Sunday, August 29, 2010


This afternoon I received a missed call from my good friend Habtie. My Ethiopian friends often do this- call and then hang up quickly to avoid being charged exorbitant international rates. At first it's a gentle reminder that I have become absent, but if I don't call back in a timely manner the calls become more insistent. For some curious reason, they enjoy "miss calling" me in the middle of the night here, which is fun.

However, today Habtie called while I was doing some homework and provided a much needed distraction. When I called back, I learned that Habtie was visiting his family in the rural area and they wanted to say hello as well. I visited Habtie's family just before leaving Ethiopia and it was by far the most rural place I had ever been in my life. There is no electricity, no running water, no transportation, no iced coffee... just rolling hills of crops as far as you can see. I was shocked to discover that there was cell phone reception... if you climbed a hill that was a 15- minute walk away from where Habtie's parents lived. I can't describe how bizarre it was: sitting at a crowded Starbucks in the middle of Dupont Circle at 2 in the afternoon and picturing Habtie, his dad, mom, and brother all standing on a hill, at dusk, in the middle-of-nowhere- Ethiopia.

It was especially befitting that Habtie called when he did, as I was reading an article discussing "Quality of Life." The author discusses different efforts to quantify quality of life, to establish a standard, or even to simply define "quality of life." The attempts fall short because, though we all know quality when we see it, the factors that combine and result in a life of quality are different from person to person, community to community. The author goes on to discuss this topic in terms of "progress" "growth" and "development," which was actually pretty interesting. The conclusion of all these articles I'm reading seems to be that "development" is not a word that can be easily defined and, if we are not careful, it can be used for personal gain rather than for the good of the community.

In reading, it's striking how often the different authors return to the concepts of development arising out of a "foundation of ethics." One even went as far to say that a spiritually barren community would not be able to appreciate the fruits of development. The topic of faith is often broached, but never fully discussed. In our discussions in class, faith has yet to be mentioned, which I also find interesting. This is my first time since the 7th grade to be at a school where faith in Christ is not the common denominator. At Shiloh and at Samford, it was pretty clearly stated that our purpose was to reflect Christ and that purpose was to be the foundation of our vocation. I now find myself at a school where 'service' is the common denominator. Our discussions circle around the 'whys' and 'hows' of service, but there isn't a conclusive answer. I feel like saying, "we're serving because Christ is compelling us to demonstrate His love for people. Now can we move on?"

I am really enjoying school, though I am up to my neck in reading assignments which I am clearly procrastinating from. It has been fun getting to know my new classmates, though they are intimidating in their focus and experience. I think my favorite professor will be the slightly disorganized South African... largely because he can speak Xhosa, a click language. That's just amazing. I think it may have been a little ambitious to start a new job the same week as school, but things can only get better...

In conclusion: my favorite moment of my conversation with Habtie? When he delivered this message from his grandmother: I want to see the white person one more time before I die. I'm now wondering if she realizes that there is more than one white person out here...

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


To be clear from the start: I never intended to use this blog space once I returned to the states. It seemed like a great idea while living overseas- a way to share thoughts and life when other forms of communication were either too expensive or too slow. Writing updates in the states felt redundant when there are phones, text messages, e-mails, and facebook. But I've realized that during my two years of writing in this space, I began to use it to draw connections between what I was thinking and what was going on in life. This doesn't always come naturally to me and it helps me to see my thoughts become words. And so here I am again.

These past few weeks have been a bit overwhelming- thus the need to air out some thoughts. Last week one of my supervisors was senselessly beaten by a gang of punks kids in broad daylight, on a busy street, in a nice part of town, outside of a Whole Foods store. Though he is recovering well, it was scary at first- they fractured his skull, cracked his check-bone, and they were concerned about internal bleeding. Then yesterday, my peace corps group found out that one of our friends who was diagnosed with leukemia last month has taken an extreme turn for the worse. It has been hard to get the phone calls from friends who are so upset, to feel so helpless. It seems that these unexpected tragedies serve to remind us of our frail nature and give us no choice but to rest in God's grace, though sometimes you just want wallow in the 'why?'

Life now finds me in DC, which is bittersweet in so many ways. I have envisioned myself living here, in a row house with great windows, since high school. Life in DC is full- never a shortage of things to be done nor of people who are doing things. I work at a refugee resettlement agency that assists people who are just arriving in America to adjust and start new lives. Both the people I work with and the clients we serve are inspiring. A mixture of nationalities and thus a mixture of perspectives on life. Many have overcome great hardships and arrive here only to discover a new set of challenges. Somehow they continue to persevere with optimism and I am constantly amazed at their strength.

Though I try not to be biased, clearly my favorite clients are the Ethiopians. I'll just admit it. Yet, though I love working with them, sometimes it is difficult for me to hear their stories. One woman endured years of persecution, imprisonment, and torture because she was an active member of the wrong political party. Her sister was also active in this group and in 2007 was imprisoned and killed at a military base 20 kilometers from the town I was living in at the time. To discover that these things were going on while I was there, so close to where I was... nauseating. And then to realize that I can offer this woman no respite now that she is in my country. Does she realize yet the difficulties she will face trying to find adequate, affordable health-care? Will I be the one to tell that at her age and with her limited English she doesn't have a shot at finding a job that meets her expectations?

Additional frustration comes when seeing how other people interact with our clients. Part of my responsibilities include going with clients on errands when they need help- to the bank, social security office, border patrol, social services, and the like. Though I realize people in these offices are over-worked, I don't know that their behavior can be excused. They are rude, short, and refuse to look at people in the eye. Maybe they know that if they take time to look, they will see the burdens that these people carry with them. Maybe that is to much for them to handle on top of the mountains of work they already have. I don't know. But it is no excuse.

Take, for instance, my recent trip to the Social Services office. The client I was with had a stroke when he was at a refugee camp in Kenya and as a result he walks and speaks a bit slower than he used too. On this day, he and his sisters were supposed to meet me at the SSA office but for some reason the sisters sent him out on his own. He arrived 45 minutes late, having gotten on the wrong bus and was clearly distraught. He is a proud Ethiopian man who rarely allows his weaknesses to overwhelm him, but on this day it was too much for him. He burst into tears as soon as he saw me, frustrated with himself, his sisters, and the bus driver who wouldn't help him find his way back. At 9:45 am, it was the start of a very long day. The clerks gave him a hard time for being late, they wouldn't listen to his questions, nor would they leave time for me to translate. One clerk, herself an Ethiopian, refused to talk to him in Amharic and instead made me translate, though I asked her numerous times to talk directly to her client. And though I couldn't get her to talk the client in Amharic, at the end of the conversation she spoke to me in Amharic in order to compliment me on my Amharic. I wondered: what would happen if I just allowed my frustration the scream that it so desired? If the whole experience was incredibly dehumanizing for me, I can't even imagine how my client felt. And I wonder how often he feels that way on any given day. The life of a refugee seems so lonely.

Though there are a lot of disheartening moments, there are numerous instances when you're just so encouraged by your fellow US citizens. Once, outside of a CVS, two police officers started talking with the Burmese clients I was with. These clients speak very little English, but I figured it would be good practice for them and the cops seemed patient enough. By the time I had purchased what we needed and come back outside, the cops had figured out what where the kids were from, that they were refugees, and what neighborhood they lived in. The cops gave the kids their cards, promised to keep an eye on their neighborhood, and told them to call if they ever had trouble. I may have been over-enthusiastic in my appreciation... But to find cops who see the individuals! Who stop and talk! In DC! Who would have thought it possible?

Though this internship has stretched me (on somedays, to borrow a high school expression, I think the rubber band has popped), I don't think I have ever learned so much in such a short period of time. Some of it seems so cliche, but time management, organization, data collection, how to communicate effectively. These seem like good skills to acquire and I am slowly becoming more comfortable in my role. I feel that I am getting better at answering questions, though sometimes when I replay in my head the information that I have given a client I hope that I didn't just make everything up. I am thankful to be here now, though I will also be thankful when school starts. This 9-5 schedule is a terrible idea.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


I know- it's cliche and overused, but I just don't know how else to describe it. It's a disaster that never stops. You think it has, but then it keeps coming back for more. Literally immeasurable quantities of snow!! Ok, that's not true at all... but when you're watching the local news as much as I have been, you tend to become a little more dramatic in your speech patterns.

Over the past week my Exterra and I have been through some bonding moments. Exterra and I have been on rocky terms for the past four years. There is always that loyalty to your first car that the Exterra could never overcome and then the long-distance relationship definitely put a strain on things. I'll be the first to admit that I was holding back from the Exterra. Not anymore. When it survives this:

you know it can handle anything. Then, when it gets stuck in the middle of an icy intersection and your good friend, Will, has to come dig you out, you don't blame the Exterra. No. You realize it was your own fault for not turning off the anti-slip feature and apologize for thinking that Exterra is anything but indestructible. Then the Exterra teaches you that icy roads are not something to be feared but rather to be viewed as large four-wheeler courses. It invites you to approach roads such as these

with glee.

That being said, I have made my way to Washington DC via Pennsylvania! It's been a great time of catching up with family. I was able to spend quality time with the Grandparents and they're just great.
It was a new experience, going to the Happy Valley home when it is not busting at the seems with innumerable relatives (dramatic language again). So nice to really talk and hear stories from Korea, from the farming days, from when my dad was a kid.

From Happy Valley I headed to experience the everyday lives of more PA relatives! There were dorm rooms, snow shoveling, and hyenas surrounding leopards who had just killed a gazelle... things got pretty intense.

A person can only handle so much of the Pennsylvania/African bush, so I reluctantly headed towards DC in order to visit Universities and attend conferences, which was the whole purpose for embarking on this journey. Too bad snowpocalyse shut everything down. But yay for galavanting in the snow with friends!

Also, one of my favorite Peace Corps staff members is in the country! Girma was our training director/father figure for the first three months in Ethiopia and became a great friend. He and his wife, Kokobie, were so hospitable, so fun, and so helpful throughout the past two years... it was just so refreshing to see them! Also, I have a theory- Ethiopians are like magnets. Wherever they go, other Ethiopians are drawn towards them. On the metro, at the coffee shop, walking around the capitol building. It's ridiculous.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Dear Ohio,

One of my good Ethiopian friends, Habtie, is convinced that Ohio is the promised land. His dream in life is to live there and when asked why he will say, "that is where the Christians live. Also, it is very like Ethiopia." I'll admit that I was dubious and tried to give Habtie some more realistic expectations based on my many experiences in Ohio (I spent a weekend in the Cincinnati suburbs once in the 8th grade). I told him it was a frozen wasteland with nothing to offer except industrial jobs, but he would have none of it saying, "I love Ohio."

I now find myself in Ohio as the inaugural stop on my tour de Northeast and am shocked to find that Ohio is, in fact, very like Ethiopia. I know this must come as a surprise, but I have examples:

#1- They're big into agriculture in these parts.



You'll notice that my 'frozen wasteland' comments are not far off the mark for Ohio...

#1a- Living conditions of farmers adequately reflect their contribution to their respective economies. For instance, farmers are the back-bone of the Ethiopian economy (43% of GDP) and they live in palaces such as this:

Contrast that to American farmers, who comprise only 1.2% of our GDP... they're practically living in mud huts.

#2- Donkeys!!!

Compare and contrast: Size and woolliness of Ohio donkeys to their Ethiopian counterparts.

Though Ohio donkeys are fatter and fuzzier, I firmly believe that Ethiopian donkeys have a higher quality of life due to the fact that Ohio is so unbelievably freezing.

#3- Patriotism runs deep in our respective lands.

Thus far the trip has been quite the success! I first met up with great friends from Peace Corps, Gamechu (one who laughs/Chris) and Chaltu (one who has a big head/is intelligent/Liz). Chris and Liz were some of my closest friends in Ethiopia and their home became a safe haven for me turning our time there, providing much encouragement, many laughs, and cherished community. It has been just as encouraging seeing them here, as their home is filled with reminders of Ethiopia (namely their dog, Curdis, who was brought back from Ethioland) and they have been so intentional in their hospitality.

I've also been able to spend quality time with the Squeak! My little sister goes to college up in the middle-of-nowhere-wasteland-Ohio. It's been so fun to see her college life, eat her college food, go to college plays, and sleep in her college dorm room. She's like a real live person these days!

I conclude with a recommendation: do not go North during winter.