Lessons from Kombucha

Life is Good.

Perhaps because I love to plan for the future, and daydream about a future life in India or Panama, I suck at living in the present. But thanks to some great people and a sense of community I’ve been able to really immerse myself in Ethiopia.

Part of that can be blamed on Ben Hawkins, my great friend and former roommate who first forced me to think of a life outside of college parties and internship opportunities. He’s been here with me for the last two weeks, and we’ve had an amazing time making jokes and having epic conversations that make us sound like crazy people.

I feel whole here.

Earlier I wrote that America was pure happiness. To me there is a difference between happiness and joy. There are times in my life when I’ve been very happy. In fact, there have been few times when I wasn’t very happy. What I experience here in Ethiopia is joy.

Right now, I’m sitting on my front porch. It’s 5:54 PM which means the light from the sun has turned the street into a golden paradise. People walk by that I know. Meheret from the High School, who spent weeks practicing English verb conjugations. Then I see Salamwit, the cutest girl in all of Bonga. I visited her at the hospital when she had pneumonia. She was a former Kindergarten student who won the heart of Milkiyas, my doctor friend who cared for her. When she sees me, her smile explodes. MICHAEL! DEHNA NEH??? HOW IS KARR-LEEE?!!

This feeling is a shade deeper than happiness. What I have experienced here is periods of loneliness and frustration punctuated with explosions of joy, and the frustration is giving way. Ben and I are living an awesome life. We spend every night with my host family, Yohanes and Alemua and their friends and family. When I look back on my time in Peace Corps, these are the times I will remember. Dinner lasts several hours, and the best way to describe these moments is that they are genuine and real. I make jokes and dance and Alemua forces amazing Ethiopian food on us until we can’t eat another bite. We call these dinners, “Guramyle” meaning a mixture of cultures. I often make a curry or pasta or hummus, and she prepares national dishes. Culture continues to collde as Ben plays the guitar while I (unfortunately) sing. It doesn’t matter that I have the natural rhythm of a newborn goat, they love it anyways.

During the day, we walk around town, stopping by the kindergartens to play them music, or we hike to the waterfall or the palm tree forest where we play catch. He’s come with me to a few planning meetings at the school and hospital, but most of our time is spent soaking in the realness of Bonga.

We spend all day making fun of each other, but we end up gravitating towards larger thoughts and the meaning of life. One thing we talked about these past two weeks was how content we were with our life, and how little synchronicities were linking thoughts and ideas together.

This ‘Synergy’ as we called it, was a term that found its way into my life from Carly. Her sense of wonder and spirituality always lead to her teaching me about things. She started thinking about it one day when a (potentially) crazy guy at a farmers market told her that feelings of déjà vu and coincidences are God’s way of telling us that we are on the right path. He later went on to tell her that she is possibly one of Jesus’ direct descendants.

But his message is one that I have adopted. Whenever things connect in a way that can’t be explained by simple coincidence, I like to think that I’m on the right path. And the synergies were present the past few weeks. Everything was connected.

One day we were talking about Kim chi, the Korean fermented cabbage dish. A few minutes later, Alemua knocks on my door with a giant head of cabbage. “You love cabbage! So I got this for you” she says. That night at Guramyle dinner, Alemua’s television, always tuned to Ethiopian TV, finds its way to some hour long special on how to prepare Kim chi.

The next day, I ask Ben about Kombucha, a symbiotic yeast bacteria that I was introduced to in America. (By Carly of course) We talk about how we all love it. That night at dinner, my friend Chuck asks if I would be interested in a starter kit to brew my own Kombucha. Yes I would.

So a quick summary: I’m turning into a crazy liberal, and I think simple coincidences are a message from God. Glad you’re still with me.

Later Ben and I get in an awesome debate centered on the book, “The Giving Tree.” We disagree on everything before finding out that we reached the same exact conclusion. Classic Ben and Mike.

We talk about what the purpose is in caring for the environment. There is little we can do to reverse the trends of destruction, because to do so, you must change the way people think. So truly what is the point? Eventually, by rapture, Armageddon, war, or the sun exploding, all of us will be gone, animals and all.

So why care about Selamwit, her dirty school, or the White Rhinoceros? Our conclusion is that the alternative is just too frightening. We care because it gives us hope, even if it is false. Empathy over Apathy. Our time on Earth will end, so why not spend that time in the glorious pursuit of the right path. I have been given so much, so I want to continue to learn and grow, become a better person, and share. Share what I’ve been given with those in need.

Later that night we are talking to Brian, the coolest Peace Corps Volunteer on the phone.

I ask him if he likes Kombucha. Are you kidding me? I love it. He goes on:

“The cool thing about Kombucha is it gets better over time. You can experiment and find the right recipe. It keeps growing, and eventually it gets so big that you are forced to share it with someone else.”


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