After an awesome gesture today, I was inspired. It made me think about a quote I saw recently — from Sargent Shriver, the first director of the Peace Corps.


With certain people there is a certain connection. It can’t be expressed in emotions or words, but there are people I meet who I gravitate towards. I think it can be best explained as a mutual understanding of appreciation. There is a spiritual link that connects us, perhaps by fate, something greater than ourselves, by God perhaps. In my opinion it is less transparent. It is a connection based upon a shared mindset, a collective identity. Veiled through a smile or kind eyes are the traits of empathy and compassion.

Some of these people I have become very close with. Hospital workers like Yidne and Milkiyas. Men like Yohanes and Mesfin. Others I have shared just a few moments with but I feel a closeness to them. They are the people who make this experience so powerful.

They are the people who turn an often lonely and frustrating existence into a joyful one. Here in Ethiopia, we are constantly battling laziness and entitlement; of our fellow peers and of self. These are the people who lift us up. They are young and old. They are my brothers.

There is Abdu, who I have written and talked about admiringly. Abdu is by all accounts a brilliant kid. At 16, he speaks 5 languages and is the default IT expert now that Dave is gone. He is a Muslim. As a young kid he was selected as one of the brightest students by an Al-Qaeda operative and sent to an Addis Ababa school for would be terrorists. He came back to Bonga to find that his worldview did not line up with theirs. As he said, ‘All my friends are Americans and Christians so why would I hate them?’

Then, a few weeks ago, a construction crew was working on a section of road just outside my house. Jon, (who lives two doors down from me) and I went for a walk at night. We returned when it started to rain. We returned to find one of the construction workers sleeping on our front porch with a tiny straw mat. At a salary of around two dollars a day, he couldn’t afford a meal and a bed. Jon and I brought him a mattress, a blanket and some homemade oatmeal with Nutella. Nutella is the universal language of love.

Another such man was Sisay. I’ve written about him before. He attended the Operation Smile mission in Addis Ababa. He is in his mid 30’s and has a cleft palate. His voice is difficult to understand but he has an incredible disposition. We hit it off. Unlike many of the families and patients who felt entitled to more — even in the face of such selfless giving on behalf of Operation Smile – Sisay was appreciative, helpful and kind. Unfortunately he did not receive surgery due to a complication. That did not stop him from being more grateful than any of the other patients.

A month ago there was another mission in the North. He attended and waited patiently for another week, before he was told he could again not receive treatment. He has watched over 200 people receive life changing surgery and he’s been turned away twice.

I called him a few minutes ago, but he is as happy and as pleasant as any Ethiopian I’ve met. He asks me how my girlfriend is, and if I am doing well. He is more concerned with my well-being. His distorted voice, muffled yet sincere, is more beautiful than anyone with a normal palate.

Today someone knocked at my door. It was the construction worker and he was holding a loaf of bread. He thanked me for helping him, and handed me the bread. He asked where my friend was.

“Our volunteers [do not] go overseas as the salesmen of a particular political theory, or economic system, or religious creed. They go to work with people, not to employ them, use them or advise them. They do what the country they go to wants them to do, not what we think is best. They live among the people, sharing their homes, eating their food, talking their language, living under their laws, not in special compounds with special privileges…

…It is only with this compassion that man can look upon man-through the mask of many colors, through the vestments of many religions, through the dust of poverty, or through the disfigurement of disease — and recognize his brother.”


2 comments on “Brothers

  1. Mary Kate says:

    Once again, I am so moved by your writings and experiences. I will be leaving for S Africa in July. I am taking this story with me
    to share. Thank you.

  2. Tim Slattery says:

    Hi Michael,

    On behalf of the Peace Corps’ Office of Third Goal and Returned Volunteer Services, thank you for sharing your experiences in Ethiopia! We especially love this post on relationships. What a moving description of just a few of the wonderful and inspiring people you have met. Your writing is very honest and your photographs are beautiful. We thank you for participating in the Third Goal through your blog.

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