Nicholas Troilos Ethiopia Journal

Posted by Vijay Bhirud on 1 February 2014 | 0 Comments

In late January our President Nicholas Troilo visited Ethiopia with Catholic Relief Services to see some of the work we have done.  Below is his journal of the trip.


Ethiopia Journal – “I Thirst”



23 January 2014 9:30am

Emirates Flight 204 from New York’s JFK to Dubai.

 I’m nervous. Now the flight is delayed for an hour or so which gives me more time to fret.  I try to make myself comfortable during the wait.

I’m still apprehensive about flying a 500+ passenger aircraft and being in the air for 12.5 hours.  As I wait, I learn that the delay is caused by an additional security check.

I watch the crowd amass. My American northeast-European based prejudices begin to take over.  What is the risk of flying with so many people who do not look or dress like me? I brush that aside and wonder how brave I will be if I need to help thwart a terrorist or how I might behave at my moment of death. Why did they need an additional security check?  Is something wrong with the plane? Or is something wrong with the passenger list?

Later, aboard the flight.

I am comfortable with an aisle seat.  I wonder how much cheaper my humanitarian fare ticket is then the seats around me.  My aisle mates are a couple of about my age.  They do not speak to each other nor to me.  The drinks cart comes around.  I ask for a Campari which they have and a gin which they have and sweet vermouth which they have.  I make myself a Negroni. I dose off.


24 January 2014 12:08 am

Dubai International Airport for Emirates flight #723

In Dubai, safe and sound..  No real sleep on the flight over.  I watched Gravity with bad sound and found it a bore. Still another 4 hours to go from Dubai to Addis Ababa.  Dubai airport is both shopping mall and airport.  The shops are all high end designer shops, gold jewelry and Rolex watches.  I am amazed that amongst the couture clothing shops are American down market eateries like Cosi’s and Burger King.  The airport guides direct everyone to their new gates.  The elevators that take us from one floor to another are larger then a New York studio apartment.  The railroad from one terminal to another is clean and fast.  . For all its fascination, I do not want to be in this place.   I still feel like an American – too American.

24 January 2014 2:00pm

Bole Airport - Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

My iPhone has but I have not switched to Ethiopian time. But I am no longer feeling nor thinking like a Connecticut Yankee.  I take on the air of the world traveler. Seeing the Dubai skyline, going through the Dubai airport, flying over the historic Red Sea and the biblical deserts, being only one of three or four western men on the flight from Dubai to Addis Ababa and hearing English only from the flight crew makes me feel strangely comfortable with who I am.


 Where is the staff person from Catholic Relief Services? Someone is to meet me. I don’t see a sign. An airport hostess directs me to a shuttle service for my hotel. I go. In the hotel van, I meet an Australian who travels the Middle East for an oil company. He tells me that it is only a stones throw from poverty to luxury in Addis Ababa. I am not fully aware of what that means.


24 January 2014 6:00pm

Harmony Hotel

The hotel is pleasant enough but I ask for a room change because my room reeks of cigarette smoke. They are accommodating. The hotel is non-descript.  Addis Ababa is busy because the African Union is meeting in Addis Ababa and the hotels are filled with delegates.  Security is evident. I have no Ethiopian money to tip the porter so I use the hotel ATM to get 100 Ethiopian birr (ETB) which I learn is the equivalent US$5.00.

I meet two other travelers, Carl and Kimberly,  who are joining me as part of the Catholic Relief Services project review.  As we wait for our dinner host, I learn that they are newlyweds on their honeymoon. They have made a generous donation to CRS in lieu of making some expensive choices for their wedding reception. They live in Florida; had come from Rome where they participated in a special ceremony with Pope Francis and had a photo op with him. 

Matt Davis, the CRS country manager for Ethiopia meets us at the hotel to take us to dinner.  We go to the Greek Club,  a private tennis and social club.  I am surprised by the choice and surprised by the intelligence, experience and education of Matt.. We discuss the work of CRS in Ethiopia and I am very much impressed with the relationship CRS has with the United States humanitarian efforts in Ethiopia and very impressed with Matt – except that he is from Boston. We joke about that.

Bekele Abaire, the CRS water project manager joins us for dinner.  He speaks with authority about the water crisis and potential in Ethiopia. Bekele will be with us for the entire time.


25 January 2014 7:00am

Departure from Harmony Hotel

Jerry Stanton, the New York development representative of CRS arrived in Addis Ababa late last night but he meets us in the morning for our trip south. A CRS driver, Teddy, collects us for the estimated 3 ½ hour trip.  He is an aggressive driver through the city streets. I am surprised to see how many people are walking on the roads and more surprised at how both young and old, both male and female cross the roads and climb over barriers to do so.  I begin to wonder about the attitude towards safety and wonder if there was a general disregard for human life.  We hurry on the trip, make one brief stop where people stare and smile at us.  I come to know later that white skinned people in clean western dress are called “forengee.” 


25 January 2014 Noon  Meki Catholic Secretariat Compound

 Just before noon we arrive at the compound of the Meki Catholic Secretariat which houses the offices, guest quarters and residences of Bishop Abraham Desta and the clerics of the Secretariat staff.  We are shown to our rooms which are comfortable and clean.  My room has a single bed, a small desk, a closet and an ensuite bath which has a toilet, a sink and mirror and a shower.  The shower stall is simply an open shower with a drain in the floor. The small room is clean and we have clean linens and towels.


We are guests of the bishop for lunch which is a simple, western style meal.

Bishop Desta joins us and briefs us on some of the needs of the people in the area and his vicariate.  Only a small portion of the population is Roman Catholic but the Meki Catholic Secretariat provides services for most of the people in the area without regard to religious affiliation.  Shortly after lunch we leave the compound for a visit to a school where an improvement in the sanitation facilities is underway.  This project, part of our funding program, is fundamental to the education of the young girls.  Simply put, even if there is water available at a village well, girls do not go to school unless there are separate lavatories and wash facilities for them.  


This was the only toilet and sanitation facility available at the local school. It was built for the boys.


This is the new facility that we are constructing. It is not yet finished but it will have three toilet stations for girls and a girls' wash room. On the reverse side are four toilet stalls for boys. Water for washing will be available on one end of the building. That’s me in a New York Giants hat.


The teachers live at the school with their families. Their only qualification as teachers is that they are willing to instruct the children in what they know.  Their monthly salary is 500birr or about $25.00.  Still, the school with its proper lavatories provides some basic education for the children in reading, their official language (Amharic) and some skills with their own regional dialects.  The classrooms are poorly furnished and there are few books available for the children to study.  But it is an important part of the community life since it does training in health and hygiene – life giving skills.  The school is in what I would loosely refer to as an urban area.  In most of the places we visit, there is a main road that is essentially the high street.  The main streets have some small store fronts, really very tiny maybe 25 sq feet booths that sell a variety of goods from juice drinks to jeans. The shops are the front of the shacks that the people live in.  There are no paved roads other then the main highway which is only partially paved..


Following our visit to the school we visit a remote area, Koye jajaba Kebele, to see a water well that had recently been renovated as part of the project Turning Wine Into Water funded.  This was a bit of a long trip.  The roads are built for donkeys and camels and not for cars.  Since this is my first visit to a 3rd world country I am surprised by the conditions of the roads and surprised by the housing conditions. There are no houses – only shacks in the towns; mud huts in the more remote areas.

Because of the poor conditions in the Meki area I prepare myself to see the worse possible conditions in the villages. What I find, however, were conditions worse then I had expected. The living conditions of the poor would not be unacceptable to even the poorest of the poor in a developed country like the United States.

The villages are designed to adapt to the land, the climate and the social structure of the community.  One room mud huts with thatched roofs represented the best of the housing.  But I soon learn that having easy (within an hours walking distance) access to water is both a key and critical factor in the lives of the people. I see the well and I see the people coming to collect water from the well.  I know we had achieved something important to their lives.  Internally, I celebrate the work of Turning Wine Into Water with CRS.  I  walk off for a moment to think of how I am going to explain the importance of what we can accomplish to all the people who have been generous in making this happen.



Pictured are two of the women who help manage the well along with Father Temesgan Kebede, the General Secretary of the Meki Catholic Secretariat our guide while in Meki

I come to a new understanding of our goal at this stop and a better understanding of what we are achieving with this project.  It is not just about drilling a well.  The major good that we do is getting clean water to the people of the village and teaching them how to use the resource properly and at the same time, affecting a positive change in their native way of life but we do this – and this is critically important and takes a great deal of community development expertise to achieve– we bring about a positive change in their way of life without a restructuring of their traditions.

Building the well is a huge major step and building it is a huge project: getting a massive drill on a flat bed semi-trailer to a remote area; having the local villagers prepare the road for the truck; building a team of men and women to mix cement and lug sand and gravel is the start.


Prior to construction, the people the well will serve are brought together to form a co-operative which establishes rules, builds a maintenance team, establishes a fee for the water. Filling a 5 liter container (as in the picture above) costs about US$0.05.  The fee is paid at the well where one of the management team collects and records the funds. About 100 Birr (the equivalent of $US5.00) is collected each day.  All the funds are used for keeping the well in good, day to day working order.  I am interested in learning how the people earned the 5 cents to buy a jug of water since most of the people are subsistence farmers.


Father Temesgan said that today is market day in this area and we could go to the market to see how trades were made. It is our next stop. But before we leave there is some picture taking.



The Maintenance Team - we provide the tools

The Bookkeeper - A monthly report is prepared

Girls of the Village - I'll realize the significance of their clean clothes tomorrow


Later That Day

The Market

We arrive at the market about 3:00pm.  It is a hustle and bustle place and the first thing we see is a grinding mill where the women bring their grain to be ground into flour. Some women sell a portion of their grain and/or fruit that they have grown.  A good deal of the process is dependant on the women’s ability to transport the sacks of grain.  The better-off have a donkey and a cart. Sharing with your neighbor is a way of life for the poor. Still many walked.


This is one of the best roads we traveled on in the area. It was improved by the inhabitants so that the drilling rig could be brought to the village area to drill the well

There are always happy faces. Water is so important to the poor that having it available makes all the issues of living in poverty easier.

Bananas are delicious and cheap by US standards. There is a diverse religious population in the area that we serve with our project

The market place was remarkable and the atmosphere was like a village fair. Even after walking several hours many lugging sacks of grain and with the return walk ahead of them, there was still an atmosphere of celebration – this was their coming together. It was a Eucharistic event.

After touring the market (and lots more picture taking) we visit another village where a well had been constructed and a more elaborate system for storing water had been built and maintained.  This was a more impressive site with both a well and a wash station where the people could launder their clothes and shower. 

This facility serves several villages and has a generator to pump water into a storage tank.  What is really impressive, however, is that the water supply management team (for lack of a better term) had recently decided that they wanted to bring electricity to the pump.  Right now, the pump is operated by diesel fuel which they have to fetch in drums.  Government electrical lines run through the area and they can pay to have access to the lines.  After keeping records of their expenses and income, they determined that running the electrical lines to the pumping station and buying electricity would be less expensive then operating on diesel fuel – which has to be lugged from miles away.

We spend some time talking with people who came to the well. I am somewhat embarrassed by the expressions of gratitude.  Close to the well is a mud hut where the well guard lives with his wife and five children. This is a job given to a family that has not been able to buy a land lease from the government to farm.  When talking to the woman, we ask her what having the well meant to her.  She looks astounded by the question.  After a few moments she looks at us as if we had no basic understanding of what we have provided.  “Water is everything,” she says.


“Water is everything.” The fourth child is a toddler who was a bit closer to the ground. The fifth child is on her back. The young girl on the right – about 13- does not go to school. We were shocked when we learned why.


We learn that the young girl’s marriage has been arranged.  She is about 13 years old.  “My father will get a cow,” the young girl tells us.


By the end of this first day in the field, my head is spinning with new ideas.  The drive back to the bishop’s compound is filled with chatter.  I have a lot of questions but I want a shower before dinner and a chance to shake out my clothes from the dust and to brush my shoes. “This is an arid but beautiful land filled with a people who have simple but joy filled lives,” I think.  The gospel suggestion that Jesus loves the poor and gathers the poor closest to him has new meaning to me.  Then I think that the same gospels tell us that Jesus equally loved sinners.  So I feel as equally loved because I know that day I was not as generous with my heart as I might have been. During our tour I was more a judgmental representative of a donor group then a man feeling with a caring heart. My head was in making judgments about the work and determining the value of our partnership with CRS and the Meki Catholic Secretariat.


Before dinner we are offered coffee in an elaborate ritual.  A woman sits on a low stool, a small wood fire burns in a clay urn; atop the urn fragrant coffee beans roasting; we are offered popcorn and biscuits, she roasts the coffee, brews it and serves it to us.  I learn that the ritual requirement is to accept three cups.  They are small cups like the ones we use for espresso.   The coffee is rich and robust.









Prior to dinner a member of the Secretariat staff (Solomon)  makes a presentation.   Part of the work the secretariat does is to provide various needs for the community.  Solomon tells us about a project he calls the “donkey project.”  A female donkey and a cart are provided to the poorest family in the village. The family must give the first foal to another poor member of their community.

At dinner I ask Solomon the cost of a donkey and cart.  He tells me about 6000 birr. We have another western style meal.  We discuss the schedule for Sunday and I ask if after Mass we can perhaps visit an area that needs development.  I tell Bishop Desta and Father Temesgan that I am very impressed with the work being done in the area.  They are very gracious and very grateful for what we have made possible.

Carl goes to bed first and before we go to our rooms I mention to Kimberly that the donkey project struck me and would she and Carl be willing to kick in $150 to buy a donkey and a cart for the poor woman with five children that we had met.  Kimberly says she need to speak with her husband about the donation.


Sunday January 26, 2014

The Meki Compound

I sleep fairly well but throughout the night I hear what I assume are calls to prayer from the Mosques.  I am awake early.  Sunday Mass is at 9:00am.  I want coffee but breakfast is after Mass. A church is under construction so Mass is in a school hall. Before Mass I see Bishop Desta go into the confessional.  A few people are already lined up.  The  bishop hears confessions during Mass. Mass is in Amharic but I experience the joy  of  the service.  School children in special robes sing.  Women make a loud piercing cooing sound during Mass as a sign of respect and adoration.  Adult men are wrapped in white cloths which cover their shoulders and back and are swung over each shoulder.  Later I learn the covers the men wear are called Gabi’s and are worn as a sign of respect.

After Mass we have breakfast with the bishop and with Father Temesgan.  Then we change into travel clothes for another long, dusty trip.


Bishop Abraham Desta, the Roman Catholic bishop of the Meki Diocese and I say goodbye. His Sunday duties will take him to other areas.

At breakfast, Carl suggests that instead of a donkey and a cart we try to learn if the family will accept a cow from the Secretariat instead of sending their daughter into marriage.  Fr. Temesgan embraces the idea but says it will be a difficult negotiation.  He says his team will visit the family and see if some new resolution can be made.

This afternoon’s trip is to a more remote area.  The road is for all intents and purposes not a road.  After about two hours we begin to see some peoples walking with yellow containers of water.  Fr. Temesgan tells me that this is an area where people gather water from a pond that fills during the rainy season.  Elders of the village have come to the Meki Catholic Secretariat to ask if funds might be available to dig a well for them. There is about a month’s worth of water available.  The rainy season is two months away.  When the pond water is gone, it will be an eight hour walk to the next water source.


We stop a boy on the road.  


He shows us the water he has collected from the pond. We ask him how he will use the water

The boy drinks the water

I begin to understand the problem that we must work to solve. Fr. Temesgan tells me that the boy’s body has probably adapted to the parasites that the water contains but that many children die in infancy because of these conditions.

We travel about another half hour until we reach the pond.  Given the condition of the road I wonder if it would be faster if we went by foot.  We find the pond.  It is nearly dry.

We find a man collecting water and a group of elders standing around him in celebration.  I learn that the man is collecting water because his wife gave birth to a child the day before. 


The men of the area are gathered to watch this new father collect water. His wife would use the water to care for their new born child


I watched as donkeys, camels and baboons drank from the pond and urinated in it. I give the man a bottle of the water I was carrying. It was all I could do.


This is a life changing situation for me. For the past eight years, since the beginning of Turning Wine Into Water, we have talked about numbers.  More then 25,000 children under the age of five die every day simply because they have no access to clean water.  It had just been a number.  Now it is real.  There isn’t much chance that this man’s child will live unless I begin to do more about it.


I ride back to Meki with Fr. Temesgan and Bekele.  Fr. Temesgan tells me that because of the remote area and difficulty of bringing equipment to that area it is very expensive to drill a well.  Bekele tells me that water is available – it is just the cost of getting to it.  Fr. Temesgan says that he has reviewed one proposal but has not yet found funding for the project..


I am quiet for most of the ride back to Meki and then back to Addis Ababa.  We stop at Debre Zeit Resort, a hotel near Addis Ababa,  for a late lunch.  It is a resort area near a lake.  I eat carefully – my first real taste of Ethiopian style food. I have my first taste of injera – a flat bread made from sour yeast and teff flour.  Atop the injera are a variety of stewed foods.




About 6:00pm we check into the Soramba Hotel.  We have an early departure and a nine hour drive the next day.  I want to sleep. I think about the poverty I saw.  I think about a woman washing her baby with water that animals urinate in.  I think about the resort spa where we had dinner.  I understand the idea of poverty being a stones throw away from affluence.  I don’t care about making judgments.  I change my attitude from being the judge of the utilization of our resources.  I want to call my wife, tell her to sell everything, to come to Ethiopia because people need help here.  “Africa steals your heart,” someone had once told me.  It got mine. I just spent two days with the poorest people I had ever encountered.  I just spent two days with the happiest and most carefree people I had ever encountered.  My heart wanted the simplicity of their lives.

I take a hot shower.  I realize I can not live without water – hot water at my finger tips.  I accept who I am.  I don’t call my wife.  But I am a changed man.  I’m not afraid of poverty anymore.

I write in my journal about how I can try to find the joy and simplicity of the poor without giving up hot water.  I begin to list what I can give up – what I should give up – what I can’t give up.  I think of St. Francis.  I laugh at the prospect.  St. Francis stripped naked in front of his entire town and his local bishop then went off into the woods to rebuild a church.  I fall asleep thinking I could have done the same.  I even had a bishop on hand.


Monday,  January 27, 2014

On the road at 6:45AM– Drive to Kombolcha

We are headed north.  We expect to be on the road about 7 to 9 hours.  The highway was built by the Italians.  The landscape is different.  In the south we were in arid, dry, dusty, flat territory.  The north is green and mountainous. We climb to high elevations.  We pass through mountain tunnels.  The road is a narrow, two lane road that twists and curves around the hills and valleys.  Small buses poke along picking up passengers who sit and wait along the road.  Our driver passes the slower moving buses and vans in a way that makes me happy that I have a seat belt.  I try to build a level of trust.

We stop at an amazing site. I am in awe of the beauty of the land and the mountain ranges.  I think that if Ethiopia had the climate for snow and also had a sea coast, the country would be populated with Four Season spas and airports for private jets.


Looking southeast to the Rift Valley at the fault line that separates the Rift Valley from the Nile Valley behind us. A cathedral created by nature.

We stop again.  There is a small square tent on the other side of the road.  My guess is that it is a roadside toilet.  Two colorfully dressed men are stationed at the site.  They approach us.  One of the drivers introduces the older man as his father who is an Eastern Orthodox priest.  The other young man is a deacon.  The tent is not a toilet. It is a sacred source of healing water.  I ask to go inside.  I am allowed to do so but must be bare-footed.  I can not touch the water from the spring.  The young deacon accompanies me; collects some water, we exit, he blesses me with the water then touches my forehead with a wooden cross.  I am at peace. I think how privileged I am to experience these things.  This is a land of ancient customs and beliefs far distant from my European heritage.

Here was a stop where relief came through anointment.  I recall that Bishop Desta had also reminded me that water is the instrument of baptism.  Later I learn that this is predominately Orthodox territory and that there are many healing shrines in the area.


We arrive at Kombolcha. Check into the Sunnyside Hotel.  We visit the St. George Brewery and have a beer and treat our drivers.  We go back to the hotel for dinner. We meet our hosts in the area  - the men and women from Water Action – a group of  Ethiopian professionals who manage the projects for CRS in the area. 


I couldn’t order from the menu so our host ordered for me but I followed the custom when eating injera – tear a piece of the bread, scoop up a bit of the stewed items and feed the first bite to your neighbor at the table. Your hands get quite messy when eating this way but you make good friends.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

We have a jam packed day today with visits to two different schools where sanitation facilities have been constructed.  I learn that there are to be ceremonies at each school honoring Turning Wine Into Water and that I will be asked to cut the ribbon at the facilities.  I am a bit uncomfortable about that situation because I don’t want the spotlight on me.  I want the attention to be on the projects but I know that I am obliged to accept the honor.  There will be elaborate programs at each school.

We arrive at the first school mid morning.  We visit the facility that was built and participate in a ribbon cutting ceremony.


The ribbon cutting

The new facility

The training team

  The children have prepared a presentation for us. The school term is at exam time so there is only half day.  We sit for an hour or so and the children sing songs that I am told tell of their appreciation for what we have done for their school and for their education.  After the presentation I am surrounded by the children who want to look at me and touch me as if I am a great figure.  I enjoy being around the children and I experience a sense of joy and self worth that is almost mystical.  I hug the kids when I can.  Sometimes I just touch their faces.  They are just plain joyful and I am just plain happy to be part of this experience.

The teachers have prepared a coffee ceremony for us

Early afternoon.

In the afternoon we travel to a mountain area where we are funding the capping of a mountain stream.  Our SUV’s can only get so far up the mountain so we need to hike a rocky road about a mile or so to get to the water source.

Equipment is brought to the area by camels.   Donkeys and horses can’t make it up the hills.

In the mountains, there is a different approach to tapping the water source.  Here there are natural mountain springs.  The water flows from the spring into natural but uncontrolled streams.  Here, again, the people share the stream water with animals.

Two skilled masons are employed to construct a small reservoir to hold the water from the stream.  The villagers quarry rock from the mountain and chip the rock into building blocks for the mason.  The villagers also mix the cement and haul the cement to the site.

As the small reservoir is built pipes are laid underground down the slope to an area accessible to various village populations.  The people organize what is essentially a “water utility” and some people op to have a direct line to their huts where a meter is installed and the water use is monitored.




We climb down the hill and visit with a group of women who have developed a small business making cement covers for latrines. They show us the process – plastic molds, they grease the molds so that the cement cover will slide out when set (like a baker does with a cake pan) they mix the cement by hand then fill the mold which is then baked in the sun.

The latrine covers are sold for approximately $1.00   A cover for the hole in the cover is available for an additional $0.25.  We meet the woman who keeps the books.  She shows us her ledger and we are told about the distribution of the profits and how it helps to better their lives.


A team of entrepreneurs engaged in an enterprise initiative to become self sustaining.

Jokingly I ask the interpreter to tell the woman that I am hoping that by the next time I visit they will have enough funds to buy a helicopter so that I don’t need to climb the hill.  The woman answer: “it is possible.” 

They prepare coffee for us in the ritual ceremony.  I begin to understand that I and the visit from CRS represents Hope.  I absorb the burden of that idea and find a quiet moment to incorporate that into my heart.  I walk away humbled. 


An Hour Later

We are at a school that is served by a completed pipeline from a mountains stream.  The school children are gathered for a presentation.  I am asked to cut the ribbon for the recently constructed latrine facility for boys and girls.

I meet the children who have been selected as the WASH team –Water Sanitation and Hygiene.  The WASH team has the responsibility of teaching and guiding the other students in how to use the water properly to maintain sanitary and healthy conditions.  

Following the school children’s’ presentation the teachers entertain us for coffee – the ritual requirement of three cups.  This is the third coffee ceremony of the day and I am asked to say a few words to all the children and staff that are gathered.  At the end, they present me with a gift – it is a gabi – beautifully woven cotton cloth with an intricate pattern of woven colored cloth and fringe at the ends.


Accepting the gift and speaking to the teachers and students. I told them how jealous I was of their beauty and simplicity.


I say good bye to the head teacher.  He asks me to visit a classroom. He shows me that they only have dirt floors, few books and no supplies.  Children follow me and when I go into the classroom they follow me in, sit and look at me as if I am about to teach  or tell them a story.. I am at a loss and the only thing I can think of is Goldilocks and The Three Bears.  I am bewildered that this is the only story that comes to mind while looking at a group of small, black skinned, black haired children in the arid mountains of an African nation.  Have I had too much coffee?


We leave the classroom and the children follow.  I hug them as we leave.  I am again feeling very humble. 


Early Evening

We stop at the brewery to treat our drivers to a bottle of beer.  St. George lager is clean and crisp.  It has a nice golden color and slight citrus appeal. 


Back at the Sunnyside Hotel

We meet for dinner and we meet another American group from Texas.  They are trying to get into Sudan to help the refugees.  They have been turned back because the situation is too dangerous.  I am very proud of the spirit of my fellow citizens.

We have an early dinner and an early departure in the morning. We are to be back in Addis Ababa by 4:00PM.  I don’t tell anyone that today is my 71st birthday.  As I fall asleep I am in a state of wonderment.  I feel as if God had reached down from heaven and wrapped his arms around me.


Wednesday 29 January

We are to meet for breakfast at 6am but I am up early, packed and the first one at the hotel breakfast room just as the servers are getting the buffet set. I have a banana and a bowl of porridge and coffee with hot milk.

One of the travelers isn’t feeling well so we are a bit delayed in leaving but we are on the road by 7:30.

The plan for the day is to travel, arrive in Addis by 2pm, visit the Missionaries of Charity facility in Addis in the afternoon, have an opportunity to shop and then dinner at the home of the CRS country manager, Matt Davis.

We don’t get into Addis until nearly 3:30pm.  We check into the Soramba Hotel and head right to the Missionaries of Charity hospice.

We meet CRS staff at the Hospice including a young woman from California who is a college intern. We tour the hospice.  It is difficult to see the poor and dying who have been abandoned.  I watch the nuns care for the sick.  I know I could not do this sort of work.  I want to run away from it.  Our last stop is outside the morgue. We are told that if 12 die during the day they can take in 12 more; if 30 die they take in 30 more.  The poor are lined up waiting for care and for help. We were told that we would not be allowed to take any pictures inside the hospice.  I understood why.  Carl and Kimberley are planning to stay for another week and to volunteer at the hospice.  I just know that I can not give that sort of care



We have a farewell dinner with Matt Davis and his family. Someone learned that yesterday was my birthday and we have a cake for dessert.


Thursday 30 January – Monday 2 February

As the trip was being planned, I decided that I did not want to return to the US without some time for reflection and evaluation.  I found a Cistercian Monastery in Addis Ababa and the CRS Ethiopian staff contacted the Abbot of the Monastery who gave me permission to stay with them for four days.

  Cistercian Monks follow the rule of St. Benedict which, in its simplest form, is Ora et Labora – Pray and Work.  I lived with the monks for 4 days praying with them each morning starting at 4:00am.  During their work hours, I read and wrote and gathered my thoughts about how to simplify my life back home.  I resolved to do whatever I can and to find the resources necessary to continue our work with Turning Wine Into Water  I was asked to wear the gabi for morning prayer and for daily Mass.  I was proud to wear the gabi and I began to understand the importance that a monk’s religious habit has to him.  Putting on the gabi was a sign of obedience and respect. The monks also wore a gabi for morning prayer and Mass.

On Sunday, the monks celebrate following the Roman Catholic Eastern Ethiopian Rites.  Morning prayer began as usual just after 4am but chanting was in Ge’ez an ancient liturgical language used by the early Christians in the area. We stood in the back of the church and each monk (and I) held a staff during prayer.  At certain times we would tap the staff rhythmically with the chant.  Near the end of the service, three monks came forward to sit on small stools and played huge drums while six monks, three opposing three others danced as we chanted and the drums beat.  The dance was more of a forward then reverse approach and was meant to symbolize the battle between good and evil.  Sunday Mass was a long ritual and the church was filled with people who demonstrated amazing reverence during the Mass.  Again, the women made a piercing cooing sound at moments when they felt a special reverence was due.

I made good friends with the monks and just before I left I gave my (now precious) gabi to the Abbot and asked him to give it as a gift to the next man who was to be ordained.


Monday, 2 February

Bole Airport 

Just before boarding my flight from Addis to Dubai for my return to the US, I see a Missionary of Charity nun waiting for the same flight.  I say hello.  I tell her that I visited their facility the previous week she tells me that she remembers our visit. She is also going to Dubai.


Dubai Airport 

I wait for the nun to depart from the flight.  I ask if she needs help.  She says she is fine.  She only has her small bag.  I ask her where she is going.  She tells me Calcutta.  She seems to know her way around the airport.  My flight to NY is from the same terminal and we both have a 4 hour layover. We walk together and talk.  During our conversation I sense that she has some responsibility for the order, I learn that she is the Superior General of the Missionaries of Charity - the successor of Blessed Mother Terese of Calcutta.  Sr. M. Perma.  I ask her if she is addressed as Mother Perma.  She says “No, that is a title reserved for Mother Terese.”  We visit and pray together for nearly four hours. Sr. M. Perma has 169 countries to visit.

I am returning to the United States, happy to be getting home, happy to have experienced Ethiopia, happy to have found a new demension of me  Today I have an understanding that makes me think that I can and someday need to walk through a room of sick and dying poor and stop to wash their cheeks and feet and to hold them in my arms and give them clean water to drink. 

Africa captured my heart . And the joy of the poor kept me company on the twelve and a half hour flight home to New York.  Christ’s words on the cross keep me company too.  I “I thirst” has a broader, deeper and richer meaning. 




Nicholas Troilo

At The Monastery of St. Joseph, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

At my desk in Stamford, CT

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