I had the privilege of spending a few days in Soddo with our Children’s Cross Connection in Ethiopia (CCCE) partners on my trip to Ethiopia. One of those days I spent with the social workers, Sister Amarech and Ato Eyasu, so I could become acquainted with exactly what they do on a daily basis. They picked me up from where I was staying in the morning and we set off to see what we could do about getting a zonal document for a little boy I’ll just call ‘B’ who is now in the orphanage, but used to live in a nearby village.
We spent about an hour on bumpy dirt roads before we arrived in the village where B’s father lived. As soon as we arrived, I noticed that the atmosphere was much different than in Addis. I don’t think we saw another vehicle in that town and certainly no other white faces. The children were very curious to see the car and get a closer look at the ‘forenge’, me. As we drove, most of the kids either yelled ‘forenge’ or ‘money’. When we stopped, they really just wanted to see. Stephne had warned me not to go handing out Birr.
Our driver asked around and found that B’s father had been staying at his brother’s house since his wife passed away and he was sick. The fact that Ethiopia is typically a much more oral society than written one is evidenced by the fact that I only saw two street signs in Ethiopia and those were in downtown Addis. I was amazed that the social workers could find anything. We drove up to B’s uncle’s house and asked for the father. He came out and Sister Amarech explained what we were there for. She asked him if he would be willing to accompany us to the zonal court and see if we could get the last needed document for Federal court. He agreed, but wanted to change clothes first.
As a side note, Ethiopian hospitality is remarkable. B’s aunt quickly brought out stools and chairs for all of us to have a seat and offered to make us coffee, but we weren’t going to be there that long.
When the father was ready we piled into the car and headed back out into town. We stopped on the way because B’s father wanted to show me where B’s mother was buried. Once we got back into the village, our next task was to locate three witnesses who would be willing to verify in court the background of this family. Sister Amarech explained that this was no small request because we are asking people to give up a day where they are trying to provide for their own families to come and support another family. Due to the circumstances, the father’s illness and mother’s death, those in the community were compassionate and we only spent about half an hour locating the witnesses. Then, of course, the witnesses wanted to change clothes as they might be appearing in court later.
Once everyone was ready, all eight of us piled into a Land Cruiser and drove about 30 minutes to the town where the zonal court was located. When we got to the court, we found that they were closed for lunch. Lunch in Ethiopia is from 12-2pm. We stopped to eat a lunch that Stephne graciously prepared for us. However, apparently a meal is not a meal unless injera is involved so we also shared some tibs and injera.
When the court opened up again, I went with the social workers and B’s father to speak with the judge in his office. I was told that we were fortunate to see a compassionate judge that day and he agreed to hear the case later in the afternoon. We first needed to submit a formal request though. Sister Amarech came prepared with a pen and paper and we all sat on the benches as she wrote out the formal request letter in Amharic.
We sat for a while longer and eventually were called in for the hearing. Even though the building appeared to be crumbling, the hearing was very formal. The judge wore a black robe and sat at a desk with a bright red table cloth. There was a man who assisted the judge and instructed everyone on where they were to stand or sit and when to stand and sit. He was an older man, but I wouldn’t want to cross him. B’s father and the three witnesses were all asked to place their hands on a Bible and make an oath before giving their testimony. Then they came in one at a time and sat in a chair a few feet in front of the judge while he interviewed them and took notes.
After we were dismissed we were invited to have coffee in a room next to the waiting area. The coffee was strong, but appreciated especially after attempting to understand what is happening without knowing the language and eating two lunches. The judge’s assistant came to let us know that we would receive the document, but we needed to submit another formal request letter first. Sister Amarech again wrote out the letter and submitted it to the court. Eventually we did receive the letter and all piled into the car again. We dropped everyone off at their homes and thanked them. One of the witnesses insisted that we stay and eat sweet potatoes, so we sat under a tree, peeled and ate some sweet potatoes before heading back to Soddo…incredibly humbling. Finally, at 6pm we arrived back at the orphanage having obtained one document for one child. It was a good day!
I was amazed that the Ethiopians would so generously give, not out of wealth, but out of poverty. And they gave to me, one who is beyond wealthy by their standards. I also gained such an appreciation for the work that is done on the front lines at the orphanages. Not only are they caring for the children and carrying them through malnutrition and sometimes sickness, but they are also fighting for these kids by spending endless hours traveling and pleading their case before officials. Please continue to pray for the staff that work tirelessly to care for these children whose alternatives are unthinkable.