It’s been over one year since I started my life in Ethiopia. It’s been a hard year, but I have grown a lot. Being in America for a few weeks allowed me to see how I’ve responded to challenges since my arrival. Here’s how I’ve changed:
- I’m kinder. I am more gracious to people. I mean what I say and what I say is lighter and cheerier than it used to be. Ethiopians’ style of sweet greeting for several minutes (How are you? How is your health? Where have you been? How is your work? How is your family? How are you?) has rubbed off on me.
- I’m more understanding. I don’t perceive situations in black and white. I know that most issues are complex and simplifying problems is dangerous. I can discern what’s important and what’s not.
- I’m more patient. Why hurry when time is relative and busyness is a fabrication of my Western upbringing? Good things are worth waiting for. I don’t expect to get out of the bank, or to get on a bus, by any certain time, so when exchanges happen fast, I’m pleasantly surprised.
- I have more energy. I’m not always tired like I was in college. My sleep patterns are regular. I exercise more, and my body knows it. Which is good, because the act of living without a sink, dishwasher, vacuum, washer and dryer, Internet, car, or shower, requires a lot of work.
- I know my personal capacity. Sometimes I can go all-day: running errands in town, meeting with people, and being at school. Sometimes I need to work in less public ways, like making a lesson plan in my hammock, cooking lunch with my sitemate, or writing emails to coordinate a book project. Still sometimes I need to take a break from working at all and just clean up or read!
- I sleep better. I go to bed by 9:30 every night and wake up each morning around 6. I rarely wake up in the night—provided there’s no major holiday the Ethiopian Orthodox church is celebrating with melodious chanting from the loudspeaker at 3 am. Sleep is refreshing but doesn’t have control over my life.
- I eat better. I hardly eat any processed food. I make my meals from scratch. I enjoy what I do eat because I know the steps it took to get there. My diet is vegetable-based. The only bread I eat I make myself.
- I’m stronger. In the past year I’ve faced things I could have guessed would come with living in Ethiopia and being in the Peace Corps (loneliness, dirtiness, uncertainty) and other things I didn’t even know were possible (breaking a tooth in a café, avoiding a hail storm in a new city, extreme verbal/sexual harassment from all angles). I think I could now legitimately overcome any challenge, in any context.
- I appreciate my friends and family more… My friends are sweet, authentic, and fun. My family is so faithful, so committed to me. I am overwhelmed, quite often to tears, by the grace God shows me in the goodness and faithfulness of people who love me. Can it be?
- … But I live less for other people. I don’t aim to please others or compromise myself to fit in. If someone thinks I look funny with a scarf over my head, I tell them I do what I want.
- I’m less inhibited. I love what I love! I’m scared when I’m scared! I’m angry when I’m angry! Feelings are less messy.
- I’m less lazy. I’ve learned that sometimes you have to do things you don’t want to do or don’t like to do to avoid disasters. Maintaining a home means keeping a regular schedule of chores (sweep, cook, wash dishes, make bed). Living with integrity means not taking shortcuts with relationships and work.
- I’m less time-bound. Deadlines are flexible. Having a good conversation is more important than making it to the market at the perfect time before the crowds come. I miss appointments to avoid walking in the rain (and my Ethiopian friends do too!).
- I still have a long ways to go. Cynicism can be dangerous, and cyclical. I’m guilty of thinking the worse of situations I don’t understand and letting that control my days, weeks, and months. I need to learn to be more disciplined, especially with work that isn’t urgent (writing). I need to complain less, especially when my bags are heavy and I have to take public transportation. I need to forget about myself more. I need to know more about current events. And I still need to learn all the countries and capitals of the world.