Padecky: Ethiopian brothers find sanctuary in Petaluma
There was blood, oh yes, there was blood. There was dehydration and malnourishment and scars so deep on the bottom of their feet, they are still there now, 10 years later, and will remain there forever. This is what happens when two very young boys walk barefoot for 185 miles in the South Central Ethiopian highlands.
In hopes of a better life.
When their father taught them how to hunt a lion.
That memory of what could have been and was for so many a death march has never left Indy, now a junior at Casa Grande High School and his brother Teddy, a senior. Stress will activate a mental tumbler clicking malevolent triggers of that trek. His brain, the way Indy put it, “will be consumed in pain.” His belly is no longer distended, but it will begin to ache. He’ll start sweating and lose focus and “an emptiness invades my spirit.”
Then something will happen to ease his discomfort, something so common it can be appreciated by all Americans, even ones who have never been to Africa. “Food usually does the trick,” Indy said.
The story of how Indy and Teddy came to Petaluma, how they found solace and joy and a future in the home of Adam and Stacey Pelzl, their adoptive parents, it very well may create an immediate response in those who read their story.
Burning the toast in the toaster oven may not feel like a big deal anymore.
Indy and Teddy have played nearly every sport the high school offers — that alone 10 years ago would have sounded to them like playing Beethoven on the piano on Mars. Adam and Stacey wanted to give the boys a future that was more than living long enough to take the next breath.
“Every kid deserves a family,” said Adam, a registered nurse who is nursing director at three San Francisco hospitals.
Every kid deserves a tomorrow, and 13 years ago these two African kids weren’t thinking that far ahead. Teddy (birth name Tedrowos) was 3 and Indy (Indrias) was 2. They were living in the Ethiopian Zone of Wolayita. Their mother just had died from tuberculosis.
Their father, finding no work as well as very little water and food — one world health agency states 44% of Ethiopians do not have access to clean water — decided his relatives to the north could help. So they began to walk. Barefoot. For 185 miles. Give or take. The country in the Horn of Africa is two and half times the size of California, both in area and in population.
Sometimes Indy rode his father’s shoulders. They depended on the kindness of strangers. They ate raw meat regularly, a common occurrence in Ethiopia. Sometimes it was cooked over an open flame and made into kitfo, a traditional holiday tartar dish.
“I remember freezing nights and extremely hot days,” Indy said. “I remember the annoyance of flies and mosquitos. Every time I ate I never felt full. My body quickly metabolized it.”
The boys vaguely remember their dad might have carried a tent. They were pretty sure they went to sleep sometimes next to a fire. Indy remembers his father teaching how to hunt a lion and is pretty sure he never had to hunt or kill one. Pretty sure. He’s a bit unclear. He was only 2 and rarely does anyone remember anything from being 2, except maybe how to hunt a lion.
“The danger was kidnapping,” Indy said. Particularly for orphans. Kidnapped. Sold to be servants. A common practice.
If the danger was kidnapping, the pain of hunger and thirst and bleeding feet sent danger to an afterthought. When asked in disbelief if they actually walked 185 miles barefoot, they shrugged. When told a kid in America would scream if asked to walk 185 steps barefoot, the boys offered a slight giggle. Such resoluteness soon would be tested when they reached their dad’s relatives.
Dad was worn out from the trek. His relatives did not have the economic means to help. Without prospects, money or energy, their father took them to the Sodo orphanage in central Ethiopia.
Their bodies were suffering. They were immediately hospitalized and treated for malnourishment. They had delayed growth and distended bellies. Teddy had a small hole in his heart and was treated for inactive non-contagious tuberculosis. Both are healthy now, and it started when they arrived at the orphanage.
With delighted bewilderment, they saw food that didn’t need to be cooked over an open flame. Indy still has fragrant memories of drinking coffee and dipping French bread into traditional sweet Ethiopian spiced tea. A 2-year old drinking coffee? Dipping bread in tea? For these two Ethiopian kids, this was dining on white tablecloths with fine china.
Adam and Stacey will never hear Indy and Teddy complain about dinner. If only how ludicrous it would sound.