Traveling through Ethiopia, it’s not the sweltering heat that gets to you. It’s not the ongoing sectarian violence that has become a way of life here, nor the plague of hunger that seems to reach into every corner of the poverty-stricken African country. Rather, it’s the children. They’re everywhere, and the emptiness of their forlorn glances rivals only that of their malnourished bellies.
I exit my car and a group of interested children immediately circle around me. I can’t help but to consider the oddity that I must appear to be. My khaki shorts and vest must be as perplexing to them as my straight hair and sun-reddened skin. One of them takes an immediate interest in my smartphone.
“I wish for you to take my photograph and make me into a tweet, so that the American Tweeting bird may bring us food and clean water,” one of the children beckons. For children in the small town of Kobo, half a world away from America, they were surprisingly in tune with American culture.
“Do you bring news of the American Gossip Girl? Does Serena ever form a lasting relationship with Dan?” another one asks. Most of the children here have never actually seen a television. But it has become a common practice for local storytellers to pass on stories from popular American television shows.
I approached the tiny improvised structure which was the home of Hiwot Dawit, a 16 year old girl who was the fortunate recipient of Angelina Jolie’s breasts. There, I am greeted at the entrance by the pair of breasts which I last saw being caressed by Antonio Banderas’ embrace in the steamy 2001 romantic thriller Original Sin.
“When I first learned that I would recieve the breasts of Angelina Jolie I shouted for joy,” she tells me. Hiwot says that she had been taunted at school by boys due to her chest size.
“They would say things like ‘Hiwot your chest is so flat that the walls are getting jealous,’ or ‘Hiwot you must have contracted malaria because we can see the mosquito bites on your chest.’ But after the breast transplant that all changed.”
The large, supple, pale breasts seem a bit out of place on the wiry, dark-skinned girl. But she says that the only remarks she hears now are positive. “Now the boys say things like, ‘Hiwot we have no food or medicine, and we will most likely die as child soldiers, but it is a pleasure to gaze upon your glorious breasts.'”
The attention she’s getting now from the entire town is not sexual. Rather the people here seem to genuinely respect her now. In fact, last week Hiwot was voted most likely to reach the age of 30 by her schoolmates.
A local village elder stops by, bringing with him a goat for Hiwot, a common sign of respect in the village. “The fact remains that these breasts are the closest that most of us will ever get to Hollywood,” he says. “These breasts have been anointed by such fine American actors as Nicholas Cage, uh Brad Pitt, Billy Bob Thornton… just to name a few. They are a true treasure.”
But not everyone is quite so appreciative. Biruk Eyob, a local witch doctor who has taken to calling them “cancer breasts.”
“Angela Jolie got rid of the cancer breasts because they had a high chance of giving her terminal cancer. Why would we want them in our village? These breasts are dangerous, and should be sent back immediately,” he says.
But Hiwot says that she is well aware of the risks, and still has chosen to have them. “To put it simply, I would rather live for a single day with the breasts of a wealthy American actress than to live for even a year as a hungry Ethopian girl,” she tells me.
As I began the long journey back I couldn’t help but to wonder: is this our own doing? As a country, America, and even the world, spends billions of dollars to provide disadvantaged children like Hiwot with the little food and medicine that some of them do receive. But maybe all of that is offset by our cultural exports. The exports that say that the only persons of value are beautiful Hollywood celebrities. The children I met in Ethopia seemed to all hope that America would save them. Save them from the violence that they know all too well, the poverty, and the hunger. But, who will in turn save them from America?
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