The Weight of Words [117 Trip Chronicles]

Her words. They were so mundane. They were spoken with the kind of matter of factness you would expect from a doctor after a clean check up. Maybe that’s why I missed them.

Standing on the front steps of Kidane Mihret orphanage in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, her words would have been easy to miss.  There, your senses are overwhelmed.  Your mind can easily be pulled elsewhere.  Maybe to the run down courtyard where the kids with no parents joyfully play soccer or climb on the decrepit jungle gym.  Or maybe your mind follows your eyes to the couple of soul-tired nuns, sitting along the crumbling wall, solemnly watching the children with no parents in their happy games.  Or perhaps you stand in your stunned silence, unable to process properly the human interaction before you, just...because.  It’s entirely possible.

There is so much weight to bear in that place.

Her words. They were lost on me in the moment.  But as the days went on, and as my mind churned through the readily available and fresh images of the fatherless, their full weight became evident.


In America, the word has become so frequently associated with something to lose.  Here, in Ethiopia, weight has been assigned a much different connotation.  When I think of the weight in Africa, my mind rushes to the memories of children clambering upward on my masculine frame.  Four. Five. Six children. Children who have never known the firm and stable, but undeniably gentle, affection of a man, running their hands over the hair on my arms, and pulling at the hair of my beard.

The tangible weight of these children. I never want my mind to forget the heaviness of those precious souls.

The long term missionary woman in front of me. Her words...

“you know, being a man...just standing there, doing’re doing something.” 

I will never forget those words.

See, that’s all it takes.  Just be there.  And just be a man.  In a country where so much male attention, nurturing and PRESENCE has been lost to HIV/AIDS, lost to abandonment, lost to the hopes of a better life apart from the financial liability children bring, all a man has to do is BE.

In Ethiopian culture, I have learned that the father is really meant to provide financial support and discipline.  While I understand the cultural span, my mind can’t comprehend the attention these children gave me.  Even if they knew their fathers for any amount of time, chances are they never really experienced the affection of a man.  It showed.

This is another reason why I go.  Feeling the weight of these small human beings...even if just for a short time, filling the void left in their abandonment even though it feels like such a small offering, can color the faces of the orphaned something different than they would have been otherwise.

Be there and be a man. That’s all that was required of me.  And I’m forever changed.