The contents of this blog are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. Government or the Peace Corps.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Jemila


April 20, 2014

I shift a little bit to find a more comfortable spot on my yoga mat that provides a thin cushion between my concrete floor and me. My friends and I are piled around my large room, all entranced with Disney’s Robin Hood that plays on Quinn’s laptop, set up on a chair. It is Sunday, our one full day off and we have a grand plan of watching Robin Hood, relaxing, having a beer or two, and relaxing some more. Chris sings along with every single word of each song as he hands out coveted Jolly Ranchers. Then it happens. Wailing. Or is it laughing? No, definitely wailing. A chorus of high voices, not quite crying, not quite screaming, just wailing “wayyo, wayyo, wayyo.”
Since I arrived in Butajira, my host grandmother has been sickly, hardly ever leaving her bed. I only talked to her once or twice, while sitting in her room having coffee and collo with the family. But for the two weeks before that Sunday, she had become very sick. Neighbors and friends brought injera and wat, so my mom and sister could spend time taking care of my grandmother. My aunt, Asma, began spending all her time sitting on the bed next to her mom, helping her drink and encouraging her to eat.
When the wailing continued, I got up from the floor and peaked out my bedroom window to see my uncle, Hamdi, sitting on the porch with his head in his hands. I knew then. I knew that my grandmother, Jemila, had died. Just twenty feet away, her body laid in her bed, but she no longer did. My eyes caught Andrea’s and sadness passed between us. My aunt, Asma, was her host mom, and Jemila, her host grandmother too. All pretty unsure of what to do, stopping Robin Hood, Quinn, Jamie, Jake, Ellery, Chris, Bay, Andrea, and I slowly and, as quietly as possible, filed out of my room and my compound. All except Andrea and I, headed to a place we called the Secret Garden for some lunch. The two of us slowly walked back to my house, holding hands. We slipped through the crowd of women pacing and wailing in the hallway and into our living room.
My host mother, Leyila, was sitting in a chair, wearing her beautiful blue and purple, flowered shitti that I have always envied, quiet. She is not crying. Her usually animated and smiling face was an expressionless mask. I have never seen her so down, so still, so broken. I sit down next her, holding her hand on one side and my sister, Elham’s hand on the other, not knowing what else to do. After a little while, my mom’s shoulders begin to shake and, finally, tears come. Visible sadness begins to flood over her. And, although, I did not know Jemila very well, I feel her loss greatly; heavy on my heart, as I watch the new family I have come to love suffer deeply.
Over the next two weeks, my house is a buzz of activity. Never quiet and never without piles of injera and unimaginably large pots of wat. A tent miraculously popped up in the road right outside my compound by the end of that first day. Our living room, front yard, and the room next to mine that was used as a language classroom were emptied of any furniture and become a place for people to sit, eat, and sleep. For those next two weeks, people pounding coffee, cleaning dishes, and cooking misir wat wake me up every morning. Carefully, I have to pick my way over pots and pans and countless women who sit on the porch outside my room. I have been introduced to most, but all their names except a few escape me. Even though I can still see the pain my host mom is in, she tells me to eat and drink and eat some more. I take comfort in this familiar Leyila.
Slowly and surely, things wind down. The tent comes down, fewer people sleep in every room of our house, the stacks of injera lessen, my younger sister, Haniya, comes home from Asma’s house. I can see light coming back into my mom’s eyes and I can see energy coming back into Elham’s movements. I feel as though my family is back, but closer, tighter. I feel more a part of it then I ever did.
About a week after Jemila’s death I saw a picture of her in my aunt, Asma’s house. A stunning, sepia-toned portrait. Her face strong, elegant, and gorgeous. Her deep brown eyes accentuated by the fushia headscarf she wore. This is how I imagine my family to remember her and this is how I will remember her. Not old and frail, skin and bones, as I knew Jemila, but with the strength and beauty I could see in that picture, with the amazing ability to bring an unlikely family closer together. 

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Ethiopian Firsts


Feb 15, 2014- First use of a Shint Bet.
It was at a stop on our 12-hour bus ride to Demystification in Bonga and I couldn’t tell and didn’t know if there was one for male and one for female  (there isn’t). So I stood there awkwardly, examining these two Shint Bets before starting towards one and changing my mind and going into the other. Overall, it was successful, but it was dark and I couldn’t see much, so I am just assuming the best.

Feb 15, 2014- First “you, you, you, ferenj, ferenj, ferenj”
            Within one minute after we walked out of the bus station in Bonga a hoard of kids spotted us and started yelling, “you, you, you, ferenj, ferenj, ferenj, money, money, money.” This happens so much now, it’s hard to believe there were days in Ethiopia I did not hear it.

March 8, 2014- First time doing laundry in Ethiopia.
            I really shouldn’t say that I did laundry, it was more like I would start to wash a shirt or pair of pants and one of my sisters would shake their head and take it from me. They showed me several times how to do it, but never seemed to be satisfied.

March 15, 2014- First animal slaughter.
            One evening I came home after training to an endless bleating coming from our outdoor kitchen. I peaked over the flimsy piece of wood blocking the door to see what would be my dinner for the next week. My mom came out and saw me looking and smiling she said “Beg,” as she slide her finger across her neck. The next Saturday, my daily, way-too-early, wake up call would finally stop. When it was over, a dead sheep and an increasing pool of blood filled the hallway of the main house making it tougher and tougher to get from one room to the other with clean shoes. By the afternoon there was no sign that sheep had just been slaughtered in our house besides the head and end of the tail carelessly thrown into our front yard.

March 16, 2014- First attempt making Shiro.
            My sister, Elham, stood beside me, watching very closely, as she gave me step-by-step instructions on how to make shiro. Although, there was nothing more complicated than chopping onions, adding ingredients, bringing it to a boil, and stirring, my mom and sister were incredibly proud my shiro-making abilities. As my family and I ate, they insisted it was delicious and I knew they really thought it was, if only because their new ferenji daughter and sister had made it.

March 25, 2014- First Ethiopian gorsha.
            While eating with the compound family of my site mate, Amanda, on site visit the 3-year-old Isra decided to gorsha me (feed me) about eight times. No better way to feel welcome.

April 27, 2014- First shitti/pajama/Ethiopian moomoo-
            As a going away present, my amazing host mother made me a shitti. A shitti (not sure if that is actually what it is called or just the ferenji name for it) is basically just a bag of colorful, patterned cloth with a head and arms holes. It very common wear for Ethiopian women (and anybody else who happens to ever try one on). I am in danger of wearing my wonderfully comfortable bag of cloth all the time, anywhere and everywhere.

April 20, 2014- First marriage proposal.
            Day was fading into dusk as I walked home to Kebele 5 one evening and, as commonly happened, an Ethiopian man started talking to and walking with me. He told me he loved me and asked me to get coffee with him several times. After insisting I couldn’t and telling him to go away to no avail, I told him I had a boyfriend. That’s when he popped the question. “Marry me, you.” It was sweet, but I had to decline. After that I started ignoring him and he eventually lost interest. I hope the next one will be a little more romantic, or, at least, phrased as a question.

May 18, 2014-First crazy addiction.
            Almost every day around 2 or 2:30 my neighbor invites me over for coffee. We sit, drink, eat collo, and watch this completely ridiculous Bollywood drama in Arabic. I love it. I can’t understand it and my neighbors can’t understand it, but we are totally engrossed by it. Mainly, the show follows this love story of two young adults who occasionally talk, but mostly just start longingly at each other as the mood music plays softly in the background. I am now way too invested in this love story and will have make time in my extremely busy (not busy at all) day to further my addiction. 

Ethiopian Flag

Ethiopian Flag