I returned to Adaba last Thursday just after dusk. The electricity was out around town and I didn’t have the light of a cell phone to guide my footpath. Though I practically know the town’s plot by heart, I was still scared to walk home with my big blue backpack in the dark.
After a day of traveling, shuffling through bus stations and staring out of windows, I was tired and ready for bed. Along my walk home, I knew I wouldn’t soon be able to rest. Since my tiny blue clutch disappeared on a bus earlier in the week, I had no house key to let myself in.
When I finally arrived to my compound, I pushed the tin gate hard against its wooden frame. My landlord put down his tools in the cowshed and greeted me. He gave me a semi-regular spiel on how I should use less electricity. Then I told him I had a problem; I had no key.
Turns out that night, there was no possibility for me to get into my house. My landlord’s family, who I have grown to love more and more since I’ve been in Adaba, offered me a place in their home. Hanuk slept on a sack filled with hay so that I could have space on the bed.
I retired early, just before 9 pm, after only one small cup of coffee. Maaza told me to take the place closest to the wall, and then she crutched over me and wrapped the blankets around my side. She and little Ezra joined me on the bed later. They like to sleep tight. Even though there were three of us, we only occupied half the bed.
When I woke in the middle of the night, realizing I couldn’t stretch out or turn over, the light was still on in the bedroom. Maaza and Ezra and the rest of the family sleeping on the floor had the blankets pulled over their heads. I crawled over the other snoozers and switched off the light.
After my purse disappeared, I berated myself over and over. How have I become so flighty? Why do I try to carry so much at one time? How could I have become so distracted in my conversation to forget my things? How could there be purpose in this frustration?
It was not a great night of sleep in the house with Maaza, Ezra, Henok, Yahred, Ababeya, and their seretena Birtukan. But it was a night of laying down the way I do life and accepting the grace of a family that considers me their own. Maybe I had to lose my purse just to realize how insurmountably unimportant my plans and ways are. Maybe I had to let myself be tucked into bed and snuggled like a little baby to remember that my life isn’t about me.
Peace Corps volunteers brag about the joy they find in the solitude offered with little work and lots of time. It’s easier to read a book than it is to play cards with a group of kids. It’s easier to make rice and beans than it is to share a meal and extended coffee ceremony with a neighbor. It’s easier to sleep alone under a sea of wool blankets than it is to share a bed with two other people.
I too have found joy in the solitude. The morning sunlight hours with just the voices of myself and God will define my service as much as the students I teach or the rich Ethiopian culture I am starting to adopt, little by little.
That part of Ethiopia is calling to me now—asking me to forget about myself and be the daughter, sister, friend, who brings joy, new perspective, and help to others while letting them offer the same to me.