Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Contented Ethiopian

Currently I’m typing up reports from our scholarship students about how their last semester went. It’s not uncommon to hear some tragic news in these reports that a student hasn’t mentioned before. The happy events usually come out quicker, over the phone or through another faculty member.

But the following comment from one of the Ethiopian students caught my attention in a good way. “Since I got the scholarship, I am living [a] wonderful life, praising the Lord. I haven’t any problem, I am too happy a man; eating well, sleeping well, studying hard. Just I am enjoying life with God.”

I’ve eaten at the cafeteria and slept at the Athi campus. Trust me, it’s no cushy life he’s talking about. That is contentment that hits me with conviction about my own life. I wish I could say something like this more often.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Lion of Judah

This is the symbol of Ethiopia! It’s nearly everywhere you look, on monuments and crests over doors of public buildings, even stamped on coins. At one time it was part of the Ethiopian flag and many still prefer it. Again this is something that seems a bit foreign for Africa. Yet, this is a country that has a remarkably old history – and one they are very proud was never colonized. It was a part of the culture already there when modern historians showed up.So the Ye Yihuda Anbesa (Lion of Judah) is truly theirs.

Monday, April 26, 2010

What’s the Cure?

One day in Addis we went to Cure Hospital to see the work of Dr. Paul Lim, our host for this week in Addis. I didn’t realize until another friend told me later that Paul started this hospital. Cure Hospital specializes in correcting birth deformities; particularly cleft lip and palate and orthopedic issues. Paul does the surgeries for babies born with cleft lip and palate problems.

On the way we passed a vehicle and our driver, Alazar said, “That’s Judy!” He waved to her driver. We had a stop to make, so later on when we got there we found that Judy is the lactation specialist for the hospital. It hadn’t occurred to me that children with cleft pallet wouldn’t be getting the nutrition they need due to not being able to nurse like most babies. After surgery they need to learn how to eat properly.

Judy is a high energy woman who moved us through the hospital explaining a number of things that happen there and people that do them. Judy gave us details about the children she’s treated and told us about her nursing groups. She introduced to a young one that was on his way into a second surgery. Finally she talked about a little boy whose mom is giving him up.

This mother’s story is probably not all that uncommon. She was engaged to be married, was messing around with another guy and got pregnant. Both men dumped her. Then her nice Orthodox family kicked her out because of the disgrace she was to them. On top of all the rejection and shame, she gave birth to a little baby boy with a double cleft lip and palate. This was likely interpreted as a curse.

Nearly my first thought was of how depressed the mother must be. She’s probably in her 20’s and probably feels very alone. Her life is truly in ruins and without a lot of options for her in the future. Judy confirmed that she was very depressed. She hadn’t even named her little boy initially.

They can’t do surgery until this little guy is 3 months old. And they will probably do two or more surgeries because of the complications involved in a double cleft. Now it seems that Judy is searching for a family to foster the little guy until she can find someone to adopt him. She already has a list of three or four folks that may take him. But care for him in the interim is needed.

Life can be so hard sometimes. I’m sure it’s that way no matter where you are in the world. But on this continent it often feels there are no options left. If you think of it, pray for the best life this little guy could have.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Originally Ethiopian

Some claim the coffee bean was first used for its stimulating effect in Ethiopia as early as the 9th century. From there is spread to the Middle East (Yemen and Arabia) and Egypt. Coffee has had seasons of being for religious use only or other prohibitions. But it’s certainly a part of current Ethiopian culture.In addition to a nice cappuccino at some more upscale cafés in Addis, we were privileged to have two coffee ceremonies performed for us.
You start with ‘green’ beans which are washed, then roasted before you on a small charcoal burner.
A traditional coffee pot is placed on the coals with water inside to boil while the beans are cooled a bit and then ground. The coffee is then put right in the water to boil with it. I would call that cowboy coffee. (How you make it when you’re camping.)The table at a coffee ceremony is low and decorated for the occasion. The cups are tiny because the coffee is strong. After it bubbled up through the neck of the coffee pot a couple of times it’s ready. Then it’s poured with some flair into the cups and served to the guests.One of our hostesses added just a touch of cinnamon when roasting the beans. Another added a little incense to the charcoal burner for extra ambiance.
If you know me, you know I like coffee. If you know me well, you know that I sometimes have a hard time with the effects of coffee. I had to pace myself. But it was a wonderful part of this rich culture.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Umbrella Culture

Evidentially the Queen of Sheba, who was most surely an Ethiopian, carried a parasol to visit King Solomon. (Or rather it was carried for her.) It’s clearly depicted in the artwork chronicling the event.

Special church parasols have become a part of the Orthodox High Church practice. We even visited a museum where very old parasols were on display. They are still used in many church holiday events that take place nearly every other day in the Orthodox Church.But aside from the fancy, fringed bumbershoots for religious ceremonies, many people carry and use regular umbrellas for rain or sun. I found it an extraordinary practice. But at that altitude, I guess anyone could burn easily, so why not shade yourself?

I'd like to know the real origin of this practice. Who invented parasols anyway? And when was it?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

What about it – Sugar

Okay, I admit getting the phone number, SIM card thing sounds complicated because it kind of foreign to Americans anyway. But what about picking up some sugar for the house?

Near the end of our time, I realized that our bananas were getting a little ripe. I asked the house helper if she wanted to use them to make banana bread. Sweet Dirby must have already been thinking about it. She informed me they were almost out of sugar. No problem, we’ll pick some up when we are running around today.

I asked the driver to stop and he informed me that you can’t get sugar just anywhere; you can only get it from shops that are sanctioned by the government to sell it.

What? Sugar is regulated. In the end, we stopped by our driver’s house for a cup a Joe (something you must do in Ethiopia) and his son went to get the sugar for us while we ran some other errands.

It wasn’t all that expensive. But the most he could get for a person was 2 kilos (about 4.5 lbs.) It wasn’t packaged, just weighed out into a black plastic carrier bag and knotted at the top.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

How hard can it be?

I am not all that well informed about the form of government in Ethiopia. I got a quick lesson from our host about how it’s not a communist dictatorship any longer, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a dictatorship.

Never mind.

In Kenya and my guess is that most of the world outside of the US has mobile phones that take a SIM card. You buy a phone, then for a very nominal fee you also get a SIM card; this is what has your mobile number on it. If you like, you can have a couple of SIM cards from different companies, and switch out your number.

For airtime, you buy phone credit as needed and ‘top-up’. The only requirement is getting something like 250 shillings worth loaded on your phone every 3 months. (I probably go through 500 a week.) Even if you let it lapse, a trip to your local dealer will get it unlocked if you top-up at the same time.

I think the last time I got a SIM card it was 300 shillings, now I guess they are only 50 shillings, that’s under a dollar. Sometimes companies give them away as a promotion.

Since I knew my Kenyan line wouldn’t work in Ethiopia, why not just get a SIM card and then I could be connected there in Addis. Not so fast, honey.

Getting a SIM card and essentially getting a phone number in Ethiopia costs a little more. But it’s also a bit rigorous. Here is the process, step by step:

Go to the Telecommunications offices.

Get frisked going in.

Wait in line to be served.

Fill out an application (in Amharic, which totally makes sense).

With it, submit two passport photos and a copy of your national ID or passport.

Pay of fee of 95 Birr (just over $7).

Easy as - ?

I happen to have a couple passport photos in my wallet because I didn’t know if I would need them to get a visa at the airport upon arrival; I didn’t for the visa. When I didn’t have a copy of my passport nor my passport with me, I was made to promise to return with it. There is something to be said for the flexibility of all these rules.

Quite honestly, I thought all this care taken for issuing a phone number to me for a week’s use was over the top. I really had no intention of returning the following day with a copy of my passport. That was not until the man who waited on me at the telecommunications office called the following morning to remind me to bring that copy in.

Opp. They have my number.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Lucy and Iranian Youth

One of our days in Addis was spent at the National Museum. It’s not big and fancy like the Met or something. But is houses the bones of Lucy, thought to be the oldest, nearly complete set of ‘nearly’ human bones.

I’m not terribly articulate at what I think of carbon dating and the age of things like Lucy found in archeological digs. But oddly enough I was reading a book on the trip that used an example of someone presenting an ancient sculpture to a museum for sale. Every curator that saw it knew in an instant that it wasn’t right. But 14 months of testing proved it to be the correct age of such sculptures. It had a patina on it that could only come with the aging of thousands of years, or so they thought.

It turned out that all the curators gut reactions were right. And some kind of potato mold could create the same patina in a relatively short time. I don’t understand the science. But it makes me confident that what other expert tests are sure of, could be very wrong.

On the shuttle to the Lalibela Airport I was seated next to a young business man from Iran. He was in a chatty mood and so I let him lead a conversation. He asked if I believed in evolution. I gave a minimal opinion which only fueled his about how the youth of his country are starting to side in favor of evolution and science which in turn in causing quite a stir in the religious circles there.

I tried my level best to help him see that even scientists can be wrong, and even they need ‘faith’ to close the gaps in their work. But he was sticking to his beliefs in the area of evolution.
Lucy is a little creepy, and so were some of her friends in the basement of the National Museum.

More Shots of Rock Hewn Churches - Lalibela

Here is the one that looks like a cross from the top, looking at it from the bottom.
I have a thing for doors and windows.

Local dwellings - though not all people live in these. There are cement block structures as well.
The window through this doorway is shaped like the top of the towers build in the more northern town of Axum.
Jane with our guide standing by one of the rock hewn pools. Some were for baptism, others like this one are for fertility. (Little sycretism going on.)

Monday, April 19, 2010


A couple days after arriving in Addis we flew to Lalibela, famous for its monolith, rock-hewn churches, eleven of them. The day went between slightly overcast and full sunshine. It started out a pleasant temp – but grew hot as the day wore on. The churches are fairly close together but there are some steep hikes at an altitude of 8500 feet. Needless to say, we were out of breath a few times.Jane, my traveling companion and long-time friend quickly observed the constant stream of tourists, thus Western income contrasted with the very poor lifestyles of those who live in the village. It would appear that all this influx of money has not filtered down to affect the standard of living.This is a town steeped in history and lore. The churches are stunningly incredible. It’s hard to imagine carving down over 55 feet into solid rock to make a building. Let alone doing it by hand. These churches are about 900 years old. There are all kinds of caves and tunnels, deep foot paths and strange stone cut pools.
After a while you realize that even though the churches are very much in use and ceremonies happen often, there isn’t real life in this religion. And perhaps that is the reason for the extraordinary poverty in a village with such a large foreign capital income.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Besides Beautiful People

One of the wonderful things about Ethiopia is the beautiful handiwork of the people of this land. One of our first stops was at a leprosy hospital that has a shop for goods made there. This woman was sitting outside stitching one of those famous Ethiopian designs.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

My Travel Mate, Jane

Here's Jane bargaining (in English) for that Ethiopian dress she has on. Needless to say, she didn't get it.

A Land Full of Beautiful People

As you may remember, I am a sort of connoisseur of faces. I love to drink in the faces of the places I visit. And I probably love those of East Africa the best. What can I say, I’m biased.

Ethiopia is full of beauties. I can’t even explain how absolutely gorgeous nearly everyone is. Ever waitress or service person could be a model. I don’t think I would ever tire of comparing high cheek bones, straight noses and flowing hair. Jane Kilonzo went with me. Jane is Kenyan, Kamba to be exact. And Jane has a bit of an unusually light complexion for a Kenyan. Back in the 90’s when Jane and I would go to aerobics class together we had a friend who was Indian descent. We compared their skin tones finding them essentially the same.

Since Ethiopians are often considered to be a little lighter than Kenyans, I realized on the plane that Jane might get mistaken for an Ethiopian. I told her as much. Maybe even ‘warned’ her that she better learn a little Amharic fast. She assured me that her features were completely Kenyan and that wouldn’t happen.

Ha. People were still speaking to her in Amharic in the Ladies Room after we landed back in Nairobi, knowing she had gotten off the same flight. Jane fit right in with the beauties of Ethiopia. If we dressed her up in their traditional clothes, she’d have to learn the language!

As for me, I would be happy to say amäsägnalähu to each lovely face I saw.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Feeling a little Green

And not in the enironmentally friendly way. Today was a bit of a wash. I haven't been feeling all that well and I'm just going to head to bed, praying I don't have some odd African illness. (Addis is too high for malaria, so it can't be that.)

Here is my very first impression - this was taken when we stepped out of the airport. I promise more info this weekend. Note the Orthodox church smack in the middle. (dang light pole.)

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Back from the Black

Just a quick note to let you know I’m back and well - happy and tired. There is so much to tell you about the trip that I will have to sit and do some considerable writing. There are some definite ‘themes’ to this new land I discovered. Addis is far more laid-back than Nairobi. The people of Ethiopia are stunningly beautiful. And there is certainly an umbrella culture to the place.

I’ll explain more in the coming days. Suffice to say, I really liked it there! I’d go back in a heartbeat.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

"Blackness" of the Blog - for a Week

In a way it’s a shame, my readership has become more consistent and since I started blogging on a more regular basis. (Not that you would know it from the comments section.)

The shame isn’t in the increased readership; it’s in the fact that I am going to be away from the internet for a whole week! It seems hard to imagine. My friend, Molly went black for a day to do her taxes. But a whole week? Let’s just chalk it up to being in Africa.

I’m going on vacation to meet some friends from Minneapolis in Addis Ababa. I may be able to get on to the net while I’m away, but I have no plans to at this point. I simply plan to have a really good time!

Sorry in advance for the ‘blackness’ of the blog. But I hope to have some great photos when we get back. We being my friend, Jane Kilonzo who is going with me on vacation. – An added treat.

Hope to see you around Thursday or Friday next week. God willing, I'll post some cool photos then.

Monday, April 5, 2010

What I’m Reading

Last night I came to the following portion in A Praying Life by Paul Miller

When [Jesus] first greets [Mary Magdalene] outside the tomb (on Easter morning), he deliberately conceals his identity; then he draws her out with a question. “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” (John 20:15). It is classic Jesus, a genuine question mixed with a tender rebuke. She doesn’t need to cry because he is alive. Jesus stands at the edge of the story, unwilling to overwhelm her so that a richer, fuller Mary could emerge. He allows her pain to continue for just a moment so Jesus the person could meet Mary the person.

Mary responds, thinking he is the gardener, “Sir, if you had carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away” (20:15). Of course, she couldn’t “take him away” because she is too small. Her words imply that she has servants or access to people who do. She has wealth, access, and chutzpah. Luke tells us that she, along with several other women, “provided for [Jesus and the disciples] out of their means” (8:2-3). If Jesus had disclosed himself immediately, we’d never have discovered Mary, the manager. This new Adam is a gentle gardener.

Jesus announces his presence by just saying her name: “Mary,” In other words, “Mary, stop your rushing, your planning. I was always here, at the edge of the story. I am all you need.” It is so like him to identify himself so simply, so subtly. It is pure poetry.

Many of us wish God were more visible. We think that if we could see him better or know what is going on, then faith would come more easily. But if Jesus dominated the space and overwhelmed vision, we would not be able to relate to him. Everyone who had a clear-eyed vision of God in the Bible fell down as if he were dead. It’s hard to relate to pure light.

from pages 192-193

Sunday, April 4, 2010

An Easter Celebration

Easter Brunch a day early - with old friends and new ones.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

In Your Vernacular

What person doesn’t love his native language? Maybe Americans don’t really think about it because more often than not, they only know one language.

I remember when I lived in England, working with OM, there was only one guy from France on the team that worked in the book distribution warehouse. One time I caught him in the aisles of the store room talking out loud in French. Being the bold American, I asked, “What are you doing?” He flipped over to English saying, “I like to hear my language.”

I was recently thinking about how some of the Kikuyus and Kambas I know love their mother tongue so much. They are so proud to speak it. And some that I know who grew up abroad didn’t learn it growing up. Some came to it late and some just don’t know it well.

I think of this as I type because I’m listening to the kids from my complex playing outside. They are all Kenyan, and they almost always play in English. Yes, maybe they come from several different tribes, but you would think their recreational language would at least be Swahili. It’s not.

It makes me wonder what language their parents speak in the home. I wonder if they will one day wish they knew their mother’s tongue.

Friday, April 2, 2010


As I was preparing for some guests at my house, I was thinking about all the special considerations of water for consumption here. I was serving fresh veggies, tea, coffee and various other snacks.
Water going into the coffee maker has to be filtered because the coffee maker just heats, not boils the water.
Blanched vegetables need to be cooled in filtered water, not tap.
And fresh veggies that aren’t being blanched need to be ‘disinfected’ then rinsed in filtered water. Boiling water is sufficient for tea or any kind of drinking. But filtered is probably better. Doing both is a good idea when you are prone to tummy problems like I am. It’s a little complicated to keep all the pieces in mind.
It’s certainly not the same as just getting it all out of the tap.
And while all of this is necessary, it's not the same as Living Water.
Happy Good Friday.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Happy April Fool's Day

While Americans are fooling each other today with little April Fool's jokes, the weather has tricked us here.

I woke this morning to what appears to be a very England-ish looking day. It's lush and green outside and there is a soft rain falling. A huge contrast to the storms with thunder and lightening over the past days and weeks. The visibility is low. And I need to drive out to Athi campus today. So, I should be off.

The weather will probably trick me again. If I take a sweater, it will be hot and sunny by noon. Typical Nairobi.