I love Susan Ludvigson’s poem “Motherhood:”
I would begin again, have children
late, when I’ve learned
not to rely on words, but on
bread rising each Saturday.
In many ways, I feel like my introduction to being a Peace Corps Volunteer is like “bread rising each Saturday.” Though I haven’t literally baked any bread while I’ve been here (still working on putting together a Dutch Oven), I am learning, I think, about how to live well, to enjoy the slow bread-baking moments of life.
There is joy in the ritual of honey and tea each morning, washing dishes by hand, or picking basil from the front yard. Joy in the same children running towards me on the street everyday, who after a few weeks, no longer call me ferengi (foreigner) or China, but Amanda or America! Joy in putting on my headlamp after dark and sipping small cups of coffee at my landlord’s house as his kids watch wrestling on TV. Joy in sitting with my sitemate, Bridget, for an afternoon, just people-watching on the big road and dodging stares from amused Habesha (Ethiopians) entranced by the fact that a ferengi can speak Afan Oromo.
Before coming to Ethiopia, I never lived alone, had a landlord, or was responsible for cooking for myself. And here, even where life is undeniably slow–no washing machines for clothes or dishes, no internet for miles, no grocery store with pre-packaged goods for quick meals, I am learning, more than ever, that I’m entitled to nothing.
And, in what seems like the nothingness, where I have to wring my clothes by hand and hang them on the line, where I squat in a market crowded with villagers to pick out my eggs straight from the chicken’s cage, where I lug my furniture across town on a cart drawn by a donkey who stutters through the mud, there is more life than I’ve ever known. Blessings abound.
I’m not trying to romanticize poverty or advocate for development to cease. I ache to share dreams with my friends in Ethiopia! But it is, like all else, a slow process. When I see a library in a school with less books than I have birr in my pocket, I want to tell my friends that at my elementary school library, there were more books than students. When I wait with my counterpart at the bank for an hour, I want to tell him that in America people withdraw money from their cars and receive candy for their kids at the same time. When I watch my landlord’s wife grind coffee with just a mortal and pestle, I want to tell her that one simple machine plugged into an outlet could save her hours of time and energy each week.
But my landlord’s wife knows what a coffee grinder is. And she doesn’t want one.
So here I am. Still, learning how to enjoy “baking bread.”