Friday, January 29, 2010

Switching Gears

Hello everyone! I am back from my African adventure, and have lived to tell about it, avoiding the Ethiopian Airlines plane that went down the day before our flight.

I thought that since we had very limited communication with anyone back home that it would be cool for you all to read some blogs about my time there. I would love to share stories with you all, and I think writing them out is the best way for me to communicate them to so many people in so many places. A big thanks and shout out to all who wrote me very encouraging notes and emails before I left. It really helped me prepare my heart for a month of service in another country. SO THANK YOU ALL for your support!!!

I wrote in a journal pretty much daily while we there except on the days that I was sick. (More about that later.) Here's my first entry dated January 5, 2010:

The past 2 hours have been extremely overwhelming, especially since the plane landed, we drove through Addis, and then drove about 3-4 hours to get to Project Mercy. Addis was a very intimidating place for me. The store fronts look very different from the vague expectations I held in my mind before we got there. The people dress differently in a large spectrum, some looking more normal to me than others. The language has a beautiful flowing sound to it, but I am overwhelmed by not being ale to understand anyone.

I am generally on who comprehends things through observation, but observing the culture so far has led me to little understanding. I have never interacted with a non-Western culture before and have only spent 10 days in a country that doesn't speak English fluently, so engaging with the culture of Ethiopia is going to have to come in a different way than engaging with other cultures, and I know this is a huge adjustment for me. Hopefully the adjustment can happen quickly as I spend more time exploring the compound and getting to know the children.

When we arrived in the country, I arrived having formed many ideals while preparing for this trip. When I saw Addis ad observed all the towns we passed while driving down to Project Mercy, I felt very hopeless. I had come in thinking that I would be able to connect immediately with the culture and that my lifestyle as one who (compared to other Americans) relies little upon material goods and luxuries would be somewhat similar to the lifestyle of the Ethiopians. When I saw the city and the countryside, my mindset changed because I better understood that I am in a completely different culture, and the only way I can come to feel connected to it is by intentionally engaging with it, as I stated earlier.

Another ideal with which I came in was that I would connect so quickly and easily with the culture and the people that I would want to stay here and serve long-term with Project Mercy. I really respect everything I have learned about the ministry of Project Mercy, and I feel like I could work to promote that ministry, but once we drove through Addi and the small towns and villages, I felt as though I might not be able to help out at all, and that staying here long-term is not even in the picture.

I feel that my presence in Ethiopia (and the presence of Americans/white people in general) is viewed in a fairly negative way, like some are suspicious, and that made me feel very uncomfortable as we drove through the city. We stopped to pick up water in Addis, and there were some older teenagers (maybe in their twenties) who were watching our bus full of ferengis (foreigners) and talking about us. I made eye contact with them and observed them. They saw my large bottle of water and said something. I saw the word "wuha" (the Amharic word for water), and I showed them my bottle in response and mouthed "wuha." They saw me, and with seemingly smug looks on their faces proceeded to mock me/us. I was very confused because I had no idea what they were saying, but whatever it was, they seemed unhappy that we were there.

Throughout our drive to Project Mercy from the airport, people would give a mixture of looks when they saw our bus. Some were happy and waved (mostly children), others gave no response, and others had angry faces and seemed to mutter angry words. One thing that comforts me in all this, though, is that we are working with an Ethiopian missionary organization founded and run by Ethiopians. The last thing I want to promote is the "white Americans coming to save the day" mentality.

I want my heart to be in a place of humility in knowing that I am but a small part of a big thing and that I am here to serve Ethiopia and not to bring along my big ideas (and ideals) to a country that I know hardly anything about and have little connection or experience with. I want to come and help move Ethiopia in a stable direction with what little gifts I can offer. I want to promote what is best for Ethiopia. I want to understand what is best for Ethiopia, what direction the people desire to move, what economic and political things are best for Ethiopia so that I can help promote those things.

Right now, as I serve at Project Mercy teaching English, I believe that (in the context of the world right now) helping children/people in Ethiopia to learn English is one of the primary ways to strengthen a country and help promote its future. I am glad and thankful that I can be a part of an organization that wants to better the country and strengthen the people here. I feel that God has a hand in the work Marta and Deme are doing to aid their country and to promote its role in the world.

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