Alicia Robey, who will be staying on here in Jimma until next spring, has a gift of letting her heart be broken. An amazing young woman . . .
“Every day for my first week here I kept asking to myself and others, “Where’s Mitiku?” He hadn’t come to school at all, and my students would just wave their index finger back and forth when I inquired about him, saying, “Yellum,” meaning “He’s not here.” I didn’t know what they meant. Mitiku seemed to me to be the most vulnerable of my grade one students last year. He wore the same red and blue toddler-sized snowsuit every day. He struggled very hard when using a pencil – I wasn’t sure if he had held a pencil much before our class – but his dedication to his studies more than compensated for his seeming lack of experience.
Because of this apparent extra vulnerability, I became increasingly more anxious to see him – to see that he was ‘okay.’ Then, as I sat under the shade of a sprawling tree at Missionaries of Charity (a home for hundreds of people who are very ill with HIV AIDS, TB, malaria, etc… or for children who have no family – Mother Teresa’s sisters are the Missionaries of Charity), I met a familiar set of wide, smiling eyes peering out from behind the railings of the stairway that led to the TB unit. The stairway was dark, and I could not see the rest of the child. I thought, “Wow! That kid’s eyes look a lot like Mitiku’s.” I gave a little wave, and immediately a hand poked between the railings and a bright smile flashed. I decided I needed to get closer, so I made my way through the group of children surrounding me, my eyes locked on this child who also decided to descend the staircase and into the courtyard’s bright sun. This young boy looked remarkably like Mitiku and remarkably not like Mitiku. His eyes, his nose, his smile, the shape of his head all said Mitiku, but he was too skinny and uncharacteristically weak.

“Mitiku?” I asked as I crouched down grabbing his little hand. “Alicia,” he whispered. It was him. Both joy and sadness overwhelmed me at once, and we gave each other big hugs and kisses on the cheeks. Here he was!! But why was he here?! Neither of us had enough of each other’s language to ask or explain his presence there. At that moment, it didn’t much matter. We held onto each other for the rest of the afternoon, singing our songs from last summer, counting anything we could find, pointing to objects and saying their names in English, Amharic, and Afaan Oromo, smiling at each other, and sitting in silence… together.

Later that evening, I asked Sr. Buzunesh if she knew anything about Mitiku. Why is he at Missionaries of Charity? She said she wasn’t sure… that she thinks he has TB… she said the unmentioned disease – HIV AIDS – was also a possibility… she’s not sure whether his family is still alive. She’s going to ask around this week. I am terrified of what she might discover. Though M.O.C. is a difficult place to live, as there is a lot of sickness and death, I know that he is in very good, very caring hands. I thank God for this.
I went home that night and cried… I couldn’t cry in front of him… it took all of my strength not to.
If you pray, please remember Mitiku and all those who endure injustice, hunger, illness, isolation, homelessness, and oppression every day of their lives.