NOV 20, 2009
I’m listening to the most awesome rat fight right now. It’s happening just two feet above my head in my ceiling space which is essentially just a canvas tarp held up by widely latticed wood strips. This means that as these rats duke it out I am not only able to hear every high pitched squeak they make but also see their little feet run around as they slam each other about. It’s truly magical.
So, my parents were out in Ethiopia recently. In the last fifteen years I haven’t had much of a chance to talk about my parents in the plural. Actually I think I can only remember them in the same room a dozen or so times since I graduated middle school. Not that they don’t get along. For a divorced pair they actually get along quite well; but having a friendly conversation on the phone every now and again is much different than spending a week together in a third world country. I’m not going to lie, I was scared. Scared that they would drive each other crazy, scared that the stress of life here would throw them into a silly spat, scared that I would be put in the middle. I should have had more faith. They got along great.
My mom, Marsha, flew in on the first of November and after a Rasta filled day in Addis celebrating Haille Selasslie’s 79th coronation anniversary we headed up to Bahir Dar (by plane! High class!) to check out the Blue Nile falls. The Blue Nile falls are the product of Lake Tana and the beginning of the Nile River. A few years ago the falls were partially damned up in order to create a hydroelectric plant which resulted in an increase of electricity (which is mainly sold outside of country) but unfortunately limited the Falls to about 1/3 its natural size. Regardless, the diversion doesn’t deter from the Falls beauty. If I were to describe the Falls in one word it would be ‘Eden’. After a 20 min walk from the main road you stand directly in front of the Falls, surrounded by far off hills that roll into green valleys cultivated intermittently by corn, wheat and teff. There are no big buildings, only a speckling of grass huts and tin roof structures. The greens are greener, the browns browner, the blues bluer. It’s where life could have and should have begun.
Next stop was Gondar, my favorite Ethiopian city. It has an old feeling about it that I crave; most of the buildings are made of stone, horse drawn buggies rule the road and the city centers around an ancient castle compound. But I never really understood Gondar until I traveled up to the highest hotel in the city...no idea of the name now. Poised on a high hill overlooking the city it becomes immediately apparent why ancient kings would choose this place to settle. 20km or so off to the South you can see Lake Tana, not overly opposing but definitely close enough for fishing adventures. From the South vast mountain ranges stretch East and West enclosing a beautiful lush valley in which the heart of Gondar lies. Sitting up there, ignoring the obvious fact that at that moment I was a “tourist”, I felt like I got it.
After Gondar we headed back to Addis. My dad, Rick, had flown in the night before and graciously had been taken out by my friend, Fikre aka Fookie. We met up at a local hotel and strangely enough I felt immediately at ease. My mom and dad got along great. In fact their experience, being in a new and different country, seemed to bond them or at least level the playing field. For the first time I was watching my parents ‘be’ together. I was too young when they divorced to really remember them together and even seeing them together as traveling buddies was nice for me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not the type that wants to see their parents rekindle a long forgotten love. I actually enjoy my parent being apart. I can’t even imagine them being together again. They are both too amazing in the same ways. I guess that’s why I turned out so perfect (wink, wink).
The next day we headed out to Ambo, the place of my Pre-Service Training where I lived with a host family for three months. For me this was a big deal. Ambo was a big deal for me. It was a place I struggled to figure out how to fit-in in this place I would live for two years. After the first trip to my host families house my dad said “ I just don’t know why we’re here?”… This made me smile. He was uncomfortable, just like I had been for three months. Nothing made sense, the normal meet and greet was not the same as a Western meet and greet… it was packed with language barriers and awkward silences… it was my life with my host family. It wasn’t always fun, but it was. (Period)
After Ambo we all headed out to Arjo. I felt a bit bad for my dad. He was only going to experience life out West for a day or so but was going to have to endure the 10+ hour bus ride back and forth. Both my parent were troopers though, hanging through multiple tire changes and insane drivers. And the next day when we arrived in Arjo they hit the town with the enthusiasm that only hard working Americans can have. ‘Bring it on…I’ll fix it!’
When my Dad had to leave the next day it was pretty hard. Even though I knew I would have my mom for another two weeks it was still difficult to let someone go. Someone from the ‘real world’., someone who represented what I use to have, how I use to live, my past happiness…did I really want to say goodbye to that again?
The next two weeks for me went by in a blur. My mom seemed to fit right into my life. In the morning we woke up, fed the chickens, she would make breakfast and we would head off to work. We would eat lunch together, visit friends. We just lived together…it had been a long time since I lived with someone. It was nice. I don’t think it was as easy on her. Fetching water from the river, cooking on my small gas or charcoal stove, the language barrier, harassing children… it’s not effortless and she did it.
On the weekend she was flying out “The Great Ethiopian Run” was being held in Addis Ababa; a 12km race through the downtown with an expected 30,000 person turnout. Me and mom went to the starting point, just to check it out and immediately were engrossed by the whole event. It wasn’t just a race for serious runners as I had anticipated but a celebration of running…and walking, and more importantly just being together. Ethiopians love to be together. Most of the time this is a serious offense to ferengies but I have found that there are a few moments that the whole ‘being one’ attitude really adds to the situation.
For example, last month I was fortunate enough to get into the Teddy Afro concert. For those of you who aren’t in the know, Teddy Afro is the most popular Ethiopian singer who has just recently been released from jail on charges I’d rather not mention. His first concert since his release was held in Addis Ababa, luckily on the weekend I happened to be in Addis picking up a grant check from the Peace Corps office… I don’t believe in coincidences. After standing in line for hours for the cheap tickets me and my friends finally made it into the stadium. The next few hours could only be described as pure harmony. It wasn’t like a normal concert where everyone was there with the commonality of seeing a band they like; it was as if everyone was there because they liked each other and just happened to like Teddy Afro as well.
So, after ‘The Great Run’ my mom headed out. Back to America, back to the husband that she loves, back to work, back to life….I’ve never wanted to be heading back to America more than the moment I said goodbye to her that day. Seeing her face before she checked in to board that plane, the face of relief, of accomplishment, of truly being done, made me ache. I wanted to be done, I wanted to feel accomplished, I wanted relief. I knew that as I said goodbye to her it was going to be another 15 months before I could mimic that face…another 15 months till I was done. And that was hard, harder than anything I’ve faced up until now.
But, it’s been two weeks since that moment. Admittedly, I’ve cried a lot of tears but I’ve also felt stronger than I’ve ever felt before. Because I am still here, I am still trying, I am still fighting.
And who knows, maybe I’ll just make it after all.