I’ve always been a doer, and if someone gets in the way of my to-do list, you better watch out – you will be trampled on. This way of thinking and living is not realistic in Ethiopia. I naturally embraced the doer mentality present in America. I struggle to change this attitude because it only causes frustration here in Ethiopia; plus, it’s really not the reason I am here. Yes, we have a lot of surgeries to get done at CURE Ethiopia. I have a lot of student nurse anesthetists to teach and train. A fair amount of administrative duties come my way. Chris, my husband, has just as many responsibilities here, and adds more daily. Despite all of these tasks that await us and continue to build and expand the longer we are here, we have come to realize that these things are not the reason for being here. Ultimately the reason for being here is building relationships – living dependent and intermingled lives with others.
It’s not about coming to the CURE hospital each morning, brushing past the awaiting patients and families, and getting to work. The greeting I give these people, the hugs and handshakes with the children, are just as important as starting their IV’s and giving them the anesthesia necessary for their surgeries. Asking my co-workers how they are and taking time to truly listen to their answers is just as important as getting to the day’s business. Drinking a cup of coffee is better done in the break room while engaging in conversation than staring at my computer screen, as I am often tempted to do. In Ethiopian culture, coffee is rarely drunk alone. It is a social institution, meant to be done with others. I am shouting “foreigner” whenever I take my coffee to my computer instead of drinking with others.
CURE Ethiopia couldn’t function as we do without relationships – relationships with our community and with other organizations. One children’s home we work with very closely provides care, a place to stay, food, and a loving environment for many of our patients before and after surgery, so that they can stay in the city where the hospital is until all the cast changes and rehab are done. We have many of these relationships throughout the city, everyone helping each other.
The reasons for community living here are many. Well, first of all, you can’t look in a phone book or on the internet to figure out where to find something – you’re only option is to ask people where something may be found. You can’t call a place and get any kind of business done. You have to go to wherever and meet people in person to accomplish anything. It may mean multiple trips to a place to get a simple task done – but that’s just how it is. Pretty much everything happens face to face. Another reason for the community living, I think, is that life is too difficult here to be lived in isolation. Everyone needs everyone else in order to survive, and certainly to thrive. Most, if not all, Ethiopians belong to several different groups of people (through work or neighborhoods or church) that take monthly communal collections of money. They pay in a certain amount each month, and take turns getting the pot once a year in order to make a big purchase, such as a cell phone. Most also pay into a pot that goes to pay for funerals of loved ones that die within that particular community of payees. They rely on each other in order to save for these big events. It is very common for neighbors, friends, and relatives all to chip in for needed medical procedure or surgeries. There is virtually no such thing as a credit card here. Going to a shop is a social event, involving multiple greetings and much small talk. Anything else would be considered exceptionally rude. When calling someone, I am tempted always to say hello and get on to business. But here, you must first ask how the person is, how their family is, how their day is before you get to the reason you called.
I am thankful for this lesson that Ethiopians have taught me. I am still learning, in fact. But I do realize more than ever that the reason we are all on this planet is to be in relationship with others and affect their lives somehow in a positive way. There is nothing we can bring out of this life to heaven with us, other than other folks. That’s it. Everything else — all the stuff and events and pure busyness we clutter our lives with — is for naught.
Originally posted at: http://ethiopia.thebernards.org/2012/08/21/relational-living/.