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Been back for a week now, managed to throw Christmas together without putting a lot of worry into it. Africa puts things into perspective. One of my favorite things about Addis was the way no one seems to be complaining. The place must have its share of whiners, but I didn't meet any. You'd think that leading your leprous grandma around to beg for change was a totally normal thing to do. It was a blazing hot day and our van taxi was stopped to pick up passengers (love the system -- taxi pulls into the stop with a kid yelling the destination out the side window. At the stop are 4 other van taxis going to different places, with 4 other kids yelling their destinations. You can travel all over town for about a quarter.) The little girl in question was calm, neatly dressed, patient. She met my eye, smiled, nodded gravely, and moved on to the next taxi, pulling the old lady after her by her rotting stump. In the same way, people would tell me about walking 50 or 100 kms to Addis from their village as if it was a normal way to get around. And why did you leave your village? I would ask. My parents died, they would say. That's terrible, I would say, and they would shrug. It happened, and I had to find a place to live. How old were you? I would ask. Twelve, they would say. Or thirteen or fifteen. That's terrible, I would say again, and they would shrug some more and drink their (lovely but oh so strong) coffee. I must have heard that story four or five times, from tough street kids, from twenty year old students, from the sixty-something director of my NGO. And not one trace of sentiment or self-pity, though my director did admit that they were hard years. Lunch time my first day home Ed said, Dad, would you make me a grilled cheese sandwich? And I had to smile. Sure, I said. Do you want me to cut off the crusts? I'm not knocking my kid, of course. He has to bear his life, as does the little begging girl and the orphans and everyone else. But like I said, I didn't worry quite as much as usual about who got what for Christmas this year.


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