You Can Change the World: One Day Without Shoes

One Day Without ShoesI went barefoot today as a part of Toms One Day Without Shoes. It’s a simple idea to raise awareness for the millions of people who go without shoes every day and face dire consequences. Not having shoes can lead to cuts and sores that can get infected and lead to serious medical problems. Some kids can’t even go to school unless they have shoes. And the fact that really grabbed me: Approximately one million people in Ethiopia suffer from a debilitating and disfiguring condition (podoconiosis) that’s completely preventable with shoes.

Something as simple as shoes (like water) can make a big difference. I never would have thought of shoes as being the difference between life and death before. But that’s the reality.

If you’re not familiar with them, Toms is a company that wants to put shoes on shoeless children. For every pair of shoes you buy, they’ll donate a pair to a child in need. It’s a cool concept (though I haven’t bought any of Toms shoes). Another way to help put kids in shoes is with the organization Soles4Souls (I mentioned them a while back).

I don’t know if I actually raised much awareness going barefoot (other than Twitter and this blog), but I do think it was valuable. Last fall I went homeless for a night and I remember someone made a comment (I don’t know if it was directed at me or not) that they didn’t understand what good it did to pretend to be homeless. I get that perspective. Pretending I don’t have shoes and going barefoot for a day doesn’t really help a child with no shoes. And going homeless for a night doesn’t directly help a real homeless person. But it’s not so much about directly helping them as it is about changing me.

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You Can Change the World: Easter Well in Ethiopia

Donkey carrying waterDuring our week in Ethiopia we couldn’t help but think about water. The water that flowed from the tap would make you sick. And it did. I spent a day sidelined by it. You couldn’t brush your teeth with it, you had to be careful not to drink it while showering, you had to be careful with dishes “washed” in it.

Everywhere we went, even in Addis Ababa, we’d see these yellow containers that looked like they carried gasoline. But they were for water. When we drove to Hossana we saw even more of them. People would be walking along the road carrying them. Donkeys would be loaded down with them. Whenever the road went over a bridge or a depression where there was some source of water we’d see people crowded around a muddy, brown patch of water filling up their jugs. This was their drinking water. At least what came out of the tap in our guesthouse looked clean, even though it wasn’t.

I’ve known all along that this is what happens in places like Ethiopia. People walk miles just to get water, and the water they do get can make them sick. But seeing it is something else. Getting sick from it yourself is a different experience altogether.

And that’s why I love what charity water is doing. Tomorrow they’re going to start drilling a well in Ethiopia with money raised from Twitter. They’re call it a Twestival.

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Taking Milo to the Doctor

Today we dropped Lexi off at a friend’s house and took Milo to the University of Minnesota’s Pediatric Clinic to see a Specialist in International Adoption. That means we took him to his first doctor in the U.S.

We left the parking garage and walked through the long underground tunnel (which inexplicably comes out on the second floor), eventually arriving at the Pediatric Clinic. We avoided getting lost in the campus’ labyrinth, which reminded me why I went to a small school (though ironically, I don’t think I ever consciously decided I wanted to attend a small school).

The high point was perhaps handing over a yogurt container to the receptionist that contained a sample of Milo’s poop. I believe it was blueberry (the yogurt container, that is). We had to collect a stool sample at home and bring it in. It’s kind of like show and tell, but not really. It wasn’t just plopped into the old yogurt container either, it was inside a Ziplock bag. But let’s just say those things aren’t exactly as air-tight as advertised. That yogurt container gave off a distinct odor when I pulled it out of the bag and set it on the counter. And it wasn’t residual blueberry.

Anyway, we eventually had our appointment and several doctors and specialists told us how beautiful Milo is. Not just handsome—beautiful. Despite my lack of any sports-related skills, Milo will at least be raised confident enough in his manhood to be called beautiful.

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Barack Obama in Africa

One of the most bizarre and amazing things I saw in Ethiopia was the plethora of Barack Obama T-shirts. The President of the United States was everywhere. This felt so jarring because we weren’t in the United States.

One member of our travel group was wearing his own Barack Obama shirt and was approached by a local about it. The two even tried to negotiate a trade. When we were walking up and down a row of shops one of the kids who continually begged for money was wearing a T-shirt showing the Obama family.

In one store I saw a blaze orange T-shirt with simple black letters that said “Obama” across the top in all caps, then “Yes We Can” in the middle, and then “Yes We Can” repeated at the bottom in Amharic. It was so simple. And, unfortunately, too small.

I understand the historic nature of Obama’s presidency and how much of Africa is understandably head over heals to have one of their sons in the White House. But you don’t quite grasp that until you see it for yourself. And I imagine it has nothing to do with Obama’s politics, but it’s especially jarring when you try to imagine children anywhere outside the U.S. proudly wearing George W. Bush T-shirts four years ago. But I suppose children wearing any U.S. president on a T-shirt would have seemed absurd. At least until Obama.

P.S.: If anybody can find that blaze orange Amharic Obama shirt, I wear a large.

Soft Spot for Detroit

I used to live in Detroit and have a soft spot for the dying, industrial city. Which is kind of ironic, seeing as I’ve never lived there. I grew up in a far flung suburb, but whenever people ask where I grew up it’s just easier to say Detroit or the Detroit area. The truth is I lived about 45 minutes from downtown Detroit and could probably count how many times I’ve been to downtown Detroit on two hands (mostly Tiger games and Auto Shows). And I know exactly how many times I went downtown by myself: Once (a championship parade for the Detroit Red Wings). In my defense, I pretty much left the area at 18 and never came back. I’d be a little more adventurous nowadays.

But despite my lack of real connection to the city, I still have a soft spot for it. And so stories and pictures like these always tug at my heart:

It all reminds me of a few interesting stories out of Detroit from several years ago, including a project that paints abandoned buildings blaze orange and an urban farming initiative. Even in the midst of chaos and decline, there is always hope.

(many links via

Reflecting on Adoption and Ethiopia

Diaper-Changing MiloI said it before, but it’s still hard to believe that last week I was in Africa (especially since I woke up to snow on the ground today). It’s even harder to believe that after something like 19 long months, my son is finally lying on the floor of my office, sucking his thumb. Our long, expensive, wearying, sometimes overwhelming process to adopt is finally over. And now we’ve slipped into the practical urgency of life with a 5-month-old: Eat, poop, sleep. Life has been reduced to bodily functions.

I haven’t had much time to process all of this. Whether or not that’s surprising, I don’t know. But with my wife home from work for a few weeks and me doing minimal work, I should be busting with spare time. But, you know, that whole eat-poop-sleep thing.

I have a lot to process about both adoption and Ethiopia. I imagine I’ll be writing a lot of little posts as I try to process little moments here and there. Writing about the whole experience is just too overwhelming. I don’t know where to begin (nor do I have that much time to sit down and do it).

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