Friday, February 3, 2012

ciao, ethiopia.


Unbelievable as it is, our time here has come to a close. Tonight we sleep, tomorrow morning we pack up (and see if we can’t catch a few more rays), and tomorrow evening we fly Bahir Dar --> Addis Ababa --> Khartoum, Sudan --> Amsterdam --> Detroit --> Good ol’ GR.

There is so much I could say right now about my time here, and I’m not sure where to start. I’m so incredibly thankful for it all, and a mere blog post cannot do justice to the immense complexities and joys I’ve encountered and confronted here (and will likely find myself wrestling with for some time now), but I rest in knowing that the needful stories will come out over time.

Traditional papyrus boats on Lake Tana
A stone-hewn church of Lalibela
In reflecting, some key words that come to mind include: whirlwind, overwhelming, inspiring, challenging, delightful, frustrating, fulfilling, beautiful, impassioning, exam-week-like stressful… and totally worth it.

  • I spent some moments stressed out, wishing more than anything that I could be home with my housemates or even just in school, and I spent other moments entirely at peace, trying (unsuccessfully) to imagine where else I would rather be. 

  • I (/we) spent hours and hours (upon hours!) crunching data and preparing for the workshop, and spent very few hours sleeping (think: exam week sleep schedule or worse). But I also experienced tremendous joy in teaching (oh how teaching makes me come alive!) and doing work that was difficult but intensely meaningful for a place and a people who have come to be so dear to my heart.
Crunching data, one of our primary activites. Yeah.
Leading & teaching my team of map-makers (the cultural and socio-economic geographers)!
  • ·We came face-to-face with some of the crippling challenges that Ethiopian students & academics (and especially Ethiopian geographers) deal with (such as data poverty and bureaucracy, for starters); but we also saw these geographers bind together, overcoming adversity with unity and a renewed sense of purpose. (This played out concretely when they boldly made the collective decision and plan to re-found their national association of geographers that had died out decades back -this is history, ya’ll!)
    These are people who know and love their place (that’s what geographers do!) and they know that they have so much to bring to their country (and particularly to its development.) But due to broad misunderstanding/ignorance of their discipline by the public (a situation not all too different from geography in the states), and even more, by the political establishment, they have been stunted. Their discipline is in danger of extinction here, because politicians (who dictate where student majors & funding go) don’t find it valuable for development, and also just have arbitrary preferences (likely due to friend & family connections) for the more traditional hard sciences. Well, if you met any one of these geographers, it’s hard to imagine who could possibly contribute more to the welfare of the human landscape and physical environment of Ethiopia than them.

    But before I go on too long about the negative of their situation here, I must say that these geographers gave me so much hope this week – through their unification as well as just because of who they are. 

    Their kindness and hospitality is enormous and it overwhelmed me throughout the week and especially tonight as they thanked us and gave us such thoughtful gifts at our closing dinner (gifts of both their words as well as in the traditional sense of the word.)
    With Yirgalem, a brilliant, kind (and mennonite!) geography prof in Addis who took us up Mt. Entoto.
    me & the women of the workshop! this picture utterly fails to capture their beauty :)

    … My time in Ethiopia was not at all what I expected it to be (but how often in life do things turn out the way we expect or plan?) But this by no means made it worse. Oh, quite the contrary! While the trip was much more difficult and tiring than I had counted on or bargained for, it was also far more meaningful and important than I had imagined it would be.

    I just feel humbled and honored and crazy blessed to be a small part of the beauty and goodness that is already growing in Ethiopia. 

    Jason and Desalegn in a rousing game of rock-paper-scissors :)
    mango yogurt with guava! for you Lyddie!
    I will miss this place and these warm, hospitable people (oh, and the COFFEE! The best of my life, with no reservations about it), but I’m ready to come home. I cannot wait to see my dear friends and family, and get started (1 week late – yikes!) in my final semester at Calvin.

    I feel crazy blessed, I feel small, I feel empowered, I feel full of possibility and full of joy and life. With a full, warm heart and open hands, I give thanks. Exabier yemesgen.

    grace and peace,