March 6th, 2010
Sometime in the first few months I was living in Arjo I programmed my cell phone to display ‘It’s only two years…’ when I turned it on. I am constantly having to turn the phone on an off, either to save the battery when the electrics out, to re-set the network or just to avoid a string of calls from local men I’d rather not talk to after work hours. So I set this message to remind me, it’s only two years, I could make it. Then sometime in the last few months I changed the message to ‘It’s only one more year!’ This served two purposes; it celebrated the time I had spent here and encouraged me to keep going because hey, it’s only one more year! Tonight though I changed the message again and I think it sums up my feelings towards the time I have left. I changed it to ‘Less than a year… make it count!’ I want to remind myself of that everyday if possible. It has been a hard road to get where I am now but now that I’m here I need to make the most of it.
It’s a difficult place to describe, this place that I’m at now. I have lived in Arjo Guddettu for exactly one year and three weeks. I’ve seen all the seasons; experienced all the planting and harvest times, lived through the dry times and embraced the rains, I’ve worked through the school terms and witnessed the influx of patients at the health center during malaria season.
I’ve lived it. I’ve tramped down to the river during the hottest months when everyone waits till 6pm to fill their cans leaving a 2 hour wait down at the spring. I’ve collected rain water to drink during the big rainy season because the path to the river was too muddy to travel down. I’ve honored fasting days. I’ve attended church on religious holidays and Sundays I was able to. I’ve celebrated birthdays, weddings and funerals.
I’ve become a part of the town. I’ve had countless coffees and meals with the mayor and administrators of the Kebele and Woreda. I’ve become a staff member of the health center; counted on, referred to and worked with. I’ve bonded with the cooks, waiters and owners of the two restaurants in town and few homes that serve food. I’ve played with my neighbors and taught them the benefits of caring for their animals instead of abusing them. I’ve walked the town roads so many times that I’m no longer just a spectacle to be stared at but a respected member of the community.
And Arjo’s become part of me. When I walk to work I say good morning to at least 20 people who I respect and respect me, I like that, who does that in America? When I go ‘shopping’ it’s in an open air market and I buy from my neighbors, the people I see everyday. When I get water for dinner I don’t just turn on a faucet, I spend time down at a river with the women (and some men) of my town making stupid jokes and playing with the kids. When I walk home I call out ‘Henrietta! Henrietta!’ and within seconds I hear my baby goat cry out in recognition and by the time I’m at my gate she is by my side.
There are a lot of hard days still, struggles and frustrations, but I’m here now and I’m a part of something that not many people get to experience. And I’ve earned every moment of it. So now it’s time for me to put my experience to work. I’ve got less than a year to make a difference in Arjo, in my community. All the work I’ve done up until this point is just the foundation, now it’s time to build the building.
I’ve got less than a year; I’ve got to make it count.