Saturday, May 31, 2014

packing adventures

It took a crew of eight men, three full days to box and crate all of our personal belongings.  I was impressed with the way they carefully wrapped every item.  Our small air freight shipment was 660 lbs.  We are sending 5900 lbs of HHE (Household effects) to Indonesia.  That's a big drop from what we brought from Manila!  Which means I can definitely have a dining room table made in Jakarta!  Maybe even another piece of furniture!  But seriously, I can't believe I'm already thinking of the next pack-out as the crew is still nailing up the final crate here in Ethiopia.  
This hoarder looking pile was a portion of our UAB.  

I will spare you the sordid details, but I've been very grumpy for these three days.  It's not fun having people traipse all over your home, rummage through your belongings and ultimately take it all away.  And at the same time, in a paradox I can't explain, it's a huge relief to be without all our things right now.  There aren't toys to clean up, dishes to wash, clothing to fold.  All the stuff in my life is packed away and it's sort of nice to be rid of it for awhile.

For the next 5 month or so we are living out of seven suitcases.  For the next week while we are in Addis Ababa we have a hospitality kit with household basics and a few things we've decided will stay in Ethiopia, like old towels, our garbage can and some of our clothes which are especially holey.  I'm just too old to live out of a hospitality kit.  Pouring red wine in a cheap tumbler or coffee cup is just not my speed anymore.  The cooking pans USED to be non-stick surfaced.  I recognize my disdain sounds snobbish.  It's true, I guess I am when it comes to my kitchen.  I really like my own stuff!  I think it's my grumpiness shining through because deep down I am grateful that the embassy issues us a hospitality kit. It's only a week which is silly!

Our home has gone through a number of transitions over our time here in Ethiopia.  Upon our arrival it was big and empty and it felt very different than our past home experience in Manila. Our house in Ethiopia is big, concrete and felt very strange at first. It took a long time for us to spread out in the space after being used to our cramped living quarters in Arlington, VA. But slowly, we moved in and  it really didn't feel like home until our shipment arrived.  Then our home became our sanctuary in Addis.  One could forget what was on the other side of our walled compound when we were in our home.  I had a really fun time setting up the home and decorating.  It's the biggest home we've ever lived in, that's for sure.
Our growth chart.  Which is sad for me to think about how it will be painted over when we leave.

That isn't to say we didn't have issues with the house.  We are the first US embassy residents in the home. Which means we had maintenance crews in and out for issues throughout the 2.5 years we lived here.  We had a hive of African bees form a nest in a downspout that opened into our master bathroom.  The same area of the roof experienced major leaks during rainy seasons and our master bathroom and bedroom experienced flooding over and over, the flooring in our bedroom is buckled and moldy.  While we were on R&R the hot water heater in the girls bathroom burst and the water flowed down our stairs and flooded the entire main level of the home ruining the hard wood floors.  We've lived with them buckled and gaping now for almost a year.  The funny thing about both the homes we've lived in in developing countries is that on the surface, everything looks good at the beginning.  The "make-ready" process of a home paints over mold, polishes up the rough parts of a home, but the lifespan of this surface work only lasts for a short period of time.  So within the last year we've seen the moldings fall off the walls, plaster slough away from the walls, toilets break, counter tops pull away from the sink, electrical issues become a problem.  The wiring of our house is not correct so that every time you turn off the kitchen light the breaker on the upstairs box flips.  It took us a long time to figure out this was why there was never hot water for the girls bathtub.  But you get used to quirks, safety issue or not, we just learned to turn the breaker on every time we pass by in the hall.
Ashlynn is going through a naked phase.

Even with all the maintenance issues; water shortages (we have to run a hose from our outdoor faucet to our water tank to keep it full), power outages (our generator blew when the maintenance crew forgot to change the oil regularly) and all the little things in between (broken washing machine, water pump calibrations, door handles and locks falling off); we've enjoyed this house.  It functioned well for our family purpose.  I enjoyed having the master bedroom on the third floor while the children's rooms were on the second.  The open main level was perfect for entertaining and overall we were happy with the house!  I can feel myself around this house in the dark.  There are no shadows that alarm me, everything had a place and it really felt like home.

During pack-out that all changes.  The home that you've built for your family gets torn down layer by layer.  First the organizing, then the moving, packing, boxing and watching it all drive away on big trucks.  Then your house is big and empty again and your stuck making eggs in a 6 inch Teflon skillet that looks like someone scrubbed with steel wool.  We don't feel any ownership in the home and it doesn't hurt that things are really starting to fall apart.  But for these 2.5 years, this was our home. It's hard to let go of some of our memories in the house.  It's where our children grew and we sighed with relief after we walked through the door after an exhausting trip out of the city.  It's where I built my baking business and hosted parties. It's the front door Daddy came through every evening to squeals of delight and hugs from his girls.  It's where we slept and ate and played and laughed.  As the last boxes leave our compound on that big truck, the house goes from ours to not ours and it's a quick transition.

Now is the waiting game.  One more week in the big empty what-used-to-be our house.

Friday, May 23, 2014

before and after

The first photo was taken January 20, 2012.  Eleven days after our arrival in Ethiopia.

This second photo was taken today, May 23, 2014.  Fourteen days before we leave Ethiopia.

a surprise Ethiopian lunch

Today Eneye, Zalalem and Teklu surprised us by preparing a traditional Ethiopian meal complete with a coffee ceremony for lunch.  Justin and I were so touched.  Teklu brought in a traditional grass to decorate the ground where the coffee is roasted.  Eneye made popcorn which traditionally accompanies the coffee.  For lunch we had injera, rosemary beef tibs and siga wat.  Eneye is a very good cook.  She's taught me a few dishes and I've made them but she generally doesn't cook for us.  When she does, it's a treat.
We all sat outside and ate and when the meal was finished the real fun started.  An Ethiopian coffee ceremony is a production.  They revel in the process.  The coals are heated, incense is burned, coffee beans are roasted slowly over the fire.  They are cooled and then hand ground with something like a mortar and pestal.  Water is heated in a clay pot over the coals and the freshly roasted and ground coffee is added.  The coffee boils and percolates.  Then the pot is allowed to sit and rest so the fine grounds sink to bottom.  It's served in tiny little cups with lots of sugar.  It's strong and always has a thickness to it.  It's really wonderful and uniquely Ethiopian.  Eneye performs the coffee ceremony every evening at her house.
We've had such a great time getting to know our Ethiopian family members over our time here.  They've become apart of the daily fabric of our lives.  Through Amharic and English (Justin speaking and translating the Amharic for me, we chatted about how much the girls have grown since we moved here and how fast it has all happened.
We laughed about George and how he's become a spoiled American dog.  He waited patiently by the plate of popcorn waiting for us to share with him and then stealing our chairs and curling up the minute any of us would stand up.  We learned that Zalalem takes his coffee like Bella, with heaping teaspoons of sugar.  Teklu jokes with him that he and Lucy are the same in that they are always napping.  Eneye worked away at the coffee, waving a little piece of cardboard at the coals to keep them hot.  It was such a nice experience to sit and watch it happen in all it's methodical slowness.  I asked her a few times how she knew that it's been percolating long enough, or how long to let it sit and rest.  She sort of shrugged her shoulders because it's not something she times, the coffee ceremony process is ingrained in her because she's been doing it for her entire life.  She just knows when it's ready.  Zalalem calls it a "wise guess".

You drink Ethiopian coffee a small cup with a saucer and then wait for the next pot of coffee to boil, we did this for about three rounds of coffee.  All told, the ceremony took almost two hours.

Justin and I were so touched that they cared enough to give us this gift.  We will miss them very much.

Highlights of Ethiopia

Addie getting her hands washed in the traditional way before a meal at Four Sisters in Gonder

People are surprised when I tell them that I've enjoyed living in Ethiopia more than I enjoyed living in the Philippines.  And really, it's one of those statements that requires tons of explanation.  I loved Manila, I really did and I really didn't appreciate how awesome it is until we had left.  But you have to remember folks, the entire 3 years we lived in Manila, I was nursing, pregnant and mothering babies.  That's a hard job no matter where you live.  I was exhausted all the time! We didn't get to explore the Philippines as much as we've been able to explore Ethiopia.  Simply because our family life in Manila revolved around parenthood to little ones.  That's not to say that we didn't get to Boracay and Cebu and other amazing spots in the Philippines.  We traveled plenty but maybe I was mentally focused more on the children.  Maybe that sleep deprived fog took over a lot of the time.
Rainy season at Selam's Children's Village

The funny thing is that we arrived in Ethiopia with a very tiny infant and two toddlers.  Possibly, the issue is that in the Philippines I was a new mother and still more cautious.  When we arrived in Ethiopia, I felt more confidant and ready to explore.  For whatever reason, the exploration of Ethiopia has been less intimidating to me and a bit easier.  So we had some pretty great family trips in Ethiopia.  We've seen some amazing things and experienced Ethiopian culture in a way that we never experienced the culture of the Philippines.
Giving a soccer ball to a little boy at Bethel Women's Center

I've been doing a lot of reflection and comparisons lately of our past posts and in a way it's hard to compare Manila with Addis Ababa. But I compare anyway, I think it's something humans like to do.  We measure things up and think about our future experiences in reference to our past experiences.
The priest at Debre Brihan in Gonder

Silver Ethiopian crosses.  

Anyway, seeing as this post was intended to be a simple list of highlights from Ethiopia, I better get on with it.
The painted ceiling at Debre Brihan

1. Gheralta
We visited Gheralta Lodge twice and it was amazing both times.  Very peaceful and lovely with some of the best accommodations.  Having friends take us to Gheralta only a month after our arrival in Ethiopia was the best thing they could have done.  It immediately showed us that the best of this country is to be seen outside of Addis Ababa.  It also alleviated all my fears of traveling here with small kids.  Once we did it that once, it opened the doors and ignited an excitement in me to see the rest of the country.  The second trip to Gheralta was with friends and we were the old experienced Addis people.  Funny how that works.
Ashlynn at about 4 months old in Gheralta, Right before bed!

Hike to the church in Gheralta

The view from Gheralta Lodge in Mekele

The priest at the church in Mekele
2. Gonder
Also a destination we saw twice.  Spectacular after rainy season and a different sort of beauty during the dry season.

3. Lalibela Hudad
Hard to describe how epic this trip was for us.  The four hour donkey ride/hike up to the plateau, camping in huts at the top of a mountain, fresh slaughtered goat for dinner.  The most authentic Ethiopian experience we had.  Definitely the most adventurous. We had a donkey carry our pack-n-play as well as another suitcase up the mountain for Ashlynn!  HA!
Our accommodations at the top of the plateau
Bella on her donkey for the hike to Hudad

4. Lalibela
Seeing the ancient rock hewn churches was one of the most spectacular things I've seen in my life.  It was like walking through living history.  I highly recommend going at Ethiopian Christmas.

5. Wolliso and Negash Lodge
My favorite road trip with our family.  Great lodging and a great hike to see Wenchi crater.

6. Mombasa, Kenya
We spent Thanksgiving 2012 with friends in Mombasa.  We rented an entire home for a week and enjoyed the beach.

7. Cape Town, South Africa
This almost month long trip took us everywhere in Cape Town and will likely go down in our family history as the very best vacation we've ever taken.
7. Paris, France
This was my first single trip without my family and away from my children.  Paris is amazing for many reasons but this trip was spectacular because I met my friend Sunny there for the ultimate girls weekend.
I've stated in an older post just what Ethiopia has meant to me as a creative person.  My love for this country stems from my personal success and growth I've experienced here.  I was really truly happy in Ethiopia.
Our friends here have made this post unforgettable.  I love that the friends you make don't ever get left behind.  You can carry friendships from place to place and goodbye is really never final.  We almost always end up saying "see you later" instead.  I don't like goodbyes and I'm not very good at them.  I don't like being the center of attention with people getting emotional (me included) about the experiences we've had together.  In a lot of ways I'd rather quietly slip away without making a fuss.  The fact is we live a life of transition and change. People coming in and out of our lives is a huge part of it.  We're used to it and so are our friends but as much as you can be accustomed to it, it can still be hard.

Entoto moss