Friday, November 22, 2013

Adventures in Gambella

As many of you know, we ventured out of the comforts of Addis Ababa and into the wilds of Western Ethiopia.  Our children were born in a small town in the far west of the country.  From the very beginning (getting to the airport), it was a memorable venture. 

Just a note: Mom, we are safe and sound.  Please don’t worry.  J 
Inside the Taxi-Bug during one of our breakdowns

Not a great pic, but the soldier and the goat
Now, instead of a regular taxi, we took a “taxi-bug” (my term) to the airport.  They are the little three-wheeled golf-cart looking things that zip around on the side streets.  “Zip” may be too generous of a term.  “Putter” might be more accurate.  The trip should have taken us about 15 minutes.  Instead, we went half the speed of regular cars, ran out of gas once (our driver had a Gatorade bottle of gas for a refill), and broke down 3 times.  Once we started to roll backwards into traffic, and once we were smack in the middle of a busy round-a-bout.  It was actually rather hillarious! 

Eventually, we made it in the vicinity of the airport where our driver booted us out of the taxi-bug, indicating the airport was “that direction”.  We could see pieces of it above the trees.  We paid him his 100 birr (About $5), and began walking.  We asked directions about 3 times and finally made it! 

The flight itself was uneventful, thankfully.  As we flew over Ethiopia, we were struck by the amount of farm land.  Wow, it’s beautiful!  We flew over a mountainous area, and lastly over lush green.  Somehow I expected Gambella to be brown and grassy.  Nope.  There are beautiful green trees everywhere! 
The “airport” in Gambella is a glorified landing strip.  The “control tower” is literally a shack with wires poking out of the top, and before we departed the following day, we watched a soldier chase a goat off the tarmac.  For real.  

We saw monkeys!!!
Thankfully, we were quickly met by Del, the director of the Ethio-Berlin orphanage out there. The road from
the airport into town is about 3 miles of dirt and gravel.  On either side was grass 8 feet tall, and green trees and shrubs.  It was so beautiful!  Occasionally we drove through a few herds of goats or cows grazing. 
Our car got stuck in the mud :)
The hotel there ($25 night) was nice and perfectly adequate.  I am pretty sure it was the nicest in town, and we saw many businessmen there along with representatives from the Red Cross, Norwegian health organizations, United Nations, etc.  After a lunch of sheep and injera, Del said that they had found Anya’s birth mom, and we could meet her!

For my daughter’s sake, I won’t share details or pictures of this precious girl, but the meeting was totally
worth the trip out to Gambella.  It was an honor to communicate to her how much we loved Anya, and how thankful we were for the privilege of raising her.  We did get a short video and several pictures. 
We were not able to meet Jayce’s birth mom, but the orphanage did have pictures of her, which was great.  We were able to tour the orphanage where our kiddos spent several months, and we saw their beds and their play yard. 

Then, the most unheard-of thing happened: Dell showed us pictures of Anya within days of her birth!  Virtually no international adoptive mom gets true baby pictures of her kiddos, but we did!  SO precious!!!! 
We also learned a little about Jayce.  His name, Niyal, means “rain” in one of the local tribal languages.  How stinkin’ cool!  I LOVE rain!  J  Our hostess here in Addis, Yeshi, commented that “rain is good!  In Ethiopia, rain is life!”  It seems an appropriate fit with his name, Jayce, meaning “healer”.
Gambella as a town is pretty much “Africa”.  I’m not sure how else to describe it.  Many roads are dirt and
there are thatched huts just outside the city.  Some houses are made from mud.  People bathe in the river, drink the river water, and congregate by the river to stay cool.  We had some of the most delicious coffee there, sitting by the river.  We later learned the coffee was made from river water. Mom, we’re fine, the coffee was boiled and no harm
We're soaking with sweat,
but it was a pretty river!
came of it!  I met an older gentleman by the river who spoke excellent English.  He was born and raised in Gambella, educated there, and had a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology.  He was so kind, telling me about his two sons, and warning Philip not to cut his lip while trying to eat sugar cane. 

One of the funniest things was seeing a lady carrying a backpack.  Balanced on her head.  They carry everything on their heads, from mattresses to bundles of sticks.  The Gambellan people are truly regal.  Many are the tallest, darkest people you’d ever run across, and they stand and walk like they are in a king’s palace.  They are graceful in everything.  Many of the men have chevron-shaped scaring on their foreheads to indicate their tribe.  While these ridges sound, well, tribal, they are actually quite beautiful and add to the stately bearing of the people. 

Over all, it was an incredible experience. I’m super thankful we went, and I think we have a much better
perspective of where our children were born.  Del showed us around town, including the women’s center where they have 20 treadle sewing machines to train women how to sew.  We hiked up the only mountain in Gambella to an Orthodox Church and a beautiful view of the surrounding region.  And, because I was interested in local crafts, we went to the prison.  Yup!  The prisoners make beaded things and sell them.  I picked up a few necklaces and a bead-covered gourd.  On the way back, we stopped in the market and I got a few yards of cloth for my mom.  Mom, it’s pretty nutty, but maybe you can make an apron or something from it.  It was fun to find and buy.  I hope you like it! J

Our flight left about 4pm.  The check-in for the flight was an office desk that people crowded around.  “Standing in line” is not a part of the culture here.  We were handed a hand-written boarding pass, with no seat assignment.  Basically, when it was time to board, we all just crowded on the plane and sat wherever there was room. 

Del requested that when we return to Addis, we bring toys for his orphanage.  He also requested that we purchase a laptop for him (he pays us back, of
course), and he will come to Addis when we return for Embassy to pick it up.

Landing in Addis, we didn’t have a ride waiting for us, so we started to walk.  No, we didn’t walk the whole way.  Only a little ways into the city to find a taxi that wouldn’t charge us an arm and a leg.  We hoped for another taxi-bug, but I guess they don’t usually run in the busier parts of town.  It was hard to be petitioned by so many beggars as we walked along the streets.  So much need and hurt, and no way to truly help.
The women's center with the sewing machines

Mom, as I said, we survived, are safe, and none the worse for wear.  We’ve only a week left in country, so we’ll be home soon.  
Our tickets headed back to Addis
Gambella countryside from the top of the mountain


  1. So beautiful. The pictures, the people, the memories you made. So glad you could meet Anya's birth mom and get pictures of her as a newborn! What a special thing to meet your children's people. It may be ten-month-pregnant hormones, but I definitely cried reading through this! Can't wait to see you guys soon and hear stories in person, and REALLY can't wait to meet your little ones!

  2. Hi my name is Keely Steyne and I'm in the process of adopting a little girl from Ethio Berlin orphanage! I would love to chat with you and see more pictures and hear more about the orphanage. My email address is or on Facebook I'm MamaEli Steyne