Saturday, June 6, 2009

West side for life

Let’s be honest- it’s been awhile. As a result, this may be a rather long update. Brace yourselves.

To fully grasp current events in Ethiopia, we must go back to April 18th, 9:45pm. It is at this time that my Ethio family demands that I go to sleep. Tomorrow is Easter (Fasika in Amharic; the equivalent of our Christmas to Orthodox Ethiopians) and I must be well rested. They will wake me at 2:00am to begin preparing the chicken feast. To be fair, I insisted on experiencing the holiday in its entirety. When they said 2:00am, what they really meant was 12:45… I really did enjoy my two-hour nap though. The whole family was up to watch the slaughtering of the chicken, though my landlord and the kids promptly went back to sleep. My landlady and I plucked, cleaned, and hacked our chicken into a tasty and delicious stew. When we finished, at 3:00am, we dressed in our finest clothing and headed to church. Naturally.

Nighttime is always eerie in Ethiopia. On normal days, everyone is indoors by 9:00pm at the latest. If you dare to venture out later than that, you will find yourself in a seemingly deserted town, haunted only by dogs and hyenas. The wee hours of Easter morning were equally eerie, except now the whole town was alive, swaddled in their white church clothes, walking the streets like ghosts. The church had the feeling of a place set apart- everyone chanting and bowing together, yet the darkness gave the worship a private, personal feel. Some of the more devout had been at church for 24 hours at this point; others hadn’t eaten for three days. When the service was over, people were jubilant. My friends and neighbors were enthusiastic in telling me that Christ has risen and we were forgiven. And now we must eat meat. Fifty-five days of fasting was over and everyone had a pot of chicken waiting at home.

Easter day was a lot like Christmas day, except with more blood. After eating our spicy chicken at 4:45 am (yummy!) and taking a short nap, we woke again to kill the goat! The whole day was spent at home with family- eating, napping, and then eating again. The day after was for socializing, going to friend’s homes and sharing more meat. Never in my life have I seen people so excited about eating. It was so fun to share this holiday with my Finote Selam community and feel like it really helped me understand so much more about the culture and traditions here.

Fast forward to May 5th, the day that the Jennifer Wilmore arrives in Ethiopia! You may recall that my college roommate came to Ethiopia last summer… I guess once you experience it, you find yourself drawn back! This time Jen was coming from Uganda, where she has been working since February. It was so fun to have her meet all the friends here, see where I’m living, and fulfill an item on my “do to before leaving Ethiopia” list: ride on a traditional papyrus canoe. They use these for fishing on Tana Lake in Bahir Dar and I’ve often watched them, wondering how they don’t sink. Papyrus is surprisingly buoyant. One of my good friends, Teshager, arranged this outing for us and came along- even though he can’t swim and is petrified of water. If you ask him about this experience he will only say, “I don’t want to do this ever again. But J. Lo, she is so nice.”

Having Jen here was so refreshing, a great reminder that communication can be a wonderful thing. It was so nice to share, to be understood fully, and to see how the challenges we are facing in East Africa are similar yet different. I find that the longer I am here, the more immune I get to the things happening around me. You can’t understand it all, take everything in, and so you push it out of your mind. So great to have my roommate come and force me to talk about what we are seeing everyday.

Recently, I ventured out with C. Smith and Jolene to East Gojam to celebrate another friend’s birthday. Christina lives in a pretty rural town, six hours down a dirt road. Once you get there, you never want to leave- partially because the road is so long and partially because the town is so cool. She has made great friends in her community and we spent the weekend hanging out with her students, distracting them when they were supposed to be studying for their exams. One of her students invited us out to his grandma’s house in the rural area and we spent a great afternoon hiking out along a gorge. One of the best things about getting together with other volunteers is that we know how to eat. We’re hours away from anything, yet we’re eating pasta with clam sauce and personal pizzas. It was incredible. Though I thoroughly enjoyed my time in the East, it must be stated that I live in West Gojam and our sugar cane is 78% more sweet than theirs.

In news from Finote Selam, our projects are carrying on!Surprisingly smoothly despite my doubts and fears! The school we are working with to start the mill project recently had a fundraiser to cover costs that weren’t met by the grant. I was skeptical, however the city administration came forward and offered to cover the whole cost of installing electricity. This is huge- a massive weight off my shoulders! They have started building the actually mill house, have purchased most of the big equipment, and should have things going by mid-summer. I know- I’m amazed myself. The resource center is also coming together, thanks to donations by great friends and family. We’re beginning computer classes this summer and also plan to have a weekly film night, which should be a good way to attract people and let them know it’s available.

Sad news, for me, is that summer is upon us. As happy as all the students are to be done, it’s tragic for me to see my friends go back to the rural areas for the summer. As many of them are graduating and going onto university in the fall, I am already saying goodbye to good friends. We did have a congratulations! party today for some of the seniors who live on my street featuring a home-made chocolate cake, popcorn, pineapple, and Crystal Light juice mixes. Though they didn’t know what to make of cake with sugar in it- crazy concept, I know-much fun was had by all. And arrangements are being made to go visit their families in the rural areas this summer, which should be fun.

And that’s the update! Know that I would love to hear from you all! Much love!