Most folks from Be the Cause know that I don’t necessarily plan all my talks. But for this evening in Africa, because of the complexity of the continent, I thought it would be good to prepare something. I felt that the audience should know how poverty, women’s rights, health care, HIV/AIDS, corruption, culture and education all tie in together. So at 2:00 in the afternoon when I should have been getting ready to leave, I decided to go for a walk to think about what I would say. I thought to myself, I have to talk about third-world debt and how some African countries accumulated an exuberant amount of debt through unfair practices… and how crippling it is for these countries to now repay these loans back. I thought, I have to talk about Bono from U2 and how inspiring his work with one.org is. I thought to myself, I have to talk about Be the Cause and how a simple act of kindness three years ago has rippled far out into the community.
So as I’m thinking of what to say, I make a turn on my block and a woman comes to approach me. Then she turns away, and then approaches me again. She asks me “Are you busy right now?”. I obviously reply that I am free, after all the event is only in a few hours. She proceeds to tell me that her husband is lying on the floor of their house and cannot get up. He has been lying there for two hours and just got back from the hospital after a heart attack a few days ago. The husband is not allowing his wife to call the paramedics.
As I followed her into the house I thought to myself, anything can happen, I don’t even know who these people are. In that moment, I decided that whatever belonged to me, I would give away freely to these people.
Sure enough, as we walked into the bedroom, her husband lay there on the floor. I could tell he was embarrassed as the only article of clothing he wore was a pair of boxers. His wife grabbed him from one side, I from another. Struggling, we were able to place the upper half of his body on the side of the bed. We then went for his legs and somehow twisted and maneuvered until he was finally safe in his bed.
As I left the house, I thought to myself, finally I have a story to tell. I walked around the block recounting the experience I had just had when the woman approached me again. This time all she said was a sincere “Thank You”. She proceed to ask me if I was friends with her neighbor “Mary Ann”. I knew Mary Ann and had walked with her before… it was in that moment that I realized that this experience on my block in sunny Southern California was related to the continent of Africa 9000 miles away.
In Kenya, several months ago, when a few of us were volunteering at a Medical Clinic, we were asked to give a presentation on who we were and what we were going to do in Kenya. At the presentation, we made it clear that we did not have anything to offer the people of Africa, but had much more to learn. In the rural town of Mbita, Kenya, all the locals knew each other by name, they left their doors unlocked and their kids roamed the streets with no fear. Many times we would find children playing in the streets with no adult supervision.
During that presentation, we confessed that in America, we did not even know the names of our neighbors.
This afternoon, around my block, a neighbor now knows me.
If we do not think of our neighbors as one of us, then we cannot help them. If we do not think of the people of Africa as one of us, then we cannot help them.
With the words of U2: “We’re one, but we’re not the same. We get to carry each other. Carry each other. One”.