Sunday, April 01, 2007

Ethiopia Trip #3

March 25, 2007
I’ve never been this close to poverty. I’ve read about it, I’ve written about it, I’ve seen it on television and in glossy pictures in magazines.

But today, it stood inches from me, separated only by a smudged window in the van I rode in. I didn’t know what to do when a child’s eyes peered into mine, her dirt-caked fingernails scratching at the window. I looked in my lap, at my own clean fingernails, listening to her beg in words that I couldn’t understand. But the message was all too clear.

It appeared again as we waited at a red light on a crowded street This time, as a mother. Her wrinkled brown breast hung out of her blouse, and the baby in her arms reached for it hungrily, his pink tongue bright against her skin. She held out her hands while I stared at the floor.

Over and over, at every stop, one or two would leave their spot in the shade to investigate the rich American. “Begging is bad—you should work for your money,” our Ethiopian friends say as the light turns green and we roll away in a cloud of gray exhaust.

I don’t even know how to close this entry. For the past ten minutes, I have stared out of my window at the darkening sky, waiting for rain. It hasn’t come yet, but when it does, I wonder what all of those people I saw today will do. Will the child play in puddles, allowing the rain to turn the dust on her body to mud?

Will the mother run for cover, shielding her child from the fat raindrops? Will the shade protect the others from the rain the same way it protects them from the sun?

What will I do? Will I stand in the rain, if only for a moment, my hands cupped, catching the rain in them, then letting it trickle to the ground? Or will I hide from the thunder and wind, averting my eyes again?

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