i arrived to addis ababa late last friday night. my flight was delayed because of a sandstorm in khartoum so thick that it blocked the sun from the sky, and for several hours, our plane. i shared
the flight with a sudanese colleague, yassir, our assistant medical coordinator in khartoum. we waited for our luggage on the carousel, and together walked out into ethiopia for the first time.
we shared a taxi to the hotel with a colleague who was attending the workshop from mozambique. it is a strange but certain phenomenon that when you identify a stranger as someone who works for msf, you welcome them into your fold of friends. perhaps family might be more apt. you may not get along, nor agree, but there is a common ground and with it, some forgiveness. at least you know
that the person wearing the msf shirt who stole the last cold pepsi has been through a metafilter, that they could be working somewhere else, somewhere easier, closer to their friends and family, for a hell of a lot more money. so, you just grab the warm pepsi, and sit back down.
though i landed in africa more than a month ago, i didn't feel like i had arrived until i found myself, the next day, crammed into an ethiopian minibus with 15 other people. it was so full i had to lean over two rows of passengers, and brace myself on the back of the drivers seat. the cross hanging from his rearview mirror swung left, then right, as he angled his way through a thick mix of cars, goats, and pedestrians to pick up more people, reggae music bumping from under his seat. it is no wonder that the largest single cause of morbidity for expatriates is road traffic accidents. i am sure the same is true of goats.
I visited the Ethiopian anthropological museum. ethiopia’s rift valley is one of the richest sites in the world for fossils. several years ago, they excavated a nearly complete skeleton of our oldest ancestor, “lucy”. she is 3.2 million years old. her bones lie in the basement of the museum here in addis. I believe an older fossil has been found, an even grayer relative of ours, but I don’t think the skeleton was as complete as lucy’s, and at the least, isn’t just down the road from my hotel.
so there she was, a pile of old bones. 3 200 000 years ago, she walked in the mountains I can see from my window. there’s no way to know if she had any children, nor what type of food she preferred,
nor how she died. we can’t know if she had a ringing laugh, or if she was afraid of the dark. we can tell that she walked, and that her brain wasn’t much smaller than ours. she represented an important advance. once she was an adult, she walked on two legs for her entire life. some scientists suspect that it allowed her to search the savannah for prey or enemies. others believe it was a step towards being able to throw and catch a Frisbee, the most perfect manifestation of human ability.
it is somewhat different for most humans now. rather than responding to our environment, we change it to suit us. we don’t grow more fingers, we build tools. I wonder how we are evolving now that we can see our enemies on google earth.
I believe some of it is an evolution towards collective consciousness, and with it a recognition of a shared human condition. it began, perhaps, with the first morse signal, from there to radio and
television, and has been made manifest with the world wide web. the perspective it provides properly places us in the world and offers a clearer understanding of our role in it. in that way, the internet is not an infinite series of portals, it is a mirror in which we can see ourselves reflected more perfectly than ever before.
lucy can be forgiven for not caring about what lied on the other side of the mountain. she could not have known. one hopes that if she did, she would make the walk.
I do not think that is a naïve hope. I am sitting in a room with 32 people from 22 countries who have made it to stand on common ground. there is room enough for more, for all of us.
there is little choice but to tell the story again, better, to more people. about humans and war and disease and fairness and success. and we hope that if we do it well enough, people will respond with whatever tools they have available.