04 October 2008

where do you stand when all your idols have fallen?

It's been a year since I signed my life away to the Peace Corps.
Tuesday will be 1 year in Ethiopia. Time flies....

The new VSO volunteers arrived, and while a strapping young Irishman
with a sexy accent was not placed in Assela, I did get Susie, a
twenty-something British woman working on English language education,
which is potentially more exciting. And not just because it's a
friend who will understand what it's like to be a white woman of
marriageable age in this country. Since we're all here for the start
of the school year at the teacher college, we can work together on
programs and get them started from the beginning. I'll get to play a
bigger role in teaching English - we're planning a film club to help
get people used to english and provoke discussion in a stress-free
environment, plus some classes for the teachers. We're also doing an
HIV/sex ed orientation for the first year students, bringing testing
to campus, and reviving an info board where students can leave
questions anonymously and we can post answers for a little passive
education. I'm excited.

Thursday ended up an unofficial holiday of sorts - the Olympic
medallists and president of Oromiya region came to Assela for a
ceremony and dedication of land for a new athletic village being built
just south of Assela. This is one of those times I love my
disproportionately famous little town, although lacking such amenities
as the cheese, customs agents, olive oil, and affordable internet
found in the big-city sites of other volunteers. Being white served
me well throughout the morning. I got caught up in the parade of
people entering the stadium (Ethiopians don't just walk into events
silently, they parade en masse - see photo link below) and instead of
getting held up with the pesky pat down searches, a cop just waved me
in (a valuable security lesson in and of itself). I was sitting in
the crowd along the edge of the stadium, but then other army guys kept
noticing me and moving me into gradually better spots. I ended up on
the field next to the stage with free reign. I guess carrying a
respectable looking camera made them think I had to be a journalist.
I also managed to get myself interviewed by ETV, the Ethiopian state
channel. I'll be famous.

(edit: On Saturday, I was in Adama for some grocery shopping and
someone recognized me from Friday night's news broadcast.)

As a result of being mistaken for someone important, I ended up within
a few feet of Tulu Darartu (of Darartu Hotel fame, Assela's equivalent
of the Ritz) and Haile Gabreselassie, Ethiopia's most famous
marathoners and former (possibly still current) world record holders.
It motivated me to not embarrass myself at the Great Ethiopian Run
next month. They had a 3000m men and women's race for some of the up
and coming athletes in the area - some of the runners were barefoot,
which befits Africa. All in all, a fun morning. I'll try to get some
photos up on facebook in the next week or so, but no promises.

If you don't believe religion should be subject to the same discourse
and challenges as other ideas, then you should probably skip the rest
of this post. This is a culmination of spending the last two years in
highly religious cultures and there are just some things I can't
handle being silent about anymore.

I was reading Dawkins in a cafe when a guy asked me what it was. The
children had been rather touchy and demanding that morning, so I was
in a "take me as I am, I won't lie to win your approval" mood. I gave
him one chance and said it was about religion. He responded, "Oh,
you're a Catholic." Not so much, so I said it was a book about how
there's probably not a god and religion has a negative impact on the
world. He gave me that awkward, pained smile people resort to when
you tell them something shocking that they're not sure how to take.
He asked if I knew about Orthodox Christianity and said I had to
believe it since I lived here. If you know me well or have ever tried
to convert me, you can probably see where this is going. I told him
that in my country, we respect people's right to hold different
beliefs. That's probably rude, but we all have a breaking point and I
can't handle being preached at like I'm incapable of reasoning for
myself. In my book, forced conversion is equally rude.

I've realized that when you move to a new culture, you have to examine
your personal values and decided what's nonnegotiable for you - what
you won't compromise to fit in. For me, it's how I feel about god and
religion and attempts to convert me. (We can discuss whether I should
keep spending time in devout countries another time, but I'd say that
beliefs are strengthened by discourse). I won't stand for having my
opinions belittled. People tell me that's insensitive, so then why is
it courageous and noble for a Christian to continue practicing in the
Muslim world, or for Catholics to worship in Orthodox areas like
Ethiopia? My rejection of his faith would be just as strong if I were
a Catholic. Stronger, even, since I'd believe he was destined to
eternal hellfire and now I just think he's wrong. I'm tired of having
my beliefs rejected when I'm not allowed to do the same.

Anyway...moving onto our religion discussion in English class. Eid
Mubarak. The holiday fell a few days earlier than expected, so
Tuesday ended up a day off and class was cancelled. Lunar holidays
can be tricky. I celebrated with a Owen Wilson mindless comedy, some
instant broccoli cheddar soup, and a few beers. I tried to have a
meeting with the HIV-postive prisoners in the afternoon, but was shut
down, despite the fact that neither I, my counterpart, my translator,
nor any of the prisoners, are Muslim. I suppose I learned my lesson
about trying to work on holidays. Alas. I also learned that Ayalew,
my translator, was just released after serving seven years for killing
a man. I knew he was an inmate working in the prison administrative
office because he spoke english and was well behaved, but I had no
idea of his initial crime. I sort of wish I still didn't know.

In sum, I'd like to reiterate that you all should read The God
Delusion. Seriously.

Wishlist:
-freeze dried mangoes
-original cheddar goldfish crackers
-powdered drink flavorings (gatorade, crystal light, etc)
-hot cocoa mix
-instant broccoli cheddar soup mix
-non-refrigerated cheese products
-dried seasonings
-sourdough pretzel nuggets
-sour jelly bellys
-baking products (chocolate chips, frosting, mixes, etc)
-yarn
-books

1 comment:

Nadia said...

yes. i understand how you feel when it comes to what you are willing to give into and what you won't compromise on. i haven't lived outside of the US as an adult for a long period of time like you have, but i think my background combined with growing up in the US has led to this way of life being a lifelong battle. i'm glad that you've realized that there are some times where you can't be the nodding-your-head-look,-i-swear-being-american-doesn't-mean-i-can't-understand-where-you're-coming-from person others want you to be, but can only be yourself. more power to you :)