Well…I have no excuse. It has been almost two months since my last blog post and I’ll be lucky if anyone is still checking. My posts for the rest of the year just might go unread, but the process of writing them and sorting through my experiences, emotions and daily ponderings is what it’s about…I think. So I’ll continue writing with that mindset, regardless of the numbers in the audience.
I don’t really know where to start…the past two months have had many ups, downs, and just plain crazy happenings that it’s difficult to remember when one left off and another began. Here goes…
Thanksgiving was the first major holiday that I’ve ever spent away from my family. Needless to say, it was difficult. I guess when I was planning to take off and spend a year in Africa, I didn’t get to November in my mind. Once here, my birthday passed and I just assumed somewhere in the back of my brain that I would make it to the little eastern Washington town of Ephrata to see 24 of the most important people in my life, spend a week gorging myself with Grandma’s cooking, watching some incredible turkey day football and dominating my aunt’s in scrabble. But when the 24th of November rolled around, the dream didn’t come true. Instead, I was stuck in a hot, sweaty, Ethiopian classroom with 55 foreign children either staring at me with a blank face, ringing the neck of the friend next to them, or sleeping soundly on their cramped wooden desks. The few kids listening intently made up for the feelings of missing family, friends and football, but only for a moment, then the bell rang, snapped me back to reality and I was off to the next sweaty classroom…this one filled with sixth graders who are just hitting puberty. Great.
Our feast was postponed until the Sunday after Thanksgiving and I braved the kitchen to prepare my first Thanksgiving meal. The first event of the day however was not the beginning of the cooking process. It was the Great Millennium Run. My first real race. Bethany, Maren, Sarah, our friend Lauren and Befekadu got the opportunity to take part in the annual Ethiopian New Year 10K run through the heart of Addis Ababa. It was different this year though in that it was the millennium, so a much bigger deal was made of the event. To run, we first bought a yellow Great Run t-shirt. This made the run a pretty amazing sight to see considering the fact that there were about 40 thousand people in yellow t-shirts flooding the city streets and flowing like a river. The sea of yellow moved through all the major areas of the city with which we have become incredibly familiar and finished as a trickle into the heart of the city, Meskel Square. It was pretty amazing and I was actually quite proud of myself. I can just see the look on Jon Vaux’s face as he utters, “Josh went running? By choice? For 10 kilometers? I don’t believe it.” Well, believe it Jon. One hour and fifteen minutes, and all I got was this stinking t-shirt…and the satisfaction of pushing myself mentally to overcome physical pain to reach a desired goal. After the race, we were all given medals which I might wear as I come off the airplane in Seattle, but I don’t want to gloat…so maybe I’ll just frame it and hang it in my living room. Anyway, after the race, we headed to the public showers (we didn’t have running water at home for about a week), which are heated by a natural hot spring, and got cleaned up before I attacked the most complex meal I’ve ever made. Thanksgiving dinner. Two chickens stuffed with a mock stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy and fresh-baked rolls adorned the table after a few hours of estimating oven temperatures and tossing together a bunch of substitute ingredients. When we dug in to enjoy the meal however, I was incredibly surprised. It was good. Not grandma good. But good. We gave thanks. We ate. And we even had leftovers for a chicken sandwich or two the following day. Holiday over. Back to life as usual. No days off, no extra time to sleep off the food, no football. We had one week to work and get some things wrapped up before we left for the southern part of the country.
Three lakes marked out our short vacation. Ziway, Langano and Shalla are three lakes in a string of various bodies of water in the south of Ethiopia just a few hours outside of Addis. The first stop was Ziway. Tucked back away from the main highway down an hour or so of dirt roads and potholes the size of Costa Rica, this large lake with island monestaries and hungry hungry hippos galore is home to the Heerara HOPE School. Set on a hill above the lake, the school is made up of three small classrooms and consists of kindergarten and grades one through three. After seeing the classrooms, visiting the children and staring in amazement at the size of both the lake and the community on its shore, we were off to our bungalows on the shores of Lake Langano.
It was only intended to be a weekend adventure, but due to mid-terms, we had no teaching responsibilities the following week, we were free to stay until the middle of the week. So Langano became our home for a short while. Brown from the minerals, the water was swimmable, soothing on a hot afternoon and perfect for a short rest from the chaos of the city. No horns. No buses. No people. No students. With simply sun, moon, rest, and no more than a few decks of cards and a season of Lost to pass the time, we spent a week relaxing and winding down from the first half of the semester. And it was all paid for by Dr. Minas and HOPE Enterprises!
On our last day there, we were picked up by our friend Adamu, an auto mechanics teacher at the HOPE Vocational School, and stopped over at Lake Shalla to see another HOPE School. Roggie is one of the newest schools in HOPE’s program, but is by far the most organized and well planned. Learning from mistakes of the past and having a chance to start with an entirely bare site with which to work, it became a great opportunity to build off of the prototype of the Addis School. We spent just a short time there, but one thing amazed me in particular. The Roggie water project was started to provide water for families that have no access to water to drink or with which to cook. People come daily from many miles away just get a few buckets of semi-drinkable water. They bring their children and their livestock to carry the water back to their homes and usually the trip takes at least a half days time. The project consists of a huge suspended water tank, a generator-powered pump to fill the tank from thirty a water shelf thirty meters below the ground and a filling station with two rows of drain spouts where people can access the water. It seems like something so insignificant…so small…something we would never have to think about…but it has changed people’s lives in such an immense way…I don’t know that we can comprehend. To these families, it is that massive of a change in their lifestyle.
Upon returning, it was back to the grindstone at school. More feelings of inadequacy. More days with no voice from talking over 55 inattentive children. But again I press forward in the knowledge of a greater purpose. I’m not here for myself. I’m not here for a vacation. I’m not here merely to have an experience facilitated for me. I’m her to serve. To work. To change lives.
Anyway, daily life hasn’t changed much. So I’ll skip to Christmas. Needless to say…it was hard. The city wasn’t bustling with shoppers scurrying amongst the decorations in each shop, the weather didn’t change from cold nights and warm days to cold days and colder nights. Hot cocoa wasn’t readily available and the fire wasn’t lit in the living room…actually the fire just plain wasn’t…we don’t have one. Our Christmas was 80 degrees with blue skies. Our tree was fake and three feet tall. Our only decorations were four stockings and some drum ornaments made in China. A house of screaming brothers and cousins didn’t awaken me on Christmas morning. And Grandma Edie wasn’t cooking every meal. Most of all…my family wasn’t with me. It didn’t feel right. It wasn’t Christmas…or was it?
This Christmas, I realized something…something I couldn’t have learned anywhere but Africa. My circumstances, the people I was with, the shows on TV, the decorations and smells in the house, the food I ate, the service at church, the weather…none of this had, has, or ever will have any bearing on whether or not an unwed teenage virgin gave birth to a baby boy in a horse stable aver two thousand years ago. It only serves to clutter the mind and prevent the eyes from viewing the overwhelming grandeur of what Christmas was intended to remember. Not that these things are bad. But I don’t necessarily think they’re inherently good either. If they pose no threat to the experience and understanding of Christ’s first coming, then let them live on. However, if they impose on the true meaning of Christmas, then they must be cast aside as merely things of little worth. They mustn’t be the reason for our celebrating. We must instead be overtaken by the glory of Christ. He came for our sake. We remember so that his coming was not in vain.
Sorry for preaching. Just wanted to get that out.
Anyway, Christmas went off without a hitch, I stuffed a couple of chickens for dinner and then it was off to the airport. We had a visitor coming. Bethany’s Aunt was coming into town Christmas night to be with us for eleven days. Needless to say, we had a blast. After a few months of being here, our complacency had become unnoticeable. It took Aunt Ammie to show us that. We had lost some of our adventurous spirit and the thought of “We’ll be here for a year, we don’t need to do that now” had set in. From day one of her visit, that mindset changed and we were in charge of showing her as much of Addis Ababa as we could in the time she was here. To save time, here is a list of the things we saw: the National Museum, the Ethnological museum, the Misrach Center for the blind and handicapped, Entoto Maryam Church, Kiddus Raguel Church, Kiddus Mikael Church, Washa Mikael rock-hewn church, the St. George Cathedral and museum, various amazing restaurants (including Italian, Indian, and Ethiopian), the Alert Hospital for the treatment of leprosy, the HOPE Feeding Center, the Addis Ababa HOPE School, we celebrated our New Year (quietly), and the list goes on. It was a wonderful adventure to have her here and it rekindled our sense of urgency to experience as much as we possibly can in the time that we are here. Thanks Aunt Ammie!
That about brings you all up to speed on what has happened since my last post. It only took three pages single-spaced to do it, but I did it. I think I’ve learned my lesson on how long I shouldn’t wait to put up a blog post.
I hope that you enjoyed it and I’ll hopefully be writing some more introspective pieces in the near future to change pace a bit from all this event coverage that I’ve been giving you.
Hope this finds you well and in good spirits,