Friday, August 28, 2009

Book recommendation: There Is No Me Without You

"(In 2000) I read, for the first time, the United Nation's description of Africa as 'a continent of orphans.' ...More than thirteen million children had been orphaned, twelve million of them in sub-Saharan Africa. ...Who was going to raise twelve million children? Who was teaching twelve million children how to swim? Who was signing twelve million permission slips for school field trips? Who packed twelve million school lunches? Who cheered at twelve million soccer games? ...Who will tell twelve million bedtime stories? ... Twelve million birthday parties? Who will wake in the night in response to 18 million nightmares?

"... Who will pass on to them the traditions of culture and religion, of history and government, of craft and profession? ... Well, as it turns out, no one. Or very few. There aren't enough adults to go around. Although in the Western industrialized states HIV/AIDS has become a chronic condition rather than a death sentence, in Africa a generation of parents, teachers, principals, physicians, nurses, professors, spiritual leaders, musicians, poets, bureaucrats, coaches, farmers, bankers and business owners are being erased." ~Melissa Fay Greene

File this under "If you're not angry, you're not paying attention." Before we left for Ethiopia in May, Justin, the director of Life In Abundance International, suggested I read the book There Is No Me Without You: One Woman's Odyssey to Rescue Africa's Children. I tried to hurry through it, and even packed the hardback, hefty 470 page book with me to Addis Ababa, but just finished it this week. It's a compelling read, full of facts that engage and enrage you, but humanized by the individual stories of the main subject, the author and her experiences, and the children and people of Ethiopia.

From Publisher's Weekly: "Journalist Melissa Fay Greene explores the AIDS pandemic and an unlikely woman who became a local savior — in Ethiopia with candor, insight and personal attachment in There is No Me Without You: One Woman's Odyssey to Rescue Africa's Children.

"Not unlike the AIDS pandemic itself, the odyssey of Haregewoin Teferra, who took in AIDS orphans, began in small stages and grew to irrevocably transform her life from that of "a nice neighborhood lady" to a figure of fame, infamy and ultimate restoration. In telling her story, journalist Greene who had adopted two Ethiopian children before meeting Teferra, juggles political history, medical reportage and personal memoir."

The heroine Haregewoin, who passed away suddenly in March of this year, is not a Mother Teresa figure. She is joyful, frustrated and troubled and finds trouble with the government, and she could not turn away a hungry, needy or sick child.

"But calling a good person a saint is just another way to try to explain extraordinary behavior," Greene writes. "She must be sick! She must be righteous! Whatever she is, she's moving on a different plane of existence from the rest of us, which means we are off the hook. Since most of us onlookers are neither one nor the other -- neither saints nor survivors -- no one will expect us to intervene."



Dionne Sincire said...

wow! as my pastor says in church...the message steps on my toes. i'm looking into the mirror, and not liking the reflection.

Rebecca Snavely said...

Dionne - Thanks for sharing, I love the metaphor in that phrase steps on my toes. The passage about parenting broke me, how much I took for granted all the bedtime stories and bikerides with my parents, and is an example of how this book and the stories within make the overwhelming statistics personal.

Dionne Sincire said...

to add to your reflection, i was thinking about not having all of those things and still having it "good" compared to the life many of these children have. reminds me of an african proverb i used to complain about not having shoes, until i met the man with no feet. it makes me wonder why i don't do more to help out.