I want to write a preface for this post and all posts.
I refer often to Ethiopians as a whole. It is just short hand. Ethiopia is an extremely diverse country. Oromians are different from Tigrians, Amharans from Somolians. I live in Oromia, more specifically western Oromia. When I make the generalization “Ethiopians” I am most likely referring to that specific group. Many of the generalizations I do and have made include all Ethiopians, but many don’t.
I fart a lot now. Some days I fart so often it annoys me. I never thought I’d get tired of my own brand. In class last week I feel a nasty one slide between the cheeks, muffled, of course. One student turns to another and gives the universal sign of holding his nose pointing at the student next to him. Soon my flatulence permeates throughout most of the room. Poor, poor Wakjira. He will forever be blamed for my fart.
Exorcisms happen in Lalo. I’m sitting here trying to watch the Hateful Eight and I hear chanting going on. Not too uncommon. About once a week there are worships of some sort in my compound. This is the one event I don’t get invited to. It’s about 9:30 P.M. well past any activity time in Lalo. Then I hear a women shrieking. I scramble to get clothes on find a light walk my door and stand. What the f—- am I gonna do? Should I do anything? Is there a problem? Why isn’t the entire town here, there are blood curdling screams. One of my neighbors, Tigist, sees my befuddled and bewildered, she says do not worry just prayer. Meanwhile the women in distress is being screamed at by a man “essa dhufte? essa dhufte? essa dhufte?” Where have you come from in Afan Oromo. She tells me do not be afraid just Satan leaving her body. It is good she says. I respond I’m not afraid, just concerned (I’m definitely afraid). Tigist says this happens in America too, right? Well, how do I respond to that? Umm, I assume some bat shit crazy people do exorcisms, I don’t know. She asks me if I want one too. Well, heck ya I want an exorcism. Just give a dude some warning before primordial cries are descending upon my unsuspecting eardrums. It’s remarkable how quickly I reacted to the screams. I got dressed (Obviously I was naked in bed watching Hateful Eight), fumbled for my phone light, and got to the door all before I stopped to ask myself what I was actually doing. Interesting to see and feel the innate human response. If all goes well, or maybe, if all goes not well I may have an exorcism myself, why not? I’ve always felt a little too much Satan in me.
I was once surfing on the internet and ran into a blog about the benefits of cold showers. I was intrigued. It boasted about the improvement of circulation and some other compelling bullshit. I took a few cold showers then reverted back to normal, piping hot showers. When I found out I was going to Ethiopia I figured and ancillary benefit would be cold showers. I do take a cold shower once a week. But, whomever wrote that blog had the benefit of taking a warm shower whenever he or she wanted. Cold showers suck when they’re the only option. I don’t care about my possible improved circulation, hot showers are wonderful.
I was eating at my favorite restaurant Mana Jihad (Same name as my favorite coffee spot, different places, there are a lot of Jihad’s) on market day. It’s really busy. I sit down and wait for Asha, the waitress. Some of the farmers from out of town notice me and shout at Asha to come serve me, because I’m a foreigner. Asha shouts back at them without a blink saying John isn’t a foreigner, he can wait. One of my prouder moments.
I play a game with myself now (Get your mind out of the gutter). I sit within easy eye shot of a restaurant entrance. I then stare intently at anyone who walks in. Ethiopians stare frequently, and unabashed at me. Returning the favor to the extreme is a small, fulfilling victory.
My friend Fanta, a fellow English teacher quipped to me “I think an American proverb is thank you and sorry.” I chuckled. Ethiopians just don’t have a culture of using sorry or thank you. When I buy something or someone brings me food it’s ingrained that I say thanks, even in Afan Oromo. At first people were bewildered. Now they think it’s one of my funny quirks. Same goes with saying sorry. If I bump into someone or screw up a dig playing volleyball I apologize. It’s gotten to the point where people preempt me uttering sorry when playing volleyball. I never realized quite how often I say sorry or thank you until I got here. It must have been dozens of times a day in America. Ethiopians think its endearing, but funny.
My mother sent me a care package. Any and all care packages are wonderfully appreciated. It not only makes my week to gorge on some American treats, it’s also a great way to share culture. My friends love to try anything I put in front of them, queso, skittles, starburst, cheez-its. Most Ethiopians don’t like the American food I’ve gave them. It’s much too sweet, but nonetheless it’s a lot of fun for everyone to try . My neighbor Fanta was amazed my mother could send food from America. He wondered how it didn’t go bad in the month it takes to get here. He also wondered why I was cleaning chocolate off a tin can. I explained the cookie butter from Trader Joes my mom sent me exploded over everything, obviously. I sit here explaining the joys of care packages at 11 o’clock on a Sunday night. Yes, I have school tomorrow, but I ate a third of a one pound bag of skittles. I am having my first sugar rush since the days I would wrap 3 foot long fruit rollups around my thumb and suck on it. The American food is a joy to my existence but it sure screws with my body now that I’m on an all natural diet.
One of my proudest personal accomplishments so far is my ability to sit with myself. This may seem mundane, in fact, it is. But, the ability to sit with my own thoughts for extended periods of time is something I couldn’t do in America. I would get distracted by my phone or I would think too deeply and develop anxiety. Better to think shallow than delve into inner demons. Here, I am so far removed from any anxiety and have real, daily physical issues that it has given me a new perspective. I can analyze why I did or didn’t pursue a girl in college or why I was unhappy working for ESPN radio. It is small peanuts compared with educating children who look up to me.
Sometimes I ask stupid questions and I don’t realize it until afterwards. For example, I commissioned two stools from the carpenter. They’re about a foot and a half tall and cost 60 birr each ($3). They told me it would take two days. 2 weeks later I was wondering why they
hadn’t finished. I asked my neighbors why they weren’t finished. Aresa, one of the judges of Lalo says “I don’t know maybe they’re busy.” Of course John, why even ask that?
There is an odd knowledge, even obsession with the illuminati here. I have been asked by no less than 10 people about the illuminati in America. Sometimes by educated teachers, sometimes by workers at the buna bent. I have no idea where this knowledge, or psuedo knowledge comes from. It’s incredibly difficult to answer any questions even if the person knows some English. Heck, I don’t know what I know about the illuminati. I didn’t learn until here in Ethiopia the symbol for okay with a hand is the illuminati symbol as well. They ask me about George W. Bush and Obama in the illuminati. I have tried to just say there is none which doesn’t fly at all with Ethiopians. It’s odd they’re surprised Americans drink coffee but tell them the illuminati doesn’t exist and all of a sudden they’re experts on America. I’ve told them I don’t care and that blows their minds too.