On the eve of the Olympic opening ceremonies, I called my Ethiopian host family in Welliso. My momma answered and had barely enough time to say my name, before my little brother swiped the phone and yelled excitedly into the receiver, "Christen! The Beijing Olympics start tomorrow!"
Throughout much of the Western world, mention of Ethiopia recalls the images of pot-bellied starving children and skeletal adults that were broadcast during the terrible famine of the mid-1980s. Perhaps occasionally, the name sparks association with fine coffee. Often, it sparks nothing at all. Once every four years, however, Ethiopia has a chance to shine brightly on the world stage for a distinction that is undeniably worthy and universally commanding of respect: supremacy in the gruelling sport of distance running.
This August, the eyes of the world will be on these Games in China. Some will look on in pride, seeing the emergence of a strong and modern nation into the ranks of the global elite. Some will watch in anger, indignance, and disgust as the Olympic torch is taken up by a government marked by heavy-handed oppression and a dubious record of human rights. But amidst all the politics, the posturing and the protest, there will be one bright-eyed Ethiopian twelve-year-old - and millions of others like him - watching in breathless anticipation for a chance at victory, for that moment that will exalt him with his country into the limelight of international glory where they will be seen without pity or trivialization, where, most importantly, they will be SEEN.
I will watch these Olympics on behalf of the dedicated athletes and the ordinary people to whom they mean so much. I will watch for the sake of those remarkable stories that unfold to captivate and connect us all. I will watch for my awesome little Ethiopian brother. I hope you will, too.