Exactly what is aid?

As I’ve taken ample time to reflect on the race and where to go from here, I have also thought long and hard about existing paradigms on foreign aid and how we might need to break them in order to develop effective models from the ground-up. I asked Jen to prepare an entry based on her experiences she had on her 2008 trip to Ethiopia with Mocha Club. After losing the first draft due to the fact that our computer died before she had a chance to save it, she was kind enough to write it…again. Enjoy!

I still have the tan canvas Keens that I wore on the muddy soccer field in Ambo, Ethiopia. In fact, the mud can still be found inside the shoes. The inside of the shoe is imprinted with the word “washable” but I have no intention of doing so since it has been there for over two years and serves as a reminder  of one of the most memorable experiences I had while I was in Ethiopia. The outside of the shoes, however, are quite clean and look almost as good as they did when they came out of the box. The shoes are clean because of a young group of street boys that live in Ambo, Ethiopia.

Before I go further, allow me to give you some relevant information about these boys:

–          My team spent a day with about 30 of them. They have been single-orphaned or double-orphaned and their extended families have either neglected them or they have no family.

–          They are rejected within their own community (like most societies…even our own)

–          They range in age from 7-17-years-old

–          They have odd jobs, but can usually be found shining shoes on the street corners in order to earn enough money to buy their next meal

We drove our bus to an area where Mocha Club was building a new school for the Kale Heywet Church and we were lucky enough to have a large field nearby so after lunch with these boys we made our way to the field and began to play soccer. This field was muddy. The type of mud that is mixed with clay so it is slick and it sticks to everything. I could barely run down the field without slipping every two feet. As I walked off the soccer field I recalled a conversation I had with the nurse who had administered my immunizations, “whatever you do, just stay away from mud and lettuce.” Uh-oh, oh well! I looked down and saw my pants covered in mud and I had about six inches of mud surrounding my shoes. If I attempted to scrape it off with my hands, then it would stick to my hands so I walked over to an area with a few rocks and began to scrape  my shoes. That is when one boy came over and knelt at my feet and motioned for me to give him my foot. I rested my muddy shoe in his hands and he began to scrape them with a stick. He was barefoot himself.

I looked up and in front of me stood one of my friends and a boy knelt at her side and began to clean her shoes in the same manner. My eyes swelled with tears and as I looked down at the boy they fell from my eyes. At that moment he looked up at me and grinned as if it brought him great joy to serve me with everything he had.  I had to ask myself if I had done the same?

Soon, the boys all began to say their goodbyes and quickly rushed off the field. We inquired one of the older boys where they were heading and that is when he informed us that since they had spent the day with us that they had lost out on a day’s worth of wages and they needed to hurry and head to town to clean shoes in order to have money for dinner.

My heart broke upon hearing this. Here we were, thinking that we had done good by playing soccer and talking with them and yet they were the ones who sacrificed their time to be with us. We looked down at our muddy shoes and decided that we could still do one more thing. We piled into the bus once more and made our way to the main street where we found the street boys. As we exited the bus they greeted us warmly and we sat in their make shift tents and two-by-two we had our shoes cleaned. When I sat down to have my shoes cleaned, I had my doubts that the boy would be able to get the mud (or clay) off my canvas shoes. Especially when I saw the muddy water he was going to use to clean them with, but, regardless, I lifted my foot and let it rest on the rock that also served as this boy’s chair and let him go to work. I watched in awe as he fiercely scrubbed my shoes and in about thirty seconds my shoes were cleaner than when I had stepped onto the field.

Afterwards, I stood off to the side and marveled at how quickly the boys worked, the fact that they used rocks as their chairs, and that one of the greatest acts of kindness and service is to wash another’s feet and the ones to do this for me were the street boys of Ambo, Ethiopia. I overheard a conversation that our group leader, Geoffrey, was having with one of the street boys. Geoffrey asked him what he thought of Ethiopia and the boy replied with a big grin and said, “Ah, yes. It is the life!”

It is this experience that I draw from when I think about the misconceptions of “foreign aid.” I have realized that before I left for Africa I thought I was going over there to “help” them. I knew I wasn’t going to change anything grand, but that I would (perhaps) impact someone’s life. But I was the one who had it “messed up.” They served me and taught me that aid and service is a two-way street; a give-and-take relationship. I would be doing Ethiopia an injustice to go over there and think that what works here in the U.S. is going to work in Ethiopia. First, they love their country and we must truly understand that. Second, the only way to serve and aid is to teach so they can, in turn, teach others, etc.

So the Chinese proverb stands correct,  “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”.

Serving is truly a beautiful art. It takes practice, but what is so intriguing about it is that it is contagious. Like when I stood on the field “serving” the street boys thinking I had done them well, then one boy came and sat next to me and cleaned my shoes. He trumped me!  This is why my “washable” shoes will never be washed.

My experiences in Ethiopia were some of the happiest days of my life. To serve others and to have others serve you with everything they possibly have, it is, well, like the street boy said, “It is the life!”

1 Timothy 6:18-19
Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. 19In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.

Snapshot.

I know this is coming a bit late, but I wanted to let everyone know that I’m drafting up a race report from Saturday. I want to thank everyone who has supported Run For Something so far…your positivity helped me have a great day despite a lot of challenges. I finished in 2:48:08, 67th overall, and set a 10 minute, 13 second Personal Record. My official results are here, and you can see pics here. I can honestly say that I’ve never been more proud of, or satisfied with another race. It was a great day, and as soon as I get my thoughts together I’ll get a complete report posted. Jen took some great pics from the sidelines, and I’m going to get those up as soon as possible as well.

Persevere.

Where do I start? How do I pick up the pieces of the past month?

A little over four weeks ago, I did a 23M on a perfect Sunday afternoon and had a glimpse of the possible. It was the first time in the past eight months of training I actually felt like 2:39-40 was within my grasp. I couldn’t believe how great I felt, despite having averaged 6:35 over challenging terrain the last 13 miles. Then,  work sent me off in several different directions and it the edges began to fray. The week after that glorious long run, my left leg felt a bit tricky which I shrugged off as simple fatigue from four weeks over 100/week and an arduous run. But it got worse, probably compounded by a ten day stretch where I switched to night schedule and my sleep cycle was all jacked up.

Things continued to worsen when I got home…hot hot humidity, lack of rest, and my left calf turned into a bona fide injury as opposed to annoyance. On top of it all, I simply could not hit my target paces for key workouts and I just plain got depressed about it all. Two weekends ago, things hit a crescendo when I couldn’t manage for five miles what I’d previously been running for 10-20. It was a severe mental blow…but as I spent some time looking at my state of mind and approach to training, I figured out some key lessons.

One, the whole reason for starting this whole Run For Something endeavor was to get beyond personal ambition. Yet here I was, dwelling on my troubles, not blogging at all and just generally feeling sorry for myself. I won’t say I had an epiphany, but sitting at a Sunday night service at Midtown, I felt a message built just for me hit home. Without getting too far into the weeds, let me tell you I walked away from it re-purposed. The specific take-away for me and for this project was to stop feeling sorry for myself…there were bigger things at work besides my little mental breakdown. So many times over the past month, I felt like I should be writing and sharing with my devoted readers. Instead, I wallowed in self-pity. I should have been sharing stories like this.  

Then, last Tuesday, I received terrible news. Four of my brothers were killed in a helicopter that went down in Afghanistan. These were men to whom I was bonded through trials and challenge beyond the scope of what I care to discuss here. One of them, Michael “Flo” Flores was one of my troops in my last job, and it is his loss I feel the most. He was such a quiet, unassuming professional. Always ready with a crooked smile, his demure mannerism completely disarming. He leaves behind a wife, two children, and a host of men and women whose lives he altered. He died on his anniversary.

I have no problem sharing with you my deep sorrow and broken heart over these losses. In eight years of wars, this is the first time someone close to me has been killed. I have been remarkably fortunate, I feel this on a personal level that is too painful to explain.

This brings me to today, on a flight to Tucson for tomorrow’s Memorial Service. We left SC yesterday and I made arrangements to get to AZ mid-trip, so I haven’t made it up to Duluth yet. My plans of getting up there early to pick up my packet and unwind before the race have obviously gone by the wayside. I’m going to show up in Duluth on Friday with a legs heavy with travel, but not as heavy as my heart. Then there’s my injured calf and the derailed training of the past month.

I’ll be honest – I thought about withdrawing. There are a lot of reasons not to run at this point. My Perfect Plan of arriving in Duluth well-rested, tapered, and trained for the Big Race has not survived life’s ups and downs. But I’ve asked myself over the past week some important questions. Would Flo want me to quit before I even started, feeling sorry for myself? Never. This was a man who met and overcame challenges in training that eliminated 90% of his peers; Flo was a man who when he said, “Never Quit,” he meant it. I asked myself: Will the Sudanese who will learn to access clean water because of our contributions to Mocha Club care whether I run 2:45 or 4:45? The answer is a resounding, “NO.”

So, I will persevere. I don’t care if I have to walk, don’t care if I have to crawl across that finish line. I will remember the needs of others, and place them before personal desires and comforts. In the meantime, I ask that if you have the means, please join my team by hitting the Mocha Club link on the right. Make a difference and contribute. If you can’t afford it, I ask only for your moral support and prayers for the families and friends of the fallen, and for our Mocha Club project. And, if you have the time, on the morning of June 19th, think of me while I run Grandma’s and send me some of those thoughts and prayers as well.