The voices of my heroes reverberated off the walls in a reverent chorus. We were all crammed into a small side-room, gathered around a large plate of food balanced on a wobbly stool. As everyone dug in, laughter and conversation followed on the tails of the prayer, filling the room with joyful sounds. Boiled corn and sugar potatoes were passed around with berbere–Ethiopian spices–for flavor. Coffee was rinsed and prepared for roasting. It was marvelous.
I met my heroes in southern Ethiopia, during an internship at Soddo Christian Hospital. These six cleaning ladies were a handful of the many people I saw daily during my summer in the hospital’s OB-GYN ward. Day in and day out, they faithfully kept our building clean and served new mothers by making them food. They were the faces that always greeted me during morning rounds and always showed up first to our ward’s Bible study. Initially, I didn’t take much notice of the motley crew. My mind was spinning with an overload of new medical, cultural, and linguistic information. But as I adjusted to life at the hospital and became familiar with the everyday routine, they became sweet friends.
This friendship was built during the ladies’ chai sa’ats, mid-morning breaks. Every morning around ten o’clock, they made coffee for the ward in a traditional jebena. What initially began with a spontaneous date to learn to roast coffee became multiple long gatherings when they lovingly welcomed me into their small community. From the moment I stepped into their tiny room, I was swept into their daily rhythm of eating, laughing, and working together. They showed me traditional Wolaita food, taught me to roast coffee the Ethiopian way, and always, always shared. Whether it was the avocados and bread they produced from a small plastic bag or the hot chickpea kolo fresh off the stove, everything was for everyone.
Those ladies do the work that most would avoid. They mop body fluids from the floor, wash sheets when beds turn over, empty trash from the buckets in the hallway. Some might call their jobs undignified, but their faithful labor allows each patient to stay at the hospital with dignity. By assuming the menial and messy, they affirm that patients are the imago Dei and therefore worthy of healing with honor. The daily work of my six heroes reflects the saving work of our Ultimate Hero. From my cracked chair in their small side-room, I had a front-row seat to witness the love of Christ in their acts of service.
Heroism does not always involve recognition, status, or power. Sometimes it looks like six pairs of strong, weathered hands arranging food on a platter for all to share. Sometimes it sounds like soulful voices worshipping in Amharic while emptying the trash. Sometimes heroism smells like coffee roasting on an old electric burner, seeping into the halls of a hospital ward and making a place of healing feel like home.
My heroes convene daily at ten o’clock in a tiny side-room of the OB-GYN ward at Soddo Christian Hospital. They are quiet and unsung, diligent and selfless. They are marvelous. And when I think of them, I am reminded of Jesus.
Ana Yee ’21 is a History of Science concentrator in Kirkland House.