It’s not until you find a man, tucked into the picturesque folds of an Ethiopian mountainside, threshing Barley by hand, a veritable scene straight from the Bible, that you realize exactly what it takes to feed a family in the rural areas of a third world country.
And it’s not until the day after you return, the one on which you trek to the grocery store to replenish the stocks your children and husband ravenously devoured while you were gone, that you realize how very far removed it is from what it takes to feed your own.
At one point last year, during one of many perusals in a local antique shop, I found a tattered and worn cook and home-keeping book. Its cover was long gone, the spine so used and abused not a word could be made out. On the top page there was a drawing of a sheep, and as I flipped through those beneath it I found more; of cows and deer and pigs and birds and fruits and the proper ways to set a table.
I bought it for the pictures, I had planned to frame them, but as I read through it at home I began to realize how old it really was. Well more than a century and a half had passed since its publication. And yet, the methods by which I was able to date it were product mentions within the text. Not handmade bowls and twig brooms and the value of a breeze in removing chaff, but store-bought products. Canning jars and tea pots and ladies journals.
It’s not until you find a man, tucked into the picturesque folds of an Ethiopian mountainside, using twig brooms and the power of a light breeze to feed his family that you realize how far behind the agricultural practices of an entire country really are. It’s not until you stand there, thinking of a book you bought at an antique store for its novelty, and realizing how very advanced its contents would be for the people here, that you realize the amount of lag is measured in thousands of years, not hundreds.
Which is something we Americans would probably find rather quaint, if only it were a choice, if only more than forty percent of the country’s children were not so chronically malnourished they will never mentally and physically recover.
I asked him how much Barley he’d thresh in an average day. In Amharic and gestures he responded; each day he’d thresh just one of the four or five piles that surrounded him. From the looks of the result, the final product was less than a bushel. Less than a bushel a day.
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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.