Saturday, February 5, 2011

Freedom is in the eyes

I know very little of the similarities and differences between Egypt and Ethiopia—political, social, economic or otherwise.  I understand a scant history of Ethiopia’s political system and nothing of Egypt’s—other than the ancient days of pyramids and pharaohs.  But, I recognize the ‘look’.  An oppressed place filled with an oppressed people, not free to make their own way.  I brought that ‘look’ home with me in the eyes of my Ethiopian children.  I’ve lived the past year and a half working to erase the chicanery of a government which leaves it’s people staring through hopeless eyes, destined to live out some level of victimization.  It makes me cussing angry.
The images of Egypt remind me of a place I once visited.   Not the mobs of people throwing rocks, hanging off tanks or being run through by government vehicles—well, maybe the last one is similar, as far as chaotic traffic goes.   It’s the streets.  Dirty, confused, seemingly random.  It’s the buildings.  Either crumbling, concrete or dated to the ‘70’s with wires strung haphazardly, leaving me to wonder of the percentage of electrical accidents per year.  It’s the age of the people.  Young.  Where are the elderly-- those with the wisdom to impart to the younger generations, guiding them in the way they should go? 

But, in Egypt, people refuse to be oppressed by a corrupt government any longer.  They know of freedom; it bubbles to the surface despite all efforts against it.  However, I wonder, how will they get there?  All this talk of revolution, but what about reform?  What is the plan?  Who holds the keys to securing a system of government which bends to the will of the people, rather than the people bending to the will of the government? 
Why do I care so much?

Barely two countries to the south is the land I visited.  A land so filled with potential, fruitfulness and beautiful people.  And I walked out of that land with two of its children because somehow the richness of the land isn’t fully available to it’s own citizens to flourish and prosper.  Yes, Ethiopia has suffered drought and disease.  But, what of the government, which holds its people by marionette strings, manipulating their moves, under the guise of compassion and benevolence, not allowing them to rise up from such hardships as free individuals collectively seeking a better way?

While in Ethiopia, our group happened to cross paths with the ET president.  He was leaving the same restaurant we were about to enter.  It was almost bizarre; one of our guides said, “Oh look, that’s our president.”  Whose president? I questioned.  The president of your company?  The president of this region?  Surely not the president of the country!  “Yes.  That’s the one.”  He was leaving the restaurant, surrounded by men in suits, smiling happily at us and waving.   He had a gentle face.  A paternal smile.  And I wondered,  ‘Do you see us with your children?  Do you understand what is happening here?  We’re not tourists, you know.’ 

“In a state-run society the government promises you security.  But it's a false promise predicated on the idea that the opposite of security is risk.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  The opposite of security is insecurity, and the only way to overcome insecurity is to take risks.  The gentle government that promises to hold your hand as you cross the street refuses to let go on the other side.”  ~Theodore Forstmann

Earlier this week, my son told me of the Chinese working the diggers in Ethiopia and how they didn’t look out for the children.  “They should’ve looked out for us!” he lamented.  “Well Buddy, that’s not what they are there to do.  The Chinese are there to build roads.”  It was a feeble excuse.  What was I going to say-- Well, how could they possibly be looking out for you?  Didn’t you notice how MANY of you there are just running freely in the streets?  I saw the diggers, holes and road crews intersecting freely with the people.  There were no barricades or safety measures taken that I can remember.  “They just should have watched out.  One boy was killed”, he continued.  My breath caught.  Just add it to many frozen moments these past 18 months of my chest tightening and head spinning with the grimness of his life before us.   There isn’t even hand holding in Ethiopia.

I want Egyptians to succeed because I want Ethiopians to succeed.  Those vacant, hopeless, victimized eyes aren’t fitting of a people with such splendid stature.

1 comment:

KLT said...

Thanks for sharing--I think you highlight some important ideas...not just taking sides.