The men of the area are gathered to watch this new father collect water. His wife would use the water to care for their new born child
I watched as donkeys, camels and baboons drank from the pond and urinated in it. I give the man a bottle of the water I was carrying. It was all I could do.
This is a life changing situation for me. For the past eight years, since the beginning of Turning Wine Into Water, we have talked about numbers. More then 25,000 children under the age of five die every day simply because they have no access to clean water. It had just been a number. Now it is real. There isn’t much chance that this man’s child will live unless I begin to do more about it.
I ride back to Meki with Fr. Temesgan and Bekele. Fr. Temesgan tells me that because of the remote area and difficulty of bringing equipment to that area it is very expensive to drill a well. Bekele tells me that water is available – it is just the cost of getting to it. Fr. Temesgan says that he has reviewed one proposal but has not yet found funding for the project..
I am quiet for most of the ride back to Meki and then back to Addis Ababa. We stop at Debre Zeit Resort, a hotel near Addis Ababa, for a late lunch. It is a resort area near a lake. I eat carefully – my first real taste of Ethiopian style food. I have my first taste of injera – a flat bread made from sour yeast and teff flour. Atop the injera are a variety of stewed foods.
About 6:00pm we check into the Soramba Hotel. We have an early departure and a nine hour drive the next day. I want to sleep. I think about the poverty I saw. I think about a woman washing her baby with water that animals urinate in. I think about the resort spa where we had dinner. I understand the idea of poverty being a stones throw away from affluence. I don’t care about making judgments. I change my attitude from being the judge of the utilization of our resources. I want to call my wife, tell her to sell everything, to come to Ethiopia because people need help here. “Africa steals your heart,” someone had once told me. It got mine. I just spent two days with the poorest people I had ever encountered. I just spent two days with the happiest and most carefree people I had ever encountered. My heart wanted the simplicity of their lives.
I take a hot shower. I realize I can not live without water – hot water at my finger tips. I accept who I am. I don’t call my wife. But I am a changed man. I’m not afraid of poverty anymore.
I write in my journal about how I can try to find the joy and simplicity of the poor without giving up hot water. I begin to list what I can give up – what I should give up – what I can’t give up. I think of St. Francis. I laugh at the prospect. St. Francis stripped naked in front of his entire town and his local bishop then went off into the woods to rebuild a church. I fall asleep thinking I could have done the same. I even had a bishop on hand.
We are headed north. We expect to be on the road about 7 to 9 hours. The highway was built by the Italians. The landscape is different. In the south we were in arid, dry, dusty, flat territory. The north is green and mountainous. We climb to high elevations. We pass through mountain tunnels. The road is a narrow, two lane road that twists and curves around the hills and valleys. Small buses poke along picking up passengers who sit and wait along the road. Our driver passes the slower moving buses and vans in a way that makes me happy that I have a seat belt. I try to build a level of trust.
We stop at an amazing site. I am in awe of the beauty of the land and the mountain ranges. I think that if Ethiopia had the climate for snow and also had a sea coast, the country would be populated with Four Season spas and airports for private jets.
We stop again. There is a small square tent on the other side of the road. My guess is that it is a roadside toilet. Two colorfully dressed men are stationed at the site. They approach us. One of the drivers introduces the older man as his father who is an Eastern Orthodox priest. The other young man is a deacon. The tent is not a toilet. It is a sacred source of healing water. I ask to go inside. I am allowed to do so but must be bare-footed. I can not touch the water from the spring. The young deacon accompanies me; collects some water, we exit, he blesses me with the water then touches my forehead with a wooden cross. I am at peace. I think how privileged I am to experience these things. This is a land of ancient customs and beliefs far distant from my European heritage.
Here was a stop where relief came through anointment. I recall that Bishop Desta had also reminded me that water is the instrument of baptism. Later I learn that this is predominately Orthodox territory and that there are many healing shrines in the area.
We arrive at Kombolcha. Check into the Sunnyside Hotel. We visit the St. George Brewery and have a beer and treat our drivers. We go back to the hotel for dinner. We meet our hosts in the area - the men and women from Water Action – a group of Ethiopian professionals who manage the projects for CRS in the area.
I couldn’t order from the menu so our host ordered for me but I followed the custom when eating injera – tear a piece of the bread, scoop up a bit of the stewed items and feed the first bite to your neighbor at the table. Your hands get quite messy when eating this way but you make good friends.
Tuesday, January 28, 2014
We have a jam packed day today with visits to two different schools where sanitation facilities have been constructed. I learn that there are to be ceremonies at each school honoring Turning Wine Into Water and that I will be asked to cut the ribbon at the facilities. I am a bit uncomfortable about that situation because I don’t want the spotlight on me. I want the attention to be on the projects but I know that I am obliged to accept the honor. There will be elaborate programs at each school.
We arrive at the first school mid morning. We visit the facility that was built and participate in a ribbon cutting ceremony.
The ribbon cutting
The new facility
The training team
The children have prepared a presentation for us. The school term is at exam time so there is only half day. We sit for an hour or so and the children sing songs that I am told tell of their appreciation for what we have done for their school and for their education. After the presentation I am surrounded by the children who want to look at me and touch me as if I am a great figure. I enjoy being around the children and I experience a sense of joy and self worth that is almost mystical. I hug the kids when I can. Sometimes I just touch their faces. They are just plain joyful and I am just plain happy to be part of this experience.
The teachers have prepared a coffee ceremony for us
In the afternoon we travel to a mountain area where we are funding the capping of a mountain stream. Our SUV’s can only get so far up the mountain so we need to hike a rocky road about a mile or so to get to the water source.
Equipment is brought to the area by camels. Donkeys and horses can’t make it up the hills.
In the mountains, there is a different approach to tapping the water source. Here there are natural mountain springs. The water flows from the spring into natural but uncontrolled streams. Here, again, the people share the stream water with animals.
Two skilled masons are employed to construct a small reservoir to hold the water from the stream. The villagers quarry rock from the mountain and chip the rock into building blocks for the mason. The villagers also mix the cement and haul the cement to the site.
As the small reservoir is built pipes are laid underground down the slope to an area accessible to various village populations. The people organize what is essentially a “water utility” and some people op to have a direct line to their huts where a meter is installed and the water use is monitored.
We climb down the hill and visit with a group of women who have developed a small business making cement covers for latrines. They show us the process – plastic molds, they grease the molds so that the cement cover will slide out when set (like a baker does with a cake pan) they mix the cement by hand then fill the mold which is then baked in the sun.
The latrine covers are sold for approximately $1.00 A cover for the hole in the cover is available for an additional $0.25. We meet the woman who keeps the books. She shows us her ledger and we are told about the distribution of the profits and how it helps to better their lives.
A team of entrepreneurs engaged in an enterprise initiative to become self sustaining.
Jokingly I ask the interpreter to tell the woman that I am hoping that by the next time I visit they will have enough funds to buy a helicopter so that I don’t need to climb the hill. The woman answer: “it is possible.”
They prepare coffee for us in the ritual ceremony. I begin to understand that I and the visit from CRS represents Hope. I absorb the burden of that idea and find a quiet moment to incorporate that into my heart. I walk away humbled.
An Hour Later
We are at a school that is served by a completed pipeline from a mountains stream. The school children are gathered for a presentation. I am asked to cut the ribbon for the recently constructed latrine facility for boys and girls.
I meet the children who have been selected as the WASH team –Water Sanitation and Hygiene. The WASH team has the responsibility of teaching and guiding the other students in how to use the water properly to maintain sanitary and healthy conditions.
Following the school children’s’ presentation the teachers entertain us for coffee – the ritual requirement of three cups. This is the third coffee ceremony of the day and I am asked to say a few words to all the children and staff that are gathered. At the end, they present me with a gift – it is a gabi – beautifully woven cotton cloth with an intricate pattern of woven colored cloth and fringe at the ends.
Accepting the gift and speaking to the teachers and students. I told them how jealous I was of their beauty and simplicity.
I say good bye to the head teacher. He asks me to visit a classroom. He shows me that they only have dirt floors, few books and no supplies. Children follow me and when I go into the classroom they follow me in, sit and look at me as if I am about to teach or tell them a story.. I am at a loss and the only thing I can think of is Goldilocks and The Three Bears. I am bewildered that this is the only story that comes to mind while looking at a group of small, black skinned, black haired children in the arid mountains of an African nation. Have I had too much coffee?
We leave the classroom and the children follow. I hug them as we leave. I am again feeling very humble.
We stop at the brewery to treat our drivers to a bottle of beer. St. George lager is clean and crisp. It has a nice golden color and slight citrus appeal.
Back at the Sunnyside Hotel
We meet for dinner and we meet another American group from Texas. They are trying to get into Sudan to help the refugees. They have been turned back because the situation is too dangerous. I am very proud of the spirit of my fellow citizens.
We have an early dinner and an early departure in the morning. We are to be back in Addis Ababa by 4:00PM. I don’t tell anyone that today is my 71st birthday. As I fall asleep I am in a state of wonderment. I feel as if God had reached down from heaven and wrapped his arms around me.
Wednesday 29 January
We are to meet for breakfast at 6am but I am up early, packed and the first one at the hotel breakfast room just as the servers are getting the buffet set. I have a banana and a bowl of porridge and coffee with hot milk.
One of the travelers isn’t feeling well so we are a bit delayed in leaving but we are on the road by 7:30.
The plan for the day is to travel, arrive in Addis by 2pm, visit the Missionaries of Charity facility in Addis in the afternoon, have an opportunity to shop and then dinner at the home of the CRS country manager, Matt Davis.
We don’t get into Addis until nearly 3:30pm. We check into the Soramba Hotel and head right to the Missionaries of Charity hospice.
We meet CRS staff at the Hospice including a young woman from California who is a college intern. We tour the hospice. It is difficult to see the poor and dying who have been abandoned. I watch the nuns care for the sick. I know I could not do this sort of work. I want to run away from it. Our last stop is outside the morgue. We are told that if 12 die during the day they can take in 12 more; if 30 die they take in 30 more. The poor are lined up waiting for care and for help. We were told that we would not be allowed to take any pictures inside the hospice. I understood why. Carl and Kimberley are planning to stay for another week and to volunteer at the hospice. I just know that I can not give that sort of care
We have a farewell dinner with Matt Davis and his family. Someone learned that yesterday was my birthday and we have a cake for dessert.
Thursday 30 January – Monday 2 February
As the trip was being planned, I decided that I did not want to return to the US without some time for reflection and evaluation. I found a Cistercian Monastery in Addis Ababa and the CRS Ethiopian staff contacted the Abbot of the Monastery who gave me permission to stay with them for four days.
Cistercian Monks follow the rule of St. Benedict which, in its simplest form, is Ora et Labora – Pray and Work. I lived with the monks for 4 days praying with them each morning starting at 4:00am. During their work hours, I read and wrote and gathered my thoughts about how to simplify my life back home. I resolved to do whatever I can and to find the resources necessary to continue our work with Turning Wine Into Water I was asked to wear the gabi for morning prayer and for daily Mass. I was proud to wear the gabi and I began to understand the importance that a monk’s religious habit has to him. Putting on the gabi was a sign of obedience and respect. The monks also wore a gabi for morning prayer and Mass.
On Sunday, the monks celebrate following the Roman Catholic Eastern Ethiopian Rites. Morning prayer began as usual just after 4am but chanting was in Ge’ez an ancient liturgical language used by the early Christians in the area. We stood in the back of the church and each monk (and I) held a staff during prayer. At certain times we would tap the staff rhythmically with the chant. Near the end of the service, three monks came forward to sit on small stools and played huge drums while six monks, three opposing three others danced as we chanted and the drums beat. The dance was more of a forward then reverse approach and was meant to symbolize the battle between good and evil. Sunday Mass was a long ritual and the church was filled with people who demonstrated amazing reverence during the Mass. Again, the women made a piercing cooing sound at moments when they felt a special reverence was due.
I made good friends with the monks and just before I left I gave my (now precious) gabi to the Abbot and asked him to give it as a gift to the next man who was to be ordained.
Monday, 2 February
Just before boarding my flight from Addis to Dubai for my return to the US, I see a Missionary of Charity nun waiting for the same flight. I say hello. I tell her that I visited their facility the previous week she tells me that she remembers our visit. She is also going to Dubai.
I wait for the nun to depart from the flight. I ask if she needs help. She says she is fine. She only has her small bag. I ask her where she is going. She tells me Calcutta. She seems to know her way around the airport. My flight to NY is from the same terminal and we both have a 4 hour layover. We walk together and talk. During our conversation I sense that she has some responsibility for the order, I learn that she is the Superior General of the Missionaries of Charity - the successor of Blessed Mother Terese of Calcutta. Sr. M. Perma. I ask her if she is addressed as Mother Perma. She says “No, that is a title reserved for Mother Terese.” We visit and pray together for nearly four hours. Sr. M. Perma has 169 countries to visit.
I am returning to the United States, happy to be getting home, happy to have experienced Ethiopia, happy to have found a new demension of me Today I have an understanding that makes me think that I can and someday need to walk through a room of sick and dying poor and stop to wash their cheeks and feet and to hold them in my arms and give them clean water to drink.
Africa captured my heart . And the joy of the poor kept me company on the twelve and a half hour flight home to New York. Christ’s words on the cross keep me company too. I “I thirst” has a broader, deeper and richer meaning.
At The Monastery of St. Joseph, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
At my desk in Stamford, CT