When you land in Ethiopia you are hit hard in the face by reality. It is crazy, it is crowded, it is dirty, people are selling stuff everywhere and you cannot even turn 10 degrees without someone asking you for money, but this is the norm, this is Ethiopia. After leaving the airport you step into a National Geographic magazine. People are everywhere, there is mass chaos, and everything you see is what you only have read about in the magazine.
The people (mostly women) carrying items on their heads and backs for miles at a time just to make a few $$$s while the men stay at home and do the sewing and limited labor. Here, the women do the heavy work, they work in the fields, they go and fetch water and carry it for miles in the heat and sun uphill,the go into the forest,cut down trees for timber and bring it to the markets in town to sell and the every next day they do it again. This is life for them, this is the norm here, this is their way of life. You get a sense of it when you are here, but to truly get the experience, you need to jump from those pages and emerge yourself with the people, culture, ways of life here in Ethiopia.
Hurry Up & Wait….this has been the norm in Africa as a whole. No matter what country we are in or how many years we have lived in Africa, this is the NORM! You would think with this being our 2nd tour in Africa that I would be use to it, but, NOPE! It drives me nuts! We have lived in DRC Congo & Ethiopia and have traveled to Seychelles, South Africa, Kenya, Egypt, Tunisia and Dj and it is all the same, you tell someone a time, you pack up the kids and the car and rush to the meeting point, only to sit forever and wait until they show up. I have waited up to 3 hours before and then left. The biggest pet peve I have is waiting on someone!!! If we set a distinctive time, then be there at that time! It is easy! Case in point, yesterday I drive up to the orphanage. I told the director 0900 arrival. Not only did she show up at 10am, but then she had to have coffee and snacks before we could go to the kindergarten or talk business. People here do not respect others’ time. Time is precious, we have a lot of things to do, yes, I am a house wife, but I have cooking, running errands, being their for my kids’ events. Respect time and do not take advantage of others’ time. This will be one of the biggest things I will NOT MISS about this place!
Africa…yes, the continent. I do not know how many people think Africa is a country…it’s a continent people! After you tell people you live in Africa, their next questions usually contain something about animals and how many monkeys we have as pets. I have heard this more than I could possibly count. Most people think of Africa as tribal people running around half naked, with spears, lions, leopards, zebras and giraffes strolling the streets and monkeys everywhere…yes, that is some places of Africa, but Africa is HUGE! If you were to fly from Egypt (North) all the way to Cape Town, South Africa (south) non-stop, it would take you 10 hours!!! Africa is massive and there are wild animals roaming the national parks and Serengeti, but not where we have lived.
Our first Africa tour was DRC Congo. Congo is known for the Bonobos, but where we were, they were caged in a sanctuary. The wild ones were in the East where we were not allowed to go, however, we did have cheeky moneys that got brave from time to time. They would mess with Nola and all she wanted to do was play with them, but this one money would come out and steal beer. Yes, BEER! While on a hash in the middle of nowhere Congo, we stopped for a break. As everyone was out of water, there were only hot beers available, so hot beer it was. I put my beer down to get the camera out and this monkey jumped from the top of my chair, to the table and started drinking. I can not make this stuff up! Well, I snatched my beer from him, wiped the rim and finished the beer. I know you think I am nuts, but with 8 miles to walk back and no water left, you damn right I was going to drink my beer that the monkey started! That money got mad and started shitting his chest, so I feed him Starburst and it shut him up! Hahaha!
In 2004 we moved to the UK. I was stoked! Not only were we staying in Europe, but they actually spoke English, or so I thought. I am not good with accents to beginning with (mainly Middle Eastern and Spanish), but I thought the UK would be a breeze and I would not have to slaughter my little known French or German. My first encounter was right after we moved into the house in Ramsey. The 80+ year old property manager came over and wanted to go in the basement. He asked “Do you have a torch?” I was thinking, what in the world does this old man want a torch for? Maybe he is just senile or mistaken, but he repeated himself several more times asking for a bloody torch. So logically, I found a lighter and gave it to him, thinking it was the closest thing to a torch. He got very aggravated at me and said “bloody hell, don’t you have anything better than this. I need a torch to go downstairs, it is too dark!” Then a light went off, literally, he wanted a flashlight….
That day taught me how to be quick lipped with snappy come-backs and think outside the box. There were daily occurrences that I learned quickly…bonnet was your hood of your car, boot was the back, biscuits were cookies, crisps were chips, bangers were hotdogs/sausages and so forth. Now I actually thought, “I got this”! Not so much…
Several months had past and I was ready to put plants in. I went to the local garden shop, did all of my shopping and was at the check out. As it always rain in the UK, I lived in Wellies (tall rain boots),the cashier hands me a plastic bag and says “this is for your boot.” I told her no thank you and that I would be keeping my Wellies on despite they were caked in mud, but she said no, this is for your boot. Again I declined. Then this nice lady behind me said “Love, not the boots on your feet, but the boot of your car!” Dammit, I thought I had the lingo down, of course she meant the boot of my car so that I would not get mud from the plants in it.
Even now after all of these years since we left the UK, I still catch myself using UK English, my Pickle Brit friends still take the piss out of my vocabulary, but I would not change it for anything. These were some of the best times of my life and no one could take the friendship, laughs and memories away from us.
Only in a third world country will a vet come to do house calls. In all of the places we have lived, the 3 3rd world assignments we have been in, all the vets have made house calls and even have done surgery outside on the front porch! That just screams “3rd World!!”
We got our lab, Nola from Frankfurt 7 years ago and from there she has been with us on all of our tours. She was fixed in Germany, got dehydrated and had to have IVs in DRC Congo and recently had to have a tumor removed in Ethiopia. I am grateful that though we are remote, we can still get care of our furbaby.
Nola had this mass at her back end…yup, pup got back!…..but it was not an infected gland and it just kept getting bigger, so I called the local vet who was happy to do the surgery on Monday. When he brought her back, he was so excited and said “look at this! This is tumor, I took it out of your dog!” Yes, not only did he bring Nola back home after surgery, but he brought the damn tumor with him to show us! I cannot make this up! He was also proud to show us the pictures his daughter took while he was preforming surgery! Ok, so I showed the kids, they thought it was cool and I threw it in the outside garbage…what was I to do with it, put it in a jar for safe keepings?!?!?!
Since the surgery the doctor comes daily to repack the ‘hole’ in her bum with gauze and antibiotics…yes, he turns my front porch once a day into a surgical table…no worries; but yesterday as I go to throw the nasty gauze away he tells me “no, it is bio-hazard, I have to take it back to my house! Are you kidding me? You bring over a 2lb tumor and leave it here, but I cannot throw away nasty gauze?! I just had to laugh! Gauze be gone!!!
I know I am not the only one out there as a handful of my military spouse comrades are the same…..overloaded with family, school, household and we keep adding more! Most people just do not get it, but as a military spouse, I multi-tasked and just push on.
Case in point: We are currently planning to move from Ethiopia in 34 days, I am packing up the house, trying to get the kids’ report cards from here, register them in a new school in the US, buy a house, set up shop all awhile trying to o find a job and keeping things as little as stress can be here in Ethiopia…..but yet, I just add more stuff to my already crazy schedule.
Tomorrow I am hosting a Diplomatic Charity Event at our house. I have the local brewery and vineyard donating all of the alcoholic drinks, but for the life of me could not find anyone to donate the food. So on top of the 120 people (Ambassadors, Diplomats and Ethiopian Government Officials), I am now cooking for this event. Many of my local friends think I have lost my mind, but for me, this is normal.
As military spouses, we learn to work under pressure, we are use to last minute changes that we have to implement within 24 hours or less, we take the resources we have and make amazing meals and parties….we multi-task, are flexible and strong and through this, we come out stronger (and exhausted) and we put a smile on our face and can’t wait for the next event. Cause we all know, even if it is not on the calendar, one will pop up within the next 2 weeks!
God bless my kids, but being a military child and a global nomad comes with a price! As we are planning for our move to the US next month (first time in the kids’ lives that they have lived in the US), my youngest asked me:
“Do we need shots to go to Mississippi?” and “What language do they speak in Mississippi?” Though not funny, I had to laugh, as I think, being a Southerner myself, that people in the South speak their own language. I told her “English”, but she would have to learn Southern slang and sayings “Bless your Heart”, “making groceries” , “slap ya mama” and so much more. We in the Deep South pride ourselves on our sayings and down home manners. Though an American by birth, she will have a lot of learning to do!
She also asked me “I never heard of the country ‘Mississippi’!” I tell you, my children have traveled the world, seen man made and natural wonders, met and shook hands with Heads of State, but know very little about the 50 States and their capitols not to mention their geographical location in North America.That is ok, what they have learned, seen and touched over these past 15 years no one can take away from them. So they do not know the capitol of Louisiana is Baton Rouge or Kentucky is the Bluegrass state, over time, they will get it…and if not, no worries, it will not make them less of an American or a future leader….