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One Last Chance… May 31, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — teachinghope @ 1:12 pm

30 May 2008

Hello all!

It’s Bethany here again. I am just writing to give some “business” information to all of you. A few things…

–    New Phone Card: I know we only have a short amount of time left here, but if you are still yearning to call one of the four of us we have found a phone card that is only $0.26/minute. If you would like to look into that phone card the website is: http://joinvip.com/signup/signup.php and the phone number is 1.800.836.5004. The connection with this phone card has been really good and often times it’s even better than Skype. So if you are interested give that a try!

–    Letters and Packages: If you are still writing or planning on sending things, here is the timeline for when they should be sent. Letters take from 10-15 days to get here so send any letters before June 28th. As far as packages go- those take about 10-20 days so get those in the mail in the next three weeks.

Just wanted to give everyone a heads up and also didn’t want you sending something you spent time and money on to go to waste.

Hope all is well!

Blessings,
Bethany and the rest of them

 

Catch up, Process, Travel May 20, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — teachinghope @ 8:43 am

16 May 2008

Hello all! Can’t believe the time has gone already. I am writing yet again- I started this blog a few weeks ago, but then for a second time our lent computer from Hope crashed. It’s quite old so I don’t think it can handle our young, extremely active minds typing on it! So here we go I am starting again with a renewed sense of what I would like to share.

Well a lot has happened in the last month and a half. I am going to just share in bullet point what has happened because I would really like to start processing through some things with you since the time is coming to an end. So let me first update you in the last month and a half:
–    After recovering from camel riding in Wilenchity, Maren, Josh and I were finally able to walk normal and sit on chairs without slouching. It was a rough recovery but those, “hump sores” are now gone!
–    American Easter was our next big event. It was a similar feel to our Christmas this year because again the holiday wasn’t the same date in Ethiopia- but we did get to celebrate! Here are the things we did:
o    The first thing we did to celebrate was coloring Easter eggs! We had a coloring contest and guess who won? DUH- who else? ME! It was a great ego boast- haha!
o    Josh and I organized a Good Friday service for just the four of us. It was wonderful to be able to spend that time together and I think it helped all of us appreciate one another even more.
o    As Maren told you last, we are attending a house church, so our Easter celebrations were with our house church. There were two events. On Thursday evening we participated in a “Seder Dinner.” It was a wonderful reminder of the culture and feel of things in Biblical times. The next event was a Sunrise Service, which started at 5:30am. We had a wonderful time together and we all really appreciated the time we had.
–    After Easter the next event was loads of visitors! We started out by having Jon Vaux, a dear friend from college, come visit. Just as all of our visitors, Jon renewed us and reminded us of the love and support we have from friends and family at home.
–    The visitors kept coming when a couple friends from Seattle came up to Ethiopia from Zambia. Jon Messner and Dan Glanville made a trip during their vacation from teaching in Zambia. We got to go hiking with them to an old rock hewn church as well as have meals together in our home. It was fun to laugh and relate with them and their experiences.
–    The encouragement and love continued when Gail and Rick Mylander (the parents of Sarah and Maren) visited from Colorado. They were here for about a week. It was great having them here and their excitement and awe of this country reminded all of us of things we have come to not notice anymore. (I wish I could rewind time and count how many times I saw Rick’s jaw drop and hear him say “Amazing!”)
–    Ethiopian Easter was next and Gail and Rick were able to also experience this event with us. Easter is a much bigger celebration here than in the States and is also one of Ethiopia’s biggest celebrated holidays. It was wonderful celebrating with our “family” here. We once again got to watch a sheep be slaughtered and then enjoy the food the same day! It was exciting!
–    After the departure of Rick and Gail, Josh and I volunteered to babysit our friend’s daughter. Her name is Dasia and she is one and a half. It was a lot of fun and it reminded me that I don’t want kids for a while… but it was also great to be able to be with her. Some of the highlights were: getting peed on while waiting to put her in her bath, holding her as she feel asleep, laughing as she runs across the room and flops on the couch, seeing her curiosity and experiencing her unfathomable happiness.
–    Currently we are having more love and support poured on us in the presence of a brother. Jarrett Mylander came two weeks ago and it has been great having him here. He fits in quite well since Josh and I have known him for a while since he also attended SPU. It has been an encouragement to us all to have him here! He will be with us until May 28th!
–    Other than that we have been doing the normal things: school, friends, soccer, etc.

Alright well now onto a little bit of my processing. I have read two specific books in my time here that have helped me start to process how this time is going to affect me. The first book is a comical relief for me as well as a help in realizing how life is different here. The book is called The Poisonwood Bible and is written by Barbara Kingsolver. Most of you have probably heard of if not read this book. But some of the lines have drawn out very vivid and real memories and feelings in my mind. I will start to share these as I continue on writing. The other book is a non-fiction book written by John Taylor called The Primal Vision. This book was written to show the impact of Western Christians in Africa. It has helped me understand more deeply the culture I am experiencing here and it is challenging me in my thinking and processing of what is “right and wrong” in culture. I share this about these two books because I would like to share with you some of the things we have experienced here and quotes from these will be intermixed in the list. Through this list I hope to give a good picture of some my thoughts as we have come and gone through time here.

1.    Shortly into our time here: We realized that the things we brought weren’t normal around here- from our brightly colored rain jackets to the bottles of medicine. This quote from The Poisonwood Bible best describes it, “But already our supplies from home seem to represent a bygone world: they stand out like bright party favors here in our Congolese house, set against a backdrop of mostly all mud-colored things. When I stare at them with the rainy-season light in my eyes and Congo grit in my teeth, I can hardly recollect the place where such items were commonplace, merely a yellow pencil, merely a green bottle of aspirin among so many other green bottles upon a high shelf.”
2.    Shortly into our time here: As you all know through reading our blogs, health has been a major issue for all of us here. We learned quickly to not take good health for granted. In other parts of the world, in particular 3rd world nations, it is a daily thought and issue for many people.
3.    Shortly into our time here: We noticed the absence of the western obsession with efficiency. Some people call it “African time” other people say that you just, “Can’t Rush Africa” we sometimes just say “TIE or TIA (This is Ethiopia, This is Africa)”. In the beginning we had to remind ourselves with these phrases to have more patience and a greater understanding. Now we are more used to the lack of efficiency, but there are definitely times where we just don’t understand. But overall we have all experienced increased levels of patience as well as understanding other methods and cultures.
4.    Shortly into our time here: “The sight of my foreign skin seems to freeze their sensibilities. In the local market, a bubble of stopped conversation moves with me as I walk.” This quote from the Poisonwood Bible defines what happens as we walk around the city.  Some of the funny things we hear are: farenji (meaning foreigner), money money, you you, hey baby want to marry me?, you are beautiful I love you, the list goes on and on. The funniest by far is when you are walking and people take pictures of you as you are walking or they ask for you to be in a picture. They are just so curious, so curious sometimes that they will touch our arms, hair, other inappropriate body parts as well. Sometimes the curiosity is very overwhelming but at other times it is tolerable and funny.
5.    In the midst of life: We realized that we were the weird ones… Here we constantly see butcher shops with sides of animals hanging for sale by the kilo or we see animals for sale on the street and we know because of experience what the slaughter will be like. At first it is strange to experience a culture that kills their own animals. But then we realized that perhaps like I said, we are the weird ones. We have turned our slaughtering to people who can do it discreetly and concealed and then bring the nicely packaged meat to our stores so we don’t really have to think about the fact that we are eating a killed animal.
6.    In the midst of life: We have realized that the amount of time spent investing in relationships is different in different places. In the United States you will commonly hear the phrase “time=money”. Here that doesn’t exist. Human relationships have a significant value here. Here is a quote from John Taylor to explain myself more, “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.” This was a very valuable lesson for me to learn and I have taken away a greater appreciation and value for my friends and family. We are learning how to express this to our friends and family before coming home so they aren’t freaked out by our heightened ways of loving them and yearning to be around them.
7.    In the midst of life: We have noticed through traveling in Ethiopia and exploring museums in Addis that the following quote from the Poisonwood Bible is quite true, “Poor Africa. No other continent has experienced such an unspeakably bizarre combination of foreign thievery and foreign goodwill.” We have seen Ethiopian thrones, statues, etc that were stolen by Italy but yet in the last 30 years have been returned, but on the flip side we experience the vast amount of foreign aid here. From the Chinese constructing roads to USAID bags full of 100kg of grain. It is quite amazing to see all of the countries assisting this place.
8.    In the midst of life:  In coming from an extremely individualistic culture it was an interesting flip coming to a very interdependent culture. There is such a dependency on community here from sharing food while eating and actually feeding one another (hand to mouth), to helping pay for others’ necessities if needed. I know that this exists in the States, but it is much more extreme here. The quote that I would like to use is what we all have come to understand fully. It is from John Taylor and it goes like this, “The price of this communal security is an unconditional readiness to share, and a complete surrender of individualism.” We must learn how to live more interdependently, it will create healthier communities!
9.    In the midst of life: “Just when I start to feel jaded to life as it is, I’ll suddenly wake up in a fever, look out at the world, and gasp at how much has gone wrong that I need to fix.” (Poisonwood Bible) At times I would wake up feeling this way- completely jaded. For example when I was sick every week for a few days or when the cell phone was stolen out of my pocket. We have all felt this at times. But it is interesting to see how we overcome this feeling- it is always exciting when one of us realizes, “No we gotta change this world! We are responsible for these things that need to be fixed!”
10.    In the midst of life here: Due to the intensity of living here for a year as well as the extra time we have at hand the four of us have had to face a lot of the things we had buried deep in ourselves for the last two years. We all have had to work through our hurts and our pain as well as our past successes. In this we have found the following, “The power is in the balance: we are our injuries, as much as we are our successes.” (Poisonwood Bible)
11.    We will miss: The ability to read leisurely whenever we want.  (Maren’s read 15 books, Sarah’s read 20 books, Josh is still wading through “The Brothers Karamozov” and Bethany has read 4 books- I know some of you might not think 4 is a lot, but for me…. It’s A LOT!)
12.    In the end we will miss: Power outages two-three days a week. A weekly reminder that life isn’t simple and comfortable in a majority of the world.
13.    In the end we will miss: No water for a few days at a time about every week. Yet another reminder of the level of difficulty that is present in a majority of the world.
14.    In the end we will miss: Donkeys, sheep, goats, chickens and oxen running around the roads.
15.    In the end we will miss: Playing games together a few times a week. The reminder to all of us of the simplicity of our lives here.
16.    In the end we will miss: Cheap fresh fruit and vegetables (ie: Avocadoes 2 lbs=$0.50, Mangos 2 lbs=$0.50, Bananas 2 lbs=$0.30, Pineapple 1=$0.50), cheap restaurants. (Meals typically cost between 10-50 birr or $1.00-$5.00) and GREAT coffee.
17.    In the end we will miss: English Premier League soccer games! It’s great fun sitting with hundreds of Ethiopians cheering as if they were at the game. Their love for this sport is quite amazing.
18.    In the end we will miss: Sweet T-Shirts!!! From spotting my cousins high school T-shirt (Menlo Park- Atherton High) to a 2006 Seattle Seahawks Superbowl Champions T-shirt; it is always fun and sometimes a comical relief among the streets of Addis.
19.    In the end we will miss: “It’s a funny thing to complain about, but most of America is perfectly devoid of smells.” “Even in the grocery store, surrounded in one aisle by more kinds of food than will ever be known in a Congolese (insert Ethiopian) lifetime, there was nothing on the air but a vague, disinfected emptiness” (Poisonwood Bible). The smells here are strong and sometimes a little rotten but other times they are good- the smell of roasting coffee, the spices drying on tarps, etc. It will be interesting to no longer have extreme smells in either direction, good or bad.
20.    In the end we will hope to take away this: “Every life is different because you passed this way and touched history” (Poisonwood Bible). At times it is hard knowing what we have done here and having very tangible things to take away. But in the end we hope to know that we have touched lives here and loved the people with everything we could.

Well those are my thoughts for now. I have a lot more in my mind and heart but for now I must start to end this blog because I know four pages of reading is a bit much. But expect more of that from all of us as we return home. Know that we want to process through our thoughts and experiences with you, but at times it might be hard for us to put the words to the things that have captured our hearts and minds.

Speaking of home, we have finalized our trip plans as our time comes to an end here. Here is what will be happening:

Leaving Addis Ababa Ethiopia: July 13th at 2:45am
Short stopover in London and then arriving in Paris: July 13th at 6:30pm
Paris: July 13-18: Visiting my extended family as well as seeing the sites.
Leaving Paris traveling to Rupperswill, Switzerland arriving July 18th.
Switzerland: July 18-24: Visiting Carolyn Nason as long as other college friends: Drew Kreeger, Jake Buter, Ric Wild, and possibly the Pape’s.
Leaving Switzerland traveling to Slovenia arriving on July 24th.
Slovenia: July 24-29: Visiting David and Katka Bordner: great friends of Josh’s from home.
Leaving Slovenia traveling to London arriving on the 29th.
One day in London and then…
Seattle: Arriving July 30th at 2:35pm. Our plans for now are that anyone who wants to see us (which would be anyone in Seattle at the time) can meet us at Red Robin for an early dinner or late lunch around 4:00pm. We hope anyone and everyone there can make it. It would be great to see you all!

Alright well those are our plans for now. After July 30th we are not quite sure what will happen. Each of us have some plans- for sure a lot of traveling plans- but perhaps that will come in the next blog. We all hope that things are well for each of you.

Thinking, processing and trying to understand this world deeper,
Bethany and the rest of the pesty roommates! (Including Jarrett at the moment and the fleas! ☺)

Praises:
–    Visitors! (Jon Vaux, Mylander parents and Jarrett Mylander)
–    God protecting our good friends around the world: safety in China for Jake Buter, protection and health for Laura Schimpf.

Requests:
–    Preparation of our hearts and minds in leaving this place. Also pray for the people we will be leaving.
–    Continue to pray for rain in Ethiopia. There is a lack of water currently which is also creating and lack of electricity and therefore the economy is dropping.
–    Continued guidance for what each of us should do upon returning to the States.

 

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.

 

Slimy Puddles, Dead Sheep and the castles of Gonder February 18, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — teachinghope @ 12:19 pm

3 February 2008

Woops… I think I have the worst record in the amount of time passing before writing blogs. I will work on it. Well I’ve got a lot to cover so let me get started. Maren’s birthday has passed, my birthday has passed as has Christmas and the New Year- thankfully Valentine’s Day hasn’t passed yet or that would just be way too much time to not update you all on this thing we call “life”. Well since I am covering such a large array of topics let me just bullet point on through some of our recent memories, adventures, etc:

–    Maren’s Birthday: Maren’s birthday was good- she turned the big 24! She loved getting all of your calls and your cards- it truly made her day. Maren and Sarah had a choir concert that evening so when they returned from their concert at 10pm Josh and I surprised her with a birthday cake with chips and salsa. I know strange combination but such is life here- we get big treats on special occasions and tortilla chips are definitely one of those treats! ☺ The next day Maren got another surprise… the teachers at school had organized a surprise party for her in the staff room after lunch. It was a rather short celebration but it was good- it included diffo dabbo (traditional bread), candy, soda, cake and lots of talking and laughing. It is always fun to celebrate things with our Ethiopian friends here.

–    Christmas Party: The next celebration was Sarah’s great idea to have an “American-style” Christmas party in our home. Wow- it was great to share this with our 20 Ethiopian friends. On the 21st we had them over for dinner, cookie frosting and hunting for the baby Jesus. The dinner was rather unusual- fried rice. We did this because it was a fasting day so a few of the people coming could not have any food products that have animal products (ie: milk, eggs, meat, etc). The cookie frosting was classic- I don’t think the Ethiopian’s had ever experienced anything like this. They are used to using their hands while eating, but they aren’t used to decorating their food. It was fun. Lastly, Maren and Sarah shared a part of their family tradition by hiding the baby Jesus from the nativity set in our yard. All of our friends had the responsibility of finding that tiny baby. They laughed and eventually they found the babe. All in all it was a great night. It is always a blessing to be able to share our culture and traditions with people here.

–    My Birthday: Well for those who don’t know my birthday tradition- I will share- I go snowboarding with my friends and siblings every December 23rd. So I must say I was a little disappointed that all of my friends and siblings didn’t come to Ethiopia to surprise me with a trip to Kilimanjaro for a snowboarding trip, haha. But really it was a great day! I got some very special calls from all around the world and also some wonderful birthday cards. We also got to spend some great time together as a team- playing games, enjoying a Mexican meal out at a new restaurant and also eating some great lasagna at night made by Chef Josh. It was a wonderful day and a great golden birthday.

–    The Holiday Season: For me, experiencing the holiday season here was a great lesson. There was no countdown to Christmas, no hustle and bustle, no gifts being bought, no decorations and the weather was hot. The only thing that really reminded me that it was Christmas was the date on the calendar. With such a unique setting for my “holiday season” I was able to reflect on why the holiday was so important to me. I believe that this season here helped me grow in my personal faith as well as my gratitude for my family. It also helped me realize even more how the United States is often times taken over materialism. I believe that experiencing such a different “holiday season” here has taught us all a lot about our lives and it will continue to affect us as we return to the United States.

–    Christmas: Christmas was so different for all of us this year. It was the first time that we were away from our families on such a big holiday. I must say it was quite bittersweet. We had a wonderful day sharing some of our traditions with each other as well as having two gift exchanges- one white elephant and one regular. It was all in all a good day and a good celebration together as a family here. On Christmas night, I got a real piece of my family here… my aunt (father’s sister- Maureen) came to Addis Ababa for 11 days. What a treat!

–    My aunt’s visit: It was fun having someone here to show around “my home”. It was interesting for all of us to hear what my aunt’s reactions were to things around the city. It reminded us that some of the things we see here are strange and aren’t the same as the United States. For example, when my aunt ordered a cheeseburger here she said, “Wow- that doesn’t really taste like a cheeseburger.” I forgot that they didn’t. I don’t think I remember what a cheeseburger tastes like. She pointed out a lot of things actually that I had thought were maybe “normal”: the uneven ground everywhere, the donkeys, cows, goats, and sheep on the street, the crazy drivers, the extremely crowded public transportation, the smells. It was interesting again seeing the first impressions. Other than that we got to experience a lot of Addis Ababa together. Because I can’t go into all the detail of her trip let me just share a couple things that were fun to experience here with her:
1)    Let me just tell you my aunt is a trooper. She might be even stronger than I am due to this one fact alone. We were walking to a restaurant on the opposite side of town about 45 minutes from our house. As we walk around the city there are many things you must look out for: holes in the ground that go down 5-10 feet, animal dung, trash, and puddles. The puddles here are filled with dark smelly water and often times you can’t really tell how deep they are. With my aunt’s lack of experience with the puddles here she decided as she crossed one that the shoe floating in it was solid and she could step on it. Well you can tell where this story is going- the shoe wasn’t solid it was indeed floating about a foot on top of the deep puddle. So my aunt sank in the puddle- it was dirty, she smelled…. BAD… but not a tear fell- only laughter came. She laughed, so then I could laugh. Not only was that amazing- but she didn’t insist on going home- we still ended up going to the restaurant where I helped clean her clothes in the bathroom sink. So needless to say this woman was a trooper and she experienced the dirtiness of the Ethiopian puddles.
2)    The second adventure actually happened the same day when we hiked up a mountain about an hour to an old rock hewn church, Tekle Haymanot Church. The church is said to date back to the 12th century. It was built out of one stone and the top of the church is at ground level. There are many of these rock hewn churches built in Northern Ethiopia but only few outside of that region. It was very special to see this church that was built outside of Addis Ababa on top of a mountain.
My aunt’s trip all in all was wonderful. It was great to have someone to show around, but also great to have someone here who knows me. She is suppose to write a post for this blog too of an “outsider’s opinion” so be ready for that soon! My aunt was the first out of four other people coming to visit- so now we have more adventures to look forward to soon. (Jon Vaux- May Jarret Mylander, Ric Mylander and Gail Mylander- May/June.)

–    Ethiopian Christmas: As you already know from reading the rest of our blogs- Ethiopia is on a different calendar then the rest of the world- so as you may figure from this title the Ethiopian Christmas falls on our January 7th. So we celebrated in the traditional way with our two “families” here. Josh and I started off the morning by going to watch our family slaughter the sheep. It is interesting coming into a culture where they still slaughter their own animals. For us that is strange, because besides hunting, we buy our meat nicely packaged in the store. We never have to witness the animal being slaughtered. At first you think how strange that they do- but then you are taken back and you think wait we are the strange ones… we buy it nicely packaged and marketed in a store. Nonetheless for our first meal (lunch) we went to Manbera and Werku’s house for all of the traditional food- including the sheep that was slaughtered that morning. After lunch we hung out with them for a while, and then headed to Pastor Matteos’s house for our second big traditional meal (dinner). It was another wonderful meal and we were all stuffed with way to much injera by the end of the night. So Ethiopian Christmas was good- it was much different then ours, they exchange cards only, no gifts and only few decorate their homes. So it was a learning experience for all of us.

–    January: The past month has been all of the usual things: walks to school, lots of macchiatos, Arsenal soccer games, hanging out with friends, learning how to cook and make new things (ie: hummus, pizza, banana bread, etc) teaching classes and ending our first semester with our students.
Now I am caught up! Wheh! So now you ask what are we up to… you are lucky you asked… we have three weeks of vacation, so we are heading up to the Northern part of Ethiopia on Tuesday. We are going to travel to the ancient ruins of Axum, the beautiful Lake Tena and source of the Blue Nile, the rock hewn churches of Lalibela, the Simien Mountains and the castles of Gonder. It should be a fun adventure. We are traveling by car- so it will be long- but no worries we are safe. We have a professional driver and an SUV. We are very excited for this time of rejuvenation and overall fun. We are also looking forward to starting a fresh semester with our students when we return, because this semester will be a bit different- we will actually know what to expect! So with all of that said- thanks to all for reading and we look forward to getting your updates.

Staying strong and learning continuously,
Bethany and the gang

Praises: We finished the semester and learned a lot. We are loving all of the packages we received from friends and family and they have given us such joy. We are also still praising Him for our overall protection and guidance in our time here.

Requests: Pray for the team that we learn how to love each other deeper and stronger. Pray still for our health- we seem to struggle still. Lastly- pray for the safety of our travels in the next week.

 

Langano and Then Some December 20, 2007

Filed under: Uncategorized — teachinghope @ 7:18 am

Food and Friends

T’ibs are our favorite Ethiopian food—Small pieces of meat, usually served with onions and jalapenos over injera and “dabo” (bread), T’ibs are probably the easiest on our stomachs. All of the teachers know this, and so they made a “program” with us after school one day (Ethiopians make “programs,” not “plans”), and Biniam, Tariku, and Meron took us to a restaurant famous for its T’ibs. (Now, to properly speak this word, you must understand that there are 6 explosive sounds in the Fidel/Amharic alphabet.  The “T” in T’ibs is explosive, which is only appropriate for such a dynamite food. Ha!)

 

Anyhow, the teachers were right. This place was GOOD. Not only was the food good, but the company was wonderful. These 3 teachers are very close to us in age and while we love our dear father and older friends here, the camaraderie we hold with these 3 is reminiscent of that with our friends and roommates back home. Meron is a newer teacher at HOPE (she has been here for about 1.5 months now) and she is the dearest girl. Meron is outgoing, engaging, thoughtful, funny—she is very strong and independent. Her character is somewhat different than most Ethiopian women who tend to be rather quiet and reserved—especially around Farenje (foreigners). I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to have a close female friend here—Don’t get me wrong, we love the boys, but we cherish our friendship with Meron. She will be getting married sometime before we leave (although she’s threatening to postpone the wedding to entice us to stay…) and rumor has it that the girls might be asked to participate in the wedding—as bridesmaids! Her fiancée is amazing, too, so we look forward to that celebration! I think we’ve told you about Biniam and Tariku—Biniam is the kindest, most gentle man, and Tariku is the handsome goofball who teaches English. We have a great time with these friends of ours and can’t imagine leaving them in July…

 

The Countryside and Lake Langano

After our outing, we had planned a weekend trip with Dr. Minas to visit 2 of the other HOPE schools south of Addis, as well as an overnight at Lake Langano. A day before leaving, we learned that we wouldn’t be teaching the next week due to midterms, so rather than a weekend trip, we extended our stay, leaving on Friday morning and returning Wednesday afternoon. I’m not quite sure where to begin or how even to describe this delightful adventure. Langano is roughly 2 hours south of Addis, so why, you might ask, did it take us over 8 hours to get there? Well, perhaps because we took the scenic route. Dr. Minas first drove through a thriving, newer city called Nazaret, then onto the road less traveled. Far less traveled. At times, a road did not exist at all (thank God we were driving in the ever-capable Land Cruiser)—although we did manage to get stuck at one point and it took us about 20 minutes to get going again…

 

Anyhow, picture yourself driving slowly through a land of slight hills and plateaus with subtle valleys cutting through. Perhaps what distinguishes this land from any other are the acacia trees that dot the landscape (those majestic African-looking trees whose foliage is rather flat on the top and instead spreads to either side like there is an invisible ceiling)…Every few kilometers you see small living communities consisting of 1-5 huts. The huts are made of the traditional dung-and-straw, and since it is harvest time, the people are busy gathering, grinding, and preparing the grain. But don’t picture machinery, you see oxen led in circles over the grain to grind it, the women throwing the grain in the air to separate the chaff…What a beautiful, simplicity. And I don’t mean that it is an easy life by any means—but it is a life without the buzz of modernity. Children run full-throttle across the fields (abandoning their flocks or their chores) simply to wave at you and shout, “Farenje! Farenji!” Everything is covered with dust.

 

HOPE School Hirara is on a plateau overlooking Lake Ziway; HOPE School Roggie is on a plateau overlooking Lake Shala. The school in Roggie is brand-new, the buildings are very nice (set against the huts, modern-type buildings look somewhat out-of-place). A church from the Bay Area just finished a water project a couple months ago that now supplies the area with much-needed clean water. The school in Hirara is less developed—fashioned out of corrugated metal siding, the single building marks the location of future construction. For now, the 2-room structure is buzzing with the energy of 100 students practicing their English: “One star and two stars is three stars.” Except, the pronunciation is more like: “Wahn estat ahnduh tooh estats eez zree estats.” We were excited to be able to visit these two other HOPE schools and look forward to visiting the others throughout the year (we’ve been to 4 already—there are 6 total). 

 

The rest of our trip was spent at Lake Langano. Although the water looked rather brown and unappealing, we ventured in for a rather enjoyable swim or two, and just enjoyed being away from the harsh sounds, smells, and sights of the city. We had beautiful weather—sunny and breezy—in a beautiful setting (the lake has hills in the background; the compound is full of trees, bright flowers, crazy-looking (and sounding) birds, etc). It was quite refreshing to revel in the beauty of God’s natural creation for a few days. And the stars! We’ve located a few familiar constellations, including Orion, Cassiopeia, and Pleiades—No Dippers around here…Since only 10% of the people in Ethiopia have power, you can imagine how bright the stars are in the countryside.

 

We spent the days exploring the compound, reading on the beach, playing cards and resting. It was a great time to reflect (not that reflection is ever hard to do here), reenergize and refocus.

Vivaldi and Gerald

Sarah and I have been rehearsing with a 70-voice Christmas choir consisting of people from over 15 different countries. Our favorite musician whom we named Gerald before learning his real name is Brian, speaks 5 different languages including Portuguese and plays the contrabass. We met a number of wonderful, eccentric people (including the French ambassador) and are thankful for the experience! We are singing some great music, including Vivaldi’s Magnificat, as well as a piece by Mendelssohn and another by Ralph V. Williams—15 pieces in all. Accustomed to singing in choral groups and coming from a rather musical family, Sarah and I were delighted to sing some technically hard and lovely music and to hear the sound come together. We sang with an orchestra and wind ensemble, which made it even more wonderful. We performed 5 times, 3 at churches, 1 at an NGO, and 1 at a local women’s prison. The conditions at the prison were relatively good, although we learned a few interesting things:

  1. No food is provided at any prison in Ethiopia. If you want to eat, your relatives have to prepare and bring food to you.
  2. If you have a young child, the child must stay in prison with you until he/she comes of age (or until you complete your sentence).
  3. Most of the women are in prison for murdering their husbands—usually out of self defense.

Overall, our experience at the prison was eye-opening. The women are beautiful—of all ages. Despite their circumstances we were able to laugh together and I sensed their hope.

 

Birthdays and Husbands

Well, I’m getting old. I celebrated my 24th birthday on December 6th and I just can’t express my gratefulness for all those who sent cards and well wishes—Thank you so much for your thoughtfulness! You made me feel special and loved in this place that is still so fresh. Josh and I happened to be at the feeding center that day (who ever gets to feed over 700 people on their birthday?!) and Sarah and I had a concert that evening, so it was a remarkable day. We returned from the concert to find Josh and Bethany with a CAKE and familiar decorations!! (Including noisemakers, a Scooby Doo candle, and one of those multicolored “Happy Birthday” hanging signs—Thank you, BPYG!!) The next day, the teachers organized a small surprise celebration for me in the staff room and presented me with a huge birthday card that they all had signed. Mattewos’s note was probably my favorite. He writes: “I wish you good luck to marry a good husband!” Yes, apparently I am ancient and need to get my rear in gear to locate the man I am to marry. Even my students gawk at my singleness—I try to explain to them that in America it is very common to marry later in life (if ever) but they don’t get it. “You don’t even to have a boyfriend in America?” they say. It makes me laugh every time. 

 

Challenges and Beyonce

As we get into the year, our role as teachers is becoming more challenging, especially for those of us without formal training. Heck! We didn’t even have informal training! For me, I have come to the conclusion that I am not made to be a teacher. If I had my way, I’d just spend time with the students and get to know them on a heart level—BUT I have this responsibility to teach them English, and I have told some people already that it is requiring all that I have (and much that I don’t have) to do this teaching thing. The Lord is equipping me to step up to the task at hand, so in that I am learning to depend on his provision; however, it still remains difficult to focus our teaching with such little guidance and structure.

 

I am extremely aware and thankful for the love I have for my students. I enjoy being with them and have even had some of them to our home (usually involving popcorn and nail polish). At times, though, the attention can be somewhat overwhelming (imagine 30+ students surrounding you before and after class, all wanting to shake hands, kiss, high-five, fist pound, hold hands, play with your hair—the hair on your head and on your arms, etc. All trying to speak louder than the person next to them with a version of English-Amharic our team affectionately calls Amharish. Then imagine they persist in asking you to demonstrate “American” dancing or to sing Beyonce or Shakira until you can’t help but try…) Yes, I love them. Even when they put a dead rat in the front of the classroom. (It was pretty funny.)

 

Bethany and I started teaching business courses a couple weeks ago—the course is focused around the creation of a business plan—Bethany and I will help teach this portion, as well as supplement the course with information about Lean Management and the 7 Habits for Highly Effective People. A team of evaluators from the Netherlands will be coming to check on the progress of the business courses in January so we’ll keep you posted on that. She and I have also started going over some of HOPE’s reports regarding its extensive operations and have already made some notes for possible recommendations we can leave at the end of the year.

 

Miscellaneous and Random

-We had the pleasure of dining with Mattewos’s family for dinner the other night. Atefero (his wife) prepared great food for farenji stomachs. Sarah and I had made strawberry shortcake (made with berries we found at a small stand on our way back from Langano) and they thought it was marvelous. It’s quite fun to introduce the Ethiopians to different kinds of food!

-We’re looking forward to celebrating Christmas here in Ethiopia—twice. Ethiopian Christmas isn’t until the 2nd week in January…We are already planning a Christmas party at our home and look forward to introducing some of our traditions to our new friends—as well as sharing in their Christmas traditions!

-Sarah’s church in Minnesota just sent us 25 copies of The Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe to use in our classes. What a treat! Thank you so much!! We’ve received various letters and packages from loved ones and we are so grateful for your generosity! Something that is always precious to us and is easy to send: PICTURES! We miss seeing your faces, so any new pictures are really fun for us.

-We’ve gotten a system down for using the internet, so if you aren’t writing because you think we can’t access email, don’t let that stop you anymore. We’re able to consistently get online about once a week and we love hearing from you!

-We purchased our return tickets—we will return to Seattle on the afternoon of July 30th. I know some of you may want to start a countdown. Heh. Kidding. Finalizing our return travel definitely puts perspective on our time here—We have been here for 4 months and have a little more than 7 to go…

 

Thank you for keeping us in your thoughts and prayers. We hope you have a rich and joyful Holiday!

 

Merry Christmas!

 

Mar (Eyasu, Bet-ty, and Sarichew—our given Ethiopian nicknames)

 

*We continue to acknowledge the Lord’s provision and protection! We are ever so grateful for your support and encouragement!

*We continue to seek energy, vision, and creativity to teach. We have encountered some potential glitches in the organization (such as poor delegation, employee dissatisfaction, ineffective use of donations, etc.) While HOPE is doing incredible things for the people of Ethiopia, it seems that those within the organization and other internal processes may be overlooked at times. So, please pray with us for their future sustainability and growth. Pray for boldness and clarity as we bring some of these things before the administration, and openness and positive reception. Thank you!! 

 

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