In 1990, for the first half of ninth grade, I lived in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Ethiopia is a fascinating, beautiful country with even more beautiful people--people full of grace and dignity that is not seen anywhere else. Its history goes back thousands of years; it even has links to King Solomon, and it is the only African country to have successfully resisted foreign rule.
However, in 1990, Ethiopia was being ruled by a tyrant, and the city was full of horrifying things for a 13-year-old girl to see, even one who had already spent many years in Africa.
There were sections of the city where the islands in the middle of the road, usually covered with carefully manicured grass and flowers in developed countries, had been turned into toilets. Except without the toilets. On a regular basis, you would see dozens of people--men and women--doing their business on the patches of dirt in the middle of the road. The smell was so bad that we always had to put our car windows up.
Beggars and homeless lined the streets. Of course, to a certain degree, this is common in Africa, but usually (as in Tanzania), the beggars are only adult disabled people (which is horrifying enough, of course.) But in Ethiopia in 1990, the beggars were children. They were filthy, in rags, and covered with disease.
I remember once I was waiting in our car while my parents ran into a store for something. Two small children came up to my window with their hands outstretched. The older one, who couldn't have been more than six years old, had one eye that looked at if it had grown five sizes too big. It protruded out of the eye socket and sort of hung there, limp. Flies covered it. And if the burden that this small child was forced to carry was not enough, she held the hand of an even smaller child.
That image has stayed in my memory for my whole life. I believe it's one of the things that compelled me back to Africa. One does not see such a thing with her own eyes and not be profoundly affected for the rest of her life.
And yet, in 1990, this was before the AIDS pandemic hit Ethiopia like a tsunami. So for those children on the street? Things just got worse.
Today? "81 percent of Ethiopia's people live on less than two dollars a day, and 26 percent live on less than a dollar a day, the marker of absolute poverty in the world."
"By 2010, between twenty-five million and fifty million African children, from newborn to age fifteen, would be orphans. In a dozen countries, up to a quarter of the nation's children would be orphans."
We are adopting from Ethiopia. And our agency asked us to read this book:
There is No Me Without You is part biography of one Ethiopian women's quest to save the orphans of her country, and part history of the AIDS orphan crisis throughout Africa.
It is a deeply moving story and I highly recommend it.
"On dirt floors, in shacks and huts across beautiful Ethiopia, children sat cross-legged together, quietly starving. Experts dubbed them, 'child-headed households.' UNICEF noted that the 'survival strategy' of the child-headed households was 'eating less.'"
However, I need to warn you before you pick up this book:
If you are positive you would never want to pursue orphan adoption, then you should not read this book.
If you want to remain complacent about the orphan crisis in the world, then do not read this book.
Because I promise you, this book will completely turn your world upside down, as you sit in your bed weeping at midnight, unable to put it down.
"Mekdes soon told her [adoptive] mother [Mikki] about the day her aunts took her to [the orphanage]. 'Yabsira cry a little. I am scream.'
'Why did you cry, baby?' asked Mikki.
'I don't know this Ethiopia. I want my Ethiopia with [Grandfather] and Fasika. I don't want new Ethiopia.'
'You were sad,' said Mikki.
'No hope, Mommy. I have no hope.'
'Because no one told me, Mommy.'
'Told you what?'
'That you are here in America. I will not feel so sad if I know you are here.'
'Yeah, I was here getting ready, getting your rooms ready. I was here, me and your daddy, waiting and getting ready.'
'I am cry because I don't know you will coming.'
Of course, for most of Africa's ten million, fifteen million, twenty million orphans, no one is getting a room ready. No one will come."
(I need to add one other comment if you do decide to read the book. Though the author gives powerful and convincing data regarding the history of AIDS and ARVs in Africa, I do believe she is somewhat one-sided. I am not an expert, but I do wish she had been more fair in her approach to patents and ARV's, and especially given more time to applaud the work of President Bush's PEPFAR program, which really has made a significant difference in Africa.)