Monday, April 16, 2012

Not Perfect

First thing every morning at school, Asrat would ask me how I was feeling. In Ethiopia I never fell seriously ill, but often battled various minor colds and other ailments. I generally answered Asrat with “I am okay” or “tinish (a little) sick.” Not perfect. While grading the students’ coursework, I would write Perfect! to any 10/10 submissions. A joke developed between us: a partly cloudy day, a made basket that clanged rather than swished through the rim, an English word with a capital letter in the middle, a lunch bowl with two spoons in it, a bleeding pen, a class with one absent student was “not perfect.”

I came to Ethiopia in search of answers, hoping to “figure it out.” I learned a ton. But I don’t think I “figured it out.” I don’t think I ever will. You learn early in life you aren’t perfect, that you will never be the best at anything, to ground your fantasies in reality. You have to create new definitions for personal perfection. From time to time things in my life start to convalesce, and I feel like I am approaching that more grounded perfection.

Inevitably though, life veers off course. Something goes wrong, and suddenly it’s back to square one. I tend to fixate on what is going wrong rather relentlessly, to the point where the fixation becomes a crippling shortcoming in its own. Identifying problems in life and throwing all mental energy at their solutions is an unhealthy, destructive way to live. Even if I fix one problem, the boat is bound to spring another leak. There are always going to be blemishes, failures, difficulties I never anticipate – and not just solvable hardships, but permanent troubles that will never go away. Eventually, I guess you learn that your more modest, adjusted definitions of perfection will never be realized either.

This is where you might expect me to say that Ethiopians face genuine problems like poverty and disease, yet don’t complain about their lot in life. But Ethiopians constantly complain, probably because they are really poor. I suppose that’s what people do – take a look at their lives, identify their problems, and work to overcome them. The foolish part is actually thinking you might ever eliminate them.

At the Kechene school I spent many hours working out math problems with a girl named Freyiwot.

I assumed Freyiwot was a genius the first two months; it wasn’t until the third one that I found out she was actually a third-grader who wound up in KG2 because of a clerical problem. I constantly fed her bigger and harder math problems, but she was insatiable. When she solved 20 X 571 on my last day of school, she just immediately asked for another. Like Freyiwot, we should always strive to be better. But we should never strive to be perfect.

I suppose I might be able to learn to live a life that harbors no hope of anything resembling perfection. It’s usually imperfections that make us laugh, after all. And in Ethiopia, there was a lot to laugh about.

Unfortunately I’m not allowed to show you what was causing this laughter, but trust me, it was pretty funny.

I came to Ethiopia broken and battered. I left Ethiopia broken and battered. I now know I will always be broken, always a bleeding pen. But I am better than I was three months ago. Thirty-two kindergarteners are a little better. Ethiopia is, in some infinitesimal way, better. I have been blessed to be a part of that.

“What we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But if that drop was not in the ocean, I think the ocean would be less because of that missing drop. I do not agree with the big way of doing things.” - Mother Teresa


Blogger TheGraveWolf said...

Do you realize that Bado Neber plays automatically anytime someone visits your blog?

11:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

^ Not perfect

- Asrat

8:58 PM  
Blogger Bag said...


8:24 AM  
OpenID billyymcmahon said...

very good thoughts

8:45 PM  
Blogger Greta said...

Bad Moon Rising,
I am amazed to find this blog! You have been working with the children who have been in my heart each and every day! I am the volunteer coordinator for Children's Hopechest for the sponsors at Kechene. I came to the care point 1 1/2 years ago and felt myself being pulled to get these kids sponsored. I work each and every day from my home in some way with the sponsors and with fundraising. So, to see your pictures, your stories, your influences, and your details about this school brought tears to my eyes. I will be reading more to catch up with your experiences so I can know the school and children better. My blog is if you want to read what has been going on from my end. Hope you are enjoying your travels. God Bless you and all your work you have done there! - Greta

10:01 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home