Preliminary Report of Volunteer Trip to Ethiopia

I work for a company that has a sabbatical policy to provide employees a 4-week paid leave every five years.  My fifth year concluded on Jan 19, 2000.  Last fall I tried to develop some enthusiasm about driving to Alaska during my sabbatical, I watched videos and read books about Alaska and driving to Alaska.  I had been to the North Slope in 1971 for 13 days for work. I couldn’t seem to generate much enthusiasm.  Then during skiing, I talked late with our second daughter about the sabbatical.  I still didn’t know what to do, but I wanted to get out of town.  Jan had served in missions in the slums of Mexico City for a year and half some years back.  She suggested that I volunteer for a missions project in Turkey or elsewhere. 

So when I got home from skiing, I read with interest a short note in the Amharic Newsletter about the need for volunteer work in Ethiopia to improve water supply from springs at rural villages.  The request was for a group, but I volunteered  to go solo and sent the on-site missionary my resume about my training as a Mechanical Engineer and my experience with home and Baptist Builder construction.  It seemed a good fit for a significant activity to do on my sabbatical.  I also talked with the Brownfields, who were missionaries home on furlough from Ethiopia and knew all about the volunteer request.

Within a short time after I sensed that this work may be a good fit for my sabbatical, my company was purchased in an amicable takeover and our stock options stretching over four years became available in March.  Also, we sold some company stock at the elevated takeover price.  So money for expenses for the volunteer work in Ethiopia became available.

As some of you know, I had a blood clot in my right lung in Nov and Dec.  At one point I couldn’t even walk the length of our house without getting out of breath.  A competent pulmonary doctor put me on coumadin therapy to minimize chances for more blood clots and my body absorbed the blood clot.  Within three weeks in late January, I was back to full lung capacity.  The first week in Feb, I had a colonoscopy that showed one large colon polyp and several small ones.  The doctors didn’t want to interrupt the coumadin therapy,  so I waited until the therapy was completed at the end of March and on April 10 I had the polyps removed.  I passed lung scans on the blood and air sides and a breathing test on Mar 29 before I was allowed off the coumadin.  So I have had plenty of medical hurdles, but they are all behind me.

I have walked about 3 to 5 miles a day three to four times a week and have hiked down into Clifton Gorge with grandkids and my wife five times since Mar 1 to breaking in hiking equipment and get in shape.

I am leaving for Ethiopia May 3 at 1:30 PM and will return Jun 2 at 11PM.  I was able to get the airline tickets with Lufthansa for about three-fourths of the expected cost.  I have my passport and visa to enter Ethiopia.  I have had inoculations for yellow fever, hepatitis A, typhoid, and diphtheria/tetanus.

I have everything about ready to pack, such as: Bible in Picture for Little Eyes for telling simple Bible stories at night in homes; hiking boots and socks; walking stick; tent, sleeping bag(s) and pad; two water bottles; portable water filter to remove dirt, parasites, and bacteria; work boots;  Lowe’s-type Velcro-fastened elastic back brace(just in case); knee support for my right knee(in case it acts up); clothes including wide-brimmed white hat with black mesh above the brim for air cooling; small Olympus Stylus 35-140 zoom camera for 35 mm slides; 7 rolls of 36 exp film; rucksack pack for holding two outboard drinking bottles and essentials like toilet paper, camera, and snacks; tools including: hammer, pliers, hacksaw, masonry level, spirit level, mason’s string and finishing trowel, small hatchet, plumb bob, square, metric tape rule, carpenter’s apron, etc; food collected by June for snacks and breakfast; wet-wipes; dishpan; food-enclosure; bandages; one-a-day aspirin (in lieu of coumadin); Tylenol for pain in right knee; enough antibiotics to combat two onsets of diarrhea; compression stockings for use on the plane provided by friends; etc. 

I will be working for an agricultural-specialist Southern Baptist missionary who is a single woman in her 30’s.  Her name is Suzanne Barden.  She and David Brownfield have been so nice to answer all my questions by e-mail.  I have received the e-mails of reports on her activity since early Mar.  I volunteered to help with spring improvement, but in early Mar, Suzanne asked me to head up a construction team to build pit latrines instead, since I am coming solo.  She said that the pit latrines will significantly improve the health of village children.

In one city, Meti (haven’t found it yet on the maps), the villagers are proud of the school they have built for first through sixth graders.  100 kids come in morning and 100 in afternoon.  Some walk one and half hour one way to school.  There is no pit latrine or outhouse at the school.  The villagers are enthusiastic about the Southern Baptist Missions building the pit latrine.  Meti is a four hour hike from the end of the road and is also at about 7000 ft altitude—way down there from Gina Ager!

Suzanne is hiring an Ethiopian mason and an Ethiopian carpenter and a Christian Ethiopian translator to work with me the entire month I am there.  I will be heading this team to build pit latrines in four villages.  We will start building two pit latrines in Gina Ager, which is where Suzanne lives.  We can get to the site with 4 x 4 trucks in this village.  The altitude in Gina Ager is 11000 ft so even though it is located at 8 deg south of the equator, it is 70 – 80F in day and down to 40’s at night.  One of the reasons I have been diligent about exercising is to better function at that altitude in a lower oxygen environment.  There is no electricity or running water in any of the villages I will be working in.  Most villages have a spring in the vicinity, but I will filter all my drinking water and water for food preparation.

In Key Afer, a team is coming from the Philadelphia area in early Nov to improve a spring.  This May, we will be installing a pit latrine near an elementary school.  Suzanne bought the cement bags, corrugated galvanized steel for privacy walls and roofing, and rebar to strengthen the slab.  This week she delivered the materials to the end of the road and 40+ men and 15 donkeys from Key Afer carried the materials one and a half hours to the village at about 7000 ft altitude.  Key Afer will probably be our second city for installing a pit latrine.

David Brownfield said there is no good way to get the dirt out of sand and gravel used in the concrete.  He has build five pit latrines—two for himself, and three for villages.  So plenty of rebar is used for strength.

In each city, the villagers will dig the 2.5 meter x 2.5 meter x 2.5 meter deep pit and will collect rock to line the pit and support the slab with rocks on a ledge at the top of the pit, and will gather sand and gravel for the cement slab.  I expect some villagers may help mix the cement by hand.  I asked about the mixing trough and never got an answer—I think they mix cement on the ground.  The villagers also will collect suitable wood poles to use to support the slab (it will rot and fall away after awhile), and to support the privacy partitions and roof.  There will be four holes in the slab with a full-length wall with two holes on each side.  Other privacy walls will be constructed of corrugated galvanized steel around each hole in a design meant to avoid door maintenance but give some privacy.  You can see that the pit is big, much bigger than the small outhouses we used as a kid.  The pit latrines we will build are expected to last 10 yrs according to David.

The fourth city is Gedara at 7000 ft, which has a collapsed pit latrine. Gedara is a three hour walk from the end of the road. 

In Gina Ager I will sleep in barracks on the mission compound with the national team, but in the other three villages I will sleep in my tent.  Our team of four may hire a local woman to cook meals for us.  I’ve been told that the menu will be injera and hot sauce for all meals.  That is another reason for bringing special snacks and goodies.  I’m expected to lose weight (yeah!).

I will have to hike to the three outlying villages with a small rucksack with water bottles on my back.  My things will be hauled in a rack on top of a rent-a-donkey.  I asked about returning the rent-a-donkey, but I was told that the donkey’s owner comes with.  I’m packing two duffle bags for my tools and belongings on top of the donkey.  I guess I’m too heavy to ride the small Ethiopian donkeys.  The trip down and up is steep, so I’m not sure I would want to ride anyway.  Suzanne has her own mule and mostly rides on such treks.

I will be respected by the villagers for coming from USA to help them and because of my age (64 yrs old) and gray hair.  The life expectancy of males at birth is 39 yrs old and only 3-4 % of the population is in their 60’s.  I guess I will be watched and have little privacy.  I’m not sure how I will handle that.  Most people wait to go potty until dark, but I don’t function that way in my high pressure office environment.  Hopefully, I will act gracious to all and show the love of Jesus, somehow.  I may get to tell Bible stories in homes in the evening, if I feel like it and don’t just collapse.  Hopefully, I will feel like it when the opportunity arises, because we are there for more than social concern. 

Suzanne has worked since June 1998 to get a government permit to do these pit latrine and spring improvement projects.  On Mar 7, I received an e-mail from her from which I will extract the best parts as follows: 

TODAY I signed for and received our registration certificate for “Baptist Mission of Ethiopia – Development”.  … One thing that really excites and amazes us is the wording in the “Statement and Conditions of Authorization”.  The part outlining our authorized programs and activities comes from that mountain of paperwork we had to submit to …  There are five statements that are pretty broad and would include just about any type of community development work.  But there’s one that makes all of the struggles of the past seem insignificant – “…is authorized to undertake the following: c/ Using relief and development as an avenue of sharing the gospel of Christ.” 

Now some of you may be wondering why we’re so excited … believe me, all of this ( the registration certificate and the authorization document) is a VERY big deal!  There’s been a lot of prayer to get us to this point and right now (I think I’m still in shock!} it’s even hard to find the right words of praise and thankfulness.  So I just hope that you’ll rejoice with us…and pray that we will be used by God in this opportunity that He has given to us.

In the volunteer request, she writes “…and uses the development work as a platform for building relationships with the ultimate goal being opportunities for sharing the Gospel.”

She also writes in the request: “It is a fact of life that you will experience stomach/intestinal problems.  Fleas will bite you regularly.  Malaria is not a problem due to the high altitude.  Hiking and squat-style outhouses are difficult for anyone with knee problems.

There are so many ways I can fail to do what is planned.  Suzanne is determined to complete these projects in all four cities before she leaves for USA during the rainy season of June to Sept.  She writes:

As an engineer you’re not going to like my answers (to some construction details I asked her about). …But I’m stuck with the commitment to our government contract and in this process of having to plan for the work myself since our water worker quit.  I’m discovering how complicated this is going to be.  But I don’t have the luxury of being able to have someone like David Brownfield supervise the entire pit latrine project and I have to be realistic that you may get sick and/or I may have to delegate the work to Ethiopians for the sites you’re not able to finish.  So if the “design” is more complex than how they usually do projects like this, then I’m going to have an even bigger problem.

Sound’s like someone in charge!  I campaigned for raised seats and other things.  Some of David’s suggestions got overridden for the same reason.  I do like her final design configuration.  I know pretty much exactly what I’m going to be in charge of.  When I first get to Gina Ager on Friday May 5, there will be a national worker that knows the national’s way of building that will help me get started.  By the time we finish the two pit latrines in Gina Ager, we should have all the bugs worked out of the construction details.

Please highlight any of the above that the Lord nudges you to pray when I am in Ethiopia during May.  As you can imagine, there are many ways I can fail, but I told Suzanne that I will give it my very best.  I don’t know how I will react to the high altitude. If you can, I suggest you lookup the cities I’ve mentioned on and click on maps.  You will be able to enter the city and country and a map will come up that you can zoom in on.  I found all the cities this way, except for Meti.  I will fly into Addis Ababa, where the main Southern Baptist Mission is and where David and Debbie Brownfield are living this term.  Suzanne promised that I will get to Addis Ababa mid month for a proper rest.  Maybe I can e-mail some from there.  You can view a picture of Suzanne at

The Southern Baptist IMB website for the Amhara work is:

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Report on My Construction Work in Ethiopia

Report on My Construction Work in Ethiopia

Bob Fischer


I arrived in Addis Ababa with my two large boxes and carry-on case on May 4 at 8:30 PM.  I had been primed on how to get through customs and out of the airport and all went well.  David Brownfield and Suzanne Barden and Mary Lou and Dr John Lawrence were there in the parking lot to meet and welcome me.  The Lawrence’s are “caring people” in charge of the Addis Ababa  Baptist Mission office for work with the Amharic people.  Obviously it mattered a lot to them that I was properly greeted.

I spent overnight at the Cap House and had breakfast with the Brownfields.  They live in an Italian-built compound about two blocks away from the Cap House.  Suzanne stays and works out of the Cap House when she is in Addis Ababa.  The place is beautiful with marble floors and stairs, 2-1/2 baths, 2 bedrooms and one bunk-room, etc.  David has installed battery backup with an inverter for electricity in both places. 

I rode with Suzanne in her Toyota 4×4 Land Cruiser on our trip up to Gina Ager on Friday afternoon.  On the way we stopped on the outskirts of Addis and we had an Ethiopian meal with injera bread used in place of silverware.  David and Debbie Brownfield, Asmamaw, and Mellesse were with us.  David came along to get me started in the right direction by helping with detailed drawings of the shint’bete (pit latrine) and Debbie brought along the fixings for several meals to help ease me into Ethiopian food.  Asmamaw was coming along from his home in Addis to where he works in a manager’s position for the mission.  He pays all the local mission staff and is second in command to Suzanne.  Mellesse is an evangelist who Suzanne hired to help with construction of the shint’bete. 

 Both David’s Chevy 4×4 and Suzanne’s vehicle were splattered with mud by the time we got to her home in Gina Ager.  Both vehicles were parked in her compound behind doors guarded at all times.  The roads within Gina Ager were the worst I had seen in my life!  They were covered with sharp jagged rock that chew up tires and make it difficult to walk.  I guess the rock is better than deep mud in the rainy season.  I couldn’t believe such “roads” exist!  Actually, in Addis after only several blocks out of the Italian-built compound, Suzanne took a shortcut over to the highway out to Gina Ager that also had lots of sharp rock in it. 

 When we got out to the site of the pit being dug for the shint’bete, the rest of our team were busy widening the hole and making it deeper.  Tesfaye, Tefari, and Hoptamu were pitching dirt out of the deep hole or loading dirt into a bucket, which was pulled up and dumped.  Some local villagers had dug the basic hole, but didn’t finish the job, so our guys finished it up.  These three were hired by Suzanne to help with construction of the shint’bete.  Tesfaye worked as a mason’s helper and also as a supurb “do-it-and-get-it-done” carpenter.  Tefari was a good general helper and learned to wire-up the rebar and angle-iron to the rebar.  Hoptamu was the mason and also helped with carpentry.  He had served four years in the Ethiopian army, but said “I’m in God’s army now”, with a toothy smile.

 On Sunday morning we all went to the local Pentay (evangelical) church that Asmamaw, Paulos, and Samuel go to.  We sat in the back and David interpreted Mellesse’s preaching for me.  Mellesse spoke about Jesus clearing the temple of money changers, etc.  It seemed like a fine sermon.  Everyone prayed aloud for 20 minutes or so before the service, kneeling on cardboard with their heads covered mostly in white and bowed very low.  They really know how to pray!  After church, Suzanne took David and me out for a walk to see the grand vista of deep valleys and mountains near Gina Ager.  At one point, with her binoculars we could see 4 miles down into Key After through a notch in the mountains.  This area is a favorite grand vista that Suzanne shows to IMB-related people who tour Ethiopia.

 People live down in all those valleys.  It sort of reminded me of Grand Canyon, except the walls were mountains and everything was green below.  We walked through rocky fields that were worked up by oxen pulling a single metal-clad wood plow and were planted in barley or something.  Rocks were everywhere.  It was amazing!.  I remember gathering rocks in a stone boat at home as a child every few years.  Here they just cultivated the fields in the midst of the rocks.  As we looked around that grand vista, we could see several orthodox church compounds with their distinctive round metal roofs.  That was my first experience walking at 10,100 ft altitude in Gina Ager.  I was breathing heavily on the way back, but they weren’t in any hurry – probably for my sake.

At noon, we walked down to the mission compound to eat with the Ethiopians.  I had asked Suzanne and Debbie to bring  one of Suzanne’s excess cupcakes with one candle for my birthday cake.  They were way ahead of me on that, for after the meal of injera bread and spicy wat with the team guys, they brought out two cupcakes with six candles on one and 4 candles on another.  I blew out the candles through tears.  I also had more tears as I opened the card from grandchildren and found eleven balloons with the name of each one on them.  I was supposed to share the balloons with village children.  I tried to do this in Key Afer by giving balloons to the 5 yr old daughter and 8 yr old son of our cook.  The 5 yr old would blow up the balloon and let it go down in the dirt and pick it up and do it again.  I decided I better bring the rest of them home after that!

The guys worked until Monday evening to finish digging the hole.  There was some discussion on Monday that there was a band of back dirt about 1-1/2 meters down that had to come out, or the foundation would crack.  Tesfaye noticed it first.  I thought he just wanted more digging work, so I downplayed the need to dig the hole wider down below the black dirt, since David hadn’t noticed it when he was here.  On Monday evening sometime, they convinced Asmamaw that they had to dig out the black dirt to get good support for the foundation and replace the dirt with rock.  So on Tuesday morning I was overruled and they started to dig some more.  What a job!  The children at the elementary school helped by digging up the dirt around the hole and carrying it away to a nearby hole.  They also helped later by carrying in large rock on their shoulders.  I guess that was their physical education class for the day.  They really worked.  I knew how tough it was to haul rock, because I tried to move rock closer to the hole one day, until I got really tired.  I couldn’t do much in that altitude.  In the meantime, I had time to work on one last elevation drawing showing the pitch of the roof sections, support poles, and corrugated steel walls.  I also redrew one sketch of the rebar to scale showing all angle brackets, pole positions on the slab, and shint’bete holes in the slab. 

 I guess I didn’t tell you that I had my lowest time on Monday evening in Gina Ager.  I had been up since 5:15 AM and was on my feet for most of the time from 6 AM until 7 PM.  When I got back to my room on the mission compound, I bumped my head hard again on the door frame.  The top of the door frame came to about my eyes, so I had to duck getting in.  Finally, after the fourth bad bump, I learned to duck.  Anyway, that night as I pulled off my socks, both legs were swelled up due to edema or water retention.  The bump on my right leg, that appeared after the last hike down into Clifton Gorge before I left for Ethiopia, seemed larger and blood from it was discoloring the side of my foot below my ankle bone.  I was tired and couldn’t seem to do much work at that high altitude.  I had at least two drawings to complete.  I cried out to God for help, since it was obvious my body was giving out even though I had diligently prepared with walking and hiking over the previous two months.  I seemed totally dependent on God in those moments.  I can’t remember when I was ever in that situation before, and it was all because I volunteered to do this work.  I knew God would somehow answer my plea for help, because how could I fail with so many praying for me.  Several men at church told me that they would pray every day!  I knew that between 50 and 100 people were thinking about me or praying for my success in this endeavor.  Yet here I was—completely falling apart and nearly wanting to go home.  It wasn’t fun to be in that position, but I felt I could go on.  I cut away the tightness at the top of my work socks.  I found that I had time to do the drawings, because of the time they needed to dig out the black dirt in the pit.  I carried my tool case back and forth from the site to the mission compound, even though others wanted to carry it for me, to build up my endurance.  So it all worked out and I contributed in the way expected of me.  I didn’t do much work that required endurance in Gina Ager, though.  I did help with laying out rebar, cutting rebar to length, and wiring up the rebar, angle brackets, and extra rebar at the holes.  I also helped with selecting and cutting poles to size and organizing construction of the pole framework.  My wife, June, thinks that jet lag, long hours, and culture shock finally caught up with me.  I never had another low point like that, but for some reason I continued to be very vulnerable emotionally whenever I thought of family or all the people supporting me.  A man isn’t supposed to cry, right?  I did and God heard and helped me.

 We started laying out and wiring up the rebar on Wednesday afternoon.  Unfortunately, we had to move the rebar to locked storage, so we had to start again on Thursday morning.  By Wednesday noon or so they had dug out all the black dirt and were beginning to lay in rock.  I knew that sometime on Thursday they would have the foundation done, so we worked quickly to finish wiring up the rebar.  We wired up all the junctions on a 15 cm square pattern.  I laid out more string for the angle-iron brackets and shint’bete holes in the slab and then tied on little pieces of string at the precise location of the brackets and centerline of one end of each  shint’bete hole.  In this way, we could tie in more rebar to support the brackets and locate them precisely.  I straightened some corrugated steel and made rectangular forms for the 13 x 18 cm holes.  We wired these forms to the rebar after we placed the rebar on the pit and installed a 13-cm-long block within each form to keep the form from collapsing.  We had to reposition  nearby rebar at some holes.  We rushed to finish the rebar about in time for installing it on the pit.  Next time, at Key Afer, I vowed to start the rebar earlier in the week so we wouldn’t be rushed.  Course we now had a good approach for assembling the rebar, so it shouldn’t take so long.

The foundation was made with inner ledges for poles to support the slab.  Three large poles were equally spaced across the pit to support smaller poles above in the other direction. The holes between the poles were stuffed with paper from the cement bags.  The rebar was propped up on the bed of poles with stones.  In Gina Ager, the rebar sagged in the middle, so in Key Afer I had them check the rebar with a string and elimate any sagging.   They were about to put in a lot of rock to prop up the rebar in Key Afer.  I stopped that and told them that the rebar is supposed to be buried in the lower 20 percent of the cement slab where the tensile stress was highest.  Each stone they put in was a stress riser to start cracks in the slab.  Course I didn’t say all that, but they got the message and pulled out all the excess rock below the rebar.  The pole supports for the slab will rot and fall away into the pit someday, and the rebar must provide strength for the slab to be self supporting, when that happens. 

 We had four sawn boards to use for the forms at the outside of the slab in Gina Ager, but there was no straight edge on three of the four boards.  I got out my chalk line, and snapped a line on each of the three boards.  The guys eyes widened at that maneuver, because they had never seen such a thing.  A teacher volunteered to come with his plane and straighten the boards.  He first hacked the edge of the board down to the line and then planed it off.  Both Mellesse and Hoptamu witnessed to that teacher.  He came to me with his face right up in my face and asked “Hobtamu says you are also a Christian believer!  Are you?”.  Course this gave me an opening to talk to him about spiritual things such as  my belief in Christ as Savior from sin, that I felt that God wanted me to do more than sit around with my feet up in the air for my four-week sabbatical, and that this construction was significant work to improve the health of the children, etc.  He told me he was a carpenter on the side and asked for my saw when I leave Ethiopia.  (I gave my saw to Mellesse).  He also heard that I was 64 the previous Sunday and knew that I was going with the crew to Meti for the third construction site.  He told me that I would never make it walking down there and back out!  He said he grew up there and the walk would be too hard for me.  I told him that there have been a number of things that I have done in my life that seemed impossible, but with God all things are possible.  If God wanted me to go there, He would help me. ( I wasn’t able to prove him wrong, as you will see later in this note.)

 Later in the week at the noon meal in Gina Ager after he had been asked to go with us to Key Afer, Asmamaw announced that we were going to throw out all Bob’s drawings and turn the mason and carpenter loose to build the shint’bete at Key Afer in three days.  We all knew he was kidding but it made me mad.  He had supervised the building of about five shint’bete, including the one at Suzanne’s compound about four years ago.  The posts on her shint’bete are already rotted, however.   As I walked back to the site from the mission compound with Mellesse and Hobtamu, I told them that they would have to help me get over my anger toward Asmamaw for saying that about pitching out my drawings and other input.  I told them that I have done only what needed to be done and have not made the drawings more complicated than they needed to be nor have I delayed construction.   Suzanne has a fairly complicated design with all the privacy shields, but it will be better in the long run, because there are no doors, etc.  Hobtamu told me that he has learned so much from me that he will use in his work later.  He said that he will try to build a shint’bete of this design back in Debre Brehan where he lives.  Mellesse told me that they needed my  help to do this work.  So I felt better.  As you will see, the matter resolved itself in Key Afer.

 They began pouring the slab in Gina Ager at about 5 PM Thursday evening and continued by lantern and Suzanne’s vehicle lights until it was done about 9 PM.  Ladies had carried in water on large jugs on their backs to fill a 55-gallon drum for mixing with the cement.  The cement was mixed on the ground by two people working together with shovels to move the cement back and forth until the cement was of the required consistency.  In Key Afer, I found a grass root in the cement at the edge of one shint’bete hole as I was rounding the edges of the hole.  That wouldn’t happen in USA, with our fancy cement mixers!  “Gravel” for the slab is made by pounding on rocks with a hammer to break up the rock into small pieces.  No eye protection or gloves are used!  One lady in the village of Gina Ager specialized in making “gravel”, but she didn’t come through for us as scheduled, so some of our guys and bystanders had to make some “gravel”.

We were able to begin construction of the pole framework on top of the slab right away Friday morning, because of the good support for the slab.  In Gina Ager we selected and cut poles as we needed them.  First we started with the six poles outside the slab.  They propped them in position with external props and stakes, while I held a plumb bob to get them as straight up and down as possible.  We then chopped out the top edges of the poles and installed the cross-bar poles.  Next came the sloped rafters and internal rafter supports.  The guys made a very strong framework of the skinny poles by putting metal strapping around the top of the rafters and roofing poles and nailed the strapping to the vertical poles below.   Mellesse had a difficult time drilling holes for bolts into the bottom ends of the tough, eucalyptus, inner-support poles with the hand drills we had.  Finally, Suzanne brought up a brace and bit from David that worked pretty well at Key Afer.  The original wood bit just simply rounded off and Mellesse had to use a twist drill, instead.

On Saturday morning I thought surely we would get the framework all done and install the corrugated steel panels by late Saturday evening.  That was not to be, because the small roofing support poles above the rafter poles were so crooked that the guys had to hack the “bumps” down to half thickness or as needed by line-of-sight to get a reasonably straight support for the roofing metal.  Grr,,, we didn’t start installing the roofing until nearly dark.  The guys asked me, “Mr Bob, how do we get started?”  I told them to measure the width of the roof and the middle joint would be at the halfway mark.  For whatever reason, we had to quit, without getting the first two panels nailed in place, because they were not installed right. 

 On Saturday evening at mealtime, Paulos asked me to speak in church in the morning.  I had been warned by Suzanne that he may ask me, because he has been asking her to speak.  She decided that preaching wasn’t her gift and she wasn’t going to be uptight about doing that.  Anyway, I told him that I needed more time.  I thought he wanted me to speak for the whole service.  The next morning the Lord worked on my heart and by the time I got to church, I knew what I wanted to say if Paulos worked me into the service.  A speaker from Addis gave a message about the characteristics of God.  I couldn’t understand much, because no one translated.  Hobtamu played the guitar and sang twice in the service.  Each time he sang several selections.  Here was the guy that groveled around in the rock and cement to make good-looking foundations, singing of his love for Jesus!  Paulos asked me to speak at the very end of the service.  Everyone looked up when I walked to the front.  I told them about my lack of peace about the construction, because everything was so different from what I was used to in the USA.  I read Jn 14:27 and Phil 4:6,7 about peace that Christ gives to believers and said that I really needed that peace in my life at this time because my heart has been troubled much of the time.  I cited the experience of trying to nail up the first two panels of corrugated steel on the roof last night and giving up until daylight.  I also told them that I realized that what made it so hard was that we weren’t using nailing strips as in the USA that have a wavy top edge to fit the corrugations.  So I must adapt and let Christ give me peace. 

 During the week in Gina Ager, Paulos asked me once what food I liked best.  I said “ice cream”, which is unheard of in the country.  I also said “Whatever my wife puts on the table”.  For some reason that was really funny.  He was in charge of food for the month and wanted to schedule something I would like.  So I wasn’t much help.  I thought Tawabech was a good cook.  She fixed my tea the way I liked and didn’t load my coffee up with sugar either.  Several times we had pasta that was great.

 Paulos was so kind and thoughtful.  One night I left them before tea was served, so Paulos brought around my tea.  Sometime during the week I got a deep sliver below one fingernail.  I showed it to Paulos and gave him my nail scissor.  He went and got a few things and came back and had that sliver out in no time, by deeply cutting the fingernail at the sliver and grabbing onto the sliver with a tweezer. 

 On Sunday afternoon, as I was making angle-iron brackets for Key Afer over at Suzanne’s place with her generator and drill, Asmamaw came over and asked me if I approved of Tesfaye working to install corrugated steel panels on the building.  The other guys didn’t want to do anything until after 5 pm, because of the Orthodox church’s ban on activity before that on Sunday or something.  I guess they also had another Pentay church meeting at 3:30 PM at which Mellesse and Hobtamu were going to sing together.  I told Asmamaw that I would like Tesfaye to do that, if possible.  So Tesfaye got started with help from two others.  I continued to finish up cutting and drilling holes in the angle brackets for Key Afer.  I finally got the angle brackets done.  The generator had to be restarted many times, so it was a pain to drill the holes.  

Suzanne got home from Addis about 5 pm.  She insisted that we had to get the corrugated steel panels on the building tonight because we had to leave for Asagarit at 8:30 AM on Monday, the next day, in order to meet the Key Afer farmers that were going to carry our things down to the village.  There was no way to telegraph or otherwise send a message to them to delay, so we had to keep the appointment setup at the market the previous Friday by Suzanne and Samuel. 

 So we finished installing all the corrugated steel panels on the building by the light of two lanterns at 9 PM.  The guys did a good job making each “stall” with a shint’bete hole private.  Tesfaye alone installed all the roofing in his bare feet!  I held the light for him and others fed him nails with rubber washers.  They put up string to align the interior metal panels 4 cm up off the slab.  I gave approval for Hobtamu to nail panels on one outside wall.  Tesfaye had just installed a few nails in the panels, and wanted someone to check if he had done it right.  I said “Nail it”, but later realized that the panels sloped downward so that one end was about 3 inches below the slab, instead of even with the slab as planned.  That hurt my pride a little.  After they were done, I went around and had Tesfaye bend over all the nails that were sticking out and could scratch someone.  I found one large nail simply bent over and left in plain sight.  I asked who left that nail like that, and had Hobtamu come over to pull it out or straighten it and pound it in so he would learn that wasn’t acceptable.  I’m sure there wouldn’t have been as many dings in the metal panels due to missed nails, if we hadn’t hurried so much and worked by lanterns; but on the whole, I was proud of the job they did. 

We were elated to finish, and tried to stop by and tell Suzanne that it was done, on the way home to the mission compound.  She was asleep, so we went home and ate supper and packed a little. 

 Suzanne came to the mission compound with her vehicle at 5 AM and announced that we had to get up and pack to leave at 8:30 AM.  So we did and left on time.  The ride there was something.  The roads were absolutely awful, but the grand vistas in places of deep valleys were images to remember.    I dutifully wore my back brace like Suzanne wears whenever she goes on rural roads in her vehicle.

 The chairman of the village of Key Afer , Haile Yesus,  met us in Asagarit near the market.  He is an imposing figure.  He is tall (about as tall as me—6 ft 2 in) and lithe (not like me!)  and carried a submachine gun as a sign of authority.  He followed us out to the end of the road to an old church on the worst road we had seen.  Suzanne put the vehicle in growler gear for part of the way.  When the road stopped, we got out and Haile Yesus went through all our packs and parceled out some to each farmer and their boys.  The farmers were excited about our team coming to their village.  They carried everything down on their backs and didn’t use donkeys for the trip down.  When we came up out of there at the end of the week, they used two donkeys to carry part of our things.  Everything was orderly and they all obeyed Haile’s direction with no fuss.  They liked the shoulder straps on my two duffel bags.  I shouldered my light rucksack with two water bottles and Asmamaw and I were off.  Suzanne followed us and waited for us to get down the ladder at the bluff and then took our picture. 

 Asmamaw and I were a good pair for hiking down together, because we had about equivalent stamina.  He was a better pace-setter, because I tended to go too fast and run out of gas.  A farmer with a pack stayed with us most of the way.  When we got close to the Key Afer church above the school, Asmamaw convinced him to go on and not wait for us.  We promptly got lost!  That showed us the value of having a guide.  On the way out the following Sunday, we meekly followed our guide with no words about not waiting for us!  The trek down into Key Afer was switch back after switch back and ever downward.  At one time, we walked along a narrow trail by land that fell off steeply way down the mountain on one side.  I looked mostly to the upside of trail at that point, for heights sometime bother me.  We clambered down solid rock falls, by stepping into toe holds in the rock.  Most paths were full of rock.  My hiking boots gave me a surer foothold than Asmamaw had with his tennis shoes.  Down, down, down – it seemed like a long time, but our total time to hike down was about 1-1/2 hrs.  Somewhere after the farmer left us, my jacket, which was strapped onto the back of my pack, caught on thorn bushes.  I noticed the tug and went back and retrieved it.  That elastic strap was supposed to be good for carrying such things.  I put the jacket back into the strap and never noticed when the jacket got jerked off the second time.  I didn’t want to try to go back to find the jacket, so we continued on down a wash of rocks toward the church.  Somewhere along there Tefari caught up with us from behind in the rocky wash and had the jacket in his hand.  He had gone ahead with the guys and then decided to come looking for us when it took us so long to get there.  Bless him!  I had my jacket back.  I never put it back into that elastic strap again.  Finally, we got down to the church and then down to the Hudad Elementary School.

 We setup our tents in an enclosure nearby the building where we had all our meals.  I slept singly in my tent and Asmamaw, Mellesse, and Habtamu slept in a larger tent provided by Suzanne.  Tesfaye and Tefari slept together on a straw bed in the building.   A well-traveled village path came near the enclosure, and people on the path were talking at 6 AM when the sun came up.  Donkeys were “honking” their complaints or whatever many times a day.

 Habtamu showed us the black gumbo dirt that had to be removed from the side of the hole.  The farmers had told us up at Asagarit that the black dirt on the walls of the pit had long vertical cracks in it.  So about 4 PM on Monday the Key Afer farmers started to enlarge the pit to 3 m square straight down to 3 m depth.   The black gumbo went all the way from the surface down to below about 2.8 m.  They finished digging and pitching out dirt about 1 PM on Wednesday.  Our guys helped dig when they weren’t helping me with the rebar. Even the school director helped dig.  Two people would dig side-by-side with broad-bladed “pickaxes”.  When they dug a big clump of black gumbo loose, they would stop and pitch the lump out of the hole.

 On Monday evening as we left supper to go to our tents something special happened that I won’t forget anytime soon.  As I got into my pajamas and settled into my sleeping bag, I heard a lot of praying in Amharic from the nearby tent.  I couldn’t identify who in particular was praying.  It went on for long enough to put me to sleep.  I thought as I went to sleep that it sure is a privilege to work on this team with fellows that pray like that the evening of our first day.  The next morning I asked Mellesse about the praying and he said they were all praying at the same time.  Again the thought about being privileged to be part of this construction team came to me.

 We got a jump on the work of selecting and cutting poles for each position.  First we separated out all the poles they had gathered and skinned bare.  We cut most of the poles to the approximate length needed and marked them.  We had them go get more small poles for roofing supports and slab supports.  Mellesse went with them out a different direction to the “forest” up in the mountain to get more poles.  Most of the mountains were bare of trees.

 This time we started on the rebar earlier in the week.  Mellesse and I took the better part of two days to layout and cut the rebar, wire it up, and install the angle brackets and provide for the shint’bete holes.  We assembled the rebar out in the hot African sun.  Breezes that would come up every now and again were sure welcome.  Asmamaw noticed that children would come around and stare at me between and after classes, so he got out his tape recorder with bible stories and played that for them.    He also played the recorder a lot out by the pit when there were a lot of farmers standing around watching others work.

 Yes, I was something special to most of the children.  Apparently, they had never seen a white man from the USA come to help them.  They would just stand around and stare at me like I was freak or something.  Several times I went and got the picture of my house and my extended family of 22 people.  They passed the pictures all around.  Our dark Cambodian-American kids and grandkids especially interested them.  One day, one of the bigger boys asked me (in English) for an English Dictionary.  I was so surprised and started talking with him.  His teacher knows some English from schooling in Addis and has encouraged this boy to learn more. He called me “Bup”, but wrote with respect “Dear Ato Bob” on a short letter he wrote to me.  Ato is a word of respect for elders.  I told him to make a list of  questions to ask me and I would come to his class the next day or when he could arrange a visit and answer their questions.  He liked that, so the afternoon of the next day, I took Mellesse along as my translator and went to his class at the time he had arranged.  The teacher wasn’t too friendly, so it seemed like maybe Belayneh hadn’t gotten permission for me to come.  He let us come in, and I proceeded to answer the questions.  His sixth question was “Why did you come to Ethiopia”.  That was just the leadin I needed to tell them that I believed that God wanted me to do something significant with my four week sabbatical from work and I felt that building the shint’bete was a significant activity.  At the bottom of the questions, he had written “You are very lucky!”.  I told the class that that statement made me cry, because we have so much in USA.  I also told them that I believe that God put me in Columbus, Ohio to serve Him and that He also put them in the beautiful village of Key Afer to serve Him here.  I got no other questions other than what Belayneh had given me earlier.  The class all clapped as we left.  I noticed some other students from lower grades had been looking in at us also.  Apparently, their teacher had excused them to peek in at us.  That was a privilege to visit Belayneh’s class.

The flies were terrible there in May from sunup to sundown.  They really liked to sit on all the sores on my fingers, near my eyes, and nose.  I choked up flies at least four times (and got laughed at by our guys), until I learned to keep my mouth shut.  Sun block seemed to discourage the flies.  I noticed that some children didn’t bother to swat flies off their faces.  Fortunately, the flies didn’t bite.

 Asmamaw had to arrange for our food.  He contracted with Aynalem to cook for us.  She cooked for the teachers and had an on-site place to make injera bread.  She originally was going to charge a high price, but later reduced it when she found out what we were doing.  One day early in the week, Asmamaw sent Tesfaye out looking for a goat to buy.  He had to go clear up into the mountain to find one for sale.  I heard it bleating when he got back.  Mellesse slaughtered the goat and over the next three days the guys ate all of it except for the bones and hide.  I ate some for the first meal, but the meat was either tough or not boiled long enough.  I couldn’t swallow meat that I couldn’t chew up well enough.  That didn’t bother the rest of the guys.  They just chewed it a little and then swallowed it.  Asmamaw’s goal in getting the goat was to provide meat so the guys would be able to work harder.  I think his strategy worked, for they worked hard.  The second big meal with goat meat was injera bread with chopped up entrails—a particularly good? Ethiopian specialty.  They never asked me to eat any, thankfully.  Later in the week Asmamaw bought a chicken.  Mellesse asked me to slaughter it, but I declined.  I thought I would like the chicken, but it also was either tough or not boiled enough.  Asmamaw had talked up the great wat that they would have with chicken.

  Aynalem did cook up a lot of vegetables that the farmers brought in, since she knew I would like that.   She also faithfully gave me only one teaspoon of sugar in my tea instead of five like the others had.  That is five teaspoons of sugar in a small glass of tea about one third the size of a coffee cup here in USA.  On Saturday noon, through Mellesse, Aynalem told me that she was happy to have been able to serve me food here in Key Afer.  Course I told her that I appreciated all the special food she prepared for me.

 The guys would work from 6 or 7AM til 9:30 AM and break for breakfast.  Lunch was about 12:30 PM and supper was after dark when we finished our work.  No snacks.  I lost 18 lbs in 2-1/2 weeks on their food, by being selective and not eating very much. 

 In Gina Ager, Suzanne provided safe drinking water for me from her filtered supply.  In Key Afer, each day I filtered the spring water with my PUR water purifier and filled all my water bottles.  It was comforting to know that I had plenty of water on hand to drink.

 About the third night as we ate in the semi-darkness (we had brought only one lantern out from Gina Ager), Asmamaw was waxing eloquent and said to me “Bob, I think it is the sovereign will of God that you are here with us”.  I thought “Yeah!  He has finally accepted me and my input to this construction team”. 

 On Wednesday evening, Haile Yesus and a farmer took Mellesse and me out along the ridge the school is on to a farmers compound.  In front of the farmer’s house, there was a beautiful view of the lower valley.  I took several pictures.  They wanted us to come to inspect some sawn boards for use in forms for the slab.  A muscular teenager had carried one of the sawn boards we used in Gina Ager down from Asagarit, but no one else offered to carry down the other three.  These boards were a little short but would help a lot.  After they were brought to the school, Haile himself cut one edge on each of the board down to a line I had snapped to get one straight edge.   On our way home from that farmers place, we asked to be taken to the lower spring.  It was about a five-minute walk below the school.  Haile had left us and we saw him way down by the spring.  A short time later he was up beside us with no effort at all.  On Tuesday of the previous week he had walked down the long way from the market at Gina Ager.  It took Suzanne about 5 hours to walk down the same place some time ago without her mule.  Haile made it in 1-1/2 hours!

 It took Hobtamu 1-1/2 days to build rock walls up from the bottom of the pit.  Everyone, including the children would pitch large rock into the hole, and then Hobtamu, Tesfaye, and Tefari would go down into the hole and arrange the rock.  They would continue to pitch rock into the hole or along the side of the hole and then go down and arrange the rock, until they built the walls right up to ground level.  I was really impressed as to how such a massive undertaking was done so well and looked so good.   The walls of the rock-lined pit tapered outward from the bottom.  They then began building the foundation on top of the rock.  A foundation in Ethiopia is mostly rock held together with mortar.  It is like building with cement block and a little mortar.  Hoptamu and Tesfaye sure did a nice job with such rough rock in all sizes.  I noticed that Hoptamu hadn’t provided a deeper ledge for the three heavy poles in one side.   Fortunately I saw that before the cement hardened so he could provide the ledge.

 On Thursday morning I took Mellesse with to go visit the upper spring at which improvements will be made by the Baptist Mission in early November.  Kevin Gober, a Civil Engineer from the Fayetteville Baptist in Georgia,  will come with team(s) from his church to cap the spring, build tanks at the spring and church, and tap stands at the spring, church, and school connected by 1-1/2 steel piping.  That is an ambitious undertaking because of the rugged terrain, multilevel fields, and rocky arroyos for runoff in storms.  I made some measurements and will be communicating the results to Kevin.  My idea about stepping off distances soon was lost due to the need to traverse switch backs, climb up to various levels of fields and down into arroyos.  I did get some measurements of elevation angles that may be of some help.  An interesting thing happened as we got ready to go—Ato Belacho showed up to accompany us.  We hadn’t asked for him or anyone to go with us.  Somehow he knew we were going.  He knew where all the stakes or markers were that Suzanne had left, when she made some measurements previously.

One of the school children told Mellesse that Mellesse’s relative lived nearby his home about two hours away.  On Wednesday evening, Habtamu had counseled Mellesse that he needed to forgive this relative for not helping his mother when his father died when he was two years old.  The relatives arrived the next morning about the time we got back from the spring.  It took them four hours to walk, because the relative was crippled some from polio.  Mellesse had a good visit, and later told me he was free of the bitter thoughts and unforgiving spirit! 

Suzanne had come out with Paulos on their mules to visit Key Afer on Thursday afternoon.  She stayed overnight.  The next morning Paulos, as a healthcare technician, gave a presentation on the health benefits and recommended use of the shint’bete to the morning classes of children.  Suzanne got everyone together for consultation before she left in the afternoon.  Our guys all thought that we could walk out of Key After on Sunday afternoon.  Hobtamu and Tefari were to walk out early Sunday morning and meet Suzanne at Asagarit with a message as to when we were sure to finish..  That way they could get rested so they could go to Meti a day earlier than the rest of us.  Hobtamu is the one that makes the decision about enlarging the holes or dealing with black dirt, so, if needed, he could get the Meti farmers started earlier on this work.  I personally thought that we may be walking out of Key Afer on Tuesday morning, but didn’t say anything.

 They installed the rebar beginning late on Friday.  It had to be lifted off several times before the holes cut into the small poles below the shint’bete holes were in the right position.  They started pouring the cement after dark and finished about 11 PM.  Some farmers felt very bad that our guys had to work so late. 

 Earlier in the day, Asmamaw had reported to Haile Yesus that more sand from down in the riverbed was needed.  He immediately grabbed the large goat horn used by his second in command, and started off through the village.  We could hear him blowing the horn in three different sections of the village.  Apparently, then he would solicit someone to go get the sand.  That was the way they effectively communicated in the village without telephones.  The sand arrived on time.

 We were able to construct the pole framework for the building and corrugated steel panels on one slope of the roof on Saturday.  So Hobtamu carried the message to Suzanne that we would finish and walk out on Sunday afternoon as planned.  I couldn’t believe it went so well, but apparently selecting and cutting poles ahead of time helped us to eliminate one full days work.  Course we had the construction experience of the first structure behind us also. 

 As we began installing the corrugated steel roofing, they marked out the center of the building to show where the lap for the first two panels should be.  Hobtamu was up on top and Tesfaye was out at the end of the rafter in the middle of the building.  He was a real monkey!  Tesfaye had nailed the two panels at the mark at the bottom.  Then they straightened up the sheet on the right.  I told Mellesse to tell Hoptamu up on top to nail the panels with a nail that didn’t have a rubber washer.  Apparently that was too much for Mellesse to translate and he said nothing.  I said it at least twice to Mellesse as an order, but he said nothing.  I had to say it through Mellesse, because Hobtamu didn’t speak English.   In the meantime, Tesfaye started nailing a second nail into the right panel at the bottom.  As soon as he struck the panel, the panel shifted to the right on top (because it wasn’t nailed up there).  I jumped all over Mellesse about that and showed him that the bottom of the roofing was out of line with the string Tesfaye had put up.  Then I took him over to the front of the building and showed him that the overhang in front at the top was only about 2 inches instead of four inches, all because he didn’t or wouldn’t tell Hobtamu to “Nail it”.  I was really mad, and I suppose my pride was hurt most of all, since the overhang wouldn’t be uniform on the front and back of the building.  In thinking about it later, I guess I probably confused the issue when I inserted the bit about using nails without a washer.  A quarter-length panel is installed over the top end of the lower panel, so the top of the lower panel should be nailed without washers that would make the upper panel stick up.  Mellesse never did apologize, maybe because he didn’t understand what the fuss was about.

Later that night (Saturday night), Tesfaye came up to me in the darkness and said “Sorry, Bob!”  He knew I was mad and what I was mad about!  That still didn’t justify me getting all worked up, though.  We had to wait for the community to come to serve us supper because it was supposed to be a “commissioning service of thanks” for the shint’bete.  They had wanted to have it when Suzanne was here, but we hadn’t poured the slab yet, and it didn’t make sense so early.  In the darkness as we waited on the porch of  the building we ate at, Mellesse came up to me and said that he wanted to wash my feet.  He said that this is an Ethiopian custom and he wanted to do that for me while he could.  Here my anger toward him still wasn’t gone and he wanted to wash my feet!  I finally gave in and got the best foot washing ever with massage of my feet, toes and calves.  It was welcome after building the pole framework all day.  As it turned out, that was the last chance Mellesse had to wash my feet!  What an example of humility and forgiveness!  I thought “Oh great! Things between Mellesse and me are all right again!”  Not so as you will see.

 The Saturday evening community “commissioning” service was neat.  They fed me mostly vegetables and wat with injera bread maybe an hour before the rest were fed. I guess they knew I wouldn’t like what they were going to eat!  Also, it is a custom for honored guests to eat first.  Not all the village people were there when I ate, however.  When the main food arrived, the village chairman Haile served our guys.  The first course was, you guessed it, chopped up goat entrails.  Our guys ate with gusto.  I think there were 7 or 8 women and as many men from the village in addition to chairman Haile and Ato Belacho.  The director of the school, Tafese Haile and his wife and father were there also.  When Haile finished serving, he sat down and ate and then the speeches started.   First Ato Belacho spoke and I could hear a lot of words for the name of God.  I asked someone to translate for me, and I was told that he has said that he believed that God had sent us to them and that someday God would make it possible for us to meet again.  Then they asked me to speak.  I thanked them for being so good to us, and then told what I had said to the sixth grade class the day before about why I came to Ethiopia, being lucky (to live in USA), etc.  I also told them that I have tried to serve Jesus for 52 years, and this work is just part of that service.  Haile Yesus, the village chairman, got up and spoke eloquently (I had someone translate as he went along), about the need for us to influence Suzanne to help them with the cost of corrugated steel panels for the third school building that they would like to build.  They apparently think Suzanne has deep pockets!  I guess she had promised them payment in metal panels for their work in helping dig the pit.  I told him that I would also tell my people back home in USA about the need and maybe some of them could help.  I found out later from Suzanne, that Meti will get similar repayment for labor in digging the pit in the form of bags of cement, so they can put cement floors in their school buildings.  So, there is a need in both places for help in improving their schools.  I expect Key Afer will need cement also, but they only asked for help with the sheet metal.  Suzanne tells me that high-quality corrugated steel panels cost about $6 US each and cement costs about $4 a bag.  So the commissioning service was done with handshaking all around.  I asked for and received permission to take a number of pictures at that service.

 On Saturday evening before we went to our tents, Tesfaye announced that he was going to get up at 5:30 AM and begin work.  So I set my clock for 6 AM and got up early to help him.  He and I finished up nailing on the horizontal poles for internal partitions.  In my haste, I had him put horizontal poles on the wrong side of the vertical poles on one wall.  So the poles had to be ripped off and moved to the other side.  Then he went back up on the roof to straighten out the roofing poles.  One pole had a hump in it and he was hacking away the hump, when the village chairman came up.  Haile didn’t say much, but Tesfaye jerked the pole completely off and we put another in its place with shims below to build it up nearly in place with the rest of the poles.  I can’t remember why, but we had to replace that pole again with one donated by the nearby farmer, Ato Worku.  Finally Tesfaye could put sheet metal on the other slope of the roof.  We saved a lot of time when we discovered that the quarter-length panels were not needed at the top.  I don’t know why they weren’t needed, but one panel spanned the entire slope with enough overhang, so I didn’t even bother to discover why we didn’t need the quarter-length panels on that side of the roof.  I had cut them, but we left them in Key Afer by the shint’bete. 

We had a commitment to meet Suzanne by 5 PM and had to get our ox out of the ditch by installing the corrugated steel panels on the building on Sunday morning.  Since Hoptamu and Tefari were gone, that left Melessee, Tesfaye, and me to install the steel panels.  Tesfaye was busy and capable of putting on the sheet metal on the roof.  I told Mellesse that it was up to us to get the sheet metal on the interior walls and two outside walls.  We put the sheet metal on the outside walls first with the bottom of the panels even with the top of the slab.  I nailed away for the first time.  In doing that, I utilized bystanders, including Belayneh, to hold a heavy maul up against the skinny horizontal poles I was trying to nail into.  We could pound in the nails in about one-half the time with the heavy weight against the skinny poles.  From then on, I had two bystanders seek out where the hammering was being done and hold a maul against that pole.  I also had Mellesse cut two 4-cm high discs out of the end of larger pole stock.  We set the interior metal panels on these spacer discs and nailed the panels on, without having to install a string for alignment at the bottom 4 cm from the slab.  So, because I really pitched in and nailed a lot of panels, I figured out several ways to help speed up the work.  I can tell you that several times I found Mellesse staring up at the building and whistling instead of working.  I didn’t say anything, but I decided that if Suzanne offers, I would go to Addis for a rest, since little things had started to get to me.  Obviously, Mellesse also needed a rest. When Tesfaye got off the roof, I left to start packing my things, because I knew he would speed along the placement of existing interior panels.  Asmamaw helped get and hold panels.

I came out with my camera to take one last picture of the almost finished shint’bete.  A lot of people gathered around to be in the picture.  I also went up to the school building to take a picture to show the type of building they want to add.  Aynalem saw me and ran up with her 5-yr old daughter to be in the picture.

I seemed slow packing up my things and taking down my tent.  Others were ready to go long before me, but I finally got it all done and ready to hike back up the mountain.  Before we went, we went over to eat and take pictures at Ato Worku’s thatched-roof home.  He fed us sugar potatoes, which are mushy and filling.  I ate a small one.  He also gave us some popcorn he had popped and burned some.  It was good.  I took a picture of he and his wife and five children.   His oldest boy,  who was 16-yrs old , was to be our guide for walking up out of Key Afer.  He was on his way to Gina Ager back to high school, and would appreciate a ride with Suzanne in return for being our guide.  We also had coffee.  They had an open fire going, but it wasn’t smoky in there.  The smoke just went up out through the thatch, I guess.  Ato Worku showed us chickens and  4 or 5 bee hives out back of the house.  He attributed the chickens and bees to Suzanne.  She knew about the chickens, but had no knowledge of the bees.  Earlier in the week he wanted to have a picture taken of me plowing the ground with his oxen and wood plow, but we never got together on that.

 So off we went.  The other two guys and the farmers and boys went first.  We followed  with Ato Worku’s son in lead at about 2:30 PM.  As we left, I looked back and there was the father of the director of the school sitting in the shaded alcove at the front of the new shint’bete looking out over the schoolyard and waving to us.  We waved back.  I couldn’t help but think that in building the shint’bete, we altered the landscape and maybe the culture a little bit in that community.  It was nice to see him enjoying the building, even if not for its intended purpose. 

I was determined to climb at a slower pace than Mellesse and I had climbed up to the spring, for I got pretty winded and sweaty by the time I got up to the church in that earlier climb.  I was noticeably in better shape at the church this second time and eager to keep moving.  We were doing well and had stopped maybe twice for a drink of water and to rest a bit so my heart rate would go down.  Asmamaw was sympathetic for my requests for all stops.  I think he had less trouble with the altitude, but our stamina was about the same.  It took all I had in me to keep going up and up and up.  At times we hiked along horizontal switch backs that were a welcome relief.  I didn’t realize that a short period of rest could feel so good, but it sure did.  Later our guide kind of ridiculed us for drinking so much.  He never did take a drink all the way up!  We had been going about 1-1/2 hrs when someone hailed Asmamaw from below.  We looked down and saw Haile Yesus coming up to meet us.  When he caught up with us, he shook our hands and said he was gone when we left and wanted to say thanks and goodbye.  That really buoyed our spirits for a long time the rest of the way up.  I asked him if I could take his picture, with his submachine gun, against the mountainous background.  He approved and I have a wonderful full-length picture that I will treasure.  To think that he would do that just for us, really gave us a boost.  He didn’t go on up the mountain, but turned around and went back down, so he really did come up just to say thanks and goodbye to us.  Maybe he knows how to get what he wants for future help with the spring improvement and school building, but it still meant a lot to us.  Even Asmamaw was touched and he has worked for the Baptist Mission in Gina Ager for 16 years.

We continued to climb with our guide and Asmamaw in the lead.  I mostly kept up, but I can tell you that I had to really will myself to keep climbing up those rocky paths and rock falls, etc.  On one of our five or so rest stops I shared some of my M&Ms with our guide.  He liked that.  We tried to stop where there was shade, because the African sun was hot that day.  Usually we sat on rocks.  This information is a bit important due to what happened later.  We kept going and walked out along that narrow path on which the land fell away down the mountain on the far side.  The views were breathtaking after we got up higher.  I can only describe them, as I have before, as a grand vista, matched only in a few places in the world.   I suppose I haven’t done much mountain hiking in my life, but this made me want to do more.  I never worried about overdoing it, because we never felt rushed.  We knew we would be a little late for the 5 PM pickup by Suzanne, but we rested when needed anyway.    As we approached the cliff with stairs we could see Suzanne and others waiting there for us.  They clapped for each step we climbed up to them.  What a welcome we received for having made it up from Key Afer!  At her vehicle, Suzanne pulled out cold cokes and orange drinks and banana bread she baked for us.  I had bummed several cold cokes from her while in Gina Afer, so she knew that would be special.  That was a kind, thoughtful gesture on her part to thank us in this way for the work in Key Afer.  The ride back to Gina Ager was rough but beautiful.  We stopped on the way to examine a shint’bete made by another nonprofit agency in Asagrit.  We thought our design and construction was better, of course.

 We got home after dark and put our things away.  Suzanne told me that she was going to Addis Ababa in the morning starting at 5 AM.  I told her I needed a rest and wanted to go with her.  The other guys were going to rest a day in Gina Ager also.  So I set my alarm and packed up a few things in my carryon, and arranged for my clothes to be washed, and went to sleep.  I awoke about 3 AM and felt the back of the top joint on my biggest finger was hurting.  I got my flashlight out and found some antiseptic cream and a band aid to put on it.  I noticed a little discoloration at the wound.  I went back to sleep and got up to go with Suzanne.  She had offered a shower for me at her home, but I deferred to take my first shower in two and a half weeks at the Cap House in Addis Ababa. 

 We arrived in Addis Ababa about 7 AM after an uneventful trip.  Someone bummed an early morning ride from Gina Ager to partway to Addis.  This is a usual occurrence for Suzanne.  I had breakfast with the Brownfields and Debbie looked at the wound and discoloration on the back of my right hand.  On Monday afternoon she took me to see a German doctor who specializes in tropical diseases.  He said, yes, you got bit by something and, no, you weren’t having an allergic reaction, yes, your hand is reacting to the poison that was injected into that joint.  He prescribed and gave us Amoxycillon.  By Tuesday morning I was scared, because the poison had moved up to my wrist and colored the whole back of my hand a deep red.  My fingers and especially my largest finger were swollen and the back of my hand and wrist was swollen.  When I met Debbie for breakfast I guess I cried a little and scared her too.  We had gone out to eat at the Lawrences on Monday evening and I enjoyed that a lot.  They are wonderful people.  John had the nicest, sincere prayer before we left.  He prayed for us to understand what was going on with my hand.  I couldn’t go back to Gina Ager with Suzanne Tuesday morning.  So, she left to help get the team off for Meti at noon without knowing what my status was.  She gave me a big, goodbye hug.  I appreciated that.  If I couldn’t come back, it seemed so premature to leave the team on their own, so, if possible, I was to come up to Gina Ager with someone else on Thursday morning and go to Meti with her in the afternoon.  However, Debbie said I wasn’t going anywhere until the spread of poisoning in my hand was halted. 

Debbie took me back to that doctor on Wednesday morning, and said the Amoxycillin wasn’t doing much and the poison was spreading.  June had asked the prayer chain at church to pray that we would know how to treat the spreading infection.  At the doctor’s office, I remembered that I had some CIPRO, a more powerful antibiotic, to take to treat a bacterial infection causing diarrhea.  He said they can’t  get CIPRO there because it is so expensive, and recommended switching to CIPRO right away.  He also agreed with June that we shouldn’t be soaking the overheated arm in hot water.  So we switched medications and stopped soaking the arm in hot water.  Anyway, after the third pill, on Thursday morning, Debbie and I felt that the swelling was noticeably less, and the spread of the infection was finally stopped. 

By that time we were well on the way to getting my ticket changed to go back to the states a week early.  David sat me down and convinced me that even if they got the poles attached 10 cm out of position here and there, it wouldn’t matter that much in the scheme of things.  He was right and I finally stopped fretting about going home prematurely.  Without going into the details, there didn’t seem to be any way I could get out of Addis Ababa that Thurday evening or the following Saturday evening, either, because there were no seats available.  However, we went down to the Lufthansa office, and I showed the lady my swollen hand in a sling and told her that I would like to get back to doctor’s care in the USA.  She said she would try, but that we would have to return later in the day, since she would have to call people to see if they were going to cancel.

David then drove up to Gina Ager ( a five hour trip)  to get my things and take a picture of the first shint’bete we constructed there.  He also met Suzanne and gave her a sheet that showed the disposition of my tools to various team members after they finished all five shint’bete.   I gave my hammer to Tesfaye.  He loved that hammer and asked to use it whenever he could.  I gave my pliers and hatchet to Tefari, since he is a farmer in Gina Ager.  I gave my saw to Mellesse and other encouragement for his evangelistic work.  I also gave him my kneeling pad to give to his mother for use in her garden.  I gave my 5 m tape rule, mason’s edger, small wood mason’s level and spirit level to Hoptamu.  I gave my tool case to Asmamaw and other tools to the mission, including a good hacksaw and extra blade, center punch, aluminum carpenter’s square, plumb bob, yellow mason’s line, chalk line, special tin shears that worked well for cutting corrugated steel panels,etc.

 When David and I went back to Lufthansa after 4 PM on Thursday, she said that I had a confirmed seat from Addis to Frankfort, but I would have to pay $72 extra.  She could give me no promise of a seat from Frankfort to the states.  The man in charge of the Lufthansa office there in Addis came out to talk to her.  We got to tell him our story and I showed him my discolored and swollen hand.  He pointed to his thigh and said that he got bit there four years ago, and never did get feeling back at the site of the bite.  We went home determined to take that flight out of Addis that evening.  Not more than 45 minutes after we arrived home, she called and said she had a confirmed seat from Frankfort to the USA!  Yeah, God is good!  Seats on both flights were next to the aisle, like I needed to get up and walk around. 

So I came home a week early, and with encouragement from David Brownfield, felt like I did accomplish what I set out to do.  This was confirmed in e-mails from Suzanne in which she wrote about going to Meti to see the construction team on Thursday afternoon.  She wrote: “ I also wanted to tell them in person the news about Bob.  They were really sad about that and especially about not being able to see him in person to say goodbye.  The work was going well even if it was a bit slower.  All of the teachers and the community were really working hard.   The team was having good fellowship times with all of the teachers – eating meals together and waiting for everyone to be there before praying as well as listening to cassette tapes.  Habtamu and Mellesse are doing good spiritual work in addition to their other assignment.”

She took an altimeter along and found that the elevation at the brink before descent into the Meti village area was 10,800 ft and the altitude at Meti was about 7,500 ft.  So she wrote that Bob may be glad that the spider bit his hand to be saved from the 3,000+ hike up and out of the canyon.  She was glad for her mule to ride.

Later on the following Tuesday, she met with the shint’bete construction team, and they agreed to go on and build the final two structures at Gedara and back at Gina Ager.  She told them about the tools I had given to each and thought all were very pleased.  They all laughed when she told them that they would have to finish the last two shint’bete before they could have the tools.  She wrote “Tesfaye spoke for them all when he asked me to send their thanks to Bob and tell him not to worry about the work because he had taught them so much about how to improve their skills for doing work like this.  She agreed and told them that she would like to hire them all back for the spring improvement work at Key After in October.” 

 I felt very relieved to get news of their progress and such kind words.  That made all the preparation, effort, and expense worthwhile.  Surely God was in my participation and He also knew when I should leave.  How else can I explain getting bit in such a crucial spot that my entire right hand became useless and had to be elevated.  I had a quiet confidence that I would get home a week early after the bite, and I did.  I spent a few days of the next week purchasing replacements for tools that I left there. 

Ethiopia wasn’t done with me yet, though.  I got home on Friday afternoon from Chicago by going standby on an earlier flight.  I was able to get into the Dublin Urgent Care that afternoon and get my hand looked at by a doctor and get a full subscription of CIPRO – I only had four pills initially.  I lost 18 lbs.  That’s the good news.  The next day I wore some shorts and light blue jeans that were washed up for me in Gina Ager.  I don’t know where they or it came from, but I got bit by flea(s) across my lap.  I think I had more than 30 bites that became red welts and itched.  I had been told that I would regularly get bitten by fleas,  but that never happened while in Ethiopia.  Only when I was home and people stopped praying did I get bit by fleas! Or that is one way to look at it, anyway.  June washed up all my clothes and I’ve seen no more evidence of fleas. 

Ethiopia got a hold of me in other ways, for I will tell about my experience to anyone who will listen within reason.  I realized I had a special story to tell about my experiences when I shared some with a fellow who had just come from Poland and was waiting for a ride home from the Columbus airport.  For some reason my work in Ethiopia on sabbatical has captured the imagination of many, so I will keep on telling of the experience as I get opportunity.  Please remember the plea for money to pay for needed corrugated steel panels for the new school building at Key Afer and for bags of cement at Meti.  We have so much and they get by on so little.  Do you know what Haptamu makes a day as a skilled mason?  I think Suzanne told me he is paid 8 burr a day.  That is one dollar in US money.   Key After has no telephone or telegraph.  That makes them over 150 years behind us in technology, yet their society works.  There are Beleyneh’s there that are learning English and probably will go to Gina Ager for high school. 

I’m very glad to get home.  I grew to hate working with poles even if the poles are fairly straight.  My Baptist Builder friends would probably agree with me.  We have to put up with crooked sawn lumber, but the compromises one has to make to use poles is continuous.  One can’t just pitch out the pole and use a better one, because a better one may not be available. Yet they use poles for building materials all over Ethiopia.  I saw scaffolding made from poles up all sides of a high-rise cement building.  Use of poles instead of sawn lumber has got to set Ethiopia back years in productivity.  Yet that is all they have. 

 The frustration of working with only hand tools grows on one.  I would tell someone to go cut off that pole straight, and it would come back cut off crooked.  All I would have to do is put the pole on the bed of my radial arm saw and pull the saw through.  The cut would be straight.  Drilling holes with only hand drills is tedious and I hated to watch.

 Most of the people I met were hard workers and had tremendous stamina that is beyond most of us.  An obvious sign of masculinity at Key Afer was to be able to climb the mountain trails quickly and with little effort.  They can do it, but I longed for a ski tram lift between Key Afer and Asagarit.  Such a lift would invigorate that community and allow them to participate much more in the market in Asagarit on Friday.

 The people I met in the Pentay church really know how to pray.  I wish I was motivated to pray like that.  I was told that fervent prayer is a characteristic of evangelical church groups in Ethiopia, because there is no prayer, only form and ritual, in the Orthodox church.  It is liberating for people like Paulos to be able to pray to a God who hears and responds after coming out of the Orthodox church.

I respect the organization skills of Suzanne Barden.  She is tremendous and gets so much done with all the people working for her.  She makes good decisions and knows how to motivate others in their work and schedules.  She has a heart for people to come to a saving knowledge of Christ.  One day I knew she was going to show the Jesus film using the generator that wouldn’t run for me.  She managed to show the film using a patch into a nearby 220 volt system.  I’d call that resourceful.  I hope you can get someone to fix that generator Suzanne.  It must be the carburetor, after all.

David and Debbie Brownfield and the Lawrence’s put themselves out for this volunteer way beyond their call of duty.  They did it in love and concern and I thank them for it.  I will never forget David’s prayer one noon after language study all morning :  “Dear Lord, please use these efforts in language study for your glory”.  Language study doesn’t come easy for a “can-do” man who drives a Chevy 4×4 diesel-powered pickup, can install a solar system with backup batteries, like he did at Suzanne’s home in Gina Ager, or can build shint’bete (he has built or supervised building at least five), and has improved many springs.  His teaching of the Bible has been appreciated by many and now he and Debbie are attempting to expand their work through the medium of storying on cassette tapes like Asmamaw played so much in Key Afer.  Debbie and David make a wonderful team!  Debbie showed me so much care and concern with doctoring and meals.  Thanks to all four of you for your caring and concern for me.

 How soon am I going to volunteer for work like this again and subject myself to rigorous preparation and all associated unknowns?  I hope pipefitters and masons will volunteer to help with the spring improvement project in Key Afer in October.  I told Key Afer people that I have been asked to help and am thinking about it. 

 On the flight from USA to Frankfort, I met an amazing, widowed, 71-yr-old man who retired from a Ford glass factory in Tennessee.  He has had a number of knee replacements (they wear out!) and he takes eight types of pills a day, including one to control seizures that came upon him in his late ‘50s.  Since retirement, he has taught English once in Moscow and three times in St Petersburg using the book of Luke.  He was on his way for a three-month stay in St Petersburg.  He has taught biblical themes in rural India two times.  He plans to teach a harmony of the gospels in a seminary in the Ukraine in January 2001.  What an example of a layman following God’s leading in his life to do significant volunteer work at his own expense!

 Blessing on you as you seek to serve God in any way he leads you.  You can’t go wrong doing that.  Do you feel that “You are very lucky” living in the USA?  I do!

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Summary of Volunteer Trip to Ethiopia

This is what I did on a month-long sabbatical from work in May 2000. I headed up a team of national fellows who built pit latrines at elementary schools in the highlands of Ethiopia. We were in a remote area in a Rift Valley about 70 miles northeast of Addis Ababa. A preliminary report of the trip can be found HERE and a final report of the trip can be found HERE. Here are a few of my favorite photos from the trip:

Elementary Children watching work. Old latrine on left, school building on right.

Elementary Children watching work. Old latrine on left, school building on right.

In this step, the workers are laying metal rebar which will reinforce the concrete slab of the pit latrine.

Finished pit latrine.

Finished pit latrine.

Haile Yesus came to meet us when we were leaving--to say thanks and goodbye!

Haile Yesus came to meet us when we were leaving–to say thanks and goodbye!

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