Monday, July 18, 2011

The gift of deprogramming

From Debre Zeyit, Ethiopia
Greetings from Meserete Kristos College in Debre Zeit, Ethiopia! Internet accessibility has been a challenge and I've been tremendously busy conducting my class, which is entering it's second week today, and is going quite well. My students are wonderfully gracious to their ferengi (foreigner) teacher and are excellent and eager learners, and surely marvelous peacebuilders-in-training! It's hard to believe our time here in Ethiopia is already half over! The first week of class started out slow and anxious but now things are ticking along. Preparation for each day's class takes a considerable amount of time and energy, as I'm flying by the seat of my pants as a first-time teacher in a completely new cultural context.

In addition to the classwork, the family has been enjoying the beautiful natural surroundings. Behind the college compound there is a hill of open pasture land. One afternoon last week, we walked up to the top of the hill and were surprised to find that behind the crest was an amazing view of one of the five volcanic crater lakes around Debre Zeit! On our second trip, we decided to descend the other side to the water's edge. No sooner than we started down than three adorable little boys from the shepherding families around the compound began leading us down. Erin asked one if they were our guides. The oldest one said very confidently, "Yes." The smallest boy is named Buruch and he stuck near me most of the way down. As we neared the water's edge, all three boys were ahead of us, and when they caught sight of the water - without missing a beat - they ran toward it, stripping down completely naked, and jumped into the lake! Our daughter was, of course, embarrassed but we hung around and watched them swim happily in the lake. If the water quality wasn't a health concern, I would have gladly joined them, it looked very refreshing on that hot day.  As we left, they boys were getting their clothes back on. Waiting until Buruch pulled his britches up, I walked over and gave him a 1 birr coin for helping guide us down to the water. My last image of him is giving me a thumbs-up with a bright smile as we started back up the hill toward the college compound.

We've been able to talk on the phone to some of our family, so that's been wonderful to hear familiar voices. Due to bandwidth restraints, I'll have to add photos once we're back State-side. Not being on e-mail and Facebook several times a day is a good spiritual discipline for me, but hopefully I can get another post or two in before we come home.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Dueling calls to prayer

From Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Greetings from Addis Ababa! We arrived yesterday at 7:45am local time and spent two hours in the airport before meeting our hosts and making our way to what will be home for this week, the "compound" for Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), Ethiopia. We've mostly been relaxing and trying to overcome jet lag. Today our hosts, Dan & Karin, who are just today starting their jobs as the new country reps for MCC Ethiopia, met with my practicum supervisor, Mekonnen, and they worked out a plan for us this week which will allow my wife, daughter, and I to all observe and participate in various MCC-related projects around Addis. We'll also be visiting Meserete Kristos Church (MKC) offices and their peace program. We got out of the compound today for separate trips to exchange some currency to the Ethiopian birr, and then Erin and Lauren went with Karin and an MCC service worker to get groceries for the week.

One story I'll share on the dueling calls to prayer. The MCC compound sits on a hill in whose valley is a mosque and an Ethiopian Orthodox (Coptic) church. Both houses of worship have loudspeakers attached to them and both observe what the Christian tradition would call "the hours" for prayer. Both start at about 5am and continue periodically throughout the day until well into the night. And both start their prayers at nearly the same time. From the porch on the compound, one call comes up from the left (I think it's the mosque), the other from the right (Coptic). Erin and I are sleeping in a converted shipping container (we're calling it "the can" or "the box"), outside the main house in the compound with the door open for better airflow. One side-effect of this arrangement is that we hear everything that's going on outside, the neighborhood dogs barking all night, and these dueling calls to prayer.

Over the past day, hearing these calls, it's struck me that hearing both call me to prayer. I've simply never heard anything like this in the U.S. If you observe the hours in the places I've lived, you have to keep your own schedule. I love the communitarian dimensions of these public (and very loud) calls to prayer and the motivation it gives me to attend to the prayerful side of our trip here.