Monday, November 10, 2008

In my life, never have I seen such a season

I imagine that everyone back home is talking about the election so… I will too! It's certainly the only thing we talk about here. Walking down the streets of Finote the last few days, all I've heard is "Kristie! Congra!" People are so happy for me that I feel like I've won the election myself. Never before have I been so overwhelmingly congratulated for something that I've had absolutely no role in. (Sidenote: where do you think absentee ballots go when they aren't needed?)

Like most things these days, watching a United States Presidential election from outside of America was a new experience. I went to Bahir Dar (the big city where electricity and CNN are guarantees) and stayed up all night with an assortment of Americans, Ethiopians, Germans, Swedes, Dutchmen, and Brits. Partisan politics aside, I was enormously proud to be an American Tuesday night. I'm so thankful to be part of a country where people can go to the polls without fear of imprisonment or persecution if they vote for the "wrong" party. I'm proud to see so many people utilizing their freedom of choice and going out to vote. And what an example it sets for other nations to see the loser of a free, democratic election step aside so graciously; to hear the winner promise to listen to the voices of all his constituents regardless of political party, economic standings, or ethnicity. I think a powerful message has been sent to countries that have gone years or even decades without open, fair, blood-shed free elections.

That being said, Obamamania08 is getting intense here and it's hard to know how to respond. For Ethiopians to see the direct descendant of an African be elected to one of the most powerful offices in the world is a huge thing and I hope it encourages them to take school, work, and community involvement more seriously. However, it's easy to see them placing all their hopes in one man. I can't tell you how many times I've heard in the past three days, "now Obama will come here and fix all our problems." A common phrase in Amharic is 'Xheyhabir yistaling' which means 'God bless you/ give you strength.' One of my friends heard a cab driver tell a little girl 'Obama yistaling.' He explained this by saying, "God number one. Obama number two." Though most people wouldn't take it this far, at least openly, in many ways Obama has become a kind of deity for people. How do you tell people that when they put all their hopes in one human being they will inevitably be disappointed? How do you explain that he is not going to come across the ocean and immediately set everything right? How do you delicately say, "The same constraints and limitations apply to Obama as they do to everyone else. And he just might have to give other interests priority over Ethiopia." Maybe I should just come out and say, "he's not God" but I doubt anyone would hear me at this point.

I guess what I'm slowly realizing is what a huge impact our decisions have on the rest of the world. And I'm increasingly humbled by the responsibilities that come with being a US citizen. Even the BBC was running a commercial before the election that anticipated a result that would change the global economy, the food crisis, and poverty. Can we really do that? And what role are we as citizens expected to play?

In Ethiopian news, it's still raining here in the north. This has moved beyond simply a muddy annoyance and is now a genuine concern. Teff, the grain used to make injera, came up nicely in September and is supposed to be harvested now but they can't because it's too wet. Much has already been lost and walking down the streets you can hear the farmers talking about it. The rains failed down south earlier in the year and weren't strong enough this summer so their crops aren't great either. It's hard to say what's going to happen but with food prices continuing to rise, it looks like things could get pretty tough soon.

We just had our Peace Corps mid-service conference last week in which we were congratulated for making it a whole year! All the volunteers and PC staff went bowling one night, which was one of the more incredible experiences of my life. It was like bowling in the 1930s or something. Scores kept on paper, shoes that smelled like they hadn't been washed since the 1930s, pins set up by pin setter-upper men who were probably born in the 1930s, unwaxed wood floors from trees cut down in the 1930s… amazing. And most of the Ethiopian staff had never been bowling before so that was hilarious.

Life in the Finote has been awesome as well lately. The other day I instituted take your daughter to work day with my landlord, Ato Genanow. He is a veterinarian and often goes out to the rural areas to give vaccinations to large animals. The way this is done is the farmers gather all their cows into a large field and small boys wrangle large bulls and Ato Genanow runs up and jabs them with a needle. The community we went to was awesome- next time I move to Ethiopia I'm living there. It was cool to see Ato Genanow in the work setting. People respect him because he keeps their means of livelihood healthy, so almost everyone we ran into referred to him as 'zemed' or relative. We got a ton of food and respection, as they like to say.

So life here is good. I'm busier than I ever have been here, trying to help one of the local schools get a grant to start an agricultural project. If it goes through 200 orphans and disabled students will have the opportunity to get business training, earn money for school supplies and uniforms, and have access to better food. Hopefully that works out. Grant writing is tedious. I'm also teaching English, which is a lot of fun. I just like hanging out with students- they're hilarious. I'm working on getting the girls to be less shy around me, which is probably the biggest challenge in my life right now. I'm discovering that I'm not a good teacher however… it's just so much work and the students expect you to actually know things. Who knew that was part of the deal?

In other news, I will be heading to the United States of America in 35
days. I miss you guys! And cereal. But you all more! Much love.