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.  



2 Responses to “Normal-Sized Friends and a New Semester”

  1. Karen Blomgren Says:

    Dear Sarah and Maren,

    It has been fantastic to follow your blog. God is using you in so many situations there and your lives will never be the same after this experience. I am so proud of both of you for your courage as well as being so willing to serve where God has called you. God Bless your team. Love, Karen Blomgren

  2. Anna Swanson Says:

    Games do make us feel comfortable and fresh. Especially Nintendo games which, Sarah, I have been dabbling in lately. Praying for you guys! Keep on keepin’ on!

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