The Slum

The Slum

by Elizabeth Meier – Ethiopia

It’s just five minutes
From here, from now
And yet it was so far
So far, from anything
Anything I had ever known.

Entering the slum
I realized that I was far
Far, far away
From the Africa I knew
From the Africa I loved.

I knew I was in for a shock.
I knew that the slum was separate
Separate from my own reality
Until one day
It became my reality

The first time…
I came in with a crowd,
A crowd of my friends
To play soccer with the kids,
The kids from the streets…

But then it rained
So we crowded in
Body after body
Into a shack, a shack
Of tarps, wood, corrugated metal and dirt

This was their church
Only one of 2 churches
In the entire slum
The only evangelical church
The only light in a dark, dark place

Thinking back to home,
Which seemed like
Eternity from now
My mind recalled an image,
The image of 4 churches near my house

Instantly I was pulled into the present
The pungent smell filled my nose
And I could sense small hands
Hands, tiny hands holding mine
And tugging at my clothes.

I sat in the midst of a crowd
A small crowd of little ones
I pulled the tiniest close to me
And plopped her onto my knee
More and more crowded near me

Body heat filled the room
And I began to sweat
The heat enhanced the smell
As sweat, urine, feces and dirt mixed
I tried not to gag.

When the program began
The littlest in my arms
Began to drift, drift off to sleep
Her feverish body, warmed mine
And as she rested, I thought

My she must trust me!
A strange white woman
And then it dawned on me
Who was I? To be trusted.
With her safety, with her security.

At the end of the program
Another small girl rushed up
Just as I began to leave
Lunging at me
She wrapped her tiny arms around me.

Planting one small kiss on my head
She joyfully announced,
“I love you!”
I was stunned into silence
For she had loved me…

She had loved me!
More than I had loved them
I had tolerated the smell
To be near them for one afternoon
And yet I could not love like she did

Back at the Red House
I washed away the dirt and germs
From my hands, but instead
I desperately wanted to wash
To wash my heart and my soul

I wanted to take it out
Out from inside of me
And cleanse away the guilt
The guilt of wastefulness and want
The guilt of self-love and religious piety

But I knew I couldn’t do that.
Only God can make me clean
From the inside out
Only He could renew and restore
My desperately broken heart.

But instead of restoration
God broke my heart again
Instead of renewal
God brought me back
back to the lost slums of Cora

This time He took me to the dump
I went, not knowing what to expect
Armed with tennis shoes and camera
I set of with my friends
For an adventure that would change my life

On the way to the dump
I cautiously dogged puddles
Young and old gathered
In a following, following the ferenges [foreigners]
To the dump.

It was a spectacle for all,
For the Ethiopians
Who made their living off of the dump
And for the ferenges
Shocked in horror and disgust

On the way I saw and smelled
Many, many things.
A man washing clothes in a puddle
Old women weighed down with heaviness,
Wild mutt dogs roaming around.

And the smell,
The smell was indescribable.
But what I saw,
What I saw,
Was what shocked me.

Young children, 4 at most
Old women, and young women,
Teens, and adults alike
Climbing and picking
Picking through mounds of garbage.

2 small children,
Boys, aged 10 and 12
Showed me their treasured finds
One, found muddy dilapidated shoes,
The other, bits of metal wire.

This dump was horrific
Rusted metal, broken glass,
Piles of pooh, and rotten food,
Bits of this and that.
And ironically even a Tostitos bag.

But this dump was more
It was so much more
The dump was their livelihood
It was their source of income and food
It was their home.

I couldn’t imagine.
I couldn’t imagine at all.
What it would be like to be them
I had no empathy.
Only sympathy and pity.

Walking through the dump
I was grossed out at the smell.
I was horrified at the poverty.
And I was shocked at my own numbness
I found myself going through the motions

I went into Robotic mode
Directing traffic
And keeping people safe
Watching with vigilance
As our group trailed back to the church.

On the bus again,
I gave health instructions
And asked if they were okay
Blankness stared back at me
And exhaustion flooded our bodies.

Who were these people?
Orphans, lepers, homeless
Beggars, drunks, AIDS victims,
Men, women, children, young and old.
People like you and I.

The slums of Cora
Named for the lost Sons of Cora
This community of people
Are the lost people of Addis
They are the outcasts and rejects of society.

But who was I? Why me?
And why was I here?
My thoughts have roamed and ranged
Since being to the dump today
But most importantly I asked:

But why God?
Why is there this suffering?
Why all of the pain?
Why was I in this place?
Why was I here?

And why God, had I been so blessed?
Why were these people here?
Why was there such a huge
Disparity between my life and theirs?
Why was I a witness to this place?

With these questions swirling in my mind
Emotions flooded my heart
Horror, fear, anger, frustration
Fighting the numbness creeping in
I tried to feel all and none at once.

Repulsed at the injustice and insanity
My heart cried out to God
How can this be?
God, why do you let this happen?
Doesn’t it break your heart?

Lord thank you for breaking my heart.
Thank you for opening my eyes
To see your face in the people of the slums
Lord break my heart for what breaks yours.
Let me see your love for this broken world.

I am stunned by your grace
And in awe of your love.
Suddenly, I am aware of it.
Aware of the poverty in my
The poverty in my own heart.

My heart, broken beyond measure
For the slums and dumps of Cora
I was suddenly graced
with their sweet faith in a Great God
And His awesome love for Humanity!

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