Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Letter to an Ethiopian Child Living in the Slums of Addis Ababa

Dear Hiwot,

How are you?  I think of you often.  I think of your small, mud home and your mother who is dying of AIDS and your father, who long ago, gave the last of his blood-filled lungs in the exasperation of tuberculosis.  Do you remember him?  Is your mother still foraging for food in the dump?  I'm frightened, dear Hiwot, I'm frightened for you, for you are beautiful and will soon be eighteen.  I think of your friend, the boy, who was found strangled in his home--not too far from you.  Are you safe?

I wonder, if you saw the house in which I live, would you rejoice at the grandeur of it?  The appliances, the running water, the multiple (multiple!) bathrooms.  And oh, the full of food.  Food of all kinds!  Oranges, grapes, and broccoli.  Bananas, pasta and quinoa grain.  Rice, and celery and white cheddar crackers.  My children never lack.  How would you respond?

Would you despise me for not giving you more?  Am I living in opulence as you wade through the quagmire that is your home?  Your home among thousands.  Hundreds of thousands.  Oh, dear Hiwot.  How can you love me after all that I have?  The cell phone and the internet, the two cars and the barn, the fire pit and the sun room.  The filtered water.  Just with a touch of the glass to the lever!   And we have many glasses--all kinds!  Mugs for beer and tall glasses for lemon-water.  Regular glasses, and short, whiskey (we don't drink it) glasses, wine glasses and small cup-glasses.  And those are just the glasses. 

We have butter and fresh bread.  Ah, fresh bread.  And I have so many shoes, too.  Do you know that I wish, at times, that I had more?  Why is that, my dear child?

Are you well?  Have you been sick?  Are you safe from men?  They abuse, dear Hiwot, they abuse.  Be aware of men, my dear, sweet daughter, my child.

Do you excel in school?  I wish you spoke more English, or better yet, I wish I knew Amharic.  We could talk then.  When will I come to visit your family again?  I do not know.  I can't answer that, my dear.  I'm afraid I don't know the reason for another visit to the other side of the globe, so far away from home, risking my health.  You remember what happened to me last time!  Oh, the pain of losing every ounce of liquid from all ports of the body.  Like a tender piece of meat in the grips of a vice, I was.  Squeezed tight, like a wrung, wet, towel. 

Did you know that our church just built a new building?  We were running out of space.  It cost millions and millions of dollars.  I really don't know what to think of it.  Am I a hypocrite for living in my fine home?  Will you still love me when you find out how well I live?  I pray for you, my dear, but I wonder: is prayer any good?  Shouldn't I fly over there and bring your whole family back here to live with me and my wife and children?  We could put you in the basement.  Or, maybe you should have our bedroom.  You and your mother.  Then, my wife and I would live in the basement.  Ah, but that won't happen, will it?  I'm too selfish.  Forgive me.  Forgive me! 

Oh, but if I were a rich man, do you know what I would do?  I would purchase a large set of acres and build two houses: one for me and my family, and one for you and your family.  I would hire a nurse to take care of your mother.  We would grow food on our property, and you, Shewaye and Fircado would work that land and eat the fruit of our labor.  But would you despise me for making you work?  For giving you a separate home from ours?  Oh, but even if you didn't, you would miss all of your family and friends.  Sigh, it's no good.  

Do you know what I would do?  I don't know.  I don't know what to do.  Would you like me to send you to college?  I could do that.  I mean, we could.  My wife and I.  And some friends.  You know the ones!  They love you so much, too!  You could go to college in Addis Ababa and become a nurse.  Then, you could work and take care of your family there in Ethiopia.  You could be a virtuous, honorable woman in your own country--your own country!  Yes, that would be good, wouldn't it?

But you long for America, the home of the free, the prosperous nation.  Did you know you can own your own property here?  You don't have to worry about the government taking it over.  And you can do whatever you want.  It's so good here.  Many of us are afraid it's going to get worse.  We're scared.  But still, how are you my dear?  Did you do the laundry today?  Do you have water?  Have you gotten your foodstuffs and clothes and is your school bill paid?  Are you well?  Are you safe?  I wish I could do more. 

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