Hey All, sorry I have slowed down the pace of my blogs recently. That hiatus is over. I just finished up the most challenging book I have read in my short life. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. It’s a tomb and not told in sequential order. It took living in rural Ethiopia with lots of free time to break it open. Also I had a reading partner Maddy to help discuss the book and motivate each other through tough parts. Anyway, back to my favorite post to write, random thoughts!
Stars are scattered like buckshot in the sky. A new moon leaves an oppressive, engulfing darkness. I look up. Tonight there are no clouds. Tonight there are only stars, thousands, millions, uncountable stars. The children’s rhyme Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star comes to life as the stars pulse with the beat of their own songs. My head crooks back and I wonder about my future. I wonder what impact my life will have in this imax of stars. I mourn and pity children in America, for my own childhood, that I couldn’t see the grandness of this sky as a child. I wonder how many people in America would be astronomers if they could see this sky daily. I wonder how many people look up at the sky in America and don’t act on that big chance. How many people haven’t asked that girl or boy out? I wonder how many big egos haven’t been quelled by the magnitude of the night sky. I wonder.
Most Ethiopians who are somewhat educated have Facebooks. They are in a different stage of their FB social development though. They are at the stage where social strata are based on quantity of friends. Go look through my friends list for Ethiopians, they are probably in the range of 1500 friends or higher.
My buddy Nick lives in a town about 14 hours away. Despite the distance it is ethnically and religiously the same, Oromo and Muslim respectively. Nick would talk about problems he was having at site involving gender. For example, he had a women’s volleyball club shut down because they were women playing volleyball. Or when he came to Lalo he remarked how surprising it was that men worked at coffee stands. We brainstormed why my town seemed to be much more progressive than his despite his town being much closer to a metropolitan area, about 2 hours from Jimma. We concluded on one difference. Men in his town go to Saudi Arabia to work for jobs like a construction worker. They come back with money. They come back with a more conservative, Saudi Arabian version of Islam.
I did a makeup class today. An extra class in the afternoon. As I walked in the class I saw students drawing on the board. Nothing unusual. Keriya and Kerudin see me, put down the chalk and go to their seats. Normally they draw pictures or write English in fancy script. Kerudin did not follow the normal script. He drew a giant swastika. As I looked at this defamation of the board, I was dumbstruck. What do I do? He wasn’t alarmed when I walked in, does he know what it means? Even if he does it’s under a much different context then what we align the swastika with in America. Should I ask the class if they know what it means? Do I have a moral obligation to inform them what it means? Can I convey what it means? These thoughts swarm my brain. I looked over my shoulder at Kerudin, he’s acting normally. Kerudin is a good kid, he talks a little more than I like and doesn’t study as much as he should. But he’s not on my future neo-Nazi list. F— it, I erase the swastika and start my review of tenses.
The change I’ve made. Here in Ethiopia it is culture to say I’m coming to whatever someone invites you to. I learned the hard way. I started an adult English club. I made flyers and posted them a week in advance. The day before and day of the first meeting I went out and told around 40 people about the English club. I got universal great idea, I’m coming. I was elated. Come 5:30 and 4 people show up. I could invite some Ethiopians to watch some Japanese tentacle porn with me and they’d say great I’m coming. This was extremely frustrating for me early on. I found a way through this culture. Now when I want someone to come to something, anything I get them to swear to God. “Dhuga rabbi” or for Muslims “walihe.” These are also the most common words uttered by Ethiopians, after every other sentence they swear to God. What I did was ask something innocuous.
“Hey Garamuu want to come play volleyball?”
“Sure, I’m coming”
Then when Garmuu didn’t show up I confront him. “Hey Garamuu you didn’t show up.” He will make an excuse, he had some ambiguous work or actual work, he would say he’s coming regardless. I respond with you swore to God, don’t you fear God? Garamuu a devout protestant is a God fearing man. I tell him he lied to God. And now Garamuu is dying of laughter but my point gets across. The change I’ve made.
One of the inadvertent perks of being in the Peace Corps is the people I have gotten to meet and become friends with. In America I was relatively normal. Now I am an anomaly. An example of that is some friends I have made in Mettu, the closest town of size to me. At Mettu University are a contingent of Indian professors. One day I was talking with people from my town, Lalo, in Mettu and an Indian fellow walked up to me. He asked what I was doing here. From there a friendship blossomed. Nayaz introduced me to his fellow Indian professors and we hit it off. I have this incredible experience of getting to question a Muslim man with a PhD from Kashmir about Kashmir. We talk about Trump, America, India and Pakistan. We talk about what it’s like to teach Ethiopian students, the similarities between the 9th graders I teach and the college students they teach. They come to Ethiopia because the pay here is better than in India. Also, the work is a lot easier. In India they say for less money a professor works from 6 A.M. to 6 P.M.. The workload is lighter in Ethiopia. It’s mostly men in their late 20’s and early 30’s striving to get to work after a long education. For a lot of them they are communicating in their third language, English (After Hindi, Bengali or the language of Kashmir which slips my mind at the moment) with Ethiopians third langage (After Afan Oromo and Ahmaric).
At one of the coffee houses when there is power they put on a channel called MBC Action. A channel devoted to action programming, action movies, wrestling, etc. It’s an Arabic channel but they play English movies with Arabic subtitles. The kids love it. I have been going because it’s nice to watch some random action movie. I have started to translate the movies for the kids. Some of the plots are surprisingly easy to translate Fast Five, and Bruce Willis films are the bulk of it. It boils down to we don’t like this guy because he’s evil. Then there are wild exceptions. Today, for instance, Total Recall was on. A sci-fi, action movie with Colin Farrell and Jessica Biel. I hadn’t seen the movie before and started to watch about half way through, forgive me for butchering the plot. Colin Farrell has one life, he is an agent for the government then turns his back on them because the terrorists are actually the good guys. Complicating things are off earth colonies, synthetic soldiers and brain implanted memories. These kids are looking at me for what is said. I have no god damn clue how to convey that. Heck, I’m not sure it would make sense to American 7 year-olds. I just shrug my shoulders as kids look up to me expectantly. I say “It’s in the future, it’s complicated.”
I have started to age. I have a volleyball. Adasho and Beenyam, two middle school aged kids who live in my compound often come and ask to play with the ball. I always oblige. Sure, why not. But, I have these old man impulses that for now I suppress. The thoughts that run through my head : why do they have to be so loud? Screaming, shouting, some people are trying to read here! They better not knock over my plants. Ugh, the ball just banged against my door. I can’t take my afternoon nap!