When I spent almost a month in Ethiopia, alone and learning to parent our new son, day in and day out I watched a foreign world go by. I would walk and walk and walk carrying my then 9 month old son to try to keep him happy and begin the bonding and attachment process with him. While we walked, I watched Ethiopia with widening eyes.
You see, we think that we know poverty here in the U.S… But what I witnessed is unlike anything I have ever seen here. When you walk down the streets, there is a smell that I pray we never experience here. Sometimes the smells are of spices and foods cooking over open fires. But many times the scents were of human waste as countless people and animals used the open road as their rest rooms.
I remember watching a mom who was sitting on a muddy, filthy, feces covered roadside in the pouring rain. She was holding her baby who looked to be no more than 6 months old. She had no raincoat, no umbrella, no tarp covering them. The rain drenched the mother as she tried to keep her baby dry with nothing more than her two arms. They would sit there from morning until evening like this rain or shine. She was trying to sell roasted corn on the cob for pennies.
I remember watching a group of young boys – probably around 8 years old – playing soccer. They wore tattered clothing, all of them were dusty and in need of a good bath, some were barefoot and all were happy. Their soccer ball? Wadded up garbage. And yet, they played soccer happily for what seemed like hours.
The animal lover in me watched horses, goats, cows and dogs run wildly through the streets. Some of the horses didn’t run – instead, they limped. They were covered with sores and wounds as they limped down the middle of streets. On some of the busiest streets, these wounded horses would stand in the middle of the street as cars whisked by them barely missing them. I asked one of the Ethiopian women I met why the horses were standing on such busy roads and she told me it was because that was the only place the flies would stay off of their sores. The moving air from the cars caused the flies to move off the horses. I gasped thinking about it.
I remember awakening in the middle of the night as I heard a boy whose voice had not yet deepened run down the street shouting in fear. You could hear men chasing him and yelling at him and you could hear what sounded like a stick being struck at him and also struck at the ground. You could hear the pain in the boy’s voice as he yelped and shouted in Amharic. The next day, I spoke with our driver about this instance and asked if this was a normal occurrence. I asked if the police would have helped the boy. I asked what he thought happened. I had so many questions. Our driver told me the police would have done nothing and what probably happened is the boy was caught stealing and a group of men were chasing him to punish him and retrieve what was stolen. My heart broke. This boy who was not yet a man was stealing and I knew that his actions were out of SURVIVAL. He didn’t have food or money. And he had to resort to stealing to survive.
Fast forward almost two and a half years later. My son hasn’t been back to Ethiopia (yet). Someday we will bring him back to visit his country. It’s the holiday season once again and I’m watching myself get caught up in the hustle and bustle of Christmas decorating, buying Christmas presents and blogging way too much. I’m watching families bicker. I’m watching Black Friday madness while people fight over a toaster oven.
Do you know what I’m forgetting? I’m forgetting what I saw in Ethiopia. I’m forgetting the mom and baby who sat in the pouring rain from morning until night trying to make a few cents selling corn. I’m forgetting the boys in tattered clothing who eagerly and happily played soccer with wadded up trash. I’m forgetting the horses in the middle of the road just hoping that the rushing cars around them would keep the bugs off of their sores. I’m forgetting the boy being chased down the road by a group of men. I’m forgetting the world around us.
May we all remember that we have it SO good. May we all remember that in the midst of putting presents under our trees, there are families around us, both here in the states and across the globe who we can and should help. May we place less importance on the presents and more importance on our families. And may we make sure our children know what is going on in the world around us so that they too will want to help others. And may we “be willing to give until it hurts.”