The Tuesday morning sunbeams illuminated a dusty street pressed by foot traffic mostly, with inhabitants going to and fro to gather the morning news and breakfast.
I had eggs scrambled with jalapenos and tomatoes, with an orange drink, before I was picked up in a blue bajaj to roll through the bumpy streets to attend a house church. I confess that the amalgam of nationalities and languages in this small gathering made me aware of the presence of God more than I usually am in a more homogeneous environment. This must have been a small taste of the day of Pentecost recorded in Acts, as people worshiped in Amharic, Oromo, Somali, Arabic, English, and French and Spanish. The one thing we had in common was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He goes by Jehovah (hebrew), Abba (aramaic), Dieu (french), God (english), Dios (spanish), Allah (arabic), and many more names, and receives and blesses worship from anyone who offers it in spirit and truth. I have every confidence that the people in that room did so, and I have every reason to believe that there are people who use each of the above names who abuse the name and don’t know the God at all. Sadly.
After this lift of spirit, I had an appointment with a couple of local attorneys to discuss law, politics, and economics. My hosts considered this much less exciting than I did, so they dropped me off at the attorney’s office for a couple of hours. We compared governments, them explaining that while the Ethiopian Constitution says “Democratic Republic” it is actually a dictatorship, and me explaining that while our historical documents likewise built a “democratic republic,” one party claims a democracy while the other claims a republic. We agreed that if leadership would accept what IS instead of what ISN’T YET, both countries might perform better. We went on to discuss the strange mix of capitalism and marxism in Ethiopia, given the communist history and the socialist tribal systems, set against the modern private ownership of business and resources. They elaborated on the movement toward capitalism, however slowed by the government’s reluctance to relax its grip on real property and business regulation. I explained that the populace of the U.S. is not much more cohesive, given the increasing regulations on business, the government ownership and control of educational, welfare and other systems, and then they asked why the U.S. still claims to be the bastion of capitalism when our government bailed out so many of its corporations recently. I confessed that we too, are a mixed system, and again, each side of the political fence spends as much time arguing about what we are and have been, as they do making the system effective for today.
We moved on to criminal law, comparing criminal standards and punishments and procedures, at which point they explained that Judges, there, are entry level, low paid attorneys. This surprised me, and they were aghast to find out that the bench was something to which many experienced attorneys aspire in the States. We agreed, though, that having judges with experience in legal reasoning makes good sense, and probably better sense than using the bench as a training ground for practicing attorneys. I explained that many judges make their way to the bench through political appointments, which is honestly pretty hit & miss on quality over cronyism.
At this point in the discussion my intestines were beginning to protest and I politely and professionally inquired regarding the nearest “facility.” I was told there was both a western and an eastern toilet two offices down, but “it didn’t work.” I decided to hold it and we continued our high brow scholarly talks. After ten minutes I explained that I no longer cared about law or plumbing functionality, as my constitution was about to give way, so I was escorted to the barrister’s room. Post urgent release and a sigh of relief, I remembered that Ethiopians generally don’t use toilet paper. They use their left hands and then wash carefully, and that’s why it is unacceptable to greet with any but the RIGHT hand. Just as I was deciding I had no choice but to do as the locals did, I realized that it wasn’t the toilet that didn’t work, but the sprayer/faucet to clean up afterward.
After struggling through more mental strain than all the previous discussion together had required, I pulled off my right sock and did the job. Smartwool socks are wonderfully soft, and no one was the wiser.