“Some Aloe Vera, Vitamins, and a Lot of Prayer”

We arrived in Addis Ababa (“New Flower” in Amharic) around 7:15 p.m. local time
after 15 hours on the plane. Tired to the bones, we were picked up at the
airport and carried off to our new home in northeast Addis, how Ethiopians
call their capital city.

A welcoming dinner was in order at a local Italian restaurant. Of course,
we obliged our new co-workers and host-country nationals with sincere smiles
and a new found energy reserve.

Plates of good pasta and Ethiopian Gouder red wine filled our bellies as we
finally lay down to sleep somewhere around 11:30 p.m.


Saturday, the ninth of July, 2005. We accompanied our fellow project
members to a stove demonstration at one of the Missionaries of Charity’s
(Mother Teresa’s sisters) orphanages. A few hours before our early
afternoon arrival, the sisters had come out of an 8 day silent retreat.
When we walked in, they were ready for the demo, talkative, and quite

The demo went well. They were receptive to the stoves, asked excellent
questions, gave experienced suggestions, and exuded a simplicity I have only
yearned for. Before departing, they each carried a stove and fuel to take
back with them to their homes and other orphanages located in the city.

My wife asked Sister Mercy if we could see the orphanage; it was one that
cared specifically for those inflicted with HIV/AIDS. She was very
inviting, allowing us to go with two Irish women volunteering at the
orphanage and our co- workers. We first visited the room of children in the
gravest of health. They had little time left to live, a couple of months at
most. Death lived among the dying. One child was hooked to an IV. The
others lay in cribs while a nanny looked after their needs.

We moved on to the girls’ living quarters. Happy, laughing, playing, I was
struck by the innocence and zest for life that emanated from their bodies.
Reaching out their hands, they wanted to hold our hands as we walked through
their home, their play areas. I was not able to recall ever holding the
hand of someone who I knew was going to die in the near future, possibly
before I will leave Africa. Helpless.

The boys’ rooms were next on our visit. We entered the first room and were
greeted by some 50 boys aged 4-9, though they looked maybe 2-5 years old.
They sang for us a spiritual song in their native tongue. I wanted to cry.
Why was I feeling so sad in the presence of such beauty? I wish I could
have sung along with them. Their singing voices were strong, and their eyes
big and round. Life thrived.

Moving on, we commented on how clean and orderly the orphanage was. In
fact, it was spotless! Each room was bright and warm, with paintings of
animals and Biblical scenes on the walls.


A social worker at the orphanage told us that treatment for the children
consists of “aloe vera [for the skin lesions], vitamins, and a lot of
prayer.” He was proud to point out that they grow there own aloe at the
orphanage, the spiky plants sticking out from a small hillside.

No medication or drugs are available for the children. They are too
expensive, and not available. Therefore, the Sisters and those who work at
the orphanage do what they can to provide the children with an environment
that gives them their dignity while dying. They lessen the suffering and
increase the love.


Meanwhile, right now in pharmaceutical offices in the West, people work to
protect their patents and rights to the production of Anti-Retro Viral
drugs. They maintain high prices to make a profit on their technology,
fooling themselves by thinking they are doing good deeds by advancing
medicine when what they are really doing is advancing death by keeping the
medicine from the sickest of the sick. Is human health care a service or is
it a business? When did it become the modus operandi to make a profit off
of humanity’s illnesses?

(written 24 July 2005)

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