Ethiopia and Back (part 1)

We had an amazing trip! Visiting Ethiopia was a once in a lifetime experience and, of course seeing Caitlin, was priceless. She is happy and seems to have adjusted well to the demands of her new life. We were able to glimpse just a small window of what her daily life is like and I can say that it is hard. We stayed at Caitlin’s only 2 nights and spent the rest of our trip in hotels so, like I said, we got a mere glimpse of her day to day life. However, the overall trip, provided us a good feel for the culture, the people and the regions she frequents.

One of the things that surprised me was the general sensory experience of the place. Everywhere we visited, except for Caitlin’s village, was so busy with people. So many people on the streets, selling items or walking to various destinations.  We landed in the capital, Addis Ababa, and when exiting the airport we were greeted by armed guards and as we passed airport security, we were immediately greeted by people offering livery services and lines of packed vehicles in the lot. The city was loud with traffic – and car horns are used without restrain. Driving in the city is not for the faint of heart and the car horn is a frequent communicator between vehicles. There appears to be few rules of the road and a 2 lane highway easily becomes crowded with 3 or 4 vehicles all trying to go the same way.  Making a left hand turn, from the right lane, across 3 lanes of traffic also seems to be totally acceptable. There are a few rare traffic lights so being a pedestrian in the city and finding ways to cross the street – also takes a fair amount of skill.

We spent our first couple days in Addis Ababa. These area a few pictures taken from our hotel room. The city is littered with many half finished buildings. We were able to watch a construction crew at work on a building outside our hotel window and I was struck that men were working with no shoes and digging what might have been a foundation using hand shovels.

In Addis we got to spend time with one of Caitlin’s friends, Jesse, and we met up for dinner with a couple other friends, Michael and Sammi.

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After Addis we flew to Lalibela. We selected an interesting time to visit Lalibela as it was January 4th, just a couple days before the Christmas celebration on January 7th. Lalibela is the site of 11 stone churches built by King Lalibela. They were literally dug from the ground and are quite fascinating. St. George is the most famous of the stone churches which you see here in the background (below).

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30,000 pilgrims make their way to Lalibela for the Christmas celebration and the streets were quickly filling during our stay and the churches were crowded with the pilgrims.

Above is a picture of the pilgrim camps on the left and as they were starting to fill the countryside on the right. Some of the pilgrims travel for as long as two weeks or more to reach the churches.

Above is another picture of one of the churches. Removing shoes is required upon entering the churches and we had a ‘shoe holder’ who joined us. I included a picture of our shoe holder helping Michael on with his shoes. It was a funny sight to watch him help Michael on with his shoes as we left each church and also it is funny that they matched! It makes me smile again looking at the picture.

The path on the right represents the narrow path to heaven.

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We stopped for coffee along our tour of the churches. Coffee is abundant and definitely a cultural favorite. We are with our tour guide Tedesse.

When not touring the churches we met many of the local children – or should I say, they met us. They waited for us outside our hotel and followed us while we walked the streets. Their names were Michele, David, Joseph, Gabriel and a few others I cant remember. You can see them crowded around Michael here as he was looking to buy a wallet. One of the things I bought for the kids was a ball – which we are all pictured with below. In addition I purchased text books and we handed out candy and crayons.

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Our second day in Lalibela we traveled to the mountain church. Above is a picture of the peak where the mountain church is located. Do you see the square formation on the top right? We were told it was an hour and fifteen minute hike to the church or we could purchase a taxi for 900 birr. We thought an hour walk was not too bad and decided to take the hike. From the base of the mountain to the church is a 2300 increase in altitude and that, with the incline made for a more difficult walk then we expected.

On the left were were taking a much needed rest – beautiful scenery, though. And on the right we finally made it and were heading on the final hike to the church.

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Here’s the same mountain peak pictured earlier but from the bottom of the mountain. After the long hike, Tedesse, our tour guide, invited us to his home for lunch. The Ethiopians we met are generous hospitable and excited to welcome you into their homes.

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Michael and I celebrated our wedding anniversary while in Lalibela and we had a nice dinner at Ben Abeba – a unique restaurant that boasts traditional Ethiopian dishes with an Irish twist including shepards pie. The restaurant was strategically placed with beautiful views.

After Lalibela we flew back to Addis and then got on another plane to Jimma. We arrived in Jimma on January 6th and stayed through the Christmas holiday on January 7th. We stayed at the Central Jimma hotel – a very nice hotel and a great way to recharge from our long travels.

After resting up in Jimma we took a full day travel to Metu. It required two mini buses and about 8 hours of travel. Security stops along the way were part of the trip and actually brought a welcome break …..

We stayed in Metu for the night and then went to Cait’s…..more of that next time.

December 30, 2019; Box 11

Tomorrow we will leave to see Caitlin! I am beyond excited but a little nervous also. We leave O’hare at 9:30 a.m. and will arrive in Ethiopia at 7:00 a.m. on New Years day. This is definitely a new way for us to spend New Years, traveling half way around the world.

It has been some time since I posted. It seems like Thanksgiving was just yesterday, I blinked and then Christmas was upon us. I hope everyone enjoyed special time with friends and family. We had a nice Christmas, but Caitlin’s absence was felt. And the pictures are not quite complete without her.

Knowing we will soon be visiting definitely helped to ease her absence during the holidays.

We will be transporting Box 11 with us when we fly tomorrow. Our suitcases and carry-ons are filled with all the goodies we will be bringing to Caitlin.

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We are bringing scented candles. Caitlin said she was trying to explain  scented candles to some of her Ethiopian friends so we will be bringing the real deal. We are also bringing crayons and books and toys for some of the kids and of course candy and gum!

One of the people Caitlin seems to enjoy is her landlord’s daughter; a young girl of about 13 or 14 and Caitlin placed a special request for a solar powered light for her so we will be bringing that also. I am so excited to be able to see where Caitlin lives and meet other volunteers and the people she is working with in her community.

One of the best gifts we will be bringing are two home made quilts.

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Mom made these beautiful quilts for Caitlin’s host family and landlord and on each of the quilts are this special label:

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So excited to see our girl. I will post when I can.

Happy New Year

 

November 25th

HAPPY THANKSGIVING TO ALL.

I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving. Although different without Caitlin, we enjoyed a great holiday. Caitlin traveled to Jima to celebrate Thanksgiving with other PC volunteers so we were able to face-time with her on Thanksgiving morning. Heres a great picture with Caitlin front and center – she is obviously the one on the phone haha. Too bad Brian didn’t make it over earlier or I would have had our picture for this years’ Christmas card.

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Caitlin said there were about 14 volunteers that gathered for taco night on Thursday, actual thanksgiving, and a traditional Thanksgiving dinner yesterday, on Saturday. I think it is awesome she has other volunteers to share holidays with and I love when she travels and has access to wifi.

I am sending Box #10!! Double digits which is really exciting.  I am still playing catch up and I think I am close. We received a letter this weekend and Caitlin counted the 26th of October as her 280th day living in Ethiopia.  Which means as I write this blog she is 310 days closer to returning home.

One of the things I know Caitlin misses is good tasting food. So this box is a ‘recipe box’. I have all the fixings for a delicious new recipe we tried just the other day. We have vacuum sealed most of the items in the box but particularly the ginger and garlic which are needed for the recipe. I don’t know if she has access to either of these so we are sending and hoping they stay fresh enough with the vacuum seal by the time they reach her. We eat vegetarian so it is always fun when we find a new tasty recipe. Here is the recipe. P.lease try it and let me know what you think.

Curried Lentil, Tomato & Coconut Soup

2 Tbs virgin coconut oil or virgin olive oil, 1 medium onion finely chopped ( I know she has this available); 2 garlic cloves chopped (I sent this), 1 2&1/2 piece of ginger peeled and finely grated (I sent this also), 1 tbs medium curry, 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes 3/4 cup lentils, 1 14.5 Oz. crushed tomato, 1/2 cup finely chopped cilantro (sent her all these spices), plus extra cilantro leaves for serving, 1 13.5 oz can coconut milk. Shake well. Lime wedges for serving (I hope she has this available).

Heat Oil. Cook onion until soft and golden brown about 8-10 minutes. Add garlic, ginger, curry powder and red pepper flakes. Cook about 2 minutes. Add lentils, stirring for 1 minute. Add tomatoes, 1/2 cup clilantro (less since dried), salt, 2&1/2 cups water, pepper. Set aside 1/4 cup coconut milk for serving and add remaining to pot. Bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer 20-25 minutes until lentils are soft. And enjoy!!

Here is the box with the ingredients…..and a little extra.

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37 more days until we get to see our girl!

November 18

Thanksgiving is this week and the approaching holiday makes Caitlin’s absence more pronounced. As we are making plans to have everyone together it is hard to not have her here. We were doing some early Christmas shopping and one of the things I always buy is pajamas for each of the kids and it was weird to realize I wont be buying pajamas for Cait. If I let myself think about these things too much I will start crying – so I quickly move on to something else.

I think I mentioned in an earlier post that Caitlin joined a work group that is focused on including people with disabilities in their projects. The opportunity for additional training for people with disabilities to participate in work activities, is almost unheard of and I am excited she is part of this group. Plus it is something near and dear to my heart. Caitlin was in Addis last week meeting with her group and Michael and I got to face-time with her last Saturday morning. She seems to be doing great. She said she isn’t able to plant anymore as the rainy season has ended and access to water is too difficult. But she has some good sweet potato plants growing which is part of the initiative to increase the availability of vegetables high in Vitamin A.

I have box #9 ready to go but I am posting no pictures as it is a mystery box…..a little something that will hopefully reach her by Christmas.

43 days before our trip!

October 30, 2018

Was it such a nice day today? I know the weather in Indiana has nothing to do with this blog but I just enjoyed this day so much. I had the opportunity to get out of the office for an appointment and I so appreciated the colors of the trees and this gorgeous Fall day. My car thermometer read 70 degrees today. It was absolutely perfect. My good mood might have been bolstered a bit from the opportunity to talk to Caitlin for a solid 20 minutes today without interruption of bad internet connection. It was an absolute surprise to hear from her on a Tuesday as I usually wait in anticipation on the weekends when it is more likely she will be traveling and have access to wifi. But I guess she had some shopping to do so she met a friend in Metu and spent the day there and she had access to a fairly decent internet connection. Did I say how excited I was to hear from her?! She said she was tired from shopping and carrying around all her groceries. She bought 3 kilos of onions for her landlords’ family – almost 7 pounds – as well as a kilo of potatoes for herself and whatever other groceries she needed so I am sure she was carrying quite a bit. When I asked her why her landlord wanted so many onions, she said they (as well as probably most families) cook mostly stews so the onions are a necessity. I told her it reminded me of the book, Holes, but that would only mean something to someone who actually read the book 🙂

It has literally been 2 or maybe even 3 months since I have physically talked to Caitlin so having 20 uninterrupted minutes today was glorious. We talked about things going on here and she talked about her work there. She is not able to plant any more gardens as the rainy season has ended and the available water is too far. She is going to continue the chicken coop project started by the previous volunteer and which includes helping families to build chicken coops and providing them with chickens.

I do have a couple pictures to share. This is the Times square puzzle we sent that she completed all 2500 pieces! That is impressive especially on her own. Sorry I couldn’t rotate.

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And this is Cait’s Instagram post from the weekend before last:

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4 packages in one trip! That is rocking this 27 boxes thing. She had packages from her grandparents, her aunt Laurie and us. One of the packages was sent in May but still made it! Keep the boxes coming!

Only 63 days until Michael and I get to visit our girl!

October 15, 2018

Caitlin seemed to have a great time on her vacation. She visited the southern Oromia region. She was in Hawassa and Arba Minch. She saw crocodiles and hippos and monkeys on her trip. Here are some pictures she sent and others I stole from instagram:

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I love this first picture of Caitlin and her friends. I am not exactly sure when this was taken but I think it was probably before they went on the boat to see hippos and crocodiles.

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Can you see the hippos in the picture on the left and the crocodile on the right?

She also sent these other cool pictures:

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This is the celebration of a holiday called Meskel. Its the orthodox finding of the true cross. It is said that in the fourth century, Queen Eleni had a dream that if she lit a fire that the smoke would blow the direction the true cross is buried. During the celebration, everyone brings a branch to add to the fire and they light candles while the fire burns. The next day they eat the traditional celebration meal of doro wot.

They also saw these cool monkeys. Caitlin said she couldn’t get one to sit on her head so she sent a picture of one of her friends with the monkey on his head haha.

Caitlin is back at home but I have not talked to her since her return. I know all is well but I miss her something fierce. However, I am not going to worry as I have learned my lesson – no news is good news.

Oh, getting ready to send box #8 – it is a foodie. She will love it! All sorts of stuff she requested: tuna, tortillas, taco seasoning, coconut milk powder, bar shampoo, chocolates and other stuff. We will also be picking up pepper corn and salt, Jerky, muffin mix and kettle chips.

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Oh and here is a picture of the Times Square puzzle we sent….almost done! Go Cait!

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Love and miss our girl!

September 20, 2018

I heard from Caitlin on Saturday! All safe and sound. I think she was a little annoyed with me she was like, ‘Its only been 2 weeks since i had wifi, dang’  and I wanted to say, ‘well actually it was 15 days’ but I didn’t 🙂 But I do need to remember ‘No news is good news’ and I need to expect there will be times when we may not hear from Cait for a couple weeks, or even more. I cant promise I will be comfortable without communication for long periods of time but I will try not to freak out at two weeks.

Caitlin and her group are in for their regular training. They were scheduled to be in Jima but ended up in Addis. The training wraps up tomorrow and she and about 6 other volunteers will be heading on vacation! I am so happy for them to get these couple weeks of reprieve from the tough conditions. They will be vacationing in Hawassa and Arbor Minch. From what I have read Hawassa is a popular destination in the Oromia region, located on Lake Awassa which is home to hippos and many species of water birds. I am sure they will see some amazing sights.