07 November 2009

home is where the heart is.

Gazing out over the scenery while riding the dawn bus from Assela to Adama, I found myself humming a vaguely familiar tune. As we rounded the curve and the full vista of shimmering gold wheat fields in front of distant mountains came into view, I recognized the opening bars of "America the Beautiful," a traditional American song.

"O beautiful, for spacious skies
O'er amber waves of grain
For purple mountains, majesties
Above the fruited plains"

In that moment, Ethiopia looked just like the vast plains of the American midwest where I was born and I realized that Ethiopia had become a second home to me. Looking back, I hardly remember my first frightened trips to the market, testing my fledgling Amharic as I bought a kilo of onions or found the grinding mill for the first time. Today, it all feels like second nature to me.

While my time here has been filled with challenges as I adjusted to living far from home in a new culture, now, just days before my departure, my mind is filled with only the joyous moments of the last two years. The young woman who stood up in an English class full of men and said she wanted to dedicate her life to campaigning for the rights of women around the world. The boy who shyly thanked me and told me that every Ethiopian he knew wanted to go to America, but I was the only American he'd ever seen in Ethiopia. The old woman who passionately taught her daughters that respect is a universal human right. The prisoners overjoyed to discover they deserved the same opportunities as anyone else. The teacher who said he can identify an American because we are always smiling and treat everyone the same. The bus passengers and cafe patrons with whom I shared countless humorous cultural exchanges. The list is endless.

My heart is torn as I alternate between excitement about going back to America and sadness for this new home that I'll be leaving behind. I believe that more unites us than divides us, and never has that been more true than after my time in Ethiopia. When I first arrived here, all I could see was how different Ethiopia was from America. But in time, I realized that deep down, we are all citizens of the world; we all want the same things - the opportunity to improve our lives and leave the world a little better for the next generation. The comfort and love of a family. I'll miss the Ethiopian family I've created here. I'll miss catching my breath every time I look up at the beauty of Chilalo Mountain silhouetted against the crystal blue sky. I'll miss being welcomed like a long lost friend in my local cafes and restaurants. I'll miss introducing dozens of Ethiopians to American chocolate cake and falling asleep to the sound of rain crashing on a tin roof.

In America, we say that "home is where the heart is." If that's true, then my home is scattered around the world, but there's now a little piece of my heart snugly nestled in the Ethiopian highlands. One day, I'll come back to find it again.

-my submission to Peace Corps/Ethiopia's program newsletter and my last post from Ethiopia.


Nadia P said...

Ah the curse of the traveler: heart torn to shreds as it resides in many places and people around the world with no central place to heal.

Janet said...

Safe travels to you and best of luck for your future. I have enjoyed reading your posts for the past year.