Ethiopia truly is a world apart from America. Young men don’t mind using public streets as urinals. If you don’t get asked for money at least 3 times on the way to work then you are lucky. As you get farther from the center of the city, the less likely the roads are to be paved and the more likely you are to see all tin shacks that barely keep out the cold, let alone the rain. The streets are muddy because it is rainy season and if you don’t get mud on your pants then it’s literally a miracle. Shoe cleaner boys line the streets because of the muddiness of the rainy season and the dirty shoes that result. Raw meat is considered a delicacy among the wealthy while the middle class and lower usually result to cooked meat. Things are cheap on the penny over in Ethiopia with one US dollar equaling 17 birr. A simple taxi ride across the city costs around 10 birr, or the equivalent to 80 US cents. Oh, and a ‘taxi’ is really a minivan where no less than 15 and no more than 20 people crowd into a small space and ride ten or more minutes together. Claustrophobic much? There are also no emissions requirements (or it doesn’t seem this way) in Ethiopia, so when a large truck barrels down the road past you, it is always followed by a thick cloud of carbon smoke. Great on the lungs! As a westerner, people stare at you like you are an alien. Donkeys, goats, and chickens roam the streets. Young kids shake your hands as well as the elderly and then kiss you on both cheeks three times. Coffee is consumed more than you can possibly imagine. They also drink sweet tea, except for the fact that they like it piping hot. These Ethiopians get up with the sun rise, around 5:30 in the morning and then sing hymns to God before going to work. Eastern Orthodox Christianity is the norm, with many females sporting white shawls and wooden crucifixes.
It is no secret that the poverty in Ethiopia is rampant and widespread, and it cannot be truly described by either picture or word. It can only be experienced. However, I do not want to dwell on this when I tell about my own experience. I wanted to concentrate on something less tangible, but more important to me: culture. Let’s not concentrate on the material wealth differences that are so physically apparent between America and Ethiopia. Instead, I want to highlight something that is beautiful, something ethereal, and something so much more palpable that it may as well be physical. Underneath the mud, the dirt, and the poverty lives the Ethiopian culture. I have been here 3 days and it is already apparent. People stop and say hello in the streets and talk for minutes on end if they know each other. Community and family are highly stressed. Unlike America’s individualistic culture, Ethiopians are very dependent on one another and are very interpersonal. They are social to a degree that it trumps pressing matters of work, etc. In America, there are no excuses for being late even if you were stopped by a friend on the street. Ethiopians would rather stop and talk to catch up with friends before attending to work or other matters. Faith is huge in a large portion of the people in Addis, except it isn’t the same as an adult who considers faith to be integral to their life. It is their life. Joey and I begin our work with the orphans each morning by praying with the staff members for 30-40 minutes. I was so surprised that it was such an openly faithful environment because I am so used to secular business environments in America, but it was a very pleasant surprise!
Behind the immediate physical lack of wealth, Ethiopians are a strong hearted people who make up for their lack of material things with a steely faith that seems to be hardened far beyond the faith of a typical American. It is encouraging to say the least! They look into the face of poverty daily and tell it that their God is greater and provides eternal life beyond the temporary problems they find here. Oh, what lessons Americans would learn if they could see what the world is like outside of its bubbly atmosphere of prosperity! The Ethiopian culture is truly a diamond in the rough; it must be dug out of the dirty streets and dusty corners, but it is there, hidden from this silly American’s lack of perception. Funny how clear your eyes seem to be when the speck of dust in them is removed to reveal what is truly behind it.
Sidenote: my friend Joey Blake has been posting a daily blog here at www.josephbblake.wordpress.com that covers our daily activities in more detail! Enjoy!