The men here wear ankle strapped sandals, like jellies, it makes Andrew and I giddy with how precious it is.
The streets here are rough and bumpy, deeply broken opening their cracks wide to fill with dirt and debris. The broken roads are filled with people, smiling at you, sitting in circles, nursing their babies, laughing together sharing pineapple, herding their little shaking goats along the road, selling fruit, phone cards, shoe shines.
Their language is framed in a smile as a house is framed and built in wood, the basis for construction of each word. Words don’t form or flow into the air unless is passes through a deep, bright, genuine smile, clear, inviting eyes.
We heard music being played, and looked into an open gate, City Refuge Church. It was loud, joyful worship music, the men alive on stage, music radiating from their beings, their arms to God, filling the city with praise.
“Welcome friends,” warmly and casually smiling, just as happy to see us as an old friend, shaking our hands. We met the pastor , Mo, who invited us to their coffee shop with coffee free to anyone. As we talked, he told us Refuge City Church used to be a night club, as we gazed around the room filled with chairs, filled with people even though it was not service time, John Piper had spoken there last year. He invited us back Wednesday night to service time in Amharic, we told him we can’t wait. What an honor.
This is not a city with pedestrian right of way, it was tricky at first, but we’ve gotten a hold of it now and can cross streets more boldly.
We tried to buy some gum from these boys as they perched on the edge of the curb. We handed the tallest, into his thin hands our only coin, not sure how much it was worth, but thinking it was more than enough. He looked at his brother, and looked at his feet. He slowly brought his hand back up, looking at us through huge eyes, handing us back our coin, it hadn’t been enough, he felt bad to do it.
“Keep it,” we told him, “We don’t need gum.”
We headed home and gazed out the window as the sun set, dusty gold along the horizon from the 7th story, people like ants milling below us. The sounds of goats and diesel cars filled the air, people sat in groups making fires, cooking corn and enjoying one another. Groups of men sitting, sometimes barely getting words out they were laughing so hard together, their teeth shining.
We put on jackets, and once it was night, we headed to Yod Abyssinia, first stopping by the Ethiopian Orthodox church. It was night, but it was filled the with people, women wrapped in scarves, filling the court yard, similar to how a mall would be filled here. I had a scarf around my head, but we still approached slowly, feeling equally in awe and self conscious about the reverence the people had within a church court yard at night when the doors were closed, the inside empty. Many worshipped openly in their own little space, prayed on their hands and knees heads on the ground, men and women, and children. We sat on a curb, not approaching the church’s wall, feeling humbled and inspired by each person’s personal reverence who even late at night, worshipped God, openly, diligently, genuinely, their faces up to the night sky, or pressed down to the earth, connecting with their father. Some men, tall and regal, but with tears in their eyes as they prayed.
We walked past Refuge church again, a Protestant church, Mo was standing outside, “Andrew!” and they embraced.
“Still here?” Andrew asked.
“Oh, just Monday to Monday,” he smiled. He stood outside with his friends, welcoming to all on the street, their big yellow sign, “We belong to Jesus,” above their heads.
We told him we were going to Yod, and asked him if we should take a Taxi home, our agency had advised against it, but it seemed safer than walking late at night along these roads….”Right?” we asked.
“No….” he told us, “It’s better to walk. Walk here to Refuge, one of us can drive you home if we are still here.”
“Thank you, man.”
“You’re welcome, brother.”
We said goodbye, “See you Wednesday,” we waved over our shoulder as we headed on our way, avoiding potholes, interspersed red and white lights from traffic to guide to our feet along the broken roads.
We arrived and a woman sat us.
“What is your name?” we asked her.
“It’s Amen,” she smiled at us.
“That is the best name,” Andrew told her, looking at me, “Can you imagine having your baby, looking down at her and just saying, ‘Amen.'”
She smiled shyly, thanking us.
It was pretty perfect. “Mine is Amy,” I told her, she smiled and said she has my Ethiopian name.
On the menu were many choices, including the option for raw beef, local goat, the carcasses I am certain we saw earlier in the day, piled on a rock near the herds, guarded by men with long sticks, the men showing the width of the goat’s hips to those who passed. Each goat marked with a dusty color to show who it belonged to.
We settled on chicken and beef. The cooked kind. A man brought out a tall, silver carafe with a curved spout and intricately woven design etched into the surface. We held out our hands as he pour hot water, washing away the dirt.
Our food was brought out, Injera is made from a superfood ancient grain, Teff. There is no gluten, and it is fermented.
The meat was warmed by hot coals, glowing beneath the spiced meats.
At Yod, we ordered food and listened to the music. Dancers came out. They danced for hours. Hours. Changing outfits, but one thing never changed, their smiles. We watched as we ate, and their smiles only grew bigger and wider, their gaze turning upwards, 4 men and 4 women. The women are the most beautiful I’ve seen, the men are kind, humble, joyful.
Incense burned in the air, all the Ethiopians in the crowd danced and shook their shoulders. A group of Asian men to our left, didn’t dance, a group of college students to our right, didn’t dance, the rest of the hall filled with Ethiopians dancing. The dancers came down from the stage to dance with those eating. One came to our table, Andrew pointed to me. I didn’t want to. I’d be embarrassed. “No…” I said, but he was smiling, not the pushy kind of smile, but the kind smile from his own personal joy. No one would be watching me…no one would mock or laugh, people here dance to dance. It’s their joy, not to show. I knew it was true, I was taught by their smiles. So I stood up, I could get over myself long enough to try. And it was fun, my shoulder shaking game was lacking, but I felt a deep smile on my face too, equal parts free from worry and the enjoyment of dancing to the music.
We left late, too late, we stayed later than we had intended. “Do you want to ride with us?” We saw the couple we had met in Istanbul who were also adopting, our twins, a blonde and a red head. There was one seat, “Naaaahhhh, we’re ok.” We told them.
“Are you…sure?” they asked.
“We’re pretty close,” we waved.
There were few people on the road.
And we avoided all potholes.
We talked about the things in our lives we want to change when we get home, less of the striving, more of the real. We walked fast, the cool air on our hot necks, filled with joy, hopping over potholes, waving away any blue taxis who tried to honk at us.
We went to bed at midnight, Andrew still smelling of sweet incense smoke and spicy green mustard.
“I love you.”
“I love you, too.”
Skies are blazing with his splendor,
his praises sounding through the earth,
His cloud-brightness like dawn, exploding, spreading,
forked-lightning shooting from his hand—
what power hidden in that fist!