A reason for the silence

I needed to write a little about the poverty in Ethiopia.  This is a big reason for my lack of posts while there and a lack of posts since our return.  To put it in a nutshell… I was not prepared.  I was in no way prepared for what I saw, and sadly what I saw was seriously only the tiniest tip of the iceberg.  I was more overwhelmed than I can even begin to put into words.  In fact it is impossible to put into words.  It simply cannot be done.

If you are a reader who has already been to Ethiopia (as several of you are), than you already know what I am talking about.  Our travel packet discussed the poverty, and to understand it can be overwhelming.  I thought I was ready, I had read about it, seen pictures, watched movies depicting such things.  However, as I told Daddy-O, seeing a picture of a child begging is very different than sitting face to face with that child staring into their eyes as they motion towards their mouth saying only “hungry, hungry.”  I couldn’t take it, and that is the honest truth.  It was all simply too much for me, by Thursday I did not want to get into a car anymore at all, I did not want to look into any more desperate faces, I did not want to see any more suffering.  I simply wanted to hole up in the isolation of the Hilton and pretend everything was well with the world.  And on Thursday that is exactly what I did.  Fortunately, Baby G was very exhausted by that day and the two of us slept most of the day while my dad did a little sight-seeing. 

I am ashamed of myself after this trip.  I am not at all proud of who I am.  I did nothing.  I did not give anyone any money, did not give anyone any food.  I just looked into their eyes and said, ‘no, sorry.’  I was aware that if I gave something to someone that many more would come.  There were so many more.  This is what my dad had to say about it:

It’s the contrasts here that kill you: the gulf between the rich and poor, the prosperous and the starving, the primitive and sophisticated. This was the day we were going to Nazarret, but it turned out to be crash day instead. Sarah and Baby G both bottomed out today and she wisely decided to stay at the hotel room. Sadly there were a couple of necessary trips first: going back to Layla House to see the doctor and to the Lufthansa office to get the ticket name problem resolved. That meant more time traveling through town and increased awareness of the conditions here. You can see the same scene three or four times and it affects you differently each time. Sort of a compounding realization of what you are actually seeing. The first trip through town, although dramatic, is almost like watching a documentary on television. You know it is real, but you are detached. Then, eventually you begin to realize that you are now a part of the scene. You have to interact with the people and they are interacting with you.

What do you do when a beggar walks up to your car and asks you for help? Do you follow the advice of the sage that giving money here only makes things worse.  You will, indeed, open a door that you cannot close. The one beggar instantly becomes ten and if the traffic light does not change soon, you have created a scene. Giving on the street only encourages more street begging. I heard one man say, “You know these people have more money than anyone else. They make a lot of money doing this.” You can go on and on justifying why you should not hand them a little of your precious money, but that’s all a lot of crap. No one really wants to beg. No one. These people actually are just a desperate as they appear. No, they are really even more desperate than that. Their limbs really are missing or mutilated, the baby really is starving, the old man really has no one else to ask for help. It’s all true. You feel in your heart that you should do just a little for them, but what the hell is it that holds you back? You really don’t care that much for the money. You don’t need all of it. You can spare a little. Why don’t you help?

I did give away a little money today, but it was so little that I might as well say I did nothing. “I did nothing.” There, I said it, but I don’t feel a bit better about it. The thing that is killing me right now is that I had women with little babies walk up to my window and beg me for something to feed their baby and I just ignored them. Just didn’t look. My heart was tugging at me and I did nothing. Those were moments that will haunt me forever. What do I do now? Good God, isn’t that what we came over here for? Later, Sarah said what I had been thinking, that maybe the right thing to do would be to commit to an action when you got back home that could be rational and better conceived: like giving to One Campaign or World Health Organization, or giving a gift to the Layla House through AAI. I hope that is right.

This morning at Layla House was worse emotionally than the other two trips combined. We went to see the doctor and they showed us to the clinic. That is an interesting word, clinic. It brings to mind a nice semi-sterile building with a professional staff and an orderly way of finding medical treatment. At Layla House, it is a few steps down from the rooms where babies are housed. There is no roof over the steps or door into the “clinic.” The floor is cement, but it might as well be dirt. The ceiling is made of corrugated fiberglass panels to let in light. Many people have closets bigger that this. There is a short bench for waiting patients and it was loaded up with five or six little kids. One pretty little girl about five years old was sitting there, her face covered with some sort of pox. She was playing with a plastic bead by rolling it on the floor (there is a little vinyl in this section) and dropping it into her mouth. There were two little boys about four or so, one with a knee swollen with some injury or another, and the other with cuts on his face, arms and legs. There was a girl, I’m guessing she was fifteen, who carried in another girl around, maybe three years old, who seemed to have lost the will to live and would not eat. They had a plate of something I couldn’t recognize and were trying to feed her, but she would have no part of it. And these are the lucky ones. There is a doctor here. At least they have this place and I’m sure it seems like the best, cleanest hospital in the world to them. They shared their bench with me. I watched and listened to them. I got to share their world for about twenty minutes. They were kind to each other and polite to me. They were patient. I get it. But I have no idea what to do with it.

Next, we went through town again to try to find the Lufthansa office—turns out they have moved. To be honest, I’m scared shitless about getting out of the car. I’m really not too big on becoming one with the environment here. Once I went to Gotebo, Oklahoma, which is practically a ghost town, and took pictures to bring back to Konawa. I wanted to show people in Konawa what was going to happen to their town if they don’t find a way to bring it back to life. A couple of times I’ve had the experience of driving through the neighborhoods in Dallas where I grew up, they are very scary now. So many ethnic groups of people have abandoned that neighborhood now and the survivors seem very hardened. My dad says the morning news from there is basically a body count. That is all true, but you really need to see Addis Ababa.

But I’m only painting half the picture here. Ethiopia has a proud past and present. I went to the national museum today. I saw Lucy. This, my friend is the birthplace of humanity, the provenance of knowledge and culture. We want to think it all started in Europe, but it was here. The earliest humans, written languages, tools, machines—it was all here. There is so much here today that is good. Ethiopians are not scary people. They are good people. I’d be more likely to get shot or mugged back where I grew up Dallas. They are proud people, yet humble and polite. They are a beautiful people. I’ve never seen more handsome or elegant people anywhere in the world. They are wonderful artists. They are intelligent. I think we have talked about driving here. I could never do it. There is no such thing as “safe following distance” or “driving friendly” or “yielding the right of way.” Yet it works. I’ve only seen one accident and it was a minor fender bender. There is no road rage like back home.

The contrasts kill you. The only thing that helped my troubled heart, torn with grief and guilt, regret and sympathy, was getting back to the hotel and taking Baby G for a walk. Holding him and getting upchucked on. Thinking that he will be better off for what Sarah is doing.

My dad managed to find words.  His description is much more clear than mine.  I am so glad he went with me.  We now share this experience that was more than we can ever explain.  I am proud of him.  I am so proud of his actions in Addis.  He would say “I didn’t do much” but as they said in church today, you don’t have to do everything, but you do have to do SOMETHING.  I did nothing, but my dad did something.  I am very proud of him for that, and only hope I can continue to grow into the person he and mom have taught me to be.  For now, I will continue to digest what I have seen and try to sort out my thoughts on the matter.  I think the most important thing for me to do in this moment is to be a good mother to my children.  They are my priority.  From there we will see.  Any ideas anyone has on ways to help out this crazy, sad world, PLEASE, PLEASE let me know!

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16 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Malía's mama
    Jul 23, 2007 @ 06:00:38

    Both you and your dad got to the heart of what you felt, and it was very touching. As a veteran “third worlder”, I can only say that the first time consumes you. Ethiopia brought me back to my very first experience of Haiti which became a second home, and my heart aches that I am here, in my home, at my computer, breakfast scenting the house while so many, too many, are lying under an overpass, or along a highway, wrapped in rags and cardboard, trying to stay asleep long enough to elude the hunger. And why?
    Nothing more than geography…
    Blessings,
    L.

    Reply

  2. Jill
    Jul 23, 2007 @ 08:08:39

    Sarah, thanks for your honesty. I will be going to Ethiopia this fall, my dad is also my companion. He has been to Kenya on several mission trips and is prepared. I figured I was too…after reading your blog, I realize maybe I need to stop worrying about packing, etc. and do a little soul-searching to get ready. Thank you for sharing your despair…it shows that what we are doing by adopting is really a life-saving gesture. Thank you, thank you, thank you. And rest-assured that just by sharing your pain you have done a tremendous work. Sometimes bringing the issue to the eyes and ears of others does more than any act ever can!

    Reply

  3. RHP
    Jul 23, 2007 @ 12:29:53

    Reply

  4. Katie
    Jul 23, 2007 @ 12:37:26

    But you did do something – more than anyone else I know. Your son won’t know hunger or poverty or hopelessness like that.

    Reply

  5. findingbabyg
    Jul 23, 2007 @ 13:34:02

    RHP: I almost added that link myself. That is exactly what I kept thinking of when I finished writing this…

    Reply

  6. Sharon
    Jul 23, 2007 @ 15:43:39

    What a beautiful blessed experience. Our Lord has given you a unique opportunity to move on. Yes, you are doing something! That something ya’ll have done will bless not only you and Baby G, but WHOM he becomes and those that will be around him the rest of his life. Help him to know where he came from and move forward on that. “One diaper at a time!”
    I will forward your website to the Kolorsis Foundation so that, God willing, we could some day set up a feeding station there through this foundation. Through the Reliv family donations we feed over 20,000 children per day in feeding station in Malaysia, the Philippines, Mexico and Haiti plus needy here in the US.
    I can’t wait to meet Baby G! God Bless you all!

    Reply

  7. dawn
    Jul 23, 2007 @ 15:51:50

    Pass on what you have learned to your children that is what you can do. When we were in addis. I didn’t give to the children in the street, but I did give to women with children–whatever change I had in my pocket. It is hard. And people who haven’t seen it just don’t understand. I thought I was prepared as I lived in coastal southern california and there are panhandlers everywhere. I have been to mexico where the children hound you to buy gum…but this is different. I took my cues from other Ethiopians. We had the opportunity to spend some time with layla workers out and about. Several gave to the older women with young babies or the disabled. So, that is what I did. It really is hard when you feel as though you are only dropping a pebble into the ocean–no visible ripples.

    We will have to talk soon.

    Reply

  8. Sarah
    Jul 23, 2007 @ 17:21:23

    Please don’t think you did nothing. You did something, and I know many people thank you for that.

    Reply

  9. jennifer
    Jul 24, 2007 @ 11:41:12

    I am SO glad that I just read your blog… I think that we were in Addis Ababa around the same time, so I think that I saw the city almost exactly through your eyes. It was heartwrenching, it was disturbing, it was exhausting- and I was so bothered by my surroundings that bonding with my beautiful new children almost became a back-burner to my hopelessness.
    I am glad that through your blog, I realize that I am not alone!
    CONGRATULATIONS on your beautiful new son!

    Reply

  10. Stacie
    Jul 24, 2007 @ 16:01:12

    Sarah – you are touching a lot of people with this post (I just found you linked from another site and I’m here all the time). I’m so glad you shared this – especially as we prepare to leave next week. I’ve been told we can’t be prepared for what we’ll see, but I’ll remember your words, and you Dad’s words and maybe that will help. So, again, thank you!

    Reply

  11. Lara
    Jul 25, 2007 @ 09:40:32

    As a potential future adopter, I browse sites like yours sometimes. Came across this one today and it touched me deeply. I share your feelings of helpessness and sorrow– but hope that you feel a bit of satisfaction in knowing that you are making a huge difference! I wish the best to your family. Your son is beautiful!

    Reply

  12. Deedra
    Aug 01, 2007 @ 14:06:42

    Thank you for sharing something so deeply profound. I am sure that I will feel the same, knowing that anything I do seems so small among the vast needs. However, your action of going, embracing your son into your family, and all of the sacrifices that means over the next 20 years, is no small thing!

    Reply

  13. esperandoaiyasu
    Aug 04, 2007 @ 22:24:12

    This is a great post. Thank you.

    Reply

  14. Bruce
    Aug 04, 2007 @ 23:49:25

    Sarah, I am Jill’s dad. she and I are going to Ethiopia sometime to get her little one. As she said, I have been to Kenya where I say poverty like you describe. I also saw it in the Phillipnes and in Argentina. I never get over it. I pray it never stops hurting to see it. It tears at my fabric to see so many have so little. I have “adopted” a hospital in Kima, Kenya and help support the renovation of it. The sad part is how much we have that we don’t need. God help us to help those who cannot help themselves. Blessings for your heart exposure.

    Reply

  15. Trackback: Everyone needs to visit Ethiopia « Esperando a Iyasu
  16. Sharla
    Aug 11, 2007 @ 10:19:59

    Sarah,
    Thank you for your honesty and trying to put into words what you saw and felt. I know that for me the most difficult part of this whole adoption process will be when we travel to Addis and come literally face-to-face with poverty like we cannot even imagine here.

    Reply

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