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Sinead Harris-Jones' Speech: "A Truck Stop Called Broken Promise"

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This speech was given at the Krista Foundation 10th Anniversary Celebration Breakfast in Spokane, WA on September 30, 2009.

Sinead Harris-Jones is a 2007 Krista Colleague. A graduate from Gonzaga University in Public Relations with concentrations in theology and entrepreneurial business, Sinead's assignment was in the high-risk corridor for truck drivers into the Middle East where she worked with women with HIV/AIDS, and family planning and nutrition. Ultimately, a serious illness necessitated her abrupt leave from her village and she returned to Spokane to recover.

 

Welenchiti, Ethiopia. Translated from its native tongue means "Broken promise". This was my town - overwhelmed with prostitutes, orphans and AIDS. It is located along the High Risk Corridor which sits on the one paved road leading to the Middle East trade route. My town was one big truck stop filled with traveling truckers.

Beshadu Gummuda. That is what they named me when they took me in and made me their own. Beshadu means "Out of her family, she is the most beautiful." Gummuda means, "always happy." My mother always told me, "I was absolutely gorgeous!"

The girl who was always happy worked with a group of 20 commercial sex workers, the outcasts of this broken town. I loved every minute! (minus my constant trips to the bathroom, the 100+ heat, the constant bed bugs, Cha-Chi the monkey from hell and... well I loved every minute). Even when it got hard I would remember a piece of advice from a returned Peace Corps Volunteer from Senegal who was also a Krista colleague. She would tell herself every day, "I can't do two years, but I can do today." So when life got hard I would remember, "I can't do two years (that thought is too overwhelming) but I can do today!" One day at a time is all I could handle. I carried that piece of wisdom with me throughout my time in Ethiopia.

I worked with these women to start alternative income generating activities. We opened a coffee café (buna is served at EVERY occasion - birthdays, holidays, funerals, weddings, morning breakfast, mid-morning break, afternoon lunch, mid-afternoon break, after lunch drink, celebration of getting rid of fire ants (my personal favorite occasion) and everything in between. We also started a shower house for the truckers. One Birr (equaling ten cents in our currency) for a shower. Showers were a treat because we had limited water and towards the end of my service - no water at all.

I spent time just getting to know all of the women I worked with and all of their MANY children. I listened to their stories and educated them about nutritional support, family planning, HIV/AIDS and the like. My new friends once told me, "Beshadu, we work hard to make you proud." My heart swelled more that day than ever before in my life.
 
Fourth of July. A day to remember. Renal failure gripped my entire body that night. I was shaking uncontrollably. I was crying. I was hunched over grabbing my knees. I couldn't move my eyes because my body was sucking the water out of my brain. The migraine almost paralyzed me.

I had accepted my own death that night while lying on my mud hut floor. I was okay with it. I had resolved to never wake up again. "Stomach problems" had killed many of my Ethiopian friend's family members. I was always confused at that vague statement... now I was painfully aware.

Severe dehydration, malnutrition and immune deficiency almost killed me. I was medically evacuated to South Africa overnight and then placed in a hospital for ten days. I was the youngest person in the renal failure ward by ten years. I was "that American girl who was living in Ethiopia and had to pee into a hole in the ground." How odd.

I returned home feeling like a failure. I didn't get to finish. It was never complete. I never said goodbye to the women or my other friends. I just left... assuming I would be back in a few days. I had nothing but my backpack when I got off the plane in America. Why did I survive when so many other people in my town die every day?
 
This is where the Krista Foundation comes in. I was depressed. I suffered from survivor's remorse and social anxiety. The thought of being around too many people terrified me. My friends loved me but never understood. How could I explain to them a mountain when all they had ever known was a hill? I found myself feeling helpless and drowning in my own emotional instability. I felt guilty for feeling any sort of comfort. I believed keeping the pain close to me meant I was remembering my experience. I could not separate the two. In Ethiopia I was isolated and alone and I found myself in America, no longer isolated but still very much alone. This bubbly girl standing before you now was lost.

The only people I ever opened up to were my fellow colleagues. They too had climbed many mountains. I wasn't getting blank faces at my pain but rather comforting words from their own experiences. Feeling like someone could relate was the greatest gift. Finally the loneliness lifted. While my other friends were too afraid to push me, too afraid to ask too many questions, (heaven forbid if I started to cry), my other Krista colleagues weren't going to let me off that easily. No, they knew I needed to process and it was their gentle persistence that made me address my pain and move on. I do not exaggerate when I say the Krista Foundation literally saved my life.
 
The Krista community - my fellow mountain climbers - rescued me from the most depressing period in my life just by sharing their presence. For that I will always be grateful. I had never realized before how valuable this organization would be for me until that fateful Independence Day when I bid farewell to my truck stop town in the middle of nowhere, Ethiopia.

My life has never been the same since. Thank God!

 

Sinead Harris-Jones 

Link to Rachael Novak's speech

Link to Nathan Palpant's speech.