It was a another raining day in Addis Ababa last year when I set out on my hiking expedition to find a good welder to make some needed bunk beds for our girls home. I walked from our area to the sub-city of Bethel; which was about a 3 mile hike on a 10% grade. There seemed to be a welder shop every 20 yards in this area but none of them made beds. After a couple hours of looking I became frustrated and tired and decided it was time to go home. As I made my way down the hill I was just about to turn right to my cut through then I saw one more shop about 50 yards away. Wanting to head home I thought the law of averages must kick in, so I walked down and ask the man, “Do you make bunk beds?”, his reply “YES, of course I do..” That is how my friendship with Tesfa (which means Hope) began.
When I went to see Tesfa this year to make the bunk beds for our kids, it was a warm reunion as we hugged with Ethiopian tradition; that would be greetings, big smiles and three hugs. After telling him what I needed he invited me to go have a macchiato at the local café, this has always been tradition for us, as we did this every time I went to see him last year while checking on the beds. We talk about life, God (he is a deacon in the Orthodox Church) and he’d practice his English while I would practice my Amharic. Today he came by the house and as tradition goes, I invited him to go to my local café and have a macchiato. Today I would pay, because as we call it, “This is my town!”, but today’s conversation has struck me deeply.
We talked about the usually stuff and laughed as I tried to fumbled through my limited Amharic vocabulary. I did learn more about his personal life, finding out he came from the country side with his parents and has lived in the same little sub-city for 20 years. He said they had nothing, literally nothing when they arrived, driven to the city by unrest and war, famine. He worked his way up with small jobs here and there and saved enough money to buy a home made welder; in which he started his own welding business and every year he saved and added new equipment; slowing growing to where he is now. A nice little shop by Ethiopia standards, plastic walls and plastic roof to protect from the weather and an outside area in the grass/mud to make a living in; with three employees, sounds nice right?
Then I asked, “How much do your guys make?” let the humility begin. One of his guys is the top guy (manager) and he makes 100 birr a day, which is $5 for an 8 to 5:30 day of hard work, grinding, welding and such. To make it easier for your reading the exchange rate is 17 US to 1 Birr, I will put the rest in dollars. His other two guys make $4 a day. Then he told me how much he brings home, $1,058.82 a year, yeah that’s not a type-o, a year. He pays himself less than his guys because they are there doing all the work every day and he is out doing unrelated work things and feels it’s unfair .He also said he's scared to raise his prices because he might lose business or shut down like other shops because of big tax increases. Good man, hard worker, trustworthy, husband, father this is crazy.
I’ve been torn since this conversation, feelings of shame as I realized how petty I’ve been when it comes to money. Having plenty of money in my pocket and money in a bank account across the seas and worrying about what am I going to do until more gets here because it’s gotten low. Knowing that Carmen’s made as much in a day doing hair than this hard working husband and father works a year to earn. Having yearly support in place to serve here that would take him about 50 years to make. Me getting bent out of shape because we don’t have dressers yet and we’re pulling our countless pieces of clothes out of bins and suitcases. God we just have so much stuff and there are those that have so little, it could’ve been me, it could’ve been you. I realized how blessed or cursed I am by a statement Tesfa made later in our conversation. He said, “You know what Trent? I am RICH, (he held up his hands) I have 10 fingers, two eyes that see, two hears that hear and can do a little something, make a living, I’m good”
Father forgive us all as we fret in self consumed worlds. We worry about so much that means so little and brings no profit to our lives. Help us to learn from a man that looks like he doesn’t have much, but has everything we need. He fully understands that he is BLESSED!