From Jenna … It is hard to believe that it has already been a week since we arrived from the capital, Addis. I am here in Jimma and loving life as usual. It has been a very easy transition this time around, as everything feels very normal and familiar. As much as I hate that cheesy song in How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, I have found myself singing, “It feels like home to me” all this week. The Sisters and Abba Lukas are hilarious. The students are just amazing. The community of girls I am with is wonderful and we get along well. It is good to be back.
Many people have asked me why I have chosen to go back to Jimma this year and the answer is fairly simple. In addition to having an amazing time and feeling an intense sprit of unity, it goes beyond that. Since language is a consistent barrier, I found last year I could never explain to my students and friends here how much they touched me and changed me. But by coming back again my hope is that maybe, just maybe, they will see it as a symbol of my commitment and love to them in return. I hope they can understand that being here is not just a fun, interesting summer program for me to serve and learn from, but rather a dedication to this community and people. When you can’t use words, maybe actions do speak louder. Thus another wonderful summer ahead. Let the adventures begin!
It has been great seeing all the Sisters and Abba Lukas again. After all the I miss you’s and love you’s were completed, I was immediately informed by Sr. Hike, “Oh Janna has gained weight since last year!” Perfect, it’s great to see you too! They don’t mince words around here and she has since told me it’s been at least 10 kilos (12 pounds!) and didn’t give me a lollipop when she passed them out to my housemates. Haha, Biggest Loser, here I come! But seriously, they are so amazing. They take incredible care of us and shower us with love. They also crack me up with their English phrasing. Abba asked me if we had walked to his house for lunch from the school (about 35 minutes) and I said that we did. He responded, “Oh was this a good appetizer for you?” Haha, and Sister Tsigue was asked if she wanted sugar in her tea, to which she replied, “I am sweet for myself, I don’t know how I taste for you.” Ok, maybe these are “you had to be there” kind of jokes but trust me, if you were here, you’d be laughing…
I have been very interested to see if things have changed at all since last year. There does seem to be more development happening and some good progress. Many women development center projects, such as purse making, candles, and most recently weaving, are all going well. The Daughters broke ground a few months again to add 1st and 2nd grade classrooms to the school, but have unfortunately had to pause this construction since the price of cement has continued to rise and is not financially feasible to purchase at this time. Yet they are optimistic that hopefully building will continue soon. Electricity and power continue to be a constant struggle as well. Winter is the rainy season in Ethiopia and last year, I remember it rained at least once a day. However in the first week I have been here it has only rained 3 times. This does not bode well for a community heavily dependent on hydroelectricity. The town is currently on a one day on, one day off pattern with the electricity, although where I am staying with the parish priest Abba Lukas, we can have 2 days in a row without it. The lack of rain and electricity is tough on the crops, especially teff which is the main ingredient in the bread they eat, and keeping food fresh is hard as well without consistent refrigeration. But it is what it is. Lack of light allows us to spend more time together in close quarters and we are enjoying the company. As one of the bishops of Geneva said back in the day, “If a thing can be looked at from a hundred angles, we should always look at it from the best.” It’s a good lesson for a complainer like me… 🙂
On to my favorite part…the kiddos! I cannot even tell you how exciting it was to see them all again. I am fortunate enough to have the same beautiful 5th and 6th graders at Gingo that I had last year. They look a little taller, a little thinner, and equally as brilliant. Most were wearing the exact same outfit they had last year, which made it easier for me to remember their names, but sad that their impoverished situations had not improved. Nevertheless we were reunited together at last, giving endless smiles, hugs and kisses. That first afternoon when I came home and washed my arms and hands, the water was so dirty that it almost looked black. Still I almost felt a little guilty washing off so much love. They have kept me laughing as usual immediately wanting to sing “Snap your fingers” and “Happy Days.” This year I have “Peace Train” and the Cupid Shuffle in the works. Could you imagine how hilarious it would be to see 50 Ethiopian children breaking it down to the Cupid Shuffle in unison? We would put the Cowboy Lounge (or any bar hosting a Ladies Night) to shame! Haha — anyways, I digress.
They actually remembered a lot of what I taught them…who woulda thunk? We ran through the alphabet last week and they yelled out words they knew. We got to J and this one boy kept saying, “jelly” over and over. I said, “Yes, good, jelly.” And he kept saying, “No, JEL-LY.” I’m like, “Yes, jelly, gobez (good job).” Until finally he looked like he was going to burst. Then finally I realized he was not saying “jelly” but JET LI! Haha whoops, Jet Li, my bad. Their pop culture references always crack me up. For M, they of course came up with Michael Jackson. I haven’t seen a tv anywhere in their village, and yet they know it all. Smart little guys.
Every morning I ask the students to answer some questions in their notebooks and then they proudly show me their work. One of the questions was, “Name 3 fruits.” One of the boys scribbles something and quickly waves me over to show me his prized notebook with all his answers. I couldn’t help but chuckle when he wrote in response: My name is Kaheed. I then said, “Fruits…bananas, mangoes…” And he got all embarrassed and smacked his head, realizing his mistake. I reassured him it was ok, and sent him back. He then busted out 3 fruits easily, and showed me again. Our eyes met and we both smiled knowing that we had understood each other. I can barely understand his language and he can barely understand mine, but somewhere our barely’s connected. It’s that moment of connection that makes it all worthwhile.
We have a problem here that does not seem to be a problem anywhere in the US. Too many kids want to go to school. I am only supposed to take 5th and 6th graders and every day, more and more try to sneak in. They know if they are in 7th or 8th grade, they cannot come so they all tell me they are in grade 6 and then quickly look away. Their eyes always speak the truth. In the US kids fake sick and lie so they can skip school, here kids lie so they can go. Education is so important here. When I was walking home with one of my students, she all of sudden pushes me into this woman selling fruit by the side of the road. At first I was confused, but then she explained to me that this woman was her mother. This older woman instantly starting kissing me 6 or 7 times, so grateful that I was teaching her daughter. The community, especially the women, are so thankful that we can teach the kids English, and hopefully give them a better life than they had. Teaching is truly a respected profession here.
I should probably start wrapping up this bad boy pretty soon. Although things are pretty familiar and consistent, I am still learning a lot about how little we really need in life, as far as materials go. I’m not gonna lie, I was pretty proud of myself this year that I brought half as much stuff as last time, taking only what I truly thought I needed. I was quickly taught another lesson when we arrived in Addis and were told we could only bring one suitcase on the bus with us instead of the two we brought, so again what I brought needed to be cut in half. Haha, I guess I didn’t truly need all that I thought I did! We were told the rest of our bags would come “later.” We shall see.
A’ight, last story, yesterday was the 4th of the July and the sisters decorated with balloons and garland for our “Independency Day.” We made some fried chicken and guacamole and sang “God Bless America” like dorks. It is the second year in a row without fireworks and bbq’s, but I actually feel like I celebrated the true meaning of what it means to be free more this year than in the past. I read in There is No Me Without You, that Nobel prize winning economist, Amartya Sen has observed, “There has never been a famine in a country with a free press.” Let us be thankful for all the freedoms and opportunities we have.