Finally able to upload the word docs to the internet…here is my first post
After leaving the comfort of the hotel, we were brought to our host families, an hour away. As we traveled through Ethiopia, the one thing I noticed was how green everything is. My host family lives in Addis Alem, a village of about 9,000. There is one road, a dusty market three days a week, and tons of kids. If you walk two blocks from the main road, the view is remarkable. Mountains, palm trees, rivers, and fields of wheat stretch for miles.
The first night I met my family was definitely one to remember. I spoke about three words of Amharic, and was the first white person the kids had seen in person. They stared at me and begged me to say anything. The younger kids would peek at me from around the corner and then run away laughing. Other volunteers called this the most awkward night of their lives, but somehow I was blessed with the ability to understand and entertain people. I had several tricks up my sleeve for making it through this night.
The first was based on the fact that there are actually two universal languages, smiling and soccer. I had asked my teacher how to say, “I like soccer” in Amharic. So I was in with the kids from the get go. I brought out my soccer ball and I had them do drills for a couple hours. Now, everyday when I get home from school, 20 kids are waiting at my door waiting to play soccer with me. So instead of a nap, I run drills with kids who seem to have been waiting for this opportunity their whole lives.
The other trick I had up my sleeve was my computer. I showed the kids clips from planet earth, the photobooth application that distorts video of your face, and finally my iTunes collection. This was hilarious. The boys, 9, 11, 18, and 19 begged me to play music from the following artists: Keith Urban, Michael Jackson, Beyonce, and then Celine Dion. Ethiopians LOVE Celine Dion.
A volunteer said a couple days ago, “Courage is not lack of fear. It is willingness to embarrass yourself.” I remembered this as my family responded to my iTunes collection by showing me Ethiopian music: Bahalawi Chifera-the traditional dance of the region. It is basically a mixture of tribal jumping, and shoulder popping. I remembered this quote as I tried to show off my moves. My family almost died of laughter. The next day the whole town knew about this–now a day doesn’t go by where I try and imitate the dance moves for a crowd of people. They call me Nedje-Abesha which means white-black man. I had been saying it for years myself.
At the end of the night, they took a picture of me, and taped it to the wall. My host mom pointed at a picture of her son, (who I later learned had passed away) and said “praise god, I have a new son.”
My average day.
A day in my life:
I wake up, if I’m lucky, at 6am. We have been given malaria medication that causes insomnia. I slept 3 hours a night the first week. If I’m awake enough I will read. If not, I will stare at the wall for a couple hours. I will look at pictures on my wall., pictures of my family and Carly.
By 7am, the 9 and 11 year olds are peeking into my room whispering my name. They are good kids. I understand it. I am a goofy and happy white man who loves games and has an endless supply of entertaining things. But it has been a hard adjustment. There is no concept of individualism here. I am expected to be with the family at all times. They call me son, and brother, and often pet my hair. Sometimes, I just need to be alone. But they genuinely love me. They are sleeping 6 to a room, 3 to a bed just so I can have my own room. It is really humbling.
By the time I have rolled out of bed, breakfast is waiting for me. Guests are treated like royalty in Ethiopia. No one is allowed to eat until I have. Breakfast normally consists of the best tea I have ever had, and what I can only call an egg pancake. It is like thin fried bread with scrambled eggs inside. I’m surprised no one in America thought of this. Notify Mcdonalds.
I go to class around 8, and kids fight for the right to hold my hand and walk to my class. I began by allowing the smallest and most sheepish kid hold my hand. The kids soon learned, act shy and innocent and they have a better chance. The kids really do love me. They stopped chanting “Firenje”, and now shout “Maiii Keel, Maiii keel” when they see me.
I started giving them silly bands, and it is clear that silly bands are a universal phenomenon. The kids trade them in school and wear them proudly. Sometimes they have no idea what the bracelets are. For example, the stingray is a church bell. The football is a lemon. Then there is the infamous lobster. There is only one thing a silhouette of a lobster can look like to a 13 year old.
I’m starting to worry about the perception these kids have of America. By their best guess, we are all painfully white, horrible dancers, and wear dumb bracelets of shiny penises on our arms.
Eh, pretty accurate.
From 8-5 we study the language. There are 231 characters and phonetically, it resembles Arabic. Its very hard but I can hold a decent conversation now and understand the verb structure. We study outside, and kids will gather around and help us/laugh at us. Every day here is 75 degrees and sunny.
3 times a day, we break and join the Ethiopians as they prepare and drink their famous coffee. Coffee is always fresh and rich here. They roast it, grind it, and brew it as a family in a traditional ceremony that lasts about 30 minutes. Coffee is never ever stored here. It is either fresh, or not consumed. Of all the places for the Peace Corps to send a kid allergic to coffee, this is the cruelest.
After school, I come home and play soccer with the kids. My host mom always watches me nervously and holds my hand if a car comes by. (Her 9 year old is perfectly safe but she gets way too worried for me.) One day, she even made me come inside while the 9 year old stayed and played. Until bedtime, the family will eat together and watch tv. They always feed me first (this means they hand feed me…a sign of respect). I don’t think I will ever get used to that. They proudly ask me what I learned that day, and I let them laugh at me.
Before bed, the kids join me to do push ups and sit ups. This is great for my self esteem. They think, in their ignorance, think I’m very strong. We count in Amharic and in English. I am teaching them English, and telling them to practice soccer and study everyday, to drink milk, and to exercise. They asked me if this is how they can come to America. I say, not only can you come to America, but you could likely become the chief of all of California.
Before bed, I will read. I just finished a book called “What is the What” It is the most amazing and horrifying books ever. It is the story of a 8 year old, who trekked from Sudan to Ethiopia during the civil war in Sudan. The government killed all his family and friends, directly or indirectly. Many were eaten by lions. Others became slaves. 2.5 million Sudanese people died while I was in elementary and middle school. I had no idea. This helps remind me why I am here.
Then I fall asleep and do it again.
The sounds of Africa
Living in Africa is almost sensory overload. The sights are pretty incredible. From the poverty to the landscape, it is impossible to describe in words. Hopefully I can share some pictures with you soon! The smells of Ethiopia range from the mesmerizing, roasting coffee and incense; to the pungent. (Monday is trash-burning day) But it is the sounds of Africa that remind me that I’m in another world…
I have knee issues. I always have. A year ago my knee locked up, the result of a bone chip getting stuck in cartilage. It was the most excruciating pain I’ve ever felt, but after several hours and some painkillers, the chip found its way home.
Last night, wrapped in a mosquito net above the ground, my knee locked up again. There was nothing I could do. It was impossible for me to get out of bed, the pain shooting up my leg and back if I moved an inch. I waited for three hours for the pain to go away. In the meantime, Africa came alive.
Ethiopia is a deeply religious country. There is often a religious holiday once or twice per week. On these nights, priests use microphones to chant through the night. I’m not sure but I think the priests in Addis Alem are trying to out-chant each other, both in volume and duration. Either that, or they are trying to scare the white culture invaders out of town. It might be working.
Then the rain came, pounding the tin roofs that cover our homes. The sound of rain hitting a tin roof is louder than one would expect, almost like hail hitting your windshield back home. The rain makes the dogs bark louder, if that was possible. In Ethiopia, dogs are not pets but security guards, trained to bark at the slightest movement.
And that’s when I heard a bark that didn’t come from a dog. It was a cross between a wail, a laugh, and a howl. A pack of Hyenas was outside my neighbors house, taunting the caged dog. They only come out at night and their laugh is unmistakable.
So here I was, frozen in time; Priests chanting, rain pounding, dogs barking, and hyenas laughing in the night as I awaited a bone chip to leave my cartilage. It was a night I will never forget.
I suppose ‘Ethiopian Village’ is not one of the soundtracks on one of those relaxation CDs.