Wednesday, February 20, 2008

News from Addis Ababa

I’ve been having a hard time getting onto e-mail. My roommate Bethany and I hiked to the Hilton today after class to use the Internet here, since, as far as I can remember from 2 years ago, it’s much faster here than at the Ghion.

The entry below is from my first night in Addis. I hadn’t written about yesterday and today’s class yet. I may add something at the end.

Monday night

So, I’m back in Addis. It’s so much easier to travel to a place like this when you’ve been here before. At least I knew my way around the airport. The people around me looked different than what I expected, though. That’s because a flight came in from Yemen right before mine. At the luggage carousel, I was surrounded by women in black burkas and red, green and yellow headscarves. Quite the contrast, I know. At first, it seems that Ethiopians have this thing with Rasta. But the truth is that it's merely the colors of their flag, and their previous emperor (Haile Selassie) was known as Ras (like Duke) Tafari (his actual name prior to coronation). But when he visited Jamaica, there had been a long drought, and upon his arrival, it started raining. So they decided he had brought the rain, and from there came Rastafari, the religion.

Once I wrestled my luggage off the carousel, I had to try and get it on a crowded conveyer belt again to be X-rayed before I could leave the customs area. There seemed to be maybe 5 male travelers for every 20 women, at least, and the women were feisty, pushing luggage away to get theirs on…

Outside, the arrivals hall had far fewer people than the Nairobi arrivals (though, nowadays, it’s not at all crowded due to the 80% drop in tourism…) In Addis, people have to pay 2Birr to be allowed into the airport. So unless you have to go in, you don’t.

There was a vendor trying to hawk bunches of fake flowers for 20Birr. He also doubled as a taxi agent, asking me time a number of times if I need a taxi. Which I didn’t. I was just walking around to try and find a person with a BGU sign. (I found him an hour later, but I wasn’t concerned. I knew a few others were coming in after me, so he might be late.)

I did find an ATM, which was a pleasant surprise, seeing that I couldn’t find a single, working ATM in Addis during my last visit 2 years ago. But alas, this one was out of order, too. In fact, it didn’t even have a bank logo on. The screen above the ATM had the name of a bank scribbled in magic marker. To get money out of the machine would take some other magic. It simply wasn’t going to happen.

As I was taking in the sights around me, a woman started wailing. Serious wailing, to the extent that pretty much every person in arrivals was watching her. She was with friends who took turns to hug her and console her till she stopped crying. It was a sad sight. I thought she must’ve lost a loved one. It certainly wasn’t tears of joy!

The other 3 students arrived, and with that, Imme, our driver. We walked out into the warm air of Addis and drove through the colorfully-lit streets of the city. Everything seems decorated for their recent millennium celebrations. (Ethiopia doesn’t use the Gregorian calendar like we do. According to the Ethiopian calendar, the year 2000 just arrived in September last year.)

Tuesday morning

I’m heading downstairs for a cup of famous macchiato. Not the Starbucks type. Real Ethiopian coffee. I slept OK once I got up to put my earplugs in. Lots of unfamiliar noises around.

Had a great time visiting with my roommate last night. Bethany’s a 28-year-old pastor from Chicago. Today’s schedule holds mostly introductory stuff, and then a t0ur of the city. Hopefully Bethany and I can find time in there somewhere to look at a nearby guesthouse, which is far cheaper than the hotel where we’re staying… Hopefully that works out!

It’s nice and warm, by the way. Not hot. Just comfortable.

Despite all the excitement of learning new things today, I cannot help but keep thinking of neighboring Kenya and today’s press conference. I’m praying that February 19, 2008 will go down in Kenya’s history as a day that brought peace…

Wednesday evening

Since we’re studying urban ministry models, we had a tour of the city of Addis yesterday. Jember told us about her city. I thought she has to have a real passion for history. She was able to tell us in minute detail about the city, what happened when/where. We drove to the highest hill, to Entoto, to view the city from where Emperor Hailen Selassie’s home was before they moved into the valley and established Addis Ababa. At the end of the 6-hour city tour, we stopped at one last large home that used to belong to one of the rastas (dukes) prior to the Derg (Marxist) era.

Today, it made more sense. I learned that she herself was a niece of the Emperor. I wrote the bit below during the introductory session this morning. Yes, I like to multitask.

MaAfrika, she’s been hailed. Ethiopia’s Mother Theresa. She’s sitting behind a desk that dwarfes her. Her polite smile and soft-spoken demeanor hides what a phenomenal woman Jember is.

Ethiopians call her “Sister Jember,” or Doctor Jember. Not the ordinary nurse, this is. She is the niece of the last Emperor, Haile Selassie I. Her husband, Dr. Hailegiorgis, a man with a PhD in architecture who had designed some of the most phenomenal hotels and parks in Addis, was a descendent of another monarch, Emperor Menelik II. He was also the mayor of Addis. (Menelik I, it is believed, was the son of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.)

Their wedding was a royal one that lasted 5 days. But because of them being royal, Dr. Hailegiorgis was imprisoned for 12 years by the Marxist government. While in prison, Jember took her husband 2 meals a day, never allowed to see him. He asked for more food because he was sharing his food with the others in his cell.

Jember, herself, was later imprisoned for 5 years. She started a Red Cross training program for inmates and guards, and when she was released, she insisted on being allowed back to complete the training.

Only once everyone in the program had graduated did she leave for England, to be with their children. When her husband passed away from cancer, their sons could not attend the funeral since they’d immediately be drafted into the Marxist army. Their youngest son jumped off the 15th floor of a building to be with his father in death…

Jember returned to Ethiopia and started a program to serve the city in a way that God would want.

It was one of her husband’s dying wishes that Jember be challenged to get a doctoral degree, which she completed in 2001. Part of the D.Div work included compiling a Handbook for Poverty Alleviation through Holistic Ministry.

And so, here we are, learning from a woman who has suffered much, but persisted through it all and is still persisting to bring about change in a country with a federal system that still bears too many resemblances to the former Marxist beliefs.

Tomorrow, we will be visiting the Patriarch, Abune Paulos. He’s a friend of Jember’s, thus the privilege of meeting him. As the head of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, his position is similar to that of the Pope.

After that visit, we’ll be going to some of the major Orthodox churches. I look forward to learning more.

In case you wonder: The Ethiopian Orthodox Church is indeed the oldest church in Africa after the Egyptian Coptic Church. Many of their traditions come straight from the Old Testament. But they do worship Jesus as the Messiah. In a way, it’s almost like the Messianic Jewish church.

I didn’t bring photos with me to the Hilton. I will try to post photos later this week.

I haven’t been able to read the Kenyan news tonight yet, so I don’t know what’s happening in Kenya. I am desperately praying that things are going well, that there has been a breakthrough in talks.

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