Living in East Africa.
A friend asked me recently what it has been like living in Africa. She wanted to know the good, the bad, and everything in between. Well Chris H, this post is for you. 🙂
Since I came to East Africa, (Where the Ebola virus has not reached us thank God!) I have come to learn many things. One thing is that they take the word family very seriously. If you are not quite related to the rest of the family… you are still family blood related or not. It
wasn’t until a few years ago that I understood what that meant. Now that I have lived in Ethiopia for a good year, I have met not only my mother’s youngest brother and his son (who I had known from a long distance) but also I have come to know my father’s side of the family. My own cousin considers me to be his sister. For
that, I am very grateful. He
has come to be my personal bodyguard for when I am out in our small town. Because I am not familiar with the language and custom, he educates me on basic cultural etiquette. How
to greet people especially during holidays. While he teaches me about basic Ethiopian customs, I in return explain various American cultures. So, it is a win-win situation.
Another thing I had learned about living in another country was the weather difference. Since we are so close to the Equator the weather is flipped upside down. While the rest of the world was having warm weather, we had a very rainy winter season. The rain would come down in soggy sheets. The temperature would drop to the 50s and below and you had to wear extra layers of clothing just to stay warm. I spent a lot time in my bedroom under blanket covers just trying to keep warm. Now that it is spring time the flowers are blooming and the weather has risen back to the 70s and above. I found that when the sun is out I would enjoy just grabbing a chair and just sit basking in the rays. Sure,
it can feel very warm… but as I am constantly reminded that I can get more than just a few dark lines on my face.
I want to talk about the food that I have eaten since I have been here. I am lucky that some of the supermarkets (what they call grocery stores) have some American and European amenities. The
natural foods are home grown and organic. Fruits that are grown here include bananas, papayas, avocados, mangoes, and various tropical fruits Vegetables
are potatoes, carrots, beans, spinach, and corn to name a few. Many of the entries that are served tend to be spicy, but the best part is they have a yogurt like food that cools the heat from ones tongue.
Technology is something that is somewhat difficult in our area. In the big cities, various internet cafes advertise about their high-speed internet and even broadband speed. In our small town, we have at least three different internet cafes that have various speeds. The
one that I frequently visit charges twenty-five cents per minute at a speed that equals high speed browsing. When one has a mobile phone (which is a majority of the population), they have the nationwide company that goes from one town to another. They mostly use prepaid phone cards that varies at costs that would blow the mind of an ordinary American. My best advice would be buy several phone cards and once and use them when you can. For the past year, I have tried to learn how to use my iPhone with all of its American features at the local costs. Let’s just say that I am learning that 20 Ethiopian Birr goes fast in a short time. I rarely use the internet feature except with my Bible application, which is maybe every other day at most. While some residents do not have the luxury of having personal internet access, the businesses have line access to internet via phone and home modems. Honestly,
I have found that to be very difficult and discouraging due to my personal uses via blogging and social networking. I have had to learn to be economical with my internet use. This meant I would email my posts instead of going online and leisurely writing and adding pictures to my post entries. One of the other things I had to learn to be wise with my time and use with my social networking. I sometimes was able to use my phone… yet my application could not be updated so I would have to choose whether to wait a few months to upgrade the app or not at all. For me that was very discouraging… but I had to deal with it the best I could.
What is one of the first things you think about when you hear the word Africa? Poverty, famine, and various racial politics. I have to agree to all of the above. In the 1980s, Ethiopia was well known for the famine stages. I was not even old enough to understand the pictures of populations’ skin and bones hanging from their bodies from the lack of nutrition. When I first arrived in Addis Ababa, I was exposed to the various beggars in the streets trying to sell their wares just to take make ends meet. The ages varied from young children who should have been primary school to young adults trying to sell a mere box of tissue paper. It can break a person’s heart to say “No thank you.” I had to learn how to be firm with the young people who would boldly walk up to me and try to sell lottery cards, books, and whatever wares that I might need. These days I tend to look away sadly because you want to give them something… but not just for a day, but also for at least longer. Even in our small town, you will see near the roads people of all ages scrounging for what little they can find to just make ends meet. I have also come to learn about how each tribe has a different language. There are the three main tribes Tigre, Amhara, and Oromo. Each tribe has its own language Amharic, Oromifa, and Tigrinya. I am fortunate to be half Amhara and half Oromo. As a child, I learned basic Amharic and English. I knew how to greet elders and treat everyone, as I wanted to be treated. Now as I live in the Oromo region I am relearning all my lessons from my childhood and putting them into action. I have had many people ask me what I thought of Ethiopians in general. I politely tell them that I think they are wonderful people who want to keep their nation alive with culture. I try not to get into the politics of life because as an outsider I may speak out of turn without knowing it. Although I do feel like I am treated differently because on the outside I am an Ethiopian American… but as soon as I open, my mouth people can tell I am an American. This is why I do not talk that much because I do not want to be treated differently.
So this is what it is like to live in Eastern Africa. The people are kind and loving. They want you to feel welcome. They will go out of their way to make you feel at home.