On July 4th we duly celebrated the independence of our native land, the United States of America, by lighting a couple of candles which served as makeshift firecrackers all the while reminiscing about the many wonderful traditions associated with that special holiday back home. Here in Ethiopia, of course, it was just another Tuesday. Kids dancing video (click on) ; Tetherball on the 4th video (click on) Last July we remember mentioning our 4th of July Independence Day to a new friend of ours here who just smiled very politely and reminded us that as Ethiopians, “We have always been independent so that kind of a celebration is not on our calendar.” And, except for a very short six-year Italian Occupation just before World War II that is very true. In fact, it appears that one of the few vestiges retained from the Italians, aside from some creative pizzas, is their farewell greeting, “Ciao!” That’s really the only “good-bye” they use nowadays. Guess that’s what they said as the British helped them to drive the Italians out for good.
Ethiopians are very proud of the fact that they are the only country in Africa who has not been colonized, although Liberia is Africa’s first and oldest modern republic consisting of Afro-Americans and Afro-Caribbean’s who were a “few of the free” and were able to relocate in hopes of more freedom by returning to Africa. It was established in 1847. However, Ethiopia’s history of independence spans hundreds of years. In recognition of that great independent tradition the African Union is headquartered here in Addis Ababa and is sort of like the African United Nations. Not only is this the central gathering place for all other African countries but it also has embassy representation from almost every country in the world. Just two weeks ago the African Union met and all 55 countries convened to discuss issues which ranged from the unrest in South Sudan and Somalia to innovative ways to promote more economic interdependence. Another topic was the very real need to move from too much dependence on foreign aid and not enough progress from “aid to trade” as the saying goes here. That word, “interdependence,” seems to be a key for developing nations, and indeed, for all nations as our global world has shrunk in modern times. Of course, there are those who are now espousing less interdependence but even in personal relationships a totally isolated person has a much less fulfilling life than an interdependent life connected with family, friends and loved ones. Likewise, too much “aid” or dependence can rob us of fully developing our own potential and confidence. We talk a lot here about temporal and spiritual self-reliance among our Church members.
Another important date this month for members of our Church is July 24th when we celebrate the Mormon pioneers entering the Great Salt Lake Valley in 1847 and establishing a decidedly independent life free from the many persecutions that had plagued them for the better part of the previous two decades. They migrated from New York to Ohio and then were driven further west due to persecution in Missouri and Illinois. They longed for the freedom afforded them in the western frontier territory known today as Utah. This past month, Lloyd had the opportunity to talk a little bit in all four congregations, or branches, about that Church history and many of the members were very grateful. So many members here are first generation members and they are sorting out the early Church history and geography of the US in attempting to understand the beginnings of the Restored Gospel. He tied this in to preparation to attend the temple in Ghana next July as these early pioneers built temples wherever they went from Kirtland, Ohio to Nauvoo, Illinois to Salt Lake City. Each required tremendous sacrifice just as many here will sacrifice to attend the temple in Ghana. The Church generously helps with about 90% of the cost in air fare, housing, and food for people to attend for their first time as it is 2,500 miles away from Addis. Admittedly, that remaining 10% can stretch many people’s budget here but they, like the pioneers of old, are willing to make the sacrifice to go. It will take a year to save their personal sacrifice and to offer their monthly tithes to go. We wish we could be here next year to go with them but by then we will have the amazing convenience of driving our car only 25 minutes from our home to attend the Newport Beach Temple. Such are the daily reminders of the many conveniences we sometimes take for granted back home.
As far as our mission goes we had a good month filled with more baptisms than usual in each of our four branches. In fact, as of now we have had more baptisms to date than we did all last year. Our elders are working hard and enjoying the fruits of their labors even if it is difficult, at times, finding those who would like to hear their message. We’ve included some pictures of those baptisms. Nahom was baptized in the Megenagna Branch and is married to Sara, who is Muslim. They have two darling children, Danny and Ruth. Another Danny, from Debre Zeit, wanted to join after his brother, Temesgen, joined a few weeks ago. Both Nahom and Danny had the luxury of being baptized indoors on these cold July days since this is the time of year when we have the “long rains” and rather cool temperatures. But Selinish, whose husband Malari joined four years ago, was baptized in Bekulobet Branch where they have the more classic outdoors metal container for baptisms. It was a really cold day and she was shivering. All of them are pioneers here in Ethiopia and we are so privileged to know them. This past weekend we also had two baptisms in Hawassa. Napoleon and Wintana are the first baptisms there in three and a half years.
We had comings and goings with our missionaries this month as we said good-bye to a terrific young man, Elder Schweitzer, who went home to St. George this month. He has been a great example and wonderful leader and we will miss him. He truly embodies the saying, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” We also have three Ethiopians preparing to go on missions. Dawit, from Debre Zeit, has been called to South Africa Johannesburg Mission and is in the “visa waiting” mode hoping to go on August 17th. Berhanu’s mission papers have been submitted and hopefully he will receive his call in about a month.
Abdulahi is from Hawassa and Lloyd is helping him with getting his papers together. He is actually from a village not far from Hawassa called Arsi Nigele so he had to ride a bus for about seven hours to come to Addis and get his yellow fever shot, passport papers etc. so that he can finish his paper work. He is a very good young man and it was fortuitous that Lloyd’s white shirt fit him for his mission and passport picture as he didn’t have one. He looked very handsome in his shirt and tie and his #1 haircut. The closeness of haircuts is gauged from 1-3. They just say which number and the barber performs! Of course, the girls and women are VERY creative with their hairstyles and it never ceases to amaze us how they can braid, poof and extend their hair into so many lovely styles. We have included a picture of Homey, who is a beautiful young woman who decided to go “au natural” one day and do the “expanded” hairstyle version. She is so darling! We told her about the 60’s when the “afro” was really in and how she would have been right in style back then.
The end of June also signaled the end of Ramadan, the thirty day Muslim fast. We happened to be with our young Orthodox friends, Ruth and Yeabsra, visiting a mall on our P-Day (our Preparation Day). Our P-Day is usually Saturday but the missionaries have theirs on Mondays. That’s the day for doing the wash, cleaning house, grocery shopping etc. Anyway, we were at the mall and lo and behold, there was a live camel sitting near the entrance all decked out for Eid Mubarak, or the closing celebration of Ramadan. It was similar to our Santa Claus and Easter Bunny mall set ups except “she” was live and, apparently, pregnant and content to sit quietly as shoppers posed for pictures with her. These were free pictures, unlike our holiday mall extravaganzas. She was very quiet while everyone else sat on or near her except for when we sat down beside her. She let out a gentle snort which we figured was due to our appearance as “ferengis” or foreigners.
Incidentally, on P-Day and other days we do all of our own cooking, cleaning, laundry and so on BUT our landlady recently offered her gardener to “cut” our lawn. Since the two push mowers at our house are broken we appreciated her offer thinking the gardener would have a push mower among his tools. We were more than surprised to see a nice young man, Dames, show up with only two gardening tools, some long handled shears and a small sickle. Then he smiled and went to work “cutting” our lawn on his hands and knees with only those two tools. Cutting the grass video (click on) It’s a small patch of grass that would take about 20 minutes max to mow but he spent two hours with his shears and sickle. Of course, we paid him and he is grateful for the work but our backs killed us just watching him. It will probably not fly to have our grandchildren ever complain to us about having to do any yard work with their power mowers. Dames even trims our one little rose bush.
Here are some pictures and videos of some other June-July happenings:
- Lloyd getting to play basketball with all of the elders and the Mission President during Zone Conference.
- Fun pictures of Thomas and Roda and their six children AFTER we were relieved that she had suffered and survived a severe electrical shock due to poor wiring in her new injera machine. Fun at Roda’s video (click on)
- Another hailstorm with ½ inch diameter stones showering our home. Hail video (click on)
- A new Megenagna Branch Presidency was called as the former one was an American serving in the U.S. Embassy and is now transferred to Zimbabwe. President Daniel is doing a wonderful job already since he has a great deal of experience having served for 6 years when this District was first organized back in 2003. His counselors are Debebe and James. James is Sudanese and has been a member for about a year. Both great counselors.
- Another new branch presidency was called in Hawassa since the former president now has a new job 14 hours away in the desert of Afar. President Amanuel is young (26 years old), but very capable and will be supported by two good counselors, Solomon and Endashaw.
- Yeabsra turned 11 years old on June 27th and we celebrated at her new home complete with the “firecracker type” birthday candles that all the kids here love. Yeabsra B-day party video (click on)
- We met the most wonderful family whose father, Tulahun, works tirelessly among over 200 villages throughout Ethiopia helping with water and basic needs services. They are friends with Muses and Kirsten Birhan who live in Santa Cruz, California and are active in projects here as well. They are very special people.
- We had a fun visit to Ruth and Yeabsra’s school since they had to pick up their report cards and their mother, Nigist, works 6 days a week at a factory making Levi jeans and couldn’t be the parent to sign their cards. We were the “substitute parents” ……grandparents is more like it. Ruth ranked #2 in her class, or as they say here, “She stands second.” Recently, the factory asked Nigist to work seven days and had offered to give her two Sundays off since she is devout Orthodox and begged for those two days. They haven’t been true to their word and want her to work seven days straight so she just gave them her resignation last week and is now looking for other work so her Sabbaths can be her one day off.
- Fun good-bye pictures with Elder Schweitzer and Aster’s family. They are the family who was baptized last year in the multiple baptism attempts since they were terrified of the water.
- Eating the staple food of injera, a cold sponge like teff bread, that we thought we would never be able to digest but is now one of our favorite dishes since there are so many expert cooks who have fed us in their homes. Injera is always accompanied by a variety of “wots” such as lentils seasoned with berbere and other spices, chicken and boiled eggs. You eat it with your hands and there is a definite technique involved in wrapping your fingers around the injera and encased wots. Honestly, we have YET to perfect it and it is frustrating to see how easily all the locals manage that trick! Injera is a very healthy flat bread that is naturally gluten-free. Word has it that “teff is set to become the world’s next superfood and is currently gaining global attention” according to the New York Times and Huffington Post.
- Driving behind a truck that is blasting out Ethiopian music from huge speakers held by a man sitting in the back of the truck. Truly a local highlight! Blaring speakers video (click on)
- Hawassa Youth Conference held July 15, 2017. This was the same theme from the Addis Conference held in April of this year and also for the Church worldwide, “Ask of God” from James 1:5. This led the prophet Joseph Smith to “ask of God” in the Sacred Grove in Palmyra, New York in 1820. The result was the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ in these latter days. It was a big success with the two dozen youth who make up the Hawassa Branch and we had a fun day just being with them. As always, the T-shirts with the logo were a huge hit, as were the CTR (Choose the Right) rings and wrist bands.
We remain grateful for the “interdependence” we feel with those with whom we serve here. We are learning first hand just how significant that old saying is about how we need to “work as if everything depends on you” and “pray as if everything depends on the Lord.” Truly, this is His work and we are just privileged to participate and do our very best each day.
BONUS PICTURE: What is wrong with this picture? Let us know!