I’ve heard people lament and complain about how touristed Thailand has gotten. Even Vietnam and Cambodia, to some extent. But everything I’ve heard and read about Laos claims it still feels like the promised land. Uncorrupted locals, an authentic way of life, gorgeous scenery…
Do you know what Laos reminded me of? Ethiopia.
In the sense that someone once told them, “Hey, you should try out this thing called tourism,” but they haven’t quite figured it out yet. Luang Prabang is an obvious exception, but I don’t feel like Vang Vieng or Vientiane (Laos’ capital) are.
My last post was filled with reasons why Vang Vieng wasn’t the place for me, but I was surprised to learn that neither was Vientiane. We checked into Sihome Backpackers Hostel and immediately felt out of place. Now, I know I was never enough of a “people person” to really feel at home in a hostel (we had a private room here, by the way), but this was more than that – they made me feel old. But in a good way.
I’m sure the hostel was fantastic for 18-to-21-year-old, socially apt people, but for a 24-year-old nearing the end of a 3-month trip, it was rough. Everyone around me was young, loud, and forgive me if I sound rude, but a little bit ignorant. The things they loved about Laos were the very things I struggled to cope with in Ethiopia.
We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed – 2 Corinthians 4:8-9
This verse got me through a lot of moments in Ethiopia. Never before have I had such a trying experience. Never before have I been adored or hated, based solely on the colour of my skin. Never before have I craved anonymity. Never before have I felt such a need to make a difference.
My time is up; I’ve said my goodbyes. And now I can’t help but contemplate all the things Ethiopia has put me through. The days I couldn’t bring myself to leave my house because I didn’t want to encounter life outside my walls. I look back, assuming I’ll be full of rage, but I’m not. Odd as it may sound, I’m actually glad I went through this. I was tested and learned just how strong I am.
A while back, another volunteer told me that once I leave Ethiopia, the bad things will start to disappear and I’ll only be able to see the positives. Instead, I’m focusing on the positives that came from the bad things.
Never before have I appreciated my friendships as much as I do now – probably because true friendship has been hard to come by here. It’s difficult to have an open and honest relationship with someone when in the back of your mind, you’re dreading the moment when they ask you for something, reveal their true intentions. And while that happened more times than I can count, I am incredibly grateful for the number of true friends I made here, both Peace Corps Volunteers and Ethiopians.
I’ve done a fair amount of research for my SE Asia trip. I’ve read the Lonely Planet Guidebook for each of the countries I’m traveling to, my boyfriend did the same and then we compared notes, we looked up activity prices, travel routes, hotels, and restaurant options. And all I could think was: Damn, everything looks so nice!
I was shocked, really. The hotels we looked up were all listed as budget options; they were cheaper than the place we stay when we come in to Addis. But they’re so much nicer! I focused on cheap and mid-range food – and there’s so much more variety! Shocked might actually be an understatement to my real reaction.
During my online research, I stumbled upon this blog – “It’s a Real City!”: Hanoi Through Cambodia Goggles – and I couldn’t stop laughing. The blogger was living in Phnom Penh, Cambodia and moved to Hanoi, Vietnam and couldn’t get over how developed it was. People would tell her everything that was still wrong with Hanoi and the only thought that came to her mind was “If you think this is underdeveloped, you should check out Cambodia!”
As for me, I’ve seen photo upon photo of Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, and all I could think was: Damn, everything looks so nice! Clearly, after two years in Ethiopia, I’ve developed Ethiopia goggles. I’m viewing the world through a developing nation in East Africa. I’ve spent the last two years pretending a hole in the floor is a bathroom, thinking a cold shower is normal, living in an uninsulated/unheated/uncooled home, and eating the same food week after week – often with bugs in it. And you know what, I’ve gotten used to it.
Whew…after two years living and working in Ethiopia, my time as a teacher has finally come to a close! Yesterday marked the end of my Reading Program at Adare and we celebrated with an award ceremony and cookies : )
Two students from each grade 7 & 8 class were named “Adare Star Readers” and were allowed to pick a chapter book – graciously donated by friends, family, and strangers – to bring home and continue their reading practice. Books chosen were classics like Matilda, The Magician’s Elephant, Bridge to Terabithia, and Peter Pan.
The joy on their faces was worth the struggle I sometimes went through keeping this program up and running over the last nine months. I just want to say thank you to everyone back home who helped support this program, the students will never forget it!
I share this blog’s title with the title of one of my pastor’s sermons. In it, he mentioned that thankfulness is the best cure for when you’re feeling down and out. His recommendation for when something’s really bothering you: Write five pages of things that you’re grateful for…about the thing you hate or stress about the most.
And while I don’t hate Ethiopia, this country is constantly causing me stress. Now more than ever, from the small to the large aka I practically have to wear rain boots inside my house, it’s flooding so much to the riots breaking out in Ethiopia because Addis wants to expand into Oromia.
So I decided to take my pastor’s advice. I wrote five pages about why I’m thankful to be in Ethiopia. Some of it’s silly, but most of it reminded me of how incredible the time I’ve spent here has been. And with less than 100 days left here, I figured I’d share what exactly it is I’m thankful for:
Normally, my English Club is made up of 7th and 8th graders, but occasionally other grades filter in. Today, the 2nd graders came en-mass. And while they couldn’t answer many of the questions, the ones they did know surprised me. Plus, the 8th graders helped them out when they struggled.
It was widely known that you go to a clinic if you suspect you have malaria. Everyone knew rainy season was the deadliest time for malaria and that the mosquito was the insect that transmits malaria. The rest of the questions were left up to the 8th graders and they did quite well. How’d you do?
Don’t worry, the list I’m referring to isn’t illnesses I’ve gotten in Ethiopia. But it’s still a serious list: Diseases my friends have gotten.
Before moving to Ethiopia, I never thought I’d know someone who’d be diagnosed with malaria. Which is why I was shocked to learn that 1,500 cases of malaria are found in the US every year…mostly from people like me who have spent time in malaria risk zones.
But 1,500 doesn’t sound like such a huge number when compared to malaria cases elsewhere. According to the World Health Organization, 85% of malaria cases are found in Africa. And 90% of malaria deaths as well…mostly children under the age of 5. Every 30 seconds a child dies from malaria.
In 2012 there were about 207 million malaria cases worldwide. 176 million of those cases were in Africa. I can personally name two teachers, one principal, and one friend who have gotten malaria in Hawassa during the two years that I’ve been here. Putting names and faces to the disease made it pretty damn real for me.