Not quite 90 minutes after getting off a plane from a 26-hour journey that has taken me over the North Pole and more than a few continents, I’m making my way through Addis Ababa in a broken-down taxi. The air is dusty and thick with heat and the overlapping cries of Muslim chants broadcasting from half a dozen mosques. The streets are filled with women, barefoot and reed thin, holding infants in their arms even as they hold their hands out for coins. My driver instructs me to roll up the window.
This is my welcome to Ethiopia, one of the poorest countries on the planet, where the number of children orphaned by AIDS reaches well beyond half a million. It’s easy to spot these kids; many live on the streets I am looking out at now. I have come to this place alone, knowing nobody, speaking only a few words of Amharic, Ethiopia’s official language. I am 55 years old, divorced for 20 years, with three grown children all long gone from home.