I can afford it.
I’ve been in Ethiopia for eight months, on my own in Adaba for five. In that amount of time I’ve amassed a bed, a dresser, a shelf, a table, a propane tank and stove, and two wooden rocking chairs. I have enough clothes that I only have to wash them once a month, and two weeks ago I decided that washing them by hand was wearing my patience, so I paid my landlord’s servant a little over $1 USD to do the deed on my behalf. I have enough earrings in my brown silk polka dot cache to never repeat a pair over two weeks’ time. I have a hard drive filled with over 600 GB of movies, TV shows, and music and a computer to enjoy those things (or record and manipulate almost any form of data I could come across).
I’m making what my friends and family consider to be a giant sacrifice. And though my life’s significantly different than it’s ever been, I can’t necessarily soothe myself when I’m sad or mad or lonely by telling myself it’s true. I have brown rice, couscous, and whole wheat noodles stocked for when I feel like cooking. I have boxes of crackers, jars of peanut butter, and a half kilo of popcorn for when I don’t. I can afford fruit and eat it often–an avocado with eggs for breakfast, multiple oranges to squeeze for juice, and a banana or two for an afternoon snack. I can afford to buy coffee by the kilo, and I can afford to grind it in a machine instead of pulverizing it with an iron rod.
I’m a Peace Corps Volunteer, and the longer I am one, the more proud I am to claim the title. One of Kennedy’s children. One of America’s naive optimists sprinkled over the armpits of the Earth. I work at a school for no more than four hours a day. When I’m tired or frustrated out of my mind I can go home and stare at the mountains. I work for free, but my monthly stipend is still twice as much as any young professional in town, and I also enjoy travel and medical benefits they couldn’t imagine.
My friends here can’t understand why I turn my nose at any of the handful of local clinics, why I refuse an injection from a needle that’s been used unknowable times. They remind me that I’m a Christian, but when I raise my voice so many times over one teacher–one woman–dying of AIDS, they ask me if I really believe in God’s will.
I have come to serve. But the stuff of my life is so great, even in this forsaken place. I can afford to know something different. Regularly, I scream and curse and shout because I just don’t understand. And they are there, standing over me.
Don’t cry. Please don’t cry.
Your house is beautiful. The most beautiful.
Thank God there’s only one Ethiopia.