As the title suggests today is my last day in Addis. Amanda refuses to acknowledge the fact. I think we are both living in denial. It has been such a tremendous experience.
We are alone today and have breakfast, croissant and banana and mango honey. We have a cup of tea out on the terrace overlooking this paradox of a city. It is a beautiful day, clear blue skies as far as the eye can see. I have heard it said that the sky seems bigger in Africa than anywhere else. Some people say it's because there are less tall buildings, others because of the way the plains stretch downwards. I'm not so sure. I think that maybe the sky seems bigger here because the sky is bigger. We sit in the morning sun, sipping at our hot drinks as Fluffy, the mangy adopted cat, sits on Manda's lap and manages to look almost normal.
By the time we set off we are late...
We catch the minibus to Piazza one last time and I still find myself fascinated, absolutely transfixed, looking out the window (that is stuck) at the ferocious vivacity of life here. The streets teem with people, donkeys, sheep, cattle, cats, dogs, people shout and honk their horns in a good natured way, the air is rich with the scent of everything you can possibly imagine all mixed together in a giant pot. We get off at Piazza and make the short walk down to the Abinet bus corner where we hop on the second bus of our usual journey. We are old hands now, we know precisely the right change and every now and again someone says 'Good Amharic' when we say 'Warach' (stop the bus!).
We get off just past the Abinet round about which is littered with the bodies of the homeless. Sometimes when you pass them in the street you don't even realise they are there. It's just a pile of rags on the floor until you see a foot or a hand poking tentatively out of a corner.
We get to the project just before midday. Today, now that the election for the Muslim cabinet is over the feeding project proper will start in the Kindergarten.
We all troop off down the cobbled slope to the KG where there are 39 children sponsored by the project, paying for their schooling and food. There are about 150 children at the KG in total and when we arrive me and Amanda are immediately swamped. I have brought my guitar with me and once again I am turned into a climbing apparatus. They are so wonderfully chirpy and happy, I play them every song I can think off and play some games with them all. They are literally hanging off me. Fascinated by my arm hair and this strange instrument that makes sounds, by my glasses (which I nearly lose). I start to get tired and think I might sit down for a bit.
I sit down and about 50 kids sit on top of me. I play Hakuna Matata, George Michael's 'Faith', a song I wrote for Manda. They all sing Happy Birthday to me. 50 tiny little smiling faces just inches away from my face, shouting 'Happy Birthday dear Darren'. This has to be the best version of Happy Birthday I've ever experienced.
After I exhaust my repertoire, I stand up. 50 kids are lifted off the ground, it's like an earthquake. We start to make our way to the gate and I imagine that this must be what it's like to be in a blender. We are pulled this way and that by these delightful children. Eventually, after having shaken 100 tiny hands and said 'Salamno' a thousand times we make it to the gate.
I realise that we had come down to see the feeding project and ask Amanda whether they had had lunch?
'Yes. They had lunch but you couldn't see because they were all sitting on you.'
We head back up to the project. After running a few errands in Mexico, we return with Sha to the project to record the older kids singing the song that me and Mahalet have written. It's wonderful to see so many of them there. They are so brilliantly behaved and while a little shy, they are soon singing their hearts out for the video camera. I will really miss all of them and say so at the end of the last session. They say how much they have appreciated my visit. What wonderful kids.
As I walk with everybody down the cobble street to the main road for the last time we are accompanied by Kinde and a couple of the kids. Kinde carries my guitar for me. It is rush hour and it's impossible to get a seat in any of the minibuses. A minibus pulls up about 30 metres away, Sha says something to the boys and they run with lightning speed down to the bus and cram themselves on before anyone else can. Sha walks us slowly down to the bus and then when we get there the kids get out and give us the seats they had saved. We are wonderfully grateful. I have a strange feeling as I watch them wave and their smiling faces disappear in the dust of Addis as we pull out onto the road. They have such exuberance. They are the kings of this pot-holed, dusty world and I watch them run off, slapping each other on the back and laughing. It is an image that will stay with me for the rest of my life.
I just have one final thing to say now I guess...
This project and it's people, Getachw, Kidist, Reta and the boys and most especially Sha and Tesfahun are truly a unique and special venture. From literally nothing they have created a family in the heart of the poverty ridden sub city of Lideta. And when I say family, I mean it in the most wonderful sense of the word. This group, 218 kids, their sponsors and the founders and boys of the charity are brothers and sisters. They care for each other with the utmost devotion. I have felt utterly privileged to have been able to be a part of that family and they have made me feel so wonderfully welcome. I will miss them all enormously as I will miss Amanda (who is staying for another four weeks). I couldn't ask for better people to take care of her out there in the crazy world of Addis Ababa.
The project is currently sponsoring 218 kids, but there are more in the area who need help. By 2014 Tes and Sha hope to be sponsoring 350 kids in total. The project is unique in that you have a true relationship with your sponsored child and the opportunity to visit them if you would like to...
If you or anyone you know would like to help the project in any way at all you can find out more about the project here:
Thanks so much for reading and do keep popping back to find out more of my adventures in London