We arrived to the office this morning in warm sunshine. When the door to the gate opened, Terefa threw his arms into the air and emoted great joy in seeing us! We shook hands the way Ethiopian men do–a handshake combined with right shoulders knocking and then holding together. The longer you stay in this pose, the happier you are to see the other person.
Terefa held on, and kept saying, “Jim! Jim! Jim!” And smiled bigger than the magical land that is Ethiopia.
Two and half years ago we left Addis, only a few weeks after first meeting Terefa. He was hired as a guard for our office, commonplace for governmental and non-governmental offices in the city. He and I had a few laughs and smiles then, our communication made challenging by language barriers.
Still, he was one of the people I most looked forward to seeing once I was back in Ethiopia.
After the handshake and greeting my wife, he grabbed a hold of me and gave me a big hug. Probably weighing thirty pounds less than me, and around twenty or more years my senior, I felt as though I was being bear hugged by a man who goes to the gym several days a week.
“Jim! Jim! Jim!”
“How are you Terefa?”
“Good. I’m good,” he said in English.
“You. How are you?”
“I’m happy to see you. Today’s a great day!”
Throughout the day whenever I stepped outside, he would call my name, smile on his face and happiness emanating from it. We’d laugh, and I’d say his name and we’d laugh some more. What more do two people need to say between them than a smile?
The rain started as we were returning from lunch. Terefa taught us how to say “It’s raining now” in Amharic, and we all laughed at my attempt at saying the words. He grabbed me again and put his arms around my shoulders and smiled some more. I knew he loved me.
I have another three weeks and some days here. No matter how they play out, seeing Terefa and feeling his love for me is a gift I will carry with me forever. I was surprised by how truly happy he was to see me again. And he taught me a lesson:
To love the people that come into my life, no matter the spanse of time I am with them or how long we may be apart.
Terefa is a man of little things, but he is a man of big spirit. He is a common man, if you will, but his generous act of welcoming me back was the work of a saint. I feel blessed.
Hafiz has a way of expressing how I feel right now:
LIFE STARTS CLAPPING
God lays His glance
Creatures grab their instruments
And join the
Whenever love makes itself known
Jewel in the eye starts
My wish for anyone reading this is that you may feel the love I felt in Terefa’s hug earlier today.