street children: part of my life traveling the globe

I have now been back in the US for four weeks, and I cannot shake the thoughts of the people on the street in Addis Ababa – mostly women and children. In the streets of Addis, particularly near the large churches or mosques as well as the shopping areas, women are on the street with the children begging. These are some of the thoughts bouncing around in my head, this is part of my story as I travel the globe.

I love to walk when I travel – it lets me get to know a city, affords me a small measure of independence, and lets me stretch my legs after inevitably long days of meetings in cross-cultural settings. It gives my body a chance to become tired and my mind a chance to be rejuvenated. But when those walks are filled with women and children on the streets begging, I often find myself rethinking whether or not I should walk that day or how I can re-route (easier said than done as I typically try and stay to main streets). This makes me cringe inside. Each one of these people is known by God and so many stories from the Bible come flooding back to me. Stories about helping those in need, of seeing the children, of loving those ignored by society. I want to say that my mission is elsewhere, but as I walk, these women and children enter into my space, or I into theirs, and I cannot ignore them and pretend that I am called elsewhere.

None of this is new to me. But as I get older, I find that it gets harder, not easier. What brings each person to the street and keeps them there is a complicated story. I cannot pretend to know an individual’s story, but I do know that there is more to every story than ever meets the eyes. I know that there are systems that promote the problem and do not provide alternatives. I know that people come to the city hoping to find work, and I wonder how deep their disappointment runs. I know that sometimes there are people who collect the money from beggars (in a way employing them to beg) and I wonder if there is any hope. I know that each person has a story and I wonder when they last got to share it with someone who wanted to hear it, to someone who showed them love rather than pity.

One young girl lives so clearly in my mind. She was four or five years old, and she got up from sitting with her mom and baby sibling to follow me, to almost dance around me, with her arms outstretched. She followed me for close to a block, her eyes also searching those around me in case there was someone else, a better candidate, to ask for money. As I prepared to cross a busy street I turned and pointed to her mother, telling her to go back. Our shared language was that of the hands and the body, and words of asking for money. What I wanted to do was bend down and tell this little girl, “Sweetheart, you are beautiful and loved. I wish I could give you a childhood filled with play, but I do know my Father and yours is watching after you and He loves you. Do everything you can to learn, to find an education, and to get off the streets. You have value little one.” Instead, I sighed with gratitude when she chose to not cross the street with me as I could not bear the idea of her crossing it later by herself.


When I travel, I do not know what to do with these women and children. It is a mystery to me. In the countryside, it is so different. There I am the odd white woman walking. Sometimes people talk to me or children follow, but it is because it is something to do and I am an enigma. There I know my place and what I am there to do. I am there to work with water and sanitation and hygiene. I am there to see communities transformed and to work with local partners who make that possible. On a bad day it is frustrating and disappointing work, but on a good day there is little that could be better as it is work filled with hope, health and transformation. When I walk in the city, I have none of this.


This is one one of those things where I don’t believe there is an easy answer, but I do wonder if sitting in the complexity of the situation and admitting that I don’t know is part of the answer. That, and praying for grace and wisdom in each situation.

three weeks, three locations

Three weeks, six cities, two countries on different continents, travel by foot, car, 4-wheel drive and plane. Not a particularly abnormal three weeks of my life. In California I enjoyed wine country, in Michigan I was blessed with another week of stunning spring, and in Ethiopia I discovered regions I had not yet visited. Now I am back in California and am looking forward to a few weeks during which I will not be visiting an airport or living out of a suitcase.

week 18: San Luis Obispo, CA, USA



week 19: Kalamazoo, MI, USA


week 20: Ethiopia


a photo a day… in 2013

2013 is going to be a year of transition. Even if you were to ask, I do not have answers on what is next, but I promise there are things brewing and that I am filled with wonderful anticipation. As I begin another season of life, I am excited to remember the original tagline of this blog, “A piece of where I am.” This has been a place for me to write about the journey and to find beauty in where I am. As this year of transition begins, I want to record it and share it.

In addition to writing about “where I am,” I am launching a fun little photo project. In 2013, I will be posting a photo a day through Instagram (tagged with #365), and will share those photos in a weekly blog post with some thoughts to wrap up the week. I will collect these photos in a little book to share with you at the end of the year. This blog has often helped me to find the beauty that surrounds me, and I believe this project will do that as well. My hope is that, as I search for beauty in where I am, that you too will be blessed.

Just to fill you with anticipation, here are some instagram photos from 2012.


Chilling in my hammock (Kigali, Rwanda).


Flying places: sometimes in small planes (Uganda).


Old land (Northern Kenya).


Making coffee on the road (Ndola, Zambia).


Handwashing station in the desert (Northern Kenya).


Big flower, little bee (Northern Uganda).


Village scenes (Lira, Uganda).


House projects Africa style (Kigali, Rwanda).


Sunset and lake (Michigan, USA).


Hiking Ben Nevis (Scotland).


Coffee (Addis Ababa, Ethiopia).


Ancient buildings (Rome, Italy).


Old art (Rome, Italy).


Water and islands (Hydra, Greece)


Interesting signs (Marsabit, Kenya).


Beautiful and yummy food (Atlanta, USA).


City sunset (Atlanta, USA).

I hope that you too are filled with anticipation as we prepare to ring in the new year!

All my love,

~pam (the nomad)

a weekend in lalibela: churches carved into hills

Lalibela has been on my ‘to visit’ place for years – ever since I first learned about it.  Lalibela is a town in northern Ethiopia that is the location of 11 “rock-hewn” churches. I think it is difficult to grasp what rock-hewn really means: they are carved from / into the hillside. I have been to Petra many times, where the facades of burial rooms were carved – the grand images you see are the carved fronts of the sandstone hills. The Lalibela churches are not just facades but, for most of them, their full structure is carved out of the stone. The most grand churches look as if they were built of small stones put together – the hill has been chiseled far away from the church structure and there are wonderful pillars inside and out. You can read more about the history of the churches at the UNESCO World Heritage Site or Wikipedia. Here is a brief photo journal.

Some of the churches are still connected to their hillside – you can see the hillside above the church.

And in others, you can see the hill connected at the back of the church.

Several of the churches are completely freestanding – everything, pillars included, has been carved from the same stone. (This church has started to fall apart so is protected by a roof above what is visible in this photo and some of the pillars have had to be replaced with bricks, which you can see in this photo.)

This was my favorite church: completely freestanding with just one entrance to the hole in the hill that contains the church (black part on right of photo).

This is a side view of the same church. Isn’t that awesome?!

But not all of the churches were quite as grand. However, just take a moment and think about how much rock had to be chiseled away to make this simple church. And that chiseling was done through volcanic rock, not sandstone.

Then there is the church that might have been the palace of King Lalibela. I took this photo from the other side of what I would call a moat. To me, this looks like a castle, although the inside has been modified to be a church. What do you think?

In order to go inside any of the churches, you had to take off your shoes. At one church, you exit from a different place than you enter. The watchman was kind and moved our shoes to where we would exit.

At some churches old, magnificent wood doors remained.

The interior of some churches were plain, but others were wonderfully carved. In this church, the beveled wall goes around the entire inside wall.

This is the interior of the cross church, which appropriate has crosses on the ceilings of each part of the church.


This was probably the most impressive interior because it looked so much like a basilica – a center with two aisles, all lined with columns. Grand. But pause for a second and notice the floor: it is as bumpy and uneven as it looks under the carpets. Apparently the precision of the workmen extended to the walls and ceilings was not necessary where mere man would walk.

In a couple churches, there were paintings on the walls or on canvases. Here, you can see some of the old paintings on the ceiling and a newer canvas painting popped up on the floor. The styles are Ethiopian and all tell Bible stories and the stories of martyrs in distinctly Ethiopian colors and styles.

I was shown this book, 600 years old, when I hiked to another church about 4 miles away. In most countries, this would be behind glass or taken out of storage only for special visitors. I am thankful for the honor of seeing this book and several others. Again, notice the style of the painting.

Here we take a step outside to something I normally think of as belonging inside a church: the baptismal. Each baptismal is carved into the stone outside the church – many of them meters deep. Although I cannot imagine getting into this water. I love the contrasting colors it creates.

While there is so much more to be seen, you need to go in person to explore these churches. It will be well worth the time. Today, I leave you with a Lalibela sunset.



three stories

In Uganda I finished one book and read another – both beautiful works of creative nonfiction. The Chains of Heaven took me through northern Ethiopia visiting remote villages and monasteries more secluded than what seems possible. And through it all, it was as if Philip Marsden was saying, “This is what life is in Ethiopia. Here is history that lives on today.” The Bookseller of Kabul took me to Afghanistan to get to know a family that seemed different, but was trapped by tradition on every side. And through this family, Asne Seierstad  seemed to say, “Here is Afghanistan, where tradition traps people and slowly destroys women.”

And while I am reading these books, I am in Northern Uganda where there has been an incredible amount of pain and heartache in recent years. I visit villages that, just two years ago, were on roads that were dangerous to travel. I pass schools were children were abducted. I hear stories of bravery in the face of evil. I hear of a child left for dead by the rebels, but who survived. I see houses newly rebuilt as people returned from the camps. Driving through the beautiful countryside it takes my colleagues, my friends, telling me these stories to make it real because there are no bombed out buildings to indicate recent destruction. Just red dirt roads. It as is if I am reading a creative nonfiction book through their stories. And so, in my head, I am in Ethiopia, Afghanistan, and Uganda all at once. 

I spend one day visiting villages where our partners have not worked, and the next two days I go where they have worked. I say worked, but really I mean loved. How to explain the difference in these villages? Where they have not worked, people are drinking out of streams and water holes that resemble mud holes. Latrines are falling down, it seems as if the bush is pushing in on the village trying to slowly suffocate it. In the villages where they have worked, clean water is being drunk from wells or biosand filters. There are drying racks for dishes, latrines with doors and roofs and solid floors, hand washing stations, and garbage pits. The compounds around the houses are clean and the bush seems content to stay where it is. Are the children and the clothes cleaner? Is there a brightness in their eyes? I would like to believe so, but maybe it is just my imagination. Regardless, it seems as if there is hope here. They could live steeped in past pain, but this is a story of change, of growth, of hope. And that is why I say my colleagues and friends loved on these people. Because items and things can change the physical, but for the heart, it takes love.

Ethiopia was about history and today being one. Afghanistan was about tradition trapping people. Uganda was about hope and love prevailing. Uganda was my favorite story. 

review: the chains of heaven

Title: The Chains of Heaven: An Ethiopian Romance

Author: Philip Marsden

Genre: creative nonfiction, travel 

Form: paperback

Recommended: Yes

Thoughts:  At age 21 Marsden tried to travel Ethiopia, but was quickly shut out as the nation was collapsing in conflict. Two decades later he was able to fulfill his dream and walks through northern Ethiopia visiting churches and remote monasteries along the way. Marsden winds his story of walking with the history of the region in such a way that past becomes present as history lives through the people he meets. At times there is more history filled with hard to pronounce (much less remember) names than there is story, but as a whole, The Chains of Heaven leaves you with a vivid image of Ethiopia that entices you to put on your walking shoes. 


There were a few great quotes in this book, and I can’t resist including to excerpts here. I hope you enjoy: 

“Ethiopia taught me many things. As a naive twenty-one-year-old, with years of flunked schooling behind me, I was ready for the simplest of lessons. Instead I was presented with paradoxes. I learnt of the cruelty that could be perpetrated in the name of a good idea. I saw how a people hurtling towards catastrophe, hungry, with population growth out of control, could go on living day to day with such astonishing grace. I saw how those apparently ignored by divine goodness could still apply their greatest energy to worship. I learnt that the human spirit is more robust than life itself.

Ethiopia opened my eyes to the earth’s limitless range. I pictured the country’s startling scenes and stories multiplied across the globe, then factored up by the past. It made the notion of ‘a small world’, ‘a shrinking world’, look absurd, and it made me restless. 

Ethiopia instilled in me the habit of a lifetime, the habit of travel. It revealed the rewards that can be had simply from being footloose among strangers, from taking remote and narrow paths with bare-legged farmers. It bred in me the conviction that if there is any purpose to our time on this earth, it is to understand it, to seek out its diversity, to celebrate its heroes and its wonders — in short, to witness it.” pg 21


“Outside the church gates, two hundred men had gathered for their monthly council. They sat in the dust, on bare banks and knuckle-like boulders. They were clustered beneath the cooling foliage of eucalyptus. I stood in the shad with Hiluf and we watched. 

One among them rose to his feet. 

‘I bought fertilizer. The kebelle [administrative district] gave me the money and said, You can pay us after harvest. But the size of the harvest was too small. Now they want much more money.’

A debtara [non-ordained church official, responsible for the music and danching, often expert in herbal lore] answered. ‘You must be careful to pay back as early as you can. Even if your maize is not growing, the amount to pay still grows.’

Another stood. ‘They told us we must dig a hole for a pond. They said they will give us a sheet. Well I have dug my hole and they say there is no sheet.’

‘I have dug a hole too. My cattle fell in and couldn’t get out.’

‘Put brush around it. At kermet [the season of ‘big’ rains, typically late June to early September] God will provide water.’

‘Last kermet the water did not fill the pond even half — now it is all gone…’

For some time the complexities of rural life were aired, a life in which development schemes arrived like the weather, God-given: sometimes they brought salvation and sometimes they brought disaster.” pg 248-250

road work


To me, summer months mean that my weekends will begin to fill up with camping trips, picnics, and any other outing that will place me in nature surrounded by friends. Sadly, this equates to a lot of time on the road, and I will likely spend time waiting impatiently to pass sections of ongoing road work as construction crews fix roads damaged by winter frosts, summer rains, vehicles carrying heavy loads, and excessive traffic. Although I am impatient, I should not be as I have roads to travel. 

Most of the communities where Blood:Water Mission supports work are not blessed by good roads and construction crews are rare. The roads are rough, some are not passable in the rainy season, and others do not have bridges to cross streams. In Ethiopia, there was no road, and the community used hand tools to build an additional 1.5 kilometers of road in order to transport a drill rig. 

The day I went to visit the well that had been drilled, our car came to a place in the road that had been washed out the day before by heavy rains. The road was not marked with construction cones or signs, and there was no pile-up of vehicles waiting to pass. There was just us, and in front of us the community was already working to repair the road in the same way that they had built it – with their farm tools and their sweat. As we abandoned the vehicle to walk to the well, I realized that I was walking on a road literally built so that people could drink safe water. And they did so joyfully. 

This summer when I pass construction crews on the road I will be reminded of these people who built their own road so that they could have water, and maybe, just maybe, I will not grow impatient as I wait.

~written for Blood:Water Mission’s June Newsletter

a day in addis

Barkot, who’s name means blessing, is the young child of a woman who works at WaterAid. I had the blessing of sharing food, coffee, and time with this family.

The Holy Trinity Church, where Haile Selassie is buried.

I had more good coffee in Ethiopia than I have had anywhere in the world.