UK football's service trip to Ethiopia is near its end.
The three football players who spend the week in the African nation will board a plane at 7 p.m. East Africa Time on Tuesday after a day of sightseeing atop a mountain near Addis Ababa and meetings to close the book on their memorable voyage. On the 17-hour flight, Avery Williamson will be spending much of his time thinking about the people he met and the relationships he formed with them.
First on that list is an 18-year-old young man named Girma.
Sponsored by a pastor who has helped guide the student-athletes over the last six days, Girma has spent the last half of the trip in the company of Williamson and his two teammates as saw lions at the zoo and visited local elementary schools on Monday.
"He's just the most humble kid that I've seen in a long time," Williamson said. "I just get a sense of trust from him that you usually get from a best friend that you've known for a long time. And I've only known him for two or three days."
Williamson has come to know his new friend's story well. When he was just nine and living on the streets, he and a number of other homeless were loaded onto buses by the military. They were then left to fend for themselves in the wilderness. Girma lost a couple of his friends, but was able to find his way back to a main road and Addis Ababa.
"I just think about that and it's crazy," Williamson said. "I was curious because I've never heard anything like that. There's probably not a nine-year-old kid in America that can say that story."
Williamson reports that Girma has become a good soccer player with a "bright future," but what sticks out about him is his kindness in spite of everything with which he has been faced in his short life.
"I guarantee you he'd probably give me clothes to wear even if it's the last thing he's got," Williamson said. "That's the type of guy he is."
Girma is hardly the only person the three Wildcats have encountered to show that kind of spirit. Williamson has been struck in particular by the children he has met. He thinks about himself as a child and can't help but be awed by what he's seen.
"When they receive things, they're really thankful for it - I can tell - because they don't know when the next gift or sometimes the next meal might come from," Williamson said. "I really do admire those kids."
Williamson had heard firsthand accounts about life in Ethiopia from Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart and his teammates that made the trip before him, but - continuing a theme from the accounts of Jonathan George and Kevin Mitchell - there's no substitute for seeing it yourself.
"You don't really think too much about it," Williamson said. "But then when you get over here, it's like, 'Wow, these people really are starving.' It's really a life-changing experience."
But as different as life may be in Ethiopia, there have been a few moments that have reminded Williamson that he has humanity in common with everyone he's met. Going to church on Sunday is an example.
"I was kind of nervous about walking in and being around different people, but actually it felt kind of similar to home," Williamson said. "It was good, just like home, a Christian service and it's amazing to go across the world and still people serving God. It was real cool to see that."
The same can be said about a couple chance meetings with people who noticed the student-athletes' blue Nike gear. Two different people approached them to say they used to live in Kentucky and the second was even a graduate of UK.
"He was from Louisville and his wife, she was undergrad at UK and she's from Ethiopia," Williamson said. "We talked to them for a while, took quite a few pictures and stuff. We were like celebrities in there."
Apparently, the Big Blue Nation really is everywhere.
Past Ethiopia travel log entries:
George, Cats visit local prisons
Mitchell embracing experience
This was the highlight of the trip. Gave this little kid my bottle of water. twitter.com/awill40/status...-- Avery Williamson (@awill40) May 28, 2013