We started out the day by enjoying our first breakfast at the Yesabi Guest House. Every morning the chef prepared a spread of yummy treats for us to enjoy. My personal favorites were the fresh-squeezed pineapple juice and the crepes with honey on top. His omelettes were pretty incredible too. Since we have been home I have really missed starting out each day with such a fabulous breakfast.
After that our driver for the day, Alazar, picked us up. Tourists in Ethiopia do NOT drive for themselves. The streets are absolute chaos. It takes someone who is well-accustomed to the rules of the road to navigate through the craziness. Once during the day we passed through a huge intersection the size of a city block with no stop lights and no lines painted on the road. It was simply a free for all. Somehow it all works out, though, The drivers seem to be amazingly patient with each other. There is lots of honking, but no road rage. We were very thankful for our driver.

Our first stop was the ALERT Leprosy Hospital. A friend had recommended that we visit the hospital and shop at the handicrafts store. I am so glad that we did. I was amazed at the beautiful work that the ladies produce. I was so touched by witnessing the lives that they lead.

Until a couple of years ago, I didn't even realize that leprosy still existed in our world today. If someone had asked me, I probably would have said that it was an ancient disease that existed during Bible times, but honestly I hadn't given it much thought. But these sweet people who we met had missing fingers and toes, rotted off by the "unclean" disease TODAY, in our age of modern medicine. There is treatment they can receive so that the disease will not get any worse once they begin the medication. However, any damage that has been done to their tissue will never improve.

To provide for themselves and pay for their medicine, they sit in groups and crochet and embroider and weave beautiful creations, working day in and day out, and sell them for only a small percentage of what they are worth. One lady that we spoke with told us that the bed coverlet that she was crocheting would take her about six months to finish. It sold for about $30 in the gift shop.

Immediately Daniel and I began to scheme how we could help these women. The beautiful, intricate work that they do is worth so much more! If only they had access to a better market where their talents would be more highly valued, they could earn several times as much as they do. But they have no knowledge of the internet, marketing, business connections. They probably don't even know that these things exist.

I fell in love with a sweet little boy about Madeline's age, hovering around his mama. He reminded me of my child and my heart went out to him because his life couldn't be any more different than hers. The children of the patients live at the hospital with them. There were many young children who just sit beside their mothers all day while they crochet and embroider. I played catch with this little boy for a few minutes, and then I reached in my backpack to pull out my stash of granola bars. Instantly there was a crowd of children around me.

Thank you, thank you everyone who donated granola bars for us to take on our trip. I passed them out non-stop while we were there - at the hospital, to street children, to beggars. I kept thinking that surely we must be about to run out, but we never did. It seemed like I gave away hundreds of them! But somehow when I reached in my bag there were always more. They were like widow of Zarephath's oil and flour that never ran out. There was always just enough.

While we were at the ALERT hospital we bought a couple of large tablecloths, a beautiful scarf, a pillow cover, a small tapestry to hang on the wall, a traditional outfit for Benjamin, and ten or so really cool toy animals made out of rope - all for about $70. Amazing! I highly recommend a visit to this place if you travel to Ethiopia. However, make sure that you have a good driver. Ours provided so much more than just transportation. He explained everything to us, he translated for us, he asked questions for us. He was our ticket into places that we never could have gone alone! (The driver that we ended up using for most of the week was Dawit, and I highly recommend him. I would love to send you his phone number if you would like to use him when you travel to Ethiopia! Just leave me a message.)

After ALERT we went to the merkato, the Wal-mart of Addis Ababa. We had planned to get out and wander through the market, but since it was Saturday the crowds were so crazy that even after 45 minutes of looking our driver still couldn't find a place to park his car. We did get a good look at the market as we drove around. There was stall after stall selling everything from food to animals to toilets and washbasins. It was huge. We ended up giving up and going to lunch instead.

After lunch our driver picked us up and took us to the Ethnological Museum at Addis Ababa University. It was great! We opted to go to this one instead of the more frequently visited museum whose claim to fame is the bones of Lucy - the supposed earliest human ancestor - 10 trillion years old, or something like that. The Ethnological Museum was highly recommended in my Ethiopia guidebook, and I was really glad that we went. We learned a lot about Ethiopian history and culture. It was very interesting and well organized. We had an English-speaking guide to lead us through the museum... However, no matter how hard I concentrated, I only understood about every third word that he said. It was all quite comical. I just smiled and nodded the whole time. :)

After that we went to the Piazza area to visit a few silver shops. They have beautiful jewelry there, and it is very reasonably priced. I bought a pretty cross that I have worn almost every day since then.

Our last stop of the day was the airport to pick up our missing suitcase. Thank goodness that it made it! I was very much in need of my shampoo. I had thought about buying some, but I'm not sure that they even sell "white people" shampoo in the markets in Ethiopia! A long, hot shower was a great way to end our jam-packed day.


Erika Kolecki said...

I'm really enjoying reading all of your posts about your trip. Thank you for sharing your experiance with all of us out here in blog world! My first thought when reading about the beautiful creations at the ALERT hospital shop is that I wonder if you could get something together like 147MillionOrphans does with the Uganda magazine necklaces? Bring them over here to sell as fundraising items and in local shops and send the money back... surely you would get a higher price here and the women would be able to bring in more money while helping people here raise money for their adoptions? Just a thought!

E.T.'s Mom said...

I'm learning so much from these posts.