Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Sightseeing in Addis

After we left Hannah's Hope on the second day, we had a mid-afternoon lunch with the F family and told them goodbye. We then made the decision to hire a taxi driver to show us some of the sights about town. Out of 4 days at the Riviera, we managed to choose the only time all week that several taxis were not parked out front just waiting, so we had to wait for about 40 minutes while the front desk called one for us. Our driver was a very nice man named Tele, and we asked to go to the Imperial Palace. Yikealo was absolutely glued to the window on our 1/2 hour drive there. Driving through Addis Ababa is NOT for the faint of heart, and there are numerous sights to see everywhere that you look. Tele asked us questions about life in America and told us that his brother lives in Atlanta. He hopes to visit someday, but so far has not been able to obtain a visa.

We saw many interesting things along the way, including the African Union:
and people carrying huge burdens on their heads:
We saw a number of places along the way that cannot be photographed, including the US Embassy. Cameras are not allowed inside, nor can you take any photos in front of it for quite some distance on either side.

When we arrived at the Imperial Palace, it was only a half hour before closing time. The Palace was the former home of Emperor Haile Selassie, and is now an ethnological museum on the campus of Addis Ababa University. A wonderful young student by the name of Markos gave us a great (if hurried) tour through as much of the museum as we could possibly have seen in 40 minutes or so. He was originally from Tigray, as was Yikealo, so the two of them hit it off right away. Markos made a big deal over Yikealo, tried to include him in the conversation whenever possible and jogged from room to room while holding our little guy's hand. Basically, he made a museum full of dusty artifacts as interesting as he could have for a 5 year old boy!
 Markos and Yikealo
A model of a typical Ethiopian home, made of mud, grass and straw

 grave markers for a family burial plot

 A display on bee-hives, representing Ethiopia's abundant honey supply

 A small model of an Ethiopian Orthodox church

 A portrait and clothing of Haile Selassie's wife, Empress Menan Asfaw
wedding finery from the Gambella region
Emperor Haile Selassie's desk and chair

When we left the museum, we asked Tele to take us to any place that he suggested that we see. He chose the St. George Cathedral and Museum. We arrived about a half hour after the buildings closed, but Tele arranged a private tour for us with the Archdeacon...a very kind man named Mebratu. He spent an hour and a half with us, taking us inside the silent, shadowy church (we had to leave our shoes at the door), and performing parts of an Orthodox service for us. Unfortunately, my camera battery was nearly dead, so I was unable to video him chanting, dancing or playing instruments for us. The octagonal Cathedral was commissioned in 1896 by Emperor Menelik II, as a monument to the Ethiopian victory over the Italians at the Battle of Adwa. It was beautiful, and we learned quite a bit about some of the beliefs of the Ethiopian Orthodox church, which seems to be an odd mix of Catholicism and Judaism. The church traces its roots back to the Ethiopian eunuch baptized by Philip. According to their tradition, this man brought Chrisianity to Ethiopia in 34 AD, and it became the state religion in 330 AD. Their churches have a Holy of Holies with a replica of the ark of the covenant, and they believe that the actual, original ark of the covenant is in a church in Aksum. Their services are conducted in the ancient language of Ge'ez, which is no longer spoken by anyone other than the priests, leading to a very ritualistic religion that the people follow without understanding.
St. George Cathedral
People praying ouside the cathedral. The bell tower of the St. George Museum is in the background.
The cross atop the cathedral.
Sacred paintings, surrounding the holy of holies.
Paintings depicting events in Ethiopia's history
Archdeacon Mebratu was a wonderful story-teller, and he was also of Tigray heritage. He could not say enough about Yikealo: what an amazing, beautiful, intelligent, unique, ususual, blessed boy he is. After so many compliments, it became a little hard to know how to respond! The Ethiopian culture is a very affectionate one, and they are particularly demonstrative of this with small children.

Following our tour of the church, he took us to the St. George bell-tower, where we climbed a narrow, winding staircase to the huge bell at the top.

The view from the windows at the top looked out over the corrugated tin shacks of the city.
The trip up those steps caused my mama instinct to completely freak out. The stairway had railings on only one side, leaving the center section totally open. From the top of the 8 or 10 flights, I was absolutely panicking about my son walking back down....but thankfully we made it back to the ground level with no accidents!
  After the bell tower, we took a quick walk around the grounds, where we gave money to a few destitute people and saw a random cow grazing in the middle of the gardens!
By the time that Mebratu finally took us through the museum, my camera was dead, so I have no pictures of that part of our tour. When we exited, he wanted to take us to a little shop next door and introduce Yikealo to a woman that he knew from Tigray. We bought a few small souvenirs, and as we walked back toward the gates to the cathedral grounds, Mebratu told us farewell. With tears in his eyes, he thanked us for coming. He said that there were no words to express what was in his heart, but that he was going to pray for Yikealo...that Y would grow up to be a great man of God. He hugged us, and then we were walking through the gate.
I had taken this photo from the inside earlier in the evening, but as we approached now from the outside, it was already dark. Beggars were congregated just outside the gate - the blind, crippled, and desperately poor. We'd been warned in the past never to give hand-outs in a crowd of people, because tourists doing so can be completely surrounded and even trampled in just seconds. It was so hard to walk the gauntlet of those people though...beautiful souls created by God in His image...shaking their tin cups in the hopes of a few coins. As we walked into the churchyard, a tiny, adorable boy with huge, pleading eyes followed us in and held his hand out to Yikealo as he rubbed his tummy with the other hand. Yikealo gave him some coins, and then we were back in our taxi, heading for the hotel. That's when I completely fell apart. That precious child, begging on the street, could so easily have been one of my sons. Why hadn't I stopped and taken the time to pray over him, to give him more money? Yikealo laid his head in my lap and fell sound asleep as my tears dripped onto his forehead. I don't think that I will ever forget the look in that little boy's eyes.

Back at the hotel, we ate a quick supper and put our exhausted child to bed. He had been SO good that day, but he was completely worn out. Then, because we apparently had not had enough of an emotional overload, David and I decided to look through the CD of photos of S with his mama that we had been given earlier that day.
 Oh my heart...I cannot imagine the pain that this beautiful woman must have felt as she held her sweet son again for the first time in a couple of months and told him goodbye. I pray with all of my being that my heavenly Father will somehow whisper peace to her heart. I cannot wait until the day that my Savior redeems this broken world and returns it to the paradise that it was meant to be. It doesn't happen often enough in my sheltered, middle-class life, but sometimes the great sorrow of the world grabs me, and for a few moments God allows my heart to really break for the things that break His.

1 comment:

  1. After reading your post, I think I will add the Imperial Palace, cathedral and museum to our list of places to visit when we go next. II am so touched by the loving reception your son is receiving. I also identify all too well with your tears and broken heart. Ethiopia has much to teach us.