Friday, June 15, 2012

A Boy's Life in the Country

Both of the boys were born and raised in the country. Farming was the family's mainstay, supplemented by other means of earning income. Both young lads grew up enjoying soccer, playing with friends and exploring. But despite the similarities, their lives could not have been more different. You see, I was one of those boys, raised in an apple orchard in the beautiful Okanagan Valley of British Columbia, Canada. The other boy, Abdisa, now 11 years old, was growing up in a small village in rural Ethiopia, where he, his mother and siblings live in a mud-and-manure-caked home built out of sticks. Abdisa is a World Vision child sponsored by my family whom I had the privilege of visiting while in Ethiopia.
Abote is a village located off a gravel road approximately 3 hours north of Addis Ababa. I had asked numerous Ethiopian people where this village was, but no one seemed to know except the local World Vision staff who took us there. It was obvious when we arrived in Abote that white visitors are not a common sight. After a short briefing at the World Vision compound, where the dedicated staff work and live in order to serve the struggling community, we drove to the edge of town where Abdisa lived. It was obvious from the huge smile and enthusiastic greeting (three kisses on alternate cheeks) that Abdisa's mother was very pleased to see us for the anticipated visit. Abdisa himself, and his brother and sister, were somewhat shy and reserved until our visit became more comfortable.
We were invited into the small house that had been constructed by Abdisa's mother, and of which she was very proud. It had been made possible due to the fact that World Vision had through a micro-finance program been able to loan her money, which she used to engage in trading that the local market. It was made of sticks gathered from the surrounding area, inserted in the ground and then woven so that the windowless walls stood about 2 m high, making a 3 m x 3 m square. The stick walls were then covered in a mixture of mud and manure that had hardened, and the floor was made of the same mixture, but remained somewhat soft. Seating and sleeping was accommodated on a mud/manure ledge around the perimeter a few inches off the floor of the small room. The family's belongings were hung in plastic bags on hooks around the room. The only modern device in the hut was a single lightbulb. Cooking and other domestic chores took place in a small, covered area next to the home. After some initial introductions and speeches, I gave Abdisa the gift I had purchased for him, a soccer ball (together with the pump to ensure it would not become useless upon deflation). He lit up with a smile, his dark brown eyes sparkling, and like any boy his age immediately wanted to play.
While Abdisa, his siblings and friends (a crowd having gathered), and I kicked the ball around the small yard, his mother disappeared into the cooking shelter, stoked the fire, and put on a kettle in which to make coffee. She had insisted that we stay, and we were compelled not to rebuff her hospitality despite the fact that we were well aware she would be using supplies that had been expensive for her to purchase. Having displayed my excessively rusty soccer skills with Abdisa and his friends, I retreated inside to enjoy some very strong Ethiopian coffee, complete with a significant helping of sugar, which had already been added. In addition, she passed around a tray of round, flat bread, a piece of which we all took and ate. The remaining bread she freely gave to all those that had gathered to observe this unusual occasion.
Surprisingly, I was not overwhelmed by the poverty, the simplicity of life for Abdisa and his family, nor the lack of what we would consider necessaries. What brought tears to my eyes was the happiness evident in Abdisa’s mother's face, the relative contentedness the family seemed to share, and the appreciation they expressed. Despite their marginal living circumstances, they expressed no greed or sense of expectation. In fact, while we spent approximately 5 hours in the village, exploring the work that was being done by World Vision, no one approached us to beg or ask for anything, not even children wanting candy or money like in the city.
Carson and I were moved to do what we could to improve the lot of Abdisa's family. So, for a relatively small sum, we were able to purchase a goat for them to improve their farming self-sufficiency, as well as a new pair of sandals to replace Abdisa's obviously worn-out footwear and money to enable a bigger loan through the micro-finance process in order to provide Abdisa's mother with more capital to make more money in her trading business. It was a small thing to do (under $150), but we believed it would make a difference in their world.
As we left the village that day, driving to our overnight accommodation back on the main highway 30 km from Abote, I thought about my own childhood and how it differed from that of Abdisa. I had experienced and been provided so many opportunities. So many people had contributed to making my life relatively easy. It was not just the relative economic disparity, but the attitude appreciation I found in Abote. Somehow, Western society (me included) has become rich, and yet prone to complain and be unhappy. At the same time, Abdisa and his family have accepted a hard life of relative poverty without grievance. Why is that?

1 comment:

  1. Do you think Abdisa thinks of himself as poor and impoverished? Doesn't real joy come from essential relationships, which he seems to have with his mother, etc., and not from things? I'm not trying to rationalize and I am not saying he should not be given more opportunities but wouldn't it be a tragedy to have him lose what he has to gain what so many think he needs? These are just questions provoked from your beautifully written story.