To our dear Ignite Family, We miss you! It’s hard to believe we are now 2 months into a new life here in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. It has been a whirlwind of emotions, highs and lows, joy and frustration and adventure, tears and deep breaths. Here are some snippets…
Everything!! There is quite a lot to adjust to here from the culture and language, the never-ending traffic and the animals that share the road, the smells and the tastes, the sheer volume of people (five million!) and the lack of decent Wi-Fi. For the first seven weeks, we had constant heavy rain, as the clouds, without fail, empty out their contents every single day. However, mr. golden sun is beginning to come out and will stay out for the next eight months! I keep forgetting to put on sun cream when I leave the house and you do genuinely burn within ten minutes. Fiona is doing an incredible job. She works so hard and has had to learn a lot on the job. She covers everything from political, culture and trade, to visas and consular and HR, to South Sudan. As she described her various roles to someone recently, he responded, “Wow, you’ve just described ten of my friends!”
For me, this is the first real time I have lived in another culture, which is fascinating as well as exhausting. Greeting is different. Communicating is different. Eating is different. City living is different. They estimate that there are more people in Addis Ababa than in the whole country of Ireland! Navigating around a city that size was very difficult at first. Seeing some of the living conditions was also a big shock and a kind of soul-grievance to witness. One reflection I have is that I realise more and more that the initial shock of witnessing poverty has worn off a little. The fact that we become accustomed to our surroundings is a sad reality. This coming Friday we will start Amharic language classes. Even having a few words of the local tongue can go a long way here. Wasn’t it Mandela that said, ‘If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language that goes to his heart.’ We have also been planning some trips outside the city; the countryside is supposed to be breath taking. However, due to recent violence, local protests and road blockages outside the capital, this has not yet been possible.
We find ourselves in so many bizarre and funny experiences every week. Addis is an international diplomatic and development hub and we meet people from all walks of life, those who are inspiring, those who are powerful and those who are just plain weird.
We go on a 10km run with a group every Saturday morning up in the beautiful Ethiopian mountains. We would never have been doing that at home!! The running group is a mix of ex-pats and locals; the locals always win. In fact, one of the Ethiopians we run with just won the Dublin half-marathon! We live a bit above the city, which is a blessing because it is less packed with people and the air is cleaner. To the envy of my brothers, we have inherited a pet dog, Mackie, so we are kept busy walking him. I realise now that pets are a Western luxury and the stray dogs do not take kindly to Mackie on their streets. It has also dawned on me now how much I took for granted back home. It was interesting reading the Storm Ophelia news and hearing about the thousands of homes without power, but how the ESB have been working tirelessly at fixing the damage. How I miss the ESB!! The electricity generally goes every week. As I write this, we are into our third day in a row of no electricity! We stick our generator on for two hours every evening when we charge all our devices and cook our dinner and heat the water.
We have explored various churches and are trying to be patient about how it will take time to find a temporary community and family. The international churches here are our only option as all the local churches are run through the infamously difficult Amharic language (oh, and the services are three hours long, standing only and start at 6AM). It’s incredible to stand in a church with people from all over the world and to pray prayers that the Church has prayed for 2,000 years and listen to others pray, and to lift up the name of Jesus and receive communion. We have clung to God throughout this season of turbulence. I have seen how our sustenance and energy and motivation to keep going have come from Him. As well as meditation, one practice that has been extremely calming and rewarding is giving thanks every day, regardless of the circumstances. There will always be things to give thanks to God for, and the practice of reflecting and being mindful focuses the brain on all the goodness that this world and life has to offer. The author Ann Voskamp opened my eyes to this. Just as the act of giving thanks preceded all of Jesus’ miracles, I believe giving thanks precedes the miracle of experiencing joy-wonder right here. It’s the practice of training the mind to see goodness and to be grateful, to see God and his ever-expanding Kingdom right here; in the midst of our raw loneliness, in the sorrow of seeing extreme wealth and extreme poverty, in the frustration of feeling like an outsider; a stranger in a strange land.
The hard parts…
Because, yes, even though we’re adapting and becoming familiar with our new life and even though we count ourselves as having so much, life can still be hard here.
We miss home. There are so many things that I took for granted about Ireland. It’s weird the way we don’t really appreciate things until they are far away. I miss the conker season and the fresh Autumnal air; I miss my family and our close friends and my granny’s farm. I miss deep chats over quiet pints of Guinness and the Irish accent and walking by the sea. But I don’t get too upset about missing people and past experiences on our little rock in the middle of the Atlantic, because the fact that we do pine after home is a good thing. Homesickness surely indicates that your memories, experiences, emotional connections and communities you were part of are of real value and are worth going back for. And every day here in Africa, we are creating new memories. And I give thanks for that!