The following blog post was submitted by Alexa Lawson, one of our tireless volunteers at Layla House this winter. Hailing from Montana, Alexa's burning desire was to take some of the kids camping!
The desire to take the older boys on an excursion into the wild developed soon after my arrival to volunteer at Layla House-----and now the long-awaited day had finally come! Our ability to take this amazing trip came about through the generosity of our local friend Robel Saido. After asking him for suggestions of where we might be able to camp and horseback ride, Robel took it upon himself to not only make all the arrangements, but also to have his company cover the majority of the costs.
On the appointed day, we eventually had everyone gathered and loaded, and we were underway. We enjoyed lunch at a restaurant, a rare treat, where we discovered that M___ had a bottomless pit for a stomach, ordering the largest meal and devouring it before moving on to dispose of everyone else’s leftovers. Afterwards, we piled into the van once again to make our way to Lake Wenchi where adventure awaited but we were halted for while by an overheated engine. By resorting to using precious bottled waters to cool the radiator, we eventually were operational again, making our way to the Wenchi Park entrance, paying the entrance fee, and meeting with Robel’s guys.
In the small bright yellow pickup sitting low to the ground with all the supplies and people, we traveled slowly down a steep and rocky road, eventually stopping about two hundred yards from the edge of the lake where a large, white, circus-style tent was already set up. After unloading the truck, the boys rushed down to the lake, excited by the prospect of swimming. Taking a few moments to revel in the beauty of the lake, and to breathe deeply of the pollution-free air, I returned to the tent to set up house and prepare dinner. Having attracted the attention of the local children whose hut was a mere ten yards from our tent, I invited them, a little tyke named Abu and a girl with a smile a mile wide, into the tent to play with the game of Connect Four we’d brought with us. Though the objective of the game was lost on them, they enjoyed themselves nonetheless until they were shooed away by their father.
The evening meal was hobo balls, a staple of my camping trips in Montana – rice, meat, and vegetables mixed together and wrapped in aluminum foil then thrown directly into the fire to heat up – the boys came back wet and cold from their swim, and I took the chance to go photograph the beauty of Ethiopia’s natural landscape. With the wind increasing in strength and all the boys chilled by the icy lake waters, we set up the beds, with all 25+ blankets, though I was fearful we didn’t have enough to ward off the cold setting in as the sun began to dip below the horizon. I passed out the jerseys I’d gotten for the six boys; each one thrilled to be sporting new apparel from their favorite teams.
After letting the boys try their hands – unsuccessfully – at starting a fire, the locals took over and with the efficiency of those who depend on fire daily, had a fire going in no time. The strong winds made cooking over the fire quite a challenge, the bread ending up a lump of inedible charcoal, and only about one third of the popcorn kernels actually popped. Luckily, the boys were hungry enough that they weren’t overly picky. Having not planned for the extra eight to ten individuals that we ended up sharing dinner with, I ate sparingly.
Huddled around the fire for warmth, we passed the evening marveling at the star-strewn sky, the boy’s laughter filling me with warmth as I rejoiced in being able to offer them this opportunity to be young men, free from the monotony of everyday orphanage life. Thankful the boys were ready to retire by about nine, we headed to the tent, bundled up with all the layers we had, and steeled ourselves for a cold, windy night. Bright and early we again fought the gusty winds to get a fire started in order to cook eggs for breakfast. Again, underestimating the appetites of six growing boys, I went without in order to ensure they had had their fill. Then we packed up camp, leaving Robel’s guys to take down the large tent, and we negotiated a price with the local men to row us across the lake. The strong winds got the best of us yet again as we fought against the currents to make our way to the other side. Stopping midway at an island to recruit other rowers, we took a brief moment to explore the island’s monastery before separating into two smaller boats and commencing on our way across the lake. After fighting for nearly half an hour to travel less than 300 yards, we finally reached the other side, and hiked a short distance to where the horses awaited.
We rode happily, the hours passing all too quickly as I attempted to capture the joy of these first-time adventures through my camera’s lens. We even sampled the natural spring of fizzy mineral water from which the bottled product Ambo comes, though I wasn’t bold enough to actually swallow it for fear of giardia. The outing proved H__’s astounding perseverance; though I didn’t witness the incident, he fell off the horse, but quickly rebounded and got right back on without fear. Also, when we came to a section of the trail where the horses could not carry passengers, H__ hiked up the steep, slippery grade like a champion. Reaching the top, he was exhausted by the effort, but proud that he had accomplished the feat when he had originally said, “I can’t.” After over two hours, we eventually made our way around the lake, and back up to the top of the mountain where our drivers awaited our arrival. Worn out by the hike, I sank happily onto the seat. As the drivers made a switch, I feverishly made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the hungry crowd with M___s help. Approaching Layla’s blue gates several hours later, I was both thankful and amazed that the weekend had gone so well, confident it would be a fond memory for these boys for years to come.