Sunday, July 10, 2011


So many of my experiences in Ethiopia were of the kind that "you had to have been there." On the other hand, so many of my peers now suspect or accuse me of such dark pessimism, and they just don't know, so feeble as they may be I will make some attempts.

"Sitaka" means "gift" in our language. This was the name of the live-in servant girl of the family where I stayed on my first trip. Yes, there is that dirty little secret that the National Geographic and all of the "save an orphan" organizations do not want you to find out, namely, that most of the middle class in Ethiopia have live-in servants.

She must have been around seventeen. The occupation is a major alternative for a young woman who does not accept an early marriage (choices of schooling and other occupations are very limited.) She worked from around sunup to around sundown, seven days a week. Her pay consisted of her own little room, and food, the same as the
family, and a stipend equal to $20/month.
She had all sorts of activities and it seemed to me that she was always busy. She prepared most of the meals and she washed the dishes afterwards. There was a single faucet in the back yard, the extent of the running water in the compound. She did the dishes in the sun and let the brightness dry them. She swept out the entire compound every day. She fed the chickens and the cat. She washed all of the laundry, bending over two large pans on the ground that looked like the bottoms of oil drums, hung it on the line to dry, pulled it in before evening. She owned two sets of faded, raggedy dark outfits that she alternated; those were probably all
her possessions in the whole world.

Sitaka turned my whole understanding of the world completely upside down, as I spent weeks and weeks watching her, interacting lightly. She never worked hard but always went easily, lightly to her tasks. She sang, usually softly, sometimes more loudly, while she bustled about. She played, with Tadios, with the chickens, with the cat. She was ALWAYS smiling, she was ALWAYS happy; Nagast even said about her that she was the happiest person that he even knew.

This simple truth, that we tell each other, in church, and to our young people and in our greeting cards and our little sermons to one another, but none of us believe it for a moment and no one would dream of giving up anything they had to attain what she has ... but that is what you have to do, that is all you can do, put down your own stuff and trust in the Lord, and thank Him constantly
for everything He gives you. There is no other way to happiness.
If that is really what you want.

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