Wow! We’ve had so many experiences since arriving in Addis Ababa several days ago. I hope you’ve been able to read some of the previous posts about the amazing things happening here.
I’m always fascinated with the many cultural differences when visiting other countries. I often have to remind myself to think “Oh, so this is how they do (fill in the blank” rather than “WHY are they doing (fill in the blank) that way?” It can be easy to fall into the trap of judgment just because the method to accomplish something is different than my own.
Here are a few cultural differences that I’ve experienced:
- Greetings: There are several ways to greet another person here in Ethiopia. The one I’ve experienced most often is a regular handshake but with an added right shoulder to right shoulder touch. People like to make contact with each other either by handholding or arms around each other while walking or standing. This includes men as well. In our culture, men holding hands with other men or walking with their arms around each other would most likely not be received kindly.
- Personal space & taxi rides: An Ethiopian taxi (similar to a VW bus) with about 11 passenger seats might carry 15-20 people. However, the taxi drivers and their assistants (who take the money and control the door of the taxi) are aware that we Americans require more space than Ethiopians. Not only do we tend to be bigger in size, we aren’t used to crowding together so close. We try to split up into groups as we ride taxis because otherwise they would want us to contract the taxi (in other words, pay more). There’s that, but there’s also the fact that we’re like a circus sideshow when all 11 of us walk down the street together.
- A collective society: Our team talked about this a little before we came, but Ethiopia is very much a collective society, as opposed to an individualistic society as we have in the U.S. For example: To feed your friend (with fingers of course…this is Ethiopia!), is a sign of respect and love. When ordering food, or making any decision really, consulting with those around you first is the norm. Ethiopians tend to default to their friend’s opinion over their own, which can sometimes result in a long decision-making process.
A few things that (I hope) have forever changed me:
- One night we took the boys who live at the guest house, including Addis, the boy you may have read about in a previous post, out to eat with us at a nice restaurant. After coming back from the bathroom to wash his hands, he claimed “I like water.”
- The idea of being blessed to literally have a roof over your head along with a few walls for shelter.
- The undeserved humbleness with which we are greeted by people we meet living with HIV/AIDS when we enter their tiny (and I mean TINY…smaller than anything you are probably imagining right now) mud houses and served injera and/or coffee simply because we are guests. They do not eat or drink regularly but they serve us what they have.
- The lingering hugs and giant smiles from the little kids at Samuel’s Home upon our arrival (see below).
Now, for the past couple of days: On Monday morning, after five full days in the city of Addis, we tied the bags of shoes we brought from the states to the top of a rented van and piled inside (11 of us, plus two translators and our driver) for the nearly 3 hour trip to Ziway. While there, we visited two schools plus another school outside of Ziway. These schools were so clean and well kept compared to any area we have seen so far. The students begin learning English, along with Amharic and Oromifa (at one school), in nursery school. The students also have the opportunity for a porridge-like nutrition drink for breakfast and a healthy lunch. The children in these schools looked cleaner and healthier than any of the children we’ve seen so far. Our team was super excited to eat lunch at one of the schools on two occasions for one reason: SALAD! We had not been able to eat any uncooked vegetables up to that point. However, since they grow the greens there at the school and wash it with bottled water (or used some sort of vegetable cleaner) for us forenge (white people), we were able to eat it. Oh! We were so happy!
On Tuesday afternoon, we began the massive task of organizing the shoe sizes, student names, and measuring the feet of each student at the 2nd-6th grade school. While we began to distribute the shoes as orderly as possible (having the kids try them on and then exchanging if necessary), part of us went into each classroom to start a bracelet-making project with the kids. The kids picked up the bracelet-making process in no time! They also had the opportunity to use letter beads we had brought with us to spell out small words. After the shoes were distributed, the school day had ended so our team taught the teachers a couple of games that they could play with their students. One of the games was the one were you use a string to tie a balloon around your ankle. The purpose is to keep your balloon from popping while popping everyone else’s balloon. Finally, the team taught the teachers the all-American game of kickball.
Finally, to end our trip to Ziway, we had a chance to visit Samuel’s Home, a ministry and refuge for about 10 young orphan children. The children live in a compound with two “house parents” and are given regular meals, showers, clothes, and care by the house parents. The house parents are Ethiopian and they all live an Ethiopian lifestyle. As far as I understood, the plan will be for them to live there until they are 18. Peggy, along with her husband Gary, administer this ministry. Their hope is for the children to be able to attend college when they are older.
So, that’s what has happened over our time in Ziway. I haven’t really written about any of the emotional things I have personally gone through while visiting. Honestly, I’m still processing. I fight the numbness that I could so easily give in to on a daily basis. I don’t want to ignore what I’m seeing. I want it to deeply affect me in ways that I cannot even imagine. I think it is, but I’m still not sure how these “lessons” I’m learning from this beautiful, yet extremely impoverished, country are going to change me once I return home.