14 February 2008

Happy Valentines Day

I am trying my best to write more often so they are shorter—so here goes. I am starting this on Feb 11th, we’ll see when it is finished and sent!!

First, an apology on the last email. It was not really quality. Sorry, generally I sit down and write these things in one sitting. Then, I sit on it for a day go back and make sure it actually makes sense out side of my head; however for that one there was no time so I just sent it. Having skimmed it, I am not too impressed with my stream of consciousness writing. Hopefully some of it made sense.

I have commented before on how quickly things become normal to me. I realized the other day nothing seems out of the ordinary in Ethiopia. I wondered, what would you, the virgin eye, see and find odd or exciting if you came here. I have been concentrating on that for a few days and have come up with a list. It is short—I am sure there are 1000 other things, but I just can’t see them.
1. Construction workers in flip flops, standing on scaffolding made of branches, laced together with homemade rope, 6 stories above the ground. No safety belts, no helmets, and rocks as hammers.
2. (This cracks me up) Men riding motor cycles with construction helmets as their ‘helmet.’ These are not modified, so no chin strap, just a bright orange helmet perched on their head—I am not sure the purpose. Possibly, it has nothing to do with saving your head, rather with being more easily spotted as construction helmets are generally bright. But, I just wonder—they obviously exist, so why don’t we give them to the construction workers? But, really how important is a helmet when you have no shoes?
3. (This is common in many many countries) Buses SO FULL, there are literally body parts hanging out the windows and doors. Legs, arms, even upper bodies that just don’t fit into the bus and the doors shut—but just hang on, its better then walking. Can you imagine buses being used to extensively in the US? I know in the East they are (not to that degree, but more so), but out west if there is someone on the bus, it’s a good day! Sad.
4. EVERY time someone important comes to town (anyone from government positions from almost all countries, plus UN people, and rich people) the roads are shut down as they zoom buy in their limo’s to the hotel. The roads are laced with armed military, including ‘sharp shooters’ on top of major buildings or really big gravel piles. It’s as annoying as things come here. You can be stuck for 30 to 45 minutes for one loser to zoom buy. Annoying.
5. Donkeys. I love donkeys. I don’t like working with them, that’s maddening, but watching them just cracks me up for some reason. Here donkeys are used everywhere everyday for moving just about everything: mail, furniture, food, water, people, etc etc There has not been one day (aside from those spent sick in bed or in generally inside all day) that I haven’t seen a donkey. And, for that matter sheep—but the sheep aren’t generally ‘working’ so much as being hauled away to be dinner. Yum.
6. Lastly, this comment goes out to all the women. Here, in Ethiopia, if you see a size 2 or 4 woman, she will most likely be in baggy clothes, and walk with shame at her ugliness. However, if you see a woman size 12 to 18—she will be in tight fitted clothes, and be strutting her stuff proud as can be to be gorgeous. Women are supposed to ‘jiggle’ and have bellys, it’s natural. They are not supposed to have visible muscles, or bones (scandal!!). It’s so ironic and well ludicrous how much time and money is spent on ‘beauty’ for women, and yet cross the border and it’s a whole new definition. The same companies that produce and sell self tanning creams in the states or Europe, sell skin bleaching creams in Africa and Asia. It’s all so creepy. But, my point is—here women who are skinny are made fun of, and laughed it (my poor sister-in-law is teased endlessly by her brothers for being skinny). Whereas, large women, are revered and generally considered to have a higher status in life, be better educated, and probably richer. So, when you are having a bad day in the US—just come on over here, we will boost you I promise!

My last topic is the eternal debate in my head: should I give to beggars or not. IF you haven’t been abroad, then you don’t understand how many there can be. It’s not just one guy sitting on a corner with a cup. If you give to one, there are AT LEAST 10 more in the area and they come running up to see if they can benefit. Do you just keep dolling out money until you are out? What about ‘not giving’ on principle?

I want to share a story with you, not my story, but I have permission to share. However, I must let you know to hear it from the primary source will always be far better then anything I write. I KNOW I have mentioned my friend Jim Levinson. This is an experience he and his wife, Louise had in Calcutta. Calcutta is a profound experience. It is permanently imprints on your soul. There is such overpowering sadness, but moments of pure charity and hope. I won’t go into it too much, but I promise you if you get the chance to go, it will change your life forever. This was Jim and Louise’s first ‘long’ trip to Calcutta. The time had left them down and feeling overwhelmed. To quote Jim, “Going through the shattering experience of seeing the very worst of human degradation in Calcutta, and then, going to that church service and hearing that sermon...” It was a Sunday, and they decided to attend church services. When they arrived they learned a Bishop was visiting from England. The Bishop got up to speak and told the following story: He and a local Priest had gone out into the country for a visit. They were both sitting in the back of a taxi. The taxi driver stopped at a railroad crossing and inevitably, a beggar came to the window. “Out of principle” neither the Bishop nor the Priest gave the beggar any money, but the tax driver handed him some coins. The beggar then said something to the driver, and walked away. The Bishop, curious what he had said, asked the driver. The driver told him the beggar had said, “I will remember you when I am in the kingdom.”
OUCH!!—I mean to say that to the taxi driver with a Bishop and Priest in back, this man truly believes the meek, poor, and lowly will inherit the kingdom. And, he will not remember the Priest or the Bishop when he gets there. During his speech, the Bishop commented that even though neither he nor the Priest had given ‘out of principle,’ neither could define that principle either. Can you?

A colleague of mine in Ministry of Health is a nice, caring, giving man. However, he refuses to give to any beggars b/c he doesn’t want to encourage people to beg. He tells me the government has asked people to stop giving to beggars. He says it is encouraging people from rural areas to leave their families and come to the city and beg. My question, if the government doesn’t want us to give to beggars anymore, what are they doing instead? I can guarantee you the government of Ethiopia is not in a position to start a welfare program, WIC program, or anything like that—so what is their option? You say, or some of you may say, work—their option is too work. It’s true; some of them may be able to get a job—but just a few. Remember my husband with his diploma in Computer Programming took a job as a driver, it was his only chance for a job. Imagine if you are illiterate, crippled, single female with kids, etc—the options are extremely limited. If someone is crippled, in any form mild to severe, more then likely they never attended school. This greatly limits their capabilities, as they might not even be numerate. Women are less likely to be educated, especially if from rural areas, so again might not have skills outside of their physical labor. This is a step above a cripple who can not, for example, work construction. You see many many women working construction jobs. They do the hard work, literally. I see this as greatly ironic as they are considered ‘weaker’ here, yet at ANY construction site you will see women hauling the gravel with home made buckets. Or hauling the cement in a bucket on their head, walking up a home made ladder three or four stories to bring it to the men whose job is to simply dump it into the mold out and hand it back to them. But there aren’t enough of those jobs to go around, and what about child care? What about those who have children? What about homeless children, for that matter? They should be in school, but they don’t have the fees. Plus, without a home to go to, and food you can count on, you must be out seeking your existence daily. But, I must admit, I am far more likely to give to a child then a teenager, for example. Somehow their vulnerability seems higher. And to a degree it is, but that doesn’t mean the teen is any less hungry. He or she technically has higher caloric needs, thus needs more—so should I only give to them? (Yes, I am the kind of nerd that considers caloric needs of beggars. I often wonder which vitamins they are most likely to be deficient in and what I can buy them to make up for it) But, most teenagers are relatively strong and could start doing hard labor, so should I discourage teens from begging by not giving and encourage them to get a job? What if they can’t find a job?? I could go on and on. I have this dialogue in my head daily as I walk the streets. Assessing each person I see, should I give or not? Give or not? It’s enough to give you an ulcer.

So, my point in bringing all this up is to tell you about today. I warn you, the following story does not show me in a good light—it shows how quite selfish I can be. Today, I had a bad day. One of those days where you sit at your stupid computer all day, you have a HUGE to do list, and suddenly its 6pm and you have crossed nothing off the list. You feel completely impotent and wasted. Somehow you are tired, but you didn’t do anything. Plus, you had to sit in a gray walled cement room with no windows at a stupid computer desk ALL DAY (well I do). So, I left work and started my walk home. I walk about ½ a mile or so to catch a mini-bus to my street. On the way I cross a REALLY polluted river, and pass many beggars. I have talked before about some particular beggars, the kids. There are 4 kids I see almost daily on my walk. I often buy them bananas, milk, bread, oranges, whatever. I bought them candy once, and they were not happy—so back to healthy stuff. Silly me. Well, I had seen them yesterday and had told them on my way back, I’d get them something. But I ended up going home another way, and didn’t pass by. So, as I approach the corner where they will inevitably be, I started having fairly negative thoughts. I wasn’t in the mood to give—I was afraid they would be mad b/c I didn’t return the day before as promised and they would demand something from me. Then, I became indignant—they have no right to demand from me. I am pretty sure 3 of them are siblings and have a mom, I am sure they are fine. Giving to them is most definitely encouraging bad behavior, I need to stop. Today I will stop. I don’t care how sad they look, I am not giving today. Not. I mean, I don’t have to—there is no law that says I have to, and there might even be a law that says I shouldn’t. They can’t demand things from me, I can give when I choose and today I do not choose. So, with these thoughts and many similar ones running through my depressed mind, I came around the corner. I braced myself for them to come up with their practiced sad faces and ask me to buy tissues. But, they didn’t. In fact, they did something that made my day—rather made my week. The moment they saw me, theyh starting cheering!! Their faces literally lit up when they saw me. First the boy saw me, then as he started cheering the others turned to notice what he was so happy about and joined in (they are 10, 10, 6, and 2 years old) Loud boisterous cheering, and they started chanting “watet, watet watet watet” (Milk). It was like Santa Claus had shown up—they were doing a little dance going around me in a circlecheering and laughing. Everyone at the bus stop (where they beg) was staring, and I couldn’t help but start laughing! My mood immediately changed and we set off for the corner market just down the street. The girl said, “Yesterday you say “come back” and today you come. Thank you.” I mean, made these kids day and all I did was buy them each a ½ liter of milk for 2.50 birr or 25 cents. That’s it. But it made their day. Milk. I don’t care if my whole day was a waste, I got to buy those kids milk. Yes, had the privilege of buying for those darlings. Is it wrong? I don’t know. Is it right? I don’t know; I do know, selfishly, it makes me happy—so I will keep doing it, regardless of principles.

Okay—have a beautiful day.


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