Lessons From Ethiopia.

December 30th 2019

As I am closing in on the end of my two years of living in Ethiopia, (WHERE THE HECK DID THE TIME GO???!!!) I want to share some lessons I have learned that I want to try and embrace when I am back in the States.

The list isn’t in any order, just different ideas popping into my head at different times. I truly cannot believe that I will be coming home in just a few months! AHHHHHHHh UGGHHHHHHH! (If you are wondering how I am feeling…. I am freaking out…..Why freak out Isabella? I am sure I will write another blog post to fill you in on all my worries).

Without further ado…Lessons from Ethiopia:

1. Greeting someone is important.

If you see and know someone and they know you, why not greet them and ask how they are doing? I want to take pride in giving an actual heartfelt greeting. I want to stop and hug them instead of rushing down the street hollering over my back “How are you?” And not even listening to their response. I want to give people my time and appreciation as they do here with their greetings. They stop to hug or kiss each other on the cheek or hand and ask “How are you?” “How is your health?” “How is your family?” “Is everything peaceful?” They even stop sometimes in the middle of a pathway to greet each other and everyone behind them has to wait till they are done. (Everytime it makes me shake my head and think “WHY RIGHT HERE?!” But at the same time, it makes me smile). Greet people and make them know that they are important and worthy of my time.

2. Take your time.

Ethiopian Time. Oh the beautiful and sometimes frustrating Ethiopian Time. When I say this, I mean….Ethiopians follow their own time. Showing up “on time” is a laughing matter and many times people just flow with their own internal clock. At first, this was a really hard lesson to get over. However, It makes me ponder about Americans and our NEED to be on time. So we rush from place to place with no breaks because we have constructed this societal pressure to “be on time”. We must do this and this and this. What if we took a chill pill? What if we took more coffee breaks and had two hour lunches? What if we allowed ourselves a more work life balance? One of the most important lessons I will strive to follow….stop killing myself with work. Take time to appreciate life, family, and friends.

3. Food is meant to be shared and enjoyed together.

Eating alone isn’t very common here and if people are already sitting and eating and someone walks up, they will always be invited to join them. Even when I am on the bus heading to town, someone will buy some street corn or bread and will break it in half and hand it to me. There is no “This is mine and only mine” when it comes to food. Regardless how much the person has, food is meant for everyone to enjoy together. I hope to take this selfless act home with me. Sharing truly is caring.

4. Cry unapologetically at funerals.

I am sure this notion sounds strange… But in Ethiopia when a funeral is being held they have a room dedicated to crying. Ethiopians will come into this room and let their weeping be heard. They holler and wail their bodies all over, they let the sadness take over and be released as loudly as they need and no one will judge anyone. Honestly, the first couple of times I witnessed this I was shocked, but after having some conversations about it with Ethiopians…It made me sort of respect it. I feel as though most the time at funerals we all try to stifle our cries and remain quiet in our grieving. Why? We are sad, we should allow ourselves to be sad and grieve together as loudly as we need.

5. Treat people who come into your home like a King or Queen.

Ethiopian Hospitality. There has not been a single Ethiopian house I have walked into and not felt like a queen. I am always greeted and then told to “Come in, Sit down” as they go and fetch some kind of snack and make coffee. Every time I am there they do everything they can to make me feel comfortable and happy. Even as many times as I tell them its no big deal they shake their heads and say it cannot be that way. Whenever I do get my own space (might be a year or two or mini van), I hope that each person who comes into my house feels like the King or Queen that they are.

6. Decrease your personal space bubble

Why are Americans so scared to get close and personal with each other. After spending time here crammed in buses, rooms, lines, I find it strange how our personal space in America is a 2 feet bubble all the way around and we are so scared to touch one another. After being able to make friendships with girls in my town it is common to walk somewhere holding hands or walk somewhere with them holding my arm leading me the right way. I will sit close to friends with our knees laying on each other or their arm draped over my shoulder. Close and personal in our touch as a way to show our friendship and bond. This is something that is done between males as well. I have always been a cuddler so I wonder if this is why I have had such an easy time accepting this part of Ethiopian culture.

7. There is always room for more.

After there being no personal space….this brings me to my next point. There is always room for more. This might not have been my favorite lesson I have learned, but a lesson nonetheless. You think a car is full if everyone has a seat to themselves, WRONG. There is still an abundant amount of space left for people to fit. Trust me, I have been amazed at the 30 people squeezed into a 12 person minivan. 🚌

8. Learn more languages.

Language as always, will always be power. I can’t even count on my hands how many times I have gotten myself out of harassment simply because of the fact that I speak Oromifa. I also can’t count on my hands how many times people have expressed joy and gratefulness that I have learned their language. Hopefully upon returning to America I can take classes and engage in learning another language…..or two.

9. Live Simply.

My house is very small compared to American homes and I have very minimal materials in this house. (For example, my furniture consists of a mattress, wooden shelf, two plastic shelves, and a small wooden table for my water filter). Even though I don’t have most of the luxury I had in the states… My house still feels homie. I have truly been able to embrace the “less is more” lifestyle here and I don’t think I ever want to go back. I go into homes here in my town where they only have a little flat mattress to sleep on and a couple stools and maybe a table. Most the houses in my town don’t even have a T.V. To be honest, I love it. I don’t feel claustrophobic. Everything in my house is used almost daily. I have no excess. My life is quite simply….simple. I want to come back to the states and make sure the stuff I am returning to is stuff that is being used frequently or given away.

10. Coffee shouldn’t be taken for granted.

I have talked about this before about having a new appreciation for coffee and I am going to harp on it again. I have now been through two coffee seasons and have grown such a respect for it. Before coming here I would just buy ground coffee off the shelves of walmart, put it through a machine every morning and drink its like it is nothing special. But since being here, I have seen it grown on trees, picked from the trees, sorted, laid out to dry, roasted, grounded, boiled to perfection, and served to a group of people. Truly, it is a process and it should be treated with appreciation. I want to drink my coffee in the States with the awareness and admiration of where it came from.

11. Appreciate the beauty of diversity.

I have traveled to multiple parts of Ethiopia and each place has been unique in its own way. Each region I have gone to the landscape has been different, the traditional clothing has been different, the language is different, the music is different, the dancing is different, the food has its own spin, and ALL of it is downright beautiful. I hope to be able to embrace and discover more of the diversity of America. I want to explore more of my own country now and find all that it has to offer.

12. Don’t judge someone by their clothes.

Clothes and shoes doesn’t affects how you are as a person. None of it affects how you treat other people. Some of the sweetest people I have met have shown up in the same holey, torn clothes for the past two years, but have been the people who have treated me with such respect and a smile. Nice/new clothes doesn’t make you a nice person and old/ugly clothes doesn’t make you a mean person. Give everyone a chance to show who they are.

13. You can wear clothes more than once before you wash it.

Having to conserve water and hand wash clothes for the past two years…washing a shirt after wearing it once or twice is a joke. Our clothes can be worn a lot more until it is actually dirty. Be one with the grunge. πŸ’πŸ½β€β™€οΈ

14. Electricity, running water, and network that work/run all the time is a PRIVILEGE.

Understand this and accept this. I want to be more cautious and grateful of this blessing and hope I never again complain about these issues in the States.

15. No time or distance can ruin a relationship if both parties work at it.

Family and friends are important and if you are willing to work to keep in touch, no time or distance can ruin a relationship. After being here for two years, the people who have put in the effort to stay in touch with me as I have with them, they are the people I want in my life for the rest of my time. None of it is easy to do. It takes time and effort to schedule out time to make a video call and being patient when the network cuts in and out. So to my people, you know who you are…I thank you and I love you and most of all I cannot wait to be rejoined with you here in person SO SOON.

16. Find hobbies that better yourself.

Since there is a lot of downtime in Peace Corps… I have learned to find hobbies to pass the time. I made a cautious effort to find hobbies that would challenge me and thrill me. I now feel like I can say I “dabble” in a few different things. I think its so important to find different activities to keep yourself learning and trying new things.

17. Make up is better on occasion

not an everyday face. After living here for two years and rarely using any make up…I have come to adore and embrace my natural self. I want to continue to remember this while I am in the states as well. I am not sayin make up is bad, (You do you Glen Coco) but for me personally, I now see it as a “Special Occasion” thing and I am glad I have embraced this.

18. Squatting to boom boom really does feel better.

I think I will have to invest in a squatty potty to keep this lesson going in the states…but like… yall should give it a whirl.

19. Equality between genders is a fight worth fighting for.

After living here, I have witnessed plenty of inequality between men and women, so much so that it has brought me to tears on multiple occasions. We can’t give up this fight. Women all around the world need to be empowered and shown that they are important too.

20. If you have a dream…Go make it happen.

The MOST important life lesson that I have learned in these two years; if you put your mind to something..It can happen. I had the dream of joining Peace Corps, living in a third world country, learning a new language and culture, and I have done it. I have made this dream come to fruition because I strived to see it through. We have to quit thinking we can’t…because if you want it bad enough, you will work hard and figure out a way to see it through. Dreams come to YOU for a reason. Don’t let it slip between your fingers because you are worried about things that society says you need to worry about. Society said that I needed to graduate college, get a job, find a hubby, make little aliens, and then live the rest of my life in this square box. Guess what, that square box is bullshit. I don’t want to live my life according to anyone else and what they think I should do. This is MY life and I want to chase my dreams one after another. I want to be that 90 years old lady who says I have done everything in my life that I’ve dreamed of. We have to trust ourselves, trust the universe, and more importantly, find those friends and family members who are willing to stand by you and say “You might be crazy, but I will support you along the way“, the others who project their fears on you are the ones you will someday have to shake. This is YOUR life. If you want to become that restaurant chef, if you want to write that book, if you want to travel around in that van…go do the work and make that dream happen!

There ya have it. 20 lessons I hope to keep in mind upon my arrival to the big ol Merica land! πŸ€—

Much Love from Jerry and I. πŸΆπŸ™‹πŸ½β€β™€οΈ