Friday, August 08, 2008

Azan Aleu

If there are themes to this trip, one is death.
I'm not sure of the spelling, but azan aleu means “I'm sorry.” I'm getting better at saying it correctly.

I met some boys last year, the day I met Hanna. I'm changing their names here.

Hanna officially only works with girls, but these boys touched her heart. Their mom and dad were both HIV positive last year when I met them. It was then Hanna asked if we could find someone to help them financially, so they could stay in school. A few months later, she reported that the eldest, Isaiah, dropped out of school and had stopped coming to see her.

Yesterday, we found out why.

Isaiah showed up at Hanna's office and held onto her, sobbing. His daddy had just died. He had not wanted to tell Hanna that his dad asked him to stop school so he could care for him once he became bedridden with AIDS. His mother, so frustrated with her husband over giving her the disease, had left him, and he had no one. The twelve year old boy cared for him for about nine months, washing him and feeding him and rubbing his feet, trying to keep him comfortable. Just before he died, though, his wife forgave him and they spent their last few weeks togther as a family.

It was late by the time we were free to go to the family. I suggested getting a taxi to make the trip faster, but was told that we could not get there by car. True. The steep, rutted roads were slick mud, and it drizzled as we approached the one room, cinderblock home. People were gathered outside, wearing their nicest shawls. Inside we moved through the crowd and were ushered onto preferential seating, metal folding chairs. Four chairs spaned the room under an open window. A woman poured water over our right hands so we could rinse them, and gave us a meal of injera and tasty wot of lentils and onions, served on dark orange plastic plates. Other friends sat on solid cinderblocks, placed on the worn plastic matting that covered the floor. In the middle of the damp room was a brazier, coals dark, holding a large silver coffee kettle.

The boy's mom came in, wrapped over her clothes in two shawls and also a large towel for warmth. She greeted us, and sat what appeared to be an old army trunk to our left. She leaned against a wall covered with a lace cloth to soften the grey cement. She spoke to Hanna for awhile about her regrets and fear for the future, then began crying, then sobbing loudly. Her boys seemed to not know what to do, and the youngest curled up next to me and let me snuggle him. A young toddler, sitting on his mother's lap across the room, was eyeing me as well, but it was clear he was not quite sure if I was intriguing or just scary. When I smiled, he would pull his mother's shawl over his face, peeking out seconds later to see if I was looking elsewhere.

Eventually, a man sitting to our right asked for a Bible and read a passage, then spoke to the mother and we all prayed. Hanna told me later he told her that she should have no regrets, that she was not God to decide when her husband must leave this world. He told her there was nothing she could do to change God's timing, and that she must look forward and not take on any blame for the past.

Hanna offered to take the boys home, since the mother had guests, and she said we could do that, so they walked home with us. Hanna gave them baths, and we ate dinner by candlelight when the power went out, then roasted big kernels of corn for a snack. We pulled a mattress onto the floor and everyone got on it, including the two sweet girls that live with Hanna, and they played mandala and told stories, and had devotions and eventually, the boys fell asleep.

Tonight the boys are here again, and also many members of Hanna's family, as her uncle passed away today. The living room is filled with smoke because we had a coffee cermony for Hanna's cousin. It was her father who died. Most of the family will leave at 4am. I wanted to give them my room and share with Hanna, but she would not have it, saying that guests are highly honored in Ethiopia. I have certainly found that to be true and then some, though I don't feel I deserve this honor.

There May be Two Moms . . .

. . . but there can be only one Zion.

Here we are, enjoying photos of our shared daughter.


Since we've touched on hunger, I'll just add to it by saying that my friend Hanna has been under a lot of stress this week. One contributing factor involves the challenge of gathering food for the 44 orphaned and partially orphaned girls in her care. Each month, girls are given a ration of hair oil, soap, wheat, cooking oil and some basic other food supplies so that their extended families can afford to keep them in their homes.

In times past, food was purchased from the government, in bulk, at good prices. Now, the government is taking an anti-NGO (Non Gov't Organization) stance, and will no longer sell food to many organizations, including Hanna's. I remember seeing news stories about government “suspicions” regarding NGOs, and wished I'd paid more attention to them. Certainly, the on-the-street-changes, stemming from this new government profile, are hot conversation at the various NGOs I've visited the past few weeks.

The problem of procuring expensive food is compounded by fuel prices and draught. Many vendors simply refuse to make trips to the market because people can't pay enough to make it worth the expense.

This morning was food distribution out of Hanna's plastic house (she built it on family land when her rent doubled and she had to move out of her building). This mother (or aunt or grandma, I'm not sure) was so happy to get her daughter's food, but as she walked across the wet grass, she slipped and fell. It was then I noticed her foot - horribly misshapen, toes pointing up. She must walk on the end of her leg bone - no shoe in this cold weather! She, like the other women here, dressed up to receive the food ration. But, her normal job is as a beggar.

I have been told by many Ethiopians - actually, many people in all big cities around the world - that city beggars really have a lot of money. It is not the case for this woman. Hanna visits all her childrens' homes and checks them out, and talks to neighbors and local police and the local schools to confirm the stories they tell. This way, she is sure to only help the neediest children.

Yesterday, I met ten or so girls who are on Hanna's waiting list. It is heartbreaking to know how just a little money could change their lives and realize that it will take some time to spread the word and get the funds. Each day of waiting is too long here.