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!