One of the main challenges I have faced in changing cultures from America to Ethiopia is the huge difference in pace. Each country operates much like their relative age to one another.
America is some 240 years old, which in terms of Nations, makes her a toddler. She runs frenetically, full of hope and believing the solution to all the worlds’ problems are just around the corner, if only we can get there fast enough. Tom Coughlin, former NY Giants Head Coach, would famously fine players for being “late” if they did not arrive 5 minutes early to team meetings. When catastrophic events happened in Haiti, New Orleans, or Japan we had commercials on the TV screen within a day or two imploring us to text a simple number or word to have a donation added to our phone bill. We raised millions in days… and weeks later assumed the problem was fixed. Facebook knows exactly what I’m talking about, when decisions were made regarding gay rights or when tragedies happened in France, a person could easily click a button to modify their profile picture, fully equipped with a one-week expiry so that by the time it was out of our consciousness we could move on without having to make any changes to our profile picture.
Meanwhile Ethiopia shows up as early as Genesis 10, referred to as Cush, one of the Nations post flood at the time of Noah. Ethiopia was still tracing her leadership lineage back to King Solomon in the 1980s. Yes, that King Solomon, Son of David, writer of Song of Solomon—that guy. Ethiopia is like a community elder. She is slower to react, often more thoughtful. She has been around long enough to see many tragedies come and go from the world’s stage, and she often sits still as other countries frantically try to come up with solutions. Her allegiances are deep and have stood the test of time. She will move when she must, and often not until she must. The prevailing sentiment in Ethiopia during the attacks in Paris was, “let’s not forget our people and the challenges Ethiopia is facing.” This combined with, “where is this attention when Africa is in need?” The response is not indifference, but rather a reminder of deep-seeded values.
Today, in Ethiopia, it is Timkat. It is a celebration of the Epiphany when Jesus was baptized. It is a day when Ethiopians take a break from all that is pressing, to remember a significant event in the make-up of Scripture. It is beautiful, and colorful. It is a time to remember, to put aside hustle and bustle, and to reflect on something more important than the next pressing need. This is one of many such occasions here in Ethiopia. In the past month, there was Gena, a celebration of Jesus’ birth, in a few months, it will be time for Fasika, a celebration of Easter… and there will be many more in between. Life is slow, but meaningful.
This all has been a challenge for me. I am an American. I am used to pushing, laying out a plan, and seeing it out. I am accustomed to seeing a problem, and trying to see out a solution in a matter of days. As I set out to write, submit, and revise our NGO I was certain that mine would be approved quickly. It was well written, and read by many knowledgeable in the field that told me all looked great. However, each Ethiopian official who has read it has both confirmed it as a good document and then proceeded to point out a challenge or two that needed to be thought through, wrestled with, and revised. They are not Americans…. they do not live by a code of ethics that says, “Do your best, make mistakes, and then do better.” No, their ethic is more like, “do it once, do it right, or don’t do it.”
There is much we have to learn from one another. While it grieves me to walk out and see children on the streets here, knowing that is what I am here for, but because my approval has not come through, my hands are tied… It grieves Ethiopians to see Americans walk on their soil, throw their dollars at short sighted Band-Aid plans and walk away, forgetting the wake of hurt and destruction their actions left behind because they did not stop and consider what this means long term. So, while I might say Ethiopia needs a bit of American urgency for the sake of this generation, Ethiopia can respond by telling me that I need to do this right, cause this generation needs not be injured by carelessness and thoughtlessness that sometimes accompanies urgency.
Today, as I plod through yet another revision, trusting we are close to the end, I am reminding myself that there is good in this process.