I just finished reading an amazing book: There Is No Me Without You, One Woman's Odyssey to Rescue Africa's Children, by Melissa Fay Greene. My sister-in-law, Shannon, posted a review of this book on her blog, and I had Ian request it from the library right away. It's the story of a courageous, humble woman, Haregewoin Teferra, coupled with many facts about AIDS, Ethiopia, and the orphan crisis. After shedding some tears and having a few laughs, I feel so much closer to my Ethiopian brother and sister-in-law. Here are some of the passages that I felt were worth mentioning:
The Berlin Wall is down, the Iron Curtain has fallen, but it is as if a pulsating wall of strobe lights, televised celebrities, and amplified music has gone up mid-Atlantic or mid-Mediterranean Sea. It is hard to look past the simulated docudramas, television "news magazines," and mock-reality memoirs designed to distract us in a thousand ways while making us feel engaged with true stories. America wrestles with its obesity crisis to such an extent that Americans forget there are worse weight problems on earth than obesity.
All the big action of the household--the scores of healthy children breezing in and out--swept past Ababu like storm winds. He couldn't partake in the life the other children enjoyed, other than to be blown over by it. But he had a small bit of life all his own. When Haregewoin handed him a roll, he gnawed on it. When she scooped him up and showered him with endearments, he purred.
The above excerpt, I felt, really personalized the suffering all over the world. To us, it may seem like an insurmountable task to overcome the poverty, sickness, and suffering in the world. But to that one person, that one child - it is real. That child has a whole life inside of them with thoughts, hopes, and feelings. To group a people and their suffering together, and dismiss it as a whole is impractical and impossible. Because each one lives through each day the same way you and I do: through their own eyes.
HIV-positive and AIDS-afflicted orphans lined up politely to greet Haregewoin. The touch of their parents had survived in the children's beautiful and elaborate names. As each lisped his or her name, Haregewoin fleetingly pictured the mother and father, even the poorest of the poor, inclining their heads above a newborn and conspiring to bestow an extravagant and ambitious name on the baby. Most nonbiblical Ethiopian names have meanings; but the names of these HIV-positive orphans seemed exceptionally poignant.
She met Tidenek(You Are Amazing), and Bizunesh(You Will Become Much), and Asegdom(He Who Makes Others Kneel Before Him).
She shook hands with Mekonnen(Dignitary), and Zerabruk(Descendant of Holiness). Makeda(The Beautiful) had been the name of the Queen of Sheba, and here came a little Solomon as well.
Tadelech meant "She Is Lucky" and Zenash was " Famous." Messaye meant "You Resemble Me" --one couldn't miss the happiness of a mother or a father in that one. Etagegnebu's charming "I Have a Sister!" preserved a moment of family happiness, the rejoicing of a baby's older sibling.
Metekie's very common name, on the other hand, signaled the high infant and child mortality rate, for its bittersweet meaning was "Replacement Child."
Tenagne was "My Health," a touchingly hopeful choice given what must have followed(since Tenagne was now and HIV-positive orphan).
Allefnew's name was almost worse: "We Made It Through the Bad Times."
A scrappy little boy was seen by his parents as a future wheeler-dealer: his name was Million.
In the era of the pandemic, his name took on a different meaning entirely.
As a mother, myself, having the experience of choosing a child's name - this gave me a completely different perspective. Only one of my children's first names has real meaning behind it. However, if my child's name was the last thing I would ever give them, you can bet it would have deep meaning. For some mothers, aside from the gift of life, this might be the only thing they will ever give their children.
One could almost calculate how long a child had been motherless by its diminished cries: a little girl who has lived a long time, even at age two, without individualized attention, wails silently, mouth open wide, tears flowing, yet voiceless. Such a child has learned that full-tilt wailing - of the type that can only be soothed by a mother - takes her down a long road and drops her there out of breath, and she will have to make her own way back, her clean blouse wet and her toy now in the hands of someone else.
Anyone who has been within 100 feet of Mckenna when she cries will be able to see the extreme difference.
Like Haregewoin, Hodes saw the epidemiological data every day, personified. The charts in Geneva, Washington, and Paris showed HIV prevalence in soldiers, babies, and prostitutes. They looked absolutely nothing like the bar graphs, pie charts, and line graphs propped on easels in conference rooms in the northern hemisphere.
This quote is similar in point to the previous passage from page 153. You cannot understand the crises by looking at a chart, reading a book, or sitting in a conference room in a nice, air conditioned conference room in L.A. You must see a child clinging to their dead mother, scrambling for something to eat, huddling together for warmth. You must personalize it because it is not something to be completely understood with out completely experiencing it.
One day, about four months after arriving in Atlanta, Helen collapsed in my arms, suddenly stricken with the memory of her late mother. I held her as she writhed, wailing, "Why she had to die?"
A few moments later, she said between sobs, "I know why she died. She was very sick, and we didn't have the medicine."
"I know," I said. "It's true. I'm so sorry."
By then I was well versed in the AIDS orphan crisis, but it floored me that she captured it with such accuracy, brevity, and grief, more powerfully than any of the thousand pages I had read on the subject.
To really comprehend the meaning of the above, I suggest reading this amazing book. It really helps the reader to understand what HIV is, what AIDS is, and what is or isn't being done to eradicate this awful disease from our world.
What an amazing woman Haregewoin Teferra is, and thank you so much Ms. Greene for your extensive research and softened heart that allowed you to create such an eye-opening literary work. It's not the easiest book to read, and by no means a "quick read." But I would put in it my top 5 books of all time. Please, if you haven't read it...go out and grab yourself a copy. It will change your perspective and be well worth your time.