Friday, May 18, 2007

The Ethiopian Condition

Before getting into a fairly serious topic, i want to begin with another story about my daughter, Eliana. This kid cracks me up! She and I, along with Elise who was going to be babysitting that evening, were sitting at the dinner table, and Eliana was telling Elise about her kids' house. Eliana has for a long time now had an imaginary kids' house, where her 162 kids live. Elise asked Eliana what their names were, and Eliana told her that today there were 3 princesses living there. After a pause, Eliana said that she would tell us what their names were: "Jasmine, Cinderalla, and Jeff." Well of course Elise and I burst out laughing at this one, which Eliana didn't care for, as she was telling us a rather serious story. She then explained that Jeff didn't wear a dress, he wore a shirt. I later learned this shirt is pink.

Now, about Ethiopia

Anyone who is at all concerned with anything in the world should read the book, There is no me without you, by Melissa Faye Green. This woman has written the most moving, amazing, infuriating, eye-opening book I have ever read in my entire life - and I have read a lot of books, just ask my mom. She attempts to explain the very complicated role the West has played in the disasters facing the continent of Africa. I know it's easy to say that the African people do it to themselves, with all the violence and female oppression and what not. But the more you learn about the ways in which our country and other Western countries have meddled in the affairs of Africa, the more you realize that we cannot wash our hands of what is going on over there, because we are partially (if not largely) responsible for the wreckage.

In Ethiopia specifically, there are a number of overwhelming problems facing the country. AIDS, of course, is a huge problem, and millions of children have been orphaned due to this disease, which is wiping out an entire generation of parents, doctors, teachers, and business people. Think about it: what would happen to our country, our economy, if suddenly we lost two-thirds of all adults between the ages of 25 and 45? Would we be fairing any better? Now imagine that other countries had medicine that could save millions upon millions of lives and stave off the disease that was killing off the adult population, but they refused to give it to us so that they could keep their profits high? That is what is happening in Africa. While they die by the millions over there, we here in the West have medication that keeps symptoms of AIDS at bay and prolongs the lives of those with HIV for decades. Most people in the US with HIV live long, normal lives now, thanks to the triple cocktail. But the pharmaceutical companies aren't interested in allowing the medications to be replicated by generic manufacturers, because they are making so much money from the pricey cocktail. Thus, aided by European and American government, Big Pharm keep the drugs way out of reach of most Africans. And they die, leaving their children without parents, and their country in shambles.

Then there is the health care crisis. And I'm not talking about what we call a crisis here in the U.S. Not to downplay the crappy deal many poor and elderly folk have been given here in America, but it pales in comparison to what is going on in Ethiopia. In the region where Meron Tihun was born, there is 1 doctor for every 36,000 people. Read that again. Now think about it. If a child gets sick, who is going to give them medical attention? If a mother develops complications in childbirth, who will assist? This is one reason why the death rate for mothers in childbirth is 1 in 14 in Ethiopia. In the U.S., it's 1 in 5,800. Mother and fathers also die of other illnesses, such as tuberculosis, illnesses that in the U.S. have either been virtually wiped out, or are easily cured. When we visited the International Travel Clinic in Eden Prairie for our vaccinations, the doctor there told us that if something should happen to us while we are in Addis Ababa - the capital city of Ethiopia - we should go to Nairobi, Kenya. Although I have been told by an Ethiopian friend that this is not necessary due to the existence of some newer private clinics in Addis, it still says something about the health care situation in Addis if the official advice is to flee the country should something happen to you.

Mothers who live in these conditions have to make the decision every day as to whether it is better for their children to remain with their mothers, or if the best thing to do is to give them up in hopes that they will have a better life elsewhere. As a mother myself, I can understand why they often choose the latter, and at the same time, I cannot fully fathom the indescribable pain of doing so. How lucky for me that I probably will never have to make that choice. And how undeserving I am of that luxury.

See, this is the part that tears at me. Going through this adoption process has thrown me into quite the existential crisis, the depth of which I promise I will spare you. In short, what have I done to deserve the right to live in a country where I can see a doctor because my eyes have been a little itchy lately? Where my most difficult decisions involve whether I want to stay in my cozy house in S. Mpls or move to a half-million dollar house in the suburbs?! What is so special about me that I won't ever have to decide whether I want my child to live with me, or if I would prefer that my child live past the age of 5? It's not OK. It's not OK that Meron Tihun's mother had to make this decision, and I do not. And I don't know how to resolve that in my head.

No comments: