Sunday, March 17, 2013

Getting past normal

I live in rural East Africa.  People die out here much earlier and much more often than a majority of other places in the world.  Regardless of line of work, location, or poverty level, the regular loss of human life is a very difficult thing to become accustom to.   However it is something that I have come to expect to encounter in my daily life.  Viewing death constructively is something I am working through. 

Since I’ve been in Azedebo, I‘ve noticed that within the average week, the population of around 3,000 buries two of its community members. Often the deaths are violence related, old age, or attributed to one of three types of “malaria” (the last is in quotes because any time someone dies with an elevated temperature it is blamed on mosquitos).   This week was no different.  We lost 3.  A school directors wife to what seems to have been meningitis, a village elder to “old age” at 65, and my neighbors 14 year old son to a Hyena attack in their front yard in the middle of the afternoon. 

Over the last 2 and half years I have worked and lived along-side the communities that benefit from Tesfa/Ethiopia Reads mission.  It can be an incredibly sobering life. Coming from a middle class Midwestern neighborhood where death was the back of my mind, this current life of mine has ushered it to the forefront.   

I believe that in the moment, death is often avoidable.  Fate may exist, but in my mind, we each are largely in control of our own actions in the parameters we exist within.  My life in South Minneapolis, Chicago and New Orleans was at times tumultuous, though the dangers I encountered were for whatever reason searched out.  Danger is relative, and here in Kembata-Tembaro, danger and it’s confidant, death, are so pervasive they have become normalized.   Rural South West Ethiopia’s cards are unfortunately stacked against its people.  Living amongst a population that has a life expectancy hovering around 42 (that number is dragged down by the high rate of death of children under the age of 5) urges a white male from a fortunate upbringing to reflect.

I will be the first to admit that I am an emotionally distant guy.  That’s been one of the key reasons why I have been able to effectively work and live as I do.  At its root, it’s a conscious decision.  My work is based on immersing myself in communities where hardship, poverty, corruption, drought, poor health is ordinary.  There is hope for eventual change, but most concentrate on getting though the day, rather than building for tomorrow.  To function, I actively mentally disengage as much as possible.  I file all of the negativity somewhere in my memory banks, but I strive to concentrate on the beautiful moments.   If I begin to focus on the plethora of negativity, my capacity falters.  So I digest what I can as I encounter it, and continue to move forward.

Sometimes I do stumble.  The avoidable death of a child, with a future largely undecided, is a rough one to side step; especially in incidents involving local fauna and preventable diseases.  That hardened exterior of mine can only do so much. This week I caught myself going through the motions of asking why and even blaming those life parameters.  In time those sentiments faded, and a more constructive approach amassed.  I am finding that the more I assimilate the more I am processing these events as tangible evidence for the dire need of expansion of ER’s work.  In coming years to better enable our beneficiaries, education and healthcare outreach is a start… but in time we can work with the communities and other NGO’s  to better enable our beneficiaries to create more stable and positive lives for themselves and future generations. 

Ekodaga kiddies


  1. Sorry to hear of these most recent losses and how it has touched you. Praying for you and the people of Ethiopia.

    Laurel in MN

  2. Sorry for the losses, Cien. Thanks for the perspective :)

  3. Thank you for the support Jani and Laurel.