The last few weeks have been a roller coaster of emotions with good and bad times. It is so easy to be reminded of everything you are missing back home when you are stressed and there was plenty of stress to go around for a lifetime.
Sunday, November 23 was my moms’ birthday and while I loved seeing pictures of her birthday with the family, it also made me extremely sad. To make matters worse, I was not able to talk to my mom either. It was one of many special occasions I would miss in my two years and it was just the beginning. When I left for Ethiopia, I knew I would miss many celebrations but I didn’t realize how much it would actually affect me to not be there. Looking through pictures, I felt like an outsider looking in observing on what I used to know. I could predict on how her birthday and Thanksgiving would go, but it still didn’t make the “being thousands of miles away” any easier. If anything, it made me yearn for home and for the comfort in the predictability of my family. I wanted to be home not taking for granted the stress, the fighting, the predictability, the delicious food and the happiness that comes with my family.
For Thanksgiving, I went over to Lalmba on November 29th where Celine and I had a wonderful candlelight dinner. We had mashed potatoes, meat, carrots with cinnamon, green beans glazed in olive oil with delicious banana pumpkin bread and a mixture of wine, beer and sprite. It was my first holiday away from my family and I was feeling nervous in spending it by myself. With Christmas decorations put up and with a native speaker, it felt like I was back in the States. I was in pure bliss. It was the calm before the storm.
As I would be headed to Addis for training from 15 to 19th and it was the week before mid-exams, I would have to pull in doubles to make up for the week lost. In addition to classes in the morning and in the afternoon, I would have to write 25 questions for the mid-exam for grade 9 and grade 11 due on Friday. I would have to keep up on my lesson planning due on Friday, give a Peace Corps Assessment to a control group which takes approximately two hours, work on my English Needs Analysis (ENA) and work on my presentation. I would also have to pick up my furniture, go to the primary school to help with their English Club and go to the Education Office in the center of town to pick up the information on the history of the town for my ENA. From December 1 to December 5th everything ached: my body, my hair, sitting up, sitting down, talking as I was getting over a cold and was in between losing my voice, listening and after a full day, I would come home, watch GLEE and crash on my bed. I was able to complete everything except for things that were out of my control: the Education Office never had the information ready on the history of Chiri and my furniture was not done after 2 weeks due to “technical difficulties.”
There were only two moments that saved the week from being completely disastrous or stressful. The celebration of SNNPR and two ten-year old twins and one thirteen-year old boy playing games and typing on my laptop. These young boys are my landlords’ sons and they are so amusing when they come together. They’re funny even when they are arguing over Chess and losing miserably to the computer. On December 5 (November 29th Ethiopian Calendar), there is a celebration of Southern Nations National Peoples Republic (SNNPR) held at the high school. Every November 29th, Ethiopians set up a show held by fellow students and participate in dancing, singing, acting, etc. It would have been fantastic had I understood more than a couple of phrases but it was nice to see my students, the teachers and the school administrator come together.
I had been inviting people over my house to spend my birthday with me and I offered to have my first bunna ceremony. Bunna Ceremonies are very common in Ethiopia and I have been nagged on having one since the first couple of days being here. I had waited so long because I wanted my house to be finished and I did not want my guests sitting on the floors. Nonetheless, bunna ceremonies are a great way in Ethiopia for people to come together and enjoy each others company while enjoying coffee and some other delicious delicacies. Due to my furniture not being ready (I could pick it up on Saturday after my birthday but I was headed to Addis, so I would have to wait 2 more weeks for me to be able to pick it for a total of 4 weeks), I ended up borrowing furniture from my neighbor and the bunna items from another neighbor. I felt kind of embarrassed but there was nothing I could do. Ethiopians want to help so I would just have to suck up my pride and get over the fact that I was still borrowing things after 3 months living here. I told my invitees to come at 6 p.m. (12 p.m. habesha time), but when no one rolled around by 6:15, I started working. Making bunna here is a long process but I was ready to work. I started by washing the coffee. The coffee is filthy here so about four good washes will do the trick. Next, comes the roasting off the coffee for about 20-30 minutes. The roasting is crucial as it helps tenderize the coffee, but since I’m not big on coffee or ever made coffee by myself, I wanted to go straight through to the third step: pulverizing the coffee until all the coffee beans are mush. Grinding the coffee takes about 10-20 more minutes and while that is going make sure to have the jebena going with boiling water for about 25 minutes. Once the coffee is completely grinded, pour the coffee into the hot water and you are good to go! Sounds all easy, but this process takes about 1.5 – 2 hours of my life.
I’d like to say that my bunna celebration went off without a glitch, but I would be lying. At first, I thought everyone had ditched me and no one wanted to celebrate with me. It wasn’t just a bunna ceremony but a celebration of my birthday. I didn’t want to be alone on my 23rd birthday. In those two hours where no one came, I finally had my first Ethiopian experience: when people say “yes,” it most usually means “no.” I tried not to be upset but it was inevitable. However, with the help of the boys and Betty, all children of my landlord, they kept me occupied and helped me make coffee. We took plenty of photos which I will share here. Add in some inspiring songs of Miley Cyrus in addition to the kids (the good stuff not the trashy stuff – i.e. the climb) and I was put in a good mood. When the coffee was finished around 8:20 p.m., that’s when people started to show up. Everyone in my compound came and it was a tight fit. 2 hours of work and 40 minutes of entertaining and listening to a lot of Amharic. Alas, there was also a lot of translation for me so I can’t be too upset. Nevertheless, I had fun on my birthday, had my first bunna experience and I now understand why it’s so important to Ethiopians. With no internet and inconsistent power, bunna ceremonies are the best way to spend time with your neighbors and get to meet new people. It may be a lot of work, but the hour or two of conversation is worth it.
Everyday, I am truly inspired by all the hard work Ethiopians have to do. It’s amazing how easy it is to complain when you live in a developed country, but come to a developing country and you’ll begin to understand what “hard work” actually means. Walk a mile in someone else’s crummy plastic shoes and feel the rocks poking out all the while carrying a heavy load of rice and you’ll begin to understand.