Friday, June 5, 2009

Whistle While You Work

We have had a busy and very productive week here in Addis! We have
spent most of our time at Kebebtsehay, but also an afternoon at
Kechene and this morning at Kolfe. We’ve realized we haven’t told you
all much about the orphanages and the kiddos we’re spending at lot of
time with. Since there aren’t too many anecdotes to share from this
week (although there are some and we will get there!), we figured this
would be the perfect time.

We’ll start with Kebebtsehay. This orphanage houses kids about 12
years old and younger, and has the most little ones of the three
government orphanages. We spend a large part of our time in the
toddler and baby room here because it’s where three of the four kids
with disabilities are and because these young years are so critical
for normal development that we’re hoping to make a big difference
here. There are about 15 babies/young toddlers that are treated like
babies that are just adorable. Unfortunately, they don’t often get
too much out of crib time, so we had our first “baby group” this week.
One caregiver puts out a mattress on the floor during her shift and
gets all the babies out. This was fortunately one such day, of which
we took full advantage. We had toys and were able to engage and play
with each kiddo and allowed them time in different positions (tummy
time is a very rare commodity in their world) and practicing their
sitting and rolling skills. It was surprisingly efficient and lots of
fun…. Except for one (make that 7) little interruptions. That would
be the toddlers. They tried so hard to stay away as we worked with
the babies. But the toys looked like soooo much fun!!

There are two boys that are a bit older, fourish, Fraul and Danny who
are the ring leaders of the toddlers. They are quite the little
stinkers. So much attitude in those little boys! They are always
scheming something… and have a very bright future in pick-pocketing.
But they really all are such a joy.

One day this week we were both working 1 on 1 with a baby (a task that
is virtually impossible…because as you sit down, you basically become
a jungle gym for all the others) Anyway, we each had a baby in our
arms and suddenly we see a group of them huddled in amazement around a
mop bucket. It wasn’t a second later that the nursery was filled with
a soothing song. It was basically repetitive humming and they all
joined in jumping around and cooing. There were soap bubbles in the
bucket… and they thought it was so cool, they were singing and playing
as the cleaning lady worked to wash the windows. Sometimes they have
to work hard to play….but almost anything novel and they can create a
very fun game to amuse themselves. As we write this, we are watching
the video on the camera, the smiling faces and beautiful eyes….ahh, it
gives us chills even now. We just love these crazy kids.

We also want to tell you all a little bit about the kiddos we are
specifically working with one on one. First, Yordi. His smile can
capture your heart. He is so happy, its amazing. He is about 6 years
old, we think. He had some kind of brain injury when he was very
young, but no one can really give us any kind of details. He can sit
up…and his favorite game in the world is to sit and “blow raspberries”
and holler “ohhhh-woop!” He is blind and partially deaf, but really
responds to all the caregivers and other kids. Everybody loves Yordi.
Currently, he can sit by himself with supervision. We have lots of
goals to work to improve Yordi’s functional movement.

Little Elshaday is next. She is about 2 years old (again we
think….don’t really know) It is just really hard to tell. She is
REALLY long, but REALLY skinny. Similar to Yordi, we suspect some
kind of brain trauma…but no one really knows anything. She is a doll.
The first day we walked in and she was laying motionless looking up
at us… with a huge smile. Now, just two weeks later, we see her
holding her arms out to us when we come in and getting really excited
to see us. She is a very smart little girl. We immediately were
concerned about her breathing and ability to feed. We have been
talking with several therapists back home to get advice on
interventions to help with her oral motor skills. This week as we
were working with the babies, a group of visiting American’s came to
tour the orphanage and play with the kids. We were so fortunate that
one of the women happened to be a speech therapist. She was so
helpful and gave us great advice that we have been able to apply to
several kids. It was really a blessing!
Masqanaw….aka Baletta: We have recently learned that this hilarious
child is actually a little girl. It is quite difficult to tell the
sex of the kids without observing a diaper change because pink is a
unisex color, everyone’s hair is short, dresses are often the outer
layer of clothing for everyone. Anyway, Baletta is the kind of child
that just immediately fills you with joy. When you say that her laugh
is contagious…it really doesn’t do it justice. She sits in her crib,
rocking back and fourth and randomly dies laughing!!! And we mean this
is a full body shaking … sometimes she laughs so hard, it is silent
and she is just sitting there jiggling! She particularly enjoys
watching Keely’s signature fist pumping dance moves. She can sit up
in her crib unsupported, but gets very little stimulation or even time
out of bed. We have lots of ideas on improving her core strength and
seeing what she can do.

Finally is a little new comer that we are very worried about. Her
name, Addisa, actually means “new”. (like Addis Ababa means “new
flower”) We think she is about 4-5 months old. We have major concerns
about her hearing and vision. Both are obviously impaired, but we
don’t know to what extent. She is so sensory sensitive that any
tactile stimulation on her back increases her tone to such a degree
that she screams in discomfort. And often we have observed seizures,
especially when she gets scared or upset. To add to the concerns, she
also has pretty significant feeding issues as well and currently can
not suck on a bottle. Right now we are really trying to focus on
calming and decreasing her sensitivity to all stimulation so that she
can sleep and hopefully adjust to this new environment. We are doing
a lot of oral simulation to help with feeding. But she is sweet when
her body finally gives her a second to relax. She loves to fall
asleep laying on her belly over your arm with her little head resting
on your hand.
There are lots of babies that are a little behind developmentally that
we are working with a lot too. One especially is a little girl named
Ruth. We both noticed her the first day that we walked in. She was
basically emotionless… pretty much the only kid there who couldn’t
have cared less about us. She was scooting around on her bottom a
little… but mostly just observing the room. We both have worked to
gain this wise little girls trust and help facilitate some more
efficient movement patterns. We are so excited about her improved
emotional response to everything. Now we get a big grin when we walk
in…and maybe if we are lucky, a little yell from across the room. She
is soooo fun to cuddle with!

I (this is Kelly typing now) had a bittersweet day this week at
Kebebtsehay. As you may recall, I fell in love with a little girl
named Tedala on our very first day at the orphanage. Keely likes to
say she has me wrapped around her finger Although I love love love
all the children, she really touched me specifically for some reason.
Well, I was holding her on Monday and an Ethiopian gentleman came in
the room. His English was good enough to tell me that he had come to
Kebebtsehay to adopt one little kiddo, but was ending up with two one
he saw how absolutely beautiful this little girl was. And she really
is SO beautiful. She has little tiny features and two huge front
teeth and is absolutely a doll. She loves affection and to be held.
So after some questions to Yemamu, it was clarified that she was
indeed being adopted! It happened so fast…he was there on Monday and
Tedala was gone on Tuesday. I spoiled her a little more than usual on
her last and even woke her up from her nap Monday afternoon to say
goodbye (a big no-no usually in the orphanages…sleeping kids = less
work for the caregivers). I am so excited for her and want only the
best, but can’t help knowing that I will miss her for this next month
and will wonder about her for years to come.

We finally got the wheels turning on the Kechene jewelry making!
We’re planning a meeting with the girls on Monday to see who is
interested, and are even hoping to teach them how to make purses,
tablecloths and placemats. Look for finely crafted Kechene products
coming to the U.S. once we’re back.

Today, Friday, Keely, Keely and I went to visit Kolfe, the older boys
government orphanage. After almost an hour and a half on four
different taxis (we’ve had some taxi trouble the last few days…flat
tire, stalled taxi, our taxi today hit a person, chaut chewers (a
moderately illegal stimulant) yada yada), we finally arrived. We had
a few big plans after our tour which may have consisted of some
Frisbee and teaching the boys four square. Little did we know it
wasn’t quite the mood for such games today. After our tour of the
facilities, which admittedly have very few resources, we found
ourselves in the middle of an emotional Amharic conversation where
many of the boys were discussing their frustrations about the limited
attention and resources they receive as compared to the Kechene girls
home (from the very basic translation of about an hour long
conversation we received afterwards). Needless to say, we didn’t play
any games. We did, however, get some great ideas. We’ll enlighten
you with one…we think, and it has apparently already been in the works
at one point, it would be amazing to get these boys some business
training and some resources to start a business that would allow them
to sustain as a home and provide for them long term, as opposed to a
band-aid fix of monetary donations. We’d love to chat with some of
our business friends and perhaps even some business schools about the
possibility of this training program.

As for our personal lives, the really funny stories have revolved
around our taxi services (see above paragraph for a quick synopsis).
We did, however, lose water for a day and a half because of damage to
the water line while our street is under construction. Now, a day and
a half doesn’t seem like a long time as I type this, but it is when
your toilet requires water (a substantial amount, actually!) to flush
(especially troublesome for those battling a case of travelers
diarrhea), and you may or may not have taken a shower in a few days.
Fortunately, it wasn’t too long and things are up and running as usual
in our house.

Last night was “date night” for the four of us! We went to a nice
restaurant that seconds as an art gallery with some really beautiful
original paintings. Kelly may or may not being trying to figure out
how she would get one of said paintings home. The food was, by far
and unanimously, the best we’ve has since being here in Ethiopia.
They have a little bit of everything…Italian, steaks, fish…and
everything we had was great. They even have a spinach salad! We
haven’t seen spinach here up until that point, so some dark green
vegetables were looking very appealing. Needless to say, Makush will
be visiting frequently for our newly established weekly “date nghts.”

Okay our friends, we think it is about time to wrap things up on our
end. Tonight we are going to see an Amharic movie at the cinema (with
English subtitles, of course) called Teza. It’s directed by an
Ethiopian who is a professor in the states and we think it’s about
socialism. It is supposed to be one of the best Ethiopian made films
ever, so we’re pretty excited. We’re also heading to Entoto Mountain
this weekend, so this little day trip may provide some interesting
stories for our next post. Until then….

Thought of the day: Today during the discussion with the boys of
Kolfe, a white van pulled in. One of the boys turned to us and in
English, said “that’s my mom and dad.” We weren’t quite sure what
this meant, so we turned to Yemamu and asked. He said “it’s the
government.” It was a very poignant moment and way for this teenager
to express his reality. This was a very powerful moment for all three
of us to understand his life.


  1. Best post yet. I love hearing what you guys are doing out there. Love you.

  2. I think I have to agree with Nick! Great post, I can just picture the love, knowledge, attention, etc. that you are giving these kids and how much it really makes a difference! Many of them will remember you guys and how you've touched thier lives forever, just as you will remember them forever! Thanks for the update and the 2 pictures for a little sneak peak of your world for the last few weeks! Keep up the good work!

  3. It is very easy to get attached, huh? Just love them all you can while you are there. They will remember that experience and feeling. I so enjoy hearing about your work and all the people you are meeting.
    Take care and be safe.
    Love you so,

  4. Oh Keel! I love hearing about all of the kiddos you are working with! I feel like I can really picture you there, now. Amazing.

  5. Love the new pictures! Thanks for sharing your work...they say, "a picture is worth a thousand words". How true! Take good care. Much love, Mom

  6. You ladies rock!!! It seems like the little ones are touching you as much as you are touching them and their lives. You won't be same on your return, and your future careers in PT will be shaped by this time. May God continue to bless and prosper the work of your hands!

  7. Greetings to the K KREW! Yes, I have named your group! None of you know name is Lauren and I work with Avril. Consequently, I have heard much about Kelly (and Nick, of course!) Anyway, I have been following your blog and felt compelled to post. In a nut shell, you ALL are AMAZING women! The work you are doing is incredible and will have an impact beyond what anyone can comprehend. I love reading the stories, not only of your experiences, but also of the people you have encountered in your work. Ones like Baletta, whose laughter I can hear in my mind when I read your description. And Kelly, as for your short time with Tedala...know how much joy you gave her by sharing your love with her. I'm sorry your time with her was cut short, but how awesome that she has been adopted. Hopefully her new family is continuing to shower her with the love and affection you gave her. Again, I dont know any of you personally, but I felt the need to post. I hope you have some realization of what an incredible gift you are giving! You take the 'pay it forward' mind set to a whole new level of generosity. Continue to be safe and do your wonderful work. I will pray for all of you and continue to follow your good deeds (and funny stories) on this blog. Take care!

  8. To the K Family,
    It is so exciting to hear about what all you girls/women are doing. (I am old, so you are art girls to me!) I am so grateful that your hearts are open to the children you are serving. How lucky they are to have you there! I love reading about your days and I am amazed at your sense of adventure. I pray for all of you often. Keely O, I am especially proud of you since I can claim you personally. I have been printing out your blog so Nanie can read what all you are doing. It helps her with the worry thing! I can't wait to hear all about it and see pictures. Be careful, you know that wrorry thing has passed down through the generations. Love you!


  9. My favorite part about this blog is that, yes, those two boys have a bright picture in pick-pocketing. But, by golly, they are such a joy. Funny. Great story about the kid who laughs randomly. It's lovely to see little slivers happiness in an otherwise trying situation. Pretty cool.

    You two are like a couple of majestic fire hoses spraying copious amounts of love all over the country of Ethopia.