Back to the 80s
Sometimes, just sometimes, I’m tempted to open up a new blog page - and rant. Like when we get up in the morning and there’s no running water and we are back to using buckets. Like when we go out into Kolfe and try to extract cash from a local machine amidst calls of “you! you!”, and “ferenji!” (foreigner) only to find an impenetrable melee around the only functioning ATM. Like when we drive a long way round to avoid terrible traffic only to find closed roads and even worse traffic. Like when we try to park on a side road to buy bread from one of the few decent bakeries, only to find a lorry-load of gravel dumped in the middle of the road making it impassable. Like when I discover the spare wheel chained to the underneath of the back of my pick-up has been stolen. Times like these - all of which happened today, and all before lunch.
But I won’t.
Because of people like Alemayehu.
I’ll tell you about Alemayehu in a minute. First, let me explain this picture (which you really should click on to get the full effect). Amidst a flurry of special occasions to bid farewell to many departing missionaries and Bingham teachers, last Saturday we attended an “80s” party to celebrate the seven years the Flippence family from Australia have been here. Not having brought any dressing-up clothes from the 80s with us, and not being aware of the number of 80s-style wigs people seem to have that we could have borrowed, we decided to go looking like we used to look in the 80s. I spent the entirety of the 80s in hospital medicine on horrendously demanding rotas, so drawing on the beard I used to have I dressed in my doctors’ stuff. Chris spent most of the 80s pregnant – hence the picture. (Of course, given what Chris looks like, you might have been expecting an announcement of an imminent arrival. Fortunately not. Technologically possible, but far too expensive…) In the 80s we lived in some good houses (and owned a couple of them), we had some decent cars, and were able to have our children born in superb facilities after which Chris could care for them full-time while I earned a decent wage.
While we were doing all that, we had no inkling about what Alemayehu was coping with in Addis Ababa at around the same time.
Alemayehu, a few years younger than us, is a member of our Sunday morning “Adult Bible Fellowship” which runs for an hour between the two morning worship services. Last Sunday he spoke to the group about his time in the late 70s and early 80s – a dark period in Ethiopian history when the country was governed with an iron fist by a communist party known as “The Derg”. Alemayehu was finishing High School during this time. He related how he used to live with his uncle, where the only place he could study in peace was in the toilet. He became very cross one night when a small child urinated on his bed and he stormed out of the house in the dark – after the Derg-imposed curfew. He walked the streets, observing destitute people sleeping rough, where he decided not to complain anymore, as he was so much better off than them. He walked to his friend’s home where he studied but having left the light on he was arrested for this by machine-gun touting Derg police. While in prison attempts were made to forcibly conscript him into the armed forces – something he objected to because as a Christian he couldn’t join in with the horrors the Derg were perpetrating. He was eventually released.
Alemayehu continued living with friends, but an opportunity arose to be part of a lottery for some housing – a wonderful prospect as he had been praying for a room of his own for four years. Amazingly his name was drawn first – for a house with three rooms. For Alemayehu this would be an unimaginable luxury. In his excitement he went round jumping up and down and hugging all the officials – who deduced from this he was a protestant Christian as Orthodox Christians wouldn’t behave like that. He obtained the keys, gathered his one suitcase of possessions along with his bed, and moved in. However after only a short time he came home to find the place locked and he couldn’t get in – it had been decided such a house should not be given to a protestant Christian. He eventually had to break in so he could extract his bed and clothes.
Later on, when attending a church, a group of the armed Derg police came in, arrested the preacher, and some young men in the congregation including Alemayehu. By now Alemayehu was married and had a small child – facts which eventually overcame the second attempt by the Derg to conscript him into the armed forces.
Throughout all this Alemayehu maintained and strengthened his trust in God. He was hugely grateful for the house, even though he was there for only a short time; he thanked God for everything he had and for being able to live with friends and family; he rejoiced in his own family and small child. Listening to him relate this to us last Sunday, with a big smile and a grateful heart, moved Chris and me deeply. I had taught this group for the previous six weeks on the book of Ecclesiastes, but that all paled into insignificance when faced with one session listening to the extraordinary testimony of this faithful, dedicated, utterly committed Christian.
Check out this picture carefully. (It’s dirty because it’s taken by my dashcam through a rather grubby windscreen.) Note it is a three-lane dual carriageway. Note I am about to enter a 30 kph limit on this lovely new road. Yes – 18.6 mph. Note the bend to the left in the distance. This was the point at which I collected my second speeding ticket. Another fine (£6.50 this time); another trip with Haile to retrieve my driving licence from a police station buried in the incomprehensible backstreets. I should start a collection…