Joy Casey, ministry director for Adoption Ministry, is in Ethiopia. She writes about preparations to drive into the countryside where 3 of YWAM’s newest orphanages are located.

Shopping, like so many other things in Ethiopia, takes on new meaning. The Mercado, one of the largest open markets in the world, is our destination. Our country rep Abebe, orphanage director Tezera and I slowly drive into this massive area of shops early on a bright, sunny morning to purchase a long list of needed items for the three new orphanages we are starting in the western part of Ethiopia.

The Mercado is a beehive of activity. Loaded donkeys, men carrying loads of various kinds on their heads or shoulders and children in clothes and shoes past their prime are fetching and carrying. One man has crates of Coca Cola stacked six high on his head going down the street. Women squat beside sellers of potatoes, carrots and onions and load their bags and then stroll to the next booth to buy the fragrant spices for the wat that is commonly prepared for most meals. Along with her veggies and spices, many women have live chickens tucked casually under their arm …. the chickens seemingly resigned to the fact that they most likely will be added to the spices and vegetables to become doro wat for dinner. There is a woman cranking cooking oil out of a huge drum and people bring their recycled containers for her to pump into. Her oil drum sits next to a shop selling flags, t-shirts and various grades of steel wool. A few booths over a man is selling bundles of green rushes that people spread on their floor for the traditional coffee ceremony. Hawkers go up and down the street selling clothespins, sponges and crosses.

I had the dubious pleasure of spending seven long hours among this teeming mass of people and animals, listening to Tezera barter for blankets, teapots, fabric, plastic tubs, water tanks, baby baths…. anything you can think of to set up an orphanage in the outer limits of Ethiopia. An occasional truck rumbles slowly through the throng loaded with barrels, construction materials and bundles and bags of this and that. One truck was loaded with round metal strainers with “USA” boldly printed on their sides. The blankets we bought were from Korea. Some items were from Arabia and, of course, China was soundly represented.

It is hot today. Is it really the middle of December? Sweat is trickling down my back and I lean against a pole holding up an awning (yes, my feet hurt!) but quickly abandon that solution as the stick is wobbly and the awning almost falls down. The proprietor of the store is nice and laughs and then offers me a bundle of peas for a snack which I pick off one by one and gratefully eat. During the entire day at the Mercado, I do not see one other white face. It is not a place for tourist shopping, that is for sure. I have been warned about pickpockets and chose to not carry anything with me.

For the most part, the smells are fresh spices and herbs mixed with the more earthy smell of donkeys. The sounds are a pleasant babble of voices and the sights are uncommon and colorful. Mini van buses load up with people and wares and I am fascinated how they all fit. As we slowly inch away from our parking spot, our van is also loaded to the gills. The last purchase is two large cardboard boxes that we will pack up tonight and load on top of our van for the long journey to Nekemte, Gimbie and Dembidolo where we will set up Widows and Orphans Homes to address some of the needs of the poorest and most helpless. I am hot, tired and hungry. At the same time I realize I have been privileged to experience the unique sights, sounds and smells of a slice of Addis Ababa.