Refurbishing in Ethiopia

Jane Hollingsworth wrote the following post.   She participated in the mission trip to Soddo, Ethiopia from March 9 – 16, 2013.

One of our goals for the week we visited Soddo and the orphanage was to fix up the girls’ rooms (saving the boys’ rooms until the next visit) with new paint and new mattresses for the beds.  The old mattresses were thin, foam mattresses that had been on the beds since the orphanage was first built.  Let’s just say it was time for a change!

Like with many things in Ethiopia, it may sound like a perfectly rational, simple plan to replace the mattresses, but easier said than done.  The painting went well as the paint had already been purchased in Soddo and the work organized before we arrived.  Mattresses were another story.  First of all, we realized when evaluating the rooms upon arrival that we would need to replace not only the mattresses, but the pillows too.  What was left of the pillows would fall apart in your hand.  Not only that, but it was apparent that the mosquito nets for all of the children were either gone or ineffective from disintegration and age.  That was a big deal since the rainy season (with lots of mosquitos) was about to begin!  So the list was expanded to include 22 mattresses, 22 pillows and mosquito nets for all.  I – being the new kid on the block – was given the assignment of purchasing these items and getting them back to the orphanage.  I accepted the job and so began a very interesting day.

First, there are no mattresses in Soddo, so it required a trip to Awassa, a larger town about three hours away by car.  After a morning of discussion and coordinating, off I went in one of the 4×4 vehicles with our driver; Alazar, the dean of all things in Ethiopia; and Ayishu, the CCC accountant, and a handful of cash to make the purchases.  The ride to Awassa was fairly uneventful – just the usual dodging of all manner of person, animal and wooden carts along the road.   When we got close, we stopped at a couple of shops to see if we could find mattresses but struck out each time.  Finally, we got to Awassa and decided to go to find the mosquito nets first.  It is always good to have a success and it was considered to be a lot easier job than finding mattresses.  To our great delight, the first shop we went to had the nets and we quickly purchased 50, stuffed them in sacks, piled them in the car and went off to the next stop.

For reasons that I do not fully understand, the three Ethiopians with me were very confident about finding mattresses and happy with the nets so decided we needed to eat lunch next.  Since the Orthodox Christian Lent had begun that week, they were all “fasting” which meant a lunch with no meat, no dairy and no eggs.  No problem.  We found a local spot and had a very typical Ethiopian Lenten lunch consisting of injera bread and lots of things that I could not identify but which were good to eat.  Even the bathroom there was reasonably acceptable – a key factor!

Duly fortified, we continue our quest.  Our next stop proved to be a good one.  The little shop had a small warehouse of sorts in the back and they took us back to see what we could find.  To our great delight, we saw a large pile of the single foam mattresses we had been looking for.  Success!  Much discussion ensued about whether there really were enough since they were not all exactly the same.  I somehow convinced everyone that yes indeed there were enough and that the ones that didn’t look exactly like the others were really just fine.   So, we selected the 22 mattresses and moved on to pillows.   Not surprisingly, the shop owner was liking us a lot so he decided to give us a little break on the pillows and we quickly agreed to buy 22 of those too.

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The process of paying began and the discussion of how we were going to get these purchases back to Soddo began in earnest.  Interestingly, the shopkeeper happened also to be a taxi driver so he took one of our party off in the taxi to see if they could find a truck somewhere to take the mattresses back.  No mattress delivery in Ethiopia but lots of willingness to help us solve the problem!  After a while the taxi returned having had no luck finding a truck.  Alazar then had the brilliant idea of going to the bus depot to see if we could buy some space on top of a bus going to Soddo.  Off we went to the bus depot – a crazy, chaotic place with all manner of little buses and lots of people milling around.  I stayed in the car while the others went out to find a bus and negotiate a rate.  Had they seen me, the rate would have gone up considerably so I stayed behind and kept a very low profile.   After a while, they came back triumphantly saying they had done the deal and we had a bus willing to take the mattresses back right then for a very modest fee.  Hooray!!

So now we go back to the mattresses shop to figure out how to get the mattresses to the bus depot.  Once again the shopkeeper had a plan.  He had a small VW bus type vehicle onto and into which they piled, tied and stuffed all 22 mattresses.  Pretty cool.  Once ready, off they went to the bus depot while we got all of the pillows in the car and tied the nets to the roof. Not much room left in the car for people but we figured it out!  Then we also left for the bus depot, saying hearty goodbyes to our new friends from the mattress shop.  We didn’t get to the depot however before we saw our mattresses being loaded on top of a bus along the side of the road.  Apparently, the bus had already left by the time the mattresses arrived so they had to drive along the route to find the bus, stop it, unload the mattresses from the VW and pile them on top of the bus.

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It was about then that I got a text from Terri back in Soddo saying that it was raining like crazy.  Perfect!  The dry season was ending just as we loaded 22 new mattresses on the top of a bus to drive into the monsoon rains for two and one half hours.  Seemed as if we would need a tarp.  That took some doing, but a tarp was located and tied down securely over the mattresses on top of the bus, all while the people inside the bus waited – and much more patiently than I would have expected!  Finally, everything was secured and the bus was ready to roll.  Then we were off!  It was getting late and we still had a long drive back in the rain, but we were all pretty pleased with ourselves.  We had completed our assignment and had some fun too so it was high fives all around as we started our journey back to Soddo.

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Just another day in Ethiopia!


Abeba, Zinash, and Asnakech in their refurbished bedroom with new paint, mattresses, pillows, and nets

3 responses to this post.

  1. The room looks fabulous! Great work.


  2. Sounds like an interesting and successful mission!! 🙂


  3. Posted by Laura Lembec on March 31, 2013 at 7:11 pm

    Great job! And thank you for doing this work for the girls!


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