This post has been sitting in draft for weeks, since the first days I was home, but I’ve struggled to form the words around the picture that I’ve wanted to share with you most of all.
She was the single most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen in my life at a time when I was curling up on hotel beds and sitting out under the Ethiopian stars discussing the future of Africa with a supermodel. It was only fitting that beneath all the layers of fabric would also be one of the most stunning babies in the world.
Over her left eye, wrapped around to the outer edge, was a ball the size of the baby’s fist. A hazard of the job, though it took nothing from her beauty she compulsively shielded it with her hand. We met at her place of work; the side of a mountain, overlooking the Ethiopian country side, the same place I met and photographed the man threshing barley at the rate of just one bushel a day.
She is a business owner, along with several other women from her community, who scrimped and saved to front 50% of the start up costs for a beekeeping operation. The other half came in the form of grants and now they tend their bees — often with babies on their backs — twenty-four hours per day, seven days per week. It’ll take a year to produce their first harvest.
And this is the part where her beauty became so much more than skin deep, our connection became so much more than woman and woman, mother and mother; the part where the line between me and her, them and us, here and there, virtually disappeared; the part where the world opened up right there on the spot and the snarled core that entangles us all was revealed.
I don’t remember which member of our delegation asked, but I will never forget the very moment when, as the translator was relaying the question to the women of Sene Mariam Beekeeping Group, they all lit up. Quiet chatter coursed through their group, every woman sat up a little straighter, and the passion in their eyes grew by leaps and bounds. Sometimes, in answering questions there would be a pause as they decided what to tell us, but there was no pause this time. “The men,” the translator relayed, “normally do all of the trading at market, but because this is our product, we will take.” And as the women in our own group, — most of which are business owners themselves, some of whom work in decidedly male dominated fields — all reacted with gasps and cheers and the kind of uncontrollable smiles that spread from ear to ear and force even your eyebrows up in a display of elation, there was an intangible, but very real connection forged. A connection that I’ve had tremendous difficulty trying to put into words.
Tremendous difficulty, until I read a post by Cathleen Falsani, a salt-of-the-earth woman who happened to be my roommate during part of the time we were in Ethiopia. She wrote on Sojourners about the speech Bono, co-founder of ONE, gave earlier this month at Georgetown University, and towards the end she included this quote from him:
“…when you truly accept that those children in some far off place in the global village have the same value as you — in God’s eyes or even just in your eyes — then your life is forever changed. You see something that you can’t unsee.”
It only fully occurred to me after returning that those momentary connections, the tiny things that pulled me in, were always at the very moments where I could see the sameness in us all washing over the faces of the people — women, men, children — sitting across from me. Pride, hope, motivation, ownership, identity; these were the things that washed over the women that day. Just as I’d watched passion and fiery injustice wash over the face of a man at dinner a few nights later and was drawn to him the same way.
You see something you can’t unsee. You feel something you can’t unfeel. You learn that we are all one.
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I just returned from traveling in Ethiopia as an expense-paid guest of the ONE Campaign to report on how American-supported programs are improving and saving lives. ONE is a non-partisan organization that fights extreme poverty and preventable disease by pressing political leaders to support smart programs that do just that. They’re also launching a new initiative to focus specifically on Agriculture, which is where I’m most excited to join in. ONE doesn’t ask for your money, just your voice. It’s something I can get behind and I hope you can, too.