Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Let Me Serve Them

N is from Ethiopia. He is Oromo. He has the darkest skin of any Ethiopian I've met. He is shorter than most too. He always wears a suit, sometimes with a bright red scarf when it's cold out. He has been the most regular member of our program for African elders at my job in the almost three years I've been there. He stopped coming for a while when he got a job downtown directing traffic at a construction site but then he came right back when the job ended.

N doesn't say very much though his English is probably better than anyone else in the group. He understands most everything so all our teachers and volunteers regularly call on him to help translate. When someone asks for his help, he listens quietly to what is being said before raising his eyebrows to translate. As he speaks, he puts both his hands out, spreading all ten fingers wide, slowly gesturing and looking from person to person.

N's name, in Amharic, means "peaceful."

Every day I see him, he trails beside or behind me to take whatever I am carrying out of my hands. He jumps up from his seat to hand out food, to clean up messes, to pour coffee for others, to take the garbage out, to welcome the newcomers with handshakes and hugs, to stand behind his friends and rest his arms on their shoulders. He taught me to say "Galetooma," which, in Oromo, means "thank you." We say this to each other all the time. His children live in Shashamene, Ethiopia, and one of my deepest hopes for our trip next month is that we can meet each other. I want to look in their eyes with my eyes and tell them how loved their father is in his new home in Oregon.

N is currently fasting. He still brings his friends their plates of food and then clears the dishes away when they are done. Yesterday, another elder got up from the table before he did and started to clear away small salad bowls. As he rushed to finish the job, I heard him say "Let me serve them."

My heart swelled.

Let me serve them.

N is my current best example of how to live my life. Quiet calmness. Quick to serve. Slow to speak. Patient. Affectionate. Forgiving. His name means "peaceful," and he taught me to say galetooma.

I was raised up believing I was somehow unique
Like a snowflake distinct among snowflakes, unique in each way you can see
And now after some thinking, I'd say I'd rather be
A functioning cog in some great machinery serving something beyond me


Meg said...

Oh how I adore the Fleet Foxes... and I pretty much adore your friend N as well. What a remarkable and special person. If only more people were like him.

natalie said...

I don't know N, but I adore him.

Staci said...

Lovely. So lovely. What happened to your blog list, Lori? I miss reading some of your friends' blogs:)

The H Family said...

I love all your stories about the African elders you get to work with. Thanks so much for sharing.

Claudia said...

what an awesome dude. and what an awesome song.

Autumn and Dan's family said...

You know N is my favorite too.

AshliYoung said...