Life in Africa

Okay, the question we are asked most often is…how is life in Africa?  Well…it is interesting.  I know that many people want to know what life is REALLY like, not just the unicorns and rainbows version.  Before I get to it, I want to start with a disclaimer:  I’ve been very hesitant to post too much about the frustrations of daily life here.  I don’t want anyone to think we’re miserable or even feel sorry for us.  We are glad we are here, most of the time.  🙂  When we were traveling WI to raise our budget, we heard from so many people that they admired our willingness to sacrifice and could never do what we were doing.  We thought they were being ridiculous.  Now, we know better.  It is a sacrifice.  Missionary life is different.  Different = hard.  Different also = wonderful.  Sometimes, it’s a real fine line between the two.  Overall, we love it here.  We are glad we are here.  We cannot imagine being anywhere else.  With that being said, here’s the nitty gritty.  REAL life in Africa (at least for the Meehan five).

Let’s start with home.  We live in a lovely home.  It is nicer than I imagined it would be for our budget and we feel so blessed to have found it when we did, for the price we are paying.  That said, after living in it for nearly 8 weeks we now know what it was this price and why the owner was so anxious to get it rented.  It was/is not finished.  There are three showers.  Before you start wondering WHY a missionary family would need three showers let me tell you this–only one of them works.  So, we have one shower and two empty stalls.  T.I.E. (This is Ethiopia).  Of course, that shower is only working when we have water.  The city has been rationing the water daily for a few weeks now.  It comes on at night, but if the pressure is weak, our tank doesn’t fill.  That’s happened three times now.  We have gone without water.  Today is the third time.  No showers, no laundry, no dishes, no house cleaning, no toilets flushing, no hand washing.  It gets old after about 24 hours.  After 48, we kind of start to panic and get cranky.  Yes, I know that people (including some just down the street from us) have gone much longer without water, but we are just not used to this yet.  I don’t know how one gets used to this.  The worst part is that we know when the tank is only good for three days if we really conserve, so we don’t do laundry until it fills back up and now the boys are wearing dirty clothes again.  It’s not the end of the world, but it is out of my comfort zone.  Then, there’s the electricity.  It goes off daily.  Sometimes for 5 minutes, sometimes for a few hours, sometimes several times in one day or maybe even several times in one hour.  You never know when it’s going to go out and you never know when it’s going to come back on.  Try to plan a weekly menu and sticking to it with that little glitch constantly coming up.  Our stove does have two gas burners, so that’s great, but the oven won’t work and neither will the microwave.  Thank goodness for peanut butter sandwiches.  (Even if the good peanut butter is over $6 for a small jar).

The food…food here is INSANELY expensive.  Well, the stuff we are used to is.  Fruits and veggies are CHEAP.  If we were vegetarians, we’d eat for next to nothing.  Carbs are also cheap.  If you want to cut carbs completely out of your life, come here for a month.  By the time that month is up, you won’t crave them anymore.  You’ll wish you would never see another carb again in your life.  I didn’t know it was possible to get sick of eating carbs.  It is.  We’re over it now, but the first month we were here, before I learned how to cook with what I could find, we ate so many carbs that I couldn’t stand the sight of them anymore.  My grocery budget is higher here than it was in the States.  Granted, with each passing month, I’ve lowered it a bit more than the one before because I’m learning how to shop more wisely and figuring out cheaper options, but it’s still expensive.  In order to get most of the items on my list, I have to visit two grocery stores and one or two different suks (little shops/stands).  Even there, things are rationed.  We are often told that we can only buy one two cup bag of milk instead of the four we’d like.  There is almost nothing pre-made (except for carbs–we even have to bleach all the produce, so that is a process).  I am learning how to make things we crave from scratch.  Totally from scratch and all by hand.  I’m expecting a hand mixer soon, but for now, I literally just use my hands to mix everything.  Fortunately, I’m good at cooking and baking, but baking has never been a passion of mine.  Still, if I want something, I will try to make it at least once to see how it goes.  So far, I’ve made poptarts, hot pockets, pie and sherbet–all with great success.  Saturdays are reserved for baking.  My kitchen just becomes a disaster and we pray for electricity so that the stuff can actually bake.  So far, we’ve had decent luck there.  Of course, we also need water so we can clean up the kitchen.  T.I.E.

Paperwork?  We’ve made it no secret that we are waiting on paperwork to get our work permits and residency cards before we can really dig in and start doing what God has brought us here to do.  So, what’s that process like?  Why is it taking so long?  I don’t even know if I can adequately describe it.  I’ll just use one example.  We needed health checks to submit with our paperwork for work permits.  They needed to come from a government hospital/clinic.  A friend told me about one that specialized in these, so we got directions.  First, we needed passport photos.  We got those taken Sunday and picked them up Monday.  Next, we went to the office where we will be working so that they could issue us a letter requesting these health checks.  Then, the real fun began.  We had a map with no street names, of course, and headed off to find this government clinic.  We drove all over the city and never found it.  Turns out, we drove right past it at least once, but the sign had no English, so how could we ever have known?  We did find another government hospital and went inside hoping that someone would take pity on our lost-ness and help.  Someone did and we were directed to an office on the third floor.  We went, they directed us to an office in another part of the compound.  We walked there.  That man directed us somewhere else and had a lady take us.  Guess where she took us?  Back up to that third floor office.  It was a “no”, yet again.  So, we went back to the office in another part of the compound.  The man in charge there took us to some other office on the 2nd floor and there was a sign stating that all the staff was in a training for the next two weeks.  Of course.  We wondered if all this stair climbing was the physical exam!  That man asked us to come back at 8:30 the next morning to see if any of the staff could help before starting their training.  Okay…T.I.E.  The next day, we decided to go a different route.  An Ethiopian man who works closely with our organization drove us to a clinic he knew about.  They could not help us and told us we’d have to submit urine samples and have our blood drawn.  Peeing in a cup is something I can do anywhere, having someone stick a needle in me is something I’m a bit more hesitant about.  Not because I don’t like blood or needles, but if you had seen these facilities, you would have hesitated, too.  I was moved to tears at the first hospital because of the great need for medical care and the lack of it.  I found myself wishing that Chris knew the language and could just help everyone.  He would be so great at that.  God has a plan…but now I’m way off topic.  We asked our friend to try finding the original clinic where we would not have to do lab work.  He knew right where it was (PRAISE GOD!).  We drove there, he confirmed that we could get the health check we needed without lab work with two different employees, but was told we needed to come back in an hour.  No problem, it was lunch time anyway.  We ate lunch and then went back.   They asked him to run and get two copies of the forms we needed because they didn’t have a way to copy them.  T.I.E.  We waited.  He came back and then went to the next window where we had to pay.  We waited some more.  We went inside with our receipts and they gave us papers to go get blood samples and give urine.  UGH!  No, not happening.  He tried to reason with them and learned that they had just changed their policy (perhaps just for us on that day???).  Chris and I were ready to leave, but he suggested he talk to the doctor to see if there was anything that could be done.  He tried.  The doctor said “no”.  Then, two women (maybe nurses) told everyone to leave the room except for me.  Okay…  I sat down nervously, she asked why we didn’t want to have labs done there.  I told her I was nervous about the needles being sterile.  She asked my height and weight, filled out the form and sent me to room #7.  Same for Chris.  We took our papers to room #7, they stamped them, made them official and we have our health checks.  I am dumbfounded.  I still don’t know what happened there, but we are just grateful that it’s over.  At least, we think it’s over.  I suppose the government officials could ask why there are no lab results reported and then we’re back at square 1, but we’re going to submit them as is and see what happens.  So, simple health check, two days.  And that sums up the paperwork process here.  I could go into how we got our drivers licenses, but that would take another 20 minutes.  Let’s just say, we’ve seen God move some mountains for us, but they must be heavy, awkward mountains because they sure try our patience while we’re waiting for them to be moved!

Transportation is another fun issue.  Taxi drivers really like to charge a ferenge (foreigner) price.  We do not really like to pay a ferenge price.  Sometimes, taxi drivers show up when they say they will.  Sometimes, they do not.  We have had some very pleasant experiences with drivers one day and then feel totally ripped off or insulted by the same driver the next.  It is taxing to communicate adequately through the language barrier and frustrating for both parties to get through the cultural differences.  We have kind of exhausted our resources for drivers and so we’re just stuck at home unless another missionary family volunteers to take us somewhere (which they’ve been great about, by the way).  We were hopeful to get our little VW Bug last Thursday, but then we got caught in a language/cultural barrier/paperwork snafu mess that put a stop to the whole deal.  We will try again this week.  Having our own transportation will certainly relieve a lot of the pressures we’re feeling right now and will provide some much needed independence, but I know it will also welcome a whole new world of stress and complication, as well.  There are no driving lanes here.  People just go.  Fortunately, they do not go fast, but it’s still disorganized and chaotic.  We are nervous to drive here, but I’ll get over that in order to be able to go to the grocery store when I need to.  I know the car will have issues.  It was built in 1969, for crying out loud.  I don’t know how we’ll find a mechanic or communicate with them, but VW Bugs are all over this city, so we know that parts are available and they can be fixed.  So, that’s transportation.

Car shopping?  That’s nothing short of a nightmare.  House shopping isn’t much better, we just WAY lucked out and found our house on day #2.  Others have spent weeks looking.  When you go to shop for a car, you have to drive all over the city with a delala (broker).  He calls various people he knows that are selling their cars and they meet you somewhere.  Problem #1 with this is that you have to have a car to get to where you can see the car you are looking at.  Uh huh.  Once you get to the car, you look it over, you examine the engine, the interior and the body.  Then, the owner expects you to start the negotiations.  Talk about awkward.  So, you start.  They scoff and state a price that is much higher.  Higher than we told the delala we could pay.  Why?  Every.single.time.  1/2 an hour completely wasted.  You make nice, tell the owner it’s a lovely car, get back into the one you’re paying to drive you all over at some ridiculous (ferenge) rate and drive off to the next one.  Repeat about 8 times in one day and you have two very burnt out missionaries.  We have done this a few times.  We give up, for now.  We are buying the VW Bug from a British man who is leaving the country soon.  No delala involved.  $2000 cash, our personal cash.  Now at least we can get to see other cars on our own in the future.  There will still be a delala involved, but we will just pursue cars we have seen listed online or on billboards instead of just leaving it all in the hands of the delala who does not understand that we are not being stingy.  This is not our $.  We only have so much.  We know we’re Americans, but we’re missionaries.  We don’t have $130,000 to spend on a 10 year old Land Cruiser.  We just don’t.  Not that we would if we did.

The weather?  I have absolutely NO complaints about that.  It is honestly like 75-85 and sunny every single day.  The weather never changes.  It cools off at night to 50-60.  Every day is the same.  Well, until rainy season.  Then, I might complain.  It rains nearly every day for hours and mud is everywhere, but we haven’t experienced it yet, so I really can’t say how we’ll feel about it.  On the plus side, it won’t be snow and there will be less dust.  Because dust is EVERYWHERE.  Honestly, when washing clothes, the water left gives a whole new meaning to the term “grey water”.  It is disgusting.  Floors have to be mopped at least twice a week.  It’s just dusty, but that doesn’t really bother us.  It’s just life in Africa.  Right now, we’re experiencing the season called short rains.  It rains for about an hour each evening and then through the night some.  The first day it rained, we were ecstatic.  It was just the change in weather that was so welcome.  I prefer the sunshine, but rain is fun.  The kids played outside in it for about an hour that first evening.  I think our guard thought we had lost our minds.  He laughed at us a lot.  We were happy to bring some joy into his life.  Tonight, we went for a walk in the rain to a local shop for some chips and Snickers.  Yep, we can get Snickers here.  Now, who could complain about anything after knowing that?

Oh, bugs!  I could complain about bugs.  The property next door to us is a swamp.  Honestly.  They are planning to build on it, so they drain it every single day and every single day it fills back up with water.  When we first moved in, it was just standing water.  We had so many mosquitoes it wasn’t even funny.  Now, they’re not so bad.  We got a fan, too, that blows all night so I think that helps.  Fleas are a different story.  We live on Farmville Rd. (no, not really, but it should be called that).  There are so many animals traveling our road each day that there are just fleas.  Sometimes, your pants pick them up and they’ll bite your leg 20 times before you know it.  So far, we don’t have a flea problem in our house at all (thank GOD), but we’ve all suffered from flea bites.  I know, EW!  We agree and itchy.  So itchy.  I have prayed for just two days with no bug bites.  God has honored that request.  I should pray for two months without them, or maybe just two years.  I hear the bugs just get worse in the rainy season, but I’m not going to think about that for now.

So, animals.  They are EVERYWHERE.  It is so odd.  This city has anywhere from 4-8 million people in it, depending on who you ask.  Yet, there are farm animals everywhere.  You constantly have to watch for random goats or bulls that will just wander out into traffic.  Our street has donkeys, roosters, chickens, goats, sheep, cows, bulls and dogs…so many dogs.  I have stopped doing a double take every time I see a herd of goats being walked down the road, but it is still odd to me when I stop and think about it.  Adjusting to life in America again is going to be weird.  Animals are kept penned up and they do not roam cities like Chicago freely.  One thing I will miss is the braying of the local donkey.  Have you ever heard one?  It doesn’t say heehaw.  It sounds like it is dying every time it makes a sound.  It is not cute.  It is so strange.  It makes us laugh every time we hear it.  I don’t think I had ever heard one before moving here.  It’s just…something else.

Professionals.  Since our home is still unfinished, we’ve encountered several professionals.  A plumber will come and try to fix three problems.  He will make two worse and kind of fix one.  Of course, he comes with no tools.  We loan him ours, we have all of 5 that we’ve collected since we got here.  In the end, Chris has actually fixed more of the plumbing issues than the plumber has.  He comes every two weeks, or so.  The list was first 6 issues.  It’s now down to three, but a couple more popped up in there in the meantime.  Chris fixed three, the plumber fixed one.  The electrician is no better.  We actually caught him pouring water into a hole in the wall where wires were coming out one day.  What?  We still don’t know.  He comes with one tool.  It is a meter to test if outlets are working or not.  Not.  Actually, he has fixed all but one.  We have no outlet in our kitchen for smaller appliances. They are in a different room.  T.I.E.  We have been told he’ll fix it one day, but we’ve been here 8 weeks, so just when that day might happen is a total mystery and definitely not something we are counting on.

Are you laughing yet? Crying yet?  Do you think we’re nuts?  Honestly, all of this puts a smile on my face as I write it.  This is just our life.  We’re not angry, we’re not frustrated to the point of giving up, it just is what it is.  T.I.E. with our hands thrown up in the air and our shoulders shrugged has become our common response to just about everything.  What can you do?  You can get mad.  You can feel like the most miserable person on the planet.  Or, you can just roll with the punches.  So far, we’re doing a pretty great job of rolling with the punches and there have been a LOT of punches.  I mean, we’ve had our days where we’ve tossed around the idea of giving up, but we’re still here.  It’s probably a good thing that flight home is long and expensive.  It keeps us from booking a ticket in the horrible moments where Ethiopia wins.  We’ve had many more “we win” days than “Ethiopian wins” days, so that’s good.

Now, for our favorites.  The people here are lovely.  We do enjoy them.  We are learning how to communicate–at least the formalities.  We refuse to be here for two years and not learn the language, so we are constant students–just of our surroundings and those around us.  The language here is certainly a challenge.  But, we find it really fun to learn new words and then use them.  We ask how to say things and then we practice.  I’m even learning to read the fidels.  If you don’t know what those are, google it.  It’s a challenge, for sure.  I want to be able to talk to our neighbors, they seem like great people.  I want to be able to communicate with our guard.  He is such a kindhearted man, we can just tell.  I like him.  I want him to know Jesus.  I need to learn how to tell him.  We are often greeted warmly by people we see.  It’s nice to be able to greet them back.  Sometimes, we are called out for being ferenge, but we know how to diffuse that.  We are learning.  We like learning.  We like the people–no, LOVE the people.  Truly, this is a beautiful country with even more beautiful people.  Their nature is just so gentle and warm.  They are very direct, which we are getting used to, but don’t mind.  It’s just different.  For example, if they need something from you, they will just say, “Give me_____.”.  No please, no thank you, no you’re welcome.  It’s just the culture.  I like direct.  I can live with this difference.  Except for when it comes from my kids, that is still not okay.

Speaking of, our kids LOVE it here.  Don’t ask Gavin if he wants to go back “home”.  This IS home.  Reily is in his own world most of the time and he’s happy wherever he is as long as he’s with his family.  Kayla doesn’t seem to notice the difference.  She does often ask if we can go to grandma’s house because she doesn’t get the geography, but she’s such a happy little girl.  I wouldn’t say this feels like home to us yet, I don’t know if it ever really will, but I do know there are a lot of things we will miss about life in Ethiopia when we do head to the States again.  The weather being #1.  The people being #2.

Ministry here is going to be a challenge because of the language barrier, but God will make a way.  We have already been presented with a few different opportunities that we are very excited about.  We’ll share more about those in our upcoming newsletter.  Most of all, we are glad to be where God wants us.  He designed this path, He brought us here for a reason.  We would not be any happier anywhere else because we would not be where God wanted us (even if that location did have spaghettios and frozen waffles).  I promise.  There is no better place to be than in the will of God.  We know that we are.  He gives us what we need to sustain us even in the uncomfortable moments.  He has not left our side.  He has a plan for our lives and we have great peace with that.  I suppose that is why we can throw our hands in the air and just say T.I.E. and embrace the fact that tomorrow is a new day.

So, there you have it.  This is the nitty gritty of our life in Africa.  It is not glamorous, it is not easy.  It is a challenge, even the simplest things can be a challenge.  But, we press on.  No, it is not all rainbows, lollipops and unicorns, but we are content.  Our hearts are at peace.  We are glad we are here.  We truly can’t imagine being anywhere else right now.  If you want to know how to pray for us, please pray that we would continue to be encouraged to press on.  Please pray that our paperwork would come through quickly so that we can get to work.  Please pray that we would wake up to a tank full of water in the morning.  I would really like to do some laundry and take a shower.




2 responses

  1. Hey Betsy,

    You are an unbelievable writer – I feel like I have just visited you!! I would certainly find it hard not to have 24/7 electricity and water as well as plumbers and electricians that know what they’re doing, but God has not called me to Africa!! Your mom often shares with me how things are going for you. She is so proud of the way you are baking from scratch!! I am also one who never enjoyed cooking or baking; my main goal was just to get something halfway nutritious into stomachs. It is certainly wonderful that the kids love it there – that is SOOOO HUGE. We pray for you often and will pray specifically for the needs you mention.

    We had a wonderful time in Phoenix as I am sure you have heard from your folks. There’s nothing like having friends for 40+ years who know you inside and out and still love you.

    Sarah is hanging on with the two boys in her tummy (Spencer and Avery but maybe Bennett). Angel is pregnant again and due in October. We will have 4 grandchildren all of a sudden!

    Keep up the posts!
    Sherry Kallies | Neurosurgery Research | 507-293-1963 Phone | 507-284-5206 Fax |
    Mayo Clinic | 200 First Street SW | Rochester MN 55905 |

  2. I’m soo happy to know the whole story, although i figured as much. 😉 do you ever think about contacting the friends from the guesthouse? did you get to know Workineh or Belaynesh? Workineh taught us about 75 words/phrases to use when we came back our second time. I don’t have his email anymore, but I’m sure I could find someone who does. And Belaynesh is on my FB page as “Beli”. I am praying for your family, friend.You are always in my thoughts and prayers. HUGS!!!

    p.s…..when we were there we were invited into a home and came out full of fleas. we were later reprimanded by guesthouse staff for walking the streets alone (if only they knew we actually entered a home). AND……we live in a pasture full of animals. in the summer especially, we are woken by braying donkeys and cows mooing. I hate them. hate. 🙂 but not much different from what we woke up to in Eth.

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