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  • Writer's pictureSamantha Brueggeman

Goederts in Ethiopia Week 2: Exercising Caution

I have learned to exercise caution when asking God for something. I don’t remember exactly when I asked God for patience, but when events start to pile up that require patience, I realize that this testing of my resolve defies earthly explanation. Its at times like these that I know He is building up my reserves. God is giving me what I need to grow, in particular becoming more patient. It is an interesting mental challenge to live in a place where almost nothing works well. However, to avoid becoming complainers, we learn to find work arounds; our patience grows daily (or not). Here are some examples.

The Engineering Department at Bahir Dar arranged through one of my PhD students for us to stay at a nice hotel for our first three days in country. They booked the Presidential Suite, and although we aren’t Presidential Suite kind of people, we appreciated the kindness to help our adjustment. We are ever aware that most Ethiopians live with dirt floors, no running water, and limited toilet facilities. In the Presidential Suite we did have a jacuzzi and hot water enough to fill the bottom inch of the tub. No faster than one of us could boil water in the coffee maker, the water became less than comfortable for even a penguin. We were impressed with the cleanliness of the jets, however, knowing that they never had been used.

On the third day, we found ourselves in the same home where we lived last year. The house had been unexpectedly vacated a few days before and we were thankful to be back in familiar territory with a Mango tree right outside our gate. The day we moved in, Martha said she smelled a rat. Generally that would not have concerned me, but I now know that Martha has inherited from her mother and her mother’s mother the ability to smell and identify almost anything. She said there was a cockroach smell (old sneakers) and a rat smell (ratty), and that cleaning would need to take on a new meaning. Martha worked the day we arrived, so I spent all day cleaning and preparing the bedroom. When she arrived home, her nose went immediately to work; she reported that the smell was still there, “cockroaches and rats”. She was right, over the next few days our hunt and destroy mission found cockroaches over-running the home, a rat under the stove, and about six months-worth of things that attract varmints (we’ll let your imagination run the course). The next week was consumed during our nonworking hour, hunting for sprays, boric acid, cleaning supplies for disinfecting, and finally Ethiopian incense that is reminiscent of a wise man (Frankincense). On the eighth day we gave up (almost biblical!). Martha said, “Forget patience, I need peace!”.

Yesterday we found a new spot, and although only one room, it has a lovely balcony with a soft evening breeze and a morning sunrise. We can now get on with our work at hand.

On Fridays we restarted a tradition from last year’s Ambassador Scholars, of hosting at a variety of places around town a meal and sharing time. The event gives us some respite from work, lots of laughs and perspective from different disciplines. This year our group includes a law professor, an environmental specialist, a political activist on water quality and pollution, a writer with literature expertise, a physics professor and whomever else wants to join us. Of course, Friday was a reflective time, hearing of the global distress currently around the Middle East. We were all aware that citizens are suffering, especially families of those on the Ukrainian flight. Among our own American faculty group we represent four different countries of new immigrants or first-generation Americans, three faith traditions and women and men. We are just one interesting table, drawing attention from our Ethiopian servers, a wonderful expression of the melting pot of America. When we collectively hear how the University loves us, how our work is appreciated, how our being here brings joy and promise, then we are reminded of the role that Americans have in this world.

Give me your tired, your poor

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,

Send those, the homeless tempest-tossed to me

I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

Emma Lazarus, a Jewish immigrant wrote these words. She knew, as we are all reminded daily in all walks of life, that America has an enormous role to play in justice and peace. Being in Ethiopia sharpens our wits, keeps us aware of the many privileges we have at home, and the many responsibilities we have to our neighbors. We wish to share with you the view from our Friday evening gathering watching a full moon rise over Lake Tana, seeing fish eagles swoop in for a catch and reed boats paddling net to net to collect tilapia. We feel privileged beyond measure to share this experience!

Sleep tight and don’t let the bed bugs bite! Enjoy your week by doing something unusually kind for someone!!

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