On the drive to Addis Alem, Ethiopia to visit the Compassion International site, I was anxious. I did not know what kind of reception I would get. I was sensitive to perceptions – a white man, driven by an Ethiopian interpreter from the American Embassy, accompanied by an Ethiopian from Compassion International and my Navy Religious Personnel Specialist – a black man.
I knew what it looked like – a white big shot…when, in reality, I’m just a caring man who wanted to add a human face to the support a girl named Medina Hayradin received for the past 10 years from my twin daughters.
So, yes, I was a little anxious and very excited, too.
Four smiling children greeted me as I stepped out of the car. Curiosity tends to trump the fear of the unknown. I have been to 41 countries on five continents and these children’s welcome reinforced my belief that young children are the same, regardless of culture and nationality.
As I looked into the compound, standing in the center was a woman dressed in white and a girl, dressed in red. I asked my translator, Fekadu, if the girl was Medina. He said he thought so.
When we approached her, Fekadu told me the woman in white was Medina’s mother, Termima. Medina and Termima gave me two bouquets of flowers – one for each of my daughters. We greeted each other with the traditional Ethiopian greeting of shaking with the right hand and twisting in until our right shoulders touch. We then enjoyed the traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony consisting of a big hunk of bread, cookies, popcorn and very strong Ethiopian coffee.
After the traditional coffee ceremony, we drove the dusty road to Medina’s home. I noticed her house seemed nicer than many of the homes in the village with an actual floor instead of dirt, and I knew it was due to my daughters’ generosity and caring.
Meeting Medina, and, in fact the mission in Eastern Africa, gave me hope for the future of these developing nations. I was in Djibouti as part of a mission-building team. My specific job was threefold: first, to take care of the U.S. Military Coalition and Department of Defense civilians in the Horn of Africa. Two, engage with military members of our host nations, and, three, to engage with the local religious leaders and the populace in the region. I worked with several Military Civil Affairs teams, whose main goals were to build relationships with the civilians and combat the threat of violent extremism.
What I found were many people of hope and faith, like a nun who works with orphaned HIV-positive girls or, alternatively, a Roman Catholic priest, who built a school. In this blog and book, you will also meet Taoufik, a Christian man living and working in a Muslim country. You will find the quiet, tireless efforts of the Civil Affairs teams, trying to bring a better life to a region of poverty and strife.
Although I went on this deployment with the idea of helping and teaching a better way of life, I learned lessons of life, hope, community, and survival from these extraordinary people and many like them.