The Stuff that Lives Are Made of

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.


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