Encountering Real Poverty

I am more interested than the average person in global poverty.  I don’t know why, but it fascinates me.  I like to read about it.  I like to meet people from poor countries.  I like to watch documentaries about it.  I knew I would see it first hand on this trip, and I knew it would be hard to see, but I thought I was prepared for that.

I wasn’t.  Nothing can prepare you to see half-naked bodies lying on the side of the road, not sure if they’re alive or dead.  Nothing can prepare you to see an emaciated looking old woman being pushed in a wheelchair, putting her hand right on your car window, her empty eyes looking into your affluent eyes.  Nothing can prepare you to see hundreds kids out on the street on a weekday afternoon when they should be in school, hearding goats whose ribs are sticking out. Perhaps these things would be easier if they were things we saw once.  But they weren’t isolated. Poverty is rampant here, poverty like I’ve never seen before.  It’s hit me and it’s hit me hard.

I guess I was expecting to see it when we traveled to the village, but I was not expecting it to be so prevalent in the capital city.  Ethiopia is a relatively stable country, but it is still very obviously poor.  Most of the streets are paved, but everywhere else is dirt.  There’s no grass, few trees.  This means the air is constantly dusty, making the city feel dirty.  There seems to be no zoning, no rich part of town.  Cars are overloaded and thousands of people are walking everywhere.  We drove past houses that were literally tin sheds.  Right in the middle of the capital city.

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I’m naturally a glass-half-full type of girl.  I like to focus on the positive.  I like to set goals and focus on the steps it takes to achieve them.  I’ve only lived in a world where if you set your mind to it, anything is possible.  But what happens when it’s not?  What happens when no matter how hard you work, no matter how many right steps you take, no matter how high you set your goals- you can’t move forward?  What happens when your government is so corrupt, when your family is so poor, when the odds are so against you that you’re just stuck in your shitty situation?

Hard work means nothing without opportunity.

That’s reality for so many people.  For the majority of people in this ugly world.

And I don’t know how to process that.  How can I live my life with my granite countertops and my 2 cars and my never-ending water supply and ignore the struggles of BILLIONS?  I can’t.  But I don’t know what the answer is. I don’t know what the final goal is or what the steps to achieve that goal are. 

And that’s enough to drive a type-A goal-driven girl like myself crazy.  It puts me in a weird place:  Unable to live my life while pretending real poverty does not exist, but unsure what to do about it.  If I gave away every penny I owned, I’d be miserable and the world would barely notice a difference.  That’s not the answer.  Feeling guilty about the things I enjoy (assuming I’m a responsible consumer and spend my money wisely) isn’t the answer either.

I think answering those questions will be a lifelong journey, not something I figure out overnight. Maybe I never will.

But for this holiday season, I’m just going to praise God for my countless blessings.  Not just for my family and friends and clothes and health and home and car and job.  But also for stoplights and lane markers in the street.  For toilets that flush fully, for an abundant supply of toilet paper, for hot water and stand up showers.  For education.  For being born in a country that provides food for the poor, subsidized housing, great infrastructure, and freedoms-no matter how inefficient the government can be.  For being born to parents who love me and provided for me.  For having my needs so fully met that I can spend my time worrying about buying organic vs. conventional, Apple vs. Android, Disney World vs. Yellowstone.

God, I am so lucky, thank you.

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Filed under Ethiopia, First adoption trip, God

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