Sunday, March 28, 2010

Tesfaye's Family Reunion Part II - Village Celebration, Gonder, Addis goodbye

As mentioned in some earlier posts, after my first two days in Addis exploring Tesfaye's prior life in the Mercato and spending time with Dr. Rick Hodes at the Mother Theresa Mission and at his home (see Part I post, I had an incredible visit with Tesfaye to his village up North in the Gojaam area for three days, followed by another wonderful day and night in Gondar with Tesfaye, his first time there. In Gondar I had the chance to see the Spread the Love Project addition to the first school launched by Justin, where I was greeted by smiling young faces who made a special appearance at the school even though it was a holiday. I then had three days with Rick and Tesfaye back in Addis before saying my goodbyes.  There has been a lot to try and describe, but for nowI am caught up to the end of our third day at the village (with a few more pictures to add).  I recommend that you take the time to view the video links below, especially both the video of the initial reunion with Tesfaye's mother in town and the video of the reunion with his sister and brother at the village, and any other video links if you have the time.  All together the videos give an interesting look into their village way of life and the celebrations that took place in the village over the three days; the video clips of the Agew tribe chanting and shoulder dancing spontaneously performed in joy over Tesfaye's "rebirth" are quite fascinating, and the Sunday morning Village Church visit video will give you an idea of the affectionate reception Tesfaye experienced from family and friends for 3 days. 

Early in the morning Tesfaye and I caught a flight up to Bahir Dar, about an hour flight north of Addis. Bahir Dar is on Lake Tana, one of the sources of the Blue Nile. We were met there by a driver, Mideo, with a Land Cruiser and another man, Bewoket, who would be able to operate my video camera for a couple of days so that I could focus on the experience without distraction; turns out that was a smart suggestion by Rick.  After a four hour drive, the last bit over unpaved bumpy roads, we finally arrived at Gimjabet, the nearest town to Tesfaye's village of Jomaray Mara.  

Town Reunion - In short order, events began to unfold signalling the beginning of three days of celebrating Tesfaye's return as a man "reborn"I would like to share a video  about the first reunion that Tesfaye had with his mother Yeshi, who made the one and a half hour walk to Gimjabet from their village of Jomaray Mara, as she will often do on Saturday, Market Day ( click following link to see video  Tesfaye's first reunion with his mother and aunt up north). As it is a busy market day we had to make our way through a throng of people towards Meheret's shop  to find his mother. All of a sudden, along the way two women saw Tesfaye and started embracing and kissing him; I was a little slow realizing it for some reason, but it was his mother and an aunt reacting with great joy and amazement and full of gratitude for the miracle from God. This video only covers those initial reunion moments in town. 

Next: the Village Reunion - Before making the hour and a half journey from the town to the village to meet up with  more of his family, we spent an hour or so at this Uncle's house in town where we were served some injerra and celebrated with some gin and home made beer. 

We then drove as far as we could in the land cruiser for about an hour from town over very uneven terrain, at one point needing to get out of the car to try to fill in a bad section of ground with rocks so that we could bridge the gap. After arriving at the lake in the vicinity of the village we took in the lake view and then walked into the grounds of the nearby church where Tesfaye went until around the age of 5; Tesfaye  took a moment to show his respects and make a prayer. Continuing on foot for about 20 minutes on our way to Tesfaye's older brother's house in the village we ran into a group that included the village "Chairman", who took a few minutes to talk about Tesfaye.(click following link to see short Video of The Terrain,Lake and Church) 

Finally, from a distance we could see Tesfaye's brother's house, the one that his brother was able to build as a result of Tesfaye giving him a third of his hard earned savings from the Mercato days, pushing a wheelbarrow and earning one to two dollars a day.
As we approached nearer to his house, I witnessed a very sweet and touching reunion that Tesfaye shared with his very pretty younger sister Fantai, followed by the joyful reunion with his older brother Semenye and some little nieces, nephews of cousins.(click following link to see Video of Tesfaye's Village Reunion with his sister and brother  )  This was followed by a very warm welcome at his brother's mud and twig constructed hut. For the next while we sat around, ate more injerra and drank home
made whiskey (very strong), and as you will see in the Welcome Home video link below, at one point Tesfaye's mother Yeshi spontaneously out of joy began Agew style shoulder dancing and his sister Fantai joined in.  This would be a small taste of what was to come the following afternoon.  I also took the time to wander around the surrounding land and learn a bit about what kind of agricultural products they produce, primarily being maize and some honey. While outside I also asked his brother and mother questions going back to when Tesfaye was 8 years old and inflicted with the TB that crippled his back, as well as asking his brother what he
remembered about their days together in the Mercato in Addis. Still in reminiscing mode, we looked at some old photographs that they had, including a picture of Tesfaye's father, who died when Tesfaye was 9 years old. We then sat around some more and they gave me some of the unpasterurized honey that Tesfaye's brother Semenye produces; quite different to the kind of honey I have at home, but still very tasty. 
(Click on the following link to see Video of The Warm Welcome Home, dancing and honey)

Back to town for the nightIt was getting late so we were escorted by a large entourage back to our SUV and then drove back to town (we all decided that for the next two days instead of driving over rough terrain for an hour we would take the other option and drive out of town for only 15 minutes and then make an hour and fifteen minute walk a different route that the villagers take). Back in town we "checked in" to the
finest one star hotel in town, which costs $1.20 a night. It was a basic room with a bed and acutally fairly clean looking to the eye but wih a smell of dust in the air. There was a communal non-flushing squat style toilet, and a communal shower stall that did not work the 3 days that I was there, leaving me rather grungy at the end with all the dust and sweat to contend with; in a weird sort of way I kind of enjoyed the feeling,
as it brought me back to my extensive days of travel through East Africa and Asia in my early twenties. Being a little hungry I ate a snickers bar that I had bought in Bahir Dar and a little later as we sat around outside I had some sphagetti with a sauce that was too spicy for me. Exhausted, I then went to sleep around 10 o'clock. Tesfaye's younger brother Aserati shared Tesfaye's bed with him; he was not feeling well, as apparently he had a touch of malaria, so Tesfaye wanted him to stay with him and also tried to find medicine for him.

SUNDAY FEBRUARY 28TH, 2010 - Meheret's Shop, Village Church gathering and then afternnoon Celebration  time
 4:30 AM Sunday morning wake up: I woke up in my dusty room in town to the sound of the Muslim
call to morning prayers and a cramp in my calf muscle caused presumably by dehydration. I put on my dirt
crusted pants and  rather than shave with cold water I decided not to shave today, and there was no water for a shower. Nobody else was up yet, so I first stood around outside in the early morning darkness, absorbed  by the faint hypnotic calls eminating from the Minarets in the distance. As the early morning light emerged I wandered out to the unpaved street to take pictures of the morning streetscape.(click following link to see Video of the Sunday Morning streetscape and Visit to Meheret's Shop)  Eventually the rest of my party woke up, and before making the short drive out of town to the starting point for the 1.25 hour walk to the village we went to visit Meheret's kiosk.
Even though all the stores are closed on Sunday, Meheret was happy to show me his shop;   I was very curious to finally see Meheret's store, as Tesfaye and I would spend hours trying to reach him on his mobile phone so that he could get word to Tesfaye's mother to come to town at a prearranged time to speak to Tesfaye ( I believe we were only successful in coordinating this twice when Tesfaye was in Vancouver). Even though it was Sunday morning and shops closed, we did manage to attract a small crowd of (mostly young) curious onlookers.

Around 8:30 AM Sunday morning we started our 1.25 hour walk across the countryside to the village, planning to first stop at the main village Church where most people would be gathering for Sunday prayers.  It was a good thing that we had Meheret making the walk with us, as without someone very familiar with the way we would have had great difficulty getting there, as it is not a defined walking path, you simply make your way across fields and streams. The landscape was quite beautiful, fairly rocky yet green. I took some pictures of the scenery and some of the people we encountered along the way, and then around 9:45 we approached the Church that was located in a wooded area.

The Church experience: As the villagers and Ethiopians in general are very religious, this was an   opportunity for many of the villagers to see Tesfaye for the first time. It was quite a sight, another welcome fit for Royalty, as countless men and women dressed up in their Sunday whites embraced and kissed him endlessly, both on our arrival and departure, to the point where Tesfaye felt his cheeks were rather numb. We took a seat amongst the men on the logs and exchanged greetings, and at one point some of the women started passing around the injerra bread to eveeryone (the women take turns making and bringing it on Sunday mornings). A little while later some of the elders addressed the crowd; one of them talked about Tesfaye and thanked God for the amazing transformation he has had, and said that everyone should give to the Church in gratitude for the miracle(click on following Video link to see Tesfaye's warm welcome at our SUNDAY VILLAGE CHURCH EXPERIENCE ). Tesfaye's older brother kicked off the donations with some more comments thanking God for Tesfaye's "rebirth", and Tesfaye and I followed both followed suit in speaking to the congregation and putting donations into the basket.(Later on at Tesfaye's brother's house we found out that the most donations ever made to the Church were made that morning)  We soon said our goodbyes with waves of people coming forth to embrace Tesfaye, and walked to his older brother's house.

(At church, picture of women distributing injerra bread and women anxious to embrace Tesfaye )

After our wonderful Church experience we walked back to Tesfaye's brother Semenye's house where we spent most of the afternoon. Throughout the afternoon different villagers - family and friends - dropped in to visit and celebrate. They served injerra bread with shiro wat, a vegetarian stew dish. They felt bad that they could not cook me up a "prize" dish such as sheep or chicken, but it is fasting season (orthodox church) which goes on for 40 days ending in Easter, during which time they do not eat dairy or meat.

I took the time to take a bunch of pictures of family, and I also interviewed on video Tesfaye's mother to capture her memories of what it was like for Tesfaye in the village from the age of 8 to 12 (until he left with his brother to the capital Addis Ababa to seek help) suffering from his TB and back affliction, and interviewed his brother to get his memories about Tesfaye's situation in the village and in the first couple of years in the Mercato. [I remember one story about the bus trip to Addis that Tesfaye took with Semenye: At the time Tesfaye was in great pain from his back and the TB and barely able to walk, to the point he had to be carried on the 1 1/2 hour walk from the village to the town of Gimjabet to catch the bus; on the bus ride Tesfaye was quite ill and the people on the bus told Semenye that he should just forget about Tesfaye and throw him in the river, as he is not going to live.] We also took a walk to see the area in the village where Tesfaye grew up, and looked at some photographs they had of Tesfaye's father, who died when Tesfaye was 9 years old.

Back at Semenye's home, more visitors arrived amidst cries of joy and bringing homemade whiskey and bottled gin. Soon I witnessed a most unique and fascinating sight - an incredible group display of Agew singing and dancing broke out in the joy of the moment. and went on for a very long time. In the end Tesfaye and I were pulled into the circle to participate. I found the unusual way in which they are able to rhythmically move their shoulders to be quite difficult to duplicate but I tried my best, much to their amusement. (Click on the following link to see a video of the AGEW SONG AND DANCE CELEBRATION)The men do it in a much more forceful manner than the women, and I am sure that if could do it like them I would immediately need a chiropractic adjustment for parts of my back and neck that would be out of joint.

Sitting around, even though I do not know more than a few words of Agew, I had a great time interacting with Tesfaye's younger aunt Sowuneut, who was also laughing and joking around with me. Tesfaye and I also brought up with his mother Yeshi her desire to marry off Tesfae's 12 year old sister Fantai. Tesfaye had called me a few weeks earlier to voice his concern about this and the fact that she is too young to be married and has to finish her schooling.  The stated reason is that Yeshi wants to see Fantai have a wedding ceremony before she dies (she is 46), and she said she could take her back after a couple of weeks and she could continue going to school. Anyway, it seems like Yeshi will abandon the idea of marrying off Fantai for now.

As the afternoon wound down they all stood up but insisted that Tesfaye and I remain seated, as they conducted some kind of special prayer for us. We then made the long walk back to our pickup point on the road, escorted by a bunch of the family and curious young followers picked up along the way, and I had a bag of candies with me that I distributed to all the youth. Back in town sitting outside at the hotel I showed some pictures and videos of Tesfaye's stay in Vancouver that were on my computer to a few interested members of our party. I was dying for a shower to rinse off all of the dust from the village and the town, but even if I was game for a cold water shower in the cool of the night, there was no water flow anyway.

I woke up early again, before dawn, and had another Snickers chocolate bar for breakfast. As my beard was getting itchy I decided to "bite the bullet" and shave today with cold drinking water. For the last time we then made the trek out to the village, this time in the direction of Tesfaye's younger aunt, my favourite of the Aunts, Sowuneut's house. As I walked and took in the rather beautiful landscape I reflected on the rather simple and difficult life the villagers live in terms of the obvious lack of luxury or even basic amenities, yet how happy the people seem to be. I don't think that electiricity will make it to village anytime soon, and they are not using internet or mobile phones out there either (mind you, mobile phones in the last year are gaining use in the town and making life easier for the towns people and business people in many ways). It makes you realize how complicated our own lives in the Western world have become, and how perhaps simplifiying some of the clutter in our lives even a little could yield a bit more happiness.

Anyway, it was a little closer walk to the Aunt's house, and as we sat around we were served injerra with potatoes and sauce, and coffee with the full Ethiopian style preparation. Unfortunately, Sowuneut's husband suffers from paralysis in his left hand and partial paralysis in his left leg, from a fall he experienced from an unknown cause (perhaps a stroke); Tesfaye and I were not quite sure what we could do, but we would discuss it with Dr. Rick when we get back to Addis.  Tesfaye's mother and stepfather and older brother Semenye were at the Aunt's home, and also two of the Aunt's daughter's. The little one was very cute, and the bigger one was sweet and always wanted her photo taken. After a while I went to visit the village school, which was fairly large with a number of decent size buildings, to see Tesfaye's sister and two youngest brothers. We got a warm greeting from each of their classes, and then Fantai had a break so she joined us on our way back to Sowuneut's house. Upon arrival we had another toast with a shot of gin, and took more pictures when Sowuneut's 17 year old son arrived with his bicycyle.

And then it was time for us to be on our way back to town to make the four hour ride back to the city of Bahir Dar. We all did some more joking around and then, after three most memorable days in the village, said some words of farewell and exchanged warm embraces. However, most of them accompanied us on the long walk back to the road for our 2:30 pm pick up by the Land Cruiser, and so it was then and there that we said our last goodbyes to Tesfaye's family. As our truck pulled away and my view of the family slowly faded into the distance, I was very sad that my village family reunion visit had come to an end but so grateful that I had the opportunity to enjoy this once in a lifetime experience. Tesfaye and I had often talked about me joining him in Ethiopia for the first reunion but, as he told me after the visit, he and his family never really thought that I would come (no Westerners had been to the village before me), and I didn't know when I could realistically fit it in. I am so glad that I followed through on the plan, as it was incredibly rewarding to witness the family's and entire village's reaction to seeing Tesfaye for the first time post-surgery standing upright and to participate in the three days of celebrating Tesfaye's "rebirth". The family and all the villagers were so warm and friendly and nice to be around. I wonder, when will I see them again?

Gary in his malaria net in Bahir Dar

(Coming soon: A night in Bahir Dar, 24 hours in Gondar visiting Spread the Love Project school expansion, friend Workie,JDC clinic and Fassil castle, and my last three days in Addis with Rick and Tesfaye)

(See Part I post below for details and videos about our first couple of days in Addis exploring Tesfaye's prior life in the Mercato and spending time with Dr. Rick Hodes at the Mother Theresa Mission and at his home)

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