Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Hippos and Zebras

Friday July 9, 2010

I have been seriously slacking on the blogging but that is only because I have been finding a multitude of other ways to keep busy (and once the World Cup ends on Sunday my free time will grow exponentially)!

It goes without saying that the children in foster are growing daily. With the arrival of more volunteers came more books so we have expanded into Safari animals! I am thrilled to announce they are confusing zebras with cows and hippos with fish. I view this with enthusiasm because it means that they are making they are making the connection black and white animal = cow; animal in water = fish. The differentiation will come later and for now they are really observing and crossing knowledge over between books. Simply never cease to amaze me!

The shop women are furiously crafting 1,000 bracelets to be sold state side (plug!) and arguing logos, although I am still pretty sure the point of why this is important is lost in translation. They are also knitting adorable booties in colors of choice, so while you excuse my not so subtle hints, check those out on your next trip to Ethiopia!

I went back up the mountain of Entoto to the school for the HIV children on Thursday and met some of the children’s families with Mesfia (Yemamau’s friend). At this time food money has dried up so he can no longer provide the children a meal and consequently attendance has dropped nearly 30%. The purpose of the family visits was simply to show his devotion and encourage continued attendance. My purpose was simply to take pictures so that he could have more to show potential benefactors.

We first met a group of previous students selling boiled sweet potatoes on the side of the road and another working 1 of 3 crisscrossed looms taking up the entire home. He was making these beautiful white linen scarves traditionally worn by the orthodox Christian women. The homes wore dung huts with thatched roofs. My arm span is a pretty accurate measure of their size and six is the average number of children in a family. The purpose of the home is solely for sleeping. All other activities are done in the communal cooking hut or outside.

Aside from soccer the children entertain themselves with hop-scotch etched into the dirt and jump rope, and undeterred by their bare feet and tattered clothes, race through the woods and fields. A young boy is tasked with keeping the herds for the day. He relaxes in the field practicing his whip cracking and the most trouble he encounters comes from the other children being mischievous but the bulls with gigantic horns apparently pose no threat.

Being up on the mountain again I began thinking about this completely contrary life to Addis; completely pastoral living that we might be too quick to condemn for its simplicity. But then who am I to judge what is “better.” These people may not be literate or technologically say but they know their land better than anything. They know what to do with it, how to live off it, they have a different, perhaps even more important kind of knowledge because it enables them to survive. The children might be dirty, they might be hungry or sick, but still, I can’t help but think that they are better off, living fresh from the squalor of Addis.

I often consider that Ethiopia developed too quickly for its own good. It avoided colonization, which preserved a beautiful culture, but then Ethiopia got caught in globalization, the modern world forced its self upon this nation; ready or not. The result is a half-way effect. They have modern machines but no controls on pollution, road-construction or traffic, technology but no one skilled enough to operate it, and the accessibility to information but lack of literacy. To top it off the cultural mindset would lead any typical Westerner into impatient chaos. But then again, maybe that is our own American downfall. I am finally getting around to reading a book by an Ethiopian author, Dinaw Mengestu. The other day he told me that Americans are always racing, we have this insatiable need to be the first to do something and as a result we have an antipathy toward the past. “We raced across America to get to the Pacific, and then we raced to build a railroad to connect it all. We raced to the moon. We raced to build as many bombs as was humanly possible. I wonder if now we haven’t run out of things to race against. I think the moment that happens we’ll have nothing to do but look back. Then we’ll know if it was worth it.”

So as my time here continues to rapidly wane I have decided to stop racing with it; to embody Ethiopians so to speak. Most of the time I have to check myself anyway because I am still in awe that this is my life. How did I get so lucky as to be living out this dream? It’s like when you hear sirens on the streets of any major city. They are at first faint but then growing louder with each passing second, people begin to strain to see, traffic clears the center of the street and of course there are those who feign comfort, pretend they cannot be bothered. The sound quickly takes over, burning the ears, refusing to be ignored. Then there is no other option but to watch the parade of police, fire trucks, ambulances, or possibly black SUVs or a stretch limo lead by the flags of some far off place and wonder, “what is of such great importance?” At the moment it barely registers. And maybe only later when catching a glimpse at the news is the witnessed moment connected to something greater, and maybe it is completely fleeting to be forgotten as the sounds recede in to the distance and everyone resumes their lives. But the point is, for that one moment, every ordinary person is fulfilling their role as observers and time is temporally suspended.

That is precisely how these last months have been to me and what they have meant I am only just beginning to discover. I am an observer, nothing greater. Still, as such, I bear a great responsibility that will continue to work itself out in meaning for the rest of my life. In the end I am, grasping on with white knuckles to what I can and hoping the meaning comes later.


  1. I really love your blog! Your words really paint a picture. Thanks. I hope that you will still be in Addis when we arrive to meet our daughter in October, I'd love to meet you and thank you for all the love and joy you have given the children.