A Conversation I’ll Never Forget…
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.
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:
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