We Danced at Kolfe

Editorial note — the Ethiopian government does not allow public posting of photos which could identify orphans.  We have 40 or 50 photos from Kolfe which we cannot publish without password protecting.  We will do something like this when we get home, because if even a small fraction of our readers felt called to adopt a boy they saw, Kolfe would be emptied.

Monday night, Marissa and I prayed over Owen that he be healed of whatever ailed him so that he might fully enjoy his second visit with Aseres and the Kolfe feast.  We also enlisted our Riverstone Community Church family to pray for him, and Tuesday morning he woke up feeling great.  We had wonderful omelets at the guest house then went to our second visit at with Aseres.  She was even better than the first day.  She immediately responded to Marissa and I and interacted like she had known us for far longer than a day.  We fed her once again and all of us played together on the floor of the small upstairs room while the Ethiopian caretakers watched our every move.  About 30 minutes into our visit, she pulled upright onto her feet and tool a tentative step from Marissa to me.  Let’s go with that was her first step.  She soon lost interest in any more mobility milestones and dropped back to the floor.

Owen was amazed that she could hold a runner’s stretch with one leg behind her and one leg straight ahead while turning 180 degrees.  Unlike the first step, it was clear she had done this move before.  Aseres walked between us on her knees and hammed for the camera, until the door opened to a caretaker with a tray.  Aseres knew what was coming even though we did not, and she tore off across the room on her knees towards a chair in the far corner.  She pushed two boys back to get pole position for a banana snack.  The caretaker stepped over the five babies awaiting their turn for banana, and sang Aseres name so beautifully that I wished I was rolling tape — “Ahs – rais; Ahs – rais” and then pressed the banana skin from the outside with a spoon which she then used to share the contents with my beautiful, impatient daughter.  The banana was gone way too fast for her new family reveling in her joy and too fast for Aseres.  As if she knew how much we were loving seeing her joy, Aseres pushed the boy second in line back onto his bottom and protested that she should also receive his banana.

Banana Time

We went over and picked her up to assure her it was okay and that we could wait and she could wait until a day soon when there will be plenty of bananas.  Big tears rolled down her ample cheeks and some baby snot bubbles followed.  We loved seeing her spirit, but another caretaker swooped in to stop the crying, not out of discipline but because Ethiopian women do not like babies to cry.  After first failing as we had, she took Aseres out of the room and returned with sink water running down from her hair and face.  The water did the trick and we resumed playing on the floor.  Before we were ready, the hour was up and we were back downstairs away from Aseres until Thursday’s final visit.

The rest of the day consisted of some sightseeing and shopping and waiting for our return trip to Kolfe for the feast.  Finally, 4:00 arrived just after our car arrived at Kolfe.  Today we were forced to park on the street outside the gate, and Owen took off to join the play he saw on the soccer field before Marissa even emerged from the car.  There was more organization on the field today, on account of three older boys who appeared always in charge of controlling the games and picking the teams.  They stacked their own team by simply staying together and Owen and I were assigned to the opposition.  Owen played all out for two hours while I alternated

in with Steve from Utah.  Within a few minutes, Owen got a nutmeg goal through the legs of the second oldest boy in a yellow sports shirt.  The oldest boy, and clear soccer alpha dog, then spent the next hour showing off his handles.  Owen interrupted the show a couple times by stealing the ball from his control, and the mutual respect grew and allowed the game to get better.

By the end, we were all sweaty and Owen had new friends of 15, 16 and 18 who only gave respect to those who took it.  Owen realized that soccer was soccer and through soccer got closer to understanding that boys were boys .  We all posed for pictures together.  Owen told the boy in yellow that Owen played for the Ajax at home, and boy in yellow asked if Owen knew Suarez; wrong Ajax Owen corrected.

Twenty kids played and 40 kids watched but eventually we headed away to an assembly room across the red dirt complex.  On the way, boy in the Cambridge elementary shirt told me that there was a surprise awaiting us.  By the time we arrived, the entire orphanage was seated in lined chairs facing 20 reserved for the honored guests.  I saw through the open door that several Gladney in-country staff had arrived and were already seated leaving enough chairs for the four families.  I almost couldn’t go through the door as I saw three boys were working to fill ten unmatched cups with sugar and coffee for a traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony in our honor… No they could not serve me coffee screamed my pride… I am here to serve them because life has given me all the advantages which it has thus far withheld from them; food, family, love, education; they cannot serve me!  I took a breath and suppressed the welling tears and resistance, because this was important to these boys; they wanted to honor me and the families even from their station so my pride could not get in the way of receiving their honor.  A little coffee was served on top of a lot of sugar then a community bowl of nuts and a second community bowl of popcorn circulated around the room and to us after we found our seats.  Owen at first refused the nuts and popcorn, likely on account of germs, but soccer alpha dog in a stern “yes” reminded Owen that soccer equality did not mean he set the rules anywhere else around Kolfe, and Owen dutifully took like the rest of us.

After several boys praised us in Amharic from a microphone connected to a boom box sitting on a window sill in the corner of the room and Scott from Southlake explained that the honor was ours, we were taken outside to the front of the queue for a buffet serving of ox and lamb stew.  We all took and we all ate; some more than others.  Finally, it was back to the assembly for a dance.  We hardly fit in the room amongst all the boys but a space was cleared for featured dancers.  Something told me that would be the honored guests and it was, as we were each taken one at a time.  Marissa went third and grabbed one of the Kolfe boys to deflect some of the attention.  I grabbed Owen when I shortly followed and we grabbed one of our new friends.  We were awful and they loved it.

Scott and Greg -- that's how we get down

Then the boys went into collective chants as they collapsed into two circles in either corner of the room like NBA teams before tip-off, only their circles swelled to 30, then 40, then 50.  After more celebration, the circles disbanded into almost a congo line which snaked through the room with new songs and chants.  At one point, it looked certain to end in riot, but we were all transfixed and unable to move or even avoid posing another obstruction for the line to slither around.

By now it was super late and court was in the morning.  We said “chow” to our new friends who each pleaded with eyes and a single word “tomorrow.”  “No” we responded “but soon.”  I doubt they believed us but their smiles remained despite our tears.  The three lead soccer players took more pictures with Owen and told him they expected to see him on tv someday playing in England; too easily they discounted the fact that they were just as good, assuming instead that soccer glory outside Kolfe would be one more break reserved for our son and withheld from them.

Thirty boys spilled out the gate into the street around our cars still pleading for “tomorrow” and we responded with all the hugs we had.  Ten minutes later, the car got away to silence — we were all wrecked even our previously callous driver.  I would normally have talked to Owen at this point about takeaways and lessons but there was no need for words tonight; tonight was more real than our prior experiences and we walked through it together.

Years ago I wrote a list of sports experiences I wanted to enjoy — The Masters, the Kentucky Derby, Wimbledon and others, because I thought it was up to me to determine what experiences would complete me.  “Dance at Kolfe” was better than everything I could of ever come up with, and as I drove away from Kolfe I praised God for replacing my list with his own.  Come sweet Jesus, give me the faith and strength to go where you would have me.


5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. @jmillerjr
    Dec 03, 2011 @ 14:29:47

    You experienced why I do what I do and long to be back in Africa. Looking forward to your return, so we can hear more of your journey. Praying for you guys…


  2. morelovetogive
    Dec 03, 2011 @ 16:30:44

    Crying as I read this…I’m sure it’s humbling to be served by the “least of these” but probably amazing as well. What a great expereince


  3. morelovetogive
    Dec 03, 2011 @ 16:32:14

    Sorry it cut me off…I’m glad you got to be there with the boys and families! Can’t wait to hear more about it and see the pictures…


  4. JoLynn
    Jun 14, 2012 @ 15:49:12

    We are adopting two boys from Kolfe. You can see our story at http://www.thecolemancrowd.blogspot.com If you have any photos, I would love to see them. My email is xxx Thank you!! Blessings!


    • allsmileatonce
      Jun 15, 2012 @ 18:28:48

      JoLynn, You don’t know how great your timing was in sharing with us. We have finally caught our breath after being back two months and are wrecked for Kolfe. We will be praying for you guys and I will get you some pics directly (we were told not to publish). Let’s empty that place.


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