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!
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