Here in Ethiopia, we don't just make arrangements to watch the Inauguration. Nope. We have The Exciting Moment Moving to White House parties. Attendees receive large thousand dollar bills with Obama's face on them and have the opportunity to take their picture with the winner of the Miss Obama Beauty Contest and Cultural Quiz Show. Never a dull moment at the Obama Café.
The last two months have been a blur of movement, activity, and much time spent with family and friends. When I look back on it, I'm amazed at how normal most parts of being home felt. Playing games with the family at the kitchen table, driving my car, eating grapes and krisdip with the posse, soccer and music with the Birmingham family, squeezing into Jamie's bed only to be pushed off by Jen in the middle of the night, going to the lookout. It was just like I remembered it, liked I hoped it would be. Though the average was about 5 hours of sleep a night, I came away from these things more energized, more refreshed, more encouraged than I've been in quite a while.
These things make it ok to come back to Ethiopia- they ensure that you have the support you know you'll need to finish what was started. They remind you that, though things change, family and friends are always family and friends. It's the unexpected things that happen at home that make coming back more difficult. When the joy of seeing family is clouded by a sadness and confusion that doesn't make sense. How are you supposed to walk away from that and go on? How about when friends are incredible and throw New Years Newsies parties? When they are intentional about taking time to share their lives and hearts… can you live without that community? It seems that the last year was about learning what it means to be in Christ alone but three weeks at home emphasized the importance of being in community with family and the Body of Christ. All that to say- I've come back with a lot of questions about what this next year is supposed to look like and not many answers.
There have been some definite blessings in the whole process of returning, the main one being Kathryn coming back with me! Imagine Finote Selam's surprise when they realized I had another sister! For some reason, they all thought she was here to stay for the next year so they're devastated when I say she has returned to school. They are also quick to point out that my parents have made "a great mistake" by not providing us with any brothers. I can't help but agree. Kat and I traveled around, hitting all the historical sites in the area, which was fun and exhausting. Kat's best quote came when expressing her thoughts of the Finote by saying, "it's very local." I still don't know what that means, but it seems accurate.
After Kat left, it was time for Ethiopia to celebrate Timkat, or Epiphany. On January 18th Christen Smith and I went up to Gondar, a town that is known for its Epiphany festivities. It wasn't something either of us particularly wanted to do due to the extraordinary amount of people who flock there, but it felt like we should experience it while we're here, so we went. We got into town just in time to watch the day-before-Epiphany parade. The sheer number of Ethiopian boys parading in the streets, waving sticks, and pounding drums was incredible. Then the priests came out with their umbrellas, carrying the Arc of the Covenant, which seemed to simultaneously bring order and more chaos to the parade, if that's possible.
The next morning we woke at 4:00am (the sun is not up at this time) to walk down to the baths where the big ceremony takes place. We made our way to sit on some poorly constructed wooden bleachers that later cracked under the weight of more than a thousand people. That was fun. The early morning hours were surreal, with Ethiopians swaddled from head to toe in their traditional white holiday clothes, chanting and praying. They surrounded the pool of water holding candles, which made the whole place feel set apart somehow. As the sun came up, the priestly processional made its way to line one side of the pool and the chanting intensified.
At about 9:30am (we've been awake for five and a half hours at this point) the head priest said a blessing and lowered a wooden contraption that was lit on fire into the pool. This was the cue for people to jump into the water to receive the blessing. Might I add that it was freezing? One kid caused a splash that doused the holy wooden contraption, which one might have anticipated. However, the priest was not pleased and proceeded to smack the kid upside the head with his prayer stick. It's been my experience that head trauma is best when combined with water sports. At this point everything paused while the fire was relit and the water re-blessed. Madness ensued with people jumping from trees into holy water, trying to fill bottles of holy water, trying to get splashed with holy water, others trying to escape the cold splashes of holy water. At one point I was lifted off my feet entirely and swept in the direction opposite of where I was intending to go. Three minutes later I found myself being smashed against a rock wall. It would have been terrifying if I hadn't been so tired that I had ceased caring what happened anymore.
One of most amazing aspects of this whole experience were the ridiculous tourists- and there were tons of them. One guy planted himself in the midst of the line of priests while they were saying the blessing with his massive camera. A preist, a policeman, and a soldier came asking him to move and you could just see this kid shaking his head no. At some point you would think that he would look around and think "I'm not Ethiopian, I'm not a priest, and I'm not even Orthodox so maybe I should go sit where all the other tourists are sitting a respectful distance away." The military guy had to drag him away instead, causing a scene. The beautiful thing is that with the zoom lens this guy had, he could have been sitting a mile away and have gotten the same shots. We used our zoom lenses to get some mug shots of him so if we saw him on the streets later we could tackle him. No such luck. If people are going to be that disrespectful, then no one should be allowed to travel. Sorry. Soapbox ended.
So now I'm back in Finote Selam and, as I'm sure you've heard, we won the opening game of the West Gojam Football (soccer) Tournament today. Nine teams from all over the region are in town this week to compete so as you can see, we're kind of a big deal. Winning a game is quite an accomplishment seeing as how Ethiopians are,admittedly, not the best soccer players. In addition, our field is made of rocks so it takes skill to anticipate which direction the ball will bounce. It also requires skill to not hit your head and get knocked unconscious when you fall to the ground. This happened to three players at the game I watched today but only one of those kids was from the Finote. It's shaping up to be a good season. Did you know that in Ethiopia after you score a goal it's cultural for the team to charge the coach and kiss his knees?
So I'm readjusting to being back though there have been some significant changes that are making it difficult, which I shall list: a girl who had become a great friend has moved to Addis Ababa, my internet guys (who are my favorite) moved to Debre Markos, my awesome post office guy has moved to Bure, my juice family's son who gives me free juice is moving to Addis, and the Women's Affairs lady that I love working with has been moved to Dembecha. I feel that Peace Corps has resulted in me developing a fear of abandonment. But seriously, it's a bit disheartening to find that many of the people that you've tried to be intentional about forming relationships over the past year are gone. Again, still trying to figure out what this next year is supposed to look like in regards to relationships, work, and personal growth so if you'd like to join me in prayer for these things, know that I would appreciate it. Also know that I'd love to hear from you all! Much love!