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Learning the language
Much of the last week has been relatively uneventful. Uneventful I suppose is too strong of a word, given that everything I see and do is new and different. The difference between this week and last is that we have a schedule. A lot can be said about the power of routine. Routine has the power to both enhance and detract from life. Routine can make years fly by without notice. (COLLEGE) In these first few months of homesickness and culture shock, however, routine is a welcome blessing.
I have been spending most of every day studying the language. I’m starting to put pieces together and construct sentences. But it’s a tough language. There are 231 unique characters, as if every conceivable sound someone can make has its own picture. The symbol for “Cha” looks like a cross between a musical note and a manora. (Hi Beazer, Hawkins and Emily! Miss you!) Then there is a different symbol for ‘Che’ ‘Cho’ ‘Chi’ ‘Cheh’ ‘Chu’ and ‘Chih’
And yet, there is a part of me, (that I don’t quite understand) that loves this. Perhaps it is vanity-the joy I get when I see how surprised a local is to hear me talk like them. I also look forward to the day I can speak to an Ethiopian living in DC and remind him how insanely gorgeous his country is. Perhaps it is just the fact that to be in class again reminds me that I’m not quite all grown up. Or maybe it is that I actually love learning languages. However, there are days when I feel the language is hard. Days that I miss hot showers, Chipotle, and going on mundane or real adventures with Carly. Nevertheless, no matter how bad it gets, I remind myself that I am not waking up every morning, shaving, putting on a suit, and trying to sell office equipment over the phone to people who hate me.
On Sunday, our day off, we all met up again in Holeta. Individually, we are a mostly smart, responsible, and accomplished group. Together we are not. We met up at a hotel for cake and beer. Who knew that cake could be so mediocre and so delicious ? I went with my friends, Jessica and Chase, on a field trip to a market. I had heard rumors, hearsay, gossip– that something called ‘Oncholoni kibe’ could be found in Holeta. However at this point, it was merely speculation.
But to see it sitting there, organic peanut butter, practically begging me to be plucked from the shelves, I wondered if it was merely an exhaustion-induced mirage. Its funny how, of all the things to crave, we all had named peanut butter as the most coveted commodity. Personally, I rarely eat peanut butter in the states. I think it is the nostalgia of something so purely youthful and American that had my mouth watering.
On the trip home my mind was racing. Three staples of Ethiopian cuisine are bread, bananas, and honey. I think I have found out how to survive. Once home, I made PB, banana and honey sandwiches for my family. Their eyes exploded as they ate them. They have eaten them for breakfast and lunch everyday since.
A snapshot of Addis Alem
A few times a week, I walk the mile long stretch of the main road in Addis Alem to our school for a cultural awareness session.
I walk out of my house, it painted a bright clash of turquoise and lime green, and immediately sneeze. The sun is powerful here (Tommy, you would not do well here) and the sky is bright. The extreme altitude here, and the proximity to the sun combine to form the most perfect climate imaginable. As I walk out to the street, a spring well stands to my left and a grove of mango trees on my right. Just beyond the mango trees, my family is growing cilantro, corn, and avocado. Like I said, the smells here can be unprecedented.
I open the door to a mess of kids who know my schedule by now. I make a face and they laugh. They giggle and clamor for the extreme privilege of being lifted in the air. They all wear their handsome maroon red school uniforms that are proudly washed and kept clean. And yet, they are all barefoot, or wearing plastic shoes with holes cut at the toe for their growing feet. They run off eventually and I can walk in relative peace.
As I walk, wives will walk outside their corrugated tin roof houses, hands on their hips, 2 and 3 year-olds by their side, and watch me walk. Older men sit in the shade with a friend drinking wine made from honey, pretending not to care about me, and talk about old people things
Three weeks in and I’m still a source of extreme wonder. Most people know me though, and will wave and shout, “Mai keel! hello! Howareyou-Thank you!” The sidewalks and street become busier as I approach “downtown” and the interest in me fades slightly. Kids run up and down the sidewalk, guiding a small plastic wheel with a tree branch, somehow succeeding in making it roll along. This game is somewhat of a national pastime. Other kids (80% of the population here is under 25) play soccer with whatever can be interpreted as a ball. The boys here have giant eyes, a mischievous disposition, and often times a trail of snot running from nose to lip. They will soon muster the courage to ask me to hold their hand; EVERYONE in Ethiopia holds hands, and I often have the honor of holding hands with a 40 year-old man. Still not used to that one.
As I reach the market, the town becomes dustier, louder, and full of animals. Horses stand idly as goats are herded across the street. Cows and donkeys stubbornly walk in pattern-less directions, pissing off their abusive masters. I think donkeys here, if given the choice, would drink the kool-aid. They carry up to their weight in firewood, and rarely make it a few steps without the crack of a whip.
Right before I get our school, I pass a small coffee shop. I can smell the charcoal, incense, and roasting coffee beans. Intoxicating smells. A 3 year old girl named kidest will run up to me, barefoot, tell me she loves me and ask to wear my sunglasses. As I walk into school she blows me a kiss.
Ethiopia is so poor and so rich.