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The Randomness that is our life in Africa… November 29, 2007

Filed under: Uncategorized — teachinghope @ 8:04 am

Written 11.29.2007


As in all circumstances, sometimes time flies by without knowing where it’s gone.  Other times, time seems to tick by so slowly that you can literally feel the passing of each second.  I don’t think I’ve yet experienced an in-between time here in Ethiopia; either three weeks go by before I’ve realized I’ve even taken my next breath, or I wake up in the morning to find that only one day has passed.  Lately, I have felt the latter—in the midst of incredible friendships, amazing experiences, and challenging realizations, I have truly felt each passing moment of this last month.  At this point, however, I can’t decide yet whether I am frustrated by the “slowness” of time, or whether I appreciate the length of time that I can focus on what I am learning, or how I am growing, or how God is revealing his love to me.  Perhaps it is a little bit of both.


Regardless of the “time” of time, though, life in Africa continues, and has encompassed everything from fleas to family to frisbee, and so much more.


In our last blog entry, Bethany referenced bedbugs in her prayer requests; it turns out that rather than being plagued by these mattress-abiding creatures, we instead have had an infestation of fleas in our home.  The source is most likely Mambera’s dog, Titi, who now rejoices at our arrival, trotting up to our legs to be pet, rather than alerting his master that dangerous people have entered the compound.  (Although Titi is the family guard dog, don’t get any misconceptions about his ferocity: he towers less than a foot off of the ground, and yips rather than barks when sending out the alarm.)  Whether he transferred these small, quick-jumping bugs to us or not still has yet to be discovered, but we have now been trying to avoid scratching the awful bumps they leave all over our bodies for about a month.  Coming from Minnesota, I thought I’d be able to withstand any sort of skin irritation caused by some annoying insect, but I can honestly say that these tiny, indestructible insects wreak more havoc than a whole swarm of the largest mosquitoes you could imagine.  We think we’ve been able to curb the enthusiasm of our small pets, as we’ve started to fumigate the house at least once a week, but we still continue to find the random jumpers every once in awhile.


These unwelcome guests in our home haven’t taken over our social life, however.  We continue to be blessed by both our Ethiopian friends and by fellow Americans we have met while here in Addis.  And these friendships simultaneously bring joy and new dimensions to our experiences here.  As you may (or may not) know, our team of four has had to work through the dynamics of community living, and it has not always been a walk in the park—often it has been slippery steps across a frozen lake, or even a trudge through a swamp (that sounds more extreme than it really has been—I just got caught up in the imagery of wordsJ).  In actuality, living together has just been a challenge, in the sense that we have really had to get used to each other in every aspect of life—we eat together, rest together, work together, play together, and experience Africa together.  A few weeks ago we met a woman who taught us more about living together than we had been able to figure out in 2 months of constant interaction.  While getting to know her, we realized what we truly appreciated about each other, and that here in Africa, the four of us are the closest thing we have to family.  We went from being two pairs of people (sisters and a couple) living under the same roof to being a family of four.  Laughter flowed more freely, conversations became more honest, encouragement became more sincere, and we simply started to learn how to love each other, regardless of our differences or frustrations with each other.  We have since been able to discuss this change we’ve experienced, and we realize that life together will not always be perfect, but that’s what being part of a family is all about—loving each other in spite of those imperfections.


Our other run-in with Americans occurred about 2 weeks ago: a group of Peace Corps volunteers came into Addis for an afternoon to have a respite from training and to learn the public transportation system here in Ethiopia.  Maren, Josh and Bethany had the privilege of meeting one of them, Sinéad, in Seattle last spring through their connections with the Krista Foundation, and so were overjoyed to find out that she would be placed here in Ethiopia.  Sinéad’s group had been here for 6 weeks when they came into Addis, and she and her language group, consisting of three other girls, were able to meet us for lunch on their free time.  So our small group of four Americans doubled instantly; it was a slight reverse culture shock.  Since we have been in Ethiopia, most of our interactions have been with Ethiopians, including living 15 feet away from an incredible Ethiopian family.  We have been able, therefore, to lose a little bit of our American-ness, and adapt well to the culture of Ethiopia.  We realized quite quickly, however, that some of the other Peace Corps Americans had remained in their little bubble of America throughout their training, and have not yet immersed themselves into the people and the rich culture here.  And it was a bit overwhelming, to be honest.  I guess we hadn’t really noticed how much we had immersed ourselves in this country until we were surrounded by fellow Americans.  It really made us appreciate our experience, because we have been blessed to be able to get to know the people and culture on such a personal level.  It is also a little weird, though, thinking about what it will be like to return to America next summer…


Although we are becoming more and more Ethiopian as the months go by, we continue to hold on to some of our American traditions, because that is, in fact, who we still are.  As you know, last week was Thanksgiving, and since we have now formed a small family of four, we decided that we would attempt to celebrate it as best as we could.  Since our week was pretty busy, however, we postponed the festivities until this past Sunday, which proved to be an incredibly eventful day for all of us, which consisted of a 10K, natural hot springs, and chicken cooked to perfection (in lieu of high-priced turkey).


About a month ago, Befekadu brought home a flier for the “Great Ethiopian Run,” which is held once a year, and is one of the most-anticipated events here in Ethiopia.  Famous runners from all over Ethiopia and the rest of Africa come to run the 10K race in Addis Ababa, and they are joined by 30,000 other people, who simply want to participate in the thrill of a race.  Bef informed us that although t-shirts (the tickets into the race) had been sold out for months, he was going to get us some, so that we, too, could participate in this once-in-a-lifetime event, since, as he said, “You will never to get the chance again!”  He was true to his word, and brought us 4 bright yellow shirts, along with one for himself.  We went to sleep early on Saturday night so that we would be well-rested for the race, only to be awoken in the middle of the night by strange, loud noises coming from outside the compound.  To us, it sounded like a water-pipe had broken, and was spewing water out into the streets.  Since the water had already been shut off to our house earlier that day, we weren’t too disappointed at the prospect, except that if something like that breaks, it could take up to 2 months to fix it.  Luckily, however, it was just the construction crew using extremely high-pressured water to clean the streets.  I’m not quite sure still how they had so much water to work with when the water for the whole area had been shut off to be re-routed to villages further outside of Addis.  Regardless, we fell back asleep for a few hours and woke up early so we could get down to the start of the race on time.  It started and ended in the heart of the city, at Meskel Square (where we previously enjoyed the Meskel Celebration in September), and it was a spectacular sea of yellow shirts and dark faces.  We took our places somewhere in the middle of the pack, and listened as people cheered the  countdown to the beginning of the race.  The first kilometer or so was pretty impossible to actually run, because there were so many bodies pressing against each other.  But after awhile it thinned out, and we all were able to take the race at our own pace.  I am happy to say that we all immensely enjoyed the experience, we all received a large share of stares from the spectators, since we stood out in the crowd, and we all ran across the finish line.  Some of the highlights during the race:  running the race with my sister, who is one of the best encouragers I have ever known in life; running alongside political protesters, who chanted slurs against the government to the beat of their jogging feet, all in a very peaceful manner; reaching the 8K mark and being doused by a fire-hose of water; drinking water out of a bag, provided by a local water-purifying company after finishing the race; and seeing our dear friend Beniyam at the finish line, after he had looked for us during the entire race. 


After the race, Befekadu took us to the local hot springs, since we did not yet have water available at our house.  Although this spa is well-known in Addis, it was nothing like your typical relaxation station.  There were three large blocks of individual shower rooms, which consisted of a bench for your belongings, a pair of sandals to wear in the shower, and an old showerhead that literally just dumped out water.  While we waited for our turn (almost 2 hours), we sat in the shade of a tree on the grass and simply just rested.  It was the first time that we have been able to sit in the grass since we’ve been here, and that in itself was a little taste of home and a large bit of refreshment.  Once it was our turn, we were each ushered to our own private shower room, and I’m pretty sure that it was the most wonderful shower I’ve ever had.  After running a 10K, a waterfall of steaming, natural hot springs was exactly what we needed.

 And then came the Thanksgiving part of the day.  As soon as we returned home, Josh took the lead as head chef, and created the most American-tasting meal we’ve had yet.  He made home-made stuffing from the local bread, and stuffed two small chickens, which he supplemented with a mound of fresh mashed potatoes and gravy made from scratch.  I created an apple pie, and our menu was complete.  We played Christmas music while we were all working, which furthered our anticipation of the familiarity of the holiday season in the unfamiliarity of this foreign country.  When we finally sat down to the feast, we were able to truly thank God for our incredible experiences here, and for what He has been teaching us—through each other, through teaching challenges, through dear friends, through homesickness.  We are truly blessed to be in this place and to be doing what God has called us to do.  And every single bite was like a small piece of heaven in our mouths; our mothers, aunts, and grandmothers (and whoever else helps out with the creation of Thanksgiving fare) would have been proud. 

Little random snippets…


1) Maren and I joined the Christmas Choir at the International Evangelical Church, and will have our first concert next Thursday.  We are singing Vivaldi’s Magnificat, various renditions of traditional Christmas carols, an Ethiopian Hallelujah song, and a variety of other pieces.  It has been a wonderful way to experience a little bit of familiarity, while simultaneously meeting many new friends from all over the world.


2)  The four of us had our first official Amharic lesson last weekend.  We started by writing out all 200+ symbols in the Fidel Alphabet, and followed that by individually pronouncing all of the consonant/vowel combinations (7 vowels x 36 consonants = a lot of sounds).  We all look forward to being able to read these crazy symbols at some point, but we will focus mostly on conversational Amharic, so that we can be more effective in our teaching, more able to be independent, and more communicative with our Amharic-speaking friends.


3)  Josh recently made an acquaintance who supplied him with the first season of the TV series LOST, and we have now been addicted to the show.  It has been a great way to relax and to take a small break from living in Africa.


4)  Last week I had the wonderful opportunity to teach several of the Ethiopian teachers how to play Frisbee.  I spent an entire 45 minutes coaching two full-grown men how to toss and catch the disc, and I had a grin on my face the entire time.  Because Frisbee is one of my favorite things, and these two men are now some of my favorite people, it was truly a joy to share that love with them.


5)  Each of us are daily realizing how much our friends and family back home mean to us.  Even though we are in a place where we are constantly surrounded by incredibly compassionate people, we deeply cherish our connections back home.  So, we thank you for your continued support through prayer and communication; you allow us to stay positive in this challenging experience.  We look forward to your continued correspondence!


Be blessed,

Sarah and the Others


Praises:  friendships, growing knowledge of the language, our family of four

Prayer:  health, learning students’ names, continued motivation and creativity to face the             challenges of teaching, being able to find a bit of Christmas in this country of constant summer and foreign traditions


Shoulder Shakes and Futbol Games November 5, 2007

Filed under: Uncategorized — teachinghope @ 6:59 am

4 November 2007 

Greetings again! My apologies for taking so long to write this blog; I have been meaning to write for quite some time, but finding the motivation to write has been hard. I am not sure why it has been so hard, but I think it has to do with the magnitude of experiences, thoughts and emotions I want to share, but yet finding the words to explain seems at times overwhelming. So I will now continue with what has happened in the last four weeks, with my thoughts and emotions intermixed in the experiences.  

Maren ended the last blog sharing that that evening we were going to be experiencing cultural dancing and music with our brother Befekadu. Wow- it was incredible. We traveled by car about 25 minutes to a restaurant called “Yod Abyssina”. The restaurant was crowded with both Ethiopians and foreigners. We found a table in the back and sat down quickly, but to our surprise we could not see the stage. So after about ten minutes of sitting we moved and swiftly sat down where a group of people had just left. We then could see the stage and we were able to enjoy the dancing and singing. Some of our favorite dances included: Ethiopian “head banging”, shoulder shaking, and jumping. It is hard to explain the movements in words, but we have multiple videos to show when we return. Since seeing the traditional dancing, we have tried to learn the dancing on our own. Recently, we decided to film our “eskista” dances (which is the rapid shaking of the shoulders) and we should it to our Ethiopian friends. They laughed hard at their foreign friends and then again tried to teach us the dance. We will work on having our traditional dance moves perfect by the time we return.  

Besides delving deeper into the Ethiopian culture, we have had the opportunity to meet two more Americans as well as see a friend from home. Both Lauren and Nolan are our two new friends from America. We met Lauren through a friend of Sarah’s from Minnesota. She came over for dinner a few weeks ago. For Sarah, it was good to have a Minnesotan connection and for the rest of us it was good to discuss our experiences together. As for Nolan, we meet him through a connection with Sarah and Maren’s mom. Nolan has hung out with us a number of times. He came to Ethiopia alone and will be here on and off through June, so we will probably hang out with him on a regular basis. It has been fun getting to know him and as for Josh, it has been great having an American guy around that understands his maleness as well as his love for sports. Lastly, we got to see Josh, Maren and my friend Sinead. Sinead is here with the Peace Corps. She was in Addis Ababa for a few days- so we hung out with her during all of her free time. She is now training in a small town about three hours away so we don’t get to see her as often, but we are planning a trip to go be with her. These connections from home have been uplifting to all of us and we appreciate the familiarity that these relationships bring. 

As for our job here, it has been going well. There have been days for all of us where our students don’t behave and therefore our teaching on those days seems useless, but we continue to push forward. As we continue moving forward, it always seems that we have some type of reassurance from our students that they are learning and they are grateful for our teaching. As for me, here is one of the experiences I had in my first day of teaching the 1st grade class. I came into the classroom of 50 students and tried to get their attention. As I finally got their attention, I began the class by telling them where I had come from and what I was doing in Ethiopia. After the ten-minute introduction, I began to teach from my lesson plan. That is when everything went down the drain. Students stopped listening and began talking. Then about 8 students started fist fighting, 10 students began hiding under their desks and crawling on the floor, 6 students were crying, probably 8 were running in and out of the classroom and the rest of the students were just sitting there starring at me, probably thinking… she has no clue what she is doing! Well with only a few seconds left of the class period after I had tried everything I had ever seen in the States to get a hold of the class, my guardian angel came in the form of an Ethiopian teacher. He yelled at the students in Amharic and suddenly the students were silent. I finally had their full attention. I finished the class quickly by explaining the importance of listening and learning English. With nothing left to say I walked out of the room praying that they understood what I had said. Before I could get further into my thoughts and further out of the door of the classroom, all fifty of the children bombarded me with huge hugs and snotty kisses on my face, hands and arms. At that point, I was grateful for this act of what I hoped was apologetic and I was also grateful for the love that children are able to show. So although some days are trying and hard, we will continue to push forward to see the impact of teaching and the goodness of the children.  

“It is an unfailing wonder and delight, this tranquility of human relationships in Africa. Whether it be child or adult makes no difference; one can enjoy the other’s presence without fuss or pressure, in conversation or in silence as the mood dictates. Whether the task in hand may be continued or must be left depends upon a score of fine distinctions which the stranger must slowly learn; but one thing is certain- a visitor is never an interruption.” (The Primal Vision by John V. Taylor) This quote describes many of our experiences and relationships in Ethiopia, but a good example of this Ethiopian hospitality came about two weeks ago. We were attending the Full Gospel Church with Pastor Mattewos, as he was the guest preacher that Sunday morning. The church was a small building with a dirt covered cement floor and tarp walls, but it was full of passion. As foreigners, we were considered “special guests” and therefore asked to introduce ourselves and explain where we had come from. The congregation’s interest in our lives was encouraging and we felt honored to be present. Shortly after the sermon ended, we left the church and went to visit an old friend of Mattewos’s who lived nearby. As the gate of the house was opened we introduced ourselves to his friend, Steve. Steve then asked us to come in and meet his family. Upon entering his house, we were asked to sit down. We sat on couches in his living room and then we were served lunch. Lunch was concluded with coffee and tea. The meal was good, but the hospitality was astonishing. It was quite remarkable to me how openly we as strangers were asked to come into his home. It was even more remarkable how we were treated as if we were part of the family. This type of hospitality is shown frequently and we are all constantly in awe of this part of Ethiopian culture.  

Halloween was this past week and as a part of our “cultural tradition” we decided that it was necessary to carve a pumpkin. So we bought a pumpkin at the fruit stand for about $1.30 and we brought it home to carve. The pumpkin here is a little different, but similar enough for us to make a Jack-o-Lantern. My job was to gut the pumpkin, while Sarah gathered all of the seeds to bake. Maren drew the face and Josh, of course, carved the pumpkin. We then put a candle inside and set it on our front steps. We then knocked on Mambera and Worku’s door to show them our surprise. They were astonished. I am not quite sure yet if they thought- these Americans are crazy, or wow what a neat tradition. They said they were so grateful that we could share each other’s cultures and learn from one another and we agreed. We stood outside for probably thirty minutes looking at the Jack-o-Lantern and explaining Halloween. Our Halloween was quite different here, but it was fun nonetheless carving a pumpkin and sharing our culture with our new family. 

Josh’s birthday was the following day. We had told Josh earlier in the week that we weren’t going to celebrate until Friday, so instead he celebrated by going to a Sport’s Bar with Nolan and another guy from America. He enjoyed his time there and he also loved opening so many cards from friends and family. He reread all of his birthday cards at least three times and continued to talk about them for days. The next day (Friday) to Josh’s surprise we had organized a surprise party in his honor with all of our friends. Sarah did most of the organizing and the plans turned out flawless. Eleven of our Ethiopian friends came to our house around 5:00pm. Maren and I returned home from school at 5:15pm with Josh, who was surprised as ever to find out what we were doing. We then went out to dinner at the Golf Coarse and enjoyed a night full of laughter! As I look back on that night, I believe that it is probably one of my favorite memories thus far. Our friends here have truly taken us in as part of their family and it was apparent that night how close our friendships have grown. So it was a great celebration for Josh and it was a wonderful memory for the rest of us. 

Since then, the last big occasion was the English Premier (soccer) League showdown… Arsenal vs. Manchester United! Last Sunday Befakadu took Josh to watch the Arsenal vs. Liverpool game. I was slightly jealous that Josh got to go, but I did not want to impose on this “guy time”… but yesterday we all got to go! We went to the Hawi Hotel to watch the game. We had to get there an hour and half early to get a seat in the overcrowded room. The room was the size of 2/3rds of a basketball court and was jam packed with probably 750 people (definitely over the fire code!). The room was hot and I was glistening with sweat. The crowd consisted of about 60 percent Arsenal fans and 40 percent Manchester United fans, as well as 90 percent men and 10 percent women. It often times seemed as if we were actually in the stadium with all of the excitement that filled the room. When favorite players, coaches, or goals occurred the room would erupt with screaming and cheering- it was often times so contagious that we all would erupt with them in the same fashion. The game was great and the 45-minute halves flew by quickly, but it ended in a tie 2-2. The game was also another experience showing all of us another part of the Ethiopian culture. I loved getting to watch the game and I look forward to future games! 

Now it is Sunday again and we are about to start another week of school. Our lives are becoming more routine, but we are continuing to be pulled out of comfort zones. We are enjoying it here, but it is different… 

We are learning.

We are constantly being challenged.

We are growing.

We are facing our fears.

We are experiencing a different culture.

We are learning how important the role family is.

We are looking at lifestyles differently.

We are missing home.

We are learning how to love better.

We are learning how to serve more wholeheartedly. 

We will continue to move forward in our time here, but not with memories or lessons forgotten. We will hope to continue to share these lessons with you, as well as bring them home as a new part of ourselves.  

I hope that you enjoyed these shared experiences, thoughts and emotions and I hope you feel caught up on the lives of the four Americans in Ethiopia. You all are in our thoughts and conversations daily- know you are missed and loved.

Still processing and thinking in Africa, 

Bethany (And the rest of the gang!) 

Pray for us: Health (once again- I got pretty sick for about five days last week and Josh for a about two days- but we are better now!), passion for teaching on the hard days, vision for our time here, guidance in our work, again homesickness. (Oh… and pray for no more bed bugs!) 

Praise the Lord: Close friendships, new outlooks on life and culture, growth in all areas of life, deepening friendships within our group and futbol games.