Sleepless in Addis Ababa
(Written on Jan. 13, 2008. It was the beginning of a 10-week trip to help the wife of an Ethiopian evangelist have a safe delivery of her baby.)
I have now spent five nights in Addis; four of these I slept very little because of the time change. After 32 hours of travel, and 8 hours difference in time zone, it takes a while to get in sync again.
Aberesh and I are enjoying the hospitality of a couple from the United States. Like most homes in Addis, their home is inside a compound. This compound is about 100 feet square. It is surrounded by a high wall made of cement block; many walls have cut glass or barbed wire on top, but ours doesn’t have this. Along two sides of the compound, against the wall, is a narrow garden area with flowers. Otherwise the entire interior of the compound is cemented. Along the back wall are a clothes line and a high tower that holds the water tank. Along the side wall is a narrow building with 3 rooms, a toilet room, and cold shower; Aberesh and I are staying in one of these rooms. The main house is medium sized by our standards, with 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a dining room/living room area, and a small kitchen.
This compound is guarded almost 24 hours with a zebanya (guard) and a big dog. Girma is the day guard; he is completely deaf and cannot speak, but he can write both English and Amharic excellently! So we communicate through notes. One day we neglected to get the pen and paper, so he began writing on his arm by scratching in his dark skin. He ran out of space, so I offered my arm, but it didn’t show up on my white skin! Since he can’t hear people knock on the large metal gate, he watches the dog to know when to come to the gate. He has the love of the Lord Jesus in his face, and is so happy and industrious. He is the one who cares for the garden, and he gave me a wonderful tour of all the plants. He is a great blessing to me. The afternoon guard is named Haile and the night guard is Goshu. The door to our room will not close, much less lock, so we are trusting the guards and our Lord Jesus completely for our safety at night.
As I’ve laid awake at night, I’ve gained a new appreciation for this city. As the sun sets, the people go to their homes, the streets become bare, the multitudes of homeless people struggle to survive, and the dogs rule the city. Most compounds have a watchdog, and there are also dogs that roam the city. So they have their little clubs that go scavenging and visiting. It really gets interesting when a hyena shows up! Only one night in this past week have I heard a hyena outside in the street. It was amazing to me that hyenas still came into Addis! As in the countryside, a prowling hyena, with his unique low growl, will set the dogs on their tails. So the dog volume rose to a heightened, frenetic pitch when our neighborhood hyena arrived. (Remember, hyenas have jaws so strong they can break the thigh of an elephant! These animals are greatly respected in Africa.)
Also, the city rats come out at night. Rats in Addis are very big; they have much garbage to eat. For hours they play on the tin roof of our little room. They sound more like 2-ton trucks from their weight, but their little feet with claws have the tell-tale sound of rat walk! There were several times in the past week that I lay in my bed and thanked the Lord Jesus for putting us in a cement room. Out in the countryside the houses are made of sticks and mud; the rats easily enter rooms looking for food. (On several occasions, I and others have had rats run over us as we lay on the floor of a village church.) To have a rat-proof room is a special blessing from Him.
From time to time I can hear the music of the guards calling to each other, one compound to the other. They always call in the form of whistles. I think sometimes they are alerting each other to possible intruders; other times, I think they are saying “what have you got to eat tonight?” But then there are times when I think one guard is trying to wake up a sleeping guard! The same whistle over and over and over, without an answering whistle!
As I said, in Addis Ababa the night also belongs to the homeless. There are hundreds of thousands of people living on the streets or in the city sewer system. Most of these are under the age of 20. Our own “daughter” once belonged to this group of people. As darkness falls, these people must remain alert. Danger abounds everywhere – thievery, murder, assault. They form little bands to help each other, but there is a price to be paid for the privilege of belonging to a band. During the daytime, we can easily see some of these homeless ones; they are almost always sleeping in the medians, or snuggled against the outside wall to a compound, or under a random bush somewhere. They sleep all day so that they can stay awake all night. How my heart aches for them, these dear ones that society and families have abandoned! Our Lord knows and cares for each one. Will we be His hands in loving them?
Can you see the two makeshift shelters in this photo?
Telling time during the night is easy, if you know the schedule of airport flights. The roaring of the huge inter-continental jets fills the air at flight times. The Ethiopian Airline and KLM flights leave at 11 pm, the British Airways flight arrives at 2:30 am and again at 4:30. But as we all know, flight schedules can change or be delayed. However, the Orthodox prayers are always exactly on schedule. So at precisely 5:00am, all over the city, loudspeakers blare with these prayers. Of course, very few people can understand them. They are in the Ge’ez language, which is the ancient Ethiopian language. The prayers are done in chant/singing form, and are really beautiful to listen to, unless you'd rather be sleeping! These prayers go on for an hour, from 5-6 am, unless it is a special day on the church calendar, and then the prayers will go almost all night long. I often use their broadcast time to pray for those precious people caught in the web of the Orthodox Church system.
The greatest blessing I have received during the night hours came the first night that Aberesh came here. I’d guess it was about 2 o’clock in the morning, and I heard her praying. For almost an hour, I could hear her whispering her prayer. Of course, I can’t understand what she was saying, but it was the first night after visiting the doctor. There’s little doubt in my mind that she was bringing the burden of her pregnancy, and the fears of what lay in the future to her loving Father. What a special honor, to be allowed by Him to listen as this dear woman talked with her Lord in the silence of the night hours.
I often look up at the moon here and think, “That’s the same moon that shines over Virginia.” And I recall that the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, as the Psalmist put it. The Lord of All, that Great Ruler whom I serve, is here during the night just as He is there during the night. The day and night equally belong to Him, to be used for His glory. As the sun glorifies Him in the daytime, and the moon and stars shine for Him at night, so may I live for Him and His glory – this is my prayer.
April 17, 2008