March 01, 2006

Happy Ayyam-i-Ha!

We had a unique Ayyam-i-Ha this year. Ayyam-i-Ha is a 4-5 day period (depending on leap year) that Baha'is celebrate before the fast with charity, visiting the sick, giving gifts and eating cake. (The eating cake part was my addition, I don't think it says that you have to eat cake in the Writings. :) ) I have to admit that in previous years the children experienced more gift "getting" than gift giving, charity and visiting the sick. This year was a little different...

Ayyam-i-Ha snuck up on us this year. I was expecting that our shipment would arrive before Ayyam-i-Ha so that we could get our box marked "Ayyam-i-Ha Decorations" and we would all decorate the house with lights and butterflies. So I was a little confused last Thursday when I received an e-mail from a friend announcing "Happy Ayyam-i-Ha!". I thought she was celebrating a little early this year! Then I looked at the calendar to my horror and found that it had already begun! yikes! This is not what we had planned! We wanted there to be a great build up of anticipation for the kids.

Anyway, kids are kids. They don't notice our blunders. They were ecstatic to find out that it was Ayyam-i-Ha, and immediately began to ask about their gifts. :)

In previous years we had tried to do something charitable for Ayyam-i-Ha. One year we went to a retirement home and played games and painted with some of the residents. Another year we went to a church and took care of a group of special needs kids while their parents got a little break. But this year, there were sooo many opportunities staring us in the face.

We asked each kid (and mom & dad too) to pick out some clothes that they wanted to give to some homeless children and adults. We piled the kids in the car (we left Shane behind because he can be a little unpredictable) and drove around the city in search of homeless children.

It doesn't take long to find homeless, shoeless, parentless, penniless children in Addis Ababa wearing blackened torn clothing. They are everywhere. And it is a daily dilemma about whether or not to give them something when they beg for money. In one sense, I don't want to encourage begging. But in another, these are hungry children -- and as a mom now, I find it much harder to pass them by.

When beggars generally approach us, we gently say "May God give you" in Amharic. It is a kind culturally acceptable way to say, "I'm sorry I can't give you anything today". Most of the time, this phrase conveniently results in the askee deciding not to waste any more time on you -- and they quickly turn to someone else in hopes of a coin. But we were concerned that if the children saw us turning away beggars all the time, they (and we) would start to become indifferent, and eventually turn blind to the poverty and the suffering that is all around us.

Anyway, as we found a child that seemed to be a similar size to the clothes we had available, we stopped the car and (when possible) let the kids get out to give their clothes to the child. The appreciation was obvious. And our kids were also so happy about what they did. We gave clothes to one toddler who was not wearing any pants at all. Jasmine gave away a school back pack that she didn't need anymore -- and she commented "I just didn't need that. I already have one." We all returned home with a great feeling. We saw many smiling faces among people that the children don't get to interact with face to face very often. We would like to do something like this on a weekly basis with a basket of fruit or bread to make up for all the people we have to turn away during the week, and to keep us a little grounded in reality.

So yes, we also gave gifts and received gifts and ate cake. We didn't visit the sick, but we are hoping to do some of that during the fast which starts tomorrow!

Posted by gail at March 1, 2006 09:39 AM (Click images to enlarge.)