An All-Star Cast

Written on 9/23/2007 

In this series of blog posts, I have given accounts of experiences, places, and most impotantly, people. The people involved in our lives here have become somewhat like family members. With their gentle humility, hospitable spirit, and desire to serve, they have warmed our hearts and given us good reason not to bag up all our belongings and take the next flight back to Seattle. I feel a great sorrow however that most of you will only hear of these people and never have the extraordinary opportunity to make their acquaintance. Therefore, what I reveal in my writing must give you an adequate picture of who they are and bring you to a place that will allow you, when reading in the future, to say, “Oh, that Tefera, always making jokes,” or something like that. So, what will now follow is a virtually complete list of characters in the story that is my life. They will be broken up based on importance. I hope you enjoy. 

Main Characters 

Pastor Mattewos:

The head pastor of Akaki Kale Heywet Church in the community of Zeneba Work, the pastor for HOPE Enterprises, and the Ethics teacher at the Ayer Tena HOPE school here in Addis, Mattewos is one to say hello to everyone with a “seulam…deunane?…egzabyer yibarke” (hello…how are you?…God bless you), but most likely a warm embrace and lengthier conversation. He has become a father to us since the first day we met and reciprocates the feelings by treating us like his own children. He admittedly cannot stand going a day without seeing us. So, if it has been too long, there is a good chance he will show up on our doorstep sometime in the evening. Physically, he is almost a foot shorter than me at about 5’3” and boasts a proud belly that he tells us is because of his wife’s cooking. I joke around about it sometimes and he’s a pretty good sport about it. Along with the jokes about his rotund frame, I make sure to point out the “salt” in his beard too. He likes that one. He says it’s because he’s a “very distinguished old man.” At the age of 46 (or somewhere close to that…he is from the coutryside and isn’t exactly sure of his birthday and thus, how old he is) he is hardly an old man and his fitness level is even more supporting evidence. He walks most everywhere he goes and “makes a sport” every morning. He also claims to be a runner, but at 74 kilos (about 163 lbs) he doesn’t appear as though he’d be that fast. Tefera, his partner in crime, told us about how slow he was one day and Mattewos was most defensive. As I have said before, I liken him to a 45 year old, Ethiopian Winnie the Pooh (in human form). He even makes the ooohhh sound just like him. We would not be experiencing Ethiopia for all it is worth if we had not met Mattewos. He is a delight and servant at heart. He wouldn’t even let us walk the 200 yards home from the taxi stop alone until yesterday. Such a protective father. Bret, Dave, Paul and Rick, you’d be delighted to know that he is watching over us. 

Tefera:

“Agoat” is the term we use for Tefera. In Amharic it means uncle, but in English, as Pastor Mattewos is always sure to point out, it something much different. Tefera laughs and says “No, no, no, no,” in his soft voice as a smile beams from his face every time we make “baah” noises at him. Perhaps less of a jokester and more often the butt of Mattewos’ jokes, Tefera is a kindhearted, drop-anything-to-help sort of person who has basically been professionally assigned by Ato (Mr.) Zenebe (Executive Director of HOPE) to look out for us, take us anywhere we need to go, and run any errands that we are incapable of doing on our own. Since day one, he has been our “driver” and has been everything we needed him to be. All of this comes on top of the fact that he is the Project Director of the new HOPE schools in Roggie and Hararra, and a full time student getting his second undergraduate degree. Oh, did I mention he has a family as well? His life is packed with tasks and to-dos and we seem to add, without trying, more things to his lists. The small pad of post-its that he keeps in his jacket pocket must run out quick. He stops by the house on a regular basis to see if we are doing well and always asks if there is anything we need. He has been a lifesaver since the day he picked us up from Elias’ house after the airport debacle and will continue to be for the next ten months. We are incredibly thankful for Tefera and so should you be.  

Werku:

The meaning of Werku in Amharic is gold. That’s what he means to us…GOLD! He is quite possibly the most gentle, caring old man I think I’ve ever met. He is on our doorstep every morning as we eat our breakfast inquiring about the state of our affairs. “Are you fine? Does you have any problem? Anything needs to fixing?” He cares about us as if we are his children and does so out of his understanding that God has brought us together and that it was God’s will that he rent the house to us. He often sits in his chair and watches BBC World News to cap off his evening, so if we are coming in at night or he remembers something he forgot to tell us during the day, we will catch him at his best: thick blue robe, worn in cotton slippers like the ones you would see at a hotel, white beenie cap, and plaid pajama pants. This outfit often extends to one in the afternoon if it is a Saturday or a day off, so we see it a lot. He works very hard still, even at the age of seventy, and always finds time to add extra work to his load for our house and all its quirks. We can count on him like a father. 

Mambera:

She serves. Like nobody’s business, she serves. She has devoted her life to serving the Lord and serving her family. With Werku, her son Befekadu, and a young servant girl named Alem in the house, she has lots to do. She is up every day at 3am to make it to the Orthodox Church by 4am where she attends service. That’s right…every day! She then comes home to work on her elaborate Ethiopian meals and is able to have bunna (coffee) and shai (tea) prepared to serve at all times. Her injera and wot is incredible and she always makes enough for us to try some during the day. She loves it when I speak in Amharic and always says “Gobez, gobez, gobez! (Excellent, excellent, excellent!)” She is a beautiful woman in her seventies with a heart of gold. We call her our mother, but she is more like an engaging, lively, humble grandmother. 

Befekadu:

At 38 years old, the fact that he is single and lives at home is sort of funny. But it sort of reminds me of that movie with Matthew McCaughnohey where he never leaves home. He isn’t weird. He doesn’t have awkward tendencies. He is very successful in his profession. He just loves his family. And now we are a part of it. He has two brothers already, but he told me today that he now has three. And where he once had a sister who died of sickness, he now has three again. He attributes this new found familial structure to God’s divine plan. He loves showing us around the city and is so interested in what we like and don’t like about our new country. His car doesn’t run well. I’m not sure if it has shocks at all since it feels like riding in a boxcar racer, which isn’t so good on the potholed roads. The seats have metal shard sticking out of the leather (which ripped a hole in my pants…and almost my buttcheek!). But he is not concerned with being flashy. He is concerned with serving his family, living a life pleasing to God and treating those around him like family. We do lots of fun things with him and he has definitely embodied the role of the older big brother that I never had. 

Alem:

The eighteen-year-old girl that serves in Werku and Mambera’s house, she loves to talk with us each day and is often assigned by Werku to do tasks for us that they feel we shouldn’t have to do. When our muddy shoes are left on the porch, she comes to wash them for us. When our clothes are on the line and it starts raining and we aren’t home, she takes them down for us. She brings us gifts from the family and tries to work on her English in process. In the three weeks we’ve lived here she has learned four times as much English as she knew when we got here. While she is a servant for the house, she is treated like a daughter and a sister. The family loves her and though she has family on the other side of Addis, she never feels the need to visit them since from a young age, she has been with this family and considers it home.  We love talking with her and I think she loves it too.  

Tibibu:

He doesn’t speak English. Not a word. But he is incredible. He is the family’s guard and opens the door when people or cars need to go in or out. He speaks rarely, but always has a smile on his face. A former soldier in the Ethiopian army, he is hard working, dedicated, and loyal to the family and does all sorts of odd jobs to pass the time. We love seeing him multiple times a day and he always brightens the day. 

Geneti:

He might as well be American. After leaving his hometown of Dembe Dolo in the southeast of Ethiopia, he traveled to Athens, Georgia, where he spent the better part of a decade receiving an undergraduate degree, a master’s degree, and teaching mathematics, which he says is his passion. Just three months ago, he returned to Ethiopia, for the first time since his departure so long ago, to work as the Branch Manager at the Ayer Tena HOPE school. We see him on a regular basis and he is quite possibly one of the nicest people we’ve I’ve ever met. At school, he is the only one that speaks clear, fluent English. This makes him someone we enjoy being around let alone his wonderful spirit and genuine attitude about everything. At HOPE, he is sort of the young mind who is very often pushing for change and growth, but is trapped in a system of older, set-in-their-ways Ethiopian executives who are much more hesitant to do so. We chat about life, the states, school, differences between home and Ethiopia, and just generally have a good time together. He is slowly becoming one of our closest friends here and we will definitely be spending lots of time with him throughout the year.    

Dr. Minas (Minas is his first name…that’s how they do it here):

Averaging twelve-hour workdays, I am unsure how he fits in time for his wife, Elsa, and his tthree youngest children, Yab (daughter), Yas (son), and Kandi (daughter). His eldest son is currently studying at the Seattle Art Institute. He spends much of his time writing petitions and proposals to government officials or fundraising for one of the many projects that HOPE has begun for the development of Ethiopia. Most people we talk to know who he is but when we are with him, he seems more like a young grandfather, still yearning to be a kid just once more. We don’t see Dr. Minas as much as the other main characters, but his importance stands alone without our influence and therefore, he makes the list. We spent many hours in a Land Rover with him on our way to and from Dessie and enjoyed his “surprises” along the way. He is always asking about us, and when he gets the chance to see us, he drops whatever he is doing (which is always more important than what we are doing) to sit and talk with us. He is incredibly genuine and cares about his people wholeheartedly. He does what he can to stir the pot of development here in Addis, but still remains just one man. 

Ato Zenebe (“Ato” is their word for “Mr.”):

Zenebe is the executive director of HOPE Enterprises. He is a round-bellied man who stands quite lofty at about 6’4”. He looks like he could be a tight end, but claims to have been a stellar volleyball player. He says he was a “smasher” when he played. He is incredibly fastidious when it comes to us, and when he snaps his fingers, people scatter and produce results. That’s how we got a house. That’s how we got a cell phone. That’s how we will get anything that seems to be slow in getting done from here on out. If we weren’t virtual celebrities here, he would strike fear into my eyes like looking across the line of scrimmage and seeing the Baltimore Ravens’ defense. And I’m David Carr behind the Texans’ offensive line. Let’s just say I’m glad I’m a visiting American and not a day-to-day low status employee. Zenebe has a daughter that is enrolled at a university in California, but cannot visit her due to the high cost of travel. Even in his position, he can’t afford it.  Daniel:Other than Geneti, Daniel speaks the best English out of all the employees at the Ayer Tena HOPE School. He is the head of the vocational school and is incredibly warm and inviting. He loves to see us, talk with us and gets really excited when I speak Amharic with him. While everyone at school cycles through the same three collared shirts that they own, I’m pretty sure two of Daniel’s are pink. He is very distinguished with his balding head and has very dark skin to pronounce his ever-present smile. Bethany and Maren will be working with him much more than I considering that they will be teaching business in the vocational school, but I run into him at least once a day and we always stop for some conversation. He is very busy and is usually running around, but always seems to pop up and make the day brighter. 

Getu:

 

The most recent addition to the cast, Getu is probably one of the most significant friends I have made. I have only spent a short amount of time with him, but he has rejuvenated the guy in me and has allowed me to exercise some of my more male tendencies that the girls can’t always appreciate. He is a second year woodwork student in the HOPE Vocational School and just happened to be the one assigned to work with me in the wood shop this past Monday. Although, I’ve spent plenty of time around tools and wood, the shop’s policy is to not let anyone who isn’t a teacher or student operate the machines without assistance or at least supervision. Getu happened to be the one whom Ato Nigatu, the head shop teacher, deemed appropriate for the task. So we worked, talked, and got to know one another. He is a twenty year-old, joyful young man who lives with his mother, father, fifteen year-old brother, and thirteen year-old sister in a small home in Zenebe Work, where we live. He lives on the other side of the ring road though, so not as near to us as Pastor Mattewos, but is on the way home from school. Moving from the countryside to Addis when he was in eighth grade, he has spent the last few years finishing high school, starting vocational school in order to find a job with which he can help support his family, and applying for a DV (Diversity Visa, a lottery style visa given only to a certain number of applicants each year for extended residency in the United States) each year in hopes of a brighter future. He is a great guy and I look forward to getting to know him even more in the next year.

Supporting Characters

(cast members may switch between supporting and main through time, but as for now, this is where they stand)

 Ato Asfaw: The new school director (principal) for the Ayer Tena HOPE School. Tall and skinny, his clothes hang on him quite loosely and he has a very pronounced adams apple.  

Tezera: The vice school director. His smile is unforgettable given the fact that his two front teeth are about an inch apart.

 

Temesgen: The school director of finance. When we take out money from the HOPE account, he is the one that writes and signs the check.

 

Tigest II: Zenebe’s Secretary who is always smiling and willing to help us with anything.

 

Ato Nigatu: The head wood shop teacher. A slightly smaller, Ethiopian version of Ray Lewis. Sort if intimidating at first but incredibly soft once you get to know him.

 

Ato Mola: The head metal shop teacher. Doesn’t talk much, smile much, laugh much, or stop working much. I probably won’t build a relationship with Ato Mola and I’m not sure if anyone can.

 

Sentayehu: Music teacher and head of the flag ceremony each morning. His single gold front tooth is how I first remembered him.

 

Huruma: English teacher for grades 1-4. A gentle older man, he has been with HOPE for the last fifteen years. I will be working with him with grade four.

 

Woubchet: English teacher for grades 5-7. He can talk for hours about anything and nothing at all. I look forward to working with him this year in grades five and six.

 

Tariku: English teacher for grades 8-10. Possibly the most stylish dressing Ethiopian we’ve met. Very suave in his ways, he has wooed Maren in the past weeks to the point of a slight crush and if she’s not careful to keep it that way, we may be leaving her here at the end of the year.

 

Dereche: English teacher for the vocational school, I’m pretty sure he could talk to a wall for six hours and never get tired of the conversation. He is quite funny and his English word choice is often hilarious.

 

Girmo: He found out one day that Bethany speaks a little Spanish. Uh-oh. Now I think he’s under the impression that we all speak fluent Spanish. After spending a little time in Cuba for school, he speaks some Spanish and uses every word he knows in every conversation we have with him.

 

Danny: He is a young guy from the International Evangelical Church that is close to our age. We have hung out a couple times and we plan to more often in the future. He is an excellent salsa dancer so we hear.

 

Hannah: You know Hanna from earlier in our journey. She was the head caretaker of the guesthouse we stayed in for the first week and a half of our story here.

 

Tigest I: The other caretaker at the guesthouse, she played not a minor role there, but rather a more hidden one as she spoke almost no English. She is incredibly sweet and genuine.

 

Addis: Yes. The name of the city in which we live. He is also the owner of the small store on the corner near our house. He has taught me all of the numbers in Amharic and enjoys teaching me new words each time we see each other. I also wave to him twice a day. Once on the way to school and once on the way back.

 

Ismail: Probably thirteen or fourteen, he doesn’t attend school but rather makes a small living shining shoes out on the corner. After church when my brown shoes are muddy, I get them shined by Ismail and tip him an extra Birr if I have it on me. I look forward to our encounters.

 

Titi: The only protagonist in the story, he is the small yipper dog that is on our compound. Many times (either at six in the morning or late at night as I lie in my bed awake due to his barking) have I plotted his “accidental death.”   Pray for my patience and my love for soccer balls…I mean small dogs.

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6 Responses to An All-Star Cast

  1. Ed Smyth says:

    Wow, Josh, all the things you talk about, report on and are experiencing are certainly going to be life-changing for you and the others. Thanks for doing the blog; it helps me to live some of those experiences and know how to be praying for you all.

    My love and prayers to each one of you.

  2. Dave Parisi says:

    Hi Josh,

    I left you a comment last week, but it did not post. My commnents were in regards to:
    1. How much I truly love your writing.
    2. How sad I am to say and how happy I am to say that thru this blog, I will know more about the details of your life than I did when you lived in Seattle.
    3. Please let Bethany, Marien, and Sarah know that we are praying for all of you everday.

    Love,
    Dave (Linda, Andrew, and Jack)

  3. Deb says:

    Hey there Josh!
    I love reading your blog. It is entertaining but also very moving. What an experience! Nick, Satina, Blake & Tyson were here this weekend. Tyson is getting so big and he is a cutie! Blake just cracks us up. Tell Bethany hi! We pray for your safety, your health and your hearts. We are so proud of you!
    We love you! God bless!
    Whitey, Deb and Jacob

  4. Grandma Edie says:

    Hi Josh
    Your mom sent me your new blog but I haven’t read it yet I will do as usual and print and read later. I love reading your blogs it is like reading a good book you are very interesting. I wanted to write you while I had time. Grandpa & I went to Alex’s soccer game this morning and they won I think the score was 12 to 0. They played against Quincy.
    This afternoon we worked out in the yard for a couple of hours. We have our vinyl fencing all done on one side of our yard and about half of the other side. It looks real good.
    We are going out to dinner with friends this evening. They bought a Chinese dinner at an auction for 4 people and so they invited us to go. The dinner is being cooked in someone’s home. The weather was beautiful today sunshine all day. Too hot to be working outside.
    We are going to check at Costco and look for an International calling card. Otherwise it costs a fortune to make a phone call to Ethiopia. We hope to get one soon.

    Thanks for your wonderful stories. Maybe someday you can write a book about this journey.
    We love you

    Grandma & Grandpa

  5. Chris Youngberg says:

    Josh,

    I’m a little slow to getting on board with writing to you. I have been reading your blogs and have kept telling myself that I would respond tomorrow. The Youngberg family finds themselves busy (what’s new:). Scott is still working in the town of Tekoa. He loves what he is doing and has learned so much. It has been very hard on him to be away from his family. We are praying that something will open up closer to home after the first of the year. Alex continues to be very busy with Soccer and school. She is in journalism this year and really loves it. She has been asked to be on the layout team (which according to her is quite an honor as a first year student). She turns 16 in a little more than a month and is pumped. I am actually more excited about it than I thought I would be. She is ready to drive and I am ready to quit running her all over town. Samantha is having a great year so far. She loves her teacher and her new school. She decided to not play soccer this fall and has really been happy with her choice. I think that she is finally realizing that she doesn’t have to do all the things that big sister is doing. It has been so much fun to watch her blossom from a little girl into a young woman. I continue to work too much and chase my kids around from event to event. Life is good. We still haven’t sold our house but currently have a couple that seems pretty interested. We’ll see. Your blogs are amazing and I feel like in some ways I am getting to know you better than I ever have. Take care and give my love to Bethany.

  6. goldfearsnofire says:

    Yeshua, Just wanted to know that I was thinking about you a lot today. I hope that you are doing well as you are now a seasoned professional teacher. Anyways, just wanted you to know that you are in my thoughts and prayers, and that I am looking forward to the next time we get to chat. Take care my friend, and may the peace of Christ rest upon you. Kreegs~

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