As I sat hand washing my clothes I contemplated on the differences between the other two cultures that I’ve always known and the culture I am currently in. In Ethiopia, it’s very common for parents to have multiple children and work multiple jobs. The children grow up and go to school to learn but this is where the two paths for individuals differ. For males, it’s very common for them to either do really well in school or for them to slack off. In high school, it is more common to see males going to school than their counterpart. Young females are expected to maintain the house clean and do all household. In my particular situation, both parents work in the same complex but work in individual buildings and since it is summer, three of the children go to school from 8:15 in the morning until noon where they take a variety of classes but also take English classes. The 16 year old does not go to school in the summer as she is in 10th grade so she stays home taking care of Nat, the eight month old baby. 10th graders and 12th graders take test nationally and that determines whether they will continue in their studies. As Hane passed her exams, she has the 2 summer months free and will go back in early August to complete 10 months of schooling.
When I come home for lunch, all girls are home and done for the day. Lunch is already prepared by the girls and waiting. I get to prepare my meal first, and then Etalem and Babi, and lastly the girls. Just like in a Spanish context, the girls are heavily relied on to do all the world while the parents are the provider. In an American context, this will not work. Most of the housework is put off on the hardworking mother and father who prepare the meals and who do mostly the cleaning. In Ethiopia, it is the girls who prepare the meals, the girls are the ones that clean up and the girls are the ones that sweep. So much is focused on the young girls that it is no wonder that they get left behind in school and are more likely to drop out.
In the States, depending on where you live greatly depends on what kind of housing you get. In Ethiopia and even in Honduras which is where I was born, houses are placed in compounds so that multiple family members can live inside that compound. In my compound, 8 people including myself live inside it and there is still plenty of space to add more if need be. Ethiopians are very family oriented and even neighbors can be considered family. Where I am currently living, the compound is large enough for 8 people, 2 guard dogs, mango trees, banana trees and even coffee. Unfortunately, dogs aren’t treated well and often are abused in Ethiopia so dogs are used for guarding the house and not seen as pets. Sorry, a dog is not a “man’s best friend” here.
There is a shower but of course, the heater is broken so it’s just been cold showers. I have been converted to an Amazon woman, only taking showers when need be. I only have time to take showers at night and by then the temperature has significantly decreased and its much colder. The latrine is outside and it’s filthy. I try not to use the shint bed or the “bathroom,” well first because there are two guard dogs that don’t know me so they bark anytime they see me and secondly, it smells horrible in there and it’s not a pleasant time. I try to wait as much as I can and use bathrooms in clean hotels. It’s funny to think how much is taken for granted back in the States, but WiFi is free at hotels. I savor the moments when I have trainings at hotels because that means that I can talk to my loved ones home.
As far as the language, it’s amusing to see both parties struggle in communicating. I have been laughed at for saying the wrong thing in Amharic and I am always correcting Etalems’ English. Babi seems nice but not very talkative. I find that even with the girls learning English they are still not able to comprehend some words. For example, yesterday as Hane, Babey and I were walking downtown so Hane could get her ears re-pierced, I had to explain to a 16 year old what “popular” was. “you can’t sit with us” came to mind as I was explaining this to my little sister.
Overall, I have begun to laugh at the misunderstandings and the wonderfulness that is Ethiopia. It is in the little moments of laughter in between the hard moments that are making all of this experience worth it.