This was my first clue into the the insurmountable joy and culture these people possessed. A day later, as we made our way through the capital, our van continuously thrusted itself into busy streets crowded with cars, people, cattle and chickens among other things. It was truly a sight to see! As we waved and snapped pictures, people responded with big smiles and embraced our curiosity of their daily happenings. A specific nuance I noticed that day was the high volume of hair salons on nearly every block. If there is anything commonly known about Ethiopian women, it is the beauty and vivaciousness of their hair stands as their trademark. Every style was on display – top knots, flowing roller-sets and stunning traditional braided styles resembling crowns adorning their head. Unfortunately, time wouldn’t permit us to experience our own first-hand experience in an Ethiopian salon.
Exploring the landmarks also proved to be an unforgettable highlight. First on our list was the Lion Zoo. However, don’t get your hopes up on visiting the zoo because it’s a small-scale facility with minimal animals. Personally, I’ve never been a fan of zoos. This is due to the fact that I don’t like seeing things caged up, including animals. I’d much rather see them in their own habitat. Thankfully, our visit was short and we were off to the next destination in less than 20 minutes. Our informative local guide, a lawyer/pastor, patiently explained every aspect of the city. We visited the Addis Ababa University and were led through the campus to the Ethnographic Museum, the old Imperial Palace of Haile Selassie. Here, tourists can visit the emperor’s bed chamber and take in other interesting intricacies and artifacts. We also passed the Lion of Judah Monument, an Imperial symbol of Ethiopia.
The visitors and I enjoyed a national dish called Wat, a spicy stew served with injera (a pale spongy bread). This dish is consumed with your fingers. While it was very different from what I was expecting, I fell in love with this dish and its flavor. We also participated in a coffee ceremony, which has a very important and unique way of preparing and serving bunna (coffee). After the ceremony, the women broke out into a dance prompting us all to dance along. At one point, my friend Juliette joined in their circle of celebration after she had caught on to the movements!
Later, we visited Meskel Square which had a huge banner across the entrance acknowledging the new year. As we embarked inside, we were approached by people trying to sell us different trinkets while some simply asked for money. We offered smiles and moved on toward the entrance. There was a small fee to gain access to the markets and all of the venues were stationed in close proximity of one another. The indoor market vendors sold everything from spices to knockoff Nike sneakers. Despite being overcrowded with patrons bargaining with eager merchants, I purchased pieces of beaded and gold jewelry to give as gifts. At a different shopping complex in Addis, we found a market with only female merchants. We were immediately drawn in by vibrant colors of the hundreds of traditional dresses and scarves.
Vastly more important than shopping or food, however, the purpose of our trip was to visit the Raey Foundation Academy. To get there, we took a very scenic route to Yerer in the eastern part of the city. What seemed to be the residential part of the city was crammed front-to-back with tin sided houses and men and women lining the streets selling vegetables, spices and other essentials. When we finally exited the vehicle, we were greeted by the owners, a husband and wife who commit their lives to aiding impoverished children and families. They provide schooling, nurturing and support. Shortly after our arrival, we were taken around the compound that was under renovation to provide an even better environment for the children. Slowly, the children and mothers started to fill the courtyard and I was overtaken with emotion. Although they were dealing with extreme poverty they showed genuine smiles and a peaceful disposition. These were some of the most innocent and beautiful children I’ve ever seen.
We spent time ministering to them and providing small gifts. By the end of our stay, it was painful to part ways with them because we all wanted nothing more than to take them with us. As we headed back to the van, our disposition was reflective and humbling. For me, it was a reality check: Appreciate the gifts we have in life instead of complaining about what isn’t in our possession. People make more with explicitly less everyday and never underestimate how life always manages to put our lives in perspective by mingling with others.
This story was curated by LaToya Jones