“Dr. Livingstone I presume. . .” That’s what I wanted to say when I saw familiar faces after walking a couple hundred yards down the dusty road outside the airport with my luggage, but his name is not Livingston, and mine is not Stanley. Otherwise, the situation was similar, except that neither of us were subjected to the travel standards and struggles they were. As soon as I greeted them, they pointed out a vervet monkey on a wire above, helped me with my load, and we drove off down a rough rocky rutted road to heaven knows where. Welcome to Africa.
I felt welcome and I think they were glad to see someone from home. They brought me through the hectic, no lanes, no rules traffic full of little blue 3 wheeled buggies for hire to my hotel. This was a series of rooms in roundish huts with matted straw roofs. These and the neighboring roofs are a playground for the local gang.
Vervet monkeys range from the northern Red Sea to South Africa, along the eastern side of the continent. They have been historically depicted in ancient Egyptian drawings, and I hear they give a nasty bite if you challenge them for a piece of fruit. I will not be picking any fights.
We humans sat down to a lunch of goat tibs. For you non-africans, the menu described this as “tender goat meat finely chopped, and fried with onion, pepper, and tomato; served with bread or enjera.” Enjera is a fermented, vinegary flat bread. It was tastier than you’re thinking.
Afterwards I unpacked in my home base for the next several days and then went out to exchange Dollars for Birr. We stopped at a spot along the way to have some macchiato, since Ethiopia is known for its coffee. I’m not a coffee drinker, but that was to any coffee I’ve ever tried what Pappy Van Winkle is to bourbon. Smooth and not bitter. Ridiculous. With a full belly and the promise of a good week ahead, I returned and settled into my room to try to sleep in spite of having a case of jet lag on top of a full dose of caffeine, in addition to no air conditioner. Thanks to my regular clonezapam, I fell asleep without a problem, but then I woke up buzzing in a couple of hours. This gave me the opportunity to sit outside in the midnight air under a half moon and listen to God. As Jefferson and Madison put it, the god of nature. Except for me it’s personal. The God of my soul. We talked. He clarified my purpose in Africa and my purpose in general. He reminded me of the story of Aaron and Hur, in Exodus 17, when Joshua was leading the Israelites in battle at Rephidim and Moses was standing on a hillside above. As long as Moses held up his arms, holding his staff, they were winning, but when he relaxed, they were losing. So as he became tired, Aaron and Hur held up his arms for him, and the Israelites won. Sometimes I am the support, sometimes the director, and sometimes the fighter, but I must accept my role with humility in any case, and cherish the fact that He finds me worthy to use for His holy purposes. Once I grasped this I went to sleep.
Monday morning I was awakened by the sounds of a parrot and monkeys. I had breakfast and then joined my friends for prayer. This was a wonderful experience, as they pray not as Americans who are comfortable in their religious freedom and therefore take it and God’s presence for granted, but as people in an often hostile environment who rely on God for their every need and thank Him earnestly for His protection and provision. I hope my words to them were half as much a breath of fresh air as theirs were to me.
After this mini revival, we walked the streets, meeting people and helping where we could. So many smiles and well wishes in the midst of such deep poverty by U.S. standards. Perhaps we Americans should rethink our standards.
Someone on the plane told me if I wanted to know Ethiopia I should mingle in with the people, as opposed to taking a safari or a protected, luxury excursion. That is what I did.