My last trip to Ethiopia, several “angels” crossed my path.
Firstly, on my way to Axum, the Northern ancient capital (where the Ark of the Covenant is preserved), I was going by myself, with no translator or guide, with no place booked to stay that night.
A lot of people there do speak English, but I’d say about 90 percent of them speak broken English. The ones who don’t have such a thick accent you can only decipher about half of it. It’s not easy.
So while I was in the airport admiring some paintings on the wall, I heard someone talking like they lived in Chattanooga. Not just English. Not just an American. Not even African-American. A homie.
I turned to see Tadu and Tsega, two women traveling as tourists to Axum from North America. Tadu has lived in Toronto for several years, with a thick Ethiopian accent. Her niece, Tsega, has lived in Atlanta most of her life. That was the oh-so-recognizable accent.
The three of us chatted for a few minutes. By the time we landed in Axum, they offered to help me find a taxi and drive together from the Airport into Axum. There were a bunch of huckster cab drivers/hotel reps/potential tour guides types pitching us as we approached. I would have had a tough time navigating all those very pesky but hard to understand accents. Tadu and Tsega got me to a very nice hotel in Axum that cost about $25 bucks a night and would cost $150 a night in America.
Because I had befriended them, I learned that the next day, the Patriarch of Ethiopia himself was in town from Addis Ababa. They are both devout Orthodox Christians, and they donned their white headcoverings early the next morning for the services. I hopped into a bus with them and we went to the liturgy feast. Without these two angels, I would not have known about this golden opportunity.
Second angel: Climbing up the cliffs of Debra Damo Monastery was one thing. I barely made it, but I did. I figured coming back down was much easier. I was wrong.
About halfway down, I knew I was in trouble. But a young man down below scurried up the rope (no safety rope tied to him like I had), and proceeded to put me on his shoulders and slowly lower me down the cliff to the ground. In my mind, he risked his life for me. (In his mind, he probably assisted another dumb American.) I gave this angel a $5 tip, which is like $100 there. I would have given him five times that much if he’d asked.
(Below is by far the most popular video I’ve ever posted on Ethiopia.)
Third angel: I was hanging out in a coffee shop. The guy across from me had this cool little note pad. Soft leather cover, large lines inside. Just what I needed. I told him I really liked it, and asked where I could get one.
“Here, you have this one,” he immediately responded. “I haven’t written in it yet.”
I flat out refused. But he would not take no for an answer. At some point, you have to accept the kindness.
I have been using this notebook a lot for very important projects, and I’m taking it with me on Trip #3. I guess the Lord blesses items that are given with such a pure heart.
Fourth angel: Upon returning from Axum to Addis Ababa, I was once again trying to figure out the complexities of a non-fraudulent taxi ride at a decent rate to my next destination. I had a little chit chat with a white Australian guy at the baggage claim area. He’s worked in Ethiopia for three years, helping Eritrean refugees (a troubled country just north). He’s married to a Yemeni woman. As we approached the exits, he offered for me to skip a cab and join them in their car to the big city.
Heck yeah, I replied. He and his wife were wonderfully kind. I needed to stop by the ATM and they made that happen. Then, instead of going straight to my hotel, they suggested we have lunch together at a nearby Arabic food restaurant (the Yemen connection). So I did. And the food was great.
When it was over, they demanded to pay for my lunch. What? Wow.
But these angels threw me for a loop. His wife is Muslim. And this Australian converted to Islam. They were married in Ethiopia (some kind of compromise for the parents) and they love the country. He said the Ethiopians are incredibly compassionate to the refugees and they have a wonderful peacemakers. This was a paradigm stretcher for me, but I am very grateful for it.
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