Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Lessons from Ethiopia: staying busy is key to your happiness in this country

Side note before I start: This is what's keeping me very busy!  
Side note #2 the photos are sort of random in this post.  All are recent creations either for Ladytroupe Sweets or meals for my family.

It's widely known that keeping oneself busy with engaging and satisfying activities is great for a positive psyche.  In general, I am much happier and content when my life is full of interesting work and hobbies.  Finding this type of engaging activity is absolutely crucial as an expat in Addis Ababa.
Kofta pita sandwiches with hummus and tzatziki

At home I could get by with telling people that reading and shopping were my hobbies!  HA!  Here in Ethiopia, I identified the things that have always interested me (writing, photography, cooking, baking, crafting, decorating, styling.  Phew! That's a lot of interests) and focused my attention on them.  Instead of just viewing them as interests, I started viewing them as my skills, area of expertise and even my profession.  Doing this kept me busy in Addis and in turn, kept me happy.  More than happy, truly thriving.

I have some theories as to why I waited until moving to Ethiopia to really start mastering my interests. Looking back over the past two years, here are a few I've rolled around in my head.

As a family, we moved from the baby phase to the kid phase during our time living here.  I started Ladytroupe Sweets when Ashlynn was almost a year old.  She was still very young but I felt the need to pursue my interests.  I suddenly had the energy and maybe knowing that our family was complete and I didn't want to have another child helped me to really buckle down and get to work.  As a stay-at-home-mom I have more time for my interests now that the girls are getting older.  This theory probably has the most to do with my success with my business.  Not being pregnant or nursing while living in Ethiopia freed up a lot of my mental capacity and time to pursue other things.  Imagine that?!
Birthday cake for a first birthday party

Life in Addis can feel a bit isolating as a non-working parent of small children.  Our homes are all walled and gated, our friends are often in different neighborhoods.  I had large stretches of my day alone to sort through my ideas and write, work on my photography, develop recipes and ultimately launch Ladytroupe Sweets.  During some of this isolation, I knew that to stay sane I needed to stay busy (I'm always busy with my children but I'm talking about a different kind of busy.  A self enriching kind of busy), even if that meant I made the work for myself.

There is not much to do in Ethiopia with kids.  Yes, we hike, travel and spend days with friends at one another's homes but if I had time or the desire to go "do something", there wasn't a whole lot that I could do.  There's no shopping, no gym, no parks to picnic in. Especially no fun kid events at the library or other kid friendly community activities.  This meant that I focused my attention on exploring photography and blog worthy things in Addis alone.  Making a point to go visit some things I wouldn't take my kids to do in the city and bring my camera opened up a whole new world of interesting photo journalism for my blog.  Instead of just taking pictures of something with the rush of the kids around, I tried to work hard at taking in the scenes, framing photos in my mind and telling a story with the photographs back on my blog.  This activity kept me very busy for the first year and a half in Ethiopia.

Ladytroupe Sweets' inception has a lot to do with the lack of good baked goods available in Addis Ababa.  I love food and I've always loved to cook and bake but I quickly realized that if my family and I were going to eat the way we like to eat here in Ethiopia, I would have to step up my skills and do it all myself.  Some of the first things that inspired me were my pies.  I had always felt a little unsure of my pie making abilities.  One day I just decided to start practicing my pie crust and got the idea to make little hand pies.  The idea that I could try something, work at it, develop the recipe and perfect it over the course of a few days, blew my mind.  Since then, and having worked at it for the last year and half, I now have the confidence that I can create anything in my kitchen.  If I work at it, I can do it.  We've eaten like royalty while in Addis and I've moved from an average home cook to a real working professional.  I've worked hard and Addis truly inspired me to create good food not only for my family but for others.  Not having any "quick" or "prepared" meal options forced me to make everything from scratch and once I started doing it (making my own tomato sauces, salad dressings, bread, buttermilk, cakes, crepes...you name it), it became easy and everything sure tastes better!
Apple, walnut and blue cheese crostini for a catering job

Ethiopia is a mecca for creative individuals.  There are very few hurdles to go through to work with other artists.  As a creative person you can take the time to perfect your art and then immediately market it to other people.  Since there are very limited options for retail in this town, people are excited to embrace and buy your work.  As a freelance photographer I found it very exciting that I could walk into a business and speak to the owners about taking photos.  The openness I experienced about using my photos on my blog and in turn providing the businesses some free PR, was liberating and exciting for someone like me who was practicing her craft.

Ethiopia might be the perfect storm for me.  All the stars aligned, everything fell into place, etc.  All my theories work together to make my time in Addis a perfect time for me to pursue all my creative interests.  I will forever be grateful for this country giving me the time, confidence and inspiration to do what I love.  That and my husband, who truly is the one supporting our family and allowing me to pursue the things that make me happy.

No matter where you are, stay busy, pursue what you love, get serious about your interests.  But especially do this in Ethiopia.  

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