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A letter from Barbara and Larry Moir in Ethiopia

September 18, 2009

The Road to Dembi Dollo - Part 2

The sound came weaseling into my jet-lag-numbed brain. The cold air bit through my tiredness. “This hotel needs to do something about this noisy air conditioner,” I thought. Then, slowly I realized the sound was not an air conditioner. It was rain, and plenty of it, washing down the corrugated steel roof. The cold was the normal chill in the air of this tropical highland city during the rainy season.

There isn’t an air conditioner here in Dorothy Hansen’s house at the Bethel Synod’s Coordinating Office compound. Set next to the Synod’s Girls school, Dorothy’s house is part of a complex of guest house apartments and attached homes. Guests of the Synod in transit to and from other parts of Ethiopia and the world stay here as do students and officials of the five Synods that make up the Bethel Synods of the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus. The five synods comprise the Presbyterian branch of this denomination. The other Synods represent the Lutheran Branch.

Dorothy has recently completed her term of service, and in preparation for returning to the United States, she has moved into the guest house. We are profoundly blessed by her presence here. Her gracious hospitality and warm Christ-like spirit add to the grace and mercy of our days as we share meals and fellowship together. Dorothy’s computer and Internet service also enable us to reach out to our family and friends while we await our move to the school in Dembi Dollo.

It is difficult to describe Addis Ababa if we refrain from simple and dismissive one-word descriptions of the sights and sounds and smells. This is so much more than a decaying city, overflowing with poverty and choked in diesel exhaust and wood smoke from cooking and heating fires. Even the U.S. embassy is located in a decaying section of the city, its new high-rise building under construction within its own less-than-dignified compound.

How does one describe the sights of mothers with their babies on their hips begging for food or money to feed their child? Or a blind man whose warped leg sticks out in front of him like a toll gate as he begs for alms? How does one understand the living condition of the children hired to beg, shine shoes, or sell vegetables along the streets and roads of the city? How does one go on to describe the opulence, comfort, security and shelter of the Hilton and Sheraton Hotels? The Addis Ababa Sheraton is described as one to the finest hotels in the world!

Adverbs and adjectives are words that describe what we have named and experienced; yet we sense that there is a perversity in it all, this mixture of poverty and wealth. The words are too easy to come by. It is understanding that is difficult.

Wisdom, knowledge and understanding come from you alone, O Lord. Grant us grace that we may will not judge by what our eyes tell us they see, rather, we pray that your Holy Spirit might teach us, that we may see with a true and loving heart. Amen.

In spite of the gray clouds and rain of this season, there is sunshine. Yes, the sun does actually shine at times, and it feels wonderful and warming to the body and spirit. And lest my thoughts of poverty and perversity seem overwhelming, there is a brightness among the people that provides a light of hope.

When visiting the girls school the other day the kindergarten girls ran forward with joy to greet the ferangi (foreigner) and his dog while the older girls smiled, laughed, and giggled behind their hands no doubt at our antics as we played  ring around the rosy and danced in circles.

As I walked to the store, an elderly man missing his right leg, holding a crutch in one hand and long walking stick in the other, stopped at a distance of twenty yards from me and began to shout and wave his stick, as if to tell me to step out of  his way. Finding a dry spot beside the road, I stepped aside. Reaching me he stopped, reached out with his right hand, taking mine, and embraced me while saying, “God bless you.” One, two, three times he embraced me in the traditional Ethiopian greeting of respect. Then he was on his way leaving me staring after him with what I am sure was a stupid, bemused grin.

The Synod staff and other visitors are warm, welcoming, and very helpful. The young groundskeeper, Tuklu, and his helpers take time to seek us out and speak to us. Israel, one of the guards at the gate, is becoming my teacher of Oromifa, the language of the Oromo people, and I am teaching him English. This is interesting since he speaks little Oromifa because he is a traditional Amharic speaker. But we enjoy our conversations, which on my part is more a ridiculous looking pantomime. 

It is difficult to describe Addis Ababa. In the midst of poverty and the out-of-place appearance of opulent hotels the vehicles of the wealthy, there is the light of hope shining in the darkness. The people are resilient and not at all impatient with these ferangi who need to learn and receive much more from them than we are to teach and to give.

With hope and confidence,

Larry and Barb Moir

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