20 August 2009

life is what happens when you're making other plans.

"Insensate cruelty to those you can whip, and groveling submission to those you can't...It was inevitable that she should accept any inconsistency and cruelty from her deity as all good worshippers do from theirs. All gods who receive homage are cruel. All gods dispense suffering without reason. Otherwise they would not be worshipped. Through indiscriminate suffering men know fear and fear is the most divine emotion. It is the stones for altars and the beginning of wisdom. Half gods are worshipped in wine and flowers. Real gods require blood...The physical impossibilities in no way injured faith. That was the mystery and mysteries are the chores of gods. Beyond her faith was a fanaticism to defend the altars of her god. " - Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God

I think I've recovered from my Toni Morrison-induced disdain for an entire genre of literature. I've recently finished both Hurston (above) and A Raisin in the Sun, both of which were excellent. Eyes was set in Depression-era Florida, which was entertaining. I also finished the Old Testament (!). Traumatized is a rather gentle word. Read it cover to cover, not just the inspirational quotable bits you'd get in a sermon, and I think you get a better picture of why I can't believe. The indiscriminate punishments, the inconsistencies, the violence (and let's not even get into the frequent rape and gender issues), the holding of grudges and punishing the many for the sins of the few. What's the use of worshiping primarily (or solely, one might argue) out of fear? How is that a god in which anyone could find solace, his non-existence notwithstanding? On a side note, I was rather disappointed that all the allusions I was hoping to better understand turned out to be only a few verses long.

In less contentious news, I recently experienced the joy and efficiency that is the Assela police station. When my wallet was stolen earlier this summer, it seems I was right to think it was too good to be true that someone would be returning it to me. It never showed up and I can't get in touch with the guy who supposedly had it. Alas. Anyway, without an Ethiopian resident ID, I can't get discounted airfare and there are rumors that we have to return the ID in order to leave the country, so I figured I should have that replaced. Unfortunately, you need a sealed police report in order to get a new one, which strikes me a rather silly, since I highly doubt there's much of a market for a resident (not citizen) ID with a white girl's photo on it. But I digress.

I anticipated the process being torturous, so I went with our security officer when he was in town. The "chief investigator," who I sincerely hope is downsized tomorrow, refused to help us because we said it was "lost on a bus" and there was no way of knowing if it actually happened in Assela (never mind that we just wanted the piece of paper, we weren't going so far as to actually request he investigate the crime or anything crazy like that). Fikre (our security officer) happens to be friends with the chief, so he went over his head and talked the chief into forcing a report for us. Fikre was angry enough to not even shake the investigator's hand when we left, which is probably closest to the American equivalent of defecating on someone's desk. I was told to call in a week to see if it was ready. I did so. It wasn't, but would be the following week. I went back. The chief was gone and no one knew what I was talking about. I called Fikre to get the chief to share the situation with his underlings. A week later, I was assured the report and chief would be there the next day, so I showed up again. Chief was gone and no one knew what I was talking about. Three calls to the chief established that my ID had been stolen, but nothing else. While refusing to sit in protest, I managed to make it clear that the report was finished and I just wanted to pick it up. A fourth call to the chief determined this was not the case.

At this point, my standing was making people nervous (we were rapidly approaching the hour mark), so the guy in charge ordered someone to write the report for me. After verifying the name of the country (The Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia) in which he was born and has never left, he embarked upon the task. By hand writing on a piece of double-wide notebook paper, with a sheet of carbon paper in the middle so they could have a copy (I suppose I should be grateful I didn't have to wait for someone to write a second one). Three stamps were applied, someone signed it, and tore the sheet in half (not even cut). At the last moment, someone was sent across the street to buy an envelope. An hour and twenty minutes after walking in, I was solemnly presented with a torn piece of notebook paper in an airmail envelope with another symphony of stamps across the flap. How many people would you guess it takes to reach this state of affairs? I'll give you a hint. A normal person wouldn't have enough fingers to tell this story with dramatic hand gestures for emphasis. We peaked at 11 officers, plus four random people in there for their own reasons (all of whom arrived after and left before me, furthering my frustration). Remind me to never be robbed again.

I wish I wasn't such a slacker at staying in touch with old professors. I'm going to have such horribly mediocre letters of recommendation while applying for graduate school and a means of funding it that doesn't entail black market organ donation. I had also not opened my CV file since before leaving Jordan, which was an unfortunate mess to clean up and update. I haven't brought myself to start the even more excruciating process of personal statements and the like. Baby steps.

Funny how nothing ever seems to go according to plan and we always end up better for the things and people that stumble across us. You'd think we'd learn to just stop planning and live.

05 August 2009

in your world my feet are out of step.

It occurs to me that group 3 of the PC Ethiopia program has probably received all of their invitations by now and are panicking as they attempt to fit their entire life into 80lbs in the next two months. If you've stumbled across this blog googling "peace corps ethiopia," feel free to email me if you have any questions, concerns, whatever. That's what we're here for. You'll all be training in and around my lovely town of Assela, 2600-ish meters above sea level in the shadow of Mt. Chilalo (4139m), where the weather and scenery are gorgeous and there's no oxygen. A great place to start running, if you're given to such silly notions - Assela is the capital of Arsi Zone, birthplace of all of Ethiopia's marathoners. One lap around the stadium track and you'll understand why. A free word of advice - don't bother with solar anything. Your house will have power, and electricity cuts are most common in the rainy season, when there's no sun anyway (13 months of sunshine, the national tourism board slogan, is a misnomer at best).

I've been reading Huxley's Point Counter Point and find myself thoroughly entertained by that generation of literature's assumption that readers speak several languages. Latin and French references are never translated, and although I don't actually speak either language, I enjoy the nostalgia for a time when English speakers weren't necessarily monolingual. Ditto for references to classic literature - one brief line, and the reader is just expected to understand all that Morley or Proust encapsulates (if wishing made it so). Those were the days. I also love the way he talks about sex and love in a poetic, roundabout way - somehow it's sexier than the more explicit, direct descriptions of modern literature.

On that topic, I recently had a fascinating discussion with Eshetu about homosexuality (and sex in general - after all, I AM an HIV educator). Like all Ethiopians I've met, he's repulsed by the idea, although less condemning than most. For him, it's more of a lack of experience than anything else. Anyway, we've danced around this topic a few times in the past, so this time he took the plunge and asked about the mechanics and purpose of homosexuality. I made the argument that in today's world (well, in non-genitally mutilating cultures at least), sex is more about pleasure than procreation (and hence penetration). Why else would we need and have bothered to invent contraception? If it was only about babies, then there'd be no need to prevent pregnancy. Eshetu himself admitted that he and his wife have had sex more than their two children would require. From there, I think it's a small step to suggest that homosexuality isn't any less "normal" than foreplay or sex with no goal of procreation. Not to mention that it's absurd to suggest that it's a choice - even in the most liberal cultures of the world, who would honestly choose to be treated that way by parts of society? Eshetu pointed out that my explanation ignores all religious opinions, but that's hardly new for me. Religion doesn't have to account for the opinions of non-believers, so why should I?

This led into a discussion of the wrath of the God of the Old Testament (I'm into Lamentations now - I can see the light at the end of the tunnel!) and my belief (I won't say "faith," because I have evidence) in science eventually providing an explanation for all of life's little mysteries. Historically, mankind invented a god with a chariot to explain the sunrise and a few seeds of a pomegranate in the underworld to explain winter, so I think it's only a matter of time before other things follow suit. I was also halfway through Dawkins's The Selfish Gene, so maybe that explains it (highly recommended). I think hanging out with three science-loving atheists is really pushing Eshetu to question blind faith and decide if he truly believes in his religion or if he's merely following what his parents taught him.