When I was young, I thought people died of Ethiopia. I thought it was a disease, rather than a place. Since then, I'm ashamed to say, my knowledge hasn't grown too far beyond being able to find it on a map. This book has changed that. It taught me about Ethiopian history, as well as a great deal about the history of HIV/AIDS and ARVs.
There Is No Me Without You will break your heart into pieces. The end of the book, with a small number of orphans beginning ARV treatments and the lives of others in America with their adoptive parents described, will begin to put it back together, but nothing but hearing that since its publication the world had finally responded to the AIDS crisis in Africa would fix it entirely and we all know that not to be the case.
A quote in the book, about Haregewoin's visit to NYC reminded me why I travel: "Buildings full of the glowing windows marched one after another all the way to the horizon. Each building was like a lantern, radiating firelight through numberless openings. She understood: America has electricity in abundance. The only thing Ethiopia has in such abundance is dirt." I travel to understand the world, to escape the all too human tendency to assume that my experience is universal. To learn. To appreciate.
There Is No Me Without You opens with a scene that brought me right back to Kpalime, Togo, when Ortencia and I sat with her foster family, eating chocolate in the dark during a rainstorm: "On a dim, clattering afternoon in the rainy season, I sat in a crowded living room in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, stupefied by water. The rain drumming the tin roofs of the hillside district was deafening, as if neighbors on rooftops banged with kettles and sticks. The mud yard boiled and popped in the downpour."
If only we all reacted to the sorrows of our own lives by reaching out to others. The world would be a far better place. "It hurt most of all to see how blessed were all other mothers. They kept their daughters in life, while to her eternal shame she had failed hers at the only thing that mattered."