First Impressions…by Jenn
So I have been tasked with the job of writing about my first impressions of arriving in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Needless to say I think that it will be hard to put into words the sights, sounds, smells and feelings of arriving in a whole new world, but I will try.
I have to say first off that nothing could have prepared me for my first experience in Africa. I have watched documentaries and had friends come and go and heard their stories but even with all of that the culture shock is unimaginable.
When we first landed in Ethiopia there was this sense of relief. We had been traveling for two days and we were exhausted and so ready to be out of the plane. As we stepped onto the tarmac I noticed that the weather was cool and a bit more humid than we are used to in Montana. The smog was evident and a bit overwhelming, but I was grateful to be on solid ground. I kept reciting in my head, “I can’t believe I am really in Africa”.
After going through immigration, exchanging our currency, picking up our bags, the unanticipated anticlimactic experience of customs and fighting with the airport staff who insisted upon helping us with our bags and also insisted on a healthy tip, we finally made our way through the overcrowded parking lot to our van.
We strapped our 15 suitcases of donated items to the roof rack, piled in, and we were off, headed toward Selah Guest House. The drive was beyond overwhelming and like nothing I had ever experienced. The people were endless and so was the poverty. The population of Addis is over 5 million people and the city shows the effects of that. It could be my Montana roots, but to me it feels claustrophobic; like the city is bursting at the seams and there isn’t enough space for everyone and everything to move, live and be. There were donkeys and goats wandering the streets and sidewalks. The stray dogs and cats were mangy and most of them looked as if their skin was simply draped over their ribs and hip bones. The shops that lined the streets were metal shacks that reminded me of run down firework stands except they were all strung together as if they were one very long building. People were selling everything from knock-off designer clothing and shoes to vegetables and canned goods. Others that couldn’t afford to rent a shop were sitting on the sidewalks roasting corn, selling fruit or other small items. The streets were dirty and the traffic and driving habits were unbelievable. There are no real driving lanes in Addis, people swerve and maneuver in and out of other cars and pedestrians at a moment’s notice. Everyone is honking their horns but unlike Americans, it is almost like they are using them to say, “Hello, here I am, don’t mind me, I’m just gonna scoot by you”. The culture shock was extreme.
We arrived at the guest house within about a half hour. It is a gorgeous three story home with 5 large bedrooms and 4 bathrooms. It is has two balconies and a full patio on the roof. It comes equipped with running water and toilets, which is a luxury for most in Addis. It is secured behind a six foot tall cement wall and sturdy gate. Tesfa, the gate keeper for the guest house, came over and unlocked the door for us when we arrived and helped with our luggage. When he was finished, I noticed him walk back across the dirt road, up the walkway and into a metal shack that is his home. That is when it sunk in. There is not a place you can go without seeing poverty. It is inescapable. From the roof of the guest house you can look out over a minute portion of Addis and you see it. The kids playing football with water bottles or soccer balls that are completely flat due to holes in them, kicking it around in slip-on shoes that don’t fit. The two young construction workers next door breaking rock and building a house by hand, without the tools we have back home. The stray animals that are desperate for food, the constant stream of people with their yellow containers going to find water and the garbage that is everywhere.
But as I began to look closely I was able to find joy as well. I stood on the roof that first day and watched our gatekeeper with his young son, playing with a toy “car”, (which is typically a bucket lid tied to a stick with wire or string that they push out in front of them). And I watched his wife wash clothes in a basin of water and hang them to dry in between feeding and bouncing their other young son. I saw the joy in the neighborhood kids when we carted inflated soccer balls out to the field to play. I saw kindness to each other and openness to our team. I began to see the life that is here and present in the midst of the poverty.
At the end of that first day I realized I was carrying around this assumption that the purpose of this trip was that God was calling me to make an impact here in Ethiopia. But after seeing that this world is broken beyond my wildest imagination I was so overwhelmed by my own inabilities that I knew I was going to fall very short of these perceived expectations. It was in that place that I broke. It became amazingly clear to me how prideful this thinking was and how unknowingly I had taken up a spirit of superiority and arrogance instead of humility. So the Lord challenged me in a firm way at 3am, telling me that he did not call me to Ethiopia to fix anything. He asked me to come here, listen to his voice and do what he asks of me. That is all. If I am willing to do those things and if my heart remains soft, if I discard my pride and I loosen my grip of control, then He will use me and our team to join with Him in what he is doing in Ethiopia while we are here these next few weeks. But everything has to start and end with Him. So that has been my prayer since that first day, that I will hear His voice and follow his leading. And above all that I would lay down my expectations because his plan for this trip looks a whole lot different than mine and only with God are all things possible.