I just fought an 800 pound gorrilla, and won, for now…let me explain. It started last Monday as my counterpart, Tilahun, informed me that we had a mainstreaming discussion program (HIV/AIDS discussion)with one of the offices that afternoon, at 3pm. So we left the office and headed toward the meeting place to wait for them to show. We end up sitting in front of a Mohammad’s suk (shop) for about an hour just talking and waiting, and after approximately 10 times of me asking if we should go look for them, where they were, or what was going on, Tilahun just kept laughing at me, and said this is how things work here. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I get it. But I can’t help it, ‘I’m American’, I say. If you’re not early, you’re late, and I used to show up 30 minutes before basketball practice everyday… Anyways, fastforward 2.5 more hours, 1 hour past work is over, and they start to trickle in, finalllllly. So I’m thinking, well this is my first program so I’m just going to use this as an learning experience and pay attention to the flow of information and the program, and we can discuss it later. I had no plan to really participate, although in almost every single setting I’m usually deferred to for entertainment or something of the sort. So now we’ve waited 3.5 hours, and I’m still not really sure which office this is for just yet, but not thinking much of it and just a little on edge, ready for the diversion to me at some random point in this program. So now about 15 people show up, then 20, now we’re just waiting for a few more, they tell us. Finally, the final group walks in, and who is it, but the biggest, most important people in town, all the head political figures………….
Wasn’t ready for that. Everything is really political here, as it is everywhere, and what these people say goes, and what they think is important. Very important. I try not to let it get to me, but there’s no denying the power of this, and I also don’t want to look like a tool who has nothing to show for my work thus far. But I shouldn’t have worried right, I wasn’t going to be doing the talking…until Tilahun let’s me know, shortly after he finishes his program, that I now need to get up in front of 30 people, big shots, and explain, in English, broken Amharic and Kaffinoonoo what deep kissing is. Pretty akward, funny, and I really have no idea if they understood what I said or not, but I did it. And I managed to nervously throw in my 2 cents which I thought was pretty good, and next time I’ll be able to communicate it better. What I said was that it’s very difficult for 2 people (1, me) to create HIV/AIDS programs for over 150,000 people, most who don’t know how to read, have power, running water, and are nomadic (down south). In addition, most of the governmental employees are education, know about HIV/AIDS and are reluctant to learn about what they already know. So, I ended explaining how we needed their help to teach their families, their neighbors, and community members. To accept responsibility for something that may not directly affect them or their work, but to essentially just help be a better community member. Well, that was my idea, again, not sure if that was explained well after the french kissing discussion. Anyways, night goes on, we eat dinner, end up having a few beers, then per usual, as the music and dancing starts up, they want me to get out there. Good thing I’ve been brushing up on my Kaffinoonoo dancing, and amaze them that yes, ferenji can dance. Got a bunch of “gobez, gobez, gobez!!,” which means clever or great, something of the sort haha. After a few dances I pull and “Irish Exit,” my favorite, and duck out, unannounced. Great. That worked out much better than I thought, especially after waiting 3.5 hours and weeks of frustration building up to a not so genuinely enthusiastic me. Held my head up, was happy about it and headed home, and even snuck in a phone call from Brad, to top it off!
2 am, wake up to what I can only describe as an ocean of bubbles and slosh moving around in my stomach, didn’t puke, made it through the night. Now it’s Tuesday, Wednesday is Labor Day, no work, Friday is a holiday, no work, aka Tuesday, Thursday, no work. So I’m trying to make some things happen in this time frame, keeping in mind not to get frustrated, because realistically, nothing is going to get done this week. As the week goes on, so does the ocean in my stomach and by Thursday I finally decided to go to the doctor and run a few tests. I have an amoeba! Yes, just what I wanted. Now, Thursday, every governmental employee leaves town for their hometowns for the holiday, including Tilahun whom I was supposed to go with, one of my best friends and co-worker. Come Friday, town is empty. Ghost town. Especially with the dense clouds where you can barely see across the street. Come Saturday and I can’t get out of bed. Tired, so tired, achy, just feel like crap. No one in town. The family I live with has currently moved to the new house, but since my room isn’t ready I’m living alone. Very alone. Sick and alone. Just laying in bed looking out my window to the pouring rain with no where to go and nothing do to (even my computer was dead, well 2%). This is where the fight started.
As our Country Director had explained after our swearing in ceremony, the biggest battle was going to be with the 800 lb. gorrilla in the room, ourselves. And after feeling probably more alone than I ever have, and probably ever really was, all these negative thoughts started going through my head, some of which aren’t the first time I’ve had. What am I doing here, am I making a difference, what am I doing with my life. Some thoughts I’ve had before Ethiopia as well, leading me to realize that I’d always been fighting this gorrilla, my whole life. Whether it be expectations, standards, feelings, from friends, family, or myself, I’ve always had to deal with them, and quite frankly it was just way easier to ignore them when I didn’t want to face them, or wasn’t ready. I could amuse my every thought or impulse to so easily, which really made it more difficult to improve myself. And now that I think of it, it wasn’t difficult to leave all the material things behind, it was scary to realize that I would be so exposed to myself. Would I be tough enough, smart enough, strong enough to make it through two years, culture, languages, and a new society all on my own. Every morning I make the decision to put this little book and pen in my front pocket to learn new phrases, words, or cultural facts on the road. Every morning. And every morning, I decide do I want to learn today or not. Whether I put those items in my front pocket (of my favorite, now incredibly faded green shirt) determines my attitude for the day ahead. Because I don’t have the distractions and material things to change my mind or distract me, I have to analyze every single move throughout the day.
And when I was down and out, after 5 days of feeling like crap, and literally becoming more isolated as people left for the holiday, I had reached my lowest point thus far. Thankfully the slush ended and Fasika (Easter) was the next day, and I dragged myself out of bed, forced myself to be with people, and ignore the thoughts that we’re pulling me down. Despite how hard it can be at some points to learn what type of person you really are, when you think you have an idea, every single moment of every day, I wouldn’t trade it for one cent more than my 125 a month.
I feel alive, not enthusiastically at all times, but learning about the world, Ethiopia, people, cultures, languages, myself is really great, and I’m happy I left the fog for the much clearer view of the world and the realities of it.
Plus, just thinking explaining french kissing in that dimly lit restaurant is really entertaining enough if I just think about it…
And now I’ve also realized that as of now my biggest obstacle is getting people to commit to an idea or plan. For example, the field we play soccer on has grass up to just below my knee. After suggesting we bring our machetes to cut it several times I was fed up, and on Saturday walked to the field alone with my machete to get started, as planned the previous week. However, no one was there, and just as I was about to start goin off in my mind, I see people showing up. The first 4 people didn’t bring a machete, either didn’t have one or bring one, but we just took turns, then 2 others came. Then 3 others, all with machetes, then another. Soon we were hacking away. Didn’t even complete the center circle completely, but almost. And I know that it was me walking through the center town with my machete that people saw, and they realized someone else had committed first, and now it was okay to go. But why is it so difficult to get people to commit? Or at times, why is it so hard for me to commit?
“The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything”
“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”