The A.I.D.S. epidemic has hit Africa very hard. Connected in the public’s mind with deviant and homosexual sex and prostitution, it has been treated as a shameful disease that only affects those who deserve it by their own bad deeds (much as it once was in the U.S.) Sadly, the orphans of A.I.D.S. parents have also been treated as impure, just as their numbers began to skyrocket on the continent.
There Is No Me Without You is the fawning biography of one woman in Ethiopia, Haregewoih Teferra, who uses her own resources to run a small orphanage. Ostracized by most of her neighbors because of the stigma A.I.D.S. carries, she valiantly continues to take in children, many of whom are simply dropped outside the gate to her home. She provides the children with the basics they need, food, shelter, and clothing. As time goes on, Teferra becomes more overwhelmed and seems to take in the children not out of love for them, but out of a feeling of obligation (they have nowhere else to go) and an inability to say “no”.
Eventually, she receives recognition from the United States and is granted money to aid in her work. She uses this money to purchase a larger property for a new, bigger orphanage for the children who test negative for H.I.V., retaining her original property as an orphanage for those who test positive. Complaints about her mount, some understandable but unfair (poor neighbors upset she doesn’t give them money) and some rather shocking and sad. A few boys at the orphanage accused a male worker of sodomizing them. True or not, Teferra refused to report the incidents, choosing to hide the possibility of abuse, rather than risk her name. Unfortunately, her cover-up led to the boys hating her, all but obliterated the possibility of a proper investigation, and brought to light the hubris that had crept into Teferra’s mission over the years.
The final chapters present the period of tribulation after the allegations came to light. The author does her best to present the situation as a great unknown, an example of no one being perfect. This seems disingenuous on Greene’s part as she spent the major portion of the book putting Teferra on a pedestal, downplaying signs of ill temper or a less than loving attitude as merely cultural differences. It seems clear that the majority of the book was written as an ode to a saint (starting with the subtitle), and the allegations are difficult for the author to reconcile, so she simply tacks them on with a lot of caveats. It would have been better to take a more balanced, even critical look at this “savior” from the start because, after all, no one is perfect.