26 June 2012

catching my breath

Today is Saturday. It’s the third Saturday I’ve spent in Ethiopia. It could just as easily be my 103rd. I am sitting in my 6’ x 6’ room inside my host family’s house in Sagure. The sun is shining through my westward facing window. We just took our first in a series of weekly Amharic assessments. Two of my four host brothers, Yosef and Anteneh, are standing at the door of my room playing with the simple handheld arcade I brought along while I listen to Foster the People and take the first real opportunity I’ve had since leaving Addis to simply sit and reflect.

My daily routine for the next two months will consist primarily of two variations. On language and cultural training days, I exit the rear of the family compound, walk down a red dirt road, past roaming goats, dogs, cattle, donkeys, and horses, to another nearby compound. I enter through a branch-and-aluminum gate and join two other Peace Corps Trainees (PCTs) and a Language & Cultural Facilitator (LCF) for a day of Amharic lessons. We take our lessons on a porch, amidst sunshine, cool breezes, and a livestock soundtrack. We break for “Shai-Buna” around 10 A.M. and again around 3:00 PM, and join the seven other Sagure PCTs at a nearby café to enjoy tea, coffee, and conversation. The breaks aid in digesting the rigorous study sessions while simultaneously sprinkling in an important element of the Habesha way. We return to Amharic before lunch, during which we soak up Ethiopian food, culture, and tradition with our families. I have already been greeted with two variations of the coffee ceremony, one of which included visits from my host grandmother, aunt, uncle, cousins, dog, cat, and cow. We go at it for another round of glottal I’s and explosive T’s before another Shai-Buna around 3:00, and close the day off with informative and entertaining cross-cultural sessions before returning to our families for the evening.  

On hub days, I exit the front of the family compound, through a large steel gate that is typical of compound fortification, and walk along the main road – the only piece of asphalt in Sagure, which continues south toward Bekoji and stretches north, as they say all roads in Africa ultimately do, to Addis Ababa – to meet the Sagure clan for the 7:30 A.M. bus that takes us to Assela. Assela is  the closest large town and is the geographic center to the cluster of towns throughout which all 70 Education PCTs from G7 are dispersed. It also happens to be the place where Ethiopian running legend Haile Gebreselassie calls home. At minimum, I join the 35 volunteers situated furthest south at the Soljam Hotel for long days of Health, Safety & Security, and Teacher-Technical training sessions. On occasion, all 70 converge on the same day. The big plus about hub days is that they afford us the opportunity to spend time with friends stationed in other towns; apart from being allowed to travel to Assela on Sundays for leisure it is against the rules to leave our training towns. The bus returns some time between 5:00 and 5:30 to shuttle us back to our families for heaping servings of injera, wot, dabo, gomen, siga, and of course, buna.

Living with a host family, though only a week in, has helped me shed the fictional sensation that defined the majority of my time in Ethiopia prior. I was walking through a movie set or a living museum. It wasn’t my life. Sagure has brought me back to earth. While prolonged stares from befuddled faces throughout the community and herds of curious children might indicate otherwise, I feel like I actually live here now, like this is my life. Returning to a family and a place to actually call home has solidified that sense of belonging. From day one, my host family made me feel like one of their own, and that feeling only grows stronger by the day.

Elsa, my host mom, wants nothing but the best for me. She refers to me as her baby, takes an active role in my Amharic learning, and readily broke out the super-secret “Super Mint” when my stomach went through the two day period where it rumbled like a mid-summer thunderstorm as it struggled to process all the strange and delicious new delicacies I was sending its way – a condition I endearingly dubbed “Ferenji Hod,” much to the delight of Elsa and Tesfaye. Tesfaye is my host father, but has come to calling me his brother due to his not actually being old enough to be my father. My brothers, Keio (2), Dagim (5), Anteneh (7), and Yosef (9) are a true delight. They get me somewhere directly in between my older brother sensibilities and my eventual fatherhood. I look forward every day to the adventure of coming home to this super-rad foursome. Whether going together to the field by the river for a round of soccer, whiffle ball, and frisbee, dancing on the back porch to music from my ipod, or sending me to the emergency room for laughter stitches as they take turns licking some salty concoction that makes their faces wrinkle uncontrollably, time with my brothers often is and will continue to be the highlight of my day.

As far as how I’m doing in a general sense, it really is a roller coaster ride. In one of our early training sessions, we were introduced to the “volunteer lifecycle,” which was essentially a squiggly line to represent the ups and downs of service throughout our 27 months and roughly when they occur. Ben, my incredible Peace Corps Mentor (PCM) from the Peer Support Network (PSN) pointed out that not only was that lifecycle incredibly accurate, it also happens on a daily basis. I initially brushed off both representations as something that would not affect me; that my will was stronger than to be brought below the up axis. But every time I go through a wave of wanting to be doing or eating something American, something inevitably happens that reminds me why this is such an incredible place to be right now in my life; that I’m here, doing something few have the courage to do, finally living out a dream I’ve had longer than any other dream I’ve ever dreamed.

1 comment:

  1. This is an absolutely awesome post, and one that does my heart and mind well! Please give Elsa a hug from me, as well as the rest of your host family (but an extra strong one to Elsa; I'm sure that she and all of the family will understand why). I am actually typing this comment post from Uncle Joe's computer, so the importance of a family connection is felt more strongly right now. Your experience will greatly enrich your life, and Laura's too - even in the midst of the feelings of longingness, there are opportunities for growth. Love ya lots Joe!