I came into this country set to focus on and expose the plight of women, how their frail under-fed bodies give way and break under the enormous pressures of their lives, from their daily hard work to child birth complications to relentless back and forth fetching of firewood and water for their family’s meals. Instead, the tender gestures of the men repeatedly beckon my curiosity and catapult my heart.
I will forever remember the image of these men, eyes searching for assurance, hope and a sign that their loved one will be well. They speak in almost inaudible whispers, “eshie, esh, esh”, (yes, yes, yes) murmuring as I try to communicate through body language and nuances. I extend my hand, hold their eyes with mine, and know sadly that I can’t reassure them of the health of their loved one. I can only offer my Western bred feeble attempt to return the gentle love they express through their delicate manners.
Without doubt, my heart beats for the men of Ethiopia.
One after another, they offer me a jarring counterpoint to my preconceptions of the barbaric circumstances I have heard about: rape, abduction, child marriages. Believing that these things do exist, I see no signs of the capability of these heinous behaviors.
I don’t think the heart can be directed willfully. And today, once again, I feel my heart opening and expanding into deep crevasses that were long ago hardened by a series of youthful poor choices and the history of watching first hand the abuse of my own mother.
These men toil the fields, tend to the animals and can’t bear the sight of their loved one at the throes of unbearable pain. They pace the hallways of the maternity ward, for days, after selling off their cows to pay for the hospital services, searching they eyes of anyone who looks confident. They carry her gently and lovingly for many miles and days in search of medical help.
Will she survive? Will she come home with me? How can I help?
Eshie, esh, esh.
An extended hand is met with a strong grip, from a place of desperation, never wavering their yearning that is born from hope. Passion at its most exposed and vulnerable level, they reach for the health of their loved one.
I also witness these traits outside of the hospital setting, as I watch the interactions on streets and in small villages. There is an unfamiliar and incredibly seductive way that the men protect the well being of the women they love. I know I am romanticizing, and that abuse and excessive control do exist toward women. I see this on occasion. But by far, and so surprisingly, I see the grace, love, and extreme tenderness that the males feel toward women here.
Many before me have remarked about the intense eye contact found in the eyes of Ethiopians. It is almost like their ancient ancestry and lack of colonization give them powers that the rest of the world does not possess. As one Ethiopian man recently told me while sitting at an airport, “Everything starts, and ends, with the eyes.”
If this is indeed true, and my own eyes are not deceiving me, then I never want this love affair to end.