Our Ethiopian Weekend

When you live in a foreign country, you kind of have two choices for how you will spend your time.  You can either spend all your time with the other foreigners or you can spend your time with the locals.  When we left for Ethiopia, Chris and I vowed to not spend ALL of our free time with other Americans, but forming relationships with Ethiopians has not quite been as easy or as quick as we had hoped.  This past weekend, we spent nearly all of our free time with Ethiopians, however, so maybe things are starting to change.

The street we live on is pretty diverse.  There is one other American couple, whom we have yet to really meet, two families working for the African Union, and three Ethiopian families on our side of the street–all in pretty nice (at least two story) houses.  Across the street are homes built with corrugated tin, mud, tarps, etc…  We LOVE the diversity and the fact that we aren’t surrounded by ferenge (typical word used for “white” people here–means foreigner).

We’re friendly with our neighbors, but the language barrier makes it tough to have much of a conversation.  I have given some of the kids’ outgrown clothes to neighbors, we have spent hours playing in the street with neighbor kids–a couple of girls even braided my hair before I chopped it off–and I have plans to start teaching English to some of the neighborhood kids, but we hadn’t really made friends with anyone.  A few months ago, my next door neighbor stopped me in the street and introduced herself.  She said she was an Amharic teacher at a nearby language school and that she had kids about the same ages as mine who should all play together.  I didn’t see her again until I walked into my language class 5 weeks ago and she was MY teacher.  Since we spend 3.5 hours/day together, we have started a good friendship.  Our kids have played together a few times–as a side note, I have discovered that laughter has no language barrier!  This weekend, I/we spent a good portion of the weekend together as families.

On Saturday, I was invited to the kindergarten graduation of my teacher’s youngest child.  I went with her to the local kebele (town hall of sorts) and watched for nearly 3 hours as children from grades KG-6 performed various skits/songs/poems.  I took photos and video with my camera for them–as requested.  Many of the presentations were in English, since this is a private school that teaches in English, so I wasn’t completely lost.  I was the only white face in the crowd, so I just had to ignore the stares and pointing fingers from children.  People were very gracious and the pastor of our local AG church was there watching his daughter graduate, so I even got to say hello to him and meet his wife.  After graduation, our language school group had a BBQ at Bingham (the boy’s school).  Chris picked up one of our teachers and I drove my teacher and her 5 children to the BBQ.  No one would sit in the front with me, so I was the ferenge chauffeur to a family of Ethiopians.  The BBQ was fun.

On Sunday, another of the neighbor kids graduated–from 8th grade.  We weren’t invited to that ceremony as it was during church time and quite far away, but we were invited over for tea and coffee after the ceremony.  We showed up a bit late–as that truly is normal here.  We had just gone out for lunch and ice cream.  In the back of my mind I wondered if this tea and coffee would include a meal because Ethiopians are so incredibly hospitable, but she said tea and coffee, so we ate a big lunch just before arriving at their house.  As soon as we walked into their house I knew we were in trouble.  5 kinds of wat (Ethiopian stew), plates filled with injera, soda, cookies, etc… lined the table.  I shared a plate with Kayla who ate until she literally could not fit another bite.  Chris shared a plate with Reily and Gavin ate a roll.  We held our own, but definitely did not need dinner.  Buna (coffee was served) and then a thick barley type porridge was also served to help calm the stomach after spicy food is eaten.  And then, another round of buna–this time the beans were freshly roasted.  I don’t typically like coffee, but this stuff was good (I think it had quite a bit of sugar in it).  What we thought might be an hour of coffee and tea turned into about 4 hours of everything else.  We shared a scripture reading and prayer time together–led by Chris–and then headed to our home for what was left of the evening.  What a privilege to be invited to this graduation celebration of our neighbor kids.  We felt very honored to be a part of their special day.

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It was a great weekend and as awkward and strange as adjusting to new customs can be, I think we did pretty well–not that anyone would tell us if we didn’t, Ethiopians are pretty gracious about this.  The kids did great, really.  Now, it is our turn to repay the favor and invite the neighbors over for tea and coffee (aka the whole afternoon and LOTS of food).  I just have to figure out what to serve…

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