Friday, July 17, 2009

Paying for an operation

Workenesh recruited her friend, Belianesh, to cook for Sosi and me. Belianesh used to cook for Swedish and German missionary families who lived at the Synod here years ago. They are gone now and Belianesh needs the job as much as we need her fabulous culinary skills. She cooks better than me or my mother or even my German grandmother! She can make a salad from shredded carrots and lime juice that’s better than a dessert. Her fried meat, potatoes baked with cheese and cream, red beets and onions – everything she touches magically becomes the best meal I’ve ever eaten. We hired her only to make supper, thinking we could make our own breakfast and eat lunch at the Synod tea house. After our first day of not so wonderful shiro (sort of a porridge) at the tea house, we asked Belianesh to add lunch to our menu at the guest house.

She comes early each morning, before we are up, makes my coffee, starts scrambled eggs and toast for Sosi and oatmeal for me. She buys the groceries and carries them the long distance to the guest house, although I’ve given her money for a taxi. She and Sosi have fallen in love with each other. They talk all morning and afternoon when we’re not in class. She leaves our supper in the oven or on the stove topand we miss her presence with us at that meal.

I was trying to figure out how much more I should pay her over our previously agreed upon amount, which is not nearly enough for all she is doing for us, when Sosi told me that Belianesh needs an operation. She brought her X-rays for us to see and I’m pretty sure it’s kidney stones. There’s no hospital in Hosanna that can handle this. She told us she went to three hospitals in Addis Ababa before she found the least expensive one. She has saved 3500 birr and needs 1500 more. When I told her I could pay her that much, she cried and “God blessed” me until I was embarrassed. I am embarrassed that I can afford to give her this amount of money while she has had to work and worry about money all her life. She says she will pay me back and I have to convince her she has earned it.

I am frequently asked to help someone who needs money. Most of the people I meet, adults and children, are in need. At Nekemt and here at Hosanna, the Directors of the youth hostels where hundreds of orphans are housed and educated, I was asked if I could find a sponsor in America to fund the hostels because their German sponsor is quitting next June. They gave me a copy of their proposals which read like so many others I have seen. Somewhere on the internet there must a “boiler plate” proposal form that all NGO’s (non-governmental organizations) follow to request money. They are so similar, I could write one for them: statistics on poverty, lack of resources, need for food, housing, education, employment, women’s rights, medical care, transportation. Just fill in the blanks with your needs, desires, and dollar amount requested. Surely Americans can fund these, they all think; Americans have more than enough money. No one believes me when I tell them millions of Americans are poor; ten percent are unemployed, churches shelter the homeless, and food is given out to families. No one believes me. At our going away dinner in Hosanna, an elder who had just returned from studying in England, gave a long after-dinner speech, directed only at me, saying how Europeans and Americans should all contribute $500 to help a poor family in Ethiopia. $500 would purchase a donkey and a cart so the man or woman could earn a living transporting heavy loads for others. It sounds so simple and reasonable to him. Yet how many people do I know who could or would send $500 to an unknown family in a far away country? I think about all the hours and effort and emotional strain Tsehai Wodajo puts into recruiting REAL sponsors and administering this program with the help of her Board. She is one of that rare breed of men and women who care so deeply for others that she will give her life to help them. But who else is like her? I don’t believe I will be able to help this man buy donkeys and carts, or find a foundation to fund the hostels, or pay the college tuition of a bright young man who has no family or money, or send a very ill girl to America for the special medical care she needs. And even if I fulfilled all the requests that are made of me, there would be hundreds more waiting.