It was six months last week since we left Canada and came to Ethiopia. In some ways it seems
much shorter than that and in some ways much longer. Ethiopia and Canada are very,
very different places. It is hard to overstate this obvious fact. In some ways,
the longer I am here, the more different they seem. Since the obvious physical
differences have settled into my consciousness, Iíve been noticing other, more profound cultural
differences. Iím still mulling these over, but in honour of my six-month anniversary, Iíve
been thinking of various aspects of life here in three basic categories.
This includes certain lifestyle issues like not having a fridge or an oven (we never really
used ours much anyway - apart from frozen pizzas!), running water every second day, paying
someone to wash our clothes by hand, washing with cold water, eating with my hands, dusty
air, dodging goats and cows on my bike, getting paid in cash, no credit cards, not usually being
in a hurry, walking into peoplesí offices without knocking, running around for at least a
day to get anything photocopied, the fact that itís 1995...
Cockroaches would be a fine, large, ugly example. The first night I saw them I had trouble
sleeping with visions of them crawling over me. This is no longer an issue (the sleeplessness,
not the crawling), but I canít say that I donít notice them any more.
My Amharic remains below a two year oldís level, and Iím still getting used to not really
understanding much of what goes on around me. Particularly at work this can be frustrating. At
first I took the view that if there is something important or something that concerns me, surely
one of my colleagues will tell me (they all speak perfect English). Wrong. For reasons of
institutional survival, I am now very nosy and constantly ask questions. What meeting? What
schedule was changed?
Possibly Impossible Adaptations
Most disturbing is the overwhelming sexism of this culture. This continues to get me down
personally and professionally. I can recognize that it is a good experience for me in terms
of appreciating our grandmothers, thinking about how most of the worldís women live, etc. But
I donít think I will ever get used to it. Certain things continue to shock me. For example, a
very well educated man told me the other day that all parents should have sons because they love
their parents better. I just didnít know what to say.
Next on this list would be the heat. (I donít know what I would have done if we
were sent somewhere really hot). My Northern Ontario body just doesnít like the heat
of the mid-day equatorial sun. But my arms are turning quite brown, particularly when compared
to my always-covered legs! The fact that the weather is generally the same is also hard to get
used to. Every single day it is 30 degrees and sunny. I know from where you are that sounds
wonderful! But it is strange to have it the same everyday. I never realized before how much
weather controls our lives in Canada. Also, the fact that the days get neither shorter nor
longer also remains strange.
In another six months I wonder what will be in these three categories...
There is a great Ethiopian saying: Slowly, slowly, an egg learns to walk. A Canadian
friend teaching in a very small Ethiopian town compared herself to a two year old just learning
how the world works. Exciting, but daunting.
My love to everyone in Canada. I wish I could send you some of this heat.