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I remember reading somewhere that the children of Afghanistan were not
allowed to fly kites under the Taliban. The sky was devoid of bright
diamond and box-shaped colors attached to string fluttering in the wind.

I enjoyed flying kites when I was a kid. In Honduras, watching boys run
down the main road of my village with kites made of thrown-away plastic and
paper always brought a smile to my face.

Kite-flying is an innocent activity that eases the flyer’s mood, usually
giving him/her a sense of in-the-moment joy and happiness no matter the age.
Why would anyone ban kite flying?

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After two weeks in Addis, our Ethiopian co-workers’ invitation to see the
Rift Valley Lakes region situated along the main hard road heading south out
of the city was welcomed into my ears and transferred throughout my being
with much needing-to-get-out-of-the-city enthusiasm.

We departed Friday morning on the 22nd day of July around 9 in the morning.
The weather was looking good; rainless on a typically rainy morning of the
rainy season. An hour of twisting-and-turning and stopping-and-going
through Addis’ morning traffic, and we finally made it into the countryside
where farmers worked dark-soiled fields with oxen and wooden plows with
metal blades. The planting season was upon them. A sunny blue sky
pockmarked with white clouds shined above all of us.

A scheduled itinerary was not in our pockets. We rolled down the road,
stopping for a late breakfast and sun-worshipping from our morning meal
outdoor seats.

Eventually, sometime in the early afternoon we pulled off the hard road and
bumped our way to Lake Langano. Though safe for swimming, I opted to sit
back and take in the naturally-occurring brown lake laid out before me.
Eggs digesting and shade from the acacia tree stretched above me, I was in
one of those be-here-now modes of thinking. My wife beside me was the Zen
center.

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By evening we reached Lake Awasa sitting about an hour or so more down the
road. We secured rooms at a local hotel in town, had a drink thirty minutes
later while listening to crickets and slapping mosquitoes by the water, and
capped the night with plates of Western-prepared beef and chicken.

The next morning we headed to the hot springs of Wondo Genet. To arrive
there, we had to bump again along a dirt road. Villages and lone
thatch-roofed, mud-walled houses were scattered along the way, with a couple
of major towns plopped down here and there. People walked and some bounced
on two-wheeled trailers pulled by donkeys and horses as we drove by in our
mini-bus. On this road, unlike anywhere I had been in Honduras, the road
was well-traveled by moving people. In Honduras, most times I saw people
sitting by the road waiting for a ride. They did not walk.

Outside my window, I saw human beings of all ages wearing what some would
call rags. Distended stomachs on toddlers sneaked out from undersized dirty
shirts. Women and girls carried jugs of water and bundles of firewood with
tired faces. Men walked behind cattle and rode the two-wheeled trailers
laughing and under minimal-to-no physical stress. When will our world
recognize the plight of women? If we are to “assist,” “provide aid for,”
“save,” “help” the less fortunate of our world, wouldn’t a good place to
start be getting girls out of the home and free from the guise of cultural
norms and into the classroom?

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We opted to not swim in the main swimming pools at the hot springs “resort.”
They were too crowded with Addis weekenders on holiday. Instead, we walked
up the mountain behind the pool area hoping to see some baboons while taking
in a little nature. We did both.

Passing by the very hot stream (locals cook corn and potatoes in it) that
fed the pools below, we made our way into a beautiful pine forest, a
reforestation project facilitated by a nearby forestry school. Mountains
over nine thousand feet high surrounded us on a bright afternoon. On the
way back, a troop of baboons (forgive me, I know not their name) with long
white and black torso hair and a very long tail with more white hair jumped
through the trees above us. Oh the marvel of watching primates fly through
the sky from branch to branch!

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The following day, Sunday, we stopped off at Lake Abiata-Shala National Park
on our way back to Addis. Ostriches greeted us at the park’s entrance, soon
to be enhanced by a single gazelle galloping through the grass in front of
us. We were making way for the lake’s shore to see the colony of flamingos
that live on the silver lake.

Again, we were bouncing along a dirt road in good spirits. Children
approached our vehicle asking for pens, money, etc. as our mini-bus slowed
to get through the mud holes and uneven sections of the road. When we
picked up speed, the children did not stay behind. They ran beside us for
minutes at a time, persistent and with warm smiles on their faces. They
never seemed to tire. Mostly boys, as the girls were probably off tending
to house needs, they waited for us to slow down and then came up to our
windows asking for us to give them something. We would speed up, and so
would they. Some of them followed us for the half hour ride down to the
beach.

What is one to do when “poor” children run beside one’s car asking for so
little? Does one contribute to this reality by handing a pen or coins out
the window? What does one teach by doing this? What do the children learn?
Does this energy and persistence of the children manage its way through
older society? Does one pass things out the window knowing it very likely
will lead the children to fight over possessing it? Does one pass things
out the window knowing that it will undoubtedly encourage more kids to
continue running?

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I unfurled the kite when we hit the beach. Rainbow colors immediately
blazed in the sun-filled sky. My personal solidarity gesture with the
spirit again living amongst Afghanistan’s children was ever-present in the
reaction of everyone on the beach, Ethiopians, Americans and the Irish.
Turns holding the string and sharing of the binoculars to view the flamingos
occupied our time.

We couldn’t approach the water’s edge. The beach was very muddy and
required rubber boots. That didn’t matter much to us. We were as happy as
kite flyers with the sponge-like beach below our soles. We literally jumped
up and down on sand that reacted the way Jell-o does when pressed on.

Jell-o jumping and a kite in the sky. Didn’t the mystical Jesus say
something about entering heaven when we find the child in us?

(written 31 July 2005)

independent writer

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