Day 3

“Conversion to God . . . means a simultaneous conversion to the other persons who live with you on this earth.  The farmer, the worker, the student, the prisoner, the sick, the oppressed and the oppressor, the patient and the one who heals, the tortured and the torturers, the boss and the flunky, not only are they people like you, but they are also called to make themselves heard and to give God a chance to be the God of all.

Thus, compassion removes all pretensions . . .”

            From With Open Hands by Henri J. M. Nouwen

Today we met “the worker . . . the sick, the oppressed, the patient and the one who heals.”

PictureA welcome, slow start to our first morning in Ethiopia picked up speed quickly, as did the rain!  Late morning, as clouds gathered, we traveled by bus to the Hope Enterprises feeding kitchen.  Hope’s kitchen was not what this author had imagined – this was no large, inner-city, auditorium (or church hall) with a well-equipped kitchen!  Stepping over puddles and mud, we walked down a narrow alleyway lined with quiet, tattered, broken people – mostly male (as we arrived after the first shift of women and children).  Turning a corner through a large steel door in the alley, we found ourselves in a narrow, cobbled open courtyard where a line of people snaked slowly down some steps, into another courtyard and towards a narrow window on the left where plates with thick, triangular slices of “injera” awaited them.  Long concrete tables and benches at the end of the courtyard covered by a tin roof held up on crude wooden poles were already full of hundreds of people being served red sauce (or “wat”) to flavor the injera.  After our initial shock at the condition of this feeding kitchen and numbers of people being served, we set to work either cramming into the tiny kitchen folding injera, ladling wat out of large metal pots out at the concrete tables, shaking hundreds of hands, or trying to engage fellow humans in conversation.  Hope’s kitchen feeds almost 1,000 people every lunchtime.

PictureIn a now steady downpour, with rivers of water running down the streets, we left Hope and made our way to the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital.  What a contrast to the settings from lunchtime.  We entered onto the beautiful grounds of the hospital, so lovingly planted with fresh smelling flowers.  Women enter here suffering from childbirth and related injuries that leave them incontinent.  Some have walked many miles (or even weeks) after extremely painful labor (that has sometimes lasted a week), a stillbirth of their child, and then being shunned by their community for their incontinence. 

PictureNo one is turned away from this place.  All 150 beds were full.  One young girl stood outside, alone under the eaves of the large ward.  She wore the knitted, patchwork, multi-colored, crocheted shawl common to all the patients.  She had no smile.  Rather, a deep sadness surrounded her.  As one of us approached her, engaging her in a brief conversation, the odor surrounding her was unmistakable.  Although the scene might break your heart, we know that once operation is complete she may be cured and hopefully, then, she will learn to smile again and return home.

On our first day in Ethiopia, God cried tears of rain with us.