I once keynoted a huge downtown Seattle banking and big-bucks finance deal – without really knowing what the theme was but the banker that introduced me finished with: “This is the only guy I have ever met that believes 10,000 words are better than one picture!” So what’s that have to do with today’s message?! I’ll tell you what?! One of our board members – whose name I desperately would love to reveal - said she loves the blogs but thinks they could be more bullet point and less the ’10,047 words! I agree so today’s goal is: Less is more! (Ha! Fat chance!)
The theme today is: Contrasts!
As I leave Addis Ababababababaaaaa…(which, by the way, is the first bullet about ‘contrasts’…) the overwhelming thought I take with me to Bole Airport is CONTRASTS! This city and the entire country is one of contrasts! Addis Ababa! The city filled with low-hanging clouds of diesel fumes belched from gazillions of vehicle; ingested every second by 3,627,934 people means ‘New Flower’!!
Contrasts? How can a flower grow let alone be called new when the surface that serves as the womb for growth is nothing but gravel and dirt - as far as the eye can see? It is a city where the very rich live next to the very poor. It’s the capital city of Ethiopia as well as the African Union…often called the “African Capital”. And, not only Africa, but most of the planet considers it of utmost significance due to its historical, diplomatic and political significance to the entire continent. It’s located in the foothills of the Entoto Mountains and at 7,726 feet above sea level is the third highest capital in the world and the largest city in a landlocked country. Another contrast: Every inch of the city appears to be rock-strewn, dirty, barren and covered with people, animals, taxis and vehicles of every size and description. And yet, because of an ambitious campaign to plant Eucalyptus trees – imported from Australia (when the city was at risk due to a shortage of firewood in the early 1900s) - there exists a greenbelt of forests and semi-subsistence cultivated land surrounding the city. It’s a mountain city but the contrast seems to be that while fascinating and beautiful, it seems so complex and problematic.
Contrasts? Beautiful, happy people but the scent of poverty hangs like dense mosquito netting over every inch traveled. Carefree, slow-moving people everywhere seemingly oblivious to the border wars with Eritrea and Somalia from which centers comes a steady stream of refugees whom Ethiopia embraces but cannot support. Slums…in some cases springing up at the rate of 200 people per acre. The center of the African Union but hundreds of thousands – maybe in the millions –living in ramshackle houses erected with rusty tin and canvas without regard to sanitation or drainage. And yet, they’re a happy people. And proud! The last mental snapshot I carried aboard Ethiopian Airlines to Nairobi was a man in a ragged, dusty, misshapen and mismatching suit jacket -getting a shoeshine! Why? Three steps from the ramshackle crate -serving as a footstool - the swirling dust will recoat his shoes with thin layers of grey silt. But his pride cannot be stained nor stunted! Like Al Pacino said about Charlie in “Scent of a Woman” “There’s no prosthetic for an amputated spirit!” There’s no amount of despair or adversity that can take from these beautiful people their quick and easy smiles, their joyful loving spirits, their strong and proud hearts. But the fact remains the thrift of their lives occurs in a framework of despair. That alone compels us to reach out, touch, share, care and give…all clear contrasts to what they have known.