Home is wherever I’m with you

I’ve been in Texas two months now and once again I’m making a home in an unfamiliar place. I’ve got an apartment, a job, and I’m making new acquaintances. I’ve spent the last six weeks decorating my home, the last five weeks working, and the last four studying for my teaching certificate – which is paying off, I’m now Highly Qualified to teach ESL here.

One thing I’m not doing is traveling. And after years of constantly moving about, it feels weird to be stationary. I traveled down to Glen Rose in February to spend my birthday at Dinosaur Valley State Park, I shopped in Dallas, and I, of course, now live in Fort Worth, but that’s as far as my exploits have taken me.

And you know what? It’s not so bad. Yes, I wake up most mornings just itching to hop a plane and head somewhere new – I’ll probably always have that impulse. But I have to admit, I don’t hate having a home. And not just one I can carry on my back! Here’s my confessional time: I’m a nester. I like to nest. And I’ve found inordinate joy decorating my apartment and knowing I won’t have to leave it any time soon.

And any time I really crave having an adventure just around the corner, I remind myself that getting into my car each day and seeing if it still runs is an adventure! My Caddy leaks oil, has coolant issues, and was recently hit in a hit-and-run. But you know what, she’s mine, and I love having the freedom to drive again.

Any time I find myself craving exotic foods, I remind myself that I live in DFW! There are restaurants everywhere, serving every kind of food imaginable! And better yet, I don’t have to go to a restaurant to have cultural foods – I can simply make it myself! Because for the first time in two-and-a-half-years, I have a well-stocked kitchen and fridge.

And finally, I’m not spending my days stuck in a dead-end job I hate. I’m working toward a goal…a goal that will get me where I want to be – back abroad. I’m currently working as a substitute teacher and I recently enrolled in an alternative certification program here in Texas. I spend my current free-time studying for tests to certify me to teach ESL, Special Education, and Early Childhood through Grade 6. By the end of the 2015-2016 school year (during which I hope to be a full-time, paid, probationary teacher), I’ll be a fully-certified teacher.

Which means I’m looking at a long-term return abroad starting fall 2016. And in the meantime, haven’t you heard? Teachers get summers off : ) So I’m already making a list of places to visit stateside this summer. And then who knows where Chandler and I will head off to in 2016…

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From fall to winter in two hours

A journey that began the morning of June 3rd ended last night when my flight landed in Minneapolis. Two and half years – that’s how long it too me to fly around the world. But I’d say I got a good amount done during that time. I’ve also seen an incredible amount of the world.

According to TripAdvisor I’ve seen 6% of the world with Chandler, and even more when factoring in what I’ve done on my own. The map below recounts everywhere we’ve gone together – which is literally everything I’ve done the last two year and a half years, with the exception of my trip to Italy summer of 2013 with my mom and sister.

Map of tripThese last two weeks were spent in DFW, Texas…the area that Chandler’s always considered home. It was really exciting to be somewhere that was familiar to at least one of us. I got to meet his family and friends, see where he grew up, and go to some of his favourite spots.

One of the first things we did was go to the Gaylord ICE Show featuring Frosty the Snowman. It was hilarious seeing people not accustomed to cold/ice go through the exhibition – and lest you think I’m mocking Texans, I’m far from used to that same cold and I’m sure I looked just as silly!

But really, the sculptures were stunning – the attention to detail was amazing and the Frosty theme was so much fun. They even had ice slides for the kiddos…which only made me want to click my heels three times to be sledding back home in Brainerd.

Gaylord ICE 1

Gaylord ICE 2

Aside from that afternoon, we had strictly fall weather in Texas…which was awesome given it’s my favourite season and I knew I had definitely missed it in Minnesota this year!

I spent Thanksgiving with Chandler’s family – it was lovely to be surrounded by a family during a holiday! The following day Chandler, his brother, and I went to the Fort Worth Botanic Garden, all of which was lovely, especially the Japanese Garden. The trees were stunning and the site of them being reflected on the water was incredible.

We spent the afternoon wandering through the grounds, feeding the fish, and goofing off. All the while, the temps were high 60s, low 70s – a perfect reminder of why I love this season.

Japanese Garden 1

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Thailand: The second time around

It’s been 95 days since I left home to begin this journey – and it’s not a home I’ll be going back to. I hopped in a friend’s car at 6:30 am on July 31st and have been slowly making my way east ever since.

It’ll take me another 29 days to reach the place I used to call home, Minneapolis. But for the first time in months, it finally feels like I’m coming to the end of things. All my flights have been booked, all my days have been planned, and I’m seriously looking forward to seeing my sister’s face at MSP International Airport on December 2nd.

At the same time, it feels odd to remind myself that this trip isn’t finished. I’m not hopping on that plane tomorrow – well, I am hopping on a plane tomorrow, but that’s to Chiang Mai! And I have to admit, I’m beginning to lose steam on these blog posts.

We’re spending more and more time in each place we go (nine nights in Bangkok, two in Ayutthaya, seven in Phuket), but I’m finding that I have less and less to say. Guess that’s how you know you’ve planned a trip a little too long! Because it’s certainly not the fault of anyplace we’ve been – Bangkok is easily one of our favourite cities (throughout this trip we’ve spent a total of 16 nights there).

For these ten days in Bangkok, we did a lot of shopping, mostly at Siam Center, Siam Paragon, and Siam Discovery. What can I say? After two years in Ethiopia, we both needed serious wardrobe upgrades.

We then spent the rest of our days wandering around the area near Koh San Road (though avoiding the road itself!), eating cheap pad thai, drinking fresh pomegranate juice, and stocking up on real books to read during our upcoming beach days.

Then, we took a quick trip up to Ayutthaya. Many do this as a simple day trip, but we decided to spend a couple of nights in the town. We didn’t even bother to leave our hotel, Tamarind, that first night (with the exception of grabbing dinner at the night market down the street).

We purchased some street popcorn, corn on the cob, waffles, cantaloupe, and a Coca-Cola to split and settled into this room to enjoy our spoils and watch The Shawshank Redemption:

Tamarind Guesthouse

The next day we were rested up and ready to check out the ruins that make up Ayutthaya’s UNESCO World Heritage Site. Ayutthaya was a Siamese kingdom that existed from 1351 to 1767, when the Burmese army destroyed the city, effectively collapsing the kingdom.

We started at the sites closest to our hotel and worked our way out. First came Wat Ratchaburana. Founded in 1424 by King Borommarachathirat II, it was built on the cremation site of his two older brothers. The two brothers had fought to their deaths in a duel for the royal succession to their father.

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Lucy, I’m home…

A week and a half away from my one-year mark in Ethiopia, and I’m finally ready to show off my house : ) Keep in mind I’ve only lived here the last seven or so months…and yes, it did take me all seven months to purchase all of this furniture!

1

My beautiful entryway, complete with a rug and a darling flower pot given to me by Jackie…I killed the cilantro she had planted and am now trying my hand at grapes. Or weeds. I’ll let you know when I find out!

2

My lovely entryway, with a bench (an idea I stole from Amanda), a calendar, a plethora of scarves, and far too few shoes.

3And now on to the living room…make sure to take off your shoes : ) I chose mattresses instead of chairs/couches because they are cheaper and they hold more overnight guests…I think nine is the most we’ve fit in here so far.

4And finally, all the way on the other side of the room…my bedroom! My biggest luxury: a queen-sized, spring mattress – worth every birr : ) Plus my wardrobe, nightstand, and brand-new bookshelf!

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I moved to Ethiopia and all I got was evicted

Only in Ethiopia could these last 36 hours be considered typical. Yesterday, I went to school at 8:00 am, 30 minutes earlier than usual because my counterpart wanted me to experience the flag raising ceremony at the beginning of the school day. I figured sure, why not…that meant I’d be able to observe one of the very first classes of the day and I’d be finished with my day 40 minutes earlier. (I typically observe three classes each morning and then record them into my CENA in the afternoon – any more than that and I’d start mixing the lessons together!)

So I showed up bright and early only to find the area around the flag deserted and all the kids already in the classrooms. Odd, I’d thought, but it wasn’t the first time there was a time mix-up in Ethiopia. So I went off to find my counterpart only to learn that there would be no classes that day, instead, there was an all-day student meeting about conduct. Of course, I was invited to attend…but it would be conducted in Amharic, and let’s face it, I wasn’t excited by the prospect of playing “which five Amharic words will I understand today.”

So I decided to just be grateful for my unexpected day off. I stopped by my friend’s shop and we went out to brunch. We talked about long-distance relationships and her upcoming wedding (I know those of you back home in America will find this hard to believe, but it’s true!).

Then I went home and was promptly informed by my landlord that I was being evicted. Awesome. Apparently he had just gotten back from the Department of Education and they had refused to pay my electric bill – the contract between them was only for rent. If I’m being honest, I know my electric stove uses quite a bit of electricity, but to be fair, I asked my landlord before I started using it and he said it’d be fine. Turns out, it wasn’t fine. Guess I should buy a propane stove this weekend!

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Home

I recently stumbled across a line from Cutting for Stone that really clicked for me:

Home is not where you’re from,
it’s where you’re wanted.

I wasn’t sure if Ethiopia would ever feel like home, but 6 ½ weeks here in Hawassa, and it definitely does. And that’s probably because for the first time since arriving here, I feel wanted.

I’ve spent three nights this week hanging out with my compound sister Lucy – each night she was home alone and asked if I’d keep her company. We laughed over American movies, shared experiences, and the differences between American and Ethiopian culture. She even showed me how to wrap my hair in a scarf…

Each night, as her family filtered in and treated me like I belonged there, I began to feel like I was home. We’ve eaten meals together…I finally tried fïrfïr (think ïnjära chopped up, spiced up, and served with more ïnjära), which I wouldn’t recommend, as well as a number of delicious fresh breads, which I would most definitely recommend!

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Making Hawassa Home

Some of you may already know this about me, but I actually enjoy moving. I’m not the biggest fan of packing up my things, but I love unpacking and decorating a new home. Which is why I was so excited to move to Hawassa – I knew I’d miss my host family in Sagure, but I couldn’t wait to create a space that was all mine.

Well I’ve been living in Hawassa for three weeks now and I have yet to put a single picture on the wall. Why, you may ask, especially when in the past I’ve had my new places fully decorated in at most two days after I moved in. Well, it’s different here in Ethiopia. Mostly, because I’m not sure that I’ll be staying in this first home that they placed me in.

At first I really wanted to make it work…now I’m not so sure that’s the best idea. It’s placed in a really convenient location relative to the places I go in Hawassa, but a coworker recently saw my place and told me that apparently I’m in a really sketchy section of town. It doesn’t help that I live across the street from a cemetery ha ha but at least there are high walls surrounding it, so I’d be able to hear a zombie attack in advance.

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