When Bad Things Happen

Writing this blog has always been easy - not that I am a 'good' writer - but I am usually writing about something I believe in, something positive. This one has been hard. If you've never read anything I've written before, please read this one. If you have any comments please add them - no comment will be ignored. If you want to contact me, email me at bob@hotsauce4good.com. I will write back. Please share. Please read all the way through.

One quick note - these go from sad to tragic. I'll start with the sad...

1. Conversation on the subway:

Dude 1: "Hey, I love your illustrations man, what've you been working on? I'd love to see them."
Dude 2: "I only work on stuff I get paid for now. I haven't drawn anything in like, a year."

How sad is that? These two guys saw each other on the E train - they hadn't seen each other for a few years. Both were artists - at least at one point. One of them was carrying his portfolio. Do I know if he was a commercial success? Nope. But he was trying. The other now works for 'the man'. He's getting paid. "Gotta pay rent." as he put it. That's true but to have a gift and not use it? Especially one like an illustrator or an artist...a talent that I wish I had...man, how horrible is that. I can only hope he has been thinking about that chance encounter on the subways - his encounter - as much as I have. I pray he considers picking up his pencil again and draws, just draws for the love of it not for the paycheck it will bring.

2. Witnessed while walking down the street in Addis Ababa:

A street vendor, I'll call him Fagin, yelling at and then kicking one of the street urchins in his 'employ'. This 'Artful Dodger' was no more than 7 years old, skinny and dirty. The fact that she didn't miss a beat, followed us and stepped up her begging was proof that this treatment was not out of the ordinary for her. The 'request' quickly escalated from one birr (5 cents) to 100 all the way up to 1,000,000. On one level I had to laugh at her audaciousness but on every other level, my heart broke.

What do you do in that situation? A few things went through my head when this happened. I wanted to empty my pockets and give her all the birr I had. Would that have made a difference to her? Maybe for that hour or that day. In reality all it would have done is perpetuate the problem. If these pimps can use these kids - and they are successful, then they will not stop, they won't give them a better life, they will only 'employ' more. And what happens when they are too old to beg anymore - say 10 years old? They are on the streets, lost, broken, stealing, selling themselves.

I also wanted to attack this Fagin, this pimp, this devil. That I didn't do 'something' at the time still weighs on me. Would anything I could have done have helped? Probably not but 'all it takes for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing'.

World Vision has published some guidelines on why the best thing that you can do in any country when confronted by these beggar children is to consciously ignore them. This behavior will, I hope, put an end to it. These little ones I pray, have a special place in the kingdom.

So, what can I do? I can write this and bring a little awareness. That night I cried.

3. Conversation at dinner in Addis Ababa:

Me: "It's great to hear that these young girls want to become doctors, scientists and teachers."
My dinner mate: "Unfortunately many of them will never get the chance. When it's time to go to university many families won't send girls."
Me: "But these families really want their girls to be educated."
My dinner mate: "It's not that - they are scared to send their girls to university for fear they will be raped."

That exchange was probably the worst thing I have ever heard. I cried that night. I cried not just for the incredible, beautiful, intelligent, gifted girls that we met while we were in Ethiopia but for every single girl that has to grow up in fear. I cannot even fathom being afraid to go to school, not because of war or turmoil but because I was a girl.

There are 'reasons' if you want to call them that - and the people we met are working tirelessly to change the culture, change the hearts and minds of those that believe this stupidity. The team at World Vision is winning many battles. We were inspired by them and by the families of boys and girls who we met - and we pray that this generation, now that they have experienced the truth of equality, will overcome the attitudes and mores of the past.

What are these 'reasons'? Really, it's only one - there is a belief that if a man (or boy) has sex with a virgin, he will be protected (or cured) of AIDS. The disease of AIDS is a huge problem in many African countries and protection from it will certainly not come from activity that without question exacerbates the problem. Girls are being raped. Girls are ostracized because they are shamed. Virgins are 'prized' for marriage. To keep these girls 'pure' many families won't send their daughters off to school for fear they will be raped. Girls education stops at high school. The cycle repeats.

What can we do? Pray. It doesn't cost a thing and it is powerful. Set your mind to it and do it. Donate to organizations like World Vision and She's the First who are on the front lines and winning the war. If you have other ideas please post them here - and together we can make a difference. We can bring hope to the hopeless.

I am praying for all these girls but especially for those I met - for Lydia, the two Asters, Avantu, Mahder, and Kalkidan. These girls are beacons of light. Their families are strong. Their support system is stable. They will succeed. They will, they have to. The future of their community, of Ethiopia, of Africa, of the world is at stake.

Bits & Pieces

  1. I've been invited to Williams College in the Berkshires to speak to a group of undergraduates about the work we are doing at Hot Sauce 4 Good. Chef Mark and the food services director, Bob Volpi are championing the event. Chef Mark has even offered to cook up some dishes using the hot sauce! I'll try to 'steal' the recipes.
  2. Kate at Hillsboro Farm sent some of our hot sauce to the west coast. It's a hit - now we just need to get some stock so they can buy it!
  3. Laurie has been doing presentations at her school using our trip to raise awareness with elementary aged students. What's great is they 'get it' more readily then us adults. And they are willing to make simple changes that can have long-reaching effects.
  4. Say a prayer for us - the process to get FDA approval is long and arduous. We are cutting it tight for our first deadline. We WILL make it - right?!?!

You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

Matthew 5:13-16 (NIV)

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. 9Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. 11If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.

1 Peter 4: 8 - 10 (NIV)