23 April 2007

You are My Sister!

Not that I was beginning to envy DC's road experiences, but last Friday I finally joined the ranks and completed my indoctrination into the driving scene in Addis. A faranj once told me that there are two types of drivers in Addis: Those-Who've-Been-Hit and Those-Who-Will-Be-Hit.

Within my first month of driving here, I had an old Corolla attempt to pass me on the right in a crowded parking lot. Not only did I had my right signal blinking away but I had legally turned into the lot first before the blazing white Corolla barged through in my blind spot. Anyway, the result was a very minor fender-bender. I had the upper hand in that I was the one in a large, 4WD, diesel truck. Naturally, he sped off before I could even inspect the damage.

This time around however, something happened that I cannot blame on outside forces. I attempted to enter the only divided highway in the country by using an exit. Since 98% of the people with drivers' license here obey 2% of the traffic laws I figured it would not be out of the ordinary. And to avoid the sprawling traffic jam in Toro-helich, I pulled an Ethiopian move, and did what I've seen many people do: I sneaked onto the highway from the exit ramp. To my dismay, two police officers, on foot, appear from nowhere on the highway and begin blowing a referee whistle at me to pull over. Part of me thinks, I have open road and an automobile, these guys have a small whistle and boots --- why should I pull over? However, no need to mess with the law in a country that has a shaky political and legal system. I don't care to end up in some jail on the top of Entoto Mountain. So, after I pull over onto the right lane (there is no shoulder, I am just in one lane of the highway), a police officer ambles up to the window to say 'You have made big mistake, big mistake.'

Of course, I feign innocence, 'Really? I can't enter there? Oh, I didn't know! I am soooo sorry.' He asks for my license, takes a cursory look, and tells me he will have to write me a ticket and I can go to the police station in my kebele and pay it. It will cost 140 ETB (18 bucks). The thought of having to go to any government office for any unnecessary reason is very unsavory. So, I gently ask the officer, 'Is there anyway I can just pay HERE? Can't I just pay YOU, and not have to go to the kebele office?' Instantly, the police officer changes his tone. He asks me how I am doing. He asks me what country I am from. I tell him America and he gushes, 'Very cool country.' He proceeds to call me Sister, and tells me that I am his friend and I must come to his house for coffee or tea. When I gently ask again about settling up here, he informs me that because I am his Sister, I can pay now and not have to bring a ticket to the kebele (since traffic tickets often block expat's exit visa --I am more than happy to settle on the ring road). So, next I tell him all I have is 100 ETB ($11.25), and without hesitation he says 'Oh that is fine, because you are MY SISTER.' As I drive away, I realize I had effectively bribed a police officer out of a traffic violation, firmly cementing my status as a regular African driver.


16 April 2007

Holey Saturday

Saturday I deep fried homemade donuts with 12 teenage girls in Lideta.

The AIDS project hosts a weekly meeting for daughters of beneficiaries or other girls from the neighborhood in a youth group fashion. These girls are generally missing at least one if not two parents (either a parent is dead, or a dad has left). They haven't had much of a normal childhood -- they haven't had all that creative play time that the Western world bestows on children.

So, you have these 15-year-old girls who basically come from the ghetto, getting together once a week to play, learn and talk. A couple weeks ago we took them bowling. They didn't even know what bowling was until we showed them how to do it. Last week we talked about what a pattern is so they could make jewelry--most of them didn't know what a pattern was. You might think this stuff would be a little childish for teenage girls, but since they've never really had much of a chance to play and be creative, they really enjoy it.

It was rainy all day, and so we made donuts. I had made the dough the day before (to save time and clean up) so the girls rolled out the dough and cut out the donuts (Bev has a real donut cutter!).

While the donuts were rising and the oil heating, Bev led the group in a devotion. We talked about how every person has a hole in their heart that feels empty. The hole is often the cause of sadness in loneliness. Adam & Eve didn't have this hole until the whole thing with Satan happened in the garden. But since the fall, all humans are created with a hole in the heart that separates them from other people and God.

We talked about what kind of things people try to use to fill the holes in their hearts. The girls came up with some good answers. Selam said that some people use good education, good manners and good position in society to fill their hole. Lemlem said that some people try to do lots of good things, things that the church wants people to do, so that these works will make them happy.

Then we talked about how Jesus is really the only thing that can completely fill the hole. All other things that we try to fill the hole with are never enough. If we try to fill the hole with anything but Jesus, we will be inevitably disappointed.

After the girls had talked and listened for half an hour, we raucously deep fried many donuts and donut holes. The girls had a ball with the powdered sugar, and we all ruined our supper with donuts!


08 April 2007

The Slaughter of Fasika

The streets have been empty the whole weekend. Our car has not been bombarded by beggars. The diesel fumes are decreased which means I can breathe again! I am having difficulty recognizing the city as I know it. Fasika, Amharic for Easter, is not only a national holiday here, the whole city actually seems to observe it.

The drastic upswing, however, is the animal market. The explosive jump in sales this week must be great for the herding population. Everyone is hauling their new goat or an ox home for the Fasika celebration. Its not rare to see goats strapped to the tops of mini-taxes, or drapped across shoulders. On Saturday, twenty of the Ethiopian staff at Bingham all chipped in together to purchase two oxen, which means each ox is split into 10 equal parts. Then they draw lots to see who gets which pile of meat.

The ox is led into the Bingham forest and several Ethiopians rope up his feet and stand at a distance from him. He is quiet, compliant and appears to be submissive at his owners mercy. Without warning, an Ethiopian grabs him by the horns to turn his head while the men with ropes pull his feet out from under him. The efficiency of the orchestrated takedown surprises me. The ox is silent as he is flipped on his back, his legs tied up and his neck angled upwards. With one rapid stroke, the knife is dashed across his neck. The ox convulses as blood floods out his neck. The soil is drenched with a pool of red. Blood still gushes out, and several Ethiopians gather with knives out to begin the harvest. They are methodical like surgeons. Precise like painters. They continue unfazed, extracting the tongue, the heart, the kidneys, the liver, the stomach, the bladder, the ribs.

OT sacrifice descriptives are merging in my head as one graphic, penetrating image:
Then he shall kill the bull before the LORD, and Aaron's sons the priests shall bring the blood and throw the blood against the sides of the altar that is at the entrance of the tent of meeting. Then he shall flay the burnt offering and cut it into pieces, and the sons of Aaron the priest shall put fire on the altar and arrange wood on the fire. And Aaron's sons the priests shall arrange the pieces, the head, and the fat, on the wood that is on the fire on the altar, but its entrails and its legs, he shall wash with water. And the priest shall burn all of it on the altar, as a burnt offering, a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the LORD. Leviticus 1: 5-9

You can see more photos of the slaughter here. Vegetarians enter at your own risk.


04 April 2007

In the Northern Country

St. George's Church in Lalibela

"I freely admit to having been seduced by the charm of traditional Amhara life. Played out by an extraordinary handsome people, in a setting of great natural beauty and a climate often called idyllic, it offers a gate through time to a state of being that is richly medieval. Such sights and sounds. A minstrel singing his subtle lyrics as he bows a one-stringed fiddle; in the dark interiors of church, barefoot deacons holding beeswax candles and swinging vessels of smoking incense, the pomp of a nobleman moving cross country with his crowded entourage; a young girl washing the feet of her fathers guest; warriors boasting with their martial chants; the stately rhythms of clergy chanting and dancing under the mid-day sun; the open marketplace, offering all manner of livestock, grain, and spices; the counsel of an elder, resolving a dispute; the simple dignity of the bow when two men meet."
Donald Levine's 1965 Wax and Gold

Aksum was the seat of the most advanced African dynasty from the 3rd c. BC until the 9th c. AD
Lalibela was the capital of Ethiopia during the Zagwe Dynasty (the Usurpers who stole the throne) from 1137-1270.
Gondar was the capital of Ethiopia for 200 years starting in the 17th c.

We visited these three places on our 6 day trek. It was a return to medieval times, an adventure into the neolithic era. People were farming with plows that have not been changed in 1500 years. The utter absence of industrialization is worth the trip alone. Gondar and Aksum would be better as day trips, but Lalibela, "the New Jerusalem" is a two day visit to see it all. The rock hewn churches are not simply carved into rock, they are completely free standing constructions freed from rock. Photography was difficult because of Unesco's hideous scaffolding. We took a mule ride up a mountain to see Ashetan Maryam, a monastery from the 14th c. It was a 1400 meter climb.

The stelae field in Aksum is littered by massive and protrusive rocks, and this year in September, the Rome Stele is going to be re-erected for the year 2000. The stele is over 24 meters high and it is laying on its side after being returned from Rome in 2005 (Mussolini stole it in 1937). I can see why the stelae in Aksum are likened to the pyramids in Egypt.

You can imagine the look on people's faces when a group of 30 white people with dangling cameras walked anywhere. 6 days traveling as a tourist entourage has its way of complicating matters. We were a moving target for street solicitors and people selling pieces of "Lalibela's hair" or "Makeda's shoes." The kids underwent a massive bonding experience, and I look forward to teaching the kids in Term 3 with renewed enthusiasm. It was a rich and rewarding trip.

You can see some photos of the trip here.