Friday, May 20, 2011

Say a prayer for Ethiopia

God bless Ethiopia.

They need it.

Jacob says his experience of Ethiopia has been tainted for him because everyone here has a not-so-hidden agenda: begging. That it is “plasticy” because no one we meet can really be trusted to be our friend.

It’s difficult not to feel this way.

It does seem that many Ethiopians are kind people…their friendship is genuine….they just don’t know how to get out of the rough financial situation they are in, and the white people with their fancy cameras, name brand shoes and educated English come in… it’s difficult not to ask for a little money.

Well, it’s exhausting to be begged from by 10 people on every walk you take. It’s exhausting to make a friend and then 2 days into the friendship they start using words like “sponsor my education” and “I need help.”

I’d hardened my heart to it, because you have to, it’s too much. And then tonight made me sorrow a bit. One nice boy here in Lalibela nicknamed Champion has shown us around the town, without us asking him to, and a couple days later started to ask for sponsorship so he could go to college. That he can’t afford school. That he goes to bed hungry at night. Jacob gave him a stern lecture about how God gave him hands and abilities for a reason, that even if he helped Champion, what should Jacob tell the thousands of other beggars? and hugged him, and Champion started to turn away to hide his tears.

Jacob doesn’t know if he is just acting or if his situation is really that rough. It’s hard not to be cynical in those situations, although I’m much more likely to fall for a help-me ruse than Jacob. Because it’s too easy to believe that here in Ethiopia, their situation really is that rough.

We both agree, in any event,  that we really like Champion. He’s nice and good-intentioned.

What would you tell a guy like him?

I told him to start a business—he said he’d love to, if he had the startup money (it’s not like Ethiopians can get a loan.)

I told him about internet business—if only he had a computer, he said.

Despite our lectures about Americans making their own fortunes, inside I had to admit that actually I was “sponsored.” My education was sponsored by scholarships, LDS tithing, and generous parents. What would I have done if I had none of those things, no access to books or computers, and no option to get a loan? I don’t know. But goodness knows a college education doesn’t equal getting a good job, unfortunately. Jacob, as a college dropout and a successful one at that, is probably the wrong person to ask for money to go to college.

I broke my resolve not to give to people on the street and bought a fifteen year old kid a dictionary today. He really wants to learn English—he found my soft spot, which is books. I can’t imagine living in a city with no library. Well, actually we have—in Ouazazarte, Morocco, and it wasn’t easy. I’m not going to say no to a $12 book. Plus, I reasoned, you buy a person a meal and they’re hungry the next day. You buy them a book, they can learn for a lifetime…and even share that learning and that book with others.


The Dictionary Boy: See the pink flipflops he’s wearing? They were way too small for him.

Ethiopia, tonight, has made me a little teary.

God help Ethiopians learn to help themselves. That’s the prayer I’m saying in my heart tonight.

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