Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A Special Layla Field Trip

Layla House is very fortunate to have some good friends in Ethiopia! Recently, one of them donated enough tickets to take all of the older children to a concert by Teddy Afro, an Ethiopian superstar. Below is volunteer Patrick Smith’s account of this special field trip.

It paid off in the end---our days of secret planning and organizing to pull off a very special field trip for the Layla kids. The teachers and staff were able to keep their excitement hidden and the children were nearly oblivious until just before departure. Our planning was worth it in the end, and kept hysteria to a minimum within the compound in the preceding days---goal one, accomplished.

For those of you who do not know, Teddy Afro is essentially Ethiopia’s Michael Jackson, a charismatic reggae star revered by nearly everyone. His first concert, after two years in prison on questionable charges, was here in Addis in October. In the weeks leading up to the show, it was the talk of the whole town---billboard advertisements, radio station announcements, and great anticipation by every fan on the street.

After our valiant efforts to keep the destination of the field trip hidden, it is finally announced, and the children excitedly board the rented buses. For all of these kids, this concert is their first, and will undoubtedly remain in their memories for many years. .After indisputably the most joyous ride this bus has ever experienced, we all walk single file, roughly one adult for every child, head-on
into a mob outside the gates. Our sponsor led the group through a herd of Ethiopians being treated like sheep, and then mumbles some words to the guards around the gate, and we begin to file slowly through the broad doors past the jealous gazes of people without tickets.

As we take our seats, it crosses my mind that perhaps concerts in Ethiopia may not be exactly like American concerts and eventually, my assumptions prove to be correct.
Nearly two hours later, after multiple trips to the bathroom and kids getting hungrier by the minute, a Hummer pulls onto the field---Mr. Afro has arrived. And with him, the sun descends, the sky darkens with clouds, and rain begins to fall. This fact does not dampen the moods of the kids, or the crowd, when after years, the burden of anticipation is eliminated with the appearance of Teddy upon the stage. With the first notes (and I am not adding this for dramatic effect, it really happened) lightning strikes in the distance, and the roar of the crowd overcomes the stadium and the music.

I look around to see the joy in the faces of the children, and of the equally ecstatic staff. Everyone seems to be singing, while some are dancing too. I can nearly feel the joy radiate from the already tired and hungry children. I look beyond our group and see a dancing stadium, and beyond that people have climbed up the stadium lights and nearby unfinished buildings to see their hero. We stayed for two sets but by that time, the children were tired and starving and so we headed home. The rest of the concert crowd though danced and sang until the wee hours of the night.

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