Posts Tagged ‘ethiopia’

Yesterday was my birthday – I am 27.  I figured it would be a good time to ponder a bit both about this past year as well as the one ahead of me.

This past year has been pretty incredible.

Sean and I have done some amazing stuff.


-We went to Hawaii with friends on the vacation of a lifetime – it’s not uncommon for us to turn to each other and say “man, we need to go to Hawaii”. I was always resistant to Hawaii vacations, as I am to anything that seems even vaguely cliche…but man, what a time it was.



-We completed our first Olympic-length triathlon.

It hurt, but was totally worth it.

santa cruz tri


-We went to Ethiopia on a medical missions trip. This trip was my first foray into Africa and way out of my comfort zone. It has brought up a lot of questions about who I am and what I want to do with my life. Questions I’m still wrestling with, and probably will be for many years to come.



-My sister Anya and I traveled to Chicago and St. Louis to visit friends over Thanksgiving – an intense weekend of much needed sister and friend time. My love for the midwest has not waned.

st. louis


-December and January found Sean and I in San Diego for Christmas and Las Vegas for New Years. The Las Vegas strip New Years experience was decidedly more pleasant than I was anticipating.



-Sean and I moved yet again, into an adorable duplex with lots of storage space. We’re still working on home-ifying it, but it’s slowly coming together.


-We visited Denver – a city I’d never been to before. Plus, we got to explore an abandoned mining town, which was a super cool experience.



-Spring marked the start of wedding season – I booked 10 weddings this year. A decent amount for only my second year of being a professional photographer.



-We made another dent in our plan to bike the entire west coast by biking from Monterey to San Luis Obispo. 140 miles over 4 days – best bike trip to date!



-In May Sean and I kicked butt at a sprint tri in Moragn Hill – I beat my previous time by a full half hour!



-Sean and I traveled to Houston to visit Anya and co., and even made a trip to New Orleans. I LOVED NOLA and hope to return there again some day.



-July found us gathering with my whole family in San Diego for my grandpa’s 87th birthday. It just now dawns on me that he’s almost exactly 60 years older than me.




Man, we did a lot of traveling –

I didn’t even realize how much it was until I wrote it out!

…So now what?

Well, here’s a bit of what I’m hoping for / planning on for this next year:

-Another full length tri: I want to beat my time on the Santa Cruz tri!

-Complete a half-marathon

-Visit Tahoe

-Visit Boise

-Book more weddings! (I’d love 20…)

-Bike San Luis Obispo to Mexico! 400 miles of glorious California coast :0)

-Complete a full-size stained glass window

-Start painting again!

-FINALLY visit Russia with my hubby :0)

-I really want to start volunteering in some capacity

….and I guess we’ll just see what lies in store!


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Tuesday was a strange day. First thing in the morning, I took some portraits of our lovely hosts. Sean and I had breakfast with the team and said our goodbyes. As usual (funny how in a matter of a week a routine can become “the usual” ) the O.R. team headed to the hospital and the school assessment team went over to the school. Sean and I were left alone with Bete (our hosts’ son and a Chicago resident who was visiting and working there for a couple weeks) and David (who was also visiting, and was a vet connected with the farm in Chacha, though what specifically he was working on, I am not entirely sure). After much fumbling about, the four of us headed out in the direction of Addis. On the way, we stopped by the new high school that Project Mercy is working on. I swear, they have more projects up their sleeve than I can count. On the drive Bete recounted his memories of escaping Ethiopia with his family (I believe he was 14 at the time) during the communist take-over in the 70s. It was a fascinating story, and we passed the time quite amicably between listening, chatting, and watching the fields and hills pass by the window.

By the time we reached Addis it was well after noon, so we decided to stop for lunch. Bete treated us to an amazing all-you-can-eat buffet at the Hilton hotel. After lunch we rolled out of town in the direction of Chacha. The scenery began to change slightly – it flattened out, and the landscape became more rocky. We started seeing stone tukhuls replace the branch-and-hay structures we saw in the Yetebon.  It was a beautiful, peaceful drive. We arrived at the ranch in Chacha sometime around 4 or 5 pm. It is a vast swath of land which, as they aptly told us, looks remarkably like Montana. There they had several large barns and many acres of grazing fields. Oh, and of course, the cows :0) I couldn’t stop myself photographing the beautiful, still, quiet landscape and the sturdy, healthy stoic cows. I got some shots of the new calves, the result of inter-breeding between American Jersey cows and local Ethiopian cows. The calves were skittish and scared, but I managed a few decent shots. The female moms were a lot easier to photograph, and I had just a jolly time frolicking around with them and doin what I do.

We had only been there for maybe 2 hours when it was time for us to leave. I was anxious about the drive back to Addis as we were always warned not to go anywhere at night, but they assured us this particular road was safe and well-traveled. The driver (Hilay, I believe) who drove us down there also drove us back to Addis. Only this time, we weren’t in a Jeep, but were actually in a large box truck. I loved the huge front window and being so high up – we had a peaceful but surreal drive. Only large towns are lit up, and of course there are no streetlights. Hilay maneuvered expertly around random people and animals who darted unnoticed into the road, and I tried my best not to freak out. Something about being just the three of us – Sean and I and a nice young man we had only just met, in a box truck careening around the Ethiopian countryside at night – is an image that will stay with me, I think, for many years.  There is rarely a feeing of isolation in the States – between fairly consistent population, cell phone coverage, rest stops, etc, it is uncommon to find yourself so utterly on your own.

I’m not entirely sure when we got back to Addis – it probably wasn’t too late, but we were completely exhausted. Marta and Deme’s beautiful home had long go been transformed into the Addis Project Mercy headquarters, and there are many rooms available for guests to stay at. We were just climbing into bed when a knock on our door indicated that we had a phone call. Marta was calling from the Project Mercy compound, asking how we were, and insisting that the staff at the house make us dinner. We didn’t have much heart to object, and were soon treated to a delicious pasta dinner. Being served in a stately dining room in Addis Ababa, which, we were told, was likely part of the servant’s quarters, we were having a decidedly surreal experience.

Marta and Deme’s house is a whole ‘nother story – it is enormous and someone stern, speaking of the high post that Marta used to have in the government. Yet it is sparsely and functionally furnished in a style that, for the most part, is purely utilitarian. You can tell that it is now a place of business and that their hearts are far away in the Yetebon.

After dinner we fell asleep, and that’s about all I remember.

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Well, on Sunday it had been decided, rather suddenly, that on Tuesday I should go to Chacha to photograph cows.

Let me back up a minute. I’m not going to get into all of the details, because there isn’t a whole lot that I understand or that has really been figured out, and it stressed me out to think about it. BUT, suffice it to say that somehow it came about that I would be working with another team member on a long-term project: making a photobook about Project Mercy. Or…well, something like that. One of the myriad of off-shoot projects that Project Mercy is working on is a ranch in a town called Chacha. Chacha is a farming community on the other side of Addis Ababa – about a 4-5 hour drive from Project Mercy. There, they are attempting to breed hardy, disease-resistant Ethiopian cows with American cows. American cows (Jersey cows, I think) produce almost 10x as much milk as these Ethiopian cows. The goal here is to produce a hearty cow which is both resistant to Ethiopia diseases and produces more milk.  If successful, this project could help many families improve their nutritional intake.

At any ate, this would be a great thing for me to photograph for any potential book (which may or may not happen…?) so it was decided that I would go with Sean, Bete and David to Chacha on Tuesday. What this meant, then, is that Monday would be my last day to capture the goings-on with our group and Project Mercy. So I spent the first part of the day at the school clinic (in a new location for the new week) and the latter portion driving around with Marta and Deme, taking pictures of what they felt were significant parts of Project Mercy.

It was great to spend some time with Marta and Deme and hear their stories. The end of the day was sad for me as I was thinking about leaving. Leaving this beautiful place, and the new connections I had made – leaving the new way I felt about my place in the world. But all good things must end, and I was (and am) pretty sure that I will come back to Project Mercy.


I’m trying something new with the images – click on the first image to see the gallery.




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Sunday was our only scheduled day off. A large portion of the group wanted to do a highly recommended hike into the mountains to see the countryside. Some wanted to go to church, others to a nearby town to visit with old friends from past trips. The hiking contingent was divided into three groups: The crazy early-risers who wanted to leave for the hike by 6am and be back in time to shower and go to church by 10:30. Others wanted to leave at 7:30 for a shorter route and also go to church. The third and largest group (which I joined) decided to leave at 9, take it easy, stop often for photos and not worry about making it to church. The hike was billed as gorgeous but difficult, with a steep uphill climb for about 2.5 miles, on rocky and somewhat treacherous terrain. The end goal was a small waterfall at the top of the mountain.


I would say it was billed pretty accurately. We started out on the same dirt road we traveled every day – the one by the hospital. We cheated and took a truck to the hospital to cut off a familiar stretch of road and get started with the interesting bits. It meandered past quiet tukhuls and farmers out tending to their animals. Pretty quickly we veered off of the road unto a path which was rocky and slippery and uneven. It’s hard to describe in words what this place is like, so I’ll let the photos do the talking.







These two lovely ladies were among the first of the mountain kids to join our hiking group.


Soon there were a couple of little boys as well. As we huffed and puffed, paused, snacked, drank, took photos, these little kids bounded up the mountain barefoot, often carrying heavy loads of sticks. They sure put us in our place. Once we reached higher ground on one side of a canyon, we could hear yells of “hellohellohello!”, but we couldn’t see the kids across the canyon.

Once we made it to the falls, we just chilled and relaxed for about half an hour, surrounded by a large quantity of local kids. As always, the way back was much quicker and easier.


It was an  exhausting and treacherous  hike, especially at altitude, but it was well worth it.

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Saturday was a special day.

A couple of the docs in our group felt called to teach a course to the local midwives, nurses, and other birth attendants on basic life support for babies and mothers during childbirth. It was an all day course on Saturday, and I had the honor of photographing during it. I spent a lot of time there, listening, photographing and editing. It was a very relaxing and moving day. I would like to tell you more about it, but Sarah, one of the doctors who organized the whole thing, wrote a comprehensive and down-right tear-jerking entry on the class for our group blog. You can read it here.

At the end of the day Marta, our venerable host, told us all a story which expressed how close this issue is to her heart. Many years ago, a woman had been brought to them in a round box carried by thirty men. She had been in labor for 7 days (!). Marta drove her to the nearest town at the time, but they weren’t able to help her. They found a way to get her to the next furthest town, and when they got there – the gynecologist wasn’t there. Needless to say, the woman didn’t make it. Marta’s heart was broken – the hurt felt particularly close as her daughter was in the States, pregnant and about to give birth. She was glad that her daughter would have the best care, but deeply saddened that there was such a lacking of this type of care in Ethiopia. Fast forward to this past Saturday. She was so thrilled that our doctors were teaching this course at Project Mercy. She reached out and contacted the midwives and other birthing helpers in the vicinity and told them about the course. They came in from many miles away, by cart and bus and taxi. Well, actually, I have no idea how they arrived – I think the PM bus came to get some of them. At any rate, the attendees to this class represented 70,000 people in the surrounding region. Those men and women will come back to their respective villages and spread the news. They will teach about how to help mothers and babies during childbirth, and hopefully, the knowledge will sink in. It will spread. Lives will be saved.

What an amazing blessing it was to be associated with the group of people who could play a role in this. Even if all I did was document the process :0)

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Well, by the time Friday came along, I was feeling pretty well burned out. Contrary to popular belief, photography is actually hard work – especially if you have a tendency to carry around a bunch of equipment. It’s physically taxing, but also involves a certain level of attentiveness which leave little room for anything else. I guess a lot of jobs are like that :0) Just so happens I’m not used to doing mine every day, so it done wore me out.

Luckily, on Friday morning I had a couple of pre-arranged things to do on the Project Mercy campus, and thus was able to take it easy in the morning and edit  my way through a bit of the photo backlog I had accumulated. I went and photographed the larger “production” garden on the compound, the orphanage and the furniture-building plant. Then, Deme pulled me aside to photograph a very special girl. She had survived a severe famine in the area when she was just an infant. She was kept alive with IV fluids, and is now thriving in 5th grade. She was shy and quiet, and I didn’t know how to ask her to smile. But I did what I could, and I hope I managed to capture the intensity in her eyes.

My “appointment” for the morning was to meet up with Ciarra and photograph her in action. Ciarra is a visiting chemistry teacher through Princeton Africa (she sounds a lot older than she is – in reality, she’s about my age, maybe younger). She teaches several grades of chemistry and has opened up Project Mercy’s chem lab for the first time. Plus, she’s just kind of an awesome chick. I hung out with her for a bit and photographed her class and her lab. It was a relaxing morning filled with quiet times, silly kids, and a complete lack of anything gory.

After lunch, though, I went on to photograph more surgeries. This time, a goiter removal (these enlarged thyroids are very prolific in this area due to a lack of iodine in the salt) and a lump-ectomy (probably not the clinical term). The latter was on an adorable little boy of about 4 or 5 – he had a large fatty cyst on the back of his neck. Everyone was fawning over him and he was quiet and contemplative. He didn’t cry or anything, just let the nurses and doctors get him ready whilst looking around hoping to get some sort of explanation. I just about died. When they had to hold him down to put him under, I had to leave the O.R. I can’t handle the kids – so vulnerable, and yet having to endure so much. This kid was one of the lucky ones. The lump seemed to be harmless and was removed quickly.

Earlier in the evening a mother came in with her child – he couldn’t have been older than 2. Half of his head had been badly burned and his skin infected. She asked only for the wound to be dressed, as she couldn’t afford to admit him to the hospital. (Hospital admittance costs 200 Birr – roughly 12 U.S. dollars). Instantly, several of our team members volunteered to cover the cost and the baby was admitted.

Something that is so small to us makes such a significant difference in a situation like this. But we all have limited funds, and how many folks can we pay to admit? How much room is there in the hospital? How many doctors? How much staff? How long can they work before falling over or becoming dangerously tired? Several (if not all) of the days we were there, the surgeons ate lunch in the changing room and stayed  working well after dinner. But there’s always a limit. Of course, when you see a real live baby in need of real life care, most of us would jump to help without a second thought. But after the crisis of the moment passes, it’s important to stop and reflect. How can we spur on *lasting* change?

I guess this brings me back to the initial point I brought up before going on this trip What does God’s economy look like? How does He measure productivity? Does He see it as a greater good to look after the one boy that you can help in the moment, or to spend your whole life working towards a better future in which hundreds, thousands of such boys could be better cared for?

I have no idea, to tell you the truth. I don’t know that there’s a right or wrong blanket answer. I only know that we must make decisions about what is put in front of us, and to seek the good – God’s will – in all things. And to not sacrifice certain good now for possible greater good later. That’s what  think, at any rate.

…After they finished with the lump-ectomy, I went back to the compound for a late dinner. As they were walking out, the surgeons were called back for an emergency – a young boy had been kicked by a donkey in the stomach. His parents had waited two days to bring him in. So the good doctors when back to work, while I went on to a warm meal and a comfy bed.

See what I mean about being a cub amongst lions? These guys are amazing.

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Thursday started like the others – wake at 6, devotions at 6:45, breakfast at 7, and off to work by 8.  I have to admit that most of the time here I feel like a pansy. Hanging out with doctors all day – folks that are used to grueling 13+ hour days, and even go running in the morning before breakfast. Me, I was worn out by day 2. I feel like cub amongst lions, but I’ve managed mostly keeping up (though falling asleep at 9pm).

So Thursday I went with the O.R. staff back to the hospital, expecting to photograph more surgeries. However, as it turned out, there was a backlog of clinic visitors so they spent the morning seeing non-surgery patients. After it was obvious that surgery wouldn’t start until almost lunch time, I decided to go over to the school clinic to photograph for the rest of the morning.

The clinic was set up at a school about a quarter mile outside the compound. The goal was to examine and asses all of the children at that school (roughly 500) in three days. They set up a relatively efficient system: First  a child would get registered and their name and age recorded. Then a small group of about 10 would go see the amazing Jenny, who, with the help of a few props and a translator, would give them a brief basic health education. Wash your hands, don’t let flies sit on your face, the spread of germs, etc. Then the kids would get weighed and their BMI would be calculated. They then would go see one of our wonderful docs at “triage”, which was meant to be a quick overview to decide if the kids needed further assessment.  If they did, they would move on to another doc for further viewing. They would then be either diagnosed with a chronic, untreatable illness, be referred for testing or surgery at the hospital, or prescribed basic meds. Finally, the three lovely ladies at the “pharmacy” would hand out de-worming meds (to everyone), vitamins, or other necessary drugs.  There was a great deal of adorable-ness for me to capture, so I was there all the way until lunch.

After lunch I went BACK to the hospital to photograph a few more goings-on there.

It’s hard to describe the plethora of feelings and experiences that happen on a day such as this. The walk from the hospital to the compound, and on down to the school is breathtaking. The road is very rough, rocky dirt. On either side there are fields and hills and tukuls (traditional Ethiopia round huts). The weather is a perfect 75 degrees and sunny, and the breeze blows the ripe grain into subtle waves that rustle quietly. There are kids and adults alike tending to animals – donkeys, cows, oxen, goats, sheep. Some are threshing their crops with oxen, in the way it’s been done for hundreds of years. Women carry bundles of sticks or hay on their shoulders, and horse-drawn carts rattle over the rough road. Everyone nods and smiles and says “hello” or “salaam” to one another. In the distance are majestic green mountains covered in forests and farms. There is a sense of peace and joy that transcends the time and place. Though I guess it’s hard to say, since the time and place are hard to pin point. It could very well be hundreds of years ago.

On the other hand, there is no avoiding the poverty here. The animals are often sickly-looking – you can count their ribs. The horses and donkeys are over-worked and haggard. The adults look unrested, the kids are often left to take care of their brothers and sisters while the parents work. In the hospital, modern as it is for the area, there is much to be desired in the way of training, sanitation, equipment. And in the clinic, most of the kids have worms, and a lot have trachoma, ear problems, eye problems, infections, malnutrition, you name it. Marta and Deme and the whole of Project Mercy has worked tirelessly to serve this community for many years – it has grown tremendously, but there is still a long way to go.

In spite of these things, the culture is so warm and friendly. Everyone smiles and greets one another, and if you happen to have a camera all the little kids swarm you yelling “hellohello! one camera! one camera!” wanting to have their photo taken. They want to shake your hand, or hug you, and say “what is your name? how are you? how old are you?” and you think they speak perfect english (but that’s all they know).  They smile and giggle – some approach you and some shy away. They take care of and protect each other. There’s a physical affection that’s lacking in the States – friends will often walk hand-in-hand (kids and adults, males and females alike) or hug each other or put their arms around one another. There is a closeness, a warmth that is very addicting.

As with the other days, on Thursday I was utterly exhausted. Between the altitude and walking from place to place with all my camera gear strapped on, I was ready to fall over by dinnertime.

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