Korah. It means 'cursed child'. And that sums up where we went today so very well. Korah is the community IN and surrounding the city dump of Addis Ababa. It is approximately 130,000 people, who are the least of the least in Addis—it used to be a leper colony and there are still folks living there with leprosy. They are a community shunned by the people in Addis and considered forgotten. We began our day by getting things ready to head out, packing up donated items to meet some of the needs of the children in Project 61.
Project 61 is a ministry of a woman named Summer, who came to Ethiopia for the first time in January and went to Korah, was moved in her heart and called by the Lord to do something about it, and returned in March to nail down the ministry plan with some locals in the Korah community. She then moved with her entire family (hub and 3 young children) here in June, after selling everything they had. Yes, for real. And I have met her and she is normal and friendly and sweet-and amazingly humble. The folks in Korah love her and say she is an angel sent by God.
We stopped on the way to Korah to buy some sheep/goats to feed the kids at the project lunch today-turns out the $ we had bought 4 goats--which were purchased from a herd on the side of a street, lashed by the feet and tossed, alive, on top of one of our vans. Grocery shopping, Ethiopian style :) We got to Korah and got out to the sound of children singing off in a building through a gate. The walls and gate to the church shelter are painted bright, bright blue and this place stands out in stark contrast to the squalor around it. We got a quick tour of the dorms in the shelter which houses 26 children. They were relatively clean and well kept, yet very sparse and not anywhere even close to a "dorm" in the US. The doors were low and some of the guys had to duck to get inside and the walls were made of mud strengthened with straw. After a few minutes of meeting some of the children who swarmed us in the street, we got split into 2 groups, one going into some of the "homes" around Korah to visit and meet the families, and one going into the actual dump to meet a family who lives there. I was in the second group so I can only report that side of the story. And finding the words to do so is not going to be easy. But, it needs to be told....
We began walking down a rocky path off a side street, which itself was muddy and trash-covered. There were people everywhere, especially coming out to look at us ferengis (white foreigners) walking through there. They were mostly friendly and welcoming when I would smile and wave. We could tell when we were getting closer to the dump by the smell. A team-mate offered me some vicks vapo rub to put up my nose but I told her no. It was horrible, but I thought I could stand it. It wasn't until we started into the edge of the actual dump, beside the rapidly cascading streams of raw sewage and walking through the squelching, trash-laden mud, that I finally began to gag and could not stop—I managed to squeak out yes to the vicks, please, and promptly coated the inside of my nostrils. I never thought I would love that stuff so much. The stench was indescribable, really. Trash of every sort all over the ground, in the weeds, with a narrow trodden path through the middles of it that we were being led down. I was informed we were not actually yet IN the dump at that point, just on the outskirts-um, WHAT? How could it get worse?? We traipsed down down down a grassy trashy hill and finally arrived at our destination-the home of a boy who is in the sponsorship program at the church shelter where we had first arrived. We all ducked through the low tin door of this home, which consisted of mud and straw walls, corrugated tin/cardboard roof, and a dirt floor. There was a narrow bench running along the back wall on which all 12 of us tried to sit, but some spilled over onto the floor. There were large posters of Jesus and Mary on the earthen walls and a scraggly plaid curtain hanging from a string in the corner, and I'm still not really sure why. There was this main room and a small sleeping room off of it, which had a filthy blanket on the hard floor, I presume where they slept. This whole place was about the size of our dining area at our house,
which is not big by American standards. The family of Haptamu had set out the items to do a coffee ceremony for us-which pained me for them to make popcorn and coffee for us when I knew they had nothing. Not "not much", nothing. The father rose and spoke to us via translator. He thanked us for coming and helping his family, explaining that he is too old and weak to work and his wife used to pick through the trash for metal that she would sell, but she was too tired to do it anymore. He could not provide for his family, but the church/school (part of Project 61) was making it possible for his children to have a good life. He told us how he had lost one house there in Korah and the one they were in now could be gone at any time as it was on government land, technically, and if they decided they wanted to bulldoze it or dump trash where it was located, they certainly could and he would have no home. One of his sons is actually going to the University in the fall, which is truly a MIRACLE, along with Haptamu's schooling that will begin in September. He was so thankful, I felt so unworthy of his thanks as we had done nothing really but come visit at that point. Summer asked Kelly if someone from our group would feel comfortable sharing about the Lord and why we were there so Kelly stood up and, with the help of a translator, told him that we were sent there by Jesus to help them b/c they were loved by Him. And that we are grateful for what we have so that we can share it with their family. She also shared with them that in heaven, where we will see Jesus, there is no sickness, and no poverty-we will all be free, and we will all be brothers and sisters, no difference, no outcasts. It was a holy moment in that mud shack.
After this, the family made line outside their home where they shook our hands and hugged us and thanked us again. My heart just hurt for them to think that they live in that dark mud house, in the midst of filthy trash, and here they were graciously serving us coffee and hugging us just for being willing to come where they spend every.single.day. We trekked up the hill and turned left to head into the heart of the dump. I re-loaded my vicks after another round of gagging and sheer willing myself not to vomit. We walked along a very narrow path that was muddy and every now and then covered in crazy swarms of ants (which very quickly crawl up your shoes and bite, and hurt, btw) There were streams of brown, repulsive water flowing from several points, all the drainage from the mountains of trash. Although my jeans were rolled up, they still ended up smeared with the oozing mud, particularly after a wrong step sent a blob squirting up the back of my uncovered calf-yes, it was as disgusting as it sounds. We made a precarious leap over one of the streams of trash water and at that point were "officially" in the dump and were no longer allowed to take photos. I will try to give you a word picture then.
It was unreal. Swarms of human ants, all over the piles of rotting trash-bones, old shoes, tires, torn fabric, old food, and on and on. Big black vultures circled over-head. One of the girls showed us one of the plants on the ground that people there eat, growing right in the middle of all the trash. The women were all clad in belted gowns of trash bags. They carried MASSIVE sacks on their back as they would leave, filled with scraps of plastic or metal that they had found by digging through the garbage. They were covered head to toe in the same mud we had walked through, and yet when Summer would see them, she would walk up, embrace them and kiss their face without hesitation. They are the mothers of the children in the project. Some came to check us out-a few were sponsored children that will go to school in September. One gave me a big hug and in the process her mud-covered sack slid across my bare arm, leaving it covered with....I don't even want to know. I tried to be as inconspicuous as possible as I wiped it on my shirt so as not to appear ungrateful for her embrace. We walked on a bit more and for some reason, the 2 large pigs surprised me-I had never seen pigs here in Ethiopia before! They were doing what pigs do best, being gross in the mud, right nearby to a woman digging through some trash. I walked a bit with one of the guides and he told me the small bunches of animals we saw-some goats, a few oxen, pigs-were part of farms. Farms? In the DUMP?? He told me yes, and they plant vegetables there to eat and try to sell. No, do not think of a nice tidy community gardens area or a pretty rolling green Virginia farm, think of a foul-smelling, disease-laden pit of filthy rotting garbage-and the animals standing atop small piles of trash and some sort of scraggly plants growing here and there-a farm in Korah. I shudder to think what is in that soil, and therefore their food. This is why there is disease, this is why they die, this is why children here have no mothers and fathers.
We finally came to the end of our "tour" through the dump and walked and talked on the way back with Summer and one of the guides about their project. The one boy who came as a guide used to "work" in the dump (read: pick through garbage to make a few cents a day) but now comes to the project's summer camp in hopes of getting sponsored and then sent to the boarding school. The sponsorship, which is $700 per year, covers everything for a child: for the rest of the summer, they go to the summer camp where they get one decent meal a day, and then in September they will go to a boarding school which is 3 hours away. They will have covered: room, board (3 meals a day), books, tuition, hygiene needs, uniform, and transportation to and from school when needed during breaks. They have room for 200 at this school and have 130 sponsored already. The boy who was working as guide told me "sponsors-this give us hope, a great lot of hope!" as he patted his chest. Summer explained that the children literally view their sponsors as saviors b/c it means they get to get out of Korah. She said many of them refer to the sponsors as mama or abat (dad) and she and the staff (all Ethiopian except her, most from the Korah community as well) try to cultivate that relationship between sponsor and child, rather than it just be $$ coming in. We passed another group of mothers of the children from the summer camp and she was greeted warmly by all the ladies-the boys in our group from the project said "Summer, she is our strong sees-ter!" to which she simply giggles a dismissive response.
We arrived back at the church alley and as I walked up to the group of other team mates and swarms of little brown-faced kiddos, a dark mahogany-skinned girl I had not remembered seeing before came up to me. She stopped in front of me and pointed to herself and said in a tiny sweet voice "my mother?" and made the gesture for sleep with her hands by her head. I had a feeling she was not telling me her mama was napping and she confirmed my fears when she repeated "mother? mort (dead)". I told her I was just so sorry and I hugged her, and then I felt something I had not yet had happen to me-this broken little child was clinging around my middle and crying in my arms, for her dead mother. And then this broken-hearted white mother was crying too, and holding that girl for dear life, telling her I loved her and I was just so sorry. I knew it must have been recent since she was still openly crying about it. She and I became inseparable from that point on and I made some inquires as to her story and status in the program. It turned out she had just been there 2 days around the project and her mother had died and she had held her mother's dead body for 2 days before she was told that her mama was dead. Her grandmother, who she now lived with, is crippled (and possibly had leprosy? Not totally sure) and had dragged herself (I was shown a gesture of pulling herself with her arms) to the church to see if they could help in any way. Well, to make a long story short, guess who now has a sponsor and is headed to boarding school in the fall?? My girl Nesenet!!! (Oh and Pat? guess what honey!? Another girl for us!) We went right into the office that minute and got it squared away and I was just not prepared for the men who worked there to get up and kiss my cheeks and tell me, "thank you thank you, God bless you, sister". And the news spread like wild fire-those kids know the word sponsor and they all kept coming up asking "sponsor?" while patting my arm and pointing to Nesenet. They were so excited for their friend, it was so humbling to see them rejoicing for her. I felt so humbled and so ungrateful of their attention-b/c really, in the grand scheme of things, $700, for a year of completely covered everything, that would change her life forever???? Even with a tight budget, I knew that would not be a terribly big deal to come up with since it was God put that little girl in my life (hmmm, Etsy shop has a new focus I'm thinkin').
After some time hanging out (which included several thumb wars-did not know that Ethiopian kids knew that but turns out it is international!!) with my new daughter who will live in Ethiopia, I got to watch the slaughtering of the goats we had purchased earlier. Oh my word, I cannot say enough how grateful I am once again for the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross for me so that I still do not have to offer animal sacrifices like they did in the Old Testament. I did not think it would bother me as much as it did, but wow, after a few seconds of when they began to pour the blood out of it's neck into a bucket, I needed to be done watching. (I also got to watch some of the skinning and let me tell you, you praise the Lord every time you walk in to Kroger and buy a nicely wrapped package of meat) Those 2 goats ended up being cooked into an enormous amount of stew for all the children and we got bread as well. We were not sure if it would feed them all since they had also brought in any of the street children that had been hanging around the group so I got out my Bible, read the story of the feeding of the 5, 000 to myself and prayed for the same-and those children all got full tummies today. Just for the curious, we did not eat the goat stew, we ate rice and bread that had been packed for us by the guest house-not sure if the stew would have been good or too traumatizing, haha
After lunch, Nesenet came and found me and sat on my lap while we had another coffee ceremony. Oh how I love the bunna here. We all then left the compound of the church and headed to a "field" to play soccer. We walked down through muddy streets running with some sort of murky whitish water that again had me fighting back gagging. There were people everywhere living in places that defy description, some round huts made of hay (like in our cartoons), some in piles of tin arranged to make some sort of lean to, some just in the dirt with their things in piles. Small children just stop and go to the bathroom in the street (which is made of rocks and mud) and so many of the children have no shoes or shoes that bear no resemblance to actual foot protection. I walked the whole way with Nesenet glued to my side, holding my hand, arm around my waist, while 3 other children also held onto various fingers of mine all at the same time. We went down a very steep rocky hillside that I found challenging in my top of the line hiking shoes, and down which these children ran like it was a flat grass path. We arrived at the bottom to the most beautiful area-an open space of dirt surrounded by Eucalyptus tree skyscrapers all around. Nesenet got very excited and tugged me over to this hillside saying "water water" and I looked over the very step edge to see a rushing brown muddy river-it was amazing! She told me "koshasha" which apparently means "dirty", which fit. Some kids were playing in it and a girl tried to get me to go down and go in it with her-no way, jose!!
We spent the rest of the afternoon there just playing soccer, sitting and loving on the kids, etc. Nesenet wanted to see what was in my backpack so I showed her and when I showed her the band aids, another little girl grabbed her friend's feet and thrust them toward me. Both of her little ankles had small open sores on them where her ill-fitting shoes had rubbed. I cleaned them off with an alcohol wipe and put band aids on them, only to turn around and be brought another older girl with a large sore on her leg. I took a deep breath, asked God to help me out on this, and wiped her off with another alcohol wipe, took out some first aid tape I had and a stack of tissues and taped them over her wound securely. (FYI, I told the director Sami and he will be getting them both taken care of at the church, just for you Mom and Tracy, since I know you are reading this and yes I was careful and yes I cleaned my hands afterwards.) I had several more kiddos come over for me to check spots on their faces to see if they too needed band aids-seems like it is universal for kids to want band aids!! They were all ok and too soon it was time to walk back up the steep steep hill and head toward the bus to leave.
Leaving Nesenet was very very hard-she has had enough loss, I didn't want to add more. I gave her a special stuffed bunny to remember our day together and told her we would write letters and she would too, from SCHOOL!!!! And I cried, a lot. She stood outside the bus waiting the whole time for us to leave, moving at all times to make sure I was in her eyesight and giving me a big grin and a wave any time our eyes met. My heart was so full, and so aching. Any of those children there could have been my daughter Zoe had God not brought her to our family. Between that and leaving Nesenet, my heart had had a workout. Then Sami (who himself grew up in the trash dump) got on the bus to tell us thank you and God bless us and that no one comes there to Korah, not even people from Addis-it is a forgotten, shunned commuity-but we gave them hope that they are not forgotten. Oh my heart! We came back, ate a very small supper and met and talked about what was next for Korah. Kelly and Shane had met with the directors for a bit asking how we could continue to partner with them. It was explained to Kelly and Shane that no one comes there, not even ambulances if people are sick and when Kelly asked how they get the help they need, they were told "God sends us angels like Summer, and your group." Apparently we were the first group to stay and play with the children and feed them-others had come and toured, taken photos, and left. We had no idea and so we are all committed to letting people know about these beautiful people so that they WILL NOT be forgotten. We are their voice and want them to see that God's people take seriously the command to love people. If you want any information about getting involved, please let me know. We have some goals in mind to work toward for them, one of which is filling all the possible sponsored child slots at the boarding school.
The rest of the evening was an uneventful wrestling match with tortoise speed internet and a chilly walk back to the guest house where I sit, trying to sum up a day that defies description in hopes that I can be a small part in helping these people to have hope that others care and think they are worth every minute and a million more...