Photo credit to ONE/Karen Walrond
Every day since I’ve come home from Ethiopia feels a little bit like a version of Come Over & See My Slideshow. Back in the 70s when we were kids we visited the homes of our friends after they went to see the Grand Canyon or on a tour of the south and we would sit on folding chairs while they described each picture and where they were and what they ate and what it all meant. Doing this via blog form seems much better because if you are bored you can click out of my page and go read something else. However, I spent some time visiting classrooms this week and showing our students pictures of what I got to witness last week. Was it just last week? It feels like much shorter and some times it feels like this was a month ago.
With that said, I have more pictures to show you and some of them may be repeats of what you’ve seen on the blogs of the other women who traveled with me.
A friend once told me that it takes your body the same number of days of the hour difference from wherever you traveled. Addis Ababa is 8 hours ahead of Springfield so it will take 8 days to recover. I got home on Sunday which makes today Day Six. That friend is right. I’m still not altogether myself yet. Last night I slept for 11 hours. What will happen to my body when we change our clocks for Daylight Savings next month?
It’s been a busy week and I jumped back into work with both feet. Unfortunately, they slipped right out from under me and they sent me home after about 2 hours that first day. That was fine because I had to go to the airport for my lost luggage, send off the misplaced SIM card in my phone, and sleep it off. Every day I’ve slept more and more. The Cuban caught me snoozing against him last night after dinner when he heard my breathing start to change and I dozed off. “Are you sleeping?”
“No. Yes. YES. I’m sleeping.” and then I went back to sleep. The night before that I crashed into bed around 5:30, slept through a storm and some tornado warnings, got up for something to eat in the dark around 9:30, and then went right back to bed. Whatever it is that my body is doing I’m allowing it and I sleep when my body says sleep. But my dreams are of the people of Africa and the faces I continue to see while I’m in the twilight of dozing off are made constant now that I am reading Marcus Samuelsson’s memoir Yes, Chef. In the first chapter he was describing never seeing a picture of his mother who died shortly after trekking with Marcus and his sister to the hospital in Addis Ababa because all three of them had tuberculosis. He describes eating shiro, a dish I ate every day while there, and of how it is the food of poor people.
On our last night in Addis we sat down with college students and entrepreneurs who told us about the work they are doing. One of the men at my table told me how much he hates shiro for precisely that reason. “It is poor people food. We ate it all the time. I don’t like what it represents.” It’s funny how that ended up being my favorite flavor in all of Ethiopia. I drank some alcohol every night that Maya, Marcus’ wife, told me to drink. It’s called areke and burns going down your throat. I liken it to tequila since it’s taken in a shot glass and, since I was trying new foods every day, it helped. As Maya said to me, “It kills everything in your stomach. But in a good way.”
There was only one night I didn’t drink it and that was the night I excused myself from the dinner table and ran back to my room where I spent a long time in the bathroom. I’ll spare you the details of the rest of that night except to say that it was the one night we had to double up and share a room. Since I never rejoined the group or our 15 or so guests for the evening I didn’t realize that at least one person in every room also got sick and we woke up early for a flight out of Bahir Dar back to the capital of Addis. Naturally, my brain was shouting at me PLUG IT UP STOP IT NOW NO MORE GOING TO THE BATHROOM because, well, who wants to get on a flight with all of that going on down there?
In the morning, I found out that lots of the women had gotten sick the night before and sheepishly said to anyone who listened, “Oh, yeah? Well, at least you weren’t sharing a room with a supermodel while you had explosive diarrhea.”
I think I won whatever contest could have been invented with that. Sweet, kind Maya just held my hand and helped me pack my bags, though. I couldn’t have asked for a nicer roommate and I was grateful for her nursing me back to health to finish our trip. She has a nursing degree so that helped tremendously. Plus, all of the women in our group were passing around medicines and offering advice and comfort. Rana reminded me to eat yogurt and probiotics and Diana urged me drink more water. Truly, these were the most caring women I’d ever met and cared about in such a short time.
No more bathroom talk, I promise. I want to talk about the women in Ethiopia.
The women we met all had the same look to them. Very short hair, no shoes, wide eyes, dresses and scarves. Some of them carried babies on their backs and slung them around gently and quickly to nurse them while they squatted down to talk to us. They do it in one swift move that is kind of amazing. One of the moms from the beekeeper collective we visited seemed so young and when her baby fussed (I didn’t even realize that little one was under all those scarves and layers!) she stood to release him but some of the layers got caught and, quite naturally, an older mother in the group reached up to help untangle him. She reached forward and shuffled the garments and blankets to make it easier to release him so the young mom could miraculously unhinge her own left arm to bring him around to the front. Babies hardly cry there as they’re always so close to their mothers. It was true baby wearing and is done with what appeared to be such ease.
Photo credit to ONE/Karen Walrond
This colony of women, called the Sene Mariam Women’s Beekeeping Group, plan to have their first harvest of honey sometime in March of next year. These beekeepers work in cooperation with the Agricultural Cooperative Development International and Volunteers in Oversees Cooperative Assistance as well as with the Ethiopian government’s Agricultural Growth Program. The funding comes from the US government’s Feed the Future initiative. These women started out as friends who put money in a collective pot for any emergency that might arise among them. Later, they were approached about this sustainable form of income and hope that it works so that other women in their community, and across Ethiopia, could see this as a viable option for income. When I heard that I wanted to offer to buy all the honey they would produce just so they would be successful. More than that, I was impressed with the fact that they wanted to take the honey to market themselves. Culturally speaking, this is a man’s job and setting the price just doesn’t come from women. In that moment I know I got all WOMEN POWER and fist-pumped in my soul for these women. Listening to their stories made me root for them and hope for them and want so much for them.
It is somewhat of a contrast of what I’ve felt growing up in America and being a woman in a powerful position at work. Some days my title walks into the room before I do and there have been times when fathers don’t want to hear from me about their children at school because they are used to men being administrators. That’s a bit discomfiting, but I let it go and just hand it over to one of the male administrators I’ve worked with because I’m not going to change anyone’s mind about that. It does, however, surprise me in this day and age and the last time it happened was about three years ago. Frankly, it’s not that important in the big picture of my job. I’d much rather focus my energy on doing something like supporting the women I met in Africa. Not just the moms I traveled with but the ones who shared with me how they want to change their lives and work for a better future for their children.
We all have that in common. My takeaway is that there is nothing more beautiful than watching women support other women. Being witness to moms who search for all the things they have in common with mothers halfway across the globe reminded me of the African proverb to “lift as you climb”. This I got to see over and over again.
What a great and powerful lifelong challenge to rise to as I continue this journey, huh?