Monday, May 11, 2009

The Ninth Addis Herald

The Addis Herald, Final Edition From the Field

In This Issue:
On Being Back
New Standards
How to Improve Your Posture
Pithy Ethiopia
You Can Go Home Again (Sort Of)

Greetings from U.S. soil. Yup. I'm back. But I still have two newsletters left in me. For one, I haven't told people much about the trek through Africa—and people are still asking. Why is it taking so long? Because a lot happened there, and life "keeps happening" elsewhere. There has been too much to do, process and type—and the fact it could all be chapters long requires me to pare it down. A lot. :-) It will be my next, and final, issue.


Ever wanted to run away from home for a few days? (Not that I've had a stable home in years.) You know, to think. Pray. Be by yourself with God. Sort things out.

You, too, eh?

That's why I spent a few days at the Oregon Coast earlier this month. My friend Greg said last week that he goes to the coast "because it makes everything better." I understand this. The Pacific is so beautiful and massive that it dwarfs the rest of life—including problems that feel huge. And God, not oceanographers, tells it where to stop with His hand. If He can control an ocean, He certainly has control over our lives.

So every couple of years I go there to walk on the beach until my face feels chapped. Then I watch the sea lions (grouchy, chocolate-colored blobs with fins) burp, sleep and gripe at each other. After that, it's mandatory to feed a seagull—which I am convinced is a bag of poop that's held together with feathers. But one seagull usually turns into 20.

And then I sit in a cafĂ© overlooking the beach. For hours. (This is the benefit of being single and childless.) I read, nibble on something, write, check e-mail, pray, ponder life, scratch out to-do lists and notes. The waitresses fill my glass of whatever four times an hour and usually tease me about how I should get a "real" job. But the eight-to-five routine will happen soon enough—let me be on my own time for a few more days.

I need to ease into it while I still can … coming back isn't always simple.

On Being Back
The Pacific Ocean around Oregon and Washington is cold. Year-round. Inland it may be 104 degrees, but the water at the coast is still shocking on the ankles, even if you think you're prepared for it. No matter how hard I try not to, I gasp when my feet get wet the first time. It's kind of like how it feels to come back to the United States. Even if you think you've got it covered this time—it does get easier—something always catches you off guard. This can take any number of forms. Lately it's been our liberal media, our country's adoration of meaningless celebrities and how bad Americans' spelling is (it's gotten worse, and seriously, teens, here is not hear, too is not to and you're is not u r or your).

But the one that's hit closest to home this week is fashion.

In order to appear normal in Western offices again, I've had to go clothes shopping. Cleaning toilets is more fun in my opinion, but the now tattered African "eternal spring" attire just doesn't cut it. So I've forced myself on search-and-destroy missions to find wardrobe staples. And because there are so many stores I've never heard of nowadays, occasionally I wander into the wrong ones. You know you're out of place when the only sizes are 0 through 6. (Why?? WHY must we have size 0?? Most women weren't a 0 in fifth grade!) The clerks scope you out before you even walk through the door, starting at the torso and moving up and down subtly and efficiently. Then there's an obligatorily blasé, "Good morning. If there's anything I can help you with, let me know." But the vague hostility is my favorite. It's the "I'm wearing Chanel and you're clearly not" attitude that's the cherry on top.

One clerk feigned interest the other day just as I was figuring out that I couldn't afford or fit into much of anything. She was in her 20s and looked amazing in a miniskirt. She slinked up and said, "You are a woman who's looking for a new style [brilliant slam]. These are yummy shirts, and they're on sale. Now, what are you thinking?"

Poor girl. Little did she know this is the killer question and reason people can't take me anywhere. But she asked. So I grinned and told her. "I'm thinking it's asinine to pay $300, on sale, for a simple red shirt that's worth 20. Why is a label our self-esteem? Why are people so … crazy?"

Her face melted into something that said "rude, psycho freak." That was my cue to thank her and walk out.

And it was rude of me. Sometimes it's hard to contain the emotion that comes from seeing such extravagance and the people who don't even recognize it. I should have apologized, but didn't.

Beyond fashion, though, it's American excess in general that's hard to get used to again. Out of curiosity (it kills cats, you know), the other day I walked into a "Doggie Day Spa" complete with lingerie, meowing alarm clocks, facials and genuine leather jackets for dogs. I nearly puked. I've been told that people who have seen death and suffering don't deal well with doggie g-strings afterward. This may be self-righteous—and I may have to fight that on some level—but I just don't understand why we need or want these things. What are we thinking? We are blessed to have disposable income and freedom to use it, and long live capitalism! But … but … doggie g-strings??! (They're bad enough on people.)

And there's more. A few weeks ago I was looking for a flat iron (after five years of wash and wear, I should start doing my hair again). I asked the two trendy girls next to me if they knew which would be best. "This one," the Paris look-alike said, very confidently. When I asked why, she named several features and said, "And because it's made overseas, and other countries make better things than America does."

Her disdain and irreverence flipped a switch in me that I didn't know was there. (Seriously, guys, don't take me anywhere for a while.) The words spilled out before I knew what I was saying, so strong was my reaction. I looked directly at her and said, "You know, I lived overseas for several years and have seen a lot. You're wrong. And you have a frighteningly poor opinion of this great country." Then I walked to another aisle, sans flat iron. They thought I was psycho, I'm sure.

Yes. Reentry shock is interesting. It will be a few months before I feel normal again—if I even want some of this to be "normal" again.

But I promise that someday you'll be able to take me out into public again. :-)

New Standards
There's something about the Third World that changes your perspective. Yes, I sound like a broken record here, but I can't stress it enough. My whole take on life has changed—somehow it's become more … no-nonsense. Here's my rough, new system for handling most of life's problems. Hey, I'm not saying I'm right, I'm just saying this is part of reentry shock. Maybe someday I'll draw you a flowchart of questions to ask yourself:

1. Are there flames?
No. Then what's the problem?

Yes. Then stop griping and put them out or move. Good grief.

(Three random minibuses I took in Ethiopia caught fire. The Ethiopians just sat, passively waiting for the floorboard to stop burning. Because I didn't know where the fuel lines were or have great medevac insurance—people, it was FIRE even if small—I ran off the busses like a rabid goat was chasing me. Man, I was entertaining to the locals.)

2. Is there blood?
No. Then what's your point?

Yes. Then stop screaming and mop it up or get a tourniquet! Good night! And you should have upgraded your travel insurance because, m-a-n, are you are stuck now.

3. Is your government truly screwing you over? (A good one, for example, allows you to own land, bear arms, get a fair trial, vote, say your peace and use your freedom to improve your country.)
No. Then thank God, quit whining and sacrifice to keep it that way! Freedom isn't cheap!

Only a little. Then stop your moaning and work hard to improve it! You have the freedom to do that! You have no idea!

4. Did you have to wait an hour and fill out a lot of paperwork to see a doctor who saw you for 15 minutes?
No. And was it at least somewhat affordable (you didn't go hungry or lose your house) because you have insurance or found financial aid? Woohoo. You are among the privileged few in the world.

Yes. Well, big whoop. Your doctor is qualified well beyond what most of the world considers qualified. You should see hospitals and patients in parts of Africa and Asia—and even parts of Europe. And again, you have the freedom to work to change system!

I should probably be more sympathetic. Occasionally a friend who has also gone through reentry will ask how I'm doing and offers to act as a sounding board. I haven't needed it, but it's nice to have the option. And if I need to be kicked in the butt at some point, they'll help me there, too—so you don't have to. :-)

How to Improve Your Posture
Five days before I left Africa, the embassy called to say that Ambassador XXXX wanted to meet my fellow fellows and me. (Um, in our thinking, it would have been more useful if he'd checked in eight months ago …) Though all four of us wondered why, we went gladly because: it was a chance to sit in a civilized place, it might have meant a very nice (and free) Western dinner, and it isn't every day peons like us get an officially signed and sealed invitation from the XXXX.

So my friends and I got cleaned up—hard to do during mud-luscious rainy season—and met on base. We admired each other's best "Africa wardrobe" selections before walking to the mansion, where we felt a bit intimidated. A state dinner had been set up for foreign ambassadors in the cavernous dining room—which is why we got banana bread and macchiatos that late afternoon instead of chateaubriand that night. (But we went out for Thai afterward, which was just as nice.)

Before XXXX came in, we tried to sit properly on sofas that were too low and soft to balance on. (This is often the case in such places and, because the person of honor sits in a stable chair, I wonder if it's an attempt to make people feel the status difference.) We juggled saucers, coffee cups and official napkins on our knees. The men wore ties, and Alice (yes, my dear Alice) and I crossed our legs gracefully at the ankles, which we do only under duress. Later we laughed because we'd each sheepishly taken a napkin for posterity (hey, they're cool with an official gold seal).

Then XXX walked in and we stood. I had to strain to keep from gasping when we shook hands because I tower over him even at 5 feet 5 inches tall. After introductions, we sat awkwardly and chitchatted about African politics, current events and our fellowship projects (I was cryptic and tactful enough—Alice said so). But there were so many completely politically incorrect—that is, true and realistic—things that Alice and I wanted to say. We did not. It wasn't the time or the place. Who knows if it ever will be.

And this officially ended my fellowship of not accomplishing a single thing academically or professionally, but of growing tremendously spiritually.

Pithy Ethiopia
Before Jamie went back to New York in June, we had to express our distaste for several things that occurred during our stints in Addis. Jamie did this in the form of possible titles for her future memoir. Soon I joined in. Some may sound cruel (which is not our intention), but you'd have to live in Addis to understand why they're so fitting. May this give you yet another perspective on life:

Ethiopia: Lund thatt speeling, gramer an prunoonsiashun fergutted
Ethiopia: Land that customer service never knew
Ethiopia: Ten trillion sheep can poop wherever they want
Ethiopia: Where mediocrity is usually an achievement
Ethiopia: Logic? We don't need no stinkin' logic.
Ethiopia: Where perfectionists and OSHA inspectors may commit suicide
Ethiopia: Second only to China in donkey population (it's true)
Ethiopia: Bob Marley lives. Jah man.
Ethiopia: Ten-million-stop shopping
Ethiopia: Having a stroke here at some point is probably inevitable
Ethiopia: Where, when all is said and done, more is said than done.

We've not yet decided which will be our respective titles. We're still just trying to recover.

You Can Go Home Again (Sort Of)
(Note: Names have been changed to protect the guilty.)

The first week or two I'm back in the States I typically contact no one, form a terrycloth cocoon around myself and hibernate in front of Fox News until I feel human again. It's less shocking to the system this way. TV commercials and the election are enough to adjust to without having to be in public as well. But the other Sunday I forced myself into something besides sweats and a bathrobe to actually join the human race. (The light was blinding. My eyes. My eyes.) I went to a church in my hometown of 8,800 people. When I lived there the population was 7,500, so we're coming up in the world.

I was nervous to go in alone. This is a fairly conservative, traditional place, and the last time I visited a church other than my parents' it was less than welcoming. Several of the women scowled and said, "Well, where is your husband?" (Certainly, not everyone in the town is like this, but even one congregation can do serious damage.)

I was nervous for other reasons, though. I wasn't sure if I'd see anyone from high school. Typically, I wouldn't share this, but it helps me make a future point …

I was a train wreck as a kid—except train wrecks came from tracks and therefore have had more direction at some point. It's a good thing Goth wasn't popular in the '80s, because I would have mastered it. I enjoyed subcultures and black clothing, all while hating most of the world. (Anger and stupidity are synonyms for teenager.) I looked innocuous to people, but HA. You can seem sweet and still rage inside. Why? Because school was so awful that former classmates are still apologizing for things they did to me 25 years ago. Several of them were haunted by their behavior, and, until about a decade ago, so was I.

But I didn't help matters then. In a logging town where football games and big hair bands were the norm among teenagers, I was one of four kids (possibly adults, too) who knew about and enjoyed Monty Python. I could—and can—recite almost every Beatles lyric written. Metaphysical poetry was an obsession (John Donne's conceits still rock). I thought it was "gnarly" how Shakespeare mocked the establishment. I painted satirical cartoons and pictures that no one else got. I sat in the backyard painting, reading The Catcher in the Rye and writing very, very bad prose (which I still do). Reptiles had more standing in my eyes than volleyball players, cheerleaders and jocks. (To this day I don't understand the purpose of volleyball, but I've made peace with its players.)

My condition was so disgusting that I occasionally looked for metaphor in breakfast cereal. There are only three outcomes for such melodramatic figures:

1. Crime

2. Dinner theater

3. Becoming an English major (Obliterating hit, did not pass Go, resistance was futile)

Anyway, there I am. Sitting in a church I'd never been to before, wondering if I'll see a former classmate—sweating, squirming and scouring the bulletin from cover to cover. It took about 15 minutes, but sure enough, the homecoming queen came in. She entered from the far side of the sanctuary, but I recognized her immediately. I don't understand it, but the people you grow up with, though they look older and are more mature, are still exactly the same people you grew up with.

All I said was, "Heather Kincaid. How the heck are you?" Then she smiled like she'd found a long-lost diamond ring. And she hugged me. A hug. From a person I tangled with in high school. And I felt like hugging her back! It was real!

We talked after the service, about the standard things: who's doing what and where, who's struggling, people who have achieved a lot, people we've seen recently. We laughed about her little sister, our grade-school years and how we used to ride her horse for hours in the hills. But then we talked about high school. She said, "You know, Meredith, our childhood is this tiny portion of our lives, but the wounds stay with us forever. We seem to spend our adulthood fighting to grow out of them." Then she shared some of her struggles.

I don't think I showed it, but I was gobsmacked. She of all people is telling me this?? This woman had had everything together as a kid. She was everything—champion volleyball player included. But now she's telling me she was hurt? That she's still hurt in some ways?

The older I get—and the more I am healed—the more clearly I realize that we usually wear a veneer of togetherness, despite operating out of some of our deepest and oldest wounds. Typically, we don't even see this until something knocks us on our keisters and out of our comfort zones. But God doesn't leave us in pieces. He glorifies Himself by making us more beautiful, and if we ask and allow Him to, He will heal. It doesn't happen overnight—when was the last time you saw an apple grow in a few hours?—but it happens. I can't explain this either, but one day, after you've suffered a lot more than you ever bargained for and have been stretched to the point you didn't think you could stand, you eventually say, "OK, I get it. I give up. And You are all there is." The freedom and healing are in realizing He is everything.

So ends this edition of pondering life after Africa. And again, to those who keep asking me for trekking stories, I promise they will come. That will be my final edition. :-)

Thanks for reading.


Saturday, May 2, 2009

The Seventh and Eighth Addis Heralds

The Addis Herald
I can't admit I missed a month, so this is the "May and a Half" 2008 Edition

In this issue:
Social Commentary, T-Shirt Style
Endocrine Glands R Us
Don King's Fun With Electricity
Call Me Sisyphus

Hey guys. :-) Happy extended May from one in denial. People have been asking if I'm still alive, so it's time to send a letter.

I'm still working on fun safari stories from South Africa, etc. Things here have been crazy. I'll send them out eventually—because if I ever stop writing, I'll get pale, emaciated, bug-eyed, and start to mumble to myself a lot.


Thumper (yeah, the rabbit) said it best, I think. He looked at his feet and sheepishly announced: "If you can't say nothin' good, don't say nothin' at all." This is where I've lived for the past two or three months: wanting to explode into shards of criticism and frustration because of this culture, but knowing that doing so will just impale others. (God bless my poor, dear mother who too frequently shoulders what I don't unleash on friends.)

Sometimes people think overseas life is glamorous—and I will admit that it can be—but here's the reality that counters any glitz: The grass isn't greener on the other side of the fence, and both lawns get fertilized. Ethiopia, with 5 billion donkeys and 10 trillion goats, has a whole lot more fertilizer.

Things here have been really hard lately.

A drought has hindered hydroelectricity generated by the (only) dam near Lake Tana. (At least, this is what the government says. Friends and I who have seen the dam and lake know they're both full.) Addis has endured rolling power outages for the past three months; each neighborhood is without power and water for at least three days per week (though most shacks don't have these things on a good day). There's also a drinking water shortage, so when I can get it, I use the tap water that Microbiologist Dude once told me to avoid entirely (filters and a UV light help a lot). Rainy season just started, though, so maybe electricity will be restored—if it's not an oppressive governmental control issue (which it probably is, and you would be amazed). But besides the power outages, everyone suffers because of skyrocketing food and commodities prices. It seems like even more beggars ask me for money now.

The drought has especially hurt crops in eastern and southwestern parts of the country. People in these areas are actually beginning to starve, and last week the BBC stated that an estimated six million children will die in this famine. You're not likely to know much about this, since the government is trying to keep it quiet to save face. It's far, far worse than the Chinese earthquake and Burma's cyclone combined. This week's issue of The Economist contains an article that SHREDS the Ethiopian government. And rightly so.

We in the city are far removed from the starvation, and it feels unreal to me yet. The scariest thing for us in town has been terrorism. There have been four officially reported bombings during the past two and a half months—though five or six others remain unofficial. Two were at gas stations and two were on public transportation, which almost all of us have to take. An American was killed a few weeks ago, and about twenty Ethiopians have been injured or killed. No one has claimed responsibility, and locals are blaming the government. This is a malevolent dictatorship—despite my business visa reading "Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia"—so I put nothing past it. It could be false-flag bombing to divert the increasing strain over domestic issues. If the violence can be blamed unofficially on Eritrea, one of this country's archenemies, the government might deflect public unrest and avoid demonstrations or even a coup. Things aren't nearly this bad yet, but tension has been building despite Ethiopians' typically passive nature.

The U.S. embassy here says we have a greater chance of getting hurt in a car accident than of being harmed by terrorists. I'd agree. But just the fact it's happening is alarming.

If you think America has problems right now, come on down, honey. A trip to see how most of the rest of the world lives may do you good.

About half of my foreign friends and I are going home soon, so we're also weathering the classic end-of-stint stress and transition. I know it's bad when unflappable Attorney Guy calls me and says, "Meredith, I just need to gripe. Can you listen?" (Except he always uses more colorful words than "gripe.") I said, "Are you kidding?! Talk! I live to fix things, and that's why I'm dying here."

But despite our frustration, we plug on. We try to help where and when we can. We still learn more about God, each other and ourselves. We still enjoy friendships and aspects of life here. But I'm counting down the time till I get outta Dodge—at this writing, it's six weeks before I go to Europe and eight weeks before I go back to Oregon. Then back to Colorado in September. (And to think I once thought I couldn't make it 30 days in Africa.)

THANK YOU to those who have prayed for me. I would not have made it this long if it weren't for you! Truly. You are appreciated!

Social Commentary, T-Shirt Style
[Note: This is a potentially offensive section. Be forewarned.]

The other night, Attorney Guy, another friend and I were looking for a taxi when an Ethiopian on the street started screaming, "F— you, ferenj! I will kill you! I will kill you! Get out of my country! I will f—ing kill you!" He followed us for several blocks, but Attorney Guy is six feet tall and good protection.

This type of aggression is fairly common. After enduring it for 10 months, I've finally had it. I want to wear T-shirts emblazoned with snide messages written in Amharic (I realize my attitude is bad). Only 35 to 40 percent of Ethiopians are literate, but it would do my heart good to know that a few of these cretinous, insufferable men know my thoughts.

Before you judge me for my attitude, try living here as a single woman. When I walk on the street (which is every single day), about 60 percent of the time some idiot is shouting something hurtful at me. Forgiveness and turning the other cheek are among the lessons I'm still learning.

Here is what I would tell these men. May this help you understand an aspect of life in Addis:

*My name is not "Hey You!," "Fat Whore!" or "Ferenj!"
[With the latter, they're trying to say "French" or "Frenchy" The French settled in Addis during WWI and were among the first foreigners to do so. Therefore, all foreigners are referred to as "Ferenj" or "Ferenji." This is slowly changing since China has been taking over the country. A few months ago, a little Ethiopian girl pointed at me and shouted, "Chinese!" I just stared at her.]
*No, I don't want to have sex with you. The gestures won't convince me.
[Most of them think white women are ugly. It's all mocking.]
*Why, yes, I am married and he's coming to beat the crap out of you.
*Who says your ridiculous country hasn't been conquered? Italy, 1935–41, you arrogant little goat!
*Shut up before you even start to speak to me.
*I am not an ATM or your visa outta here.
*No, I don't need your help to carry my groceries so you can demand money later.
*What are you thinking??! (Oh. You can't.)
* I can take you out, moron, so don't you dare touch me.

A Kiwi friend in town invented a game to ameliorate the stress. She gives men points based on how offensive they are. She's been known to look straight at them, laugh and say, "Only three out of 10? Where are the four-letter words and groping? You can do better." They have no idea what she's saying, but it helps her cope.

It's all about coping. Lately I'm not doing it very well.

My hairdresser is a hip and fascinating 60-year-old French businesswoman/socialite who has lived in Addis for 40 years. She and her aristocratic Ethiopian husband have survived the Dergue, the famines, you name it and then some. She's a wealth of information and advice. Last month I was all ears as she snipped around them.

I told her that I'd seemed to run into extreme arrogance among my students, and asked if she thought my perception was accurate. She snorted, pointed the scissors into the mirror and said, "Mais bien sur! Most definitely! It is oven behavior, and it is why this country has so many problems." When I looked confused, she told me this Ethiopian folktale:

When God made man, His first attempt at firing the clay in the oven came out pale and inferior. These are the white people. His second attempt came out overcooked, too dark and useless. These are the black people. The third attempt came out chocolate-colored and perfect. These perfect people are the Ethiopians. (And they take much pride, too, from being mentioned in the Bible several times.)

She says many of them actually believe this. It would explain a lot. They have a long history of being stiff-necked and not listening to anyone, be it to NGO's, foreign governments, teachers or anyone else who comes in to try to help them. And she's far from being the only expatriate to comment on this—many who have lived here long-term agree. She went so far as to say, "Let your students be as ignorant as they are choosing to be." (Well, I don't have much of a choice.)

When you live in Crazyville, you tend to think everyone around you is normal and you're the one who's nuts. Her perspective always makes me feel less nuts. I'm not the only one who has a hard time in this country.

Endocrine Glands R Us
Microbiologist Dude and I had lunch and talked for several hours recently, ending our long and very helpful hiatus. It's been impossible not to bump into him because our worlds are so entangled—so we finally had to face each other again. It was actually nice to be with him, and he thought the same. Even when he spoke with the emotional agility of a dump truck (Shakespeare he is not), I could overlook it because I've gotten perspective. It's all about perspective.

Turns out we've each learned something about God, the opposite sex and ourselves—he more than I. He's still idealistic, though; he thinks our friendship will last for years. (Maybe it will in some form, but experience tells me it will gradually become a yearly Christmas card.)

I cracked a testosterone joke when he happened to mention his Muppets' song collection (like you, I cringe at this). He was witty enough to sidestep it, though, so my barb landed, impotent and passive, somewhere near his salad. After lunch I went home and listened to Zeppelin because I have a) better taste in music, and b) more testosterone.

Ladies, beware of metrosexual males. They don't get boundaries, women or why their behavior is confusing. But they do say sweet things at times. When I told Micro Dude I was looking forward to seeing friends who love me in the States, he said, "Oh. Right. As opposed to the friends here who don't love you."

But still. Does anybody know a Marine? An Army man? I'm not picky. Though if he's been to grad school to spend an inordinate amount of time with germs, I'll pass unless I get TB.

Don King's Fun With Electricity
A group of friends and I went out for Ethiopian food and an ethnic dance show last night. Each region/tribe of Ethiopia has at least one specific dance and musical style. The dancers performed all of them for two and a half hours, and many dances were like the most intense aerobic workout you've ever had times 70. At first, though, several of the routines (mainly from Muslim areas) were very reserved and I thought, We could leave now. Things picked up with the southern regions. They GET DOWN, baby. Whew. It was fun. You can't help but move and clap with some of them.

We witnessed the birthplace of hip-hop. The dancers were so good, and some of the dances so "familiar" that they could have been backup for any band nowadays. And when the male dancers came to our table and flirted with us, we even danced with them.

The costumes, however, left something to be desired. The headdresses, for example, looked like Don King if he'd stuck his finger in a light socket. Or maybe Eartha Kitt on an even worse hair day. And one of the dancers did something that is so amazing it's difficult to explain. She swung her head back and forth so fast that her hair flew around and we thought her skull might actually snap off. This was the finale because she was so disoriented afterwards that she had to take a second to regain her senses. I call it the Chiropractic Dance--there is no way she doesn't need to be realigned. You can't even fathom this unless you see it. Maybe it's on You Tube. Look under Ethiopian, Dance, and Moves that Could Kill the Untrained.

Call Me Sisyphus
I came to Ethiopia to teach, but that's not really why I'm here. There's no teaching to be done when a ridiculous school lies to you and undermines most of what you attempt. Nope. God brought me here to teach me. Among the many lessons are endurance and trust in the fact that HE is sovereign and sufficient. My career (if one could call what I'm currently doing a career) doesn't define me—He does. My success or failure (oh, tons of my failure here, baby) cannot make Him love me any more or any less. And HE, as I've said before, is my life. I thought I'd learned all this in China, but apparently Ethiopia is a Ph.D. course. (Soon I'll be invincible.)

For me, being in the classroom feels like pushing a boulder uphill and being smashed as it rolls back down—again and again. It doesn't matter if I knock myself out planning a detailed level-appropriate lesson plan, the two or three students who can understand still don't care or pay attention. Half don't even bother to bring their books. And when students aren't talking and ignoring me (or worse, mocking me to my face), they ask me impossible questions. One girl was baffled when I told her that "I will to drink my truck" is not a clear sentence (I am not making this up). And when I said, "Do you understand?" to another girl, the young man next to her had to tell her to say no—she couldn't even understand enough to say it by herself. Only a bilingual Amharic speaker could truly help these guys. I'm just doing a very poor job of baby-sitting.

Students think I'm the Wicked Witch of the West because I actually enforce rules (gasp!). You know, for silly things. Like following instructions that I know 80 percent of them understand but don't have the critical thinking skills to heed. Like being on time and not sauntering in 90 minutes late with a lame excuse. Being quiet and seated in rows. Writing legibly and paying attention to spelling and grammar. When they do not follow the rules, there is a consequence (gasp!). But my enforcing the consequences makes me the antichrist.

I've become the teacher we all hated growing up. You know. The one with a surly mouth, beady eyes, frumpy clothes and a chip on her shoulder that you just knew was the reason she was still single at age 110. The one you couldn't wait to exasperate by continuing to talk when she shhhed you. This teacher usually looked tired, defeated and grouchy, and she merited yearbook entries such as, "Glad we survived Ol' Saggy Butt" (or insert the derisive name of your choice). My students don't write about me (because most of them can't), but they convey their discontent effectively in other ways. I am equally dissatisfied with them.

There's a word for this: BURNOUT. My general rule is when the schoolbag starts to fray, it's time to go home. You're unraveling, too. (My bag is hanging by a thread.)

Twenty-one years ago I started traveling internationally with the attitude that there is no better or worse, no good or bad, just different. But during the past five years, I've become a cultural imperialist. There IS right and wrong, better and worse, good and bad. Though there's no such thing as a truly humane culture (we're all seriously messed up), some cultures ARE more organized and better than others. Before you disagree or find me narrow-minded, do hard time in Africa. I dare you. Watch how parts of this continent treat foreigners and their own. You would be amazed. And you would deeply, deeply appreciate how much you've got, even if it's imperfect and you don't think it's enough.

Anyway. This is life here in a nutshell. I'm looking forward to being in a place that makes more sense to me—but even then there will be a significant adjustment as I face reentry shock. Still, the future looks brighter. :-)

Let me know how you are if you have a chance. I enjoy getting updates. And I'll see you soon enough. I'm hoping to grow roots at my (much appreciated) new desk—the wild, wild world has been great, but domesticity has its benefits, too. For those of you who want to travel long-term, go for it. You will be a significantly different person when you come back, and this is usually a good thing. It's never easy, though.


The Addis Herald June Editionette

So last week as I was reading my Bible a few verses bit me (Luke 6:27–32 and 1 Thessalonians 5:16 among others). As has been my custom when convicted in Addis Ababa, I said—out loud to myself, which is one of many reasons my guards think I'm bats—"Yep. I'm pretty much an idiot."

And it didn't help (?) that that morning I'd gotten an e-mail from my friend Kim, who sent this eerily timed quotation from her quote-a-day calendar:

"Love one another in spite of your differences, in spite of your faults. Love one another, and make the best of one another, as He loved us, who forgot, forgave, put out of sight what was bad" —Arthur P. Stanley (1815-1881).

I have much to learn and a LOT of frustration to release. As you, I'm still a work-in-progress with jagged edges. (How lucky for me that Ethiopia is fantastic sandpaper.)

This country—much of the continent, actually—is out of control and just getting worse despite the BILLIONS of dollars in aid that the world sends. (Why? Because you can't help corrupt governments and/or arrogant people who refuse to change.) But instead of my anger, Ethiopia needs my prayer. (Though even Jesus would be enraged by some of this stuff!)

Anyway, things are looking up here—and I was never as distraught as some of you thought based on the May and Half edition. Here are good developments since I last wrote:

1. There are only two sane people at XXX, but thank God both of them are officemates. When the academic dean (sane person and officemate #1) told me that I shouldn't feel guilty for having problems with students, I breathed a huge sigh of relief. (If given a modicum of opportunity, I will feel guilty for global warming and Ebola outbreaks.)

He went on to say that most teachers at XXX don't do their job. The fact that I have been by enforcing rules, planning lessons and expecting students to work sets me apart in students' minds—but not for the better. He said that many students nowadays are "very scary, undisciplined, ignorant and arrogant." (In other words, he echoed every one of my adjectives for them.) He also said that since corporal punishment has been taken out of the Ethiopian school system, student quality has gradually deteriorated. (Hmmmmmmm.) His generation (he's my age) is much better educated and more respectful.

He had no solutions, but just talking with him made me feel better.

2. My phone was stolen 10 days ago, which was a huge ordeal at first because the government controls telecommunications (and everything else) and is not issuing new SIM cards. But a South African friend who doubles as guardian angel loaned me one of his phones (with card) for as long as I need it. WHEW. God provides.

3. My friend Alice (of traveling fame) asked me to teach a master's-level writing workshop at XXX. Her students are MUCH higher level than my yahoos (don't mean to sound cruel, but a spade is a spade), and I'm really looking forward to teaching people who actually want to learn.

4. I'm finalizing Europe details and looking forward to seeing friends in England and Holland. :-) I'll also spend a day in Germany and might try to hit France, too, if I can swing it. Half of this is courtesy of the State Department, since my return flight is through Frankfurt.

5. God continues to teach and hone. This is always good, even if I squirm a lot.

Anyway, happy June. I can admit now that it's not May. I hope you're well!