Thursday, July 14, 2011

Zenebu: From Suicidal to Tears of Joy

She came from the north of Addis to live and work there, the reason of which is unknown. She began to work cleaning houses. A handsome, dignified man wooed her, and soon she married him and bore him three beautiful children: two girls, and a boy. The living eked itself out through lower back pain and a daily staple of injera with wat, a soppy, vegetable sauce with spices. Not much, but family and smiling children are what counts. But then, the coughing began, and she looked at him with worried eyes. "It's alright," he said, but the look on his face did not reassure her. Beads of sweat formed on his brow in the night. A cough here, another there. His energy dwindled slow, like the lazy, muddy river that flowed past the landfill. Dry coughs and chest pain sank upon their household like a vulture, while blood splattered the floor from the infected lungs. The overcrowded hospital and lack of monetary funds escorted his body to the grave, leaving her alone in this vast city of belching taxis, beggars, and big bank buildings.

Her oldest daughter, Hiwot, was only ten. "A real troublemaker," she says now, with laughter. But laughter fled her life's call as Zenebu discovered that she too was ill, with AIDS. She contemplated suicide. But for her brother taking her in, she may have done so. But what of her daughters? The streets of Addis are lined with prostitutes. Can such a fate consume them? It mustn't be. No longer fit to clean homes, Zenebu risked germs and illness by collecting garbage from the nearby landfill both for food and sustenance: find something worth selling, and collect some birr in order to get by. The children must be fed. One point of light: her brother, who owned a number of small, mud homes in Korah, would not charge her rent. A toro wendt--a good man.

Her children grew older and soon the pain went on the increase. She holds her head in pain and moans. But it just so happened that one day a feringe, a foreigner, stopped by her home with a bag of groceries. There was a pastor, a social worker and a missionary present as well. Zenebu and her daughter received the goods with gracious, attentive smiles, and showed up at the church the next day, where the feringe preached a sermon on the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 7.

News came to her that the feringe and some of his friends had desired to sponsor her children by providing food, medicine, clothing and education. Her daughter brought home letters and referred to the feringe as her father--as unworthy of that title he may be, for such a replacement carries a burden only One can bear. She wore a uniform to school. There was food in the home, and hope and joy. The pastors and social workers continued to stop by and visit her and her children. Zenebu began to have hope for her children--they wouldn't have to eat garbage any more. The name of Jesus brought peace to her troubled soul, as her daughters spoke of his deep, deep love. When she stands, she is hunched over, like an old woman. She's only thirty-two, but the stress of life and disease betrays the image of the elderly. Lines on the face, and blemishes mar the ebony pride of only a few years ago. Beauty still lights afresh in this house, however, as her lovely daughters take the extra money from the sponsorship, and spend it not on themselves, but on decorating their house. A colorful, blue and gold tapestry offers a private screen for the bunk bed shared by all four family members. No longer is there a dirt floor in this eight-by-eight home, but a linoleum surface in green and white checkers laughs up at the new paint on the walls. Ah, good daughters....So konjo (beautiful).

And it all came from just a single visit. Love transforms.

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