While we were in Ethiopia, it was exciting to hear the news through the in-country staff that so many new families had received their referrals. Congratulations to you guys! I've met a lot of your babes, and I'm sure you're chomping at the bits to meet them. Boy, do we understand that feeling.
With all these new families starting to think about upcoming travel, I wanted to get the information out there asap about the amazing experience we had staying at the Ayat House. You can find a little information about it in your travel packet, but I wanted to add some more.
First of all, Abe loved staying here, as you can see in the photo. The owner of the guest house, Wagayu, had just purchased a brand-new crib for new families to use, and Abe slept wonderfully there every night (usually 10-12 hours!).
While I totally understand the desire to stay at one of the bigger chain hotels in town, there are some advantages to staying in an Ethiopian-run guest house that you won't find in these hotels. I'll try to list some of them here.
First of all is location. The Ayat House is directly behind the foster home for babies. Every morning and afternoon, I could hear the babes crying from the house, ready to be fed. You can literally walk around two corners and be at the foster home. This came in handy when it came to time to take some photos of those new referrals!
The foster home for the older children is a short walk away. Ted and I made that walk a couple of times to go visit, and it takes only about five-ten minutes. Also, there is a nice restaurant just opened down the street called Hill Bottom that we walked to and from a few times as well. They make Ethiopian food but mostly western-style pizzas, sandwiches, pastas. Ted would walk down there sometimes in the morning to bring us machiattos. There is also a tennis court there and really nice playground for kids to play on. We met really interesting people there.
The best thing though for us about the location of the Ayat House is the fresh air! Addis Ababa is pretty polluted in the main city, and you'll definitely get your fill of diesel fumes from riding around in traffic. We felt like breathing deeply every time we got back to the Ayat House, as it's on the outskirts of town, away from traffic an pollution. It was actually really lovely to make the short walk down to Hill Bottom for dinner, just to breathe in the fresh air.Unfortunately, I forgot to take photos of the outside of the house. True of most houses in Addis Ababa, the house is in a "compound," behind a high gate. The grounds are immaculate. The front yard especially is beautiful. There is a yard with green grass that Abe liked rolling around in. The grass is surrounded by lovely flowers and shrubs. The above photo is the "paved" part of the grounds. Wagayu pieced these mosaics together himself and it's really beautiful. This was probably my favorite part of the grounds. It also is swept and mopped every day, squeaky clean. I walked around outside constantly in my bare feet, even though I'd brought flip-flops.
Here are some pictures of the bedrooms, taken the day we were leaving:
This first photo is the master bedroom which has the crib and a bathroom attached. There is also another full bathroom down the hallway and one more downstairs on the main floor.
Here is Abe getting a bath in the master bathroom. These bathrooms are squeaky-clean. The master bathroom has a tub with shower and the other one has a shower only. You have to switch the hot water heater on about an hour before you take a shower, but we found this to be no problem. The water gets very hot.
This second photo is the second bedroom, right across the hall from the master.
This last photo is the third bedroom, next door to the second. If you have booked the Ayat House, you get full use of the house totally to yourself. This means the use of all three bedrooms if you want. There is no extra charge for using them all. We never used the third bedroom, but we took turns with night-duty for Abe, so it was wonderful to have that second bedroom to retreat to for a full night's sleep.
Another thing about the bedrooms: in the travel packet, it mentions that the guest houses don't have heat and that you might get cold at night. I am very cold-natured, so this was a concern of mine. However, these beds are loaded with so many heavy, thick blankets that I was kicking them off during the nights! No fear in the least of getting cold!
About the downstairs: as I mentioned before, there is a full bathroom downstairs, but as well, there is a living room, formal dining room (which we never really used), kitchen, and entryway. We used the living room constantly.
The house comes equipped with a satellite dish with more than one hundred channels, and here is Ted introducing Abe to the wonders of television. After a long day on the road in the city in the back of a car, it was wonderful to hang out in the cool living room on these comfy couches. There is the one long couch, a love-seat, and an armchair with a big coffee-table in the middle. On the shelves beneath the table here are some very useful items such as a Lonely Planet guidebook on Ethiopia (which we used almost every day) and a converter/adapter set for your electronics, eliminating the need for you to pack your own.
We spent a lot of our evenings here, letting Abe roll around on the couches while we played with him with Oprah, Rachel Ray, or Friends on in the background. You can be the typical American family right in the middle of Ethiopia! :)
What really sets places like The Ayat House apart are the people:
The lovely faces above are Wagayu, the owner, and Zimmet, the housekeeper who lives there full-time. They live in a smaller house behind the main house. Wagayu is retired, and a few years ago, his children got together and had the Ayat House built for him to run as a guest house. Zimmet goes to school in the evenings and works at the house during the day.
Wagayu is an excellent host who will do anything he can to help you. He even loaned us his extra cell phone for the two weeks we were there for a very small fee. This came in very handy. Another Gladney family had booked the Ayat House before us, but we ended up being able to stay there because Wagayu made arrangements with his neighbor four houses down to let this family stay there. The other family was picking up an older child, so it worked out better for us to stay in the house with the crib. The family said wonderful things about the neighbor's guest house, and we also got to meet this owner a couple of times. He invited us in for coffee a couple of times and even fixed breakfast for the family staying with him. If you are interested, be sure to ask the Gladney in-country team about the possibility of staying at this guest house as well.
Zimmet comes in every day when you're gone to make the beds, sweep, replenish the towels, take out the trash, clean any dishes you may have used, and generally straighten things. She also did our laundry a few times, even ironing everything including our socks! Having clean laundry was a wonderful thing, especially when you've got a poopy baby on your hands. All of these services are included in the cost of the house. Incredible.
On Easter Sunday afternoon, Zimmet prepared for us coffee in the traditional ceremony. This is the display above. It was beautiful. All the greenery and flowers came from the garden in the front yard. Wagayu helped to entertain Abe during the ceremony...
while they let me try my hand at roasting the beans...
...and then grinding them, which was my favorite part. You can pay for a coffee ceremony at one of the chain hotels, but I'm pretty confident that it might be lacking the heart and hospitality that we found with Wagayu and Zimmet, who offered this out of their love for their culture and their friendship to us.
A couple of final things:
Safety: some people have expressed concern about staying in a guest house because of the issue of wondering how safe they are. I can say whole-heartedly that we felt 100% safe and secure at the Ayat House. Wagayu and Zimmet are there 24-7, and your driver picks you up right outside the gate. Also, while we were there, the neighbors were installing gates at both ends of the street, so there's that too. We almost felt a little too safe :)
The dogs: most people who own houses also own watch-dogs. Wagayu's dog is friendly but does bark at night sometimes, especially if hyenas are in the street (we never saw them, but that's what we were told). With the help of earplugs, this isn't such a huge problem.
The chanting: Most mornings, the orthodox Christian church pipes chanting through the neighorhood loudspeakers as a call to prayer. I was able to drown it out with the help of my earplugs. It bothered Ted more than it bothered me. This chanting happens all over the city, and I'm not sure if you can still hear it in the hotels or not. In the guest-houses, you most definitely can.
Supporting the locals: by staying at a guest house, you can have the satisfaction of knowing that you are contributing more than you could ever imagine to the financial well-being of good, hard-working Ethiopians. Wagayu expressed several times what a big difference it makes in his life to have guests stay at his house regularly.
Culture: we felt like we got to know so much more about Ethiopian culture by staying at this guest house than by staying at a hotel. Wagayu speaks excellent English and we had many good talks about his life, our lives, and Ethiopia in general. Also, Ted got to know the owner and barista of Hill Bottom restaurant during his daily jaunts down there for coffee.
The donkeys: If you decide to walk down to Hill Bottom restaurant, you might get lucky enough to share the road with some hard-working donkeys, backs loaded with gear, running Forrest Gump-style to some destination known only to them. We liked them a lot.