Monday, February 7, 2011

Passing Them By...

February 6, 2011

Every day here, you pass people who are begging for food and money. Some look as if they haven’t showered in weeks. Some are lame or obviously sick. Some seem to just be along for the ride, hoping to catch a couple of birr from some unsuspecting westerners. One day as our driver was taking us to the orphanage, I remember seeing a person lying face down on the ground on the side of the road. At the time, I wondered if he was sleeping, or if he was sick, or perhaps even worse….it made me think of the story of the good Samaritan. I wondered if I would be one of the ones to pass the man by, or if perhaps I would at least stop to see if the man was okay. I didn’t want to pass him by.

Yesterday, my wonderings were tested.

Wes and I had just finished lunch over at Cloud 9, and were on our way over to the grocery store before heading back to our guesthouse. As we were approaching the store, we saw what looked like a man convulsing on the sidewalk. People were passing him by, one by one. We walked up to him and then crouched down beside him. It wasn’t a man at all, but a young boy. It looked as if he was having a seizure, and a greenish-yellowish foam was pouring out of his mouth.

Talk about feeling helpless. Up until the moment we walked up to him, people were walking over him and around him. No one even tried to stop. And here Wes and I are, crouching beside him, wondering what in the world to do with him. We had no idea how to help him.

Of course, once two white people in Ethiopia stop to help a sick person on the sidewalk, they become an immediate sideshow. That was Wes & I. The first two men to stop were simply curious. We were asking them if there was any help to be had for this boy. They just motioned to us that the boy was probably mentally unstable. Yeah…not very helpful. Wes moved the boy further over to the inside of the sidewalk. He was still convulsing, and was not coherent at all. After a couple of minutes of the crowd growing around us, two men kneeled down beside the boy and started lighting matches right by his mouth and nose. I was alarmed because I was sure they were going to burn him. I asked Wes what they were doing, and he guessed they were trying to get the boy to come out of this state by getting some smoke in his lungs so he would cough and catch his breath. Weird….but it worked. The boy started coughing, and then he started breathing a little better. We sat him up against a wall. He was still shaking, but it looked like he was coming too. He was at the very least, slightly coherent, and as people were asking him questions, he began to answer back a little, while still staring blankly at the ground.

In the midst of all the questioning Ethiopians, Wes had gone in search of food and money (we had none with us). So there I was, sitting next to an obviously sick boy, surrounded by curious passersby. Some of them were asking him what his sickness was. Somehow “yellow fever” started circulating, a sickness I know nothing about. Then someone said something about him going to the “poor people’s clinic”, which apparently is one of Mother Teresa’s homes. Still no clear answers.

At one point, a guy walked by and put a package of cookies in my hand and then just kept walking, and disappeared down the sidewalk. I opened up the package, and starting giving the boy one at a time. He tore through them. And then a beautiful thing happened…an older woman, perhaps 45 or 50 years old, came with a large dish of Ethiopian food (injera & lentils). But before she would let the boy eat (as he was still dirty and still shaking), she began to wash off his hands. Then she placed his broken sandals carefully back on his feet, and even washed off his hair and the back of his neck. He was filthy, and yet she treated him like her own son, with great care and great tenderness. Seriously, it was absolutely beautiful to watch.

He ate that food as if he had never eaten before. A little more light began to come into his eyes. He wasn’t smiling, but he was speaking some. He told me his name was Addisselam. And then the craziest thing happened….an Ethiopian guy joined the crowd (that’s not the strange part!)….but he had a perfect American accent. He began translating for us, and long story short…this guy had just returned from about 20+ years in the States. He stuck by our side for the rest of the day.

Wes, Ash (the Ethiopian-American guy’s name), Addisselam, and I hopped into a local mini-bus taxi, and headed over to the Korean hospital (where most westerners go for medical care). On our trip over, we learned that Ash had lived in Kentucky, and even worked at our favorite Ethiopian restaurant, Queen of Sheba. How crazy is that?!

Throughout the taxi ride, Addisselam sat beside me in the front, and just stared straight ahead. He wouldn’t really look at me, and he still looked pretty zoned, although you could see he was regaining his strength and lucidity.

Once we arrived at the hospital, we had to wait for about an hour. During that hour we learned that he had no family. He told us that he was 14 years old, and that his mother had died about 10 years ago, and he didn’t know anything about his father, except for the fact that he had also passed away. He lived mostly on the street.

Finally we got in to see the doctor. The doctor told us that our young friend was just extremely hungry, and his body had shut down because he hadn’t eaten in several days. He said that he could do blood tests to see if there was something more to the seizure-like episode he had had, but he really believed that it was due to hunger. He suggested we instead use our money to buy him some dinner and a soda to get some sugar into his body.

So 50 birr later (yes, that’s about three U.S. dollars for an ER visit!), we left the hospital and headed back home. Addisselam and I sat in the front again, and as the music played over the radio, out of the corner of my eye I could see his head bopping back and forth to the beat. I put my arm around him and tapped him on the opposite shoulder. When he realized it was me just playing with him, a big smile spread across his face. Wow. What a beautiful smile.

We finally made it back to Bole Rd. near our guesthouse. We bought him a big bottle of orange soda and he refused to let us buy him any more food because he still had leftovers from the sandwich we bought him earlier in the day when he first had the episode.

We gave him 14 Birr. Apparently he rents a bed to sleep on at night for about 7 Birr a night (that’s about 45 cents). I tried calling several people I know here in Addis, but nobody had any immediate ideas about a place where a street kid could find help. We are still working on it.

I would like to say we were heroes, and saved the day, but at the END of the day, there wasn’t much else we could do but help him eat and rent a bed. SO frustrating. We tried meeting with him again today, to attempt to find him a better place to stay, but he never showed up.

Wow. It was a crazy day. And after all that, once we said goodbye to him, we had several children just like him walk up to us asking us for money and food. I have no answers for the questions and feelings that came up throughout everything we experienced yesterday. We felt so powerless, and so helpless. The only thing I know is that I am SO glad that we didn't pass him by.


  1. Wow, friend... thank you so much for sharing this... I don't have any good words... I just want to tell you thank you for sharing this story. Please keep them coming, friend. :)

  2. What beautiful instruments you all were today. So glad you let Him use you.

  3. Hi-

    You are letting your light shine in a difficult world. I really appreciate your attitude in all that you are facing during your stay in Addis. You are choosing joy in the midst of disappointment.

    We will be flying into Addis for a Feb 15 court date.....I am hoping the Lord will join our paths....

    susan b

  4. Wow-amazing how our God ordains things and people (like Ash). Thanks for sharing! kim

  5. Beautiful!
    You guys are heros! Love ya lots.

  6. My dear, that is a miracle!

  7. A blessing for that boy that your court date was changed otherwise, you probably wouldn't have crossed his path today. God is the reason for all things :)

  8. beautiful are the hands and feet of Christ! Well done.

  9. Nina, this brought tears to my eyes... and brought back a huge rush of feelings I had on a day with an experience quite similar to this. I was almost to Friendship when I saw a boy convulsing on the side of the road. I gave food and water, but I deeply wished that I could have done more. I never saw him again, but that experience will always be so vivid in my mind and heart. Hands down, that experience changed my life and I'm sure it did yours too. I remember blogging about it afterward- it put a lot of things into perspective for me and made me want to help others even more.
    I admire you and Wes for what you're doing... no doubt about it, God is at work!

  10. Nina, on Monday nights we get our kids together and try to talk about spiritual things. I read your blog to them tonight and they were al touched. Sometimes it is hard to get teenagers to look beyond themselves (they are 19, 15, 13, and 8). Thanks for sharing your experience and giving us all something to think about.


  11. I read your blog and like it a lot. This is all I could find as far as shelters that take in older children.
    I hope he comes back and you guys are able to help him.

  12. Nina and Wes thank you so much for taking such good care of my family and helping them in such a difficult situation. Please also thank Soloman. Words cannot express how scary it is to have loved ones so far away and feel so helpless. It is so comforting to know there were such great people to help them.
    Kelli Ables (Grant's Sister)

  13. Thank you for sharing this Nina. I hate that helpless feeling that you described too... there has to be SOMETHING that can be done... but you were obedient to that moment, and that is something...