Saturday, August 13, 2011

It's the {Not So} Small Things

While we were in Ethiopia we obviously saw some significant differences in our ways of living.

For one, they walked everywhere or took a "bus" that was a blue and white VW van from the 70's and 80's and played, how many people can you fit in this bus?  It was a 11 passenger vehicle on a good day and when it was raining once, I counted over 20 in one bus!!!  Yes, keep up the good work STA!!!  We like your A/C comfy seated limousines aka buses!!!  Definitely a {not so} small thing!
Street Full of Buses and Houses and Shops in the Background

When we rode down to Ziway and back, we rode in one of these vans.  The two of us, two guards and a translator/guide. All along the way people would try to get on our bus (as there was no way to mark it as charted), because it had quite a few less people than any of the other buses.  I was instructed to keep my electronics (read camera) low profile and if we came to a stop or slowed down to drop it out of site so as not to encourage anyone to come near the bus.  Right now, on the US State Department warnings, taxi's are seen as the biggest threat in Ethiopia.  So our guards would call anyone away from the van, or if they needed to come near it, they would watch them intently.  It was the same with our taxi-cab in the city.  They actually left the van running while they fueled it, which I am sure is dangerous, but they didn't want to make us vulnerable.  Hey, potAto, potaaato.  I guess that's something I take for granted each day.  When I park at the grocery store, the mall, or the open air market, I can leave my vehicle and lock it, and unless I am on a movie set, there's not going to be anything planted on my vehicle to endanger me.  Yeah, someone might break in and steal something, but it's a pretty remote chance. A {not so} small blessing.

It was amazing to see how the farmers were using Ox and Bulls to plow their fields, how they were using donkeys and horses to pull carts, how children four and up were herding animals right alongside the road.  It really looked like pictures I have seen of in US history books, yet they are making it work today.  The Ethiopian program director of our agency explained to us, "We are a very agricultural country, and while we are moving forward, we are still building the bridges to get to a more industrialized society.  We have no insulation from famine and disease, and what the people of your country are doing for these children is important for us to help build a better country and for them to live better lives." A big {not so} small thing.
Men at Work...Alongside the Road on the way to Ziway.

During this drive, I observed the number of people using five gallon containers to carry water back and forth (on their shoulders and heads), yes the National Geographic photographer in me wishes we could have stopped and I could have switched lenses and gotten some awesome pictures, but for some reason, our escorts were more concerned about getting us there in one piece than my photographic journal of the Ethiopian people.

For any of you who have read "The Hole in Our Gospel" you might remember back to what access to clean water and what shoes can do for a person, especially women.  The author of the book lives outside of Seattle and his wife decided to try to gather water from their local source of water and at the end of the day, she was exhausted and didn't have enough water to do 1/2 of what they normally do every day and hadn't even started the household chores.  Providing direct water sources can help so that children and women can go to school rather than spend the time carrying water, which allows them to move their society forward and provide incomes in places that were not possible before.  When we came home, I kept expecting to turn on the water and have it not work.  For the record, it's worked every time I have turned it on.  What a {not so} small thing.

And shoes, oh the shoes.  Let me tell you, while I hate wearing shoes, I LOVE to buy them.  And to think how the money I have spent on shoes go to waste in my closet.  Uggs, Ahnus, Crocs, Nike's, Adidas', Merrill's, Birkenstocks, ohh how I love my shoes...But when I return, I am taking MY shoes back.  My closet doesn't need the shoes as much as the people there do.  I am very much in favor of what Keen and Tom's shoes are doing in Ethiopia!  A pair of shoes can make a huge difference in a five-ten mile trek especially for those who are carrying heavy loads as many were. Another {not so} small thing.

In the orphanage in Ziway, the children spend a lot of time outside and wear shoes most of the time.  It's close to the hottest place in the world (year round), but the weather seems to me like southern California.  At the foster home in Addis Ababa, the children spend more time inside, as the weather is more like Seattle and the court yard for them to play is very small.  Here, when you go in and out of their facility you take your shoes off, but since the caregivers are going in and out all day, having shoes that slip on and off easily are very helpful! A {not so} small thing I take for granted entirely too much.
Kevin and Isaac's shoes (and more) outside of the foster home entrance.

Did I mention how cold it was in Addis?  It was definitely Seattle winter weather, and Kevin and I had known this (in our heads and when we packed), but somehow when we were going to Africa in August, we assumed it would be warm.  I cannot describe how much I love polar fleece, as they don't use A/C and heat.  So it probably gets down into the 40's and 50's at night and it's cooooold.  But it made me think about the children in the foster home.  For the whole facility they have ONE small heater.  They use it in the isolation room to keep the sick children stable, but what about the other children?  They have blankets, but for those of us who like to use (non) down comforters in the summer, those blankets are very thin...So next comes what else I am taking back, blankets, clean, lightly used children's blankets...And then, what about the people living on the streets.  The {not so} small things become even bigger.

Laundry baskets, yes simple laundry baskets we would buy at a dollar store, are prized possessions there and they would transport just about everything (besides laundry) in these baskets.  Now, I have gone through two laundry baskets this year, and both of them were made of higher durability products, so I can't even begin to imagine how all of the things they were doing to these baskets would allow them to last long, but I will tell you, those baskets get a much bigger work out than ours. And when my handle breaks, I get very frustrated, but they used robe, and zip ties to fix theirs, no duct tape though. Yet another {not so} small thing.
Laundry Baskets and Washing Bins

Housing, ranging from teepees, to huts, to sheet metal over sticks, and for the very rich, concrete buildings, was very different.  Our guest house was very simple, but it was VERY nice for there.  We were right next to a huge housing district with sheet metal roofs and satellites.  We didn't get to go into any of these houses, but I asked the guest house keeper and she said they are generally one room 10ft x15ft.  One bed if they have one, wood stove, or fire pit in the "yard" and a TV.  And usually 5-10 people live in each home to share the costs.  I am right now sitting in a room two times that by myself with a "few" more amenities than that. Our house is about 20 times that size.  Housing is yet another {not so} small thing.
Home Along Side the Road to Ziway.

Disease and Medical.  The first day we are there, all of the families in the guest house decided to go to the open market and get some food.  Kevin wanted to sleep off his motion sickness, so I went out with the group.  The very first thing we encounter 10 feet from our gate was a man with gang green and the flesh literally rotting off his body.  It was horrifying.  I asked the guest house keeper and there are no government programs for people in these situations, additionally, you have to pre-pay at the hospitals, and most couldn't even afford or have the means to get to the hospital.  I pray for that man, but as I have worked through some "serious" issues this week, and it turned out to be a reaction to the anti-Malaria meds I have been on, which they don't have even have access to that medicine, even though they are potentially exposed to it daily, I can't imagine what I would have done in his position. A painful {not so} small thing.

And the last, {not so} small thing, is the amount of hope they have.  Despite all of the challenges they face, Ethiopians in general have a very happy disposition.  They do not complain, and they hope that things will go well for them.  Talk about not sweating the small stuff.

I attribute this hope to three things, but first off, the lack of "things."  The more that we accumulate, the more we want to be like the Jones' and the more dissatisfaction we have. 

Second, is their faith.  According to the Ethiopians, Addis is the only place in the world where Muslims and Christians can co-exist in peace.  I couldn't figure out why they feel this way and why they can co-exist here and no where else, but I can tell you that the people we met were devout to their faith and found hope from it. 

And the last is their work ethic.  I feel like I am a hard-worker, but after seeing the excruciating pain and difficulty the people in Ethiopia work at, I now am going to categorize myself as lazy.  Their hard work builds their pride, which I believe builds their self-worth and hope.

I'm not sure that America has all of the ideas right or wrong, but I know that I have become dependent on too many comforts and am ready to break that dependance.  I am going to look at the faucet each morning and thank God when it works.  I am going to thank God when I go back to my truck and no one has broken into it, or done harm to it, and I will thank God for the medical advances and capabilities that are available less than three blocks from my house.  In other words, I will be thankful for the {not so} small things in my life.  I hope you can too!

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