life as we know it

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Seesai's Wings

I met a new friend today in the poorest part of Addis Ababa.  I don’t
know how you actually spell his name and if I used Amharic I’m not
sure I could even find the right letters in their 200+ symbol
alphabet.  Since we pronounced his name Seesai, that’s how I will
spell it and if he ever reads this I’m sorry for the name butchery.
At any rate, we met Seesai through our friend Yemamu (and yes that one
is right) when they showed us their new center.  Now when I say center
I don’t want you to think in American terms where a center might mean
big parking lots leading into a shopping plaza with a Starbucks on
each end.  Think more along the lines of a metal enclosed patch of
grass which has four small buildings: one will be a library, one will
be a dining hall/activity room, one already is a guard shack (metal
enclosure that a person lives in to guard the center) and the fourth
building already is a shower.

I say the buildings will be these things because as they stand right
now it is just corrugated metal on top of eucalyptus tree logs.  The
library has gone a step further and added a plastic tarp lining to the
walls and ceiling of the 22 by 10 foot building (by the way that’s not
as big as some of your bedrooms).  As of now the books can fit in a
box the size of a microwave oven and consist of a wide variety of
outdated material from Windows 97 to a fifteen year old dictionary.
But this is just what it is.  What it’s going to be is a whole other

Yemamu and Seesai  grew up in a place called Kore (sounds like Koray
or maybe Korah).  If you have seen the movie Slum Dog Millionaire
where the kids are living on a trash dump then you may have gotten a
small taste of how these two and so many others grew up and are still
living.  The noticeable difference here is the addition of fire as the
trash is burned in the exact same place these kids and people are
living.  The smoke was so bad today that we couldn’t actually go into
the dump because our friends said you can’t breathe and couldn’t even
see the person next to you if you were holding their hand.  The kids
from the dump are outcasts, so much so that they aren’t even allowed
to use the public taxi system which is sketchy at best.  They get
their clothing from the trash and eat whatever the dogs and hyenas
don’t get to first.  The idea of three meals a day and medical care
for simple, treatable issues is as much of a joke for these kids as
the thought of being allowed into a school.

One thing they do for fun is to hide in the garbage at night until
the hyenas get very close and then jump up, screaming and yelling and
laughing as they chase one of Africa’s most dangerous animals away to
scavenge elsewhere.  When we tried to explain to our friends that
hyenas were super nasty and dangerous (according to Nat Geo TV of
course, but they don’t exactly show them in a trash dump I guess) they
just looked at each other, then at us like we were the crazy ones and
said, “Noooooo! Not in Ethiopia!”  The saying goes that if a hyena
sees a man, he goes away.  If it sees a woman, he waits.  And if he
sees a child, he laughs.  Sounds to me like the kids in Kore get the
last laugh on this subject.

For the last two years our friends have been working on getting other
activities for these outcast kids to be involved in and finally a week
ago they got permission to have this patch of grass and few metal
buildings to start their center.  Like I said what it is and what it
will be are two separate things.  Later this week we get to see them
open their doors to 150 kids who will get a chance to shower, to eat
three times a day, and whenever volunteers are there or donations are
available they will have the chance to learn and to receive medical
care.  The admission criteria are simple; worst come, worst served.
The kids who are the most needy, alone, sick, and desperate will be
served first and the hope is to quickly raise the total number of kids
from 150 to 300.

According to Yemamu, Kore, the dump, and the attached leprosy village
called Alert were made in the 1940’s when there was a lack of
understanding about leprosy and the king/emperor of the time didn’t
want the disease to spread.  Out of sight out of mind may have been
the idea, but now there needs to be a new light shed on the issue.  In
a country where the unemployment rate is well over 40% and diarrhea is
one of the main killers of children these kids aren’t even being
counted.  There are zero resources being put into this community aside
from city waste and the people like Yemamu, Seesai, and another friend
named Alex are left carrying the weight of their families, friends,
and many others.  What’s strange is that our friends who live at the
dump and in the leprosy village invited us over their houses and to
walk through their part of town and I haven’t felt so safe, loved, and
welcomed anywhere else in Ethiopia.

Seesai has two tattoos on the back of his neck.  When we get back to
the states I will post a picture for sure, but until then I can just
describe them as one wing on each side.  When I first saw them at the
beginning of the day I thought to myself, “probably to fly out of this
place”.  But as the day went on and he was going out of his way to
take Kelly and I to an easy place to catch a taxi home, Seesai was
sitting in front of me.  I kept looking at his wings and re-evaluated
what they were to be used for.  Now I’m sure I have it right.  He’s
going to use those wings to fly every kid in that dump to a better
place where they have an equal shot at life.


  1. Hi, Nick and Kelly,
    I am very proud of all the work you are doing in Ethiopia. Kelly, I am so proud of the young woman you have become. I love you both.
    Hey, can you bring me back a baby hyena as pet?
    Just kidding!:) Keep up the great work you are doing.
    Hope we get to see you soon. Kira

  2. I want to do something to help. I wondered if we could collect books for the library? I assume though, that most of the people who would read them, don't read English. And, most of the books we would collect would be in English. And, how could we get them there? Could we ship them or would someone have to take them? Let me know and if this is doable, I'll start working on this. If you have any other thoughts about how we could help, let me know. I am so proud of both of you and am really looking forward to seeing you and hearing about your journey. You are doing some awesome work. God is smiling down on you. Much love, Mom

  3. We met and love Sisay (I know...weird way to spell it, but I'm pretty sure that's right since some friends of ours adopted a little boy in ET named Sisay and that was how it's spelled on his birth certificate). Ben and I can't wait to meet you guys in Denver an talk about how we can partner together to serve Kore! We have se things in the pipeline, their website is underway, and really we all just need to use our voices!! Can't wait to meet you guys!