from Alicia Robey, as she prepares to return home from mission . . . Hello again, everyone. Sorry I “was lost” (that’s what folks say here when I haven’t seen them in a few days. “Alicia, tefash.”… I guess I have been very lost to you all lately… a few ‘updates’ from various friends reminded me of that… truly, I apologize). This will be my last mass email from Jimma this time around, as I am heading back to Minnesota at the end of the month… my visa is about to expire, and I can’t just pop away to Kenya to get it renewed this time. Quite honestly, I can’t believe I’m leaving yet, but every once in awhile when I think about it, tears flood my eyes, my throat tightens up, and I have to pretend like I got dust in my eyes or something, so that mystudents don’t get too concerned. I have a feeling there will be no hiding it when my final day with them comes. In a place where children in giggling voices call out ‘faranji’ (‘foreigner’) when I walk pass, I have truly never felt more at home, which I did nothing“to earn,” but was a gift I gratefully received. I don’t know what my future plans will be in regards to Ethiopia, but I am filled with joy and gratitude for the immense blessing this year has been and for the hundreds of welcoming, loving, gracious, and fun-filled brothers and sisters who have welcomed me into their lives so wholly.
Though I am very, very sad to be leaving, 1) I know this will not be my final time in Jimma (God willing, anyway… which is a huge comfort for me), 2) I’m extremely excited to get to see you all again and to spend a good couple months with the fam!! For folks in Omaha, I hope to make a visit at the end of April or so, and I hope I’ll get to see you, have a little coffee (I’m officially addicted now, I think… I tried to fend it off, but coffee in Ethiopia is too strong of a force…resistance is futile).
Anyway, being the season of Lent, I thought I would share this with you (Matt, you reminded me of this with your story from MLK, Jr. Day…you’ll see why, and I thank you for your beautiful reflection and inspiration). It is actually from one day in October, but I just couldn’t share it then… too much, at the time. It was something I needed to write to cope, I guess.
A Time to Mourn.
Today, as I arranged the materials in my classroom before my students rushed in carrying their chairs, Chu Chu (the lead teacher at our school) appeared in the doorway with an uncharacteristic somber look on her face. She told me that one of our students died over the weekend and asked if I would visit his family after the morning session with them. I nodded, in shock over what I had just heard on this ordinary, beautiful morning… in shock over what I had just agreed to do – visit a family that just lost a 4-year old son… in utter disbelief that Tameru would never again run around with his friends chasing a soccer ball again… never kiss his parents good night again…never know what life beyond 4 years is.
Visits like this shouldn’t have to be made. Death at such a young age should not occur, particularly from preventable or treatable diseases. Tameru had TB, and though his parents, the teachers, and the sisters all made sure he was treated in the hospital, no one knew it had invaded his liver until it was too late. Saturday night after he instinctively called to his parents to be near him as he fell asleep, he slipped from this world into the next.
As the five of us walked towards his home, I thought nervously about what I would say. I don’t enough of the regional language… no, I don’t know enough of any language to, in any way, express my sadness or condolences to a mother and father who had just buried their only child, the light of their lives. There are no words.
Immediately upon crossing the threshold of the ‘mourning house’ (a canvas tent set up outside the family’s house, used for the reason it is named for a period of 2 weeks or more), the four other teachers I was with burst into tears. I quietly found a place to sit and waiting uncomfortably for someone to say something… to try to comfort his parents, who cry fresh tears with each new visitor for days on end.
After listening to loud, mournful wails with my head in my hands,tears welling up in my eyes, I realized nothing would be said, for nothing could be said. This was a place and a time to mount. So, I said nothing and I cried. I cried for Tameru and his family… for his young classmates who lost a friend – another person gone from their lives – another life lost to poverty. I cried for the millions of children who needlessly lose their lives to preventable diseases… to starvation… to abuse… to war… to a world that too often doesn’t seem to care whether they live or die. I cried for all those who have no-one left to mourn for them.
Wails turned into sniffles. Hands were held silently in solidarity. Handkerchiefs and shirt sleeves blotted tear-stained cheeks. We left as we came in – without a word.
On our way back to school – back to teaching about letters, colors,numbers – we stopped at a water spigot. As she cupped her hands and water pooled in them, Chu Chu explained, “In Ethiopia, after we cry,we wash our faces. It is our culture.” As I bent to do the same, I thought: “There is a time to cry. And then, there is a time to gather ourselves and walk together, working to combat the reasons for our tears.” With a renewed conviction, I walked towards our schoolyard filled with eager students.
Maybe now it is too early in Lent to be speaking of resurrection, but truly can’t help it… I need that hope to ‘get through’ Lent. I know Easter Sunday is coming… and whether that means I can once again eat M& Ms or my that attempts at ‘sin fasting’ (as some folks describe it here) will bear some fruit, however meager, I live with that hope. We all do, right? In the Christian tradition, we know how the story ends, so to speak. We know that we’ll find the tomb empty on Easter Sunday.
But sometimes, in daily life, when Lent and Easter are not particularly on my mind, I sometimes struggle to have such hope and faith… maybe because I don’t know how the story will progress… for the mother who is courageously, gracefully battling HIV and doing all she can for her young daughter, who she knows she will not see to adulthood… for the brilliant university student who is scraping by working nights to pay fees, hoping for a job in an economy where even the highly educated struggle to find work. How will their stories progress?
Again, I find myself a student, learning from so many teachers here. here. Every day I witness people ‘practicing resurrection,’ and hope is renewed.
I’ll leave you with this poem by Wendell Berry that was introduced tome back at Creighton (thanks, Dr. B!). I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.
Peace, love, and hope to you all.
here’s the poem:
The Mad Farmer Liberation Front
by Wendell Berry
Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion – put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.