these past two weeks have been extremely meaningful and memorable to say the least. being able to surprise my family at the airport in addis was unforgettable—their expressions were priceless and mom definitely squealed (which i of course predicted would be the case ☺ ). despite their traveling setbacks (they had to spend a night in amsterdam on their way here because their flight was cancelled due to the winter storms; and their luggage didn’t arrive in ethiopia until we were leaving for kenya) we couldn’t help but focus on the biggest blessing of them all—the fact that all 5 of us were finally reunited!
we spent the first night together at marta and deme’s beautiful home and stayed up way too late chatting and catching up. the next morning we left addis rather early in order to make it to church in time at project mercy. i was so grateful that my family was able to worship with the amazing ethiopians that i have grown to love, and on this Sunday, we all truly shared in how BIG our God is —praise Jesus for that. some of my most favorite memories with my family took place while we were all together at project mercy:
- introducing my family to the house kiddos and all the other amazing workers here
- having the fam come to all my classes with me (and mom taking oodles of pictures in the process!)and love on all my students
- jack, sam and i singing christmas songs to a couple of my classes—wow was that amusing ☺
- going on a short hike up the mountains to the orthodox church with zondra and matt with gezahegn and adane leading us
- playing basketball and soccer together with the kiddos
- sharing some of my tshirts with dad, jack and sam and some of my other clothes with mom since their luggage didn’t arrive until we were leaving for kenya haha
i loved having my family come to all of my classes. my students had been looking forward to meeting them for weeks and seeing their precious faces light up when my family entered the classroom was definitely something special! i went in to each class with the mindset that i was going to be doing a little reviewing and then teaching them some new content, but with 4 new distractions in the room, that didn’t exactly happen ☺ instead, i just let my family enjoy their brief time with the kiddos, take lots of pictures, and sing silly songs—all of which were equally gratifying. it was great witnessing mom, dad, jack and sam loving on the kids and i love that they can now picture a little bit of what teaching is like for me on a day to day basis.
we headed back to addis after breakfast on tuesday (dec 21) in order to make it for our afternoon flight to nairobi. again, many of my students kept coming up to me and say, “teacher elizabeth no go kenya”, definitely making it hard to say goodbye to them. a few hours later we arrived at the airport, checked our luggage, and waited at our gate, only to find out that we were being bumped from our flight. the airlines had downsized the plane earlier that morning and were only accepting transit passengers, meaning that we were not going to get to leave for nairobi for another twenty-four hours, and meaning that we were going to miss one day of our safari. obviously this wasn’t exactly what you would call ideal, but as always, God has a purpose for each and every situation and wanted to remind us all of the need to exhibit a patient and trusting spirit, knowing that we are not the ones in control. despite another traveling setback for my family, something extremely positive resulted from the situation, as i was able to introduce my family to the incredible Godly man who drives me around addis when i’m in the city. haile has always stood out to me as a warm, gentle man of faith and i was extremely grateful that my family had the privilege of having dinner with him. as we were enjoying some good ol’ pizza, haile shared a story about what it means to pray for something without ceasing. for years, he, his wife and two children had lived in an apartment that did not have a shower, and every sunday he used a few buckets outside to bathe himself before church. this went on and on, so they began to earnestly pray that the Lord would provide them with a shower. they prayed and prayed that God would honor their request, and 8 years later he did. for 8 years this family prayed for a shower, trusting in His timing. i was totally taken aback by this, realizing that i have a long way to go in regards to praying for something so fervently. not only was i challenged by the faith of this family, but i was encouraged by the trust and patience that they displayed. it would have been really easy to just forget about it and think that God wasn’t going to answer their prayers after a few weeks or months, but that wasn’t the case—they continued to trust, continued to pray, and God did in fact answer. it’s during times like these that God helps me put things in perspective, knowing that being bumped from our flight earlier that day was in fact a part of God’s plan. as my younger brother sam put it, “maybe God didn’t want us on that flight so that we could spend this time with haile and be encouraged by his story”—and i like to think that he was exactly right.
a day later we arrived in nairobi (yay for being south of the equator for the first time!) and it took no time for me to notice how much more advanced this city was than addis. with 5 million people living in the city, prosperity and economic development oozed from its center, and the english speaking abilities of the kenyans were far greater than the ethiopians (largely due to the fact that they were colonized by the british for years). thanks to one of those magazines on the airplane, my mom found a restaurant that is widely accredited in the city that we of course had to try out. the name of the restaurant is carnivore, so you can only imagine the main type of food that is served there. super fun atmosphere, excellent staff, and delicious food—what more can you want? so here’s how the whole dining experience went down: they put a little flag at your table and explain that as long as the flag is up, the waiters will continue to bring you meat. once you take the flag down, essentially you are surrendering—fun concept right? so the meat started out rather mild, your typical chicken, beef, lamb, and then things got a little more interesting as they came around with chicken gizzard, ostrich steak, ostrich meatballs, crocodile, and ox balls. if you’re wondering, we all tried all the meat set before us (mainly so we can now say that we’ve eaten strange food like crocodile and ox balls), with some tasting much better than others ha.
the next morning we headed to a smaller airport to depart for our safari adventure! we took a twelve passenger plane to the amboseli national park, about an hour flight southeast of nairobi. our guide from our camp, philip, picked us up at the airport in one of those sweet safari land cruisers, exactly how i pictured it—no windows, no roof, just the fresh air and sunshine beaming through! we made our way to our camp, taking in all the wild animals that were roaming about. this particular park is known for the large amount of elephants that inhabit the area, and oh my goodness what an incredible thing it was to see so many wild elephants for the first time! later that afternoon we had philip take us to see a masaai village, one of the more common tribal people of kenya. to put it nicely, it was an interesting and educational experience and one that we did not feel necessary to repeat. we arrived at our “resort” around dinner time and were extremely impressed by our accommodations and the friendly staff. around 6 the next morning we awoke and unzipped our tent (hardly what you would think of as a tent when you look inside these beautiful lodgings) to see mt. kilimanjaro (the tallest mountain in africa that actually resides in tanzania)—a breathtaking view to say the least. we had a quick breakfast and then were off to the landing strip (yes, a dirt landing strip) to fly to our next national park—samburu.
a bit north of nairobi, samburu turned out to be the hottest out of the 3 parks we visited. again, we were warmly welcomed by a staff member from the place we were staying and made our way to our camp in yet another awesome safari land cruiser. it didn’t take long to notice how drastically different the terrain was at this park compared to amboseli—very dry, rocky, and dusty. we arrived at our place, the elephant bedroom camp, appropriately named this due to the fact that elephants do in fact roam the camp and come up to your bedrooms. because wild elephants and baboons freely move about the camp, we always had to be escorted by a guard whenever we wanted to go somewhere. we had some time to relax a bit before lunch (at this camp, we got to select our meals from the cute chalkboard menu display each day) and then headed out on our game drive. it quickly became obvious that this park had quite the variety of animals—giraffes, antelope, birds, elephants, lions, baboons, zebra—all to which we were very excited to see. on christmas morning (after our 6:30am game drive...definitely the earliest i’ve gotten up for christmas in a looong time haha) mom and dad came into our room singing christmas carols and bringing each of us a decorative gift bag. as instructed, we opened the bags at the same time to find a little stocking ornament that contained a piece of paper. we each opened our paper and jack read aloud its contents, saying that all 5 of us were going to be going on a hot air balloon ride in 2 days! talk about an amazing christmas gift!!! we were totally surprised and beyond excited for the opportunity ahead of us. we enjoyed a delicious christmas brunch, full of fresh fruit, juices, eggs, and cereal (you can only imagine how excited i was to delve into my cereal and cold milk! ha) and then went about relaxing for much of the afternoon. our places had mini pools so we even sunbathed and cooled off in the water which was a new christmas experience for all of us! after dinner that evening, we were greeted by santa claus (yes, i got to see santa while in kenya ha) and then we proceeded to gather by the campfire and enjoy christmas carols sung by a kenyan church choir—definitely a memorable christmas!
we finished our safari adventures at the masa mara national park, southwest of nairobi. with many more animals left to see, we were eager for the game drives that awaited us. masa mara is known for their wide array of animals and the variety and large masses that we saw reinforced that! allow me to name a few of the new animals we saw: cheetah, cape buffalo, oryx, dic dic, hippo, leopard, rhino, male lion (with huge mane!), and hyena! each were incredibly amazing to see, especially the cheetah devouring a gazelle and the male lion walking right by our jeep! it’s evident that God’s artistic hands embody these animals and the landscape they find themselves in, and what a joy it was to share in that for 6 days.
we awoke early monday (dec 27)morning at 4am to head to the site of our balloon takeoff. when we arrived an hour later and found out that there would be sixteen of us in the basket, you can imagine how enormous the balloon turned out to be! it was an amazing sight watching the balloon inflate and before we knew it, we were jumping into the basket and soaring above the tree line with great ease and comfort. we were able to be in the balloon for an entire hour, soaking in all the animals roaming below and watching the sun rise above the horizon. it was extremely serene and peaceful and one of the most amazing experiences of my life. for a while there, i felt like dorothy from the wizard of oz haha ☺ when we were told it was almost time to land, we sat down in the basket and proceeded to be dragged a bit on the ground until the basket tipped over. it was definitely an amusing moment and then we crawled out of the basket and hung out in the bush until a vehicle picked us up to take us to breakfast. breakfast in the bush was amazing—long tables, beautiful linens, and a delicious spread of food. you could say that it was an international breakfast, as people from dubai, greece, france, and america lined the tables. a little while later we made our way back to our camp to rest for a few hours before going on our afternoon game drive. this third and final place we stayed was called the royal mara and the interior of our rooms exuded with beautifully detailed wood carvings, definitely giving the place a lodge-like feel. along the camp was a river, meaning that tons of hippos were always close by. as a result, we again had to be escorted anytime we went from one building to the next and it was super cool getting to see and hear hippos very frequently (they sound a lot like a lawn mower in case you were wondering haha).
all in all, the time i was able to share with my family both in ethiopia and kenya was far greater than i could have asked or imagined. just the simple fact that they were able to come see me here at project mercy gives them a whole new perspective on the lifestyle i am leading and the people i love, better enabling them to pray for me during the duration of my time here. this entire trip, especially our safari, would not have been possible without the generosity and giving spirit of my late grandma who i affectionately called manama. i can’t even begin to put into words the void i still feel without her here on this earth, but i am forever grateful that she loved our family deeply and wanted us to share in these memories together.
it was really difficult saying goodbye to dad, mom, jack and sam (yes, i’ll admit there were many tears on my part), knowing that it will be another 5 months until we are together again. i wouldn’t trade these past 2 weeks for anything and am ever so grateful that they came half way across the world to spend time, encourage, and better know how to pray for me. God’s goodness never ceases to amaze me!
i pray that each one of you were able to celebrate God’s faithfulness this holiday season and that He blessed you with a very merry christmas and a happy new year! ☺