Sunday, September 28, 2008

Globe Trekker Imitation

My best attempt to imitate globe-trekker. At first glance this film seems insignificant, until you listen carefully. The steepness of the hill was not captured on film. My batteries died once I passed the creek.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Message in a Bottle

In regards to my recent post, Asher at Team SIA wrote: "Didn't you love that slower pace of life? Didn't you say to yourself, "When I get back home, I'm going to live a little more like this?"... And the, BAM, you are home and off and running." A simple answer would be to say "Yes" and "Yes". But I'm not known for my simple answers (ask my poor students).
My response to the first part of your question is that after 21 days in the countryside I missed some of fast-paced nature of America. I missed the convenience of many of our services. I disliked having to negotiate over the price of a notebook or a shirt. I wish I could just walk in take it to the clerk and be done with it. I loved walking everywhere. I missed going out at night and being able to use the internet, which I consider like my own multimedia library . I missed my children, but not being attached to their busy schedules (just being honest here). I enjoyed having to go the phone office and have someone dial for you. I missed listening to music via radio, but enjoyed all the live singing. I missed the variety of experiences my country has to offer. like festivals in the park. A slower pace of life meant a lot of relaxing visits with people. It also meant that sometimes those visits were silent and simple, with very little to talk about (and this not just because of a lack of English) as illustrated by this photo.
Most of the time their stories involved details about family or their life experience. Which again, was nice, but every now and then I wanted to be able to talk films, or books, or news. But I could not share many of the details of my life because they were tied to culture that my visitors would not be able to understand (How do you discuss the Tour de France and all its pertinent details to someone who has seen two bikes their entire lifetime?). My response to the second part of your question is that I did say I was going to live a little more Ethiopian. In fact, by the time I was home I was living a lot like an Ethiopian. The whole American system is set-up for busyness (especially in California) and our nature is to keep distance from one another. I wish we spent more time trying to understand one another and were friendlier, not finding threat in a simple greeting. Communicating with friends is more difficult here as we are all so busy and there are very little public places which anchor our social life. In the U.S., one of my primary means of communication with my friends is the internet. In Ethiopia I just have to walk into town.

The only social custom I can export from Ethiopia is having people over for tea or coffee. Then again, how many Americans find it worthwhile to come to someone's home for coffee or tea when they could meet at Starbucks and consume five gallons of Mocha Frappucino together and not have to clean up any mess? How many Americans want to pack up the kids, drive across town, just for a few hours. In addition, visiting in America is always a planned event, rarely spontaneous. Children complicate visiting further, as they too are on such rigid schedules, and can turn a calm visit into a frenzied one (Ethiopian children are not at all like American children are today).

In short, "Living more like this" requires a community who is willing to "live a little more like this". Part of the problem is that many of our cities are designed around the car. This leads us to a tremendous amount of isolation, lack of a sense of place, and an easy mobility that makes long-lasting friendship difficult. Consider this image. I found it under the search "Pedestrian Friendly". If it is so friendly where are all the pedestrians? (the logic of a simpleton I know.) But this is how America defines a space that is friendly to pedestrians. Europeans and Ethiopians have spaces like this which lend themselves to more community and friendship:

James Howard Kuntsler (CAUTION: bad language) and I agree that the we are killing our own civilization. As far as bringing back some of the pace and culture, I can only stand behind those who have louder voices than I. In the meantime, I'm like John Mayer, "waiting on the world to change".

In the meantime, my choices are a bit limited. I have to roll with the American pace of life OR change my job and lifestyle dramatically. Being a married man with three kids, this is not so easy. Smaller changes are easier.

So, simply said, I enjoyed the slow pace of life to an extent, appreciate much of what the USA has to offer, find that I can't import what requires a community to do, and have to support those loud voices (and be one myself) who are calling for us to become more of a community and fight against the rush, rush, rush of American life.
Anybody up for shay or machiatto?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Did I Really Go?

There is a large wall map of the world hanging in a colleagues room at school. When I visit I can't help but stop for a moment and look at the map. I then inevitably ask, "Was I really there"?

Work has been incredibly fast paced. My whole life has been, in fact. I am devoting much of my time to work, with some leftover for home. Consider my morning: I sprint to work on my bike, boil water in a hot pot for coffee and oatmeal when I arrive, change as quickly as I can, rush to the bathroom to groom, come back and eat quickly, and then prepare for the day. I type as fast as I can, talk as fast as I can, and make photocopies at the speed of sound. I am using one minute prayer series, and sometimes cut it down a minute. But, sometimes, there are these moments.

Like the time that I was biking behind a school bus and was doused with deisel fumes, or watching the sun rise with a few clouds scattered in. Then there are just moments when I stop, and think, "I was I really there"?

I push away the pain connected with missing so many of the people I met. I wonder what they are doing and how they are doing, and if they are thinking of me. I conclude that they must be, because I/we was such a high interest item for them. Before you go off the deep end thinking I sound arrogant, consider the following. Life in Ethiopia is very communal and very slow (especially when compared with America). Nobody is really concerned with time, or that much structure. Relationships are what matter. I wonder often if they are waiting for a letter from me.

I feel horrible that I have three letters sitting on the shelf, ready to be mailed. I want to take them to the post office, but find time slips away with work. Maybe this Saturday.

Ironically, one of my substitute teachers was from Ethiopia. I recognized his accent immediatly at impressed him with a "Dena neh".

Out of all the films I made I keep coming back to this one. I think you'll understand why.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

My Ethiopian Students

Since I have been back I am thinking often of my students in Ethiopia. I refer to them several times a week in my Sacramento classroom. I wonder how they are doing, and how they will do in the future with such limited opportunities. Enjoy the photos. Please ask my permission before you use them. From top to bottom: Marry, Frezer, Hamelmal, and Enyou

Friday, September 5, 2008


Someone once said that silence is deafening. This could not have been any truer than in Masha, especially on an overcast night. Most notably absent in Masha was the sound of automobile traffic. Many nights were silent as were many days. But it was not always quiet.

Most of the sounds of Masha were natural; the sound of various animals and the elements. Birds and cattle were the most dominant. The bird noises frankly were annoying as they announced the wake up call (I slept deeply in Africa). The rain on the tin roof could only be matched by Stewart Copeland's drumming. Cows really won my heart, especially the one who was parked outside my classroom grazing and lowing to be milked. On two occasions the silence of the night was broken by the sound of howling dogs (and not just a couple, but pretty much the entire community's). We were certain something was being eaten that night. I'm sure it was music to someone's ears.

Three kinds of music were ever present. There was the really intolerable sound of bellies filled with lentils. But for the sake of my readers, I won't go to into that right now. The Orthodox Church broadcast almost daily its chants and sermons. This would go on for hours and, frankly, became offensive, especially because it started at 6 a.m. Opposite this grinding chanting was the harmonic, authentic, and iconic sound of the youth choir; the yearning, crying (and unamplified) sound of worship would grace us nearly every day. Even though it was rehearsed its sound was so human, so un-mechanical. This is very different from the usual, technical sound of American worship, which tends to remind me of the last sounds of Masha.

On market days, besides the hum of all the excited buyers and sellers, the constant chug-chug of the mill could be heard through the entire town. There was the occasional land cruiser, and the honking of the buses headed for Tepi or Jimma. Every now and then we would hear a 747, but I'm not sure that it was one. I was spending too much time looking down at the ground, trying not to trip over the many rocks which made up the road. Can you hear their laughter?