Wednesday, August 27, 2008


Ahh . . . the sweet smells of roses, the spicy smells of berbere, cinnamon, and cardamon, and, of course the earthy smell of grass after a light rain . . . wait, wait . . . that is not right.
Why you might ask? Because there are four dominant smells which I found constant, at first offensive, and then eventually comforting.
Those three smells would be diesel exhaust, kerosene, woodsmoke, and charcoal. The former belongs to Addis and the latter two to Masha, while charcoal belongs in both.
Diesel exhaust has a life of its own. It seems to settle on the ground and then get kicked up into the air as people walk and drive over it. Without meaning to insult my fine Ethiopian friends, the closest description I could come up with for describing Addis' exhaust is the Peanuts character, Pigpen. For me, the diesel dustiness of Addis quickly became part of its charm, just like Pigpen.

Sacramento is a smoggy place, known for its many asthma patients and spare the air days, but it differs from Addis in one respect - distance. Here the smog seems so off in the distant or so high up, whereas in Addis it seems to always be in your face, particularly while traveling on the road. But that is not the only smell which eventually became a smell of home for me.
Kerosene was used to cook our food and boil our water. It too had an incredibly strong smell which wafted through the house even when Almaz and Yenenesh were not cooking. Tasty meals were cooked using only the cooking stoves you see in this photo, using kerosene. Kerosene was also used to burn our toilet tissue, but that is another story altogether.

Woodsmoke is the third smell that I remember. Sometimes the whole valley behind the guest house would fill with smoke as it mixed with the moisture in the air. Houses smoked. If you did not know that someone was cooking inside you would be inclined to toss water on the house for fear it would burn down the neighborhood. Traditional houses do not have an exhaust or chimney for letting smoke out. Besides, I was told, a traditional house requires the smoke to chase out the bugs and the heat to dry it out after the rain. Living amongst smoke is a very common experience for many Ethiopians.
But the best smoke of all is the smoke of charcoal mixed with incense. Out of our four coffee ceremonies the one most pungent was at Alazar's house. His sister tossed copious amounts of incense on hot coals, filling the entire front room with smoke. I'm pretty sure most of us Westerners would never allow our whole house to be filled with the white smoke of incense and charcoal. But for our Ethiopian friends it was a joyous occasion.
I find myself snickering at our "spare the air" days. The next time I find myself cycling behind a Mercedes Diesel, I'll take a big sniff, and the next time I'm camping and some old timer brings out the kerosene, I'll tell him about lentils and cabbage, and the next time we light a fire or the bbq, I'll be tempted to thrown some incense on it.

I know, I know, it sounds crazy that I would find comfort in the billowing and wafting scent of pollutants which are helping to create "global warming", but I can't help but be reminded of my great, smoky experience in Ethiopia.

Ethiopia Night

You are invited to attend Ethiopia Night on September 2 at 6:00 pm. Some Ethiopian food will be served, an Ethiopian youth choir will perform, and the team will share it's stories. We plan on giving the highlights in 5 minute snippets; with titles like "Barry Barry" and "Charismatic Lutheropalians" how could you resist? The grand entrance fee is all of 50 Birr, or 5 dollars.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Italians were in Ethiopia, you know.

So I've been a little busy, and a little down. I know you're thinking that guy does not look live Mike (well we did share the same brow and hairstyle, but . . .); no, it's not me but my now deceased friend Dino Scoppettone. I planned on blogging this weekend, but Dino passed away earlier this week. He died of Liposarcoma at the age of 38.
Dino was a boyhood friend from elementary to secondary, and he stood in my wedding as a groomsman. Although we lost contact, I thought of him often. We did make contact via email a few times and it was if we picked up where we left off. Suffice it to say, Dino was not a casual acquaintance, even as our lives took different paths.
His death has really hurt. There are so many memories. I'm not sure yet how to piece it together,or if I ever will. I just see his picture and think he should not be dead. I'm just glad I've had school to keep me busy (I have been working a lot getting ready for school and sleeping very little). Although, just the other day the colleague next to my classroom was playing some song from the Police (Dino's band) and I nearly asked him to kindly turn it down. His death comes as a real blow, not only to me, to my many High School classmates who loved him so dearly, and who never lost contact with him.
This Sunday I will travel to Santa Cruz for his funeral and memorial service. I will see many friends I have not spoken with in about 15-20 years, and I hope I will cry and mourn with them. I've got to get out all these emotions which are bottled up inside. It will of course be a bittersweet reunion as I say hello to so many and goodbye to one.
I wish I could have shared my Ethiopia experience with Dino. I would have listened with great joy as he made some smart-aleck remark about it, or about me.
In the meantime, please be patient. I will write about Ethiopia soon, I promise.

Monday, August 18, 2008


I have not ordered anything from this website, but am coming close to ordering. This post is for those of you who are missing the material culture of Ethiopia. I stumbled across this site while searching for Addis Tea. I'll put them up as a permanent link. Can you believe they sell Kolo? Good stuff!!!
Can't vouch for the women's clothes - not very traditional and a bit racy - but if you want to buy an injera cooker . . .

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

After many hours of half-awake thought on the plane home from Ethiopia, and in the early morning hours here in the U.S., the way to write about my experience finally dawned on me - themes.
I expected this blog to be chronological. I kept a journal of daily events while in Ethiopia. But after reading it a couple of times I found it too mundane for reading. There are some highlights of course, but they don't make up for the mundane nature of the trip. So the best course of action is to write periodically in themes or vignettes even; "Masha City Cruisers", "Food", " Gas- both mechanical and human", "Church", etc.
It is tempting to "firehose" it, that is give it to the readers all at once. But, I think the better course is to stretch out my posts a couple times a week. I'm hoping to include video as well as still imagery.
I thrive off of your feedback and comments, so please keep those coming. Thank you for all the comments you made while I was in country. I hope that you'll be able to maintain that level of momentum over the next few months.
The photo above was taken a few days before I left Masha. We were dining at the home of one of my students. We had Siga Wat, homemade made wheat coca, and lots of coffee. We left stuffed.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Excuses, excuses!!!!!

I have been home a week, and have not had much to say about my trip. But as events unfold at home, I am running into some new experiences. No one seems to understand what I am experiencing, especially not my family, who frankly hoped I would come home much happier and "higher". Thankfully, John Lambert at Mission Minded understands. Sounds like an excuse, but it is real.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Culture Shock - Ethiopian Style

The secret to traveling on rough roads is to find a way to sleep, or at least cat nap. That is what we did on our return trip to Addis. We are now in Addis and it does not seem so foreign to us after spending three weeks in the countryside.

Addis will be fun. Tomorrow we go shopping and kick around a bit. The next day we are invited by our driver to his home for coffee ceremony and lunch.
Too much to update at this time; much of my experience has to be sorted out. One thing is clear - you are very much in the moment.

Today was my first contact with the outside world. I learned that there was an earthquake in L.A., Sastre won the Tour, Pres. Bill Clinton is in Addis, and that Christina Applegate has been diagnosed with breast cancer.

We will be making the long flight home this Tuesday at 7pm. I promised myself a really good book. I hope I can find something tomorrow. I know that when I land in D.C. I'm hitting the newsstands. Reading will keep at bay the antsy feeling of "I wanna go home".

There is another team here at the Addis Guest House. They are from L.A. and have had a very different experience than us. There was a bit of a "disconnect". It didn't help that we look and smell different from them (we are the bushy haired, muddy, and stinky ones). I actually experienced culture shock when they did not greet us in the Ethiopian way. I'll have to do a post on cultural assimilation at a later time.

I'm almost home and nervous about getting back into the swing of things. Can't wait to see my wife and children; I know they'll lovingly listen to every story and endure every photo (many of which I will post when I get home).