The Ethics of Safety, or, The Safety of Ethics

Heather is looking at pictures with Abebech, the host at our guesthouse & i am watching pre-football (soccer) music videos ranging from the Black Eyed Peas to Ethiopian music videos. We have been in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital, for a week now and we’re leaving tomorrow. It has been a time for us to relax and to renew our energy.

Unlimited electricity, cool weather, myriad restaurant options have all been elements of our time here. Another thing that struck me upon arrival was the safety i felt upon arrival. I wrote the following passage the first night of our stay:

“We arrived at Addis Ababa International Airport and i felt safe.

The shuttle bus dropped us at the automatic doors, which led to escalators, which led to brightly lit corridors, which led to a visa office, which led to snaking line-ups  kept orderly by those spring-loaded line dividers, which led to friendly immigration officers, which led to the baggage claim and foreign exchange bureau, which led to the arrivals lobby with soaring ceilings and crowds of people―people arriving, people greeting, people happy to be where they were—who were going to their cars, which were parked in the orderly parking lot, which had neatly planted trees growing out of manicured green spaces, which led out to the smooth streets, where potholes where the exception, not the rule, which finally led to the quiet, peaceful guesthouse. All these things made me feel safe.

I guess i’m much more of a city dweller than i’d like to admit.”

The next day we were introduced to a not-so-safe-feeling aspect of urban dwelling: panhandlers. Perhaps because the area we are staying in hosts many tourists and ex-pats, there seems to be a high number of them on the sidewalks in front of shopping centres and churches. There are also a lot of children — usually offering chewing gum or packages of tissues. Our friend Kaitlyn told us that there are more children these days due to it being winter holiday from school. We’ve read in guidebooks that it is not culturally appropriate to give to young panhandlers―it apparently saddens the older generation to see young people resorting to panhandling, since they hope for a better future for the younger generation.

As we walked back from our last meal in Addis (Indian food; so good!) we were followed by a few of these young panhandlers. Later, we reflected a bit on the sadness of the situation. It is a struggle to know just how to react in one of these interactions: it’s quite likely that giving a little money, or even buying some gum, would help these kids in the short term, but doesn’t it just set up a vicious cycle of dependence and begging? “And what would Jesus say about us walking past these people in need?” was a question posed by Kaitlyn that stopped my thought train in its tracks.

Is it really that hard for me to know what a Jesus-like response would be in that situation, or do i use the “it’s complicated” line to excuse my inaction in these situations?

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