Today was the most amazing day! We started with breakfast at 7:00. I’ve discovered that injera is clearly a staple food here. This morning it was served in a tasty spicy dish.
The bananas here are basically a different fruit. Even the ones that appear over ripe are perfectly delicious and so bananaey. I know bananaey isn’t a word but that’s the best way I can describe them!
Coffee was served following breakfast and it was out of this world. The flavor was very intense. I usually like my coffee with lots of milk so I added the hot milk that was supplied for the cereal and a bit of sugar for a perfect combination.
We left for the work site a little later than planned in order to allow the ground to dry. The road into the work site is unpaved and becomes very slippery, muddy and un-passable when wet. In the meantime we exchanged American money for Ethiopian Birr. I haven’t spent any money on the trip yet but plan on buying some coffee before we leave.
I was totally unprepared for the experience of arriving at the work site. The homes bordering the road consisted of one room huts with straw roofs. As we were driving along the dirt road people were shouting ‘elhelhelh’ a traditional, honorary cheer.
The community came out to welcome us with celebratory song and dance. They brought us into their circle and we all clapped and danced along. There was such joy and gratitude in their eyes that we had to pull out the tissues to wipe our eyes.
It was a very emotional and moving experience that I will never forget. Speeches were made by the Holt representatives and we began construction.
The first house we are building is for a woman with four children. She is the head of the household as her husband has died. Currently they live in a one room house along with her cow.
We were able to walk into her hut. I estimated the size was about 3 meters in diameter. The new house has two rooms so it is no longer necessary to keep the cow in the same building that they live in.
It was translated to us that this was, ‘The best day in her life’.
We are building the homes using the customary methods. The wooden frame was already in place and today we nailed the side boards to the frame. The side boards are not processed in anyway. We are essentially making a house out of sticks and mud with a tin roof.
We quickly realized that we have very little construction experience. I felt incompetent as I attempted to hammer nails but after Hammering 101 from one of the local carpenters, I improved a lot.
Learning how to properly hammer a nail despite a complete language barrier was itself an experience. I was really going to town with the hammering when I developed a lovely blister on my index finger.
It was then time to return to the hotel for lunch. The children ran after our vans waving and cheering as we pulled away.
Turns out my blister was a good thing though because I discovered my true Ethiopian home construction calling in the afternoon! It consisted of climbing to the top of the structure where I passed boards and held them in place while the carpenters expertly hammered them in.
No one else was willing to perch on the top of the frame but I loved it. It was like one giant jungle gym and the view was amazing. And I knew I was being useful because I was being pulled between two carpenters who both wanted my help.
Work was broken up by water and coffee and tea breaks. I wish the caffeine in coffee didn’t affect me so strongly otherwise I would be drinking so much more.
It was easy to see why we were trying to bring shoes to donate. The need is huge and the fact that the shoes didn’t get through customs really drew my attention to the bare feet of many of the people.
Julia brought a soccer ball and an impromptu circle of juggling started between some of the student-athletes (obviously not the gymnast, my soccer skills are non-existent) and the children.
We also interacted with the children and learned some more of their language. Unfortunately my memory for language isn’t very good but earlier in today I could say, ‘What is your name?’ and ‘building a house’.
Today was Emily’s 23rd birthday and she was sung to in both Amharic and English during one of our breaks.
One of the Ethiopian Holt workers, Mesfin, was wearing a t-shirt from my hockey team back home, the Calgary Flames! So naturally I had to make sure I got a picture with him.
We returned to the hotel around 5:30 where we showered and changed into clean clothes. There was a little bit of time before dinner so we all went for a walk along the main street of Butajira. We continue to draw so much attention anywhere we went.
We were all exhausted after such an emotionally charged and physical day that many of us crashed by 9:00. We’re looking forward to tomorrow when the remainder of our group arrives in Ethiopia.
Limited Internet access prevented Stephanie from posting these blogs while she was in Ethiopia. The trip was completed in late June 2012.