Day 6 in Addis Ababa
Kichene Feeding Center:
On Day 6 we headed out early in the morning to go to the Kichene Feeding Center. Like the All for Christ Feeding Center, Kichene provides meals for needy children and orphans living with extended families in the vicinity of the center. During the morning, while the older children in the neighborhood go to the nearby government school, the younger children in the neighborhood head to the Kichene feeding center where they have kindergarten classes and breakfast.
Caroline, Linda, Brenda and I piled into Haile’s taxi, and headed out to Kichene, with Caroline giving directions. Caroline had been there before, and told us we were in for a treat. We arrived at a very muddy, rocky incline, and Caroline called out the Amharic words for “turn right.”
Haile turned his head and looked up the incline, and asked, with the characteristic Ethiopian deadpan delivery known as “wax and gold” where sarcasm is hidden under a perfectly innocent statement or question, “By which road?”
“This road!”, replied Caroline.
“By which road?”, Haile repeated again.
At this point we all realized that the taxi probably would not have made it up the muddy, boulder-filled, ditch-scarred hill, and Caroline called up to the Kichene compound to ask for help transporting our bags of quilts up the hill. We were shortly joined by Azarat and Yohannes, two staff members from Kichene who shouldered our bags and led us up the hill to a compound which overlooked a cemetery and beyond that, a beautiful view of the city of Addis Ababa.
We were surrounded by small children who grabbed us by our hands and led us into a classroom. Azarat asked us all to introduce ourselves, and translated in Amharic to the children. Once we’d all spoken, a little boy asked Azarat a question, which was translated as, “Can we ask them questions?”
The first question came from a little boy in the back. “How old are they?” The adults all laughed and I started counting in Amharic on my fingers and toes. I finally announced that we were “Haya hulett!” That means “twenty-two”. The adults in the room (both Ethiopian and Americans) thought that was hilarious, but all the children nodded somberly and accepted the answer.
The second question – “What is your favorite food?” We’d been discussing how much we liked the freshness of the bananas we’d eaten in Addis. Somehow, American bananas (hothouse grown, picked when still unripe and shipped by truck to local stores all over the country) just weren’t as sweet. So I replied, “We like Ethiopian bananas very much.” The children agreed that they liked bananas, too.
Then a little girl in the front of the room asked poignantly, “Do you have mommies?” “Yes,” I replied, although both my mother and Linda’s passed away some time ago. That question had caught me entirely off-guard. I’ve learned since that so many of the children of Ethiopia are orphans that the question is a common one for children to ask new people they are meeting. It’s almost like “Where do you go to school?”, or “What grade are you in?”, or even “What do you like to eat?”, or “How old are you?” To me, it’s enormously sad that it’s become a common way to get to know about each other.
It was now time for us to go into the larger room where the KG-1 and KG-2 children were to have their morning snack. The snacks were passed out, and the children commenced to eat, except for one little girl in the back row who was so curious about us that she couldn’t take her eyes off of us. Linda smiled at her and encouraged her to eat, saying, “Yummy!” and rubbing her stomach, which delighted the little girl. Pretty soon they were both giggling, rubbing their tummies, and saying, “Yummy!”, and I’m not entirely sure that snack was ever eaten!
When snack time was over and the desks cleared, we were brought back up to the front of the room. The children sang a song to us, with Azarat’s very enthusiastic leadership. I didn’t catch all the words, but it was in English with a lot of pointing to “you”, and a final line at the end of each stanza that said, “And so am I!” with pointing to oneself. We applauded, and then Azarat asked us again to introduce ourselves to the entire group. And once again, the process of answering questions began.
A little boy in the back stood up and asked, “How old are they?” Again???? What is this obsession with age???? Once again we all laughed, I counted in Amharic, and agreed to be “Haya hulett.” The little “Yummy” girl in the back somehow got Linda to confess to being a few decades older. Somebody remind me to talk to her. A woman needs to preserve a little mystery, after all….
The second question, again, “What is your favorite food?” This time I was more prepared, and announced that my favorite food was “doro wat”, the Ethiopian dish of spicy chicken stew we’d had at Yod Abyssinia a few nights earlier. Everyone approved.
Azarat asked me if I’d spent time in Ethiopia before, and I explained that my father had worked for Ethiopian Airlines, I had spent 9 years there as a child, and that I’d moved back to the States when I was 11 years old. I walked over to the maps on the wall and told the children where I’d spent my time living, with Azarat translating the whole time. Then it was time to give out the quilts.
After the children had all received their quilts and they were all seated, Azarat led them in another song involving hand motions. Then they asked us to sing a song. Linda, Caroline and I were a bit nonplussed, but Brenda, who’s the mother of two, suggested that we do “The Hokey Pokey”, which delighted the children. Azarat said he’d have to learn that one. For the next few minutes we took turns singing to each other, with Brenda suggesting that we do the “Inky Dinky Spider” and Caroline leading us in a cheer for bananas – with a verse for “Peel Bananas”, “Chop Bananas”, “Mash Bananas”, “Eat Bananas” and finally “Go Bananas!” The kids loved it.
Finally, time to go. The children came up to thank us again, and Yummy and the others mobbed Linda, giving hugs and kisses. We left promising to transport 100 more quilts over for the older children during the next few months.
We headed down the muddy hill, and back out onto the streets of Addis. I’d wondered if anyone ever used the crosswalks.
Lunch on the way home was at the China Bar and Restaurant. Not the same building as we’d gone to in my childhood, but a lot of the same décor, and the “nylon noodle soup” and sweet and sour pork was the best I’ve ever tasted.
That night was our last night in Addis, and we had a wonderful dinner with the group at Cherokee House. I think we all felt sad about leaving, but we had had such a wonderful time. It’s so wonderful to give, and so rewarding to see the happiness that the children felt at having their own quilts.
We’d like to express our thanks to Cherokee Gives Back, to the group at Cherokee – especially Caroline – and Haile, for making this trip one of the best experiences of our lives.
I’d also like to thank Brenda and Linda for coming with me to re-trace the trails of my childhood.
And finally, I’d like to thank all the quilters who made these quilts with love for needy children, and all of our donors who helped to make it possible. God bless you all!