Kyle in Lake Assal, Djbouti

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Visit with my Host Family in Ambo

In Peace Corps, our 3-month training is done in-country. When I first arrived in Ethiopia, I didn't go straight to Bahir Dar, but first spent 10 weeks in a medium sized town west of Addis Ababa called Ambo. I lived in a home with an Ethiopian family, eating their food, and sleeping under their roof. It was an experience like no other. I was a complete stranger to them, and I was lost in a new world where I didn't know the language or customs.

My first night, I was given a drink with dinner that scared me. My 'sister' poured it out of a pitcher into my glass. It was brown/grey, had chunks of something floating in it, and smelled like an ashtray. My first thought was, 'Oh my God! Is THIS the water you got out of the well?' I started thinking about all the lovely parasites I researched before coming out, and made myself sick with paranoia. I soldiered on, drank the drink, and alas did not get sick. In fact, I got a bit tipsy. The drink is called Tella, and is a homemade beer. The chunks were barley pieces that the strainer missed. It actually tastes a little sweet, and is now a favorite drink of mine at weddings and parties.

Getting back to the family... I was clearly lost. This family was kind enough to take me into their home and teach me suimple things like how to wash my clothes by hand, and how to catch a chicken that is still loose in the yard at dusk. Very helpful things for life in Ethiopia. Whenever we couldn't use words to communicate, we used a lot of pointing and miming, which almost always led to hysterical laughter. They had big hearts and made my training much more bearable.

The family is not traditional by any means. There's a mother and father, but they are in their 70's. All 4 of their own kids are adults, and living all over the world with their own children. 4 kids do live at the house, but they are from outside of Ambo and their families pay rent for them to stay at the house while they go to school so they don't have to commute. It's like they already had 4 adopted kids, and then they adopted me as well. One big, strange Ethiopian family.

Yesterday I went to visit the family for Orthodox Christmas. I wasn't able to catch a ride on a bus as the drivers were off for the holiday. I waited around and was lucky enough to hitch a ride in a car with a man in his 60's. He spoke incredible English. I told him I was a Peace Corps Volunteer heading to Ambo to see my Ethiopian fmaily. This just made his day! He then explained to me that in 1963, he had a Peace corps Volunteer as his 8th grade teacher in Ambo. Thjis teacher taught him English, but also encouraged him to be assertive and reach for his goals. It seems to have work as he's now happily retired, driving his own car, and bragging about how both of his daughters are doctors. Small world, and a gold star for Peace Corps' reputation.

I finally made it to the house at 4pm. Much later than I hoped, but I made it nonetheless. I was greeted with huge hugs, smiles, and enough doro wot to feed Rhode Island. I ate, talked, and had some more obligatory Tella. I went outside with the kids for an hour, and then it was time for dinner! I ate so much food that I thought I was going to rupture my internal organs. It was great!

My old room was made up for me to sleep in. The larger dog of the compound took up his old post just outside my door, guarding me from harm while I slept. I awoke at 3am to pee. I went outside and looked up to see some of the brightest stars I'd seen in months. Away from the city lights of Addis Ababa, and Bahir Dar for that matter, I was able to clearly see the Milky Way and dozens of constelations. With almost no light pollution in Africa, the stars could literally be the brightest almost anywhere in the world.

Morning came, and the feast started up right where it left off. Eggs, bread, and a local food called Noog. It's made from a yellow flower, and is burnt to a crisp. In the end, it's like a bad tasting cookie that resembles a hockey puck. I ate it, but washed down large pieces like I was swallowing aspirin. More Tella, and of course, a traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony.

We were all so happy to see one another. The trip was short since I had to get back to Addis this afternoon. However, I'm swinging back through Ethiopia after Low2High to collect some things I'm leaving behind, so I'll visit one more time.

Biological or adopted, make time for family.


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