I did the whole apology thing in a post a while back, so I can’t use it here. Instead, I have decided to call the last two months, “Mabrat Yelem.” In Amharic, it means something to the effect of “There are no lights,” or “The power is out.” It’s a bit of a misnomer given the fact that the power hasn’t been out for two months, nor has there been a lack of light. And it isn’t saying that it has been impossible to post at all during that period of time either. What I’m saying with this title is…well, I’m not sure what it’s saying, but it was the closest thing to “The Dark Ages” that I could think of. It essentially just puts a name to the period of time where I didn’t think there was anything worth writing about. I was tired of writing long expository essays on what happened in class that day or a short blurb about a week of sickness I had. For some reason, I just didn’t feel like anything that happened was worth it to me. So much happened in the first few months of being here that I felt compelled to write. I had to tell you all about the things I was seeing, feeling, smelling, and being a part of. I guess I felt like the rhythms of daily life, for some reason, weren’t blogworthy. Well, I was wrong. There are so many things here that have become just details to me, that are the most outrageous things to people in the States. So…with all that said, I plan to be more diligent in writing the things that I continue to experience here so that you all can have a “little taste of the glory…just see what it taste like (Nacho Libre).”
Now…I would like to give you a condensed version of the last two months that you haven’t heard about. I just don’t have the time or energy to do it in full. But all posts after this one will be chalk full of details and all that good stuff. So…here we go.
We left the morning of February 5th to head out on our Northern Ethiopia vacation. We had a three-week break from school so we decided to do some traveling around the country. In order, we saw Lalibela, Axum, the Simien Mountains, Gonder, and Bahir Dar.
Lalibela is home to what many consider the 8th wonder. Thirteen magnificent churches lie within a 2-mile radius in the very heart of this small city. The churches aren’t what you might think however. They aren’t your typical European cathedral or anything even close. What makes them amazing is that they are massive stone structures that were carved out of one single rock by human hands and have stood without falter for over 1500 years. They are virtually unexplainable. However, much of Ethiopian history stands on thin ice and there are many who say that the Ethiopians aren’t responsible for the structures that exist today, but rather a group of people from a French background. Either way, they are a sight to see. Highlight: I brought my climbing shoes, just in case, and ended up bouldering on the inner wall of one of the churches. Amazing!
History gets even shakier here as the city claims it was home to the Queen of Sheba, whose palace ruins we toured. Ethiopian legend has it that King Solomon (check your Bibles for that one) ventured down to Ethiopia one day, hooked up with the Queen of Sheba, and together produced the first Emperor, Menelik I. This is why Ethiopians believe the line of David, and thus Jesus, is running through the people of Ethiopia. Then it was over the “Northern Stelae Field.” In this football field sized area in the north of the city, huge obelisks stand at attention, so of them soaring 33 meters high. The amazing thing is that they’ve been standing for almost 2000 years! Some have fallen, but many have withstood time and war to remain tall today. It was pretty cool to see. Then it was off to perhaps the most hotly debated place in Ethiopia, the resting place of the original Arc of the Covenant. If you don’t know, the Arc of the Covenant was carried by the Israelites during the time of Moses. It contained the two stone tablets on which God had inscribed the Ten Commandments and given to Charlton Heston on top of Mt. Sinai…I mean Moses. Rest in peace Charlton Heston…and Moses for that matter. Anyway, women aren’t allowed to go near the building where it is said to be, so I had to leave the girls behind and go myself. It is said to rest in this tiny building in the middle of the courtyard at St. Marys Church. The building is surrounded on all sides by a 10-foot high iron fence with a very scary, but skinny, Ethiopian priest guarding the front door. I could take him for sure. But if it is in there, I wonder if God’s command still stands that if anyone gets to close…POOF! They are said to burst into flames. Very Lot’s wifeish. Don’t feel like going out like that, so I didn’t test it. However, I snapped some pictures in the midst of some evil glares from onlooking Ethiopians. Highlight: I watched Ghana win their semifinal game in the African Cup of Nations sitting in the bar of our hotel. Beers were free from a nice man two tables away.
The Simien Mountains:
The shortest venture of the trip, we got a chance to drive into the Simien Mountains Nat’l Park. We left early in the morning and got into the park around 7am. The mountains are huge and the Park is home to Ras Dashen, the highest peak in Ethiopia which stands about 14,000 feet or so. It’s kind of deceiving though, considering the fact that much of Northern Ethiopia is highlands already. It would be like comparing Mt. Ranier in Washington to one of the fourteeners in Colorado. Although incredibly impressive, the mountains in Colorado don’t seem as high as when you see Ranier soaring over the coastal foothills of western Washington. Chris Erley would know what I mean. Nonetheless, there were some absolutely breathtaking views and incredible wildlife. We saw 6 Walia Ibex. They’re sort of like a deer, atelope, elk mix and the only place in the world where they can be seen is in the Simien Mountains Nat’l Park. We got lucky. Highlight: Walking through herds of hundreds of Gelada Baboons, often called “The Bleeding Heart” Baboon. They were really cool and pretty friendly. Check ‘em out online.
At first, we were going to skip Gonder because of time constraints, but we decided to do it anyway. Gonder was chosen by Emperor Fasilidas as the new capital of Ethiopia in 1636. It remained so for many years and many successive emperors. The palace courtyard holds a castle for each of the emperors and some other really cool features. Historically speaking, it was much more interesting than the other places we had been due to our tour guide. His English was great and he was incredibly knowledgeable about even the tiniest of details, which I like. Highlight: One of the emperors, and arguably the best, was named Iyasu (Amharic for Joshua). He was well-liked by his people and made some really cool laws. For instance, he made a law that protected donkeys from being abused by their owners. If a person was caught loading a donkey who already had sores on his back, the owner would have to carry the load on their back as punishment. Very PETAesque (If you don’t know PETA stands for “People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals).
By far the most incredible natural sight we saw other than the Simien Mountains. Bahir Dar is home to Lake Tana throughout which many island monasteries have made their homes for hundreds of years. We saw a few and were pretty impressed, but not blown away. What was really cool about this place is that just a short drive south are the Blue Nile Falls. The Blue Nile falls are the beginning of the Blue Nile, which flows out of Lake Tana. What’s so incredible is that the falls make up 80% of the source waters of the famous Nile River. We got to hike down into the river bed and got right up next to the falls. They are massive! We got soaked, just to say we did, then hiked up out of the gorge and back to the car. Highlight: As it was our last stop on the trip, we decided to break the trend of dirty, bedbug infested, cockroach having hotel rooms and treat ourselves to something a little nicer. The lobby even showed CNN! We were happy.
Everywhere we went was incredible, but I must tell you about a small group of individuals who we met on the road, literally, from Gonder to Bahir Dar. Neville, Liam, and Randy. As we were driving, three Dakar Rally style motorcycles flew by us. We saw a group of teenage Ethiopians pretend to hit them with sticks, then we saw all three of them flip quick u-turns and ride out into the field where the kids fled to give them a stern talking to. Then they flew by us again. About 20 minutes later, we slowed down on the road because there was a dead cow in our lane, and then we saw a crowd of about 50 people in the middle of the road ahead. As we got closer, we saw people screaming, crying, wailing, and three huge white guys in the middle of it all. Apparently, the cow had ventured into the road, acted as if it were turning around, then charged Liam’s motorcycle, killing the cow and throwing Liam into a skid at 120km per hour. 75 meters later, Liam’s bike came to a stop. The first thing he did was get up, walk like nothing happened, and light up a Marlboro as he sat down on a stump. We stopped to give them some help since they obviously didn’t speak Amharic and we were with two Ethiopians that speak both Amharic and English. Being the mediator, I deduced that they didn’t have any birr (Ethiopian currency) so we exchanged for their US Dollars so they could pay the shepherd whose cow was killed. 3000 birr later, we settled the deal. In the midst of the confusion, I got to know them a little better and found out that Liam, a Dutcman, had been riding his motorcycle for the last 10 months. He started in Holland and rode to China and then to Dubai. It was there that he met up with Neville and Randy. Then they were riding to Capetown, South Africa where Neville lives. Randy, the only American in the group, splits time between his sailboat on Lake Union in Seattle and Capetown, so he joined in. If that story doesn’t compel you to a man crush, I don’t know what will.
The trip was wonderful and was just what we needed to rejuvenate before the start of the second semester.
This semester has been far better than the previous one. I decided to split my classes in half and meet with them half as much. This way, I would be teaching them less, but given the class size, the lessons would be of a higher quality. It has been amazing how much better class is. I am learning names more easily, they can’t get away with as much mischief and I am not acting as simply a babysitter, but an actual teacher. I have also sort of diverted from the strictly English curriculum that I was attempting before. I realized that they just don’t feel loved by their teachers, so I wanted to give them a place that they could love and be loved. So I started a new semester project. I put them all into groups of 4 or 5 and told them that everything they do in the classroom would have an affect on the other members of their group. Before this, they had no idea of group responsibility and working in community. Everything up to that point, per the Ministry of Education, was about teacher-centered conformity and focused only on individual marks. So I decided to spice things up a bit. The project that we have begun is called, “Create Your Own World.” I began by asking them all the things they didn’t like about Ethiopia. Things like child abuse, corporal punishment, poor treatment of women and girls, and awful tribal customs like female genital mutilation were among the things mentioned. Then I asked them, “What if you could create a world where none of those things existed?” They got really excited. So I told them that each group was going to be a new country and that together, they would create a new world. They would start by creating a name for their new country, then a flag. After that, they would decide everything from popular clothing, to food, to a new constitution.
The rub has come in the fact that for the last six weeks, I have been sick at least two days, and they just happen to be my teaching days. Joy to the world. To say the least, the teaching schedule has been incredibly unpredictable and most weeks, I just haven’t gotten time with my classes. It has been increasingly frustrating.
Last week was the first week in about six, that I wasn’t sick, and it happened to be the week that my friend Jon Vaux was visiting from the States. He had spent three weeks doing medical work in Cameroon and found that it wasn’t incredibly expensive to hop over to Addis, so he did. It was an incredible week and it was so refreshing to be able to see one of my friends face to face. It makes a difference, let me tell you. We didn’t do anything crazy, but just spent every possible moment together and I showed him my life here. It was potentially the best thing that could have happened at the time that it did. Thanks Jon. You are an incredible brother.
Well…that about catches you all up on what’s happened in the last few months. Less eventful here at home, but I’m still experiencing and learning a ton of new stuff, so I’ll keep you updated.
Thank you to all of you who keep checking up on my blog and reading the things I have to say. It means more than you know.
Relieved to be back on track,