My audience is small, but perhaps you all can make it just a smidgen larger for just this one post. It is not much for me to offer up my blog space, but really, Jen’s post is far more meaningful than anything I have ever written here, so as small as my audience may be, hopefully it is still the right audience.
So, today I had the desire to write, but sadly, no topic. Janet, being her helpful self, graciously said I could write a guest blog for her. Um, no. You see, I don’t blog. I feel like it’s just one more way of opening myself up to be judged by friends and strangers alike, and, really, who needs more of that? Plus, this is Janet’s blog. It would be rude of me to butt in.
Still, she tried to woo me. She said I could write about why koalas should be classified as bears (tempting- I do have very strong feelings on this matter). She said I could write about pretty hair clips (even more tempting- I have some questions about this one, and I’d love to get the opinions of strangers. No, really.). Then she said: “You could write about Somalia.”
Ouch. So now I’m blogging…because I have to…because this one matters, and it’s all I have to offer. Now, since Janet’s blog is a writing blog, I’m going to start with a story. Don’t worry, it’s kind of a funny one.
I am not a writer. I am a social worker, and this is the completely true story of how my destiny was sealed in kindergarten. Imagine little five-year-old me, sitting on the ugly brown carpet at my Nanny and Pawpaw’s house, watching a big clunky television- the kind you had to stand up and walk over to in order to change the channel. Now, I know that you don’t know me and have no idea what I look like, making it hard for you to picture me, but trust me, I was adorable. Okay, so I was five and it was the mid-80’s, and it was the South, so I was probably drinking a glass of sweet tea. Since I was at Nanny’s, it would’ve been out of a mason jar. Anyway, suddenly all of my favorite singers were on the television, singing together. There was Michael Jackson, Cyndi Lauper, Lionel Richie (swoon), Stevie Wonder…I had excellent musical taste. The song was We Are The World, and I thought it was awesome. Afterwards, they started explaining why they wrote the song and about the famine in Ethiopia. Then, they were saying that they were starting the Hands Across America campaign to help starving people in Africa.
My five-year-old mind was blown. There was a place called Ethiopia? And they had no food? And they were dying because of it? Huh? Looking around my Nanny’s house, where there were always jars of sweet tea, as well as bacon and fried cornbread at any hour of the day, I truly could not comprehend a place where there was no food. But then…Michael Jackson had a solution! Hands Across America! It made SO MUCH SENSE. We (all of us in America) would hold hands, and we would pass all of our food over to Ethiopia, and we would save them. I was so excited about it when I told my mama later that night. I wanted to know when we were supposed to line up.
My heart clenches a little when I think about that five-year-old me- the version of myself that doesn’t even seem real anymore. My poor mother was tasked with explaining to me that things aren’t that simple- an important lesson to learn. But I also learned something else. Empathy. Right there in that very moment, I learned how to feel with someone else, with people on the other side of the world who lived lives very different than mine. Empathy. A skill that will always serve you well, whether as a writer, as a social worker, or just as a human being.
So now I’m taking up valuable space on a blog that doesn’t belong to me, asking you to do something you’re asked to do every day- to empathize. Specifically, I am asking you to empathize with the people of Somalia who are facing a famine, with Somali mothers who cannot feed their children, with Somali elderly who are dying trying to make it to refugee camps, with Somali people who literally have no food. Their situation is made worse due to over twenty years of of civil war. Refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia are overrun with Somalis- searching for safety, searching for food; there aren’t enough resources to help them all. And the ones in the camps are the lucky ones. It is nearly impossible to get aid into Somalia due to the dangers involved in working there.
I know that their cause isn’t an easy sell. Hard times are everywhere, even here in the U.S. Somalia is far away, it is a Muslim country (I’m not going to pretend that doesn’t matter to people), and it is relatively unimportant when it comes to the world stage.
But I’m asking you to care anyway, because somehow the road that started that day in Nanny and Pawpaw’s living room, ended with me working with refugee children, with Somali children. They have become my people, my family. They have shaped me and made me better in ways I cannot begin to describe. And now the people of my people are dying…for lack of food. When I look around me, at all I have, it is just…unacceptable. I am a small person, relatively unimportant. I have nothing resembling a “circle of influence.” I am not going save the people of Somalia, and neither are you, but this is when I have to call on that five-year-old me, who was ready to start holding hands with my neighbors so that we could reach Africa.
I have to help. I have to. I have to give what I can to UNICEF and CARE and other agencies working in Dadaab refugee camp. I have to take Janet’s offer of a guest blog spot. I have to, because, otherwise, there is no redemption for me. There is no redemption for living in a place that has everything, that wastes everything, while there are literally people dying for want of anything.
So, I’m asking you, readers who do not know me, who do not know my babies, to give too, to talk about it too, to annoy the living daylights out of your friends with pushy Facebook statuses about it too. I am asking you to empathize with me and with the people of Somalia. Otherwise, what redemption is there for us?
And if I know anything about writers, it’s that they love a good redemption story.