This is the third summer in a row that a group of Kentucky football players have traveled to Ethiopia for a service trip. On Saturday, the latest bunch of Wildcats did something that none of their predecessors did, visiting two local prisons.
The day started with a drive of a little more than an hour from their guest house in Addis Ababa to Debre Zeit, a town approximately 30 miles southeast of the Ethiopian capital city. There, Jonathan George, Kevin Mitchell and Avery Williamson met an Indian family and helped prepare a meal. They cooked a goat, made injera - a yeast-risen flatbread - and boiled eggs to bring to the prisoners.
The two facilities they visited were small, housing between 20 and 30 inmates who are awaiting trial. Along with food, they took along soap, toothbrushes and Bibles.
"We really got a chance to interact with them because they let us actually hand the food to the prisoners," George said. "One of the guys even asked me for my phone number."
George said he went into the day more curious about the differences between American and Ethiopian prisons than nervous. After getting a first-person view of what daily life is like for the prisoners, George learned quite a bit.
"It was a great experience," George said. "Of course, their prisons were a lot different than our prisons. I looked at the inside of their cells and they were all laying on the floor."
The three student-athletes found out that inmates are not provided many basic necessities. Instead, they must rely on family members and friends to bring them what they need. Inmates also take care of each other, sharing what they receive from the outside with one another. That's an outgrowth of Ethiopian culture, something George has seen up close the last three days.
"They're really accepting of us," George said. "We interact with people everywhere we go. It's been a great experience with the people. They're really nice, generous people."
George has noticed that even extends to the roadways.
"There are no stoplights, no stop signs, none of that, so it's just like everybody's kind of driving over each other," George said. "You'd think there would be a lot of road rage and stuff, but everybody kindly lets other people pass."
The UK travel party has relied on Agenou to provide them safe passage on those roads. Since the Cats arrived on Thursday, Agenou has driven them anywhere they needed to go and played familiar music all along.
"We ride in the van and he's playing all the American music: Rihanna, Michael Jackson and all that," George said. "On the way back (from the prison), he was listening to Eminem and Snoop Dogg."
Agenou has driven Wildcat football players each of the three years they have made the trip and has a wardrobe full of UK gear given to him by Danny Trevathan and others.
"Every day he has different Kentucky apparel. Every day we've been here he's had on a different Kentucky football shirt," George said. "He's a big fan now and he's somebody you can really appreciate because, even though this is his job, as soon as you call he's on his way."
George is in Ethiopia to serve, but that doesn't mean he hasn't had any fun along the way. He's had some good laughs with Agenou as well as Mitchell and Williamson, getting to know two of his teammates and fellow rising seniors in a way he never has before.
"Of course I'm cool with Avery and Kevin, but I haven't talked to those guys as much in Lexington as I have here," George said. "It's been great spending time with those guys. I feel like we have built stronger relationships with this trip."