Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Another day, another holiday

These Ethiopians have more holidays than you can fathom; it's ridiculous. So January 27th's holiday was St. Yeorgis (St. George). The missionaries in Christie's town invited us to celebrate with them out in a rural village where they have horse races. I'm thinking "ohh! A horse race! Bleachers to sit on, railings to keep the horses away from crowds, women with big hats, and ice cream (I don't know if they have ice cream at horse races, but I like to think about ice cream). What fun!" I'm a moron.

So the way St. Yeorgis works is you drive until there is no more road and then you drive a little bit further. When you can't drive anymore you get out and walk thirty minutes through the rural countryside. Keep in mind we're up in the mountains now, so it's beautiful. Eventually the trail dumps you into a huge open field by a church and people are pouring in from all directions. Where they come from, you have no idea. The missionary's friends invited us in for lunch and lets just say that huts in rural Ethiopia are a lot different than living in a small city. No more complaining about living in the boonies for me...dang. So then we head out to the horse races…

It's just absurd. The priests come out again with their umbrellas, horns, clapping, and singing. It was explained that the thing they're carrying is an ark (you know they say the real Ark of the Covenant is in Ethiopia somewhere…). So the ark is set out to watch the races I guess. Then everyone lines up on two sides of the field. All the horses are decked out in their Lion of Judah finery and they assemble at one end. They then come tearing down the field two at a time with their riders screaming as if death is upon them. One rider has a shield and the other rider has two "spears." They call them spears but there is no tip on them… so really they're just two big sticks. Call them what you will, the objective is for one rider to throw the spears and see how many times he can get them to bounce off the shield. You are particularly talented if you can get the spear to bounce off the shield and catch it again. In order for this to happen, the horses have to be dangerously close together. The horses go up and down the field countless times… no one is really keeping score, so no one wins. You just do it until people get bored. Or someone dies.

You can see, the opportunity for things to go wrong is great. For example: the crowd lining the field can inch closer and closer together giving the horses less and less space. Spears can go flying into the crowd. Small children can run out into the field, overwhelmed by the excitement of it all, and have near scrapes with death. Tired horses can decide they've had enough and run into the crowd. Spears can go between the horses' legs and trip them. Someone can drop their whip, hop down to get it, and get run over by the next set of riders. It was one of those "where-the-heck-am-i?-this-is-awesome!" days.

There's no electricity out there, but I noticed that the hut we visited had a light bulb connected to a switch. They showed me how it worked… rigged to a battery. Granted, it only gave off maybe 4 watts of light but for the first time in my life I thought, "That's cool. I could be an electrical engineer someday." I'm also developing an interest in health care, counseling, economics, seminary, agricultural science, and would like to be a history buff someday. Rather than these two years providing a narrowing of direction, I'm starting to realize I could come out of here more confused than ever. So that's nice.

For our educational tidbit this week, we're going to discuss a rather sensitive topic in broad terms: regulation. I've long been of the opinion that regulation stunts effectiveness, efficiency, and creativity but seeing it in action is mind-boggling. When education is regulated and people are forced to study subjects they have no interest in based on test scores not only are they unmotivated, but you're really hindering your economy. They aren't going to be enthusiastic in whatever field they're forced into and won't work to their full capacity. And when public services are regulated, such as cell phone network, it's just not going to work. It's going to be more expensive than necessary, service won't be available during peak hours (which includes working hours, evenings, and weekends… so all day really), and you won't be able to use international text messaging like the rest of the world. Not that this is frustrating or anything. Additionally, apparently a new thing they're doing is banking over cell phones. I don't know enough about how it works, but it seems like an interesting approach to development… however it won't do much good if you don't have a cell network that works. And if your country doesn't allow private banks and doesn't adequately support the banks that they operate… it could complicate things. Just something to think about next time you're governing your own country.

So the highlight of my day has become going to work. I still don't accomplish much, but I'm learning a ton and the people are hilarious. This week I learned that there are three things that a girl must be able to do in order to be a good wife: 1) make injera. 2) make duro (chicken) wat. 3) Make tella- the local equivalent of moonshine. It is the color of dirt and has stuff floating in it. I've only sampled on occasions when it got too awkward to continually refuse and it is worse than you think it could be in your wildest imagination. I told the guys that I've tried to make injera and failed, refuse to pluck a chicken and thus will never be able to make duro wat, and that tella makes me nauseous… so the office joke has become that I'm unsuitable for marriage. Since going to the panel on gender equality, I've become a big advocate - so I asked what a guy has to do to become a good husband. Apparently they only have one requirement: to plow a field with a team of ox. I asked these guys, who all come from bigger cities, if they've ever done that… and they hadn't. I felt vindicated. So that's what I do at work...distract people. Awesome. I've also learned 91 out of 231 characters of the alphabet. When I demonstrated my increasing knowledge today they said, "Oh, you can read like a first grader."

With April coming ever closer and our Peace Corps imposed travel ban lifting, we're all trying to make our sites sound appealing in order to attract visits from other volunteers. People are beginning to advertise hot showers, camels, lakes, hiking, shops that sell ferenge products (cereal!), and the like. I'll be honest, it's been hard to promote the Finote… umm… "When it rains we have really consistent running water? Sometimes the electricity only goes out for a half hour at night instead of 3 hours? The Extreme Hotel has the best shiro wat this side of the Blue Nile Gorge?" But last week I think I found it-the Finote's selling point: monkeys. That's right. We have monkeys. Haile asked if I had been out to the jungle (it's not a jungle, but that's ok) to see the monkeys. I asked him why it had taken a month to decide this was something he should share. It's awesome. And it's maybe a 10-minute walk from my house.

I've also started going to the Protestant church in town. It's taken me awhile mostly because going to a new church by yourself is scary. But it wasn't too bad. They only had me introduce myself and then asked me to preach twice. We eventually agreed that it would be best for me to wait to start my public ministry until I learned a bit more of the language, so that's a relief. It was so great to worship with believers though; my heart needed that. Also, there are women at church and some of them appear to be around my age. That was an exciting discovery.

This is too long. I'm done. Miss you all! Much love!