This entry has taken me a while to write. I wanted it to say everything I felt. But those feelings were hard to put into words. I started to write this once, but gave up. I rewrote it in my head. But, as is always the case, sitting down to write is the hardest step. Sitting down to write is so much harder than actually writing.
I recently returned from America. I spent two weeks with family, friends and my girlfriend. Ironically I went on two camping trips. You know, because camping was high on my priority list. My life is camping.
I had an amazing time. My house looked and felt amazing. It’s been entirely renovated but the atmosphere is still there. Home is blind I think – and my home is a feeling. But America felt different. When I first arrived in Ethiopia I did not have any culture shock. I was expecting poverty, and it lived up to its billing. I loved the authenticity of Ethiopia – a stark contrast from America.
Culture shock happened for me in reverse. In the airport, I couldn’t believe all of the commotion –The size of everything. America is so
Seriously, it’s like a big light bulb with huge buildings and everyone is running around. Where are they all going? Seriously where is everyone going? Also why aren’t people staring and pointing at me. Don’t they know I’m a big deal?
I remember marveling at the excess. I remember staring at a sidewalk and wondering, could I dig up this concrete? I could bring it back and use it to make a wonderful house for someone. It is in these ideas that I realize how much coming here has changed me.
Here are some other thoughts:
People are addicted to their smart phones. It’s been interesting to see the transformation over the past year. It’s almost as if life was impossible before we had computers in our hands. I’m likely to fall into that trap when I return home, but I hope that I can remember that the best things in life can’t be found on an iPhone.
I had a party before I left for family and friends. My sister was back from Haiti, my other sister up from college, and my brother had just moved home from France. It was great to be together again.
Fast-forward 12 hours and I was a little intoxicated. And by little I mean a lot.
The party was over and I started to sweep up the kitchen. It was probably around midnight. I grabbed the broom behind the refrigerator. Immediately it felt weird. Was it wood or plastic? I couldn’t tell. Why was it so straight? It seemed fake. I thought about my broom here in Bonga. It is so pathetic that it is almost endearing. It is bent and crooked and weak. A stick with horse hair attached to it. Sweeping is a workout, where I have to push the dirt out my back door.
But this American broom was comically powerful. I moved it a centimeter and dust went flying into another corner. So efficient. So fake. And that is America and Ethiopia through a lens. One is straight, methodical, excessive and powerful. The latter bent and crooked, yet natural.
I think I drank too much.
I really can’t help but be amazed at the efficiency of life in America. Things work there. The next time someone complains about our government, I’m sending them on a 14 hour bus ride here in Ethiopia. Paved roads, hospitals, hand santizer, and bridges. We are very lucky.
Bridges. That is another thing I’ve noticed in my travels.
In America, bridges are functional. They take people from point A to point B with pinpoint accuracy. They are cost effective, and therefore ugly. They are concrete slabs of boring architectural perfection. In Europe, bridges are works of art. In Florence and in the Swiss Alps, bridges were built to please the eye. Much like the towns and houses, they accentuate the land. You want to take pictures of them.
But in Ethiopia, bridges help me find my religion. When I pass over them, I pray. Please God, let me make it over this thing. The bridge that connects Bonga to Chiri, made from about 10 different materials, has holes in it that a goat could fall through. In fact, a goat has fallen through.
My whole time in America was spent racing around. It wasn’t necessary but I succumbed to the lifestyle.. I think I was feeding off of the American vibes. Got to see this. Have to do that. Work at 8, meeting at 10, Doctor at 11, lunch at 12. You know what I did today before lunch?
And it was awesome. I thought about writing this but put it off. I walked into town but didn’t buy anything. My bread store was closed. I could have walked 30 minutes to the other bread store, but I was too tired after my long and eventful morning. I hung out in my hammock and started to read a book that I couldn’t get into. And that brings me up to now.
America and Ethiopia are two different worlds. Everything America is, Ethiopia is not. Everything Ethiopia has, America lacks. Ethiopia has time. Time for family and time for self. Time to stop and breathe. But America has Sushi and checkout lines.
I was so excited for a hot shower and my favorite foods. My Mom’s roast lamb with carrot and mango soup, Panang curry, Chipotle, and summer barbecue. There is nothing more nostalgic than the smell of a barbecue in the summer.
And I had all of these things that I craved. Yet they were not worthy of my excitement. As much as I missed Crisp and Juicy, I missed the people I’ve shared it with more. On my last night in America, A bounty of Peruvian A la brasa goodness in front of me, I could not eat one bite. I was leaving my friends and family. I was leaving Carly.
I’ve given up a lot to come here: Modern conveniences, running water, money, Asian food. But my biggest sacrifice was leaving my best friend. It makes Peace Corps so much harder. There is a freedom in knowing I’ve found someone that I could miss that much. I like her more than anything else and I miss the world we create together.
As a result, I tend to live in the future. As my landlady says,
“Miki Rasih Tafa?! Ka carly gar new! Izoh, timatalech” – Mike your head is lost? Is it with Carly? Stay strong – she will come!”
I can’t wait until December when she comes back. We’re going on a safari and to Zanzibar. I live in those moments. I dream of being back in America and starting my life. What will I do? I wonder what I’ll do.
I can’t do that anymore. I have to start living in the present. One day, I will look back on the time I lived in rural Africa. I will remember walking over a fallen tree across the river to the basketball court. And teaching English in a dirt room, or explaining accounting to honey farmers. I hope I don’t remember wishing I were somewhere else.
For now my journey includes unpaved roads and rudimentary bridges. Broken down buses, muddy paths and life changing epiphanies. But the journey trumps the destination. And while my destination is exciting, I can’t arrive there quite yet. I have to cross the bridge first.