Eben Pagan’s Blog

A Conversation I’ll Never Forget…

Posted in Uncategorized by ebenpagan on December 18, 2008

Last night, I had dinner with a man that affected me deeply.

His name is Getachew (pronounced “geh-tah-cho”).

Getachew is the department manager of an irrigation and water supply organization in Ethiopia. He oversees the building of wells for people who have no clean water.

I met Getachew through my friend Scott Harrison. You might remember Scott from my “Online Birthday Party” webinar – where we raised money to build wells in Africa.

I flew out to New York to attend Scott’s charity:water ball this week. As part of the ball, Scott flew Getachew from Ethiopia to speak at the ball, and share his story.

Here’s what I learned from Getachew…

The most important thing I learned is that it’s not easy for me to realize the REALITY of the life circumstances of another person – especially if I don’t have any frame of reference for those circumstances – or any similar experience of my own to relate to. I need to talk to a human who can explain it, or I need to see it with my own eyes.

Getachew grew up in Ethiopia as a typical son of a typical family. They had several cows, and a few sheep. This was the extent of their “worldly wealth”… so to speak.

While he was a child, Getachew slept on a bed that was made by building a mud and stone “bed” platform, then covering it with a cow skin or sheep skin. All of the children in a family sleep in the same bed, and share one blanket to sleep with.

Every day, he would wake up, and eat his single daily meal (as is typical for an Ethiopian, according to Getachew). This meal consists of one piece of bread. Getachew showed me the size of this bread meal with his hands.

Circular. Maybe ten inches across, and one inch thick.

These are typically made by the mother of the Ethiopian family. First, she takes wheat that has been donated by the government or by a foreign government (frequently the U.S., from what Getachew told me), and she grinds it by hand between a rough rock and a smooth rock. The ground wheat falls into a container on the floor. She then takes the ground wheat, and mixes it with a little water, to create a dough. No other ingredients than wheat and water. She kneads the mixture for about an hour by hand. Then, she shapes the “cakes” of bread, and bakes them on a traditional clay surface over a fire.

Getachew told me the story of being a teen-ager, and walking 50 kilometers each way to his school (where he would stay for the school week, by staying with friends). He walked this distance barefoot both ways weekly. He said the sharp rocks on the foot paths in Ethiopia would cut his feet. But there was no choice, so he made due.

When he would leave for school for the week, he would take 6-7 pieces of bread with him, in a bag over his shoulder. This was his food for the week.

By the 2nd or 3rd day, the bread would be so dried out that it would often be impossible to chew or bite into. So he would break off a piece, and dunk it into water, and eat it that way. Sometimes, it was so dried out that he would break it into little pieces – a powder of sorts – and then just mix it with water in a sort of soup, and eat it that way.

Things are different for Getachew now. He has a beautiful daughter and a wonderful wife… and a great job.

He is the manager of the water and irrigation facility in his area. He manages 150 people, and earns $500 per month as his salary. Before this, he was a “technician” – meaning that he actually built and worked on the wells and irrigation systems in Ethiopia. For 18 years, as a technician, he made in the neighborhood of $250 per month.

What struck me most about Getachew was, interestingly enough, NONE of what I’ve just told you.

What struck me most was his ATTITUDE.

The conversation I had with him was over dinner. In a beautiful New York apartment.

We were eating a catered meal that a talented chef created on the spot, just for the occasion.

We were drinking expensive wine.

We were surrounded by opulence and wealth.

Getachew wasn’t bitter. He didn’t point fingers at anyone, and say “you’re bad because you’re living this way.” He sat, ate, and enjoyed the company of the people who brought him to the U.S.A.

I told Getachew the story of how I “gave up my birthday” to build wells in Africa a couple of weeks earlier, and he said something that was fascinating to me.

He told me that I would be happy later in life.

He said “There’s nothing wrong with money and success. But if you help others with some of your success, you’ll grow old and be happy.”

It was clear that he didn’t feel that he, or anyone else, was “entitled” to anything. He was giving me advice based on what would make MY life better in the long run.

Of course, he also mentioned that people who buy dinners for a hundred bucks don’t realize that they could literally change the lives of a hundred living humans – by providing those hundred people FRESH WATER FOR A YEAR with the hundred dollars. But he never spoke in a way that sounded naive or unrealistically idealistic.

Getachew “gets it.”

Viktoria, Scott Harrison’s fiance (who also does the beautiful design work for charity:water) told me the story of what Getachew said when he first saw the buildings of New York upon his arrival. She said that he looked at them in admiration, and immediately began looking at the foundations, admiring the structures and ingenuity of the architects who could design a foundation to hold such a huge structure. This was, of course, his first visit to America.

As Getachew told me one story after another… of how his family members each wore the same single article of clothing for six months (until worn out)… of washing the garment every 2-3 months… of not washing his body every day like we do here in the U.S… of herding a dozen cows and sheep all day with a small stick as a way of life… of how his shorts had the seat worn out, so when he walked or ran he felt embarrassed from the exposure… he ALWAYS smiled with a deep, genuine smile.

Zero resentment. Zero anger. Zero entitlement.

I was crying within 5 minutes of starting my conversation with Getachew, and I appreciate him for it. I feel like I’m starting to wake up from a dream, but the waking up isn’t the most pleasant thing I’ve experienced. More to come… I hope.

Here’s something interesting: Getachew told me that his people in Ethiopia have a common “viewpoint” about why they live the way they do, relative to others in the world. They believe that God has chosen this life for them, and that they must accept God’s will for their lives. They don’t even have the IDEA that they could do something to change their life circumstances. They live in a “complete” world. And it has become not only the physical reality for them, but also the emotional, mental, and spiritual reality.

So what did I learn?

I learned that I’m AFRAID TO ASK people like Getachew what their lives are like. And I learned that when I do ask, others are more than glad to share, give perspective, and help me get insight.

I learned that my idea of how other people see the U.S.A. and how they see people like me is ENTIRELY fabricated, and based on nothing other than my imagination and ideas that were put in my mind by others.

I learned that I’m going to ask other people about their experiences, and to seek out people who have had VERY different experiences in life to share with me.

One final thought:

I walked out of the dinner party with Scott and Viktoria – just to get a few more minutes of face-time with them.

As we walked down the cold streets of New York, just the three of us, the conversation turned back to the work at hand.

Finding more donors for charity:water.

Building another page on their website.

Appointments and schedules.

Real life.

Right now, as you read this, Scott and Viktoria are working on raising money and they’re building wells. Getachew is back in Ethiopia… overseeing the building of new wells for people who walk hours each way to carry polluted drinking water back to their families.

And I’m realizing just how fortunate I am that I was born in America. And I’m realizing that I like helping Scott, Viktoria, and Getachew build wells for the people in Africa who need clean water.

NOTE: If you haven’t had the opportunity to watch my “birthday webinar” – you can see it HERE:

My “Online Birthday Party” Replay

[Follow me for free on Twitter HERE.]

17 Responses

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  1. Tom Humes said, on December 19, 2008 at 12:25 am

    Nice Site layout for your blog. I am looking forward to reading more from you.

    Tom Humes

  2. Jerry Chen said, on December 19, 2008 at 1:11 am


    Thanks for this very thoughtful article and reaffirm your dedication to this cause. And of course, thanks for being transparent about your feelings. I just finished watching your birthday webinar for the 3rd time since you first created it. My eyes more than welled up each time.

    When you said “I learned that my idea of how other people see the U.S.A. and how they see people like me is ENTIRELY fabricated, and based on nothing other than my imagination and ideas that were put in my mind by others,” it reminded me of what you and Wyatt taught me about the “mind prison” last weekend.

    I’m certainly happy for your realization of what you’ve learned about yourself. You will live a much more fulfilled life for it, as you have done for me a few days ago. That 20-minute exchange with you in front of the entire class was intense to say the least. Yet, it was one of the most unbelievable experiences I’ve ever had in my LIFE.

    It was a defining moment.

    I want you to know that I am grateful that you invited me, that you picked me to share with the class, that you worked with me to the very end to help me uncover the deepest root of my recent frustration, something that I had carried with me almost my whole life until that point.

    I felt… free.

    This article is another demonstration of your fine character. I’m not sure if you kept the short e-mail I printed out for you from Declan to me. I thought his brief words were one of the nicest things a man can say about a friend to another person.

    Great work here and keep up. I have begun spreading words about this campaign.


  3. Nadav said, on December 19, 2008 at 1:23 am

    Hi Eben,

    Wow that’s a really inspirational story, we really don’t relize how people live in some parts of the world.

    Sometimes there are also people in need right other our noses in our neighborhoods. While their life conditions might not be as hard as people in 3rd world countries it’s important not to forget to help them too.

    I made myself a rule to donate at lease 10% of everything I earn to charity. I believe that when I give I get back 10x more emotionally and financially.


  4. numont said, on December 19, 2008 at 1:57 am

    Incredible story, Eban. It is truly a gift…Thanks for sharing.

  5. adam said, on December 19, 2008 at 2:40 am

    You reminded me of my journey, where I would walk from the moment the sun would rise with a wooden pole on my shoulder. On each side, there were empty tins. Then I’d walk and come back, and the moon would be already there, in the dark sky.

    I would sleep on the floor, with wheat straw or goat skin sawn together with straws of palm tree plants. I would stand outside as a kid, and sell sweets which my grandma made from water, powder milk, as tourists came and bought them.

    Eben, sometimes, people do not write about such things but it is good you did.

    When I came to England, for the first time, on my own as a child, the areoplane opened its doors, the snow flakes invited me to the first steps to meet my parents. Later, I saw the wonders of the world, the diverse cultures, colours of people in the airport, and also, the shops, large bank buildings, and all the wealth.

    I looked at these even today because I am not 13 year old anymore but an entrepreneur in the MLM world. I am 40 years old.

    I relate Getachew in a way because even today, as I turn the tap on and water flows, I am amazed. So people write about technology, social media, and all the things that come with training and learning.

    But, the thing is, I am the happiest, wealthiest man alive and I think Getachew feels the same way.

    When I see people of wealth, I am happy because I enjoy how human being excel and even more happy, when I know, they help people, share their knowledge.

    For it is true Eben – it does give you joy. You do grow happier. You do see beauty in life and most of all, something of you, will live through the generations to come.

    Thanks for sharing the story. And I am happy for Getachew. He found the meaning of life.

  6. Kris said, on December 19, 2008 at 3:55 am

    Wow, what an epic blog post. But a great one. Eye-opening.

  7. Marguerite Crespillo said, on December 19, 2008 at 6:24 am

    The great thing about this article is all the people who get out in the world and EXPERIENCE LIFE! This is the important part of appreciating others and how they live! He is right… you will be happy in life if you arent already because you take the time and energy to EXPERIENCE LIFE!

  8. Greg said, on December 19, 2008 at 7:10 am

    Powerful, Eben.

    Says something about:
    1. happiness comes from within
    2. contribution to making the world a better place (especially for those who have accepted their lifestyle as “complete” and might not be able to see a better way) is the true way to life long fulfillment.

  9. peter murphy said, on December 19, 2008 at 10:45 am

    Well said Eben.

    Here´s a fun experience for you…

    Live in a third world country for six months and speak their language. Live in their community as they do. You´ll be the one who is the student and you´ll be a happier, more loving person after they´ve guided you back home to what matters most.

    Sure, you can make a difference with your know how and access to resources. And that is good to do. Still, there´s more to this than meets the eye – you´ll know once you´ve done it.


  10. Art Pablico said, on December 19, 2008 at 6:40 pm

    Hi Eben.

    What you wrote above is a WHOLE NEW WORLD.

    I’ve seen your other blog about that guy who was always partying in NY then he went down from his high-status be merry, eat, and drink living to a whole new world of helping and giving to others.

    All I can say, what you’re doing can ONLY be done by a person with AN AMAZING HEART, A BEAUTIFUL CONSCIENCE, and An UNSELFISH TRULY GIVING individual.

    I think you have these qualities because you’re doing them.

    You’re the type of person who CAN UNDERSTAND Human Beings because of YOUR STUDY in Psychology.

    That’s what makes it MORE SPECIAL.

    You’re the PERFECT candidate because you’re INTELLIGENT, can LEARN QUICK, and MOST OF ALL, You Have An Exceptional EYE to ABSORB DETAIL from your INTERACTIONS that NO ONE EVER SEES – PLUS conveying it to us, your fans, that TALKS TO “us” and RELATES to “our world” and FINALLY, having the STYLE and SUCCESS doing it. =)

    WHATEVER you do, I just “know” NOTHING will COME BAD OUT of it.

    Please ALWAYS teach us and share us your journey so WE CAN FOLLOW AND DO EXACTLY THE SAME.

    Eben – “An Angel” On Earth. =)

  11. Nicole said, on December 22, 2008 at 11:17 pm

    Enlightening Eben. Thanks for sharing.

  12. […] I recently read that “…if you help others with some of your success, you’ll grow old and be happy.” […]

  13. Lowell said, on December 27, 2008 at 11:48 pm

    I glad to hear that you had that conversation. So many people in this country don’t realize how most of the world lives. I have traveled quite a bit in Eastern Europe. I have to tell you that it is only marginally better. My best friend and fiance might live in a flat (apartment) of her own; but she can never depend on water, electricity or heat. She has a degree in Engineering and can barely make a living. In the years that I’ve known her, the best income she’s made is $180/month. Most of the time when you see pictures of the cities in Eastern Europe, you see the capitals and financial or shipping centers. You normally don’t see the other cities and villages where people have “homes” (but conditions aren’t much better than that of Getachew).

    One day, if you’re game, I’d be willing to take you on a trip through Ukraine where I travel most often. It’s an experience. I encourage you to travel into other countries. It’s an eye opener.

  14. crystalsquest said, on December 28, 2008 at 1:28 am

    It’s a fascinating experience when you look through someone else’s eyes, I agree.

    I sponsor a girl child in Ethiopia through World Vision, and she’s gone to school for the last 6 years because I made a promise to myself when I won the job I’m in. But the biggest gift I’ve got out of that relationship is not the tax deductions, or the ‘feel good’ factor; it’s the times when I turn on the tap to wash a few dishes and wonder at how good I have it, knowing what she goes through to get a bucket of water in a landlocked country. That, and the pride when I see from the annual photos not only how big she’s grown, but how big her smile has grown too…

    There really is no greater satisfaction than touching another life and making a positive impact, is there?

  15. Ryan said, on March 6, 2009 at 4:45 pm

    Hi Eben,

    That is quite an amazing and inspiring story. I am learning more and more that our happiness truly does come from within, that it arises out of our own state of being.

    It seems like all the “material objects” that we encounter in our life are the platforms for us to change the polarity of our minds. That it doesn’t matter so much what we attain, but rather, whether our mind is polarized to recognize the inherent “good” in life or what we perceive as the “bad”.

    Here is an article that explores this idea more in depth: Fulfillment is Found Not Through Attainment But By Letting Go

    I really enjoy reading your experiences, thoughts, and responses to life.
    Thanks for sharing with us,


  16. Erik Peterson said, on June 17, 2009 at 10:35 pm

    Last October, I provided a place to stay for a man who had been homeless for the last ten years.

    A warm bed to escape a cold Michigan winter.

    Over the next five months, my conversations with Joe were some of the most enlightening of my life. He was too proud to accept government aid, but two felonies and a lifetime of rejections made finding work difficult.

    According to people I’ve told: I was crazy, or he was crazy, or both.

    According to Joe, I saved his life.

    Reading your story reminded me of why I’m driven to succeed. Not to receive, but to give.

    Last summer, I quit my job to finish my first project while living in Chicago on $3 / day.

    Starting next month, charity:water will receive 10% of DormTrader earnings.

    Thanks Eben.

  17. M said, on June 19, 2009 at 12:45 pm

    Thanks for sharing!

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