One of my closest friends in Finote Selam is a prison guard named Tesfaye. He is one of my dependable ‘brothers,’ always up for my ridiculous ferenji (foreigner) requests: let’s take a four hour bus ride to eat shiro (my favorite food) in a town I’ve never been to; let’s make cheeseburgers; let’s play badminton in the middle of the road (as it turns out, a dangerous idea). Tesfaye has picked up a respectable amount of English from listening to the commentary during English Premier League Soccer games, but lacks the confidence to speak it very often. So when he does say something in English, you know he has given it a great deal of thought.
As we were walking the other day, Tesfaye turns to me and says, “Kris. Good behavior is best. Baka.” (Baka: I’m finished. Enough. I don’t need to say anymore.) Over the past few months, Tesfaye has met some of my closest friends from home who have come to visit the Finote and was referring to them. He went on to say that he could tell just by their behavior that they love people. He didn’t have to understand their language to know what was inside of them. This was a huge moment for me- to really understand how my two different worlds have come together, how they’ve impacted each other, and how my friends from home have made such a huge impression on my friends here. I’m not sure if this makes sense, but having that connection makes these past two years seem more real and gives me confidence that the relationships I’ve made here will continue even after I leave.
Speaking of two years, last month marked my second year in Ethiopia! I will say that the second year has gone much faster than the first-terrifyingly so. The past few months have been full of new experiences: visits from Samford friends Will and John, travels to Uganda to see Jen and then onto Rwanda, our Peace Corps final conference where Group One got together one last time, more visits to Ethiopia from Jamie and Jen (3rd time!!!), and travels down to Southern Ethiopia. It has been a great time of learning about this East African region I have been living in, a huge opportunity to really appreciate all the different cultures that occupy a relatively small corner of the world together. Whenever I return to the Finote after a trip, my friends will ask me to “compare and contrast” where I have been with the Finote. I always come back to the same observation: sure, it’s different and their culture seems incredibly strange to us, but they are more similar than they are foreign. The kids there ask for pens so they can go to school just like the kids here do. They encounter the same struggles with food, water, and electric supply as we do here… and they overcome with the same ingenuity and creativity. The hope for a better future is the same everywhere.
In preparing to say good-bye to the Finote, I’ve been analyzing what exactly it is about this place that makes me so hesitant to leave. What has made this past year so different and when did my mud house turn into a home? I think much of it has to do with the sense of community that is here. Though sometimes it drives me crazy that it takes me 30 minutes just to get out of my neighborhood, I also love it. I love that the little kids run up to me to demonstrate what they learned at school that day. I love sitting down at our local shoeshine stand with the high schoolers, comparing and contrasting whatever the day’s topic is. I love that when I go to my favorite café, they know just how I like my macchiato (more milk than coffee, tons of sugar). And I appreciate, though am still slightly uncomfortable, when the little old lady on my road comes up and kisses my shoulders three times. This is the first time that I’ve really participated in neighborhood life as an adult and it will be sad to leave these people that have become my home away from home. I’m scared to go home, to get in my car and drive out of my neighborhood everyday rather than walking. I’m sad to lose the familiarity that I struggled so long to establish here.
However, there are those instances in which I just can’t help but think about how much easier everything will be once I’m not here… An example: two weeks ago, a South African man ended up in the Finote Selam jail. George had been riding his motorcycle from Cape Town to Cairo and unfortunately had an accident outside of the Finote. He had to spend three nights in the Finote jail while the police tried to figure out what to do with him. Whenever another white person shows up in the Finote, I am promptly informed that my ‘relative’ has arrived. When I learned that my ‘relative’ was in jail, I thought I should go check it out. I felt awful for poor George and couldn’t imagine being in his situation so I tried to make his stay easier- loaning him sheets, a pillow, some peanut butter, and two books.
After George left, I went back to the jail to collect my belongings. The first day the police couldn’t find the key to the room, the next day it was raining which clearly meant they couldn’t be bothered to open the door, the third day the key had been found but the guard who had it had left for the rural area. Each time they took my phone number and assured me they would call me as soon as the key was available. Each time I tried not to be frustrated. There are bigger problems in life… but you get to the point where you really just want your sheets back.
Finally, I went back and- miracle of all miracles- it’s a sunny day and both the key and the guard are available!! We open the door and … all that is in the room is my pillow lying on the floor in a cloud of dust. That’s fine. A start. But where are my sheets? This caused a slight panic, which soon grew to involve seven guards and the police inspector. At the end they said, don’t worry- we’ll call you when we find them. To which I politely responded, “yes, you’ve said this before, but do you have even one of the three papers I that I wrote my phone number on?” Blank stares. I then proceeded to ask permission to search every room on the jail compound, which was met with hesitation. My logic was, “you are all police officers right?” Yes. “So none of you are thieves?” Correct. “So then my stuff has to be here somewhere?” Uhhh…. Maybe?
I went from room to room looking under desks, in filing cabinets, went into the prisoner’s room and checked the sheets on all the cots… I had quite the following, police officers all muttering that I was ‘clever’ and ‘very thorough.’ Finally, I went to the guard hut where the on-guard officer sleeps at night. I noticed a rather bulky bag hanging on the wall and asked to check it, which guard man seemed to have no problem with. When I opened it, I discovered my sheets, peanut butter, and books wrapped rather deliberately in his blanket. How my belongings got there, neither of us had any idea… though he had been following me on my search (leaving the prisoners unattended- don’t worry about it) and knew what I was looking for. I estimate that over the past two weeks I have spent 3.25 hours at the jail asking for my things… and I wonder why I’m still surprised when simple things take so much time here? You want to be frustrated, you want to make things change, but then everyone is just so happy for you. They all want to shake your hand, congratulate you on your success… you have to walk out with a smile on your face, at least pleased that you’ve accomplished something this week.
So that’s life in Finote these days- thanks for reading! Sorry I’ve been out of touch for so long, but know that I’m looking forward to seeing you all soon! Much love!