Sunny Pathway

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Ethiopia: A Recap of Our Experience

Repost from another blog - by Solveig.

Any account of a country based on a nine-day visit is inadequate. We spent all of our time in Addis Ababa, making our exposure even more limited. But I’m unable to transition away from our trip just yet—so, one more blog post on Ethiopia. I've included quite a few pictures because they add so much.

In a sense, mountains define Addis. They rise above the Sahara and the jungle to create a high, rugged plateau. Elevations in the city vary from 7,000 to 8,000 feet. That gives an idea of the terrain. Temperatures are consistent throughout the year, reading in the low 70s during the day and mid-50s at night. It cools quickly; I wanted a sweater or jacket every night. Could a climate be more ideal?

But my dominant impressions involve people. I came away with a different understanding of servants. Marta has two close friends from childhood. One married a man of means, the other did not. We were blessed by both as they moved in and out of the guest house where we stayed while there—helping, serving. The privileged and the not-so-privileged worked together. During breaks, seated on traditional stools in the kitchen, they laughed while eating traditional food together with Genet, Ted and Marta's nanny/maid. The gals were beautiful and I'd love to provide a picture but feel I need to respect their privacy. Although social distinctions are real, they aren’t as divisive as I thought they would be. Servanthood and hospitality seem to be key cultural responses that cross social boundaries.

Then there's the pervasive poverty. Remember that Ethiopia was ravaged by famines; its infrastructure was destroyed by Mengistu’s communist government. I asked Ted about the necessary room for the many make-shift dwellings built by squatters. He said the unthinkable: Outside. Active beggars approached cars in the streets and the homeless draped ragged blankets or tattered plastic sheets against more stable structures for shelter at night.

Many come from rural areas, looking for a better life. There are very few jobs for these people, they must create their own employment. Many not only survive but thrive because entrepreneurs are a resilient bunch. Whether new to the city or whether long-time residents, they set the pace and are key to the future. Large modern buildings connect to each other not by wide walkways but by tiny shops built of rusted corrugated metal and other discarded materials. Many consist of a shelves lining a backdrop, but many others extend inward with larger display areas. A small percentage include make-shift dwellings attached to the back.

Whatever their current status, the shops wouldn’t be there without a measure of success. Because they’re small, they specialize. Perhaps in clothing or light fixtures or bathroom fixtures, or whatever. Some have more permanent quarters with metal grates similar to those we see in shopping malls that expand at night to protect the shopkeeper's investment. Marta said the best prices for the freshest fruit were found in these shops.

Marta wanted Ken and I to wear traditional clothing for the baptism. Ken and Ted were outfitted in a small shop that was completely enclosed—indicating someone was doing well indeed. We shopped for me in an area that I thought looked less prosperous, but the stores carried exquisite, high-end goods.

I thought the area looked less prosperous because sheep occupied a large fenced-in area across the road. However, that was also a place of business: buyers left with purchase in tow on a leash of some sort. The gals smiled when I asked who killed the sheep. I learned some go to a butcher, others are slaughtered in the homes. Ted explained later that all animals are slaughtered according to Old Testament law. He also said, They eat fresh meat.

A smaller sheep market regularly set up business about a block from the guest house where we stayed. Here Ted and Simon look them over. Again, an entrepreneur found a place and a way to make a living.

Because land is expensive, houses are multi-level to make use of space; townhomes are common. Built of concrete, these structures will be around long after American homes are gone. And look at the floors in our rented guest-house—made with exquisite craftsmanship from local materials.

But again, in a developing country, problems are the norm. Ken tried to find the source of a leak in our bathroom and determined it couldn’t be repaired without breaking into the wall. The rooftop tank, built to improve water-pressure, regularly ran dry. The small water heater in our bathroom was inadequate. There’s nothing quite like running out of hot water during a shower—and even worse, just after lathering your hair. Ask Ken. Nevertheless, they’re building houses, sturdy houses. People are moving up in the world.


The building on the right was our guest house. Although violent crime is rare, apparently property crimes are not. All private property is surrounded by eight foot fences topped by barbed wire or broken glass. Flowering shrubs that climb up and over the edge soften the visual impact.

Yards consist of courtyards that provide places for washing clothes and places for little boys to play.

Here's a picture I took that I'm especially proud of, a Sheraton walkway with a vista of the city peaking through.

Altogether, it was a time of sensory overload.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Ethiopia: Precious Moments

A baby’s smile. Wow. During our first meeting, our granddaughter Salome (pronounced Sal-oh-may) looked at me intently while I gazed in admiration. Then she sighed and turned her face; no amount of chatter from me could capture her attention again during that encounter.

That afternoon, however, she seemed to recognize me. Surprised to see this face again, she made sounds, her whole body involved in the effort. I was awed by her perfection before; now I reveled in her unexpected response and expressed delight. And then she smiled.

Do I need to tell you I was smitten? Later there were days when I approached her, smiled—and she smiled back without any enticement on my part. How could she identify me and my facial expressions so accurately? Ken had a similar experience. She was open to relationships. Does she miss us now that we’re gone? I've promised my children to publish only non-identifiable pictures of the grandchildren and I think this qualifies. Sorry that I can't give you her smile.

Meanwhile, her older brother—just 2 years and 2 months old—generated a wonder all his own. When we saw Simon last Christmas he communicated without expressing himself verbally. He understood us when we spoke in English and somehow we understood his responses, often illustrated by body language. Now he’s learning to speak three languages as part of his daily life—English, French, and Amharic (language of the Amhara people, the largest ethnic group of Ethiopia). I had a hard time recognizing the specific language being spoken—even when it was English—let alone understanding what he meant.

Also, although Simon remembered us, we needed to forge a new relationship in new surroundings, and it took time. Now the joy wasn’t a smile—that came readily when playing hide-and-seek or some other game. Now the joy was sharing a picture book when reading to him or feeling the pull of his hand when walking down an Ethiopian street. It took time, but we had precious moments. Here he's playing in the courtyard. (Note the basin on the left filled with pungent chopped ginger left to dry in the sun.)

Marta wanted Ken and I to wear traditional garments for the baptism. Although a photographer took many pictures, we won’t have access to them until later. So for this picture we dressed ourselves here at home with no one to help drape the shawls. Then we asked a neighbor to take the picture. We won't dress this way when we attend church in North Dakota this Sunday, but I thought we looked rather impressive when ready for the baptism.

Boys are baptized when 40 days old, girls when 80 days old. Salome was one of four, two boys and two girls. I suspect baptisms occur almost every day.

There’s no way that I can describe the details; I’d surely get something wrong. First of all, there's the building itself. A beautiful structure with a separate attached building just for baptisms. Here's a pictue of the outside:

Four priests were involved, each with specific roles. Anointing with oil was included. There was much chanting in ancient Geez. Everything was liturgical and outside our experience—but it was so normal and comfortable for those who grew up in that tradition. I’m glad we have a God who meets us wherever we are, in all cultures and within a variety of doctrinal expressions.

After the baptism it was back to the guest house for food. Lots of it—of the traditional variety.

When we visited Ted and Marta in the United Arab Emirates about a year-and-a-half ago, we went to an Ethiopian restaurant one night for Ethiopian food. A unique experience. We thought they probably engaged in such activity on special occasions—similar to our eating lutefish and lefsa at Christmas.

Not so. Ethiopians eat Ethiopian food every day. Imagine that.

The mainstay of the diet is injera—a large, pancake-shaped, sourdough bread spread across the plate. Made from a locally-grown grain, it’s not generally available in places other than Ethiopia. Soft, spongy, and malleable, it functions as the primary eating utensil as well as a food.

In a typical meal, large pieces are cut and rolled. Individuals help themselves and roll the injera open across their plate. Then prepared dishes and sauces—some very spicy-hot—are spooned onto it. Smaller pieces are torn from the edge or from an additional piece with the right hand. These are used to pick up morsels of the prepared dishes and sauces which are then placed in the mouth.

Could you follow that? Although sauces stick to the right hand, the left hand remains clean, ready for picking up beverage glasses or for spooning more sauces onto more injera. Ritualistic washing before and after the meals are often part of the process.

Simon loves injera, would eat it plain when his mom gave it to him. Ted must have enjoyed it as well for he ate freely with finesse. And I enjoyed it, even though I frequently used my left hand to help out. The sour flavor of the bread is strong, but it blended with the hot sauces. Ken doesn’t care for spicy food at any time and struggled with both the taste and the mechanics of eating without utensils.

Because the kitchen of the guest house was not set up for traditional cooking, Marta’s older sister and servant prepared much of the food. The aromas that arrived with the food that morning prepared me for the feast to follow. It turned into a great time—even through I didn’t understand most of what was said. People who couldn’t make the 12:00 baptism kept dropping by all afternoon. I especially wanted to visit with a pleasant older lady—to no avail. On the other hand, several younger men opened doors for conversation.

Ken’s reaction to the food continued to be problematic. In addition to Ethiopian food at home, we ate out in several Addis restaurants (where we also enjoyed traditional music and the traditional dances of several tribes). But at home Marta took to cooking pasta for him and he was selective with sauces. On one of the final evenings we were invited to friends who prepared an European-style dinner and also provided utensils—a special blessing.

So, it was good to be there and now it’s good to be home. Ken’s recovering. And although I didn’t react as he did, I’m recovering, too. A trip of such magnitude took something out of us. But obviously, it was worth every bit of energy expended.

For more on our visit to Ethiopia, check out my Red Red Berries blog.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Ethiopian Orthodox Church

Repost from another blog - by Solveig

Ken and I are going to Ethiopia for the baptism of our granddaughter. But, as I am wont to do, I've been researching, learning as much as I can about the country and about historical information related to our special event.

I'm probably sharing less than one-fourth of the information acquired. Picking and choosing was difficult. Because I'm motivated to look at different Christian expressions, and because a Christian event is the centerpiece of our visit, this post will focus on the Ethiopian Orthodox Christian Church.

There are aspects of the church that Western Christians considers unusual: Most Ethiopian Christians believe the Ark of the Covenant resides in the Church of Mary of Zion in the ancient northern city of Axum, Ethiopia. This treasure of antiquity was initially built according to plans given by God to Moses who placed it in the Tabernacle. King David brought it to Jerusalem and Solomon placed it in the Temple. Perhaps better known among the general public today for its notoriety in Raiders of the Lost Ark, it is nevertheless one of the most sacred religious artifacts of history.

Common wisdom of Western Cultures has said for centuries that the Ark was carried to Babylon after the Babylonian siege where it was subsequently lost, so the possibility of its being lost in a remote mountain village doesn’t register with many minds. But no one knows for sure and I found one source which said Ethiopian stories are not impossible.

Stories. There are several accounts and they don’t agree. I thought the most plausible version builds on the Biblical account of priests and officials who escaped by night while fleeing during the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem. This account says they took the ark with them and landed in Egypt. Later, a smaller group took the Ark up the Nile and then to the city of Axum in the highlands of Ethiopia. Not unreasonable. If the priests tried to save anything, they would have saved the most important article of the temple—the Ark. They were probably aware of a Jewish presence in Ethiopia that would welcome them, and priests were the only group authorized by the Torah to carry the Ark.

Another story, one with historical implications, is that Solomon fathered a son with Makala, Queen of Sheba, during her visit in Jerusalem. After she left, he had a vision in which a greater display of glory followed Makala’s son Mendelik than the son who would reign in Judah. Solomon ordered a replica of the Ark sent to Ethiopia, but a priest exchanged the replica with the real Ark before transporting it to Axum. Sacred literature reports their physical encounter as well as his

vision.Both of these stories occur long before the advent of Christianity and neither explains how possession of the ark was eventually transferred to Christians. (For centuries, a priest has been chosen while still a child for a lifetime position to protect the ark. The current priest trains the child. Only appointed priests ever actually see the Ark. This practice is consistent with Old Testament Law. It also rules out the possibility of verification.)

Although there is evidence of an earlier Christian influence, Christianity became the dominant religion in Ethiopia during the 4th century after two brothers, sole survivors of a ship stranded on the coast of the Red Sea, lived their faith among their captors. Because they could read and write, they became slaves in the court. As they quietly practiced their faith, the queen was converted and she encouraged them to influence her son, Prince Ezana.

When Ezana became king, he released the brothers and sent them to Egypt. One returned to Syria but Frumentius was trained, ordained, and appointed as a bishop by the Egyptian bishop. He then returned to Ethiopia where he baptized King Ezana and many officials. Soon after, Ethiopia became a Christian nation, the second Christian nation in the world after Armenia.

Of course, Islam made an appearance. Because the Ethiopians gave refuge to Mohammad and his followers when they sought refuge in 616 AD, Mohammad instructed followers to respect the Ethiopians, but Islamic inroads eventually came through Sudan. Today the Ethiopian city of Harar is considered the fourth holiest Muslim city and there are other important Muslim cities in Ethiopia as well.

Because ties with European Christians were lost after Islam dominated North Africa, the Ethiopian church has a unique history. It developed theological doctrines of its own, accepted books as Scripture that aren’t in the Western cannon, and honored/honors saints not known to western Christians.

But central doctrines remain intact. They believe salvation comes by grace through faith in the person of Jesus. They look to His sacrifice on the cross and to His resurrection from the grave. Ethiopian Christians share defining doctrines with Christians everywhere.When we visited our son and daughter-in-law in Abu Dhabi, I attended an Ethiopian Orthodox service and found it exciting even when I didn’t understand the language. Although a high church with elaborate rituals, they trilled during a hymn. On the way home I asked my daughter-in-law Marta about the sermon and felt blessed because the message spoke to my heart.

Today Ethiopia is an island surrounded by Muslim nations. About 45% of the people are Christian, about 45% are Muslim, and the rest are Jewish or they adhere to historic tribal religions. The government is secular.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Ethiopia: Displaying God's Beauty

Repost from another blog - by Solveig

The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftmanship. Day after day they continue to speak; night after night they make him known. (Ps. 19:1,2 New Living Translation)

When I attended college in the late 1950s, two students from Ethiopia graced our campus. Although different from each other—I suspect they had different ethnic backgrounds—something set them apart from almost all other students, Black or White.

Much has happened in Ethiopia since then, but when becoming acquainted with our Ethiopian daughter-in-law, her sisters, and the nanny/maid, I recognized in them what I had noticed then. Although my sampling is ridiculously small for making a sweeping generalization, let me point out that Ethiopians weren’t sold into slavery by slave masters. Although they had slavery within their country, it wasn’t based on race. It was more like being a serf than chattel. Their history doesn’t even include poor immigrants (my personal background) struggling to find their way. These people don’t need to prove their value because their self-worth is an intrinsic part of their self-image. And they have a proud history.

I can't visit a country without engaging in research. This material was written before we left. By the time it is posted, we'll have been in Ethiopia about a week. We'll head for home on Saturday, October 25th.

Political Background—Ethiopia is the only African nation never colonized by Europeans—although Italy tried and failed when Ethiopia defeated them in the battle of Adwa in 1896, the first major battle in which a Western army was defeated by a non-Western army since the Medieval Ages. Mussolini’s Italy invaded in 1935 and was defeated by the British and Ethiopian Patriots in 1941.

But the history of modern-day Ethiopia began around 1,000 BC. Makeda, Queen of Sheba, was queen of the ancient kingdom that became present-day Ethiopia. Her son Menelik, believed by Ethiopians to be the son of Solomon (see post from October 10), established himself in the city of Axum and founded a kingdom located strategically between North Africa, sub-Sahara Africa and the Middle East. Aktum dominated African-Asian trade for over 1,000 years, and an ancient Persian writer identified the four great powers of his time as Persia, China, Egypt and Aktum. At one time the borders of the Aksumati dynasty expanded to include what is now Yemen and parts of Saudi Arabia.

Ethiopia (the Greek-Roman name) or Abyssinia (based on the Arabic name Habasha) remained in power—with two interruptions—until rebels overthrew and killed Haile Selassie in 1974. That’s almost 3,000 years. Details are confusing and more than this blog can handle.Although Selassie did much to modernize his country, a famine weakened his reign and the Dergs with a socialist ideology and military tactics seized power during a period referred to as the “red terror.” During that time Mengistu rose within the party to become the leader and the government officially adopted communism. When the Soviet Bloc fell apart, the Derg government fell apart.

Goals of the current government (elected, but not without controversy) include diversifying the economic base while improving agricultural methods and production.

Multiple Languages—Amharic was the official language of Ethiopia for centuries, but the policy was changed recently to acknowledge the value of tribal languages. Most government documents are printed in Amharic and English. There are an estimated 77 to 84 languages from a variety of linguistic families, some with no written form. (When I began writing again I read an essay by a journalist who covered famine relief in an African refugee camp. At night she heard what sounded like singing. She learned the music came from a remote Ethiopian tribe with an unwritten language that chanted their history at night to teach their history and legacy to the children.)

Geographical Features—Because it’s located near the equator, Ethiopia includes some of the hottest areas on earth. Yet some of the mountains are topped by snow or ice caps. Much of the country consists of the central highlands with plateaus divided by mountain ranges and the Great Rift. Addis Ababa is ca. 7500 feet above sea level (see picture above). Plateau temperatures are moderate year-round.

About 80% of the people live on small farms located on steep mountain slopes. Coffee originated in these mountains and remains the largest export.The Blue Nile—which eventually joins the White Nile to form the Nile—originates in Ethiopia’s highland. But the Awash River runs into the Danaki Depression (-125 m) where it disappears in a series of lakes and salt deposits.

I’ve seen so many pictures of the Danaki Depression, one of earth’s principle geological features, in the National Geographic and other magazines. Three legs of the earth’s crust— two edges of the Great Rift and the Red Sea Plate form a triangle with sides separating from each other between 0.3 to 0.8 inches every year. Earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are common in the area.But other lowlands located along borders feature additional diversity—desert in the north, jungle and grasslands in the south, and grasslands leading into the Depression on the east. Nine parks located at all elevations protect the unique environments and the unique species that inhabit them (including an almost-extinct subspecies of elephants, black-maned lions, wild ass, camels, rare wolves, rare antelope, baboons, and rare goats).

Archeological Discoveries—I can’t stop without mentioning Lucy—skeletal remains believed to be three million years old. You’ve probably seen pictures of her, too. Anthropologists tell us human life originated in Ethiopia and migrated from an area near Addis Ababa to spread around the world. In 1973 a group of paleontologists working along the Awash River discovered over 40% of the skeleton of a woman who walked uprightly, and they nicknamed her Lucy after a Beatles song they were listening to at the time. The National Museum of Ethiopia in Addis Ababa displays the skeleton.

Reverence for the Lord is pure, lasting forever. The laws of the Lord are true; each one is fair. They are more desirable than gold, even the finest gold. They are sweeter than honey, even honey dripping from the comb. (Ps. 19:9,10 New Living Translation)

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Tomorrow We Leave for Ethiopia!

When we were younger—I hate it when I say things like that!—life more or less flowed along. I didn’t worry about details until I had to and we somehow managed quite well.

These days we need to plan ahead or we’re in trouble.

Tomorrow we leave for Ethiopia. Throughout the planning process we’ve had our good days and our bad days. Yesterday was almost good—I accomplished more than I could, actually—but not enough. At this writing it’s 11:00 a.m. and I still need to pick up two Christmas presents, wrap them, and pack. I need one more miraculous day.

Ken brought the suitcasesout and put them on the bed, waiting for my input so we can figure it all out!

There are so many things to think about. We’ll be moving into another culture, one that’s historic and full of nuances. For the most part, clothing and music will be western. We’ll see poverty (it takes time to recover from the famines we all heard about on the evening news), we’ll see ancient art expressions, and we’ll experience strange foods (although Ted promised that we won’t be expected to eat raw meat). I'm especially looking forward to being with family for our granddaughter Salome's baptism within the culture of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.

The trip itself has caused me to think soberly a few times. We'll be on the plane a long time with long layovers in Amsterdam. We’ll also be making a brief stop—won’t have to get off the plane—in Khartoum, Sudan. I woke up one morning thinking the plane would be hijacked for sure. Then I remembered we can’t be so intent on survival that we fail to enjoy life. This is daily living at its most exciting. God is in our hearts and He'll be with us in the good and the not-so-good.

I’ve written ahead for both blogs. Next week, this blog will feature another aspect of living in our condo—the annual potluck (well, we’ve had it a few years). I’m including some great recipes. When we’re home again, I’ll no doubt write a bit about our trip.

For those who follow Red, Red Berrries, I've changed the focus to provide interesting material on Ethiopia. It’s on my mind these days.

The Lord directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives. Though they stumble, they will never fall, for the Lord holds them by the hand. Once I was young, and now I am old. Yet I have never seen the godly abandoned . . . . (Ps. 37:23,24 New Living Translation)

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Making Pancakes

Retirement has its funny moments—and its fun moments. But you need a bit of history to appreciate this story.

My husband Ken has never thought of himself as a cook. Although his oatmeal is exceptional, although he does a superb job when frying eggs, and although he occasionally grills tasty cheese sandwiches.

It’s his mindset, even though for a brief season (one school year, to be exact) he prepared an entire meal for our family on a regular basis. I worked full-time that year while all four of our children were still home—three as high schoolers and one as a pre-schooler. Everyone had to help. Our oldest daughter—whom we paid to babysit our little girl after school—prepared two evening meals, our two sons each had one night, and Ken covered Friday. We ate Dad’s hot dogs, boiled potatoes, and heated vegetables every week through an entire school year and no one dared complain.

After that I convinced him to occasionally grill, and he’s become fairly adept. So upon retirement, when we decided he should assume more of the household responsibilities, meals seemed a reasonable option. Even to him. Hence, the day he decided to make pancakes for lunch.

He was mixing batter from scratch when I ambled into the kitchen to find the man who was, after all, my source for all things computer-related—and asked a computer-related question.


Thinking he didn’t hear, I asked again.

More silence.

Then this mild-mannered, loving husband scolded me. Not loudly or vehemently. It was the controlled, steady voice that grabbed my attention. My question had broken his concentration and he had poured a tablespoon of baking powder into the flour canister rather than into the mixing bowl.

Shame on me—I had to suppress a giggle. When, in a spirit of well-meaning helpfulness, I offered a suggestion, he said—and I quote, “I don’t need your advice.”

More shame on me. Because after making a swift retreat back to my computer, I convulsed with more suppressed, silent laughter.

And Ken? He salvaged his batter—I’ll never know how—added fried eggs and fruit to the menu, served lunch with a flourish, and was so proud of his accomplishments that he forgot to scold me again.

The pancakes were better than my absent-minded, thrown-together versions. He drowned his in syrup, I slathered mine with plain yogurt and sprinkled sugar on top. Umm, good.

Our meal over, we laughed together. He even laughed when he read this. Best of all, he’s been our chief pancake-maker ever since.

I wrote this some time ago when I was experimenting—trying to decide if I could maintain a blog. When I recently asked if I could use it—and if he would help me stage pictures, he agreed. We did it today, and had some of those funny and fun moments all over again. Oh, well.

But he was willing, and that’s special. Truly, retirement has its funny moments—and it can even be fun.