Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Orphans of Addis Ababa

[I am reading There Is No Me Without You, by Melissa Fay Greene, about the heroic struggle of a tired grandmother called Haregewoin Teferra to care for the orphans brought to her small compound. Life, reduced to the most basic, where giving up is not an option.]

"Allah, Allah,"
comes the morning chant
from the Grand Mosque
and, from their blankets
the weary orphans
of Addis Ababa,
as they
to face another day
among the living.

The dispossessed
of the earth
make their cooking fires
as the sun rises
above the steep
mosque spires.
Donkey hoofbeats clop,
a rooster's cries
pierce the air,
while the children's
hungry eyes,
still too hopeful
for despair,
those they love
who are
no longer

What will
this continent
of hungry orphans
eat today?
As we enjoy
a second cup of coffee,
the comfortable knowledge
that we will eat
later this same day,
little Mintesinot,
Prince of the street
of paupers,
leaves the marked-off
square of earth
under his feet
where he was lying
for the four years
since his birth,
the piece of earth
where his mother died
and his father now lies

He is moving
to a shack
where 60 other orphans
are living
with a tired but
who keeps on
because someone
has to feed the children
whose families
are dying,
so she is

Little Mintesinot,
young Prince
of the barren roadway,
one of 13 million
(say this number slowly)
orphaned by AIDS,
a number so large,
our minds do not engage,
cannot process
it wholly.
What this means:
one small child
13 million times,
alone and scared
and hungry,
with no parents,
with no prospects,
with no dreams.

"Allah, Allah"
the chant continues,
on the air,
on the wafting smoke,
a prayer
of faith and hope and need
so true and clear,
it hopefully finds its way
to Allah's
But it's the world
of humans
who can help
who most
need to hear.


  1. It is heartbreaking to hear those silent cries and be unable to help even a few of the millions who need it.
    The roads of Africa are lined with forgotten ripped me apart when we were there. Thank God for women like Haregewoin who make a huge difference in the world.

    Excellent poem, Sherry. Having read the book, I know you've captured the spirit of it..the curious dichotomy of hope and despair that holds Africa's children in its grip.

    Let's hope more people are listening...

  2. Moving, poignant and chockful of images that placed me there. And yes, it's humans who need to hear, and answer, this cry for help.

    1. still moving, still poignant... it was good to get a second reading these years later

  3. Oh, Sherry, this is heartrending.

  4. Amazing! Your words are beautiful thought your subject is sad. Amazing!

  5. And no one will hear, and no one will care. This situation breaks my heart. You have masterfully illuminated the horror of this world ...

  6. Thank you for lending your poetic voice to the dispossessed of Africa, and for all those who are hungry around the world. You have a great poetic social conscience, Sherry, and it shines!

  7. this is very powerful you captured the deep emotions so beautifully

  8. Not only hearing, but action is crucial...

  9. So well done Sherry. You gave voice to this terrible situation with compassion and with heart. x

  10. This poem haunts me, so moving and the images are impossible to ignore or skim over. Well done!

  11. Oh my, so horribly sad ... you wrote this so so well.

  12. Sherry, your poetic voice is so powerful with you write on something you are passionate about, but then, you are honest with your voice. You only write about what you believe. Well done.

  13. It can be a grim life for some out there. We forget how lucky we are.

  14. Oh the end really brings it home, ties it all together so well. Very nice

  15. A very vivid poem Sherry! We can picture these orphans. Also a powerful reminder of how lucky we are to have been born in the rich western world.

  16. Oh my Sherry - so poignantly powerful! In that voice, your voice that rings so true. Lovely work :)

  17. so true...regardless of deity, be it god or allah or whoever, we are their hands...interesting i just watched a movie with my wife last night about 12 orphans that were 'dumped' on this family and how they learned to live together...

  18. it takes this to realize how rich we are... and how our lives depend on the fact in which country we will be born.

  19. Sherry! You pick up Allah's orphan's with the same passion as wolf and wisewoman and so the poem speaks volumes more than a photo would and makes me see that 13 million as clearly as I saw the ONE blocking the tank in Tiananmen Square. God help humans act for these orphans. God have mercy on them and us.

  20. Evocative and compassionate - thank you for this, Sherry... With Best Wishes Scott

  21. 13 million, that's really hard to comprehend. a lot of things are wrong.
    that's a powerful piece of writing, Sherry.

  22. So sad to read this Sherry ~ May we always hear the chants and pleas of so many small orphans ~

  23. This is powerful. Moving. And, as you say, a reminder of all that we take for granted as we go about our greedy days.


  24. the only flicker of hope is the old grandmother heartrending.......

  25. So heartbreaking! Very thought provoking piece Sherry.

  26. This is truly a heart touching story. Thank you Sherry.

  27. deeply moving.your rendition of Little Mintesinot tugs at the heartstrings.

  28. The horrific numbers behind the AIDS pandemic in Africa,is heart breaking! What a touching poem...
    PS-I would love to read this book now.

  29. I have to echo what others have said--thank you again for making me see and feel

  30. Sherry,

    After reading this, it makes me grateful for what I have experienced and for my present gifts in life. So lucky in many ways.
    Thank you for sharing some more of what you have learned about this world Sherry.
    Best wishes,

  31. This really is such a moving write, Sherry!! Tugs at my heart.

  32. So greatly expressed, Sherry! I am moved by their plight and your incredible tribute to the lives they cling to! Thank you for this!

  33. It tugs at the heart Sherry! Human tragedy through no fault of their own but given a lifeline to survive. 'Someone has to feed them' is a poignant statement of courage but just a frail lady stoic in her resolve to answer that call. Moving and powerful write Ma'am!


  34. OH... You slayed me with your opening comments...

    I read once - I think it may have been Pope JPII ... anyway advice on how to truly help the poor. It wasn't handouts from governments necessarily (not alone) - it wasn't giving them seeds that didn't reseed - It wasn't making farming unprofitable for them... it was SPENDING the money wisely, cleaning up living conditions, teaching them profitable farming, free medicine until they are truly helped, education... if all the money was spent to truly raise them up, not keep them mired in poverty - they would soar as they are a resilient people! There was a story of a farmer who worked for a few years on his own farm... but he couldn't sell the goods cheap enough to make a profit as people had no means to buy AND they would just go and get free food. Not to mention the water supply and sanitary conditions were staggering. Fix that, make education possible for the African people... I also wonder how much is "stolen" off the top when money is donated... And of course, war... Such a beautiful country... But when one is immersed in the center of this tragedy, minutes matter more than the overall picture... survival is now, not a plan in the future. It is so so heartbreaking. It is easy for me to talk...


I so appreciate you taking the time to read and comment.
Thank you so much. I will be over to see you soon!