So when I think about Ethiopia, my thoughts linger among the 7 orphanages we visited and the guest house we stayed in but a lot of times in those thoughts, I'm back in the van with Solomon. We had two drivers every day all day, Sami and Solomon, and we all loved both of them. Most of the time our pack of 6 ended up in Solomon's van. Our travel guide, interpreter, children's advocate, and AWAA employee, Israel, was also with us for many trips. She spoke English very well and when she was in the car it was much easier to communicate with Solomon. He was a professed Christian and always had Ethiopian christian music playing in the car. Israel and Solomon would always be singing along with the beautiful songs and it made my heart happy. Now when I listen to those same songs, I can go right back to those moments and feelings.
The van was our refuge and our place of learning. We had to keep our emotions in tack while we were visiting the orphanages which was often very hard. We never wanted to exhibit emotions that might could be misconstrued as pity or fear or anything it wasn't. This meant once we hit the van, there were sometimes tears and questions and anger. I know I must have asked Israel a thousand questions as I tried to wrap my brain around the orphan crisis and how the system actually worked. It's so convoluted and complicated and often corrupt and I'm not sure anyone really understands.
I instantly gravitated towards Solomon because we were both desperately trying to learn each other's languages. We spent many hours driving as he emphatically pronounced words in amharic and I would intently focus on his pronunciation and mouth movements. This was much to the amusement and probably annoyance of my fellow team members! At one point late after one of our dinners out, Solomon was reciting the amharic alphabet as loud as he could and we were reciting back as best we could and it was truly great stress relief either from the effort or more likely the laughter at our effort.
Solomon took great pride in showing us pictures of his beautiful wife and his adorable son, Dawit or David, who was 6. He proudly told us how his wife had chosen Jesus as her savior awhile back and you could see in his eyes his true happiness with this decision. Once when the van would not start and Sami's van had already moved on, we all got a little nervous. Solomon said "pray!" We all prayed and vroom, there we went! Driving in Addis Ababa is no small feat. It means navigating dirt roads, sidewalks and streets among hoards of people, cars and livestock. I have never experienced anything like it! Anytime we started getting a little antsy about the current gridlock, Solomon would always assure us "No worries!" By the end of the week, our theme song for the van became "Don't worry, be happy!"
After one of our trips the locals had been calling us "ferange" or foreigners. Solomon loved pulling up next to Sami's van with the rest of our team and having us yell "ferange" out the window at them. This became great sport for us and definitely took our minds off of the darkness that often surrounded us.
Before the week ended, I had given Solomon my amharic phrasebook ordered from amazon that was definitely more American than Ethiopian and he made sure I bought an amharic phrasebook from one of the street vendors at the market. Sweet Shannon, our youngest team member outside of Libbie, asked Solomon if he had an American bible and he didn't. She directly handed hers over. Our encounter with our christian brother was amazing for those 9 days and we are forever blessed by our time in the van with Solomon.
I am haunted by many of the images we saw in the van. The young girl with the baby on her back, begging at our window. The boys grabbing granola bars from our van window at the museum before being run off by the guards. The countless people huddled and living on the streets. These images are burned in my memories forever. I will take the good and the bad. God has carefully woven my encounters and as my heart was breaking it was also being uplifted by the friendship of a fellow Christian who drove our van. Blessed by all of it.