Thursday, January 21, 2010

Delayed Ethiopia and Delayed Internship

A monastery.


China studying.

Biruk across the way at the waterfall.

Biruk and his best friend carrying drinks.

Sorry I have been so slow at keeping up with my blog, including keeping up-to-date. Shortly I'll finish updating on our trip to Ethiopia and only remark on current events.

Ethiopia: approximately Dec 16.
We left Addis Abbaba for Bahir Dar, where Biruk's sisters live. It is a small city, set beside Lake T'ana, which is the source of the Blue Nile. All along the well-paved streets are palm trees, and walks along the lake in the evening are relaxing, as well as having an snack on a floating restaurant while the sun sets.
Biruk's sisters are delightful and always willing to do anything to help or make you smile. China often sits quietly in the corner while doing her home work and Dinka can often be seen sitting outside over a small stove, cooking something.
They live in part of a compound; a walled community of mostly one family representing three generations and four or five different houses. The community shares one out-house and neighboring showering stall. Adjacent to the toilet are two dogs, fastened to their dog houses by fragile looking chains. Anyone venturing to use the toilet must brave going past these dogs, and clinging to the rusting walls of the out-house to avoid the bared teeth of these dogs, who leap in the air and are caught by their leashes just before reaching you. However, it still is not very fun late at night without electricity to use the bathroom- and the dogs make so much noise you wish you could personally appologize to all the neighbors.
There is also a small, spoiled toddler who basically has the run of the whole compoud. His name is Adonai, as in the Hebrew name for God. When his mother leaves the house, he can be heard calling after her, verbalizing his shopping list, but the only word I understand him saying is 'chocolate'- the child is only 2 years old. He doesn't like me very much and one of the first things he said to me was 'Anche Jackie". "Anche" means 'you' and Jackie is the name of one of the toilet guard dogs. He also is not shy to kick or punch someone if the don't do his bidding. And to mention going to his house? He will dash between your legs and run there before you do to ensure you will not get inside. Brat? yes. Adorable? Indeed.
Biruk met up with his best friend from childhood. Any guesses at his profession? He's the head chaplain at the local men's prison, so we hit it off right from the start.

We (Biruk, his best friend and I) went on a boat tour of the nearby monasteries, which are built on the many islands in the middle of the enormous lake. They built them according to the Biblical laws- 4 doors for each small church, with a separate entrance for women and men, and a center room where only the priest is allowed to enter. Also, they follow close to the obligations about a city of refuge- if someone commits a crime and flees to one of the monasteries; they will be safe. However, while there they must devote their lives to God, living a very simple life. If they leave, they face the consequences for the crime committed.
There was also a men's only monastary, which I had to wait for the boys at the dock. Biruk said it was probably the best one. They had very old paintings and very old books- a book of the gospels that was since the 12th century, with intracate pictures painted on the pages, and weighed over 50 pounds!
The boat ride was enjoyable; we didn't take a normal tour boat, but hired a young boy who had a photo id which said 'captain' on it to take us around. Then we took the boat to the part where the Lake Tana and the Nile river diverge. Apparently, when it rains one can actually tell which water is the lake and which is the Nile, because the Nile is very dirty and you can see the dirty water running through the lake.
The next day (I think)- whatever day was Sunday, we went to the Falls- T'is Abay (Smoking Nile). The waterfall was much smaller than normal, but it was still alot of fun. We got to climb all over the rocks, Biruk and I ventured off a little, me being led by the hand by little boys so that I wouldn't slip. It was so beautiful everwhere- the cliffs all around, the water running everywhere and the adventure that if you slipped and fell, you would probably die from the drop. I was taking photos as best I could of the steep drop down the small waterfall I was sitting over, and laughing with the little boys who had been guiding me when I looked across the ridge- and there was Biruk! How did he get all the way over there? All the way on the other side of the water fall he suddenly appeared.
After relaxing in the shade for a bit, we headed back. We stopped to play with a group of children, all of which were salesmen. One little girl wanted to sell me a 20 Birr scarf for 50 Birr, I haggled with her for a bit, but she refused to drop the price, and suddenly I felt so embarrassed for haggling with a small girl, hardly 8 years old at the most. We walked back a little further, and met a group of children who were dancing, so we joined them in making music and cheering for them to dance.
Later that night, Biruk and I, and his friend, went to watch a soccer game. Biruk's favorite team, Chelsea tied the game. Watching the television, engrossed in the game, I forgot where I was- in a small, crowded room on a wooden bench. It was only after the game was over that I realized I was still in Ethiopia- soccer really does bring people together!
The next day- Monday Dec 19 or something like that, we went to a Debre Tabor, where Biruk used to live. It was mostly a nice, smooth ride- paved roads and everything. But the last 45 minutes of the trip was all dust because they are in the process of building a new road and only detour, makeshift roads can be used until the construction is completed. Debre Tabor isn't much to look at- one dirt road down the middle of the town, with dust everywhere. But what the city lacks in development it makes up for in natural beauty. All around were rolling hills, mountains and green pastures. Looking out the hotel window, past the sheets drying in the yard was a beautiful, sunlight valley with mountains just behind. And at night, although there were no street lights and everything was black- you could really see the stars.
The first day, we went past the house where Biruk used to live, and met with his old neighbors. Everywhere we walked Biruk would see people who he used to know. Having not lived here for nearly 9 or more years, few people recognized him. But it was always a delight to see their faces- like of Biruk's former teacher- who look every confused when he greets them, and then laugh and hug him when they realize who he is.
My throat had been hurting me, so I really wanted something with lime to help my throat. I kept asking for lime, but no one knew what I wanted. After about 5 frustrating minutes I finally said in Amheric "green, little" and make the motions of squeezing the imaginary lime over my drink. They all laughed and said 'Loumay?'. YES! Oh, they don't have any. That was disappointing.
We spent that day (Tuesday) hiking to go to a water fall. We walked across open feilds, with small children rounding up the cows and farmers plowing their fields with cows, some throwing the grain in the air to separate the seeds. We walked sideways down a steep part, over rocks and down cliffs. The water fall was fun, but getting there was just as fun, I thought. We took a different route on the way back, one which required a tiny bit of verticle rock climbing to get to the top.
Back in Bahir Dar, on Christmas Eve I had to go to the hospital early in the morning because of sever abdominal pain. We ended up going to the private hospital, but being so early in the morning, no doctors were there yet. When the first doctor finally came, he suggested that I might have apendicitis, which was my concern. I really didn't want to have surgery here, in the small Ethiopian town- Addis Abbaba would have been better. The doctor to do the ultra sound wouldn't be in until 2:00. Being 7 in the morning, I really didn't know if I could wait until then. But then Biruk told me that it was 2 o'clock Ethiopian time, so it would be 8 am our time, so really I only had to wait an hour- much better than waiting 7 hours! I sat across from a man who was crying because of his severe gastric problem, and next to a woman who was sitting beside me and calmly telling me 'it's okay, its okay' as if I was her young child.
We sat in the lounge with comfortable benches- as in they were padded. If we sat on the hard, wooden benches, we could have joined the crowd which was watching television. They rushed in a man who had been in a car accident, he was bleeding and screaming. There was no stretcher, instead four men were carrying him on their shoulders. After an hour passed, I felt a little better- much less pain. The exam showed nothing wrong with my apendix, but they said I should still see one other doctor. He said it was probably a gastic problem, and prescribed medicine and sent me on my way. The medicine cost a total of 15 Birr (a little over $1 USD) and the whole hospital visit cost 130 Birr- about $10 USD.
Edmonton: I was supposed to start my internship on Monday. I arrived at the prison at 9 am sharp. The chaplain had not yet arrived, so I waited. And waited. Finally, someone at the front desk made an inquiry for me and relayed that he was not coming in at all.
He later called to make new arrangements; for Thursday. So today was my first day at my internship.
It was excellent! I really wish I could intern full time there... or be paid to work there!
Really, I enjoyed it so much. There were parts which were hard; such as giving death notices to some of the inmates. But there were also encouraging parts, like meeting with inmates who are on the maximum security unit who were so happy to see us and the calendars we brought with us.
Also, I got internet, cable and phone hooked up at my apartment today!!! So I no longer have to steal wireless (which didn't work well) from a neighbor. Now, I just need to get the television back from a friend whom I loaned it to while Biruk and I were gone.
We've been really blessed by Biruk's friends. They loaned me a mattress, they gave me a television, bed sheets, they loaned me pots and pans and Biruk keeps stealing glasses from his roomates. And now, while Biruk does not have car insurance, every day so far, a friend has offered to let Biruk drive their car, and one is even loaning Biruk his car for the whole weekend for us to go to Calgary and visit Biruk's parents. We are so blessed!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Day 1 in Ethiopia and Edmonton

I did not get evicted from my apartment. And the rent was paid about 5 days early for the next month.
In Edmonton, the caretaker of my apartment and his wife were very excited to have me back (they are also from Ethiopia) and kept asking me questions about my trip. I've already been told numerous times that I look "more" or "too" black. Biruk keeps correcting them, "for white people its called a tan." But I'm not offended either way.

It rained three times that first day in Addis Abbaba. But at every intermission, the sun overcame the clouds and dried the mud and the puddles; removing any evidence of the down pour. However, the weather did not feel too dry or humid, as one might expect. It feels like East Africa- although Ethiopia is and sometimes isn't included in that category (sometimes limited to Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania at the most strict definition).The streets are similar, the sounds and some smells are similar. The garbage on the corners, the piles of dirt, the market places selling soccer-team apparell of every sort, including underwear of your favorite team. The slum houses look the same, as do most in every country I've visited- rusted metal roofs perched atop rusted metal walls, sometimes leaned together in an art that defies the laws of gravity.
But it's beautiful in a unique way, too.
From the brightly decorated coffins; which resemble glittery quilts in their color quality and patterns, I didn't know what the bright boxes were at first. To the fruit stands that have fruit arranged in a pattern, not specific to organizing fruit of a kind together, but in being decorative. The school children, in their matching uniforms (of which I have not yet seen blue, but instead have seen throngs of children in pink and another school crowded with purple-clothed children running to class to avoid being hit with a stick) walking hand-in-hand which rudely stare at me, compared to the adults who do their best to sneak their glances. And I frequently smell fresh coffee being brewed as I walk down the street. Several pictures have already been planned; of the morning glories (a flower) which hang down the sides of the gates, begging to be picked and the trees shedding vivid purple petals which scatter against the asphalt, only looking more bright on the black.
I had some coffee today, the perscription for jet-lag as the waves of sleep threatened me around 3 pm. I've had coffee made by Ethiopians before, but this must have been my first experience with Ethiopian coffee. It was like a triple shot of espresso, but even stronger. I had to send it back to have some poured out and milk added, as it was much too strong for me to drink. It was returned, a small, shot-sized mug with 2/3 coffee and 1/3 milk- the coffee so strong that stirring in the milk did not change the color of the coffee! However, it has cured my jet lag for today.

My favorite part so far is Biruk's happiness. When we left the airport, I told him to stop smiling, and he physically was not able to! He walks around as if showing off something he is proud of and is so light-hearted.

The lion park I expected to be out of the city and in something similar to a national park with open feilds; like a mini safari. Biruk said that it would be a long walk, and images of the 'walking with lions' article I had read on the airplane of adventure experiences with walking right beside some adult lions came to mind. When we reached this lion park, the first thing I glimpsed over the concrete wall was a brightly painted, although small, merry go-round. After I had to pay 10 times what locals paid to enter this park (as demanded by the sign, not a scam) and double again to bring in a camera (all which reached the equivalent of just over 2 US dollars, so I really can't complain) we entered the park. I walked right past the tortoise exhibit and did not notice it until our way out, but did notice the 'bumper cars' which consisted of 3 four wheelers that weren't really allowed to touch one another. And then the lions. About 15 or so lions, all adults, males and females, two each in concrete cells with two levels of fences to protect viewers. One could have reached out and brushed the mane of the lion when he rested against the fence and I wanted too, but Biruk kept stopping me. It was exhilerating to be so close to these powerful animals- to really see how their massive paws compared to your small hands. I squatted two feet from a lazy female who gazed at me in boredom- her eyes a rich yellow color as she hardly blinked at me and kept looking in her eyes as a challenge. But she shrugged me off and looked away- I was not entertaining enough. Part of me though that it was pitiful that these magnificent animals were in these small concrete rooms, but another part was relieved at the safety of many who would never be threatened by them, either.
Two school bus loads of children arrived at the park; from a school and despite that it was saturday, many were dressed in their uniforms. I became as interesting as the lions they were about to see; each child with their water bottle in hand pointing at me, or nudging their neighbor to see the 'foreinge'.
Later, we visited more of Biruk's family- an aunt and uncle and a cousin. The family was very friendly and kept speaking to me in Amheric as if I had known them for forever, sadly, I did not understand what they were saying. Then, we visited his other relative, who is an Ethiopian Orthodox priest. The church was beautiful, and the gate in front had three intircate crosses that upon our exiting looked picturesque against the cloudy sky. Too bad pictures were forbidden- Biruk was not sure why.The relative we visited was blind and took three different people to locate where he had gone. But he was estatic to meet Biruk and couldn't stop smiling. I'm not sure, but I think I might have seen him crying.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Lost credit cards and eviction notices

It's been a while since I've posted. The internet access in Ethiopia was so slow I didn't even want to bother with blogging.

The trip was fantastic! It was great to be with Biruk all the time and seeing him in his own country and in the context of his first culture was like watching something light up. I am sure that some day Biruk and I will move to Ethiopia, probably Addis Ababa.

Most days, we would go and have a coffee together; Biruk would often have just coffee with some sugar, and I would have a macciato- a little bit of coffee with a whole lot of milk. The coffee is similar to espresso, served in tiny cups and very intense and thick. So thick, that the first time I ordered just a plain coffee, I had to dump out half of it and added the rest with milk, the coffee hardly changed in color and remained a dark brown color.

We would also have a juice together. I would usually have a mango juice and Biruk would have something with avacado juice in it. When we arrived in Pennsylvania at my grandparent's home, my grandmother bought a case of mangoes and we blended them into juice for dinner. It was excellent! I might be making this all the time now.

Back in December, the day we flew from Washington DC to Addis, I checked my email from the hotel before we departed for the airport, receiving a startling email from the company who I am renting from (my education fund is paying my rent while I am a student). The email said that the money for my rent has not come through for the month and if it is not paid in 2 days I will be evicted. They couldn't have said anything 7 or 6 days ago?I wonder what they will do with all my stuff if I do get evicted? Free storage? But I concluded that there was nothing I could do about it at all- being in the United States for 4 hours longer and definitely away from Edmonton for another month and more. If I got evicted, I would just deal with it when I returned, however, still not an encouraging email to recieve just before you leave on a trip.
We arrived at the airport 3.5 hours before our flight was scheduled to leave. Of which I am glad, because the line to check-in was long and winding and full of only Ethiopians, each with two enormous check luggages per person.
We had to check one of Biruk's carry-on bags because it weighed too much for the requirements of carry-on bags. So I stuffed my coat into it, saving myself from having to carry it any longer.
We arrived at our gate with an hour to spare. And I wanted ice cream and Biruk wanted dinner. Upon asking, we discovered that there were few food options near this concourse, but if he had time, we could go to another concourse with many more options. Turns out, that other concourse was 2 shuttles and a half-mile walk away.But it was all worth it when I saw the gleaming beacon of hope: Ben and Jerry's. Triple Super Fudge Chunk was the best dinner (enough calories to count as dinner, right?). A half-mile walk and two shuttles back returned us to our original gate. Our excursion consumed most of our wait time, and boarding began almost immediately when we returned. The walk, with carrying our luggage made us tired, so we were glad to sit again.
After take-off, I realized that my speaker-hook up for the headphones was disconnected and wouldn't work with any headset. 15 hours of experiencing what it would be like to be deaf didn't sound appealing at all. I joined the seven-or-so others who had pushed their 'call attendant' button. We were ignored, and an hour or two later, the signals for the attendants turned off on their own. I waved down three different attendants at different times and asked them if there was anything they could do (hoping to be bumped up to business or even first class). Biruk ended up breaking his headset so that we could each use an earpiece.It wasn't until 10 hours later, upon our departure from our short stop/re-fueling in Rome (where we weren't even allowed to deplane, to my disappointment) that one flight attendant was nice enough to actually follow up and told me that there were no free seats anywhere on the plane and there was nothing else anyone could do.
In retrospect, I should have used that time to do my homework. But I forgot all about it until this afternoon, and I'm going to procrastinate.

We safely arrived in Addis Ababa, with cheers and clapping from the nationals. Biruk and I had to wait in line to purchase our tourist visas, and it was at this time, when I was looking for my wallet to pay the $20.00 that I realized I couldn't find my wallet. I traveled with two; being able to split up my credit cards and more cash that way- and evidently, unconsciously, if I happened to loose one wallet. The wallet containing one credit card and my diver's liscense was no where to be found.
Biruk passed me $20.00 and then returned with a security guard to the airplane to search for my wallet near my previous seat. He returned just in time to go through customs (good thing, since he had run off with my passport when he went looking for my wallet).I prayed and asked that no charges be put on my credit card and racked my brain of how to notify that the card had been lost or stolen- the number is saved on my computer, which I left in Edmonton. So how do I call my credit card company? Cally my mother at 2:30 in the morning? I don't think so.But if it was left in D.C., 15 hours have passed- with plenty of time to ring up massive charges.
I decided there was only so much I could do to help it, and the other areas I shouldn't worry about. Biruk said I did a good job of staying calm.
When we arrived at Biruk's uncle's house, I looked through the bag Biruk had had to check and grabbed my coat. There, in the coat pocket, was my wallet. Thank God! Only Biruk forgot this morning and was discussing with his uncle my need to report it lost or stolen.