Monday, October 28, 2013

I am because we are

I'm going to work backwards here. I am in reentry mode and trying to slough off the jet lag and gently ease myself back into life despite the culture shock. All I really want to do is snuggle with my kids and catch up on episodes of Scandal and Parenthood. Oh, and eat a salad. Lofty goals, I know.

The moment we got off the plane and crowded onto the shuttle that takes you from the terminal to customs, an American dude hurled an f-bomb into the crowd because we weren't moving as quickly and organized as he would have liked. The shuttle, as you can imagine, was filled with exhausted travelers mostly Ethiopian, many elderly, many families with young children, many not speaking or understanding English or knowing American airport protocol. His f-bomb was a slap in the face. I was disgusted and embarrassed and angry he yanked me so violently back into American disconnected "me-ness." If it weren't for the intense need and desire to be with my family, I would have probably turned around and gotten back on the next plane to Ethiopia. I immediately missed the gentleness and graciousness of the Ethiopian people.

I mention this incident, not because it really was a big deal, but because it speaks to the gap in our cultures. We are a culture so overwhelmed and misguided by materialism, over indulgence, and convenience.  Our lives are fast, shiny, clean, and easy. We rush from one event to another seeking what's in it for me. We have clean water we can drink straight from the tap. We have toilets we can rely on to flush, and hot water in the shower. We can trust the power will stay on, and we rage when the internet is slow. We throw away fortunes of wasted food and our trash cans runneth over weekly.

While I observed various levels of poverty in Ethiopia, I also observed riches beyond what I have ever experienced. I observed community spontaneously bursting into song and dance, not because someone got a new car, their sports team won, or someone got married, but to simply celebrate the miracle of life and community, and to praise God for the gift of life. What our Ethiopian brothers and sisters lack in material wealth, they make up for in community, culture and faith. We see their poverty and shake our heads with pity at how little they have, but friends, I'm here to tell you they have valuable things we don't. The real things that count. Connectedness. Culture. Faith. It's not to say their poverty isn't real, because it is. There are many needs and ways to help. But don't for a minute think there isn't anything these people can't give back. I have personally returned from Ethiopia feeling more blessed and full than I'm sure anyone I "helped" in Ethiopia.

I was fortunate to travel the second leg of my trip with a man called Pastor Rob who was part of the Project Hopeful Awassa team. Rob is also the word for Wednesday in Amharic, hence we called him Pastor Wednesday. Rob astutely realized early on that we came all the way to Awassa to meet needs, yet we were being met with more love, graciousness, and enthusiasm than we deserved.

On our first day at the Ajuuja Home for Children, Pastor Wednesday addressed a crowd of young families who had come to the orphanage for care packages with these words:"Our needs and problems are very different, but the truth is, we need you more than you need us."

I couldn't agree more.

Prior to my trip, I ordered a bracelet with the South African philosophy, Ubuntu, saying "I am because we are" on it, and I had Fredrik, Kysa and Wynray's names engraved on the inside to remind me of my precious family, and the reasons I was personally going on the trip. While I am who I am because I am Fredrik's wife and Kysa and Wynray's mom, I realize now I am who I am because of my connection or disconnection with my fellow humans. My happiness increases when I think of others before myself, and decreases when I seek personal gain. It is a very simple formula, actually.

"For it is in giving that we receive."

I saw and experienced my Ethiopian brothers and sisters laughing, loving and connecting to their community and faith in an authentic, embodied fullness I have been yearning to experience my whole life. I experienced blissful happiness erupt out of nowhere, generously shared with virtual strangers. My Ethiopian brothers and sisters, whose lives are much harder than our own, understand something we've all seemed to lose in our constant race for bigger, better, more. Our Ethiopian brothers and sisters understand we belong to each other.

I am changed because I saw in the absence of newness, abundance, and convenience what true community means. I saw what true faith looks like, and I witnessed what real gratitude looks like. I saw a culture steeped in "we-ness" instead of "me-ness." How did we lose our connection to each other as we "advanced" with ease, speed, money, technology, and abundance? How can we get that connection back, and is it possible to do so grasping so tightly to the things that make us so "advanced"?

I know someday I will return to Ethiopia not because I see needs I can fill, although that may be part of it. I will return to Ethiopia because my experiences and relationships filled a part of me I didn't even know was empty. I will return to Ethiopia to address my own poverty.

I am changed because of my time in Ethiopia.

I am because we are.


  1. I am forever moved by these words Allison. I wish I could find a way to share your words with the entire population. I will ponder all you have said... And I will try to find a way to address my own poverty somehow. You are a beautiful soul. THANK YOU