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Faiz and I could hear the smacking of balls and cues from halfway up the cobblestone street. There were two makeshift pool halls across the road from each other, but for some reason, we were drawn to the one with the big Pepsi sign out front. A room with three pool tables and about 30 men greeted us. The walls and ceiling were bright red and blue stripes, accented against the worn green velvet of the table-tops. A mirror lining one wall made the cramped room seem bigger.

We introduced ourselves and said we were students from the U.S. and would love to hang out with these guys and just watch them play pool. Some were hesitant at first, but a few welcoming souls convinced the rest to let us stay.

No one was drinking beer and the room was well-lit, unlike most pool halls I have seen. The rules of the game didn’t seem to matter. Scratches went past without any reaction and the player was allowed to try again. Nobody seemed to have bets or rivalries going. All the simultaneous games were purely for fun, an excuse to hang out.

Spending time with friends and family is important to Ethiopians, much more so than in the U.S. It is a group, rather than individualistic, culture.No one really needs to win or lose, pool is simply a matter of playing the game together.


The Telling Moment with Rahel



The red, 12-passenger van pulled into AHOPE orphanage to bring the girls to their soccer match. As soon as the vehicle came to a stop they piled inside, excited to go somewhere outside of the compound. Rahel was last to board, but one of her “sisters” saved her a spot up front.

This is a story about coping with the stigma of being HIV positive in Ethiopia, and how it ties the AHOPE family together.

The girls laughed together and sang songs in Amharic on their way to interact with other orphans, ones without HIV.

The smile on Rahel’s face stretched miles, and her positive energy about the day was contagious.

The girl sitting next to Rahel on the bus began vomiting into a narrow crevice between her seat and the doorway. The laughter and the singing stopped and was replaced with the sound of violent heaving.

Rahel placed her hand on her sister’s back, but her eyes were peeled forward, and her smile was gone. She handed the girl a tissue to wipe her mouth. The girl was embarrassed and turned to Rahel to say thank you. Rahel smiled slightly at her and withdrew her hand, collapsing it into her lap like it was too heavy to hold up on her own.

The car ride was silent for the rest of the way to the soccer fields, where they would face hundreds of other children who do not know they are HIV positive. It was as if they had forgotten, and then been reminded, of the burden they hold trying to hide their status from the world.

When they arrived at the sports complex, the girls put on their best gamefaces and stepped out of the van one-by-one. They stuck together as they walked slowly toward the fields of children already playing.

Goodbye to Temesgen



Lollipops were being handed out one-by-one to 45 street kids waiting patiently but excitedly in a class room with a green tarp for a ceiling. I was trying to pass Temesgen like I was every other boy. He was nervous about being singled out and hesitant to be followed by a white American with a big camera. Each kid was handed a random lollipop without regard to size or flavor, but when his turn came up, I sneakily tried to give him one of the biggest.

He was terrified of being singled out. In the hierarchy of street children in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, he was on the lower end. I had seen him a few nights before begging for food from individuals and restaurants only to have to give it to the older, bigger streets kids in his neighborhood. Having a white girl from the United States follow him around with a big camera made him uneasy sometimes. On our last day together I wanted to treat him as any other kid, at least in front of the other kids.

Temesgen and AnnaAfter each kid had been given a lollipop and the wrappers were scattered, I pulled him aside and gave him my sunglasses he had jokingly tried on several times in our week and a half together. They were just for him. He was being singled out again. But they were given to him in private.

His smile was nervous and excited. He tried to give them back, thinking they couldn’t actually be a gift. I motioned that they were his to keep. His eyes got big, he bit his lower lip and his cheeks rounded with a smile. He wasn’t nervous anymore, just excited. He kept the sunglasses on the rest of the day. He wore them proudly, not caring what the other street kids thought of his gift.

Goodbye to Abeba



She unfolded the crumpled, yellow sheet of notebook paper, and a pressed passionfruit flower fluttered onto her lap.

Abeba. It means flower in Amharic.

Sitting in a waiting room with baby blue walls, cream-colored benches and an open metal door that lets in the occasional fly, we exchange hugs, laughs and goodbyes. The room smells like antiseptic wipes. Crisp raindrops patter on the crumbling concrete outside.

This was the last time I would see Abeba Meaza, a 60-year-old breast cancer patient living in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

She’d fought with the disease for four years, but breast cancer didn’t scare her. Abeba saw a cure in her future. After experimentation with both, she’s now using traditional and herbal remedies rather than chemotherapy and surgery.

Retrieving another gift from inside the folded notebook paper, Abeba kissed a navy blue crucifix before making the sign of the cross. A smile spanned across her face, as it did every time she talked about God.

“Everyone can tell me that I will die, but I believe in God and I will survive,” Abeba said. “Human beings can’t determine my life. I don’t worry about that.”

The big moment – Sisay Godeta



The kid in the sport coat and polo t-shirt stood near the always-busy taxi stand staring at everyone’s knees. But he often looked up.

He reads the letters off of a contraception billboard to his mother who stands next to him. He tilts his head way back, a smile on his face and his eyes seemingly getting larger than ever before. His mother laughs at what this 7-year-old was reading about birth control.

Sisay Godeta was about to head across Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, from the Abinet neighborhood to the Shiro Meda neighborhood on his way to see an American M.D. at a clinic where, according to word of mouth, a doctor with House-like abilities sees patients every Saturday starting at 10 a.m. The clinic was about five miles from their home. It was 6:10 a.m., and they were on their way.

Sisay’s mother, Abonesh, is so desperate to help her child that she knows she must arrive early to get a spot in line. The small clinic offers more hope to the family than Ethiopia’s largest hospital.

This is a story about Ethiopia, the medical care its people need and its lack of resources that hold it back.

When they found the public minibus that would take them one leg of the journey for a seemingly easy 1.50 birr ($0.08 U.S.D.), they crammed into the middle of the back row, Sisay on his mother’s lap. As the van jostled and bounced on the rocky streets, carefully but quickly finding the whole in the roundabout traffic to squeeze into, a giggle skipped out with each bump. His eyes widened again as he soaked in views of the city he rarely gets to see, exclaiming what he saw.





By 7:15 a.m., just one minibus switch and 3 birr ($0.16 U.S.D.) later, the pair was walking through the big, blue gate of The Cure Hospital.


One other family was already there, a mother and daughter, also waiting to see the miracle doctor. By 10:20 a.m., 20 minutes past the clinic’s start time, the doctor, along with his translator, nurse and a few volunteers, arrived to an overcrowded waiting room – he arrived to Addis Ababa at 3 a.m. and would see 60 patients that day. Most usable seating on the edges of the parking lot were filled by waiting patients and their loved ones.

Sisay immediately approaches the doctor but doesn’t say anything. He just stands and waits and watches, looking up again. The doctor leans down to listen – Sisay speaks quietly – and asks the future patient’s name.

In his typical soft, slow and enunciated tone, he responds.

“Sisay Godeta.”


Goodbye to Webelem



I glanced at my cinched Pendleton backpack. I had been carrying two kilos of rice in my bag for three days n0w, waiting for the right moment to give it to Webelem as a gift. I looked around the coffee shop that was at the most a 6- by 20-foot room and into the eyes of the three other people sitting on the animal skin-lined stools and conversing in Amharic, a language I still did not understand. But that did not matter.

I had spent almost a week with Webelem. She opened her small coffee shop a month ago. It might as well been located in a ditch.  If trash were thrown from a moving car, it might come through her window.

In the back of her shop, behind a thin gold curtain, was a double bed with a teddy bear in the middle. The shop was her home. She moved out of Addis Ababa five years earlier to work in Lebanon and, later, Dubai. She managed to escape her horrible work conditions to return to Addis Ababa, only to have her mother die. And here I was, just a 19- year-old American student, who was attempting to develop a story about one of the most deeply rooted elements in Ethiopian culture: coffee.

She did not exactly understand the reason behind me coming day after day to sit, take pictures of her and ask question after question. She did not understand why I asked so much about her past and why I cared about her future. According to business owners who surrounded her shop, I was just a rich American looking to exploit an innocent coffee shop owner to the West.

But Webelem knew differently. She had said just the day before that I was like a daughter to her.

I glanced again at my bag. I did not want Webelem to think that I was pitying her, because my opinion was completely the opposite. Regardless, I knew that it was an Ethiopian custom to bring food as a welcome gift when entering someone’s home, and this was her home.

I looked up to give her the bag and saw her holding a jebena, the traditional Ethiopian-style coffee pot. She smiled at me and motioned the pot toward me. My translator, Haimanot, explained to me that she wanted to give me the black pot, her favorite one, so I would always remember her. This woman, who made an equivalent to about $2.50 per day, was giving me a pot for which she most likely spent days or even weeks saving.

I tried to tell her that it was a nice gesture, but she needed the coffee pot far more than I ever would. I had the memories and photos to remember her by. I did not need to take something from her that was necessary to sustain her struggling business. But she did not understand. Her hospitality was clear, and her intentions were undeniable. I was leaving with her jebena, no matter the cost.

Goodbye to Rahel



We walked slowly from the living room toward the green metal gate of the AHOPE compound for HIV orphans.

“Hey girl, I’ve got to get going,” I said.

I’ve never been good at goodbyes, so I tried to cover up what I was really feeling with simple talk and chatter.

I wondered how she was feeling and what she was thinking. Did I have an impact on her like she did me? Will she miss me? Have I affected her and her life in any way at all?

I began to feel that my work and being there for the last two-plus weeks was insignificant and maybe even selfish. I remember thinking that as soon as I walk out that gate, I get to leave and go back to living my life in America. She has to stay there living in those same conditions with very little hope for a future with a family. Did I really make a difference in her life?

We stood at the doorway of the gate. I wished her good luck with everything, and that I was so happy that I was able to get to know her. I told her I thought she was a wonderful girl. She smiled and looked down at her feet. I told her we could stay in contact through Mengesha, a caseworker at the orphanage, and I would miss her. I hugged her and said, “Goodbye. I’ll see you later, Rahel.” She said, “Goodbye.”

I turned toward the gate to leave. I could feel tears burning in my eyes. I stepped halfway outside of the compound and turned around to wave one last time to Rahel. She was still standing there, facing the gate with a solemn expression on her face. She raised her hand and waved hesitantly. We stared at each other for a while until I shut the gate behind me and headed toward home.