Saturday morning we awoke with a certain electric “buzz” as today was the day Heather would meet her kids for the first time.
We gathered up the 2 luggage bags that were going to the orphanage and headed down stairs to grab some breakfast. As I had tried most of the breakfast food at the restaurant before I stayed safe and got myself the pancakes breakfast, and to Heather’s dismay she ordered the eggs. I don’t know what oil the hotel uses to grease their pans but whatever it is doesn’t quite agree with our American taste for food.
We grabbed a taxi, as we didn’t want to carry the bags (they were heavy) and headed over to the orphanage. When we arrive we were told we would have to come back in the afternoon as there are now visiting hours. We left the bags at the orphanage and went down to use an internet café.
After using the internet and walking around for a bit we retired back to the motel to crash in the room until we could return in the afternoon for the visiting hours. Surprisingly sleep came easy to me, although I don’t think Heather slept well at all for the entire trip.
Later in the afternoon we decided to go walk around in the local open air market and hand out chocolates to all the kids and well honestly, just about anyone we saw. We had brought close to 15 pounds of candy for the orphanage, and close to 25 pounds of chocolate to hand out on the streets. Normally handing out the candy was fine, but we did have to leave the market on our tour when we attracted a bit more attention than we really wanted. We were nearly out of chocolate, but there we plenty of people that had heard of the crazy ferenj. Needless to say we were smart enough to know our “celebrity” status could turn on us quickly when we actually ran out.
On the way to the orphanage we realized that we hadn’t eaten any lunch so we stopped by a fruit stand and grabbed a kilo of bananas (the smallest amount she would sell us) and we ate a few bananas as we meandered to the orphanage.
When we arrived most of the kids were watching TV but the fostor mothers had Yosef and Mihret come out to the courtyard for this surreal moment in our families history. Yosef looked up at me with those deep eyes of his, with a small smile, and his “Dad” made the trip worth it. Both of the kids were shy, very shy with both of us. But they quickly warmed up to us.
We just sat on a bench for a little while just talking, and enjoying each other, allowing the connections to grow organically and just cherishing this treasured “time”. The kids both wanted to give us tours of the orphanage and show us all of their rooms and all of their “possessions” Basically they really don’t own anything outside of what we have given them, they didn’t bring anything with them when they came into the home except the clothes on their back, and I’m pretty sure they burned those, at least I hope so from the photos I’ve seen from their intake interviews. They would pull out the photo albums and point to each picture, kissing their brothers and sisters, and pointing at their beds, and asking us for reassurance that it was real, and really theirs.
I noticed Mihret had lost a bottom front tooth. I smiled and pointed at it and asked her if she threw it on the roof. Her eyes lit up and she beamed a huge smile at me and nodded her head at me. I told her what the American custom is with teeth, and she was a bit confused with that one, but I assured her that when she came to America she could still toss her teeth on the roof if that’s what she wanted to do (he my American kids want us to pay them for their teeth and then still toss them on the roof now that they know about the Ethiopian custom)
We had gifts for all of the kids at the orphanage so we distributed them with the help of Yosef and the foster mothers. Most of the kids disappeared back to their rooms as they were tucking their treasures away and savoring these priceless gifts from their families. As the gifts were distributed and an office waste bin was filled to overflowing with candies for the foster mothers to distribute at their pleasure we were left alone with our beautiful kids once again and we were playing together in the courtyard. Soon all of the kids were outside playing with us, many of the kids that I got to spend so much time with last time came up to me to play the “Ambassa” game. All too soon our time had expired and it was time to leave.
Now mind you we had two large luggage bags with us, and the hotel is only about a half mile down the road, but we were a bit leery of carrying these two bags with us down the street as the sun was setting and we had no idea what reaction we were going to get. We decided we would walk to the end of the street where the internet café is, if I remember correctly the rate is 1 birr for 8 minutes. Well we used the internet for bit longer than we anticipated, and it was quite dark when we left the building, and ALL of the taxis that normally hang out in that area had gone home as well! I guess like it or not we were carrying these bags back to the motel. I guess one of the fortunate things was that it was dark so not too many people saw that we were a two ferenj carrying the luggage down the street, and we only had to deal with those in our immediate location trying to get us to pay them to carry the bags for us. When in Ethiopia you will never have to carry anything if you don’t want to, but you will have to pay everyone who carries anything for you!
Now one of the things we realized during the day was that we had forgotten our watch back in the US. So while back home we simply use our cell phones for the time (watches are becoming less and less popular and I really think it has to do with everyone having cell phones and not needing 2 clocks) here in Ethiopia we needed a way to tell the time when we were out and about. Now there is a large “supermarket” about a mile and half up the road, a very westernized store with security and labeled price tags, and we figured we would head up there to find a watch and grab some supper.
We left our cameras and most of our money at the motel and decided to walk the short distance to see the small store fronts along the way. Also we figured the walk would do us some good to clear our heads.
About a block from the hotel we were greeted in fluent English by an Ethiopian named Dawit. He said that he was one of the carpenters at the hotel and that he had seen us the day before when we checked in. Well the hotel has been super accommodating to me in the past, and the receptionist have helped me on several occasions with getting around town and finding what we needed. As we knew where we were going and had no need for any help we talked with him about Ethiopian life, his life and just general questions. The guy was a very nice guy and was very open to talking to us about Ethiopia and the culture and how it was slowly dying due to western influence.
Well when we got to the supermarket and we told him that this was the end of our journey with him he told us that he knew about a neat cultural experience around the corner if we were interested. He said that there was a small school next to the home of the head of the Ministry of Water Affairs that was started by Haile Selassie to preserve the historic arts and dance and that tonight was the graduation night. He told us it was a very interesting program and it would be wrong to pass up on this once in a lifetime opportunity. I asked how much it was going to cost and he told me nothing, just come in and sit and have a cup of coffee and watch the dancing and poetry and stories. He seemed like a nice guy, and Heather was interested in going and trusted him (I’m a lot more easily duped into things than she is) so we followed him to the place. At first I was fine with where we were as we stayed on streets that Ethiopia has actually bothered to name, most of the streets don’t have names in Addis, and we were surrounded by the night life of Ethiopian businesses. But after walking for about 20 to 30 minutes I was starting to get concerned as the businesses were getting less and less. Dawit told us he needed to stop at a shop to call his sister who was waiting for him at church and that we could then go in. As he was talking to his sister I asked Heather if she still trusted him, and still wanted to go. She looked at me a little weird and said she still thought it was fine and yes, lets go.
Well we came to a huge iron gate that was wide open, large enough for two cars to go through side by side and then immediately down a very steep incline there was a small building with loud Ethiopian music blaring from a small PA system. The house was illuminated by multiple strands of red Christmas lights and small blinking multicolor LEDs in the windows. Walking into a small dusky room we were greeted by a group of women in traditional attire. There was a small coffee area in the corner of the room and 3 couches surrounded a large round coffee table. Dawit sat next to me on one of the larger couches and one of the dancers sat next to Heather on her couch.
I was stricken with the fact that in this room there was only one actually attractive Ethiopian woman, the others all reminded me of the women’s rugby sorority from my college days. These girls were really big, even for American standards they were chunky girls. I was also annoyed with just how loud the music was, you couldn’t hear anything, you had to holler just to speak to the person next to you. It wasn’t a very comfortable environment and I was already ready to leave.
A waiter came out and asked what we wanted to drink and I told him a macchiato. He told me the hot drink machine was busted and I would need to order a cold drink. So I told him Heather and I would have a coke. Well he brought out a bottle of beer for Dawit, and 2 Cokes for me and Heather. Well I stopped him from opening the second bottle and Heather and I split the one coke between the two of us.
A strange thing kept happening and Dawit kept standing up to go somewhere and leaving us in the room. Every time he would leave another one of the girls would sit next to me to explain a little more about the program and how it worked. Well the instructor came up to me to ask me if I would buy a round of drinks for the girls as they didn’t get paid for what they were doing and dancing this long would be a very thirsty thing to do. Well Heather was actually get dance instructions from the girls and she was enjoying herself immensely so I asked her how much it was going to cost me. She told me I just order the drink and then I will get the bill later. I wasn’t going to play that game so I told the waiter I wanted to know the price before I placed the order. He told me 70 birr, a little less than $10. I asked several times to make sure that was the total cost for everyone, and he continued to tell me yes, 70 birr for everyone. So I agreed.
About this time Dawit came back into the room and was holding a cell phone. Odd that we had to stop earlier to pay a shop for him to use a phone. Well they had started to brew a pot of coffee for us in the corner and my spidey senses were going nuts. I was sitting next to the window so I reached over and pulled the drapes open a bit to look outside and was shocked by what I saw. The first thing that caught my attention was that the gate was closed. The second thing was the two men standing outside the door to my building. I could only see the back of the one man, but the other guy was holding an AK 47 in the ready position. Needless to say I was a bit on edge at this point. Heather had sat down now and was still having fun so I just told her to drink her coffee and then we are leaving.
I don’t know how you live in Ethiopia and don’t know how to brew coffee but this stuff tasted worse than the bitter stale stuff they serve in church foyers here in the States. Needless to say we didn’t bother to drink the coffee, I just said we needed to leave and that I wanted my bill. Honestly I was expecting it to be between 200 and 400 birr (under $50) but when he handed me a bill for 890 birr I about had a stroke.
Now there are about 15 women in this room, the waiter is a rather buff and tall man, African but not Ethiopian, my guess was Kenyan, Dawit is a skinny Ethiopian kid a little taller than me, but what really concerns me at this point is the two guys outside the door, especially the guy that I knew was holding the gun. Looking out through a small break in the drapes I noticed that one of the men had disappeared but the guy with the gun was still there. In all honesty the thought of the one guy sitting in a crows nest waiting for us to walk out the door made me even more uneasy than I was before.
Basically the bill was inflated by charging me 70 birr for every single person in the room. It was nuts! I honestly didn’t even have that much on me, but the money wasn’t my concern, getting out was. I tried to pay half, but they wouldn’t take it and the waiter began to push me as Heather was trying to get Dawit to reason with them for me. I had already figured Dawit was in on the scam, and was using every fiber of my being to not put a fist into his face at the moment and had no way to tell Heather to stop. I pulled out what I had from my wallet, 600 birr ($75) and told them I was giving them what I had, there was no more, and if they wanted anything else they needed to take it out of Dawit’s backside as he was the fool who brought the poor ferenj into this evil bunna beat. I then took the money, and threw it at the waiter, making sure to scatter it over the ground and grabbed Heather and ran out the door. We ran all the way to the gate and found ourselves locked in!
We have a gun pointed at our back and I can see inside the building as they are still reaching under the couch trying to figure how much they scammed off us and I want out before they figure it out. Looking at the gate I could see where the center post was welded in, and there was a bad weld at the top of the gate that was supposed to keep the bar in place when locked. It took everything I had but I managed to snap the weld and push the bar up just enough that I was able to kick open the gate and we ran out into the street and continued running for the next several blocks.
Well we still had 100 birr in my front pocket, and we still needed a watch so we stopped at a vendor that we could see the watches hanging in the front window. Heather talked to him in Amharic and they discussed a price that was fine with me but then Heather asked if it worked and he said no so we left. It was a block later that Heather realized that she had only spoken Amharic to this man up to the point that she asked if it worked, and in Amharic she just asked if it was gold. It was stainless silver, and he answer truthfully, but there was no way I was turning around at this point, my feet were headed to the motel and they weren’t turning around.
About half way home another man stopped us and tried to get us to go to his program about the “evils of Ethiopia and the beauty of Oromo” OK, I get it, we are western, thus we equal money, but to try to lure us in with a spiel about how evil the location we are at is???? I wasn’t ready for that particular speech, no not at all.
I stopped at a fruit stand to buy a pineapple in case the restaurant was closed at the hotel, mind you we have no idea what time it is, and we finally made it home to the hotel. Luckily the restaurant was still open, but neither of us were very hungry. We ordered the fasting food platter, full of different wats, all vegetables, and we picked at it as we tried to settle down and get over the fact that we just spent $75 on a coke!
It’s probably needless to say, but no Dawit worked at the hotel. The hotel was very sad that we had been scammed, but apparently as one of the few places westerners are known to frequent they have picked up quite a few of these people.
Yeah, what a way to start the trip.