Teaching Hope

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Normal-Sized Friends and a New Semester March 25, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — teachinghope @ 5:44 am

My turn. Well, we’re about a month into the second semester and I can speak on behalf of all of us by saying that we are enjoying teaching so much more. Josh, Sarah, and I split our classes up a bit differently and now have more productive, fun, and purposeful time with our students. Bethany’s aunt rallied friends to send boxes of school supplies so Bethany has been coming up with some creative lesson plans for the little ones. Bethany and I are also wrapping up courses on Lean Management and 7 Habits for Highly Effective People, Josh started teaching apologetics to the vocational students, and Sarah was able to coordinate a showing of the Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe for her vocational students who are reading and working through the book together. I just finished a letter-writing project with my eighth-graders who wrote many drafts of their letters before I sent them to my youth group in Seattle. The students had a great time writing the letters and are extremely excited at the prospect of hearing back from high schoolers in the States. The letters are precious—I thought I’d include a few excerpts for you:


Helen writes: “My friends are good in personality normal in size.”

Abel writes: “Games make you feel comfortable and fresh.”

Alemnesh writes: “My favorite color is black because my face color is black.”


They bring me joy. Now that they understand we’re actually, truly, honestly here for the entire year, they’re beginning to think beyond this year and to ask us if we’ll be back next year. It took them this long to finally understand that we are with them, that we are committed, that we are here for them. And now that they know, they count on us and don’t want us to leave. Makes us wonder how many people have kept their word for these kids in the past…


In other HOPE news, we had a celebration for the progress of the HOPE University College construction. The site looks great and everyone is excited to see how it turns out. At the celebration, Dr. Minas informed the group that he would be stepping down from the presidency of HOPE Enterprise to oversee the college instead. The four of us are glad for the move, as he is way too busy and has no time or desire to work on the other programs. Now the board is looking for a new president and we are praying for a good match who is both capable and relational. Turnover in the rest of the organization continues to shock us. We’ve tried having some conversations (and downright confrontations) with the administration, but they are hesitant to listen, let alone change. We all are hopeful at the prospect of a new president as well as the arrival of a wonderful couple and their daughter who are living here to work on curriculum for the college. Gary and Judy have worked with international schools for 20 years and the administration highly respects them. We’ve spent a lot of time with them, talking about our experiences with HOPE, our observations, our suggestions, and our hopes for the future of the organization…They are beautiful people—full of life, understanding, love, and vision. Their daughter, Becky, is 25 and the 3 have spent time in numerous places around the world (they’re currently based out of California). We’ve really enjoyed our time with them and look forward to having them around for the next few months!


Speaking of a few months, do you realize that we will be home in 4 months? Crazy.


Let’s see. We’ve started attending a house church. There are about 5 families and a handful of post-college students. The teaching responsibilities switch from week to week and we share lunch together after the service. It’s wonderful to be part of a smaller, more intentional community. We’ve also enjoyed spending time outside of church with the other kids our age—relating with them, laughing with them, etc. Most of them are from North Carolina although a couple are from the Midwest. Speaking of people our own age, Josh’s best friend, Jon, is coming in less than 2 weeks! We’re all looking forward to his arrival which ushers in the arrival of another friend from the States, Dan, then Sarah’s and my parents, then our brother, Jarrett. That will bring us to June. Yes, the time will fly. We’re SO excited to have them with us and we’ll let you know how they fare here. Heh.


As for our friends here, it has become pretty routine for Getu and Tedy (Tay-dee) to come to our house after school and to stop by pretty much every day on the weekend. They’re both vocational students—Getu in woodworking and Tedy in electronics. Sarah taught them every single game in our game box and now they beat all of us. Our circles of friends keep expanding—the teachers, church friends, students, our family…We are so thankful for these relationships!


The last main event is Josh’s, Bethany’s, and my trip to visit our friend, Sinead, in her village, Welenchiti, this past weekend. Sinead is with the Peace Corps (which is back in Ethiopia after a ten-year hiatus) and is working on HIV/Aids. Welenchiti is infamous as a high-traffic area for the commercial sex trade (CST)—In fact, the town of 5000 is rumored to have up to 700 sex workers. For those who are math-deficient, that’s over 10%. Wow. The village is “strategically” placed on the road leading to Djibouti, so many truckers take advantage of the literally cheap CST. In Addis Ababa or Nazaret the prices may be higher because the girls are prettier, but in Welenchiti, the girls earn about 50 cents per “act.” If they’re standing in their doorway after dusk, it is an invitation for the men. Sinead is hoping to work on programs for this devastating practice as well. It blows our minds. 10%!! Pray not only for AIDS relief in this part of the world, but also for the devastating, demeaning CST workers who are as young as 13…


It was wonderful to be with Sinead and 2 of her Peace Corps friends. On Saturday we went on a camel-riding adventure. Let me tell you: Camels do not equal comfort. We started out 2 people per camel, sitting facing each other. And I think I can legitimately say that we rode bareback. They provided garbage bags filled with a few pieces of hay which did nothing but poke our legs. Cushion? Nope. The hay squished to the back and the sides of our bums so it really wasn’t cushioning anything…Anyhow, it was really fun. For the first 20 minutes. For the other 220 minutes we rode it was pretty painful. It was actually still fun—it just hurt. People were watching us like, “Why in the world are the foreigners riding camels?” [Sidenote: Our cat Wurrrrru just ventured into the house so I had to lovingly bring him back outside. He always brings Mr. and Mrs. Flea. But he’s so cute!] Back to the camels—we rode them for 4 hours, taking turns walking and riding to give our backsides a break. We rode to Sinead’s friend, Safu’s, house where his family had prepared lunch for us (which turned into lunch for the entire—tiny—village). The doro wat was incredibly spicy but even Sinead and I (who are pansies when it comes to spicy food) managed a few mouthfuls. My tolerance has built a bit since being here. I may even be able to order 1—even 2 stars at a Thai restaurant now and actually enjoy it. After a wonderful time with Safu’s family, we took the minibus back to town, which was yet another adventure. Somehow, someway, they managed to cram 28 people in that thing (which is made for 13 people). I was trying to think what to compare it to…and I think a fair comparison would be this: Imagine a Camry which comfortably seats 5 people. Picture it. Ok, now add 3.99 more people—but you can’t sit on anyone’s lap. Oh and everyone in the car has just been at the gym for a couple hours and are quite pungent. And the heat is turned on…That image should give you a pretty good idea!


Before I sign off I thought I’d include a few more things. A while back I wrote some random facts about life and culture here I thought were interesting. These are the details that add to understanding what life looks like here…

Smells: We put faces to the smells here: diesel, feces, smoke, body odor, and cooking spices. What a mixture!

Time/Calendar: By the way, it’s the year 2000 here (which you should know if you’ve read about our millennium celebration). Also, Ethiopians tell time differently. The day starts at 6am and ends at 6pm. 6am is 12 for them. Noon is 6. 6pm is 12. If we’re making plans, we always have to clarify what time we’re using…The language difference is difficult enough!

No Shame: Picking your nose in the States is laughable for the most part. Unless cute little kids are doing it (but even then we still smile, at least to ourselves). But here, everyone does it. Perhaps because of the pollution and the relatively dry climate, but people either pick their noses or perform the ever-endearing “snot rocket.” (If you don’t know what that is, you can ask someone else. I don’t feel like giving the details here.)

Pregnant Women: Traditionally, when women are expecting, they usually stay in the home until 40-70 days after the baby is born. During that time after the birth, the grandmothers are responsible for making the new mothers fat. Interesting that in the US most women try to lose weight as quickly as possible after having the baby…

Sidewalk Scales: Speaking about weight, for easy, convenient weight readings, we can step onto any number of scales lining the sidewalk on our way to school. Privacy is not an issue here, as they will shout out your weight (in Kg of course). It might not be worth the penny, though, because most of the scales aren’t very accurate.

Building Material: Tarps, corrugated metal, and dung/straw—or what I call “poop patches” (because they look like patches for a quilt) are most commonly used for construction. The people shape the “poop patches” into smallish, flat, pieces before drying the patches in the sun. After the pieces are dry, they are used to create walls with the help of wet dung and mud.

Guard Living Quarters: Most homes are in a gated area with a guard. The small shops (or “souks”) are guarded as well. The guards themselves sleep in horizontal boxes made out of corrugated metal—about 6-7 feet long and about 2 feet high. Wooden poles placed horizontally on the bottom of the box make for easy means of transportation. Think of the Ark of the Covenant—box, poles for carrying on the shoulders—you get the idea. If you peak inside you’ll usually see a blanket, maybe a dish or a book…It’s quite humbling.

Sounds: Wonder what it sounds like in Addis Ababa? Car horns, diesel engines, religious Ethiopian music blaring from huge outdoor speakers, dogs, donkeys, roosters, and, especially if there’s a big soccer game, sporadic talking/shouting/cheering.

Minibus Etiquette: Most people sit in the seat closest to door, requiring those who board after them to crawl over. No big deal if you hit them in the head with a huge bag of groceries while you attempt to get to the open seat. And even if it is deathly hot, everyone closes the windows. If they can feel air blowing on them, they believe it will cause sickness. We don’t live by either of these two “rules.” Also, most minibuses have their own flare—usually in the form of stickers such as ones that read: “My Toyota is Fantastic!” or “I love you!” After 7pm the minibuses might be willing to overload the bus to get you home; however, if you get caught by the ever-present traffic police, you’re responsible for the fines. Even though most of their stereos/speakers are crackly and staticy, they will blast their Tedy Afro, Tamirat Desta, Celine Dion, or Hip Hop (we’ve grown fond of Tedy and Tamirat if you want to check them out). And last, please pay for your friends.

Fleas: We got ‘em. They come and go, but every now and then we’ll catch one and hope that’s the one who has been biting Bethany’s legs…We also have these tiny little beetle things which I just spent 3 hours cleaning out of the kitchen. Yuck.


That’s all for now. I know this doesn’t compare to Sarah’s 7-page oratory about our adventures north, but hopefully you’ve enjoyed reading about our day-to-day adventures back around Addis. We continue to think of you while living it up here. Thank you for supporting us!


We wish all of you a wonder-filled Holy Week!


m (j, s, & b)


Pray that we’d find ways not only to teach effectively, but to empower the students in new and bigger ways. As we finish teaching we want to leave them with something more than an expanded English vocabulary or the correct pronunciation of vowels.


Thank God for a wonderful start to the semester. Also for our friend, Lauren, who is making a great recovery back home in MN after a car accident here left her with a broken back. Continue to pray for her healing and for her spirit. Her blog is www.laureninethiopia.wordpress.com if you’d like to read about her inspiring story—she is quite a shiny person with beauty inside and out.  



Abuara Meungeudoch (Dusty Roads) March 4, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — teachinghope @ 8:49 am

Route taken: Addis Ababa…Dessie…Lalibela…Aksum…Simien Mountains National Park…Gonder… Bahir Dar/Lake Tana…Addis Ababa…about a 1430-mile round trip.  Brace yourself for a whirlwind trip through our adventures on the dusty roads of Ethiopia. Etyopya betam konjo newe! (Ethiopia is extremely beautiful!)  And diverse.  And vast.  And ancient.  And amazing.  And… Truly, these past ten days have been absolutely incredible.  Although living in Addis has its advantages—“modern conveniences” like stoves and hot water—our perception of Ethiopia has been very limited by this crazy city.  We really love living here, in spite of the daily battles with public transportation, but Ethiopia seemed like just one large city with diesel, people, and shops everywhere.  Now after a 2300-kilometer round trip through the “historical circuit”, our idea of Ethiopia has shifted and grown to include a much wider understanding of the people, culture, landscape, and history here.  Our trip began on Tuesday, February 5, with a 400 kilometer jaunt (approximately 10 hour drive) to Dessie, which we visited with Dr. Minas way back in September.  The countryside was familiar yet completely different—the scenery was easily recognizable from our previous trip, but now instead of lush greenery everywhere from the constant rain of the wet season, now the hills were tans, golds and browns—evidence of the state of the dry season and ever-present sun.  It was sort of wonderful to be able to recognize places we had already seen and/or been to, because it felt like we weren’t strangers in a strange country anymore, unable to take our eyes from the newness of everything.  We weren’t surprised by herds of sheep, goats, oxen and donkeys wandering across the road, or by half-clothed children running up to the car yelling “Firenj!  Give me pen!  Give me money!”  Even the large piles of dung made into round “bricks” for the houses didn’t faze us.  This drive between Addis and Dessie was still part of our limited view of Ethiopia, and so it continued to be comfortable, familiar, and part of the routine. And then we “drove to where familiar ends.”*  After driving for a couple of hours through terrain that echoed the land we had already traveled, we started to ascend into the mountains.  Expecting that we were heading over a mountain pass on into another valley, I was completely surprised when we reached the “top” and found a vast plateau, which we drove through for the next couple of hours.  I could see the edge of the flat land on either side, and the empty void beyond, but in between were muted rolling hills, farmland, and small villages.  These villages were completely different than any others that we had yet seen—rather than being made out of wood, dung and straw, the houses were made of hand-hewn stone bricks.  And everything—the stone houses, the road, the hills, the people—looked windswept and gray.  It was almost as if color didn’t exist up on top of this mountain.  The wind was strong enough at times to take your breath away, and after 5 straight months of sunshine and blue skies in Addis, we actually welcomed the chill of the wind and clouds; I can imagine that the people living at this altitude, though, would gratefully accept a bit of the warmth we had left behind.   Eventually we left this serene plateau and descended into another valley, only to climb the other mountains that constantly surrounded us.  After a long drive, we passed a St. George (local beer) sign that welcomed us to the Holy Land of Lalibela.  We came into the city, which is located on the side of a mountain, on the edge of a cliff (sort of like what I imagine a biblical “city on a hill” looks like) just as the sun was setting: to the west, the sky was on fire; to the east, ancient churches clashed with modern Ethiopia.  Our adventures into the heart of the country were about to begin. LalibelaThe churches in Lalibela were built sometime between the 12th and 13th centuries, under the reign of King Lalibela, after whom the town was named upon his death.  His goal was to create a second Jerusalem in Ethiopia, and so he commissioned the building of 11 rock-hewn churches, which took 23 years to accomplish.  It’s difficult to explain the grandeur and beauty of these holy places in words, but let me try.  The churches are split into three different groups, mostly due to their location within the city and the approximate time of their construction.  Each of the enormous structures is hewn out of the rock face of the mountain, and so rather than building upwards, the workers chipped down through the limestone to reveal magnificent masterpieces, both inside and out.  When we came to the first group of churches, I didn’t even realize anything was there, because I could only see the hill we were walking on.  It wasn’t until we turned a corner and descended the rock stairs that I started to grasp the immensity and achievement of these ancient churches.  This first church, called the Bet Medhane Alem (Savior of the World Church), is said to be the largest rock-hewn church in the world—it is 110’x78’ and 38’ high, with a total of 34 large columns outside the church and 38 inside, supporting the massive rock roof.  Because the churches are holy ground, no one is allowed to wear shoes within the buildings.  Since we had chosen to wear our ever-present Chacos throughout our journey, Bethany, Maren and I stepped onto the cool stone floor of the darkened sanctuary with bare feet.  Although initially worried about possible foot contaminations, I quickly left that anxiety behind as I began to grasp that I was walking on hallowed ground, on stones that were carved almost a thousand years ago.  Most of the churches also do not allow any artificial lighting, including camera flashes, and so as our eyes adjusted to the dim light coming through the cross-shaped windows in the rock, we saw our first glimpse of a typical ancient Orthodox church.  Usually each church has three sections—a chanting section, which is recognized by the traditional drums always ready for worship; a prayer section, near to the front of the church; and the Holy of Holies, which is always covered by a curtain to divide it from the rest of the church, and where a replica of the Ark of the Covenant is kept and into which only priests may enter.  Regardless of how many tourists and pilgrims come through the doors of this church or any of the others, each is still a place of worship, and so being inside this vast cavern evoked a sense of reverence and peace. Bet Medhane Alem is connected to several other churches, including the Bet Maryam, which is the most-often visited church of those in Lalibela.  It is beautifully decorated inside and out, with a cloth-covered column that is rumored to contain the past, present, and future of the world, in Greek, Hebrew, and Ge’ez.  Throughout Ethiopia, there are several important sites for major holy days—we witnessed Meskel here in Addis, Epiphany is celebrated in Gonder, and Christmas, called Leddet or Genna is celebrated in Lalibela, particularly at Bet Maryam, since it is dedicated to the mother of the Christ.  So, we visited this ornate church, complete with the typical Ethiopian paintings depicting Bible stories; since most lay people were illiterate, priests painted the holy images of the Old and New Testaments on the inner walls of the churches so that everyone could own the Bible in their hearts and minds.  Another highlight in this group of churches was listening to a group of men chant their worship songs in beautiful and strange unison melodies, accompanied by two rich drums and sistrals, which are metal handheld instruments that sound like coins clinking together.   The most famous of Lalibela churches is that of Kidus Giyorgis (St. George), in honor of a foreigner who saved an Ethiopian woman from a dragon.  This church is magnificent in its design—a Greek cross monolith dug 50’ down into the rock.  We walked down the un-roofed tunnel to the entrance, past what locals claim are the hoof-prints of George’s horse vertically up the wall, and came across another surprise.  There are usually a variety of holes and niches carved into the sides of the walls surrounding each church, and as Maren was checking things out, she asked, “Are those feet?”  To which I responded, “Are those dead feet?”  Sure enough, in one of the alcoves were the hundreds-of-years old feet (and bodies) of two pilgrims, who apparently died when they reached the church and were placed unburied and left untouched in this opening in the rock.   After a brief rest and lunch, we made our way to the last group of churches, which I personally felt were the most impressive and incredible, at least in façade.  Bet Gabriel differs from the other churches in that its entrance is at its top, rather than at the base of the structure, and so church-goers must cross a bridge over a 75’ deep courtyard.  Once inside the church, it is not as beautifully detailed as other churches, but it is surrounded in mystery, since the two stories beneath the church are forbidden entrance, and no one knows exactly what is below the holy stones or what the vast spaces were used for.  The other churches in this group are connected by a long, completely pitch-black tunnel.  We fortunately had two dim headlamps, and so were not in complete darkness, but it was truly eerie feeling my way through the blackness, not knowing what to expect with every step I took.  Once we reached the light of day again, Josh found a rock face (as in, the carved rock wall that surrounded one of the churches) that looked easily climbable, and so he proceeded to boulder the face, with permission from our guide of course, and with nail-biting anxiety from our uncle Tefera.   All in all, Lalibela was incredibly impressive, and we were sad to leave that holy haven.  But Aksum beckoned, and so we drove to the other side of the mountain and descended into yet another valley.  The scenery drastically changed as soon as we got into the heart of the valley—the mountains around us became more craggy, valleys and mountains were joined and separated by canyons, and the land became more and more arid and desert-like.  Besides this drastic change in the landscape, the only other event worth noting were two simultaneous flat tires, just one hour south of Aksum.  Luckily, our driver, Yohannis, was an expert concerning his makina (car), and quickly had both tires changed with the two spares for such occasions.  Once back on the road, we asked him how often he had flats, since he’s constantly driving around this rock-filled country, and he said those two were his first.  Well, he was in for a lot of firsts on this trip, which I’ll expand on much, much later. AksumWe traveled even further back in time upon reaching Aksum, which is purported to be the capital city during the Queen of Sheba’s time (approx. 10th century B.C.).  Most of the ruins and stelae (obelisks usually marking tombs) in this city date from after her time, however—anywhere from the 4th century B.C. to the 6th century A.D.  Our first stop was to visit Sheba’s palace (whether it was or was not hers is still yet to be determined); it is at least 2000 years old, if not more, and although it is only ruins without a roof, it is spectacular.  Brick ovens, cisterns, and the throne room are still surprisingly in tact, as are the walls outlining each room.  Once “inside” the building, it feels like a stone-brick maze, but viewed from above is clearly a large and once-beautiful palace.  It was hard not to linger in imaginations while walking through the peaceful grass-floored palace, picturing rich tapestries, royal festivities, daily activities, and ancient practices.  Across from the palace is a large field with various stelae strewn across it.  Although most of them are quite small, or lying horizontally, the locals claim that the largest one marks the grave of Sheba.  Most of this area has yet to be explored, and so very little is known about what lies beneath the clumped dirt. Right in the heart of the city lies the Northern Stelae Field, which name does no justice at all to the grandeur of its more than 120 stelae.  Most of the obelisks here were built between the 3rd – 6th centuries, during the apex of Axumite power.  The tallest one still standing leans precariously at 79’ high, and is surrounded by other monoliths of varying heights.  The largest stele, called The Great Stele, is thought to be the largest single-stone obelisk man has ever attempted; sadly, the 108’ mass of rock fell during its erection in the 4th century, and lies exactly where it crashed, which happened to be directly on the 360-ton stone roof of a royal tomb (which subsequently collapsed).  We explored another tomb, called the Tomb of the False Door (since it has a door carved into its rock opening), and marveled at the structural integrity and simple beauty in that underground grave.  It is thought that within this stelae field, only 10% of the tombs have been discovered and explored, which means that there is a vast wealth of history still lying dormant underneath those massive rock monoliths.   Up the hill from the stelae field are two almost identical tombs, which we explored thoroughly, aided by the dim light of a dying headlamp.  These tombs were never actually used, however, since their intended occupants converted to Christianity and were therefore buried in monasteries.  Their only inhabitants now are bats, which we discovered unknowingly and then made a hasty retreat from their home.  On the way back down to the city, we stopped at an unassuming shack on the side of the road, which was built as protection for its contents (which have been compared with the Rosetta stone), after a discovery in 1981.  Inside is an upright slab of rock, dating between 330-350 A.D., inscribed in three ancient languages: Sabaean, Greek, and Ge’ez.  Part of the inscription is supposedly a death curse on the person who moves the stone from its original location.  It has therefore remained where it was found, guarded by local historians and souvenir sellers.  Regardless of the truth of the inscription or not, I marveled at the fact that I could touch this nearly 2000 year-old stone inscribed in words that I couldn’t even read—that I could almost feel the ancient history and the many centuries that have since transpired.   Our last stop in Aksum was the St. Mary of Zion Church, which has three different churches within its compound.  The “new” church was built 50 years ago by Ethiopia’s last emperor, and is atypically gaudy and unusual.  The original church, which may have been the first church in Africa, was destroyed in 1535, and now provides the podium for the “old” church, which was built about 100 years later.  The most important building, however, is the small chapel between these two churches, which is believed to contain the original Ark of the Covenant.  Although no one has tested the theory of bursting into flames by gazing upon it (who would want to take that chance?), the mere possibility that the symbol of God’s presence in the Old Testament might actually reside within those walls was staggering and humbling.   We left Aksum the next morning (Sunday) and made a steady climb up and down and over and around mountains and canyons until we arrived outside the Simien Mountains National Park in Debark. Simien MountainsI honestly had no clue how eclectic Ethiopia’s land is, and I definitely wasn’t prepared for the enormity and beauty of this mountain range.  I’ve seen my fair share of mountains in my life, and I can’t even compare these with any others that I’ve ever seen.  Their peaks reached past 14,000’, their escarpments plummeted from dizzying heights, and the canyons within the peaks were more than impressive.  On our drive through the park to a hiking trail, we parked the car on the side of the road to check out one of the views.  On either side, the rock face continued straight up; in front, the land dropped at a 90 degree angle more than 1000’ below.  I daringly lay on my stomach and crept toward the edge until my eyes were over the side of the cliff and looked down.  I have never been so simultaneously scared and exhilarated in all of my life.  Our hike brought us closer to the edge of the mountains than I would have liked, but it afforded incredible views and more beauty than my senses could take in at one time.  We walked through several groups of the local baboon, one of Ethiopia’s endemic animals—called the gelada, or the bleeding heart, since each baboon has a bare fleshy patch of skin over its heart which aids in the mating process, apparently.  We were also fortunate to spot several Walia Ibex, another of Ethiopia’s endemic and rare species.  Although the animals were quite far off, we were still understandably impressed.   Truly, words can not thoroughly describe the beauty of these mountains.  I’m sure that each of us could have spent much more time hiking, exploring, camping, etc., but our journey was limited by time, and so after a brief and sometimes breathless hike, we left the majesty behind us and turned toward Gonder, which afforded yet another change in scenery—the mountains slowly became covered in the green of Eucalyptus trees and vine-like undergrowth. GonderIn Gonder, we were fortunate to have an excellent guide (we previously had guides, but none of them told us more than we could have easily read from our Lonely Planet book).  Haile was a great source of information and stories, and so while the sights in Gonder weren’t quite as impressive in their antiquity (the castles and other ruins date to the 17th century), they came more alive with his interpretations.  The Royal Enclosure, established by King Fasilidas, includes palaces of 3-4 generations of kings, stables, banquet halls, a Turkish bath, library, and royal archive.   After the enclosure, we visited Debre Berhan Selassie Church (Trinity at the Mount of Light Church), which is one of Ethiopia’s most remarkably painted churches.  The entire ceiling is covered in Ethiopia’s depiction of an angel—a winged round face with equally round and large eyes.  The typical biblical paintings adorn the inner walls of the church, along with a few abnormal and somewhat controversial paintings—Mohammed riding a camel being led by the devil, for instance.  The outer walls surrounding the church compound are also unique in their design.  There are twelve towers along the walls, and the largest, which serves as the entrance to the courtyard, is in the shape of the Lion of Judah, whose tail winds along the wall and inside the compound, ending as near as it can get to the entrance of the church.   The other main attraction in Gonder is Fasilidas’ bath, which, when filled, is larger than an Olympic-sized swimming pool.  As mentioned previously, there are several significant locations for major holy days.  Timket, or Epiphany, which celebrates Christ’s baptism, is celebrated here.  Hundreds of years ago, the bath was always full, so that Fasilidas or any of the royalty could swim there whenever they wished.  Now, however, the pool is only filled once a year for the celebration, by a channel from the river, and is then redirected back to the river after the festivities are over.  On the day of Timket, hundreds of people gather around the pool, and after being blessed by the priest, jump into the 15’ deep water, splashing those who are either unable or afraid to jump in themselves.  When we visited, the bath was empty, but we walked on the bare floor of the pool, enjoyed the shade of the trees whose roots twist down over the rocks surrounding the pool, and simply rested in the peace of the enclosure.  I’m sure it would have been a lovely place 300 years ago to take a break from the hustle and bustle of ruling a kingdom. Our drive from Gonder to Bahir Dar was marked by assisting 3 other firenj who are motorcycling from Egypt to South Africa.  One of them, driving about 60 mph was blindsided by an angry ox.  The ox lost.  Quite a bit in shock, the driver hailed us down, and our driver, Yohannis, acted as mediator, translator and judge in order to appease the irate farmer and his 100 neighbors who showed up for the entertainment factor.  Since the three bikers had very little Ethiopian Birr, they exchanged American dollars for our Birr, and ended up paying an equivalent of about $270 for the dead ox.  We made sure that they had a ride into town for the driver and his damaged bike, and then headed into Bahir Dar just after sunset. Bahir Dar and Lake TanaBahir Dar is a resort town—for Ethiopians and foreigners alike, since it is situated at the southern end of Lake Tana (3500 sq km), which is the source of the Blue Nile.  It was strange to be in such a busy city after exploring ancient towns and traveling through the sparsely populated countryside.  But it was also wonderful.  We decided to splurge on our hotel and stay in one that we could actually feel comfortable in for the two nights we’d be staying in Bahir Dar (which meant spending $50 US for the five of us per night, as opposed to $20).   Wednesday morning saw us speeding across the waters of Lake Tana on a small tourist boat (actually, going about 5 miles an hour) toward several of the monasteries built on the lake’s peninsulas and islands.  We drove for almost an hour to the first peninsula monastery and were immediately glad that we had made the trek.  It was a short walk through the “jungle” to a humbly-built, but rather large round church made of bamboo and cow hide.  These churches were different than the Lalibela churches in their layout—in the ancient churches, the inside was the shape of a Greek cross, with the Holy of Holies in one of the arms.  Here in the round churches, the outer porch was used for chanting and music, the immediate inside section was for praying, and the Holy of Holies was a square room which took up most of the inside of the church.  The walls of this section were again painted in the typical Ethiopian Orthodox fashion.  When we left this church, we walked about 15 minutes through coffee plants and lemon trees to another church, which was almost an exact replica of the first.   Since many of the monasteries are for men only, we hopped back in the boat and dropped Josh and Tefera off on a small island while Maren, Bethany and I headed to another island not far away.  Yohannis chose to come with us (for our protection, he said), and we enjoyed having him along.  The church on that island was the smallest of any of them that we had yet seen, although just a smaller version of all the others.  Our guide began telling us information we already knew, because of all of the other churches we had previously visited, and so as Bethany and Maren followed him around the church, I hung back to take a picture of a particular saint named Yared, who is alleged to be the creator of music.  The priest who had been sitting by the door walked over to me and started speaking in rapid Amharic.  Since I have been trying to learn the Amharic alphabet, I pointed at a few words and attempted to read them.  He smiled when he realized what I was trying to do, and proceeded to continue speaking to me in Amharic, telling me the various words written in both Amharic and Ge’ez on the paintings.  Then he pointed at paintings, and in Amharic, told me each story.  Since I had already seen these same paintings many times, I could follow as he told them in his own language, and I then told them to him in English.  We covered the birth of Christ, Noah and the Ark, Abraham and Isaac, the martyrdom of the apostles, the life of Mary, and the story of the Cannibal.**  It was wonderful to have this communication with him over stories that we both knew so well (well, I wasn’t taught about Mary becoming a queen of heaven or a crazy man who ate people, but all of the other stories were near and dear to my heart).  I would have loved to have been able to sit down and talk with this priest for hours, and learn from his wisdom and experience—to listen to the stories he could tell about ancient Ethiopia, and how he lives his faith on a daily basis.  I only interacted with him for about 10 minutes, but those few moments were precious, peaceful, and holy. We returned to the mainland for a hurried lunch, and then drove an hour outside of town to see the Blue Nile Falls, whose waters make up 70% of the source of the Nile River.  We walked along the river for awhile, and then ascended to the opposite side of where the falls cascade over the rock.  Although the river is now dammed for hydroelectric power, the once-vast 1300’ falls are still impressive, at about 1/3 of their original width.  (We were actually quite lucky to see them at that width, since the dam often consumes most of the water and leave only a 12’ wide trickle down the side of the rock.)  After a debate with our mandatory guide over the price of him bringing us down to the actual falls—he assumed we were rich, since we were white, but after we explained that we were volunteer teachers in Addis for the year, he agreed to guide us for free.  So, we crossed a smaller river upstream, climbed up the falls’ side, and then climbed back down into the mist of the roaring waterfall.  It was amazing.  We walked on the rocks as close as we dared to the water, and were drenched within seconds.  Each of us had a giddy grin on our face, as we laughed and shivered and attempted to stand upright.  We had made sure to take a picture of us before we went near the falls, and we then took a happy after-falls picture.  It was wonderfully magnificent. Return to AddisThe next morning, not so bright, but very early (at 5:30), we left Bahir Dar to make the long 550 km (340 mile) drive back to Addis Ababa, which would end up taking us more than 12 hours.  Much of the scenery along the way was similar to what we had been witnessing throughout our entire journey until we reached the Blue Nile Gorge, which is a massive canyon surrounded by huge, rocky, cliffed mountains.  And it was hot.  And our transmission decided to give us problems on the way down into the valley, so that we were all a little bit tense as we descended the steep roads, crossed the sketchy bridge, and ascended the even steeper opposite side.  Once we reached the top, after spectacular views and a little nail biting, we stopped in a small town to get the car checked out. The stop lasted less than 30 minutes, and we were back on the road again.   Just outside that town, we were on a straight stretch of road through open fields, and Yohannis was passing a slow-moving truck on its left side.  Just as we were about to come ahead of it, a ewe and its lamb darted out from in front of the other truck, right underneath our vehicle.  The lamb died instantly, the mother sheep was mercifully slaughtered a few minutes after the incident, and our Land Cruiser was marked only by the guts on the back tire.  After a few heated words and pointed fingers, we paid 300 Birr for the two animals and continued our return trip.  Yohannis was pretty shaken for a little while, since he had never hit any animals in his entire career; in one swift motion, he had killed two. As we came over the mountains that border Addis, and saw the city sprawling below us with the red setting sun low on the horizon, we collectively felt glad to be home.  It didn’t take long to wind through the still-busy streets to our edge of town, and driving into Zenebework (our “village”) was refreshing after a long trip on the open road.  Granted, we had only been gone for 10 days, but the familiarity of the local shops, signs, people, and our own compound were welcome sights.  It is strange to call this place home after only 5 ½ months, but when we had unloaded the car, said our goodbyes to Tefera and Yohannis and our hellos to our family (Worku, Manbera, Befekadu and the grandkids), it was wonderful to step into our house and have a sense of belonging.  I can only imagine what it will feel like to leave this country in another 5 months… Random Trip events/information that wouldn’t fit anywhere else…1)      We had a small visitor in our hotel in Lalibela.  Bethany at first thought it was a lizard, but when it ran under the bathroom door (while Maren was in the bathroom), we quickly discovered it was a tiny black mouse.  Since none of us wanted to deal with possible diseases borne by this rodent, Maren rescued us all by capturing it in an overturned bucket.  Rather than doing the humane thing, we simply let it starve, and by our second morning there, our small friend had gone to that great hunk of cheese in the sky.  May he rest in peace.2)      I had the pleasure of even tinier and less welcome visitors at our hotel in Gonder: bedbugs.  We went to sleep watching a movie, and so before I had crawled into my own sleeping bag, I sprawled out on the bedspread.  Bad idea.  Every part of my body that had touched the surface was covered in not-so-small itchy welts.  Since I still had to sleep that night, I stripped off the covers and slept as tightly as I could in my sleeping bag, only to find in the morning that the bugs had gotten in my pillow and through my defenses, and I was covered almost head to toe with more angry welts.  That day wandering in the palace ruins was pretty miserable, but I kept downing Benadryl, and by the next morning, most of the bites had calmed down.  I would not wish that misery on anyone.3)      In Bahir Dar on our first night, we stepped into a restaurant for a late dinner after our long drive.  As we were standing waiting for a table to be prepared for us, another firenj approached us and asked us where we were from.  We replied “America”, to which he asked us which states.  I said Minnesota, and then he proceeded to ask my name.  I said “Sarah Mylander,” and his response was: “Do you know Rick Mylander?”  My jaw fell to the floor, and I said, “He’s my dad!”  He introduced himself as Paul Knight, a pastor who worked with my father in Minnesota when my dad was a pastor there.  Either the world really is getting smaller, or the Covenant Church is more widespread than I had thought.  4)      Our driver, Yohannis, was definitely part of the joy of the trip.  Because of his master driving skills, and the fact that he never got tired, in spite of the long hours and tense driving situations, we called him Anbessa (lion).  Not only was he an incredible driver, he was also pretty hilarious.  Since his English isn’t as great as Tefera’s, he relied on our uncle a lot to translate, but once he had gotten to know us a bit more, we tried to teach him American phrases and pronunciation.  We all shared many laughs over his attempts at slurring words and hilarious expressions.  We also decided that we were bad luck for him, because he has never dealt with car issues in his entire career.  In the course of our ten days, he had: 4 flat tires, 2 muffler issues, 1 transmission debacle, and 2 dead sheep.  He has been driving for 9 years without problems, and with us, he had 9 problems in 10 days.  But he was a trooper; he told us that if we were planning on taking any other trips, he would be more than glad to drive us wherever we wanted.5)      Because Ethiopia has not yet been developed, many of the roads are no more than potholed gravel paths.  Approximately 2/3 of our trip was made on these roads, and so you can imagine the amount of dust that we breathed in or scraped off our bodies after each leg of the trip.  Abuara became one of the most often-used words throughout our journey.6)      Rural Ethiopia still operates very much the same way it did thousands of years ago.  It was incredible to see farmers plowing their fields with two oxen attached to rude yokes and wooden plows, being led by a single man.  Or to watch oxen being led in a tight circle over the grain being pitched underneath them to separate the fruit from the chaff.  Or to see women pouring lentils from above their head into a pile to allow the wind to take away the extras and leave behind the raw food materials.  Or to see a line of women carrying jars of water or piles of firewood on their backs.  It was almost like we had not only traveled 2300 kilometers, but also back 2000 years.  While Ethiopia is an incredibly beautiful and diverse country, much of it still resembles ancient times.   So, there you have it; I know it’s been a novel, but I condensed the adventure as much as I could, and this is only my perspective on the 10 days.  I can safely say, however, that we were all blessed by this much-needed break from Addis and school.  And we are all in awe of the rich history, traditions, culture, landscape and people of Ethiopia.   We pray that you all are doing well.  Know that we miss you, even while we are glad to be back in our temporary home in Addis. Prayer requests: please pray for our friend Lauren, who has been teaching here in Addis for the past 5 months.  She was in a car accident last week and had to be evacuated out for surgery on two shattered vertebrae.  Pray for healing, for her family, for peace.For us: pray for health, as Africa is taking its toll on us.  Pray that we will kick off this new semester with strength, energy and creativity.   *For the curious mind, and as credit to the author, the brief quote is taken from a song written by Del Barber.  Thanks, Del. **For the doubly curious mind, the story of the Cannibal: Once upon a time, there was a man named Belai who went crazy and became a cannibal.  He devoured 72 people, including his own family members.  One day, he came across a leprous woman who begged for mercy and a drink of water, in the name of Mary.  Belai had pity on the woman, and instead of eating her, brought her some water.  When he died and was standing before the judgment, the angel Michael held a scale with the 72 souls of the people on one side and the water Belai had given the leper on the other; whichever was heavier would indicate his fate—heaven or hell.  Mary is said to have cast her shadow on the side of the water, to make it weigh more, and Belai therefore went to heaven.