One of the most common questions people asked about my parents while they were here was biyya bartani? (“they learned the country?”) — meaning, have they gotten to know it a bit? As evidenced by this beautiful reflection on their visit, my mom certainly did:
The countryside and the mountains are beautiful in Ethiopia. If Van Gogh had painted “Starry night” in Ethiopia, the stars would have jumped off the canvas. We had the opportunity to see historic wonders: churches and castles from the beginning of time; we crossed the Nile River; saw the blue Nile falls and crossed Lake Tana in a tumultuous boat ride to see an historic monastery and museum located on an island and on the way back searched for hippos. We saw monkeys (up close), the most beautiful landscapes, but the best site of all was seeing our lovely daughter. More about this later.
Buna!! What an experience! It raised coffee drinking to a whole new level and reminded me that coffee is meant to be shared. Observing the effort that goes into making it (with pride and love; the special cups; the incense and the green branches and usually served in a very humble setting) all made for a memorable experience.
I enjoyed the food a lot. I did not overeat but yet felt full, I especially liked misur wot, fuul, popcorn, injera, all the other delicious breads, and avocado juice. Having some of this food prepared and served by people who are an important part of Joanna’s life made it taste even better. I appreciated that many times eating Ethiopian food really resulted in sharing a meal.
I had no idea how much the Peace Corps volunteers work to become part of their community. The challenges they face everyday just to travel or accomplish various projects and to deal with environmental issues is truly incredible. But when they do this work, or talk about their work, they never seem to focus on what challenges they face or what they are giving up to be there. I have so much respect for all of them and the work they do. They inspired me to try to do good in my own little corner of the world and to try harder to see the good in others.
Most of the Ethiopian people have very little in the way of material goods, but yet they are very willing to share what they have. Many of the people we met seem very happy. Being welcomed into the homes of Joanna’s host family and the homes of her friends and neighbors was such an absolutely wonderful feeling and one I will never forget. All these people seemed so loving and caring. Many shouted “congratulations Joanna!” because her parents were visiting. It was great to meet the people we had heard stories about and it was a good experience to see the health center.
Some of the sadder images were those that involved women. We saw women walking with heavy sticks on their backs and other women carrying pallets of stones. Those images were startling. Before the trip, I did not understand that this was a male-dominated society nor did I understand what poverty looks like. But there are things in Ethiopia that I didn’t expect to see such as satellite dishes and a place where you could get photos developed and a store where you could purchase nail polish. The children and animals do run freely. It was difficult to understand the children running around unsupervised and being expected to sell goods outside of the bus station.
While I was waiting for Jim to pay the hotel bill, a little boy of 3 showed me his treasures: a bottle cap; the plastic from around a sealed water bottle; a pen and a stone. That image has stayed with me and I know I will be thinking about him over the holidays.
I was impressed because even though the roads are dirt roads and the terrain often rocky and uneven, people who have government jobs and those who are teachers, take pride in their appearance and dressed in professional clothes for work. They also seemed proud of their work, even though the teachers make hardly anything in terms of wages. People do not own irons but their clothes look crisp and wrinkle free.
There is an absence of quiet in Ethiopia: The call to prayer, every animal and his comrade conversing for hours.
Joanna has changed so much. Her knowledge of the language is incredible and her ability to deal with difficult situations is remarkable. She is a strong, resourceful woman.
I know she values her alone time but she gives that up to interact more with the people of her community. A definite role reversal took place during this trip as Joanna was the parent and we followed her instructions and asked an infinite number of questions like children. It was a surprise to me that the PVCs do not stay out after dark but with the lack of lighting, and the male dominated society, this makes sense.
Something that has not changed about Joanna is her exterior and interior beauty. At one point I said to her “I forgot how beautiful you are.” Hearing the locals call out to her by name made us think that we had given her the perfect name for the melodic way it flows from the Ethiopian tongue. She gave me the best birthday ever by encouraging me to read to school aged kids and making me a chocolate cake and a surprise party. Joanna’s comfort level peaked when we arrived in Metu. She takes pride in Metu.
She is loved and protected by the people there — PVCs and Ethiopians alike — and that brought us such relief and joy. We are so impressed by all the good work she performs.
The CBC doctor who administered our inoculations had warned, “Stay healthy, so you can easily deal with the conditions your daughter is living in.” Joanna’s place is small but lovely. Seeing the place she lives in reminded me that with love and care you can make a house a home.
Then there were all the other lessons learned:
The outstanding work of the Peace Corps and how it leads to better global understanding.
What it is like to watch the United States presidential results in a third world country.
How little I take an interest in what is going on in other countries and how that needs to change.
The importance of the love of family and friends
What it feels like to be stared at because you look different.
Patience and it is fine not to always be in control.
Americans can survive the goat bus.
The kindness of strangers.
Everyone wants to learn and to be of value to society. Acknowledging people makes them feel special.
Water is a valuable resource that should never be taken for granted.
The conveniences we have and how we take them for granted. I complain when I have laundry to do, but I very rarely need to hand wash anything or use a stick as an agitator. We have good roads; good infrastructure; running, clean water, reliable access to health care, the internet, many life choices, outstanding libraries and wonderful homes.
Banana man does exist.
My admiration for my daughter has multiplied.