Mekele, Mezekir's home town, is only an hour and a half flight from Addis Ababa, but it is worlds away. Addis' streets swell with people. It has all the markings of a big city (over 5 million people). Addis' street are dirty. The drivers needfully shoo away the beggars to protect them from oncoming traffic and themselves from being ticketed. Staring from the five star Sheraton, the horizon is littered with the shanties of the middle class workers and then dotted by palaces of government official and royalty. Mekele's streets are well kept and it has a home town feel to it. The nicest of the Mekele hotels are much closer to the living conditions of the people of Mekele. While there, we were blessed to have running water in our rooms. The children of Mekele throng the cars of foreigners as we pass by, and they are welcomed by the drivers and the few visitors, who make their way to Mekele. The children in Mekele love pictures and ask foreigners for "mastica"...gum. It seems they judge foreigners as fairies offering up small treasures, safe and promising of the enchanted. We cautiously snapped a few shots of a group of children. Quickly, we noticed they were unattended by any adults. The oldest child seemed to be no more than 8 and carried a toddler on her back. It occurred to us she was the acting parent. She knew when to offer the small child a ride, when to put her down, and when to give her the small piece of bread she pulled from her dress.
Tucked away in an alley off of an unmarked street, the Bana Center sits beckoning all women, who lack the ability to parent, need help, or are HIV positive but want to be informed how to birth an uninfected baby. Bana, although humble in all appearance, holds the most precious of Mekele's treasures...children. These children, from the age of 2 days to 4 years old, shine from the inside out. Visitors easily coax smiles and hugs from these small faces. It is clear the caregivers at Bana love the children for whom they care. Last night, we spent the evening at Bana with Mezekir's birth mother. After our meeting (which I'm not ready to share about), we stayed and loved on the children at Bana. All I could think as I stared into the crib, which was once Mezekir's, into the eyes of a 3 month old girl, who was smaller than most average American newborns, was one day she will know a family. Gladney is preparing referrals for the majority of the children in the Bana Center at this moment. How I wish I could find her parents and share with them the love she knows even now, the joy we experienced to dote over her malnourished body, as we caressed her small feet, and stared into her bright eyes. Another little girl, 22 days old, slept peacefully wrapped in a blanket and covered with sheets. Paula would have tucked her into her bag and left were she sure not to be incarcerated. Our children made special friends with a sibling set of a boy and a girl. Hunter, Ann-Elizabeth, Preston, and Ava played peek-a-boo with the older brother. They cheered for their 3 year old friend as he mastered "hook em' horns" and "bye-bye". Hunter chose to leave him with a small memento of their time together, his favorite UT hat. He hasn't missed it, either!
Next, were able to visit the hospital where Mezekir was born. Imagine a compound filled with small cinderblock buildings, which are connected by a few covered passages. The dust from the hospital grounds blows freely into the patient rooms and surgical areas. And although the dust can be overwhelming, the breeze does provide a moments break from the heavy smells of body fluids, waste, and en patients. Two beds with stirrups comprise the delivery room. It seems these beds have not been cleaned since the last round of patients passed through. The boards, which cover the sink, give the appearance that they lack running water. The medicine cabinets are bare; and there are no surgical instruments, draping cloths, anesthetics, or niceties in sight. Behind a set of thin curtains, Josh and I can hear a mother laboring. The postpartum wing is within a few steps of the delivery room. Post postpartum mothers occupy three of the five beds in the room, and the babies sleep on the foot of the beds wrapped in large blankets and covered fully by a sheet. One of the nurses, a sister, arrives to check on a very young mother and her small baby. The baby arrived two months early. He is a blue color and not doing well. The sister tells our case worker he will be lucky to make it through the night. I can only think the difference geography and money would make on such a small life. We swooshed the flies away, off the baby and the mother, before leaving the room and the hospital. My heart can't take in the goodness of God to protect our small, sweet Mezekir from complications. But I am reminded, once again, what is truly common to 80% of the population is not the American standard.
I can't put into words the experience in Mekele. All in all, the time was joyous, emotional, beautiful and necessary. It is amazing to experience such extreme joy in the midst of undeniable loss and need. The simplicity of life offers its own level of peace. But the peace God has provided extends all explanation. How fortunate are the people of this small city and how fortunate are we to experience the beauty of Mekele and it's people. Cheers to Tirhast, Lydia, Caleb, Emmanuel, Samita, and Awtash, the jewels of Mekele.