While, for the most part, this is a blog about Shamida and all its happenings and shenanigans – this particularly post is about me unpacking the events of the last few weeks and how as a westerner living in an African culture deals with the surreal reality of tragedy.

I had been out of the country for a few weeks and for me this is not as much fun as it sounds. I miss Ethiopia when I am away. Don’t get me wrong, the break from the craziness is also great, but the reality is that I find life outside of Ethiopia a little overwhelming now.

Perhaps, “overwhelming” isn’t the correct word.

Maybe I need to say: “I don’t have patience for people’s ‘first world problems’ anymore.”

I digress, back to my unpacking…

After returning to Addis Ababa I was greeted with some sad news – one of our previous nannies was, from what I can understand, cooking dinner for her husband and the kitchen caught on fire.

She has been severely burnt; suffering third degree burns to her head, her chest and her arms, and no one can tell me of her prognosis. It seems doubtful. So as I fell asleep that night I questioned why these things happen to people at all, let alone people who have so little.

While pondering this over a cup of tea the following morning, more tragic news arrived: There had been a landslide at the local garbage dump. The garbage dump where people live, where people earn their living and where people who have so little migrate.

Again. WHY? Is it not enough that these fine people live on a garbage dump?

Apparently not.


It was all a bit much. Sleep that night was as scarce as the night before. So, instead of tossing and turning, I dutifully threw myself headlong at our clothes cupboards, much to Ruby’s initial concern.

But, let’s face it, I only wear a few outfits so I had a bunch of stuff that I really didn’t need, and my daughter doesn’t need as much as she has either. Particularly when we knew that those people at the dump who already had so little had lost everything, including many many lives.

So the next morning when the rest of the country woke up (while I was on about my 10th cuppa tea) I went into overdrive – what can I do, what can we do as an organization, what can I ask those around me to do?

The answer at that point was very little. It was so frustrating, I needed to do something, I needed to help in some way. So I spent the next few days, with a volunteer who was visiting, Tina, collecting clothes, shoes, money, whatever people were willing to provide.

An organization that is based over near the garbage dump area said “Yes” when we asked if we could help in any way. So, over the following week… we helped.

Not just with the aid that we had collected, we helped with manpower to cook meals for 400 people. During all this I realized that in helping those destitute people, I was actually helping me.

Sounds selfish, doesn’t it?

Maybe it is. But it’s a good kind of selfish – the kind that allows for others to benefit. The kind that makes me feel that however lucky I am, I am luckier still that I have the ability to assist others.

So yes, I benefitted – but there is no crime in nourishing the soul, is there?

Meanwhile, we were still running Shamida, caring for babies, and disabled kids and toddlers. Beds needed to be replaced or repaired, as did a couple of windows. Along with working out what an epilepsy diagnosis meant for one of our permanent residents Alazar.


I think that’s it for “unpacking” the events of the last few weeks.

BUT, I want to remind people that there is still suffering and need in the garbage dump area.

So, before we get back to our daily lives, before we go get annoyed because they got our coffee order wrong or that coke isn’t as cold as we wanted, we need to keep these survivors in our minds and hearts.

While many will forget about this and probably already have, there are families that will never forget. Never forget the night that evil turned up on their door step and took the lives of loved ones, stole neighbors and friends. Lives have been changed forever and yet, we continue with ours.

This all reminds me of the time my father died, suddenly. 3 hours from alive-and-healthy to dead. The reality takes a month or more to set in, and when it does everyone has said their “sorry’s” and have moved on… so I am trying not to move on so fast for these survivors. To think of them when I am tempted to ask about a cold coke or a hot cuppa tea or why there is no power…

This one Westerner chooses to remember, chooses to move on but slowly and remember that if it is still surreal for me, how much more surreal is it for those who now have a dead loved one.

Life is hard. Life can truly suck. AND life is a blessing!

More tea is needed for me to move on, and there will be a little place in my heart that will always break for the horrific tragedy I have seen with my eyes and heard with my ears.

If you want to help you can you can donate here and every penny goes direct to those that need it… http://mydonate.bt.com/events/korahrelief/430567

4 responses to “Unpacking

  1. Linda Huffstutler

    What heartbreak for the families who lost loved ones, for your former nanny’s family, and for you. You all are in my prayers. I’m glad you were able to belp. I don’t understand why bad things happen, but I know God has purpose beyond my comprehension. I do know he cares.

  2. Robyn Mills

    Karen, your blogs continue to move and inspire me. You are an amazing woman with an incredible heart. Love you to pieces

  3. Julie Reid

    My heart breaks for the people suffering such painful loss. It one thing to experience the horrific loss of a loved one; but to then add the loss of your house and your job on top of that already insurmountable loss is truly heart wrenching! I, too, loss my daddy in the same manner that you did and know exactly what you meant when you said it’s barely even registered before the rest of the world has already moved on. My prayers are with these people, your organization and you and Ruby as well.

  4. Glenys Wood

    Hello Karen, I have sent two emails to you. Looking forward to a reply. I am happy to come and be a volunteer for a short time. Could bring things that could be helpful to you.

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