Friday, February 14, 2014

Lessons from Ethiopia: the low maintenance version of me

There was a time in my life where I wore more dresses and heels and in general cared more about my physical appearance.  That was before I moved to Ethiopia.  One aspect of different cultures, that is hard to ignore, is the influence of fashion or lack there of and how it changes the way you view yourself and package yourself within that culture.

In the Philippines I had no problem assimilating to the always dressed to impressed culture.  For much of my three years in Manila, I was either mothering a toddler, pregnant, mothering a newborn and nursing a child.  That stage of my life definitely dictated some of my physical appearance.  But leaving the house at any time meant that I put something "nicer" on.  I shopped a lot at the boutiques, had dresses and other apparel made, upgraded my makeup routine and regularly had hair cuts and highlights done.  It wasn't unusual for me to get a mani/pedi and I had regular facials and diamond peel treatments.

I felt pampered in Manila.  It was so easy to do.  Everywhere you turned there were cute locally made clothing for sale and salons. Fashion and pampering is part of the culture.

Ethiopia is a different sort of place for appearances*. Western fashion comes to Ethiopia by way of Chinese-made rejects. Pampering is a luxury average Ethiopians find foreign.  As my time has gone on, I have become less and less focused on how I look.  Almost to the point of not thinking about it at all.  It's extremely liberating!  Working in the kitchen all day from home requires comfortable shoes and work clothes which is usually jeans and a t-shirt.  If I am leaving the house, I put on a different pair of tennis shoes, a scarf, hat and sunglasses.  No makeup required.  Sometimes I comb my hair for a pony tail.

Because, here's the deal.  There is no where to go in Addis where you would be dressing to impress.  No one will see you and if you run into your expat friends you will notice they have the exact same outfit on.  No physical pampering going on.  I call it the Expat in Addis Uniform.  Heels are out of the question because they will get dirty and there are little or no sidewalks where you can walk anyhow.  The weather is cool enough for jeans and a t-shirt almost year round. It's almost as if you are dressing for a rugged outdoor camping adventure every day.

Some of my other routines have become low maintenance as well.  I wash my hair only twice a week now.  I use dry shampoo on  the other days.  Occasionally, I will skip a shower all together and it's not the strange incident that it used to be.  I shave my legs only when I know I will be wearing a dress (I've not gone completely hippie though-I shave under my arms every other day).  I wear sunscreen on my face and waxelene on my lips every day and that's it.  I have had two pedicures in two and a half years.  I only trim my hair every 3 months and get highlights every six months at the salon.  Which is why my hair is almost a foot longer than when we arrived in Addis.

Truly, the biggest change with becoming more low maintenance with my physical appearance is the time that it gives me to use my brain on other things.  I'm not kidding.  I used to spend a significant amount of time self assessing my appearance.  Adjusting myself, fussing with how this or that looked. Worrying about what others thought! Wow, that was probably the biggest time waster of all.  It's a wonderful feeling to just be myself and look more natural and be OK with it.  Let's be frank, age could have something to do with it.  As I get older I find I am more comfortable in my skin and like my body and my face more and more the way they are.  It's also because I am a busy person and I'd rather spend my time more efficiently.  But I know Ethiopia is influential in this transformation.  I love packing for family trips here.  My bag is full of just the bare essentials.  A bar of soap, toothpaste, sunscreen, hiking boots, pullovers, scarves and clean undies.  It's like packing as a man!

I do enjoy going the extra mile with my beauty routine for special events, dinners, balls or parties.  The extra special me looks so pretty for these things.  It's almost a shock!  But the daily me is someone I have come to love too.  I've come to love and embrace the lines at the corners of my eyes.  I like how it makes me look extra happy when I smile.  I like the feel of my worn jeans and the way my apron drapes over anything I wear.   I like the paleness of my skin after being diligent about sunscreen for years.

Ethiopia is not a place to show off your amazing Brazilian shoe collection.  It's not a place where you are trying to out-dress your friend to show off your wealth.  In a country where most people own just a few, often second hand garments, it's just not appropriate to make the gap between you and them any larger!

When we return to America this summer, I am sure that I will adjust my appearance accordingly.  America's fashion and personal maintenance culture is different from Ethiopia and the Philippines.  I am sure I will get back in the habit of shaving more frequently and wearing nicer clothing.  I am honestly, excited to shop in the States.  I do love shopping and look forward to upgrading some of my wardrobe.  But hopefully this more dressed down version of me mentally and physically won't entirely disappear.  I'm hoping to hold on to some of my low maintenance routines.  As long as I can keep the physical appearance part of me in perspective I'll be happy.

I'm thankful that Ethiopia has given me this new found freedom and insight into who I am deep down.  It's been nice focusing on the inner me instead of the outer me.  I like the low maintenance me and I'm going to embrace a few more months of it.

*It's worth noting that Ethiopian women are naturally very beautiful.  Their skin, eyes, hair.  It's all enviously gorgeous.  My loose observations as an outsider have been that it depends on an Ethiopians class, and whether they are from the countryside or grew up in Addis Ababa as to the style of beauty they are influenced by.  The traditional Ethiopian dress, hair styles, makeup, jewelry and even facial tatoos are amazing.  Women's beauty is a source of pride and many Ethiopian women take great pains to display and maintain their beauty.  My experience as an expat woman is very different.  The more relaxed style here seems to be reserved for expats.  Lucky me, I fit that category.  But seriously?  How do Ethiopians manage Addis in those insanely high heels?  It's a mystery!

Hiking to church

The title might lead you to think we are super devout.  Only when we are traveling in Ethiopia!  Hiking to rock-hewn churches is the site seeing aspect of Gheralta.  You could definitely go to the lodge just to relax for a weekend, but both times we've visited, we've spent a day with a shuttle driver and a guide showing us the way to one of the ancient churches in the area.  
All the five children from our two families were hiking with us so anything too rigorous was not an option.  We chose the same church we'd seen two years ago.  Two years ago our girls were that much younger and the easy hike was our only option then as well.  
The "easy hike" turned into what Emily coined the "death march".  We walked for an hour and a half to get to the church in the heat and then about 45 minutes back.  The entire trip took over 3 hours.  We were low on water and we had a local village of children following us the entire walk.  The idea of mingling with the locals brings to mind some interesting photo opportunities and we'd like to think we are open enough to let the kids hold our daughters hands etc.  But the truth of it is that this element can add a significant amount of stress to the situation.  As much as we ask the guide to help us manage the crowds of local kids following us (sometimes much too closely) and touching our children, it doesn't help.  At one point Bella slipped and fell and had a swarm of little boys crowding over here to help her up.  It terrified her and she started crying.  
But we hiked along and once we reached the gateway to the church, the villagers had to stay put while we continued the rest of the way.  For as long and as hot as the hike was, all the kids did remarkably well.  There was very little whining or crying.  All the kids walked for a portion of the hike.  Addie and Bella, the two oldest, walked all the way and most of the way respectively.  I was super impressed with their endurance. 
Luckily, there was shade under the cliff where the church had been built.  A group of Germans were exiting the church after their tour as we were arriving and it gave all four of the adults in our group a healthy dose of pride when they expressed their shock and amazement that we had just completed the hike with five children.  Yeah, we're pretty hard core and so are our children!  

We took our tour and rested a bit before the death march back.  Phew!  It was just about all the hiking we needed to do that weekend.

Ladytroupe Sweets does Valentines Day

It's been a long time since I've posted anything on my blog about Ladytroupe Sweets.  My bakery is still keeping me very busy.  In fact, the volume of custom catering orders has increased so much that I have much less time to blog!  Every time I sigh in the kitchen about how I've been on my feet for 8 hours straight, I smile and want to pinch myself.  This is exactly what I had hoped for.  I had hoped my bakery would do well and I'd hoped to stay busy.  Success!

For Valentines Day today I had a pretty sweet selection of goodies.

Last week Kentucky Bourbon cupcakes and double chocolate cookies stole the show

Custom cakes are still my top seller.  This is the lovely Mocha Cake.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

St. Valentines

The wilted rose was my "Valentime" from Arabella two days ago.  
I am never more thankful for being separated from the commercial generated consumerism of America, than on Valentines Day.  I know I'm not the only one that is not a fan of the forced romanticism of February 14th. All the tacky red roses in plastic and boxed mediocre chocolates.  It sort of makes me want to boycott the holiday all together.

But for the past 6 or so years overseas, February 14th comes along without all the hype.  I've noticed that without someone shoving Valentines Day down my throat, I am more interested in celebrating it.  This year, I was even feeling a little mushy the few days leading up to today.  I think it's because we celebrate the idea that Valentines Day is a reminder to express yourself to those you love.

I'm not a romantic person.  My husband is very thoughtful though and extremely good about sharing how much the girls and I mean to him on a daily basis.  I feel like Valentines Day is not necessary for him.  But it's good for me to share how I feel with those who mean the most to me.  It's good for me to get sappy about it all for one day.

Today the girls received Valentines themed books from Daddy (he's the amazing one who orders in advance) and these sweet little cookies from Mommy.  Maybe an extra hug or three from both of us.

I hope your day is full of big love and lots of hugs!

Friends in Gheralta

We don't normally go on vacation with friends.  But if you go with the right friends, it really enhances the experience.  Especially for the children.  Our friends Alex and Emily and their two precious boys (3 and 1) joined us for our Gheralta adventure.  Both family rooms were within a fenced compound with a stone patio for the kids to play.  Which meant that the adults could sit and relax or even take a shower while the kids played on the patio area.  We spent a lot of time letting all the kids enjoy the sandbox which sat right in front of the veranda with lounge chairs.  We had a view of the kids and a view of the mountains.  Perfection.

I like Alex and Emily a lot.  They are the kind of friends I would want to have if we were in America.  Isn't that the test?  Would we be friends in a normal situation?  I am so lucky to say that most of my good friends overseas are friends that I would most definitely want to have in America.  In normal life.  There must be some like-mindedness going on with young families who decided it's a good idea to up and move to a developing country for a few years.  There must be some common ideals and beliefs that draw us to other amazing families.  These are the people we connect with.  These are the people that become our family while we are overseas.  Thank goodness for friends.

Justin and I talk about how fun it would be to gather all our best expat friends, and even a few choice non-expat friends; and move to a small town in Wyoming or Montana and just take over the town. Not in a mafia way, but in a nice way. Buy homes, open businesses, run for mayor and sheriff, take over the PTA and city planning committees.  This really is a testament to the quality people we have had the opportunity to call friends in Manila and Addis Ababa.  I want to live in a magical place where all these amazing families can be our neighbors and business partners.  What a great dream huh?

Long story short.  Alex and Emily would be invited to our town.

Lessons from Ethiopia

It's seems appropriate to summarize my time living in Ethiopia somehow.  Instead of just not writing and letting the next few months slide on by, I want to document how I feel (and maybe how the entire family feels) after having spent two and a half years in Addis Ababa.

My first memory in Ethiopia is so vivid still.  We arrived exhausted, as it is with all overseas flights with children, on December 31, 2011.  We apologized profusely to our sponsors who were a young married couple about having to spend their New Years Eve at the airport, picking our tired family up and driving us to our new home.  Surely, they had something more exciting to do on their New Years Eve.  They assured us that they didn't.  The only thing waiting for them was their beds.  That might have been the first clue (which went over my tired head) that Ethiopia didn't have much to offer in the way of "stuff" to do.

We gathered our bags, kids, dog and selves and walked out into the dark Ethiopian night.  My first impression was how cool and quiet it was.  Almost silent.  There was a breeze, no humidity and it was such a different feel from Manila.. I was almost shocked.  I guess that's what will happen when you move from a city of 25 million to one of only 5 million people.

We drove to our new home which was not far from the airport (another surprise since our apartment in Manila was a significant drive from the airport).  We surveyed the huge house, settled in for the night and slept in that first night-excited to wake up and see this country-way every first night in a new country is.  The next morning we looked out our second and third floor windows onto this large open grassy space.  Once again, I was surprised.  I was not expecting trees and flowers and greenery.

My first lesson from Ethiopia is that it's good to be surprised in life.  Ethiopia has continuously surprised me.  Over and over.  There is always a new side of Ethiopia that I see from time to time and it helps to keep me on my toes.  Surprises are good.  The unknown is a way to challenge ourselves.

The surprises in Ethiopia have been good and bad.  On one hand the types of surprises we are faced with is enjoying a lovely evening out with the children at a surprisingly good restaurant only to have it ruined by driving by a vehicular homicide on the way home (sadly a very common occurrence here in Addis).  On the other hand we could be having a very stressful few days managing daily life and the frustrations of Addis only to be presented with a generous gift of Ethiopian coffee cups from one of Justin's colleagues.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Gheralta Lodge two years later

Gheralta Lodge  located north of Mekele in the Tigrei region of Ethiopia was our first adventure outside of Addis Ababa two years ago when we arrived Jan 1, 2012.  Ashlynn was still a newborn, and we were still trying to sort out what our life would look like in Ethiopia.  I remember being terrified to leave our safe and comfortable home to take the short flight to Mekele.  I remember being very nervous about packing.  I included all sorts of emergency types of items.  Then I remember arriving at the lodge and having a really wonderful few days exploring the area.  It was such a different world from Addis and I completely fell in love with Ethiopia over the course of those few days.

We've been discussing going back to Gheralta, literally for two years.  It's a fantastic place to visit and it worked out nicely that Justin made reservations for us and another family over Ethiopian Christmas (Jan 7th).

Our family has changed immensely in two years.  The lodge has not.  It's stayed completely the same.  Which is just how I had hoped to find it.  Gheralta lodge is my happy place in Ethiopia.  It's peaceful, quiet, clean, well cared for with good food and excellent accommodations.

This trip marked a new era for our family.  Ashlynn is now two and quite the independent and advanced little two year old, if I do say so.  She makes our life so much easier.  She's happy being entertained by her sisters and has no intention of every not being allowed to do what the big kids are doing.  In parenting terms, this trip was the first time that we felt like we had three kids.  Not two kids and a baby or two kids and a toddler, but three kids!  No special dietary needs, no picky eaters, no screaming evenings from no naps or over tiredness.  No waking up in the middle of the night to screaming children.  Everyone got a good night sleep in the family.  No whining for our hiking, everyone walked even for a bit.  Addie walked the entire 5 miles, Bella for most of it and Ashlynn rode on my back in the carrier but asked to walk a few times.  All the kids played peacefully together, they sat well for meal times.  There were no meltdowns.  Glorious!  Justin and I wanted to pinch ourselves from the whole experience.  It was just amazing to enjoy such a lovely family vacation.  We're mostly excited for every family trip here on out-it's amazing how much easier it gets.