Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Ephraim The Child Hustler - Ethiopia #9

This is an email I recently sent to my Son and Daughter:

Dear Jacob and Amy,

Yemrehana Krestos - The Church in the Cave.
Today I bought two gifts to bring home for you from a little boy named Ephraim (you say it, “Ef-rye-eem). He was the first person I met today when we arrived in a small village where there is an ancient church in a cave carved out of rock. He was right there when I opened the door and he said, “Plastic?” I knew what he wanted. 

Believe it or not, here the children like to get empty plastic water bottles from the Faranji (that means foreigner, which I am here in Ethiopia). Why do you think that is? Well, they are very poor and the plastic bottles can be used for all kinds of things, especially carrying things like water. So I grabbed an empty bottle from our van and gave it to him. He took it and then disappeared into the crowd of other children who had quickly gathered around us. I didn’t know his name yet, but I was going to meet him again later.

Imagine we lived in a village like this and we were very poor. Imagine that sometimes rich people from far away came to visit our village because there was an ancient church here. How could we take advantage of this and get some of their money for our family? Well, these rich people would be much more likely to give things or even buy things from you and Amy than they would from Mommy and me, because you are children and children are cute. So, it would be your jobs to go up to the rich people and talk to them. For you to do that though, you would need to be able to speak their language. Our language is Amharic. Theirs is English. So you would learn some things to say in English. The first one would be “Hello!” You would also learn to say things like “Where are you from?” and “How do you like the Church?” Mommy and I would also give you things to try and sell to them. Or maybe you would even make the things yourself. You would have to learn how to say the names of those objects and also how to say, “You Want?” or “You Buy?” You would become a hustler, trying to make money from the rich people for our family. Now I feel sad, because now I am also imagining you having to do this and it is something I would never want for you both.
So how did I meet Ephraim again? To get to the cave church (which is very cool by the way. Its name is Yemrehana Krestos), we had to walk twenty minutes up a mountain. All the way up and all the way down, there were children trying to sell us things. Mostly they were little red clay animal statues. Sometimes they would keep walking beside us, “You want chicken? Special, it painted colour” or  “You want Oxen?” they would ask. I had been politely saying no to them and then ignoring them when they kept asking.

But towards the end of my walk down, for some reason I stopped and talked to this one boy who had been following us for quite a while. He was not going to give up. Maybe that is why I stopped. Maybe I liked his persistence. “Sheep?” he asked.

I looked at the clay sheep in his hand. When I did, Amy, I thought of your collection of animals that you have. And I thought, “This would be nice for Amy to have. It would be nice for her to own a toy animal that helped a little boy and his family have some money.” So I gave him 50 Ethiopian Birr for it (Birr is what they call their money here). That is the equivalent of $2.50. Believe it or not, a lot of people would say that is too much money to pay for something like this. 

I asked his name and he said it was Ephraim. He let me take his picture. You can see the money I gave him in his hand. But Ephraim was not finished. He still had more to sell. He had this little ball made of string that he wanted me to buy as well. But I said no and kept walking back to our van at the bottom of the mountain.

Ephraim and his gang take selfies.
While we were waiting for everyone else to get back to the van, the children crowded around again. I sat outside with them. Sometimes we talked and sometimes we just looked at each other. Ephraim came and started trying to sell me his ball again. This time though, he said something he had not said before, “Football? You want? Very Good!” He bounced it on the ground and gave it a small kick. Until he said “football”, I had never thought that this little ball could be used to play soccer with. Jacob, I thought of you playing mini-soccer in the hall or even then using it to play mini-sticks with Nate. So I took out 20 Birr (can you do the math to figure out how much that is worth?) and offered it to him. It was a deal.

I asked him how old he was but he did not understand me. Then another boy repeated my question in Amharic for him. “I am 10.” he said.

“You are a good business man,” I told him. I noticed he had more than just my money in the raggedy pocket of his old jeans. “Lots of money.” I said pointed.

“Yes.” He smiled.

Then I showed Ephraim the picture I have of you both and Mommy on my phone. By pointing to each of you, I told him that the ball was for you Jacob and the sheep for you Amy. He was happy to see who you were. Other kids gathered around trying to see the camera too. So I gave it to them and showed them how to take selfies with it. I had to show them how to hit the blue camera button on the screen to make it work. They even took a video. I wanted the two of you to be able to see who they are.

Ephraim is a good business man. I meant that. I hope one day he can use his business skills to do more than try and hustle rich people from far away to buy his trinkets though. Maybe one day he will use his business skills to help to turn the ancient cave church in his village into a larger tourist attraction that it will bring enough money into his village that his children won’t have to beg the rich people anymore. I really hope so.

Love, Dad.

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