26 March 2006

if only i could win the lottery

I got an email yesterday from a friend and co-worker in Rwanda, a friend whose husband died while I was in Rwanda, and with whom I sat in the bedroom next to his emaciated body at the wake. I remember thinking, as she wept and I put my arms around her, "I am not old enough for this." and at the same time I felt as if I had joined the worldwide community of the women who bear the primary burden for dealing with death in countries where funeral homes do not whisk away the bodies and sanitize them. I am not good with death. Dead bodies scare me. It's not so much dying myself, it's the shells of people who have died. I am very aware that it is rather strange, then, that I ended up working in Rwanda and that I am going to Liberia this summer. These two countries have to be near the top of the list of places where you are likely to come across dead bodies. And yet, as I sat there with her and the other women, I felt, for what seemed like the first time, like an adult woman taking the place that women take in this world.

When I left Rwanda, I closed down my organization's program there, for many reasons, including that we just did not have enough money to keep all of our country programs running and Rwanda had always been a bit of an afterthought. No one was ever really sure whether the program would stay open from year to year. It was the odd country out - French speaking, drove on the right, and started as a short-term commitment to post-conflict projects instead of a long-term commitment to development projects. I think it was the only option we had at that point, even though it was impossibly difficult personally. But it also left my friend and co-worker without a job only a year after she had been widowed. Rwanda is not an easy place to find a job. Unemployment is very high.

Yesterday she emailed me to tell me that she had been hungry for several days, cannot pay her rent, and doesn't have the money for the children's school fees (primary school is cheap, but her daughter is in secondary school and has to live at the school). I sent her money, but I just...

I don't usually get discouraged. I have fended off many a request for school fees, food, a few francs or shillings or dollars, usually with a smile and an acknowledgement of the person as a person. I try to help when I can and not let myself be overwhelmed by what I can't do. But today, I am discouraged. I wish that instead of sending what I can and worrying if it will affect my ability to pay rent later in the semester, I could send enough and really help. If only I could win the lottery. If only I played the lottery.

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