T is for True Cross

Around two months ago, I built a fire in the backyard. It was a relatively small fire because we just wanted a few coals to roast marshmallows, not a burning inferno. It was kind of like this one from the Fall:

Preheating the oven for dinner.

A photo posted by Matt Todd (@mattdantodd) on

When Weldu came out, he asked me about the fire and why it wasn’t very big. I explained to him why and he seemed to be satisfied with that answer. Then he explained to me that the fire he was expecting was one like the fires they have during Meskel.

By Beevo at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=43996793

By Beevo at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=43996793

Meskel is the annual celebration of the discovery of the True Cross by Queen Helen, the mother of Constantine, in the 4th Century. According to legend, Helen was on a mission to discover the cross upon which Jesus was crucified. She had a vision in a dream that instructed her to build a fire and it would show her the location of the True Cross. She had the people of Jerusalem build a giant bonfire and she added frankincense to the flames. The smoke went high into the air and then came back down – exactly where the cross was buried.

They celebrate this day in Ethiopia at the end of September. And it makes sense for them to have a giant bonfire in commemoration of this legendary event. Legend also has it that one of the cross-shaped churches in Ethiopia has a piece of this cross buried underneath it. So this day, Meskel – the celebration of the discovery of the True Cross, is a big deal in Ethiopia.

So I can understand why Weldu might have been a little disappointed when he saw our rinky-dink fire in comparison to the giant tower of flames that he’s used to seeing.

Maybe we can fix that the next time we go camping. If that’s the case, I should probably have a few campfire stories to tell. And I have a few, thanks to my experiences at Philmont. I just have to dust them off a little.

Of course, we’ll have to add this holiday to our growing list of family celebrations. But any excuse to build a rockin’ fire is a-OK with me!

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S is for Soccer

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S is for Soccer #AtoZChallenge #AtoZChallenge2016

When I kicked off this series as part of the 2016 A to Z Challenge (which is taking a month longer to complete than it should), I mentioned in the opening post that Ethiopians love their soccer.

So when a kid comes up to you and asks you to play soccer, you play soccer. It doesn’t matter if you’re wearing your guard uniform or still working the front desk. If a kid asks you to play, you play. And that’s what happened one afternoon in the courtyard of our guesthouse. It was a pickup soccer game that I never thought I’d experience.

Soccer at the guest house #AtoZChallenge #AtoZChallenge2016
Manchester United FC

Of course Weldu’s friends love playing soccer. Several times a week, they’d play a pick-up game in a nearby alley in the shadow of some building construction. Two things I hope you notice…

    1. Note the scaffolding on the building in the background. It looks crazy, but I’m assuming it’s more sturdy than it looks to me.
    2. You see those two rocks stacked on top of each other? That’s one of the goalposts. The other is behind them.

Street Soccer Game in Addis #AtoZChallenge #AtoZChallenge2016
I didn’t grow up a soccer fan. I played one season in fourth or fifth grade (maybe sixth – I honestly don’t remember). I was not very good. And I never really showed much interest in the sport, other than the occasional World Cup game. That’s changed since Weldu has come home with us. It turns out both of us have a lot to learn. Playing an organized soccer game on an official pitch is quite different from the pickup games that he’s used to in Ethiopia. But that hasn’t dampened his passion for the game. He would eat, breathe, and sleep soccer if we’d let him. And he continues to hone his skills in anticipation of this Fall’s soccer season.

Weldu heading the ball in Addis

And me? I’m learning all the teams and terms and intricacies of the game that he loves. I’ve got a long way to go, but I know it’s worth it.

Because he is worth it.
Manchester United FC

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R is for Rainy Season


Here in Indiana and the majority of the continental United States (except maybe the southwest and southeastern corners), you can generally expect to experience four seasons throughout the year. Summer, Fall, Winter, Spring. That’s how it goes.

OK, considering the fact that it’s the middle of May and we’ve had several days that were 15 degrees colder than an average day, one could argue that Spring hasn’t been much of a season this year. But you get the point. As a rule, there are four seasons. And Winter is drastically different from Summer.

In Ethiopia? Sure, there’s Summer, Fall, Winter, Spring, but there’s another season that makes a huge impact on people’s lives.

Rainy season.

I haven’t been in-country during the rainy season. We were there shortly after the rainy season when we first visited Ethiopia in September of 2009. And Christy happened to be there at the beginning of the rainy season last year. She said some of the roads were already starting to wash out and the serious raining hadn’t even happened yet.

The heaviest rains apparently happen in August and sometimes into September (in Addis, anyway). The rains are so heavy that the Ethiopian government traditionally shuts down during the month of August. And sometimes this even goes into September. The roads are that unreliable during this time.

It happens like clockwork. And the people of Ethiopia have adapted to it. Because that’s what we do. When we can’t change the situation, we find the pattern and adapt to it.

Perhaps this is what the Teacher meant in the book of Ecclesiastes. And if Solomon was really the author,* wouldn’t it be interesting if he had the Queen of Sheba and the seasons of her kingdom in the back of his mind when he composed this poem. It’s unlikely (or maybe even impossible), I know. But the point remains. There’s a time for everything and everything has its time. It’s up to us to make the most of the time that we’ve been given so we can live life for the purpose we were created to fulfill.

To every thing there is a season

So what season is your life in right now? What can I do to encourage you?

*I know tradition says that Ecclesiastes was penned by Solomon. Many scholars dispute that claim. Does it really matter who wrote it? No. Its message is still inspired and profitable. Let’s focus on more important things.

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Q is for Queen of Sheba

queen of sheba

And when the queen of Sheba had seen all the wisdom of Solomon, the house that he had built, the food of his table, the seating of his officials, and the attendance of his servants, their clothing, his cupbearers, and his burnt offerings that he offered at the house of the Lord, there was no more breath in her. – 1 Kings 10:4 & 5

And King Solomon gave to the queen of Sheba all that she desired, whatever she asked besides what was given her by the bounty of King Solomon. So she turned and went back to her own land with her servants. – 1 Kings 10:13

According to the legend that we heard when we visited the National Museum of Ethiopia (home to “Lucy”), the Queen certainly got all that she desired. All of it.

In this story, King Solomon and the Queen reach an agreement when she arrives at the king’s palace. He won’t attempt to seduce her during her stay as long as she doesn’t take anything that doesn’t belong to him. Sounds like a fair deal. Right? I mean, aside from the fact the “No” should mean “No.” But that’s not really the point of this story (although maybe it should be the point).

One night (possibly her last night in the palace), Solomon treated the Queen to a fabulous dinner. He had his servants pull out all the stops. He also had them add extra spice to the food so it would be extra-hot. Now, I need to digress here for just a second. I’ve had Ethiopian food. Some of it is pretty spicy. How hot was this meal? It had to be on fire for a woman from Ethiopia to think it was spicy. Right?

Anyway, she ate and enjoyed the extra-hot food and eventually retired to her quarters. As she was preparing for bed, the spices did what spices do and the Queen needed some relief. Conveniently, Solomon had ordered that a glass of water be placed near her bed.

The wisest man in all the world had just tricked her. She had taken something of his without permission.* She had failed to uphold her end of the bargain. So Solomon was free to pursue her.

Cue Barry White.

Nine months later, on the road home, the Queen of Sheba gave birth to a son. She named him Menelik, “Son of the Wise.” And subsequent emperors claimed direct descent from Menelik I.

I told you the Jewish connection ran pretty deep.

* First of all, is it really taking something without permission if you place the glass of water right in front of a person who desperately needs a glass of water? Implied consent and all that. And secondly, Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines. There were plenty of women around who would do whatever he wanted. Why the need to trick someone like this? Solomon might have been wise, but he seems kind of shady here.


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Chocolate covered peaches, Coca-Cola, and a Date-iversary

This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and The Coca-Cola Company. All opinions are mine alone. #ShareMemories #CollectiveBias

Happy Date-iversary #ShareMemories #ad

Music. It has such a powerful connection in our lives. As a recovering Band Geek, I really shouldn’t be surprised. I’ve known this since high school. Music is powerful. When you hear a few words or a couple of notes from a song and you’re instantly transported to another time, another place. It evokes strong memories. Some songs can make you cry. Others can make you dance like nobody’s watching. This Summer, Coca-Cola™ has tapped into the almost mystical connection we have with music by adding song lyrics to their bottles, inviting all of us to “Share a Coke and a Song.”

Share a Song Bottles #ShareMemories #ad

Twenty years ago this month, I was smitten. I’m still smitten, but everything was all brand-new in May of 1996. After an entire school year of pursuing her, I finally gathered up enough nerve to ask Christy out on a date. I don’t know what I was nervous about. For all practical purposes, we’d really been dating for the past several months. But nothing was ever “official.” So when the time came to actually ask her out, my heart skipped about three or four beats, my forehead gathered tiny drops of sweat, and my hands shook like they’d never shaken before. I was nervous.

Of course, she said yes. And so we went on our first official date twenty years ago this month. We didn’t have smartphones back then, so we don’t really have any photos to document the event. But I promise you, it was a memorable evening. We did the traditional date night: dinner and a movie. I honestly don’t remember what we ate, but I remember talking to Christy with such ease and comfort that it already felt like we’d known each other for years. It was an amazing dinner. Then we went to the movie. It was the animated one about a boy and a big-huge peach. It was…

well… Continue reading

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P is for Planes

P is for Plane

For Christy’s trip last year, my trip last year, and our most recent trip, we flew to Ethiopia via Ethiopian Airlines. I’m honestly not a fan of the long flight, but our experience with Ethiopian Airlines helped ease that pain a little bit. The food was good. Soft drinks and water were readily available. The in-flight movie selection was pretty good (I’d like to thank the newest version of Fantastic 4 and Iron Lady for helping me fall asleep during the long flight home). Ethiopian Airlines is one of the most successful airlines based in Africa. And the government seems quite proud of their success (Ethiopian Airlines is owned by the Ethiopian government). As well they should be.

While waiting to board the flight from Dulles to Addis Ababa, we encountered a life-sized sign of a flight attendant from the airlines. I tried to get Aiden to put his arm around her. Somewhere buried  in the boxes and boxes and boxes of family photographs, there’s a picture of me when I was about his age. And I have my arm awkwardly draped around a cutout of Jessica Rabbit. So I thought it would be a good idea to get a picture of Aiden in a similar pose.

He wouldn’t cooperate. This is the closest I could get him to standing beside the cutout. But that’s OK. I think it’s still a pretty good picture.

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O is for Orphans

O is for Orphans

A few months ago, I shared this picture. I wanted to share it again as part of this A to Z Challenge that was only supposed to be in April but has somehow managed to spill over into May. Because this photo is important.

Throughout this A to Z Challenge, I’ve highlighted some pretty amazing things about Ethiopia. I hope I’ve dispelled a few myths along the way. But there’s one thing that still remains very true about the situation in Ethiopia: there are a lot of orphans. And if things don’t change soon, there will be even more orphans (thanks, in part, to the ongoing famine in much of the country). So this photo is important. Because it reminds me of how many children need families.

We can do something about it. And I’m not talking about adopting. I’m talking about partnering with organizations with boots on the ground in Ethiopia. I’m talking about helping to provide clean water and transforming a village. I’m talking about helping to stop children from becoming orphans in the first place.

World Vision Sponsorship Page

That’s why i’m partnering with World Vision to help change the world in Ethiopia. Because there are already too many orphans in the world. And this is especially true in Ethiopia. Partnering with organizations like World Vision will help us break the cycle of poverty in Ethiopia and around the world.

We are more than merely the sum of our parts. We are #GreaterTogether and have the power to make a real difference in the world around us.

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N is for No Colonization

The floodgates opened in the 19th century. It seems like every European nation with any hope of appearing rich and powerful joined the race to overrun and colonize the African continent. Within a short amount of time, all of the African nations were overrun and became colonies of the various European nations.

Except Ethiopia.

There is still great pride in Ethiopia that they were never colonized like the rest of Africa. During my visits to Ethiopia, I was reminded on several occasions by several different people that Ethiopia is the only African nation that was not colonized.

That doesn’t mean there wasn’t an attempt to take over Ethiopia in the 19th century. Italy tried. They brought their modern war machine and were met head-on by the Ethiopian army at the Battle of Adwa. Some consider the result of their military contest to be a miracle, thanks to the intervention of St. George. The Ethiopians defeated the Italians. And Ethiopia maintained its sovereignty while surrounded by European colonies.

Italy did eventually get some revenge. Some 40 years later, Mussolini’s Italy swept into Ethiopia with tanks, machine guns, heavy artillery, advanced airplanes, and mustard gas (in violation of international law). The Ethiopian army, armed primarily with swords and spears, was no match for this advanced military invasion. italy pulled out all the stops and swept into Ethiopia.

If I remember my World History classes correctly (and that could be a very big “if”), this invasion was one of the key events that showed how impotent the League of Nations actually was. Mussolini wound up occupying Ethiopian territory for around five years until the Italians were driven out by Allied forces in 1941.

But don’t call that a colonization. It wasn’t it was a military occupation.

It’s not just a matter of semantics. It’s a matter of national identity and pride.


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M is for Money

Birr is the Ethiopian unit of currency. When we were in Ethiopia in 2009, one US dollar was the equivalent of about 11 birr (I think). When we were there a few months ago, I was able to get approximately 22 birr per US dollar.

There was a little souk (store) right outside our guest house. They had all kinds of different goods available for purchase. I was happy to discover that they had my favorite soft drink – one that I’ve only been able to find in Ethiopia – for sale! And it only cost 17 birr for the equivalent of a 20 ounce bottle. You can’t beat prices like that. It’s pretty remarkable how much buying power the US dollar has in Ethiopia.

So imagine how much good could be done by partnering with World Vision and sponsoring a child. The results would be…I don’t know which word to pick….amazing? revolutionary? life-giving? world-changing?

I believe the answer is yes. All of the above.

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L is for Lions

L is for Lions

The lion – especially the Lion of Judah – is a popular national motif in Ethiopia. When Haile Selassie was crowned emperor of Ethiopia, his official title was “By the Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I, King of Kings of Ethiopia, Elect of God.” That’s certainly a mouthful. But it reflects the ancient connection of the people of Ethiopia with the nation of Judah. And even though a monarch hasn’t reigned over Ethiopia in more than forty years, there’s still an affinity towards the lion.

Lion of Judah Statue in Addis Ababa Ethiopia

Lion of Judah statue in Addis Ababa

In addition to the connection with the Lion of Judah, Ethiopia has its own unique species of lion. If I understand correctly, they were once Emperor Selassie’s pet lions. They have a darker mane and smaller bodies than most African lions.

Weldu and a lion

It was also recently announced that a new group of lions, once thought extinct, was rediscovered near the border with Sudan. One of the organizations that helped fund this expedition was Born Free, a wildlife organization that focuses on rescue and care of wild animals as well as conservation and education. They maintain Ensessakotteh, the Wildlife Rescue, Conservation and Education Center on the outskirts of Addis. It’s a beautiful sanctuary that we had the opportunity to visit with some missionary friends during our final day in Ethiopia. One of the things Weldu said he wanted to do before we came home with him was to see lions. So we told him we’d be sure to do that. Lions were my favorite animal when I was a kid. I even dreamed of being a lion tamer at one point in my childhood. So if my kid wanted to see lions, we were going to see lions, by golly!

The lions were neat to watch. We also saw some cheetahs and some other smaller animals. The view from the Preserve?

Born Free Lion Preserve in Ethiopia

The view from the Lion Preserve


Since we’re on the topic of lions, there’s one more story about lions in Ethiopia that is worth mentioning. It’s almost like a reverse Daniel in the Lion’s Den. A 12 year old girl was abducted and beaten by seven men. Their goal was to force her to marry one of them. They would have been successful, except the lions stepped in. That’s right. A pride of lions protected her from her captors. They kept guard until she was found by the authorities.

Sounds like a legend from centuries ago. Right? It happened in 2005. NBC News has the details.


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