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?


Anonymous said...

Hey, Bro,

Hanging out at my friends house or having them come over to mine is all we do here in SC. I'd go for a good cup of Joe at mine or at buddies house over a starbucks but I guess that's where you and I are the same. Come visit in SC and you'll get a more down home feel than Sacto.....Nothing a good walk or run on West Cliff wouldn't cure...Or cruise on your cruiser.... Love ya.

Your bro,


Kevin E. Reilly said...


It's often interesting to think back on how one arrives at the moment of posting a message like this. Two seemingly unconnected events today have combined to find me here. The first being your comment on my Status on Facebook. The second me just being bored and deciding to check-in with the Class of '88 reunion website. As I browsed there, I came across your picture and note, which mentioned this blog.

Having not spent much time on your Facebook profile, I had thought your time in Ethiopia was spent as a Christian Missionary. And while that would pose no problem for me, it's also not something I could particularly relate to.

Learning that you're a teacher and were willing to sacrifice time with your family to educate children in Ethiopia really sparked my interest (it also explained why you thought my thoughts on summer vacation might mean I was a teacher, too), so I decided to visit your blog. I've only read this one post so far, but something occured to me while reading it; the differences you noted between America and Ethiopia also exist within our own country - although on a smaller scale.

The most obvious example in my own life is how I feel, behave and act here in Delaware versus how I do in Santa Cruz.

I do not live in a metropolitan area by any stretch of the imagination, but I drive everywhere. Even if I only need to run to the corner store.

But when I'm home - I walk virtually everywhere.

I think this stems from the fact that I don't really want to run into new people here. Whereas in SC, I look forward to meeting new people. Even to the extent of sitting on the curb and chatting with them for a while.

I guess my point is that geography has little to do with it. It is a cultural thing. I tend to characterize SC as a "tolerant" or "comfortable" place. Others may feel differently, but from my perspective - it is where I am most comfortable and at ease with new people. When there, I trust that I will not run into the rampant racism, sexism, homophobia, and distrust that is so endemic out here.

I'm tempted to belabor my point in an attempt to make a true connection to your Ethiopia experience, but I'll trust you to understand what I mean.

As far as why I've chosen to respond here rather than Facebook: I know how much I like the exceedingly rare comments on my own rant-filled blog. ;)

Great to see you doing so well, and doing such good. Kudos.