By Staff Sergeant Amanda McCarty
A recent TDY took me to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to support a command post exercise conducted by the Africa Standby Force (ASF). I had waited a year hoping to travel to the country. Although I always enjoy traveling to new countries and experiencing different cultures, I had a very personal interest in Ethiopia – one of my sisters was born there.
Woinshet was adopted from Le Toukoul orphanage in Addis as a young girl. I very much wanted to see her culture and learn more about the country.
Ethiopia is slightly less than twice the size of Texas and has a population of more than 88 million. It is known for its coffee, which is critical to their economy. Cotton, sugarcane, potatoes, cattle, sheep, goat and fish are also farmed in Ethiopia – a few of which I tasted at a local restaurant.
Together with Arthur Kelly and Gunnery Sergeant James Moore, both from AFRICOM’s C4 Systems, I went to try the Ethiopian fare at Yod Abyssina. The food: lamb, goat and beef with injera and spices. They were all quite good, even though I was nervous about eating goat for the first time. The entertainment was even better. A band, accompanied by three male and three female dancers performed dance after dance, changing wardrobes each time. Dances that relied heavily on neck and shoulder movements were the most intriguing to me. I also really enjoyed seeing what attire the dancers would wear next (one included the men wearing baboon hair). It was an excellent dinner and great way to experience more of the Ethiopian culture.
I also toured the city, met many of its people, shopped…and hoped for the chance to meet Woinshet’s older brother during my stay. The shopping was easy. I went around the city selecting some Amharic music, traditional Ethiopian dresses, jewelry, books and coffee to send home. Finding a brother was not as easy. But, after days of tracking down the right person at the adoption center, Internet searches and a little translation help from an African Union friend, I had finally found him and arranged a meeting.
I finally accomplished what I had sought out to do for the past 12 months – meet my “brother” Mesafint. Both visibly excited, we hugged and greeted each other. I explained who I was and that I was in town helping to support the African Union for work. We learned about each other, exchanged family photos and updated each other on our families’ wellbeing – largely through the assistance of a translator. Since Woinshet and her brother haven’t seen each other in years, we attempted to make a video call via Skype, but technical difficulties prevented it from happening. Instead I took some photos of Mesafint to send back home. Then we hugged and it was time for him to go. I had accomplished what I had set out to do personally, but now I wanted to do more.
I headed out on a mission to find the orphanage where Woinshet had once lived. After much toil, I got to the orphanage’s office. I introduced myself and explained my quirky story. Then, I told them what I wanted to do – bring orange sodas to all the children. The explanation? My sister immediately had an obsession with orange Fanta when she first came to my family, desiring to drink multiple cans at a time. She later explained the children got orange Fanta and bubble gum just once a year at Christmas. My heart melted. So, I got the idea to bring sodas to the kids at the orphanage. Although I could have used the money it cost to buy 240 Fantas (the number of children there) for a different purpose, I wanted to do something for each child, not just a few. I remembered how special the treat was to Woinshet, so I set out to find a store that would sell that much soda. After running around town to find a working ATM machine (which was quite a task), I located a market and got all the soda. The orphanage staff seemed grateful and I felt so excited for the children to be able to enjoy it.
The orphanage visit, meeting Mesafint, the whole visit to Addis really reminded me of how lucky I was. I take so much for granted and don’t often stop to realize how truly blessed I am in my own life and to have a truly unique opportunity working for U.S. Africa Command and being able to travel throughout the African continent to play a small part in helping bring peace and security to Africa and each time being humbled.
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