Saturday, July 24, 2010

How You Stole Me in Addis

She plays the piano, slow, like the waving silk curtains floating away from the open window...

She escorts us out of her home, and walks us to the vehicle. Her smile is a beacon leading me past the makeshift kitchen where there are boulder-sized sacks of refuse, and open-faced shacks tied together with sticks and twine from the dump. "What is in those sacks, really?" I think to myself. Big, bulky boulders of brown. Analyzing squinches, my eyes fail to register an answer.

I turn to her and look at her. She is konjo, beautiful. The sun is out now, after a heavy, muddy rain, and it beats on my back. I'm wearing too much protective clothing. I wonder if incarnational visits mean risking just a T--so what if you get wet and uncomfortable? Am I so important, really? Shouldn't I get wet, if they do too? Thoughts of self-condemnation flee as the children gather around. Feringe, feringe (foreigner, foreigner).

Her friends gather around, all smiling, standing at the edge of the road in a row. I get in to the vehicle and look through the muddy pane. No one else is in yet, I'm all alone. Children gather around. Who is the feringe? Did he bring something? Does he have birr, money? The girl and her friends look into the vehicle at me. What are they thinking? Has she told them about the food? The prayers for her mother? Her listening to my story and me telling the story of stories? The church service tomorrow with the meal? Like the flickers of lightning bugs in June, thoughts advance and retreat. I'm just "here." Ach! Was kann Mann tun? What can I possibly do here! Hands up in the sky.

She plays the piano, slow, like the waving silk curtains floating away from the open window...

The smell of the dump cakes my tongue and the vision of blueish gray mucus on the faces of the little ones clinches my jaw. Equidistant, straight streams oozing even down. Think of something else. Quick.

I get out and swing my pack around my shoulders and shake some hands. My pack is strapped tight to my chest. I'm protected from theft. Ten years ago, they murdered for food. Things are better now. People have been praying. Still...

"Salam," I say and shake her hand. It's all I know to say. It's hello, but it's really goodbye.

This is an experience, I say to myself. It's time to go to the next house, and deliver more groceries, and tell the story of Jesus again, and pray some more, and what I should have done but didn't do--ask them about their life. (I despised myself later for not having done so. How could I not ask them about their selves?)

I'll not see this girl again. I've helped for a day, maybe two weeks. But she needs help for many a year from now. She's standing on the road with her friends, waving goodbye. Her name is Haley (not her real name). Goodbye Haley--I'm off to the next house. There are so many Haleys here, and I am off to see others.

Ah, there she is. Playing the piano in the plain, wooden room with window ghost curtains...She smiles and moves with the metronome like a bouy in calm, clear water.

Cool gray skies invite us with the next morning. I'm preaching today to women with "the sickness." I am told they are not dying of AIDS, but living with HIV. Fair enough. But what can I say to them? Who am I to be here? And what can I say to them? Sentences are short and simple. I have an interpreter. Then I see her, and her smile, and her gown from yesterday, her cornrows and her pleasant face. "Haley! Salam!" is all I can say. Smiles and hugs. More smiles from Haley. She has come. After the service, she's using the communal bar of soap and washing her hands with the water poured from a pitcher held by another. We'll eat injera bread used to sop up a tomato sauce and spices and other staples.

Haley. Without father, mother in ebb and flow, fifteen and "at risk." She is mother to her sister and brother. She is a good student, and her favorite subject is English. She reads her Amharic Bible. She does the laundry. She goes to the dump for her mother to find plastic to sell for money, for rent, and for food. Maybe even school this time. Like so many girls in her land, she will have to sell her body for food if she doesn't get support. She will have to sell her body for food, if she doesn't get support. The best way is to adopt her.

She plays the piano, like a delicate wave, as the curtains that flow from the window...
Can you see her?

The best way is to adopt her.

Haley, it was good to see you a second time today. But now, after a long day, and greeting hundreds of faces, and going to class in the evening, and many taxi rides and conversations later, I'm back at my room, resting from the day. Many hugs, and a myriad of greetings. Thoughts of the Greek text of Mark. Thoughts of New Testament background. Thoughts of interpretive methods at the seminary. Thoughts of the guests at the home where I am staying. A million flickers in June, the ebb and flow of so much need here. You see I have room only for so much.

I stare at the ceiling and I'm thinking of my daughter, but I'm thinking of you. How will you live in this place? Will you come to church on Sunday? Is your mother...? Are you safe? Have you been stolen away? Will you be raped? Will you have to sell your self for food? Will you be accosted at the dump? Oh, Haley! Oh God! Oh God! Was kann Man tun? Hands up in the sky.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

All three posts are wonderful & thoughtful... thought provoking, sad and full of hope. Makes you realize how much you take for granted. How much we as Americans really have, even when we think we don't have much. Thank you for sharing your experiences in Addis.