Dispatch from Ethiopia by Suzanne Bates Mueller

A Tale of Two Africas

The Africa we have seen has been a study in contrasts. We have encountered both ends of the spectrum from the rural to the resort and it's hard to reconcile how they sit side by side. As I write, I am surrounded by a picturesque lake that rivals anything I've seen in the mountains of North Carolina. Music is piped into the restaurant while I sip a Diet Coke....with ice. My nails have been polished at the spa. I've sipped champagne; and my room is as breathtaking as my honeymoon suite in the Caribbean. But this Africa, the Kuriftu resort in Debre Zeit, is an anomaly. A shiny bauble in this gritty country of extreme poverty and poor infrastructure.

Rewind 4 days ago. We deplaned in Gambela and took a 4 hour van ride to cover the 61 mile distance (as a crow flies) to Dembi Dollo on dirt roads. And not smooth dirt roads. The kind of muddy, rutted roads that shake the fillings in your teeth. We arrive in Dembi Dollo to the stares of folks who rarely see a white person, much less 11 of them. The children are enthralled and wave and yell, "Ferengi! Ferengi!" (foreigner) or "Hello! How are you?" And they stare. Many of the older folks were a little cooler in their reception. They stared too. The students we visited at the BESS school were warm. But they stared. I have never felt so conspicuous about not fitting in.

And we stared too. We stared at our hotel that lacked flushing toilets and running water, and only had electricity when the generator ran from 7-10 P.M. We stared at homes that were made of branches and maybe a sheet of aluminum. We stared at the donkeys and goats that feel as at home in the middle of the road or on a front doorstep as they would in a pasture. We tried NOT to stare at the most beautiful children you've ever seen who may only wear 1/2 a shoe with their stained and grimy clothing. But we were looking deep into the face of abject poverty.

We wonder how to reconcile these two sides of Africa. The contrast I've described was between two different locations. But you can see it all in Addis Ababa as well. We struggle with what kind of response we can make that would be meaningful. Can we do anything that would even be a drop in the proverbial bucket of change for Dembi Dollo, most especially for the BESS school.

The easy answer is "yes". We can certainly provide money for scholarships, work on their dormitories, send textbooks, etc.... As a church we will explore those ideas in the days and months to come. But perhaps the more important question for us as individuals is what we take back for change in our ownlives. That's an answer that will take time and reflection.

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