Saturday, January 30, 2010

Off to Gunchire and Kidmia…

I am up early as we are planning to leave for Gunchire around 7:30 am. Aschalew is very prompt as he, Abel (an employee of Kidmia) and Joseph (our driver) arrive on time. We head for the Ghion to pick up Melanie Tam and then we are off, … we are off, I said we are…. waiting in traffic for about 45 minutes just to get out of Addis. Joseph is driving a 4 wheel drive to navigate the roads once we get about 2 hours outside of the city when we hit the 1 ½ hours of dirt roads to get to our destination. This is all fine and good, but no air conditioning, which means the windows down, which means sitting in exhaust as you wait. Oh well, it is only a distant memory now, cough, cough, hack, spit.

Since we are on the road for so long, we get to learn more about our fellow travelers. Joseph is early 30’s with a new baby boy that is 6 months old, Abel is late 20’s who is single, and Aschalew is a charismatic mid to late 30’s with a wife, Hirut and 4 year old son, Fikir. We enjoy our ride as we dodge sheep, goats, dogs, donkeys, people, taxis, trucks, it feels like we are part of a video game trying to not hit or be hit by anything. We finally arrive at the Kidmia Mahiber Transitional Care Center and are greeted by Tesfaye, the Director. He shows us around the beautiful 12 acre grounds; the tract of land where they had just harvested the wheat, the chicken coup with 30 or so chickens, the two cows, the horse for the cart which is used to make trips to the village… it is all pretty amazing. The most amazing thing though was seeing the children and how well they are doing. Aschalew was telling me that the local government is very pleased with the work that Kidmia is doing and really like the concept, because there are none other in the southern region like it. It is a holistic ministry whose purpose is to transition the children into their birth families by providing a sustainable means to raise them (giving chickens or sheep to raise so they can be sold and the proceeds used to feed, clothe and care for their children). If the biological families are deceased, then a local family from the church will step forward to adopt the child using the same sustainability model. The third option is international adoption (through a agency other than Gladney, of course, because that would not look appropriate with my involvement in both). And lastly, to improve the conditions of their home so that when they do stay there, they are loved, nutured, well cared for, etc.

We spent too much time there, but it was hard to leave. We got on the road and it started getting dark. Remember those objects I mentioned we were dodging on our way there? Well this is what happened:


Yes, we hit a herd of cattle around 7:00 pm. It was a miracle no one was hurt, but the damage was one dead cow and 7 other injured. This was in the middle of the countryside, cell coverage in and out, local villagers coming out of the woodwork – total pandemonium. There were two boys herding the cattle and I think they saw the vehicle coming so they tried to rush them across the highway. Joseph was driving very safely around 45 mph, otherwise it could have been more serious. Joseph, thought he might have hit the boys and literally got sick on the side of the road. The local militia finally showed up about the time Solomon and Belay came to pick us all up. The vehicle was impounded, and we were finally on our way home three hours later. What a close call, I slept the best since I have been here that night.

More to come….


Friday, January 29, 2010


I am up this morning working while the internet and power is on, you never know when it will go out so you work while you have the chance. I have a lunch meeting with Abiy, one of Gladney employees who started out with us in the beginning of this program. He is a very hard working, dedicated employee and I appreciate him and what he has helped us get accomplished here.

He takes me back to the office and I meet with Anbes, Gladney’s Humanitarian Aid Director, and Yemamu, the young man who helps him. Anbes is telling me that we have 65 more orphans who need assistance in our scholarship program, which will come to another $5,000 per month that he has asked me to try to raise. Anbes also has several other projects that he is going to write a proposal to submit to me about a bread/injera making business. He hopes to send several of the orphans to pastry school and upon graduation, set up this business to sell to the Gladney Foster Care Centers as well as the three government run orphanages.

We leave the office for a quick walk across the street and behind an alley to a hairdressing shop run by one of the Kechene girls. It is a small shop with 4 chairs, but it is bustling with clients. She has 4 workers working for her and Gladney just bought additional equipment so she could expand her clientele. One of the stipulations we put on her by providing the equipment is that she can only hire Kechene girls to work for her. There is a new retail/office building being built and she already has negotiated for space in it. Another example of the potential of these older orphans who are ageing out of the orphanages. Sadly, most end up on the streets.

I have a very pleasant dinner at a traditional Ethiopian restaurant with Aschalew, Hirut – his wife, and Fikir – his 4 year old son. They drive me back to the guest house and I am off to bed.


Back in Addis…

Surprisingly, I slept through much of the music last night as I caught a break around 10 minutes until 11:00 pm when there was complete silence. I didn’t know if I was dreaming or not, until the music started back up 10 minutes later at midnight – SNAP, as my daughter Yordee would say (I think this is her way of really saying the “S word” without really coming out and saying it, although I will come clean with you and admit, I was really thinking the hard core “S word”).

I was up at 4:00 am to get ready for the flight back home. As I opened the bathroom door (remember, that smell I told you about yesterday?), it really got me going. Maybe there’s something to this putrid aroma as I was ready in no time flat.

We drove back to the orphanage to pick up the most beautiful little girl named Maria to take her back to Addis with us. We then made it to the airport only to have our flight postponed. I was told that because of the Ethiopian airline crash that crashed in Beirut the day before, that Ethiopian Air was being extremely cautious, thus the delay. We left about an hour and a half later and arrived in Addis driving straight to the office for the weekly staff meeting.

There were still families in town who were leaving that evening, so we met them for lunch at the Island Grill. No you may think I said “Island”, but I really said “Is-Land”. That’s right “is” before “land”. A friend of mine and I were trying to find this place a week ago and I realized I was saying the name all wrong, so no one knew what I was talking about. I had the best burger I have ever had in all of my entire visits to Ethiopia. This was not the meatloaf burgers that Ethiopians like to serve, it was a double decker, with a soft bun (another non-trademark of an Ethiopian burger), with BBQ sauce, bacon and jalapenos. I could tell you more, but I now realize this does not have the significance to you as it does me so let’s move on.

I left there for a meeting with Aschalew (Addis Director of Kidmia) @ 2:00, Pastor Tsadiku (a converted Muslim extremist) @ 3:00; Zahara (one of Gladney’s incredible social worker) @ 4:00, go with Belay to see Trhas (another one of Gladney’s incredible social workers who just had little Lidete) around 5:30, then to meet the Cook Children’s medical team for pizza. They have been so busy while they have been here that I really haven’t gotten to spend much time with them. Melanie Tam, wife of Dr. Vincent Tam, will be going to Gunchire with me tomorrow morning so that is 7 hours on the road that she and I can visit.

More to come…


Thursday, January 28, 2010

Gondor trip

It has been several days since I updated this blog, partly because of internet access but mostly because I have been going day and night without much time to write.

I had one of those sleepless nights where you keep looking at the clock and like 5 minutes has gone by since the last time you peeked. I just knew I was going to oversleep, but I didn’t. I just got up 30 minutes before I had to and started getting ready.

Belay and I left the house a little before 4:00 am to go pick up Faskia, Seme and Aschalew for the flight. It was an uneventful one and we arrived a little after 9:00 am. We went to check into our hotel and then to the orphanage we support which was about 40 minutes away. The orphanage was well run and the kids looked great. There were vegetable gardens, milk cows, training in woodworking and sheet metal as well as beekeeping. The products they make are used first for the orphanage itself and then any excess is sold to the public. We spent most of the day there, then went back to our hotel around 3:00 to freshen up and then tour the Gondor castles and have dinner.

The castles were beautiful and the history behind them is astonishing. When we finished the tour we went to a restaurant at the top of hill with an incredible view of the city. I think the altitude took away my appetite, so I just had my Ambo and Coke (and no, Ambo is not whisky it is sparkling water). As the others were finishing up their meal, I noticed Cameroon and Egypt were playing in the African Cup so I went in to watch the last 40 minutes or so of the game. Belay and the others were soon behind me. It was a close game and ended 3 – 1 in favor of Egypt with Ahmed Hassan from Egypt scoring three times including the only goal scored for his opponents.

We then drove back to our hotel and as I checked into my room, I realized that my windows were next to a bar which was playing music at around 100 decibels, about the sound of a normal American rock band. All this after the previous sleepless night, I wonder aloud – WHY ARE THE SLEEP GODS MOCKING ME!!!

That little distraction seemed miniscule when I walked into my bathroom and was hit with the raw sewage smell that we visitors to 1 star hotels know all too well. I held my breath as I quickly brushed my teeth, then went off to bed to the blaring sound of traditional Ethiopian music, ahhhhhh….zzzzzzz.


Sunday, January 24, 2010

Sunday Adventure in Ethiopia

I am feeling much better, but still stayed in bed until 9:00. Joanna was on her way to church so she decided to leave a little early and I would drive us to the guesthouse where several of our families are staying. I decided to drive and before I pulled out of the drive, Travis told me to watch out for the corner of the raised porch. While pulling out, you have to get as close to the porch as possible making a very sharp turn after you pass it to get the vehicle out. I did this and was very focused on not hitting the porch, but Travis did not mention the out building behind the house so I backed right into it. Fortunately, there was no damage other than a small mark on the building and one on the bumper.

I got to the guesthouse and then we left to meet Belay, three of the caregivers and about 15 of the older kids from our foster care at Bongo’s. This is an arcade with several rides and games in the Edna Mall. I was so surprised to see how well behaved the kids were and how well they care for each other. The kids had a great time and “bought” watches, pencils, bracelets and other items with the tickets they won. Afterward, Belay bought the kids ice cream cones. It was a Kodak moment to be sure.

I then went with Eric and Susan to visit Kolfe Boy’s Orphanage. I called John, one of the young men from the orphanage, to make sure he would be there. We arrived and went immediately to the dirt field to see the boys play football (our soccer). We toured the orphanage and got to talk with many of the boys as they practiced their English. As we were leaving, one of the boys had his finger in the door as it closed. The only way we knew it was in the door was seeing the finger inside the car. He didn’t scream, flinch, grimace – nothing. We tried to get Beki, our driver, to ask him to let us take him to the hospital because it had broken the skin at the nail, and he replied, “they are our guests, why would I make them do that?” Susan and Eric went to the pharmacy to get antiseptic and band-aids and they'll meet back up with Anbes tomorrow to make sure he is fine.

Off to Gondor tomorrow, wake up call at 3:00 am so off to bed.


Saturday, January 23, 2010


I wondered why I was so tired the night before; it was because I had the beginning stages of food poisoning! I haven’t said much about the water being off several days a week, but it so happened that the water was off. Travis and Joanna have a tank that holds extra water, but when it is out you have no water at all. You never know when it will come back on, so you conserve as much as you can by not flushing the toilet, taking a shower, or washing your hands, etc.

I stayed in bed for about 18 hours, but then decided to wash my hair and bathe. The water was still off and so I had to do this with a cold bucket of water. Needless to say it was a quick bath. I stayed in bed sleeping most of the time until 7:00 when Beki, one of the drivers, picked me up to go to the airport to pick up Eric and Susan. Eric is the Executive Chef for Pei Wei and was at the Gladney Gala and the Gladney Cup in New York last October. He was so moved by the humanitarian aid Gladney does, he flew from his home office in Arizona to Fort Worth to meet with us. I told him about this trip and asked if he would like to come, so here he is.

I got back to my room at 10:00 and went straight to bed.


Friday, January 22, 2010

Friday in Ethiopia

I met with the Addis director of Kidmia, Aschalew early this morning, and then went over to sit in on a birth family meeting with one of our adoptive families. Those meeting help to give closure to the birth families and allow the adoptive parents the opportunity to ask questions about their child’s background, but are so emotional.

I then walked over to the Kidmia office and Aschalew and I went to pick up Dr. Siu for a quick lunch, since Dr. Siu had a lecture to give in an hour. I then caught a taxi to Kolfe Boy’s Orphanage to meet up with the families. So much has been done there since my first visit about three years ago. I don’t think families realize how bad the conditions were before. What was really encouraging was walking into the resource library and seeing the boys using the Rosetta Stone English programs and the computers we bought. It was good to see all the boys, especially John, who is now at Addis Ababa University. He is such an intelligent young man and has so much potential. We then went to Kebebe Tsehay Orphanage where I was able to see Yordanos, the little boy who has cerebral palsy and is deaf and blind as well. Gladney had a couple of physical therapists from Duke University come and train Alex, a young man I met several years ago. Gladney hired Alex to work with Yordanos and the results have been incredible. This was a boy who stayed in his bed nearly 24 hours a day because the caregivers did not have the time to see about him. He is now sitting up and eating by himself and his hands and feet are nearly straight.

Our final stop was Kechene Girl’s Orphanage. During the visit I told Belay that I only remembered a handful of girls there. He reminded me that Gladney had placed over 60 girls, so the ones I previously knew now had families in the U.S. I was able to visit with Sophia, the director who previously was the director at Kebebe Tsehay orphanage. She is a very special lady who loves the kids in her care so much.

Belay and I then went to pick up Dr. Siu for a nice dinner, then I was home and straight to bed.


Day 5 in Ethiopia

Dinner last night with the families was a real eye opener for me. Not only does Gladney have quality families, they can do the eskista pretty well too. I think Travis has been practicing this dance in the mirror along with his Michael Jackson moves. He was pretty good! (Future traveling families – note to self, start practicing!)

I have to tell you a story Travis told me after we witnessed a car accident today. As both drivers got out of the car to view the damage, I asked Travis what would probably transpire.  He told me of his accident where his back tire clipped the front bumper of a lady’s car while he thought she was stopped as he was turning onto the street in front of our office (but really she ran into his SUV).  If you dawdle too long and someone doesn’t offer resolution in the form of money to pay for the damages of the other person’s car, the police come, chalk the tires, take their time, and then the whole thing ends up going to court. This happened in this case and so Travis, using Emamu as his translator, went to court. Before going, Travis asked Belay what he thought would happen in court and Belay told him that he would probably have to pay something like $40 or $50 USD. They get to court and after a long drawn out proceeding, Travis does end up having to pay some ridiculous amount. As they were walking out, he asked Emamu what the prosecutor and judge were saying all that time and Ememu proceeds to tell him that the judge was threatening to send him to prison for one year! I don’t think Travis will ever trust Belay again.

I really have been joking and telling you about Travis and his accidents, and I am feeling real bad about that - honestly he really is a very cautious driver. For those of you who have been to Addis, you never know when someone stops their car in the middle of the highway right in front of you or a pedestrian walks out in front of you without looking or decides to make a three point u-turn right in front of you.  What I like the most is when the truckers put those big rocks on the highway when their truck is broken down (similar to what we do with flares or cones, only more dangerous if you hit one).

Since I feel guilty about what I have secretly been telling you, because no one here in Ethiopia (including Travis) has access to blogs, I came clean with my writings to Travis last night.  He pulled the “I did have a brain tumor” line, so I should cut him some slack. I had to agree with him on that one.

Today is Friday and I am meeting with Aschalew, the Addis Director of Kidmia (see a really cool video at Kidmia is an organization that a group of Gladney dads and myself are on the board. I am looking forward to finally getting to visit with him in person. I am then going to sit in on a birth mother interview with Fasika, one of Gladney’s caseworkers and in the afternoon, I will be going with the families to visit the three government run orphanages Gladney and our donors help support.

As far as the saga of Odee, you know that Ambien I brought with me to help me sleep?… ‘nouf said.


Thursday, January 21, 2010

Selam no

Selam no - (the standard greeting in Ethiopia inquiring if you are at peace),

It was really special seeing all the children Wednesday (yesterday) with their families at the coffee ceremony then at lunch. A total of 11 families are here picking up their children. We started the day driving to foster care center #1 and by around 10:15 or so all families were present. This is the time the “special mothers” (a term used for the primary caregiver of the children in our care) get to say their goodbyes to the children being placed with their families. The families are able to tour the care centers also, as they are within walking distance of each other, and see the bed that their child actually slept in while in our care. It is pretty emotional for some of the families, knowing that when they received the referral call, their child was being loved on by the caregivers in the very room they are standing.

A fact that many of you might be aware - many of Gladney’s caregivers are orphans themselves who grew up at Kechene, the government run girls orphanage. They receive training by our nurses on staff and have such a special bond with the children in their care, because they too are orphans and can empathize with these children.

We then left the care center to have lunch together at Top View restaurant. The time the families spend together is the start of lifelong friendships for many, and they seemed to enjoy themselves as they waited for their meals to arrive. We finished the meal and the families departed for shopping, touring the city, or just going back to their guesthouses for rest.

Belay and I then went to the Mother Teresa HIV/AIDS orphanage to meet Sister Marila the Mother Superior who has recently taken that position there. She is very compassionate about the children in her care and wants the best for them. Gladney has placed several children from this particular orphanage and the other Sisters of Charity orphanage at Sidist Kilo (a location in Addis) and I wanted to re-establish and continue our relationship with this special place.

We returned to the office around 5:30 pm and waited for Dr. Siu to call saying he was finished for the day and ready to go to dinner. Dr. Siu has been working really long hours at the Black Lion Hospital, training the two cardiologists there and consulting with patients. He told Belay that the children he has been seeing are so patient and calm while they endure the long wait for their exam. He said he has to continually adjust his western mindset to not keep the patient waiting long - although there are so many things beyond his control. It is inevitable for them to wait because the cardiac echo machines break down, patients present with much more complicated conditions than expected, etc., etc.

Dr. Siu finally called close to 7:00 pm and we headed out to have dinner, and then home around 10:00 pm for a night of rest. This week I am staying at Travis and Joanna’s home and am thankful for their hospitality, although I am about to take their dog, Odee, to the farm if you know what I mean. I don’t know how he timed it, but I am sure it was really funny to him as he would bark like crazy, wait until I would just fall to sleep then go crazy barking again. This happened ALL NIGHT LONG……. I think Joanna had the same night because she asked me if I heard Odee last night too. She finally got up and went outside in the middle of the night, only for him to stop barking (I just know he was snickering to himself).

This morning, Thursday, we went with the families to the Holy Trinity Church and Belay gave us a guided tour. This is the church where the memorial to Belay’s father and 59 other government and military leaders were executed during the beginning of the Derg occupation. As I was listening to Belay, it made me so much more appreciative of what a humble and faithful man he is and how thankful Gladney is to have him as our representative in Ethiopia.

Belay and I then went for a quick lunch so we could make the 1:00 Embassy appointment with all the families who are having their child’s visa interview. We all arrived at the appointed time and then about an hour later another group of families arrived from another agency. Boy was I glad that wasn’t the Gladney group. They had to move their appointments until today because the Embassy closed for Timket the day they were supposed to have their interviews. I made the comment that it really was pretty calm with all those families and children waiting in that hot room for so long. I just love how the government works. BTW – sometimes I can be a little sarcastic if you can’t tell. We finished up a little after 3:00 pm and headed back to the office to work until the 8:00 pm Ethiopian dinner and traditional dance show tonight with all the families. I can’t wait to see Belay get up to dance tonight!

More to come tomorrow…

P.S. – Travis and Joanna, if you read the part about taking Odee to the farm – just kidding :) He and I are getting to be very good friends, especially the night he somehow managed to open my door in the middle of the night and join me for a night's rest.


Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Scott Brown Reporting from Ethiopia

I arrived in Addis last Sunday and flew in with Dr. Benjamin Siu, the cardiologist from Cook Children's Medical Center in Fort Worth who is heading this first of many trips by the cardiology department at Cook. The rest of the team will arrive on Saturday, 22 in all.

We flew on the same flight with a Gladney couple here to pick up their child. Travis Norwood, Gladney's Ethiopia Incountry Representative, picked us up at the airport and no sooner had we gotten home, we turned around and went back to the airport to pick up another 5 couples who were picking up their children.

On Monday, we had an early start to go to the foster care centers and unite several children to their forever parents. I spent the afternoon with Belay Tafesse, Gladney Incountry Representative, and around 5:00 pm we stepped outside to see the main street full of thousands of people celebrating Timket, which is a celebration of the baptism of Jesus. There were men carrying red carpet on wooden carriers who would run ahead of the replica of the Ark of the Covenant, lay the carpet down on the street, run back with the empty carrier to roll and pick up the carpet that the Ark had crossed, and run it back in front of the procession. There were groups of people wearing the same color t-shirts that Belay said could have been in Bible study groups together or some other group, probably from a church. At times, the throng of people would stop in the street, clap their hands and the women would dance in a circle all the time singing their praises to God. Words cannot really capture it all. We were told that on Tuesday, the actual day of Timket, many of the roads would be blocked off, so Travis and I headed out early Tuesday morning to place two more children with their families. That part of my job never gets old and I am thankful for the opportunity I have to be involved in the very small way to see families join with their children.

Since I went through the three day hassle of getting my driver’s license last April (not because I wanted to draw out that process, it just takes that long to wait in the lines and go to the different offices to get everything done), Travis decided it was time for me to show him my skills on the Addis roads. A little known fact:  there are more traffic accidents and deaths by vehicle per capital in Addis than anywhere in the world. I am sure the Ethiopia tourism department doesn’t put that in their travel brochures. I did well, no close calls and didn't hit anyone. If you haven't been to Addis yet, you need to ask Travis how many kids and dogs he hit in his first three months of driving here. I think he may have set a record.

Speaking of Travis, I have to say that he is a master at juggling schedules and I know how hard everyone here, as well as in Gladney's Fort Worth office works, but I am in awe of how he keeps everything coordinated. Not sure if anyone back home really thinks about it, but the whole Ethiopian team works 7 days a week many times as well as holidays so families can have the opportunity to adopt. In fact, Travis was at the airport twice Sunday (there till around 10:00 pm) three times Monday and once Tuesday as well as making sure the families get their children when they decide they want to take placement. It was pretty remarkable to see him in action. I mention Travis because he is the one I have spent most of the last few days with, but Joanna Norwood, Jana and Michael Funderburk are right there in step with Travis. I know we have an incredible team in Fort Worth because I see them at work every day, but the last few days has reminded me that we have such dedicated people here in Addis from Belay, Joanna, Travis, Michael and Jana to all the caregivers, attorneys, doctor, social workers, etc....

I now feel like I am making this post into a book so I will start to close. Tomorrow will be an exciting day as all 10 families will gather at one of the foster homes to enjoy the coffee ceremony, then off to Top View for lunch. I am looking forward to seeing all the children with their families tomorrow.