It has been 19 days since I left Ethiopia. You’re probably wondering why I didn’t write a last blog post about my experience. Well I have a few reasons, not excuses. 1. The last days are crazy and you want to spend time with the kids and the people, not packing or writing your blog. 2. I stopped in Ireland and Northern Ireland with my parents for a wee vacation on my way home. Lastly, and most importantly, this experience isn’t finished. Okay, yes, I’m no longer in Ethiopia, but serving others doesn’t stop there. As human beings, we are a collection of all that we have seen, heard, and experienced. We carry with us all that we have done and all the people we have met.
As I reflect on my experience of Ethiopia, I’m reminded of the song from the musical Wicked, For Good. (Shout out to Megan because this is her favorite musical of all time.) This stanza reflects what I’m feeling.
I’ve heard it said,
That people come into our lives
For a reason
Bringing something we must learn.
And we are lead to those
Who help us most to grow if we let them.
And we help them in return.
Well, I don’t know if I believe that’s true
But I know I’m who I am today
Because I knew you.
“In giving, we receive.” You think that you are helping others, but in the end sometimes it seems you receive more than the recipients of your giving. This is the case for the children I worked with at Don Bosco School and Youth Centre in Mekanissa, Ethiopia.
A dear friend and Latin teacher would be proud of this. “Docendo discimus.” is Latin for “By teaching we learn.” Sorry dear readers, unlike my friend and fellow missioner in Ethiopia, Miss Rondon, I cannot give the origin of the phrase or any other information that would be helpful besides that it was written by Seneca the Younger. I just thought it would be fun to include the Latin. Docendo discimus. It sounds nice. By teaching, we learn. After one year of teaching English to fourth and fifth graders, Salesian prenovices and techincal students, I know this to be true.
Last August, I had just finished orientation and I was pumped. I was a little nervous to be going to Ethiopia, but I was mostly excited. I thought, okay, I’m going to be an English teacher. I know English, I can do this. I mean, English is my mother-tongue, it can’t be that hard, right? Well to be honest, that was pretty arrogant of me to think.
Here are a few things I have learned this year:
1. Teaching is one of the most difficult professions there is. Wowzer! It is tough. Just imagine teaching 55 little fourth graders who don’t really understand you. Everyday a challenge, but if it was easy who would want to do it?
2. Being the daughter of two teachers, I always respected the job, but now I understand. Kudos to all teachers out there. You guys and gals are heroes! You are inspiring and encouraging so many great minds! Keep lighting those fires! “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” -W.B. Yeats
3. I am blessed to say I was a teacher for a year because I had the opportunity to work with some wonderful kids.
4. English is THE way for kids in Ethiopia to succeed. In the early days (to be honest most days) of teaching, I really doubted my abilities in the classroom. “Is it beneficial for the students to have a native speaker? They don’t understand me; I don’t understand them. This isn’t working!” By the end I really saw the benefit of having a native speaker for an English teacher. Hopefully, not only did their English improve (I’m not sure if it did?), but also being exposed to another culture and the opportunities that exist beyond their present situation was priceless.
5. I learned a lot about myself this year. Whenever you are taken out of your comfort zone, you have nothing to hide behind. We have so many distractions in our lives that it is easy to not face some of the things we may be dealing with or that we carry with us. In Ethiopia, I was just Marcy. No one knew my family or my friends. I was just me. I wasn’t Mr. Mueller’s daughter or Whitney or Tyler’s little sister. I was Marcy. Or should I say Merci? Many people had difficulty with saying Marcy, so it turned into a bit of a French accent. I also learned that I wasn’t very confident in the kitchen. In the beginning I asked my roommates about 50 questions when I would cook. I was reaffirmed in my listening and mediating skills. If there was ever a situation in our house, I happily played the role of mediator. I am someone who frequently asks for people’s advice, especially close family members or friends. This year I didn’t have the same opportunity to get that advice as readily as I would have liked, so I had to do more personal reflection and really trust in myself and my decisions without the immediate feedback that I would typically receive at home. Not only was I trusting in myself, but also in God. Everything comes from Him.
6. “Live simply so that others may simply live.” -Gandhi I learned to reduce, reuse and recycle. Seriously, you can find a use for anything and everything. Six months into living in Ethiopia I found an awesome use for a plastic spice jar. A tooth brush holder! Last week I was washing out a finished jar of some food or another and I asked, “Dad, do we have a use for this?” He looked at me quizzically and said “No, put it in the recycling.” “Are you sure we don’t have a use for this?” “No Marcy, just put it in the recycling bin.” “But really, we have to have some purpose for this jar. It could be so useful!” It was at that point that I realized it is okay to let things go. I just didn’t want something useful to go to waste. That is the mindset of hoarders and people who have very few material items. Hopefully I’m not on the road to becoming a hoarder…
7. Take time to smell the roses! I know, I know, we’ve all heard that a million times, but I learned or relearned how to slow down and to be. To be with people. To be with the kids. To simply be. To be simply. In the last days in Ethiopia I was meeting up with a couple of the teachers to go to lunch. We met not far from our compound, but I was a few minutes late. Another time meeting the teachers I was also late. It took me nearly a whole year to realize that I was giving myself enough time to get to my destination, yet somehow I was still late. I knew about Africa time, so I wasn’t in a rush to be on time because most things didn’t actually start on time. But my main problem was that I didn’t calculate meeting my students and people along the way into the amount of time it takes to get from point A to point B. It could take you 10 minutes or more from our house just to reach the front gate of our compound because there were always children along the way who would run up and greet you with hugs. If you know anything about little kids, you know it is impossible to deny their hugs! Their faces would beam as you picked them up into your arms and gave them a good hug. Or just to greet a gaggle of kids shaking all their hands and saying “Hello! How are you?” either in Amharic or English. These were the moments that taught me to slow down and to simply be.
8. R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me…. Ethiopians retaught me to be respectful. Just the way they greet an elder, a priest or someone new. When you shake an elder’s hand you place your left hand around your forearm as a sign of respect, with a slight bow of the head. It is the same when you pay a cashier. You never take or give money with the left hand, always the right hand with the left on the forearm as an added sign of respect, and sometimes with a slight bow of the head. I noticed I did that when I returned to the States and I felt a little silly, but maybe the cashiers didn’t actually notice. Respect is such an important lesson that should not be lost in the world today.
9. Hard work vs. Convenience. It is amazing how much work goes into the daily life chores of an Ethiopian or anyone in the developing world. Examples: Water. Most people have to carry all the water they need for the day on their backs. This includes water for cooking, cleaning, bathing, drinking, etc. Coffee. Coffee is a huge part of Ethiopian culture. It takes a lot of work to pull off a coffee ceremony. The pounding of the beans is hard work! Many products in America are marketed for convenience because there doesn’t seem to be enough time in the day for all our activities, work, cooking, cleaning, eating, family time, etc, etc, etc. Again, we need to slow down and enjoy life (and real food, not the boxed/ready to go stuff).
10. Faith. Faith comes in many forms. In Ethiopia there are many religions, Ethiopian Orthodox, Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, etc. Faith looks different for everyone, everywhere. Sometimes faith is walking past a church and making the sign of the cross three times. Sometimes it is praying on a prayer rug facing Mecca. Sometimes it is enjoying the liturgy of the word and the Eucharist. Other times it is serving those who are less fortunate than you. Faith is a beautiful thing that should be shared. Tuesdays at morning assembly, were English Day. So we would greet the elementary students in English instead of Amharic. Sometimes they would invite me up to say the prayers (Our Father, Hail Mary & the Glory Be) in English. Most of the kids didn’t understand the words I was saying, but that didn’t matter. As I was praying in English, they would whisper their prayers in Amharic. It was always so great to see so many kids joined together in prayer.
“The antidote to frustration is a calm faith, not in your own cleverness, or in hard toil, but in God’s guidance.” – Norman Vincent Peale
Update: It has now been 37 days since I left Ethiopia. I have started my new job as a youth minister in Dubuque, Iowa. I am readjusting to living at home for a little while. I am loving having the opportunity to spend time with my family! We just celebrated my nephew’s 1st birthday last week. I have been helping with Dad with his garden, which some days I think is a little too big to handle. I have been cooking and thrifting with Mom. I am happy to be home. Things have changed here. It’s amazing how everyone keeps moving while you’re away. I’ve changed. I’m trying to learn how to mesh the pre-Ethiopia Marcy with the post-Ethiopia Marcy. How do I share my experiences with others in a way that does it justice? Do people care about what I did in Ethiopia? Who was I before? Who I am now? Those are just a few of the things I have been thinking about lately. I would like write about tackling those questions in the future. I don’t want this experience, this part of me, to end here. Life is a journey. And the journey continues.
I am wondering if you, dear reader, can help me. Earlier in the year I did a post answering people’s questions. I think as someone who has returned from Ethiopia, it may be helpful if you ask me some more questions.
So here is your task: What do you want to know about my experience in Ethiopia? Example, would you do it all over again if you could? What was your favorite place? This may give us a great opportunity to share with each other, especially if you are someone I have not seen or spoken to since I returned. I can’t guarantee this will be a speedy blog post to write, but if you ask, I will answer. Thank you for your love and support. May God bless you, your family, your work and all those intentions you hold in your heart!
This is one of my fourth graders, Eyerusalem. Near the end, she told me to call her Jerry because that was the English version of her name.
This is another Eyerus. She’s one of my favorite kiddos. Eyerus couldn’t pronounce her “r”s so she said her name like Eyelus, and Teresa was Telesa. I miss these two and all my students as well as the community in Mekanissa.
The kids, a pre-novice, and I at oratory.