Driving through Ethiopia, in the country or in the city, I've seen many profound things. One I never tire of seeing is the love people share openly. This love is not contorted and misused in a sexual manner. Rather, the people here seem to understand and embrace friendship and love in a very tangible manner. I think in situations where possession and money are lacking, far greater gifts abound...like friendship and love.
Looking out of my car window and walking down the street, I observe women walking hand in hand. I see men walking in full embrace. Arms wrap around shoulders. Hands interweave with hands. Bodies rub shoulder to shoulder. When greeting one another, we exchange kisses on the cheek, hugs, and the occasional shoulder bumping. One never departs without reminding each other of the gift they are and their appreciation for the time together. People do not concern themselves with the "appearance" of friendships or the love they share. Instead, there is full on embrace of one another and willingness to vocalize and exhibit the love shared. And people ALWAYS find time for one another. Conversely, it is not common to see boyfriends and girlfriends or husbands and wives openly displaying affection.
Yesterday, we drove to the country side. A continuous flow of people lined the streets. At every turn, friends embraced. Children with only the shirt covering them, no shoes, and no personal effects played together and hugged one another. We would stop to give away small packs of food or candy or water bottles. In the states, I would imagine those in need would hoard what little they were given. Here, the friends immediately beckoned their other friends to share their limited resources. I saw one boy caring his friend on his back when he tired of walking. And in turn, when that friend tired, they would change positions. I saw a small girl and her friend sharing the weight of the water they needed to transport to their homes. When they would stop for a rest, their hands immediately interlaced. A group of men loaded their infirmed friend on a portable mat and carried him from their village to the closest hospital. Many of them traveled together. Those whose hands were not occupied with the weight of their friend walked in full embrace. They waited to exchange positions and share the burden of care. I am touched and encouraged to display my love for others in a similar manner.
God has supplied friends for me in Ethiopia that have permanently touched my heart. Solomon, our driver, our friend, our brother, daily lays down his own desires for ours. He goes above and beyond all measure to communicate to us his commitment and friendship. Preston calls him Agot Soli, Uncle Soli. The name is fitting. He shows up with surprises, he delivers groceries without being asked, he takes the children to the toilet, he carries bags, he helps with bath time (only Preston), he asks about my heart while Josh is gone, he carries the babies, he plays games, he kisses the kids, he hugs, he goes without lunch and dinner without complaint in order to do whatever needs to be done. As we drove last night, I told Solomon I praise God for interweaving our lives. I asked him if he knew our hearts would have a hole when we were apart from him. He quietly teared up. He said, "We not friends. We are family...(bateseb)." I cannot begin to explain how his quiet, simple nature and his humility are a clear picture of his love for Jesus. Although our lives are literally a world apart, our hearts are knit tightly together. Marta, Genet, Aster, and Blein mirror the same kindness and sacrifice as Solomon. These women look after us daily. They never complain about the extra work our presence brings. They fellowship with us. They love our children. They are a gift. This reminds me of the deep gift of friendship in America, which awaits our return. Leaving will be brutal. Returning to the love and friendship waiting in the US will be bliss. WE MISS YOU.