Unpacking

While, for the most part, this is a blog about Shamida and all its happenings and shenanigans – this particularly post is about me unpacking the events of the last few weeks and how as a westerner living in an African culture deals with the surreal reality of tragedy.

I had been out of the country for a few weeks and for me this is not as much fun as it sounds. I miss Ethiopia when I am away. Don’t get me wrong, the break from the craziness is also great, but the reality is that I find life outside of Ethiopia a little overwhelming now.

Perhaps, “overwhelming” isn’t the correct word.

Maybe I need to say: “I don’t have patience for people’s ‘first world problems’ anymore.”

I digress, back to my unpacking…

After returning to Addis Ababa I was greeted with some sad news – one of our previous nannies was, from what I can understand, cooking dinner for her husband and the kitchen caught on fire.

She has been severely burnt; suffering third degree burns to her head, her chest and her arms, and no one can tell me of her prognosis. It seems doubtful. So as I fell asleep that night I questioned why these things happen to people at all, let alone people who have so little.

While pondering this over a cup of tea the following morning, more tragic news arrived: There had been a landslide at the local garbage dump. The garbage dump where people live, where people earn their living and where people who have so little migrate.

Again. WHY? Is it not enough that these fine people live on a garbage dump?

Apparently not.

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It was all a bit much. Sleep that night was as scarce as the night before. So, instead of tossing and turning, I dutifully threw myself headlong at our clothes cupboards, much to Ruby’s initial concern.

But, let’s face it, I only wear a few outfits so I had a bunch of stuff that I really didn’t need, and my daughter doesn’t need as much as she has either. Particularly when we knew that those people at the dump who already had so little had lost everything, including many many lives.

So the next morning when the rest of the country woke up (while I was on about my 10th cuppa tea) I went into overdrive – what can I do, what can we do as an organization, what can I ask those around me to do?

The answer at that point was very little. It was so frustrating, I needed to do something, I needed to help in some way. So I spent the next few days, with a volunteer who was visiting, Tina, collecting clothes, shoes, money, whatever people were willing to provide.

An organization that is based over near the garbage dump area said “Yes” when we asked if we could help in any way. So, over the following week… we helped.

Not just with the aid that we had collected, we helped with manpower to cook meals for 400 people. During all this I realized that in helping those destitute people, I was actually helping me.

Sounds selfish, doesn’t it?

Maybe it is. But it’s a good kind of selfish – the kind that allows for others to benefit. The kind that makes me feel that however lucky I am, I am luckier still that I have the ability to assist others.

So yes, I benefitted – but there is no crime in nourishing the soul, is there?

Meanwhile, we were still running Shamida, caring for babies, and disabled kids and toddlers. Beds needed to be replaced or repaired, as did a couple of windows. Along with working out what an epilepsy diagnosis meant for one of our permanent residents Alazar.

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I think that’s it for “unpacking” the events of the last few weeks.

BUT, I want to remind people that there is still suffering and need in the garbage dump area.

So, before we get back to our daily lives, before we go get annoyed because they got our coffee order wrong or that coke isn’t as cold as we wanted, we need to keep these survivors in our minds and hearts.

While many will forget about this and probably already have, there are families that will never forget. Never forget the night that evil turned up on their door step and took the lives of loved ones, stole neighbors and friends. Lives have been changed forever and yet, we continue with ours.

This all reminds me of the time my father died, suddenly. 3 hours from alive-and-healthy to dead. The reality takes a month or more to set in, and when it does everyone has said their “sorry’s” and have moved on… so I am trying not to move on so fast for these survivors. To think of them when I am tempted to ask about a cold coke or a hot cuppa tea or why there is no power…

This one Westerner chooses to remember, chooses to move on but slowly and remember that if it is still surreal for me, how much more surreal is it for those who now have a dead loved one.

Life is hard. Life can truly suck. AND life is a blessing!

More tea is needed for me to move on, and there will be a little place in my heart that will always break for the horrific tragedy I have seen with my eyes and heard with my ears.

If you want to help you can you can donate here and every penny goes direct to those that need it… http://mydonate.bt.com/events/korahrelief/430567

My new normal is not that normal!

So it’s paper work day…a long day coming. The plan is always there but these days something seems to crop up like, babies to doctors, babies to hospital, out to Desta Menda (the rehabilitation arm of the Fistula Hospital) to hire new nannies, broken windows to fix, Christian Christmas, Western New Year, Ethiopian Christmas, visitors from overseas or basically anything that means I can get out of doing the dreaded paperwork. But here it finally is, and while I am still looking for excuses all I can think to do it write another blog post. Last week, the day before Gena (Ethiopian Christmas) is always fin, there is a feeling of excitement in the air and the dreaded trip to the markets for me to buy some chickens for various people including the guards here in the compound Shamida is located. I was reminded of how comical my life can be when I was visiting another orphanage (Care for Children) and took some ingredients to make the local doro wat for Gena. It’s never a straightforward thing when beginning a conversation. I just wanted to hand over some chickens, but first we had to say hello:

Me: Salam new Jerry? (Hi Jerry)

Jerry: Selam new, danaesh? (Hi, how are you?)

Me: Egsabir Meskin? (Thanks be to God)

And so on and so on as the greeting goes, then the next part that was overheard by a western lady visiting:

Me: Jerry I brought you dead chickens as I didn’t want to buy live ones and have it to be a huge pain to kill and clean for your cooks.

Jerry: They will appreciate that Karen.

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So, in the background I hear this lady laughing, and then I realized how crazy this everyday chatter is and yet how normal it seems to me now.

My new normal is dead and live chickens, helping nurses look for veins in babies and children (I’ve learnt that nice and straight are easiest), checking the oxygen levels of babies and praying it is over 90, painting cubby houses, visiting embassies to apply for grants, Amharic lessons and driving in loads of traffic and through crazy streets watching for donkeys, horses, cows, people or trucks coming towards me AND always making time for a few coffee stops along the way. Plus the copious cups of tea when I am home at night.

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My new normal is my new way of life. Shamida is my way of life.

I look at things to buy and always compare that to how many cans of formula or visits to doctors or prescriptions of Augmentin that could buy for a sickly child. My new normal is how can I help that young boy out the front of that coffee shop who is washing cars and not in school.

My new normal is not that normal and I wouldn’t change it for anything in the world.

Now, back to sorting some receipts for the auditor…and another cuppa tea!

 

 

Gratitude, Diet Pepsi and Tea!

It’s Saturday morning and it’s freezing here. I’ve put the kettle on, but have grabbed a diet pepsi from the fridge. I have a throat that feels like there are razor blades inside and the thought of a cold diet pepsi is much more appealing that a hot tea… for now. Ruby climbed into bed with me at 5am and as she fell asleep, I slipped out of bed to steal a few hours of alone time. And now, as the power clicks on an off, I am sitting here rugged up in a blanket trying to keep my hands warm. Apart from the lack of tea, it seems like as good a time as any to write a new blog post.

Thinking about all that has happened with Shamida over the past few years is kind of easy to get my head around. I get to see it every day in the faces of the everyday people at Shamida — grownups and tiddly folk, and everyone in between. The daunting part is always “what’s gonna happen next?” However, next is next. Today is today. And tomorrow will do whatever it is going to do, and that’s okay because Shamida is always in preparation mode; always looking for the curve-balls before they arrive.

I’m not sure that I have made it clear in past posts exactly how astonished I am about the amazing and unrelenting support Shamida gets from all over the world. Seriously, the diversity of our supporters reads like the stamps in a 20 something backpacker’s dream passport. Middle East, USA, Australia, UK, Singapore, Canada, France, other bits of Europe, other bits of other places. Slowly but surely Shamida is being represented by the world. What is probably not clear is that with all that support, there is also the responsibility of gratitude – and it is a responsibility that I do not take lightly. But, it is also a responsibility that is one among many MANY other responsibilities here at the ponderosa. Primarily due to the conundrum that, although Shamida is very much a team effort on a global scale, when it comes down to the day to day, all the “stuff” usually comes down to me. Don’t get me wrong I have amazing help here too. Those smelly bums aren’t going to change themselves after all! And then there’s the feeding, and the cleaning, and the driving, and MOUNTAINS of paperwork.

But when it all comes down to it, there has to be a bus-captain, so when it comes to paying wages and funding and overall running of Shamida, it is an exclusive club. Of one. That one would be me. Thankfully I have friends here, great friends who also have their own families and work and dreams. I love that about my friends, we all seem to be together when we need to be, but respect our space. A good thing, and necessary.

That said, despite quite enjoying my alone time, it can still get a little lonely at times, particularly when fielding additional emails that suggest that I am not as grateful as I should be. Sometimes I guess I need people to understand that, as the pointy end of this whole production, most of the time I feel like I am doing okay, BUT there are times that I am not. So, there have been times when I miss a “thank you” or a deadline, and there are likely to be more. This is not because I am ungrateful, and certainly not because I am lounging around eating chocolates from a box. It’s usually because “something happened today”. Often those happenings are horrific, and involve driving for hours to pick up an abused young girl in order to find her the medical treatment she needs. There are times that my concern steers my engagement with the world toward issues of petrol for the car and wages for the staff.

There are times when I want to scream from the roof that I am doing the best I can. There are times I want to scream from the roof that I have done something amazing and want everyone to know. There are times that I want to scream from the roof that I am exhausted, and sleep is a 3 hour drive away. And sometimes I just want a cuppa! Preferably tea. This post is NOT to broadcast a poor Karen pity-party. Its purpose is one of explanation as to why sometimes I don’t respond to emails and calls in what some consider to be a timely manner. It’s not because I am ignoring them. It is because, here in Africa, in the face of everything that needs doing, the vulnerable HAVE to come first – it’s the whole point of us all being involved in Shamida, isn’t it?

In addition to the real work of Shamida, on any given day, I have 50 or more emails to answer. But, on any given day I could also be driving into the country to help that child that only has me. And what happens to the emails? Well those 50 emails then turn into 100 emails, and I have spend the day with babies in a hospital. So they turn into 150 emails, and I have to go and help a family to try to convince them that marrying-off their 12 year old daughter is actually not an ideal way to deal with their poverty. Before long, I have months of emails. Compounded by other emails demanding why I didn’t answer the emails. Some of which accuse me of being ungrateful – and as I look at everything that Shamida has done, it is those last emails that are the worst to get. BUT, I know that this will not always be the way. Thanks to all of the support from you amazing people, the Shamida dream is getting bigger. Part of that dream is to one day have more people here on the ground to share the weight. And I mean physically here in Addis, helping with all the things, including administration. The dream is that soon I won’t have to worry so much about finances, and only have to spend time on the things that need doing. Selfishly, I am also dreaming of the day when I can actually shut off for a day or two and not come back to more work and more emails.

Today, while I sit here finishing my diet pepsi and listening to the kettle boil for my beloved cuppa, I feel overwhelmed. But know this feeling will pass when I head next door to Shamida and see Bereket or Alazar or any of those babies and kids that smile. It will pass when I drive 3 hours to Ambo on Tuesday and 3 hours back just to make sure that they are all okay and have enough baby formula or money for food or warm clothes for this rainy season. It will pass when I see the room at Shamida FULL of aid that hasn’t yet been sorted through, and think how grateful I am that Shamida has people who feel so passionately that they sent the aid in the first place.

That’s the only good thing about feeling overwhelmed… it always passes. And now. The kettle’s boiled. IMG_1517

This was not an easy blog to write…

It has been a long time. I’ve been busy and could tell you of some great highs and great lows. And I could use all the excuses in the world, but honestly, I have just been ignoring my blog. I have not written because I just thought no one was out there, reading the blogs, but then over the last month I have had so many people ask me about the blog.

So, here I am. Waiting again for a letter from a department, and as I sit here trying to think of a subject it came to me…I’m going to talk about money.
Now some of you will be freaking out, and honestly, blogging about sex or politics seems easier and less offensive, but I’ve never been one to shy away from things at the risk of offending some.
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So here are some cold, hard facts of the projects we run here (yes, we don’t just take in orphaned and vulnerable children. We do more). Now when you see what money we have raised over two years you will think, wow that really doesn’t go far.
Apart from the 80 (small) cans of formula (monthly) which is mostly all you can buy here, the rent, the wages, the food, the doctors and hospital visits, the cleaning products (which today I spent USD100 on), we have projects.
We empower women through training, and provide start up materials for small businesses so they can financially help their families (by the way, these are households headed by single women). We sponsor children who are from the poorest of the poor families (it’s important to remember they live with their families still), and we pay for schooling, uniforms and materials for children who can’t afford to go to school.  We reunify street children when they present themselves to police stations and want to go home. Oh, and these are just a few things. On average we look after 400 women and children and this does not include the children in our homes.
So when you see how much I’ve raised from the most supportive and generous donors, and you see the beautiful homes we have created for those that live with us, please remember none of this comes for free. We use second-hand and local goods wherever we can. I personally have spent all my savings and have debts up to my eyeballs so I can help maybe one child.
And when I freak out and stress about paying wages or rent or buying formula and am wondering if I am doing the right thing, all I need to do is wander to the house next door to look at Bereket or Alazar or Aschelew, and see their smiles and their joy, or see the babies that were 1kg, now 3.5kg, or the nannies that would otherwise have no job and  I think (mostly with tears in my eyes), “this is why”.
So when we appeal for money and ask people to be a part of this “something amazing” that we are doing, you can know it’s worth it. It’s worth it for you to go without a Starbucks or a Costa coffee once a week and do a regular donation of what that would cost. The money donated, no matter how big or small, makes a huge difference to the lives of those here at grass roots level.
So folks, whoever you are reading this, we have rent due for the next six months (USD 2500) and formula to buy (USD 1000) and wages to pay (USD 2100) and… and… and…
What can you spare, no that’s wrong, what can you give to change a life?
Off home through the traffic, with the letter, and going to put the kettle on and have a cuppa before I go to see our kids next door for cuddles.
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Surreal and Reality

As I sit looking out the window at the children’s home, it is so surreal. For the past 18 months, I have been having my morning cuppa tea looking at that building and imagining that it is a buzz of activity…I knew it would happen. Despite all the set backs and the bumps along the way with people and things, it is here! It is done! It is functioning!

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So, I decided to spend this afternoon, while Ruby is playing with the kids next door, reflecting on the 18 months that were, and here is what comes to mind…

Excited. Tired. Confused. Angry. Sad. Ecstatic. Unbelievable. Helpful. Hurtful. Money. Exhausted. Reality. Rain. Sun. Outdoors. Animals. Fumes. Donkeys. Yellow. Depressed. Annoyed. Happy. FINALLY! Babies. Boys. Snot. Poop. Smells. Love. Hugs. Smiles. Baths. Injera. Laundry. Diapers. Water. Generator. Busy. Power. Doctors. Scans. Medicine. Progress. Support. Tea!

I could probably fill two or three pages of just words to describe this experience and roller coaster ride that I have been on the last 18 months or so. I have definitely been sitting in the front row of that roller coaster. I have been feeling every emotion deeply. I don’t think this makes me weak, as many would see it, instead I think it makes me real. I feel, I feel lots of things; pain, happiness, sadness, ecstasy, I feel it all.

As I sit here and look at that building next door through rows of diapers and drying laundry, it feels surreal and it feels like reality. I am where I am meant to be, and I am grateful to everyone who supports me and the vision we have for women and children in Ethiopia.

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Time to put the kettle on and have a quick cuppa before I head back over to collect Ruby and give (and get) lots of kisses and hugs.

Long time between blogs…

Well it has been long time between blogs. There are many excuses I could come up with but to be honest, I was waiting for news to share and as I am still waiting, I thought I would blog to pass the time.

It makes me laugh that I say “to pass the time”…

I don’t seem to have enough time in the day at the moment. Ruby started school (and loves it) however, we are up and out of the house by 7.30am (which isn’t hard as she normally rises at 6am), I drop her at school, meet some people that have called the day before and are in town for a short while, meet with some government people, grab some groceries for dinner (actually for Ruby’s school lunches and boy, aren’t they fun to make EVERY DAY!!!), then a few skype calls and emails, back to school to pick Ruby up, off to do one more thing before heading home, dinner, bath, bed (for Ruby) and then a cuppa tea for me. Before I know it, it’s 8pm and I am back on skype with someone who I promised to speak to after Ruby was asleep. I try and stumble into bed shortly after the skype call ends. And some nights I will confess, I am in bed by 8pm!!!

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So when I say, “to pass the time”, I have no idea what I mean. I have a rare 10 minutes now and I am loving that I can blog.

So, I really wanted this blog to be about how amazing people are, how amazing it is that I have some people who are so supportive and caring, and have a real heart for what we are doing here. Oh, I have my share of haters too and I am ok with that. My dad always said that not everyone will like you in life and the sooner you learn that, the easier life will become. I am not here to be a people – pleaser of those who don’t live here (and even of those who do I guess). I am here to help women and children. I am here to maybe help one person and additional people are a bonus.

To my haters, keep hating – it motivates me. BUT to those who are encouraging and believe in what we are doing over here, keep loving. Not just loving what is happening here in Ethiopia, but love those around you, love what you do, just love. I know it’s simple but if we choose love, we can achieve so much more by focusing our energy on love and not on hate. I choose to love my haters. I love it that I am motivated, that through the worst hurdles I have stayed here, stayed true to what I came to do, and will definitely continue to love. Oh, don’t get me wrong, it’s hard and I would love to just hate right back but then I wonder why? I struggle and struggle and then I see my gorgeous daughter as she climbs into her big girl bed at night and every night, after a song, she looks at me and says, “oh, I just forgot to tell you mum…I love you”. I struggle because I love to love.

So while I “pass the time” here waiting for the news, I will pass it loving people, places and things.

So to my haters, keep hating, because I have too much love and it’s going to take more from you, than me.

AND finally to my believers, supporters and encouragers, keep believing, supporting and encouraging. We can never have too much LOVE!

Now I definitely need that cuppa tea that I LOVE!

Patience

I was never any good at waiting. I still have trouble with waiting even now, however, since moving to Addis Ababa I have become the expert at waiting. Waiting for planes to arrive, waiting for luggage, waiting for people, waiting for employees to return, waiting for signatures, waiting for stamps, waiting for the container of aid, waiting, waiting, waiting…

So, as I type this, I am waiting again. Waiting for the Aunties and guards in Ambo to sign photos. These are not just any photos; they are photos of themselves that they have to sign for their ID cards for work…but still I wait. This one ‘doesn’t like her hair’, this one is ‘smiling funny’, this one ‘it too dark’. It’s a photo. We are not placing it on a billboard; we are using it for your ID that you will only ever show the authorities if they ask for it, which rarely happens.

So you would never know if I didn’t type this, BUT the blog was on hold whilst we packed the car and headed out to drive back from Ambo to Addis Ababa. I am finishing typing as we sit in torrential rain and hailstones… and yet again, we wait. We wait for the rain and hailstones to stop so we can drive again, as you cannot see more than 10metres in front of you, and on these roads, it’s better to wait.

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So, while I am waiting, I am dreaming of being home with my cuppa tea in hand and Ruby next to me on the couch, telling me about her day. However, instead I wait and thankfully, I am now the expert at waiting, but please don’t test me when we meet!

Unfortunately, we got home too late to share my cuppa tea and to chat with Ruby, but I did get to give her a quick cuddle before she fell asleep on me!

 

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Thanks

I am sitting on my couch watching the E! Network and blogging in Ethiopia…surreal!

What a time since last I blogged….

Keeping 13 year olds with their babies, taking fistula patients to Addis Ababa, meeting some amazing people, and catching up with some old friends.

So what else has been happening…I am driving to Ambo 2-3 times a week (5-6 hours drive in a day), meeting with government bodies, police and families. I never know what my day is going to bring and I think this is one of the most exciting things about my work here. I wake up and think “oh, nothing on today, so Ruby and I will have a PJ day.” THEN I get a phone call and the day goes from nothing to WOW in 10 seconds. BUT I am always grateful…grateful for new friends, grateful for old friends, and grateful for readers of this blog.

The police station in Ambo has this amazing room that has four beds in it for women who are escaping a violent situation. We managed to raise some money and buy new mattresses, pillows, sheets and blankets for them. The Inspector in charge of this is an amazing woman; she speaks a little English and I speak a little Amharic, but we have this great friendship that is real and really no BS (can I say BS in a blog?) She shows me the reality of life in Ambo and I show her how we can try and help. And when I say “we,” I mean, “you and me” help. “We” can help with material things, “We” can help with emotional support, “We” can help with just basic needs.

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So, while this blog is an update, it is also a continual THANKS to all of you for your emotional support of me, financial support of the NGO, and the emails and messages of encouragement that always arrive when they are needed the most.

Time for a cuppa tea I think!

Heartbroken

I am in and out of many police stations these days. Nothing to do with breaking the law but with babies and children.

Today I experienced something that shook me to the core.
A husband and wife (all of 18 years of age) are in the inspector’s office with us. They were fighting last week and the husband struck the wife. The wife started screaming and fighting and threw their five month old baby on the ground.
The husband’s family called the police. The wife was arrested until they could establish if the baby was dead or alive. The baby, a girl, was alive and well and now the husband’s family want the baby.
I witnessed a mother handing over her five month old baby girl. I witnessed a mother downtrodden and unable to care for a child. She, herself a child, with no family to help her.
Another husband and wife walked in with their four  year old son - I had to leave.
From now on, I choose to get angry at poverty and I choose to get angry at sickness.
My heart is breaking…..
Do you choose to be angry with me www.gofundme.com/shamidabv

It’s no longer “okay”…

As I sit here in the comfort of my house, watching Sophia the First with my daughter (and of course enjoying a cuppa tea) I am reminded by Facebook posts that a mere 15kms to the west people are protesting and marching in memory of the lives so needlessly lost in Libya.

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Photos courtesy of Abeba from the march on 23 April 2015.

I have no idea how you are meant to deal with this situation as an outsider living in this amazing country. I can only tell you that when the people were held hostage in the Lindt café in Martin Place in Sydney earlier this year, I immediately felt an overwhelming pride in being Australian. I felt I wanted to be there to mourn with my fellow Aussies over those lives so needlessly lost and I felt a little uneasy about what is happening in the world.

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Photos courtesy of Abeba from the march on 23 April 2015.

 

Then, one day, I decided that all I could do was my bit, my little piece to heal and my little piece to change things. While it may not change the world and it may not change hundreds of live, if I can make the world a better place for one person then I am in the right place.

I don’t want this to be a depressing blog. I want to celebrate life and the lives that have been lost by not letting them be lost in vain. I’m not settling for that, I’m not settling for accepting wrong and doing nothing, I am not settling! And as I write this I just received a Facebook message from my good friend Caitlyn  (and I am sorry I can’t credit anyone for this as we don’t know who wrote it):

“Look around you and look inside you. How many people do you think are settling? I will tell you: a hell of a lot of people. People are settling everyday into okay relationships and okay jobs and an okay life. And do you know why? Because okay is comfortable. Okay pays the bills and gives you a warm bed at night and allows one to go out with co-workers on a Friday evening to enjoy happy hour. But do you know what okay is not? Okay isn’t thrilling, it isn’t passion, it isn’t the reason you get out of bed and wake up everyday; it isn’t life changing or unforgettable. Okay is not the reason you go to bed late and wake up early. Okay is not the reason you risk absolutely everything you’ve got just for the smallest chance that something absolutely amazing could happen.”

So, I am not settling for okay in life or at Shamida. Okay doesn’t cut it with me. From now on when people ask me how I am, I will NOT reply with “okay”. I am going to start and try to take the word okay out of my vocabulary…who wants to join me?