Things I learned in immigration…(a farewell to Ethiopia)

Things I learned in immigration…(a farewell to Ethiopia)

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It has taken me several months to work through some thoroughly unpleasant feelings about the way my time living and working in Ethiopia came to an end. In many ways, I’m still processing everything I learned in my time there…not a day has gone by that I haven’t thought of life back in Addis and wondered what I might be doing if I was still there now. We’re coming up on what would have been the one year mark of my time abroad, so this has been weighing on my mind a lot recently. Back when I left Ethiopia in May I was feeling very upset, hurt, and disappointed by the circumstances that changed what should have been “see you soon” to “goodbye” to the people I had grown so close to over the course of my eight month journey.

If you are unfamiliar with the story of how I came to leave Ethiopia early, here’s what happened:

For months, I had been eagerly anticipating this trip. My bags were checked and I was at the Addis Ababa Bole International Airport ready to board a plane for Munich to attend  Prix Jeunesse, a festival showcasing the best and brightest of children’s media from all over the world. Whiz Kids Workshop was the recipient of the festival’s “Next Generation” prize for Tsehai Loves Learning back in 2008, so it was an honor to attend with the winners of one of the industry’s most prestigious awards (and as they were about to launch an amazing new project no less). I had high hopes that my attendance would further expand my worldview and help me build contacts in the industry, so I had spent ample time researching the work of people I knew might be in attendance and preparing my portfolio for the occasion. From there, I was to fly to Rome where my mom and sister would be waiting for me for a mini-reunion and mother daughter trip around Italy before I returned to Addis to complete my time working with Whiz Kids Workshop. Things were going pretty well at work- I genuinely liked my colleagues, I was passionate about the projects I was assigned, and with the emergence of exciting new opportunities I was even considering  extending my contract with the company.

Imagine my alarm then when I excitedly presented my passport to board the plane and I was told that not only was I barred from my flight, but also that I had been living in the country illegally. Somehow, my immigration papers were processed incorrectly so until I went through immigration again I wasn’t going anywhere. My heart sank, thinking back to the month-long ordeal I had with customs just to enter the country. It hadn’t been easy, and I expected nothing less of what now lay ahead. My daydreams of electrifying conversations about children’s television, networking, gondolas, gelato, and time with my family were crushed in an instant.

And so ensued a hurricane half week of trials, tears, and tremendous disappointment as I learned that I would have to leave Whiz Kids and Ethiopia prematurely. Let’s just say it involved a lot of running between various offices within the government immigration compound and all over Addis, frustrating gaps in communication, rescheduled flights, uncertainty, stamped documents (Ethiopian officials loooooove their stamps), and a large fine to top it all off.

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A picture is indeed worth a thousand words…
The short version of the story is that while I sadly missed out on Prix Jeunesse, by the grace of God I was fortunate enough to make it to Italy and then return home to the US in time to work a fourth year with my old summer job at Discover the World of Communication. I could write much more of a play by play retelling of the craziness I endured that week, but I just don’t feel it would be productive at this point. What I will share with you here is what I can safely say are the most important things I learned in immigration:

Unless someone died, things are probably not as bad as they feel.

In the moments where my chances in immigration seemed bleak, I felt truly devastated and let this lack of morale get the best of me. While we recognized from fairly early on that we couldn’t get the immigration paperwork processed in time for me to make it to Prix Jeunesse, there was still a sliver of hope that we’d make it in time for me to see my mom and sister in Italy. I now understand just how lucky I am to have had the problems I was dealing with in the first place- I was in a position where going abroad was even a possibility for me, I was well fed and had a comfy bed to sleep in at night, and had good friends supporting me throughout the whole ordeal. Many people dream of having such problems.

I also said some pretty cringeworthy things in my disappointment and disgust. One of them was a Facebook status saying that my situation trying to obtain an exit visa was just like “Casablanca minus two men”. While I would give anything to channel the lovely Ilsa Lund, the reality is that in Casablanca the main players were also up against Nazi Germany and the very real danger of being thrown into a concentration camp. Yeah, that was not quite my situation.

A more appropriate Casablanca reference would be one of the most poignant quotes delivered by Rick, the unlikely hero of the film- “It doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.” If the problems of three little people are insignificant, then the problems of one are microscopic. Which brings me to my next point-

Maturity is just as much a learned skill as it is a trait.

I’ve been told that I am a “mature” person. That idea, that I might be somewhat wise for my age, has always been a personal source of pride. However, I don’t think such “maturity” is truly tested until you’re put into a particularly trying situation. When put to the test in immigration, I know I didn’t always pass the bar. When I expressed my shame for my panicked (and pretty self-absorbed) state, my dear friend who helped me through this process in more ways than I can count gently reminded me that it often takes going through difficult experiences to build maturity, and that it’s okay and normal to react to a stressful situation imperfectly. It was one of the most empathetic things anyone has ever said to me, and exactly what I needed to hear in that moment. While I’m far from perfect, I’m proud of myself for where I did carry myself with decorum through this process.

The value of a helping hand cannot be overstated.

I am incredibly fortunate to have had the support of so many wonderful people. There was my Amharic speaking American friend who stood by my side to help me make sense of everything, as most of the exchanges with the immigration officials were in Amharic. One of my colleagues from Whiz Kids put everything on the line to help me, even though that meant missing out on time with his girlfriend who was visiting from out of town. A friend from the U.S. Embassy, a random person waiting in line at the immigration office, and my friend and her family all lent me the cash I needed to pay the large fine which was issued entirely in USD (they sure don’t make this easy for foreigners). My good friends consoled me both from Addis and abroad. Eventually, my boss and her husband absorbed the burden of the fine. Someday I hope to make good on the sacrifices they all made for me and similarly support a friend in need.

Blame is an empty action. 

In the heat of the moment it might feel good to pin your problems on something or someone else, but that satisfaction wears off fast and leaves you in the exact same place you were before you blew off steam. It’s much better to either spend that mental energy seeking solutions or to suck it up and keep your mouth shut. While there are many people who could have been responsible for this unfortunate event, ultimately who did what wrong is irrelevant. Blame can’t change the past, but left unchecked it can prevent you from moving forward in the present.

No problem. It happens.

Sometimes, life just really sucks. No person gets through it without episodes they would have rather skipped. There’s a fitting term I learned in Amharic for “no problem”/ “It happens”: “minim aydel”. Uttering this phrase was just short of a prayer during my last and most frustrating days living in Ethiopia.

So the airline lost my luggage, leading to hours spent trying to track it down through phone calls and visits to the airport? Minim aydel.

So they sent it to Munich without me? Minim aydel.

So all of my underwear was in that bag? Minim aydel.

So we decided I should get an exit visa with the hope we would be spared the hefty penalty fine, only to be charged anyway? Minim aydel.

So this shouldn’t have happened to me or my colleagues because we’re all good people. So what? Life isn’t always fair. It’s not anyone’s fault. Minim aydel.

Minim aydel.

No problem. It happens.

And so it happens that I write now from my family’s home in South Jersey, feeling a bit apprehensive about where I stand. Essentially, I’m in the same position that I was around this time last year– scared and standing before my next unknown.

I don’t know how long it will take to secure a steady job in my field in this highly competitive job market.

I don’t know exactly what that job will be or where it will take me. While I am generally open minded about where I pursue work opportunities, at this stage in my life I am also craving to move forward in ways that I know are largely inhibited by hopping from city to city (or from country to country). I am looking for longevity in wherever I move next and have focused my search accordingly.

I don’t know and can’t know exactly how the dominos of my life will fall, despite all my hopes and plans for the future.

Until fairly recently, I didn’t even know if I made the right choice in moving abroad. The tumult in which I left Ethiopia left me so full of doubt.

It wasn’t until August that I came across all the evidence I needed that living abroad was one of the best decisions I ever made for myself. Following the end of my summer job, I was freaking out because I had booked extra time out in California with absolutely no plans. Zilch. Nada. None. But suddenly, something inside me clicked: wait, I’ve DONE this before. Completely on my own, I had an amazing day exploring Vienna on my layover and then eight awesome months getting to know the incredible country that is Ethiopia. 

It occurred to me that the girl I was a year ago would not have known that she had it in her to chart her own course with such confidence.

Wasn’t my quest for self empowerment precisely the biggest reason I chose to move to abroad in the first place? Revisiting everything I learned while living in Addis and working at Whiz Kids Workshop, I discovered that I learned so many new things about myself- things I never would have expected when I first moved to Ethiopia. Sure, I learned a ton about making media for children- but what was more important was the inspiration I found in the people behind the craft. I learned a lot about what happens behind the scenes to run a successful show, and found that above all else demonstrating respect and appreciation for hard work is what keeps a good team together. While I learned a lot about my long-held interest in international children’s programming, I found I was even more excited about using media as an agent for health education. Completely unrelated to work, I found that I do really want to have kids someday (I blame my boss’s adorable children for this). I met people from all over the world who taught me to embrace calm, treat everyone like a potential friend, recognize and run from red flags, look out for the new kid, and know that with drive and dedication, you can create anything you imagine if you work hard and work smart.

Everything that we know was once unknown. Every new exciting place, every new spice we taste, and every new friendly face holds the power to sweep out the corners in our mind that we never knew we left untended. In these corners relationships are forged, ideas are born, and lives are changed. All it takes to is the courage to board that plane, smile at that stranger, send that application, pick up that book, or pursue that passion project- whatever it means for you to take a step in your search for everything you hope to know.

This I now know- while I may not have all the answers I sought from moving abroad a year ago, I returned with more questions- and questions are what help us grow.

untilupdate

My Personal Mission Statement

My Personal Mission Statement

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I post this in isolation of my other writing because I hope to share with you what I feel to be the secret to success. At the very least, this knowledge has never let me down before. The topic of goal-setting and life planning has been covered my so many, and yet I personally feel it is a topic we cannot discuss enough. We all have just one life to live on this Earth, one chance to make a mark and leave our gifts,whatever they are, at the great table of humanity.

It is for this reason that over the past few years I have taken up a special interest in self-betterment, reading such timeless classics in personal development as “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey and more recently, “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie.

Covey, in particular, begins his book with the principle of “Beginning with the End in Mind”- or creating a powerful mission statement to guide our lives. While reading this I realized that, to a large degree, this was something I already believed in and had been practicing for many years. I have been writing/ journaling from early high school, and given my constant desire to aim high and deliver the best work I can, goal setting has always been a major theme in my entries.

Recently, I was reviewing the goals I had jotted down my freshman year of college outlining all I hoped to achieve over the next four years. To my happy surprise, I realized that with a few essential exceptions, I had accomplished everything I set out to do. Score a Dean’s Internship? Check. Make the honors program? Check. Join an a cappella group? Check. (Heck, I STARTED an a cappella group) Work for the summer program that first brought me to my University? Check. What’s more, for the things I wanted that didn’t come to fruition I often noticed that the end result was in actually more in tune with who I am and my broader life ambitions.

Take one example: one of the pie-in-the-sky fantasies I held close to my heart was the dream of being the speaker at my graduation ceremony. While I didn’t obtain that coveted position on the platform party stage, I did have the honor of singing the National Anthem  to kick off the commencement ceremony. Given my lifelong passion for singing, and the fact my contribution to my University was the creation of my a cappella group, this in fact was the perfect culmination of my college years.

As Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the president of Liberia, has famously said,“The size of your dreams must always exceed your current capacity to achieve them. If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough.” When I first wrote down my goals, they left me scared silly. However, by writing them down and fixing them in my mind, I found that slowly but surely they became my reality. Once I wrote down all the dreams floating around in my mind, they became something real- something that maybe, just maybe, I could have for myself.

I hope to leave you today with the similar conviction that you can have the things you want (or most of them), if you first write them down and fix them in your mind. It is for this reason that I am sharing my own (current) personal mission statement, developed over the course of four years. Just as we are all constantly changing, so can the nitty-gritty of our mission statement- but I think you’ll find that the core of what you want out of life, the feelings you hope your accomplishments will bring, will remain the same.

Some people may confuse this attitude with the popular idea of “the Law of Attraction”, which states that if you visualize the things that you want and imagine yourself as having already achieved them that you can easily manifest them into your reality. While I don’t believe this concept is wholly untrue, I think the key thing”the Law of Attraction” misses is that you have to actually WORK for the things you write down. Writing down all your goals and dreams is just the beginning of creating the life you desire. By having your goals written before you, you can better align your daily actions and major, life-changing decisions with the accomplishments of the person you hope to become.

Without further ado, my (current) personal mission statement:


Joanna K. Sobieski’s Personal Mission Statement

(last updated 01.11.17)

Beginning with the end in mind:

I will be remembered as a writer of stories and songs who left a legacy of music, love, and laughter.

I will have been someone who treated every day as an opportunity to learn and grow, who made the absolute most of the time and talents God gave her on this Earth.

I will be remembered for my enthusiasm, creativity, spirit, and the passion with which I chased – and achieved- my dreams.

I will have profoundly touched and impacted the lives of those most important to me as well as those who read my books, listened to my music, or watched the content I created that had great educational and entertainment value.

I will have inspired people to chase their dreams by having lived mine.

I will have been an independent and esteemed figure in my field with ample opportunities to collaborate with like-minded creatives.

I will have had a strong, happy, lasting marriage and have built close relationships with my family members.

I will have been a person of great integrity who treated all people with respect and compassion.

I will have made my holistic health a priority and have encouraged others to do the same.

I will have created something or contributed an idea bigger than myself, something that made the world an even slightly better place.

—-

At this point in my life, my objectives are to make better use of my time, tidy up, create and stick to a personal budget, do an excellent job in my current position at Driver Digital, research and plan for my career, identify a mentor in children’s media or music, find the connections between my many ambitions / better distinguish which of my ambitions deserve my attention, learn the skills I need to create my own music, make the most of my new life in New York City, and break my plans into measured steps that I can climb to achieve my goals. I must learn to pursue my dreams with a level head and the grace that comes from acknowledging that it won’t all happen overnight, but with a sense of urgency informed by the awareness that I have limited time to make my mark in this life. 

This is a living document that will change and grow with me over time. At my core I am a unique, intelligent, creative, and warm person and I must not lose sight of my strengths in moments where I feel weak. Every day I am getting better and better- as long as I take initiative to pursue my goals, I can be satisfied in knowing I’m on the right track.

—-

Who I am (the real me):

I have a big heart, a big imagination, and big dreams! In my book anything is possible if you work hard enough for it. at heart I am a performer who strives to position her talents center stage. I love music, museums of all kinds, flowers, singing, movies, bugs, and medical oddities. I know I’m a little weird, and I’m perfectly okay with that. In my life I wish to see the world, to appreciate, to love, to create, to teach, to sing, and most importantly, to never stop learning. All of my most important aspirations, both long and short term, fulfill these overarching life goals and actions facilitating the achievement of these goals should be held as my highest priorities.

MY BIG PLANS:

to See the World.

  • I will work/live abroad after graduation (Check! Ethiopia)
  • I will find a way to incorporate travel into my career or find a career that gives me the flexibility to travel
  • I will travel to Italy (Check), Poland, Ireland (Check), Peru, Tibet, India (Check), England (Check), China, Australia, Morocco, Tanzania, Kenya, South Africa, Ghana, Czech Republic, Israel, Turkey, Chile, Mexico (Check), Russia, France, Spain, Iceland, Uganda, Japan, New Zealand, Germany, and many more…
  • I will pursue solo international travel
  • I will make at least one lasting friendship/ relationship/ work connection with someone from another country
  • I will visit at least 30 countries by the time I turn 30
  • I will plan and go on an ancestry trip with my family where we visit the towns of our origin
  • I will not limit the idea of “seeing the world” to international travel- I will also make the effort to spend time exploring my surroundings, visiting national parks, being outside. (I will be an explorer in my own back yard)
  • I will participate as a volunteer in a bioblitz (intensive weekend of citizen science) at least once
  • I will prioritize having a travel budget in my savings over having expensive material goods (experiences > items)
  • I will make an effort to meet and engage with local people on my travels
  • I will go skydiving at least once in my lifetime
  • I will hike the Appalachian Trail with Dad (time and health permitting)
  • I will incorporate the things I learn in my travels into my future works
  • I will donate any money I have at the time of my death to a scholarship that enables hardworking young women with limited resources to travel

to Appreciate.

  • I will show the people in my life that I care about them through listening, acts of service, and sincere praise
  • I will recognize that every person I meet is more talented and knowledgeable than myself in some way and seek to learn from their experience
  • I will allow people to have their own opinion and approach opposing views with curiosity instead of contempt
  • I will take time every evening to write down at least three good things happening in my life
  • I will take care of the body and mind God gave me through healthy eating, exercise, active learning, and mindfulness
  • I will host friends and family at regular get togethers/ dinner parties/ game nights at my home

to Love.

  • I will find my life partner/ best friend with whom I will work to create a lasting marriage and a happy home.

The ten most important traits I am seeking in a potential match are:

– integrity

– intelligence / intellectual curiosity

– empathy

 – a warm personality

– a sense of humor

– shared interests (most ideally health, music, travel, and reading)

– attractiveness (subject to my own preferences, of course)

– desire and readiness for marriage and children

– similar values regarding family, faith, and finances 

– supportiveness (offering encouragement, help, and affection)

  • I will respect myself in dating and not waste time with men who do not treat me well, do not possess the above traits, or do not complement my personality and desired lifestyle
  • I will not reflect on past relationships more than is necessary for self-growth
  • I will understand that love is an action, not a feeling; a choice, not an impulse
  • I will make my family a priority and devote ample time to nurturing these relationships
  • I will allow my family to become a bedrock of inspiration for my work
  • I will encourage my family members to be the best they can be, not to be someone else
  • I will demonstrate love openly and allow myself to be vulnerable
  • I will not play games or manipulate to get what I want in my relationships
  • I will have the courage to address concerns with my partner, understanding that communication is key
  • I will be direct, yet gentle, in expressing what I need from my partner
  • I will say “I’m sorry” and mean it when I am wrong
  • I will extend warmth and acceptance to everyone in my life
  • I will try to see the good in people first/ give people the benefit of the doubt
  • I will show myself the kindness I deserve; I will not allow myself to wallow in excessive self-criticism
  • I will take care of myself so I can take better care of others
  • I will pursue my dreams from a place of love, not a fear of failure

to Create.

  • I will create the life I desire through the implementation of the ideas rooted in this document
  • I will embrace my past (failures, insecurities, regrets, and all) without letting it determine my future. Everything I’ve done up to now is part of my story and who I am, and will ultimately play a role in what I create in the future
  • I will publish my first book within the next few years
  • I will write and publish original children’s stories that teach valuable lessons to kids with relatable and compelling characters
  • I will paint a mural on my children’s nursery room walls
  • I will create a mosaic piece over my kitchen sink
  • I will exercise my creativity by doodling and writing as much as possible
  • I will create / contribute to exciting children’s shows or films that inspire young minds
  • I will infuse my stories with the values I hold dear: tolerance, empathy, health, essentialism, self management, environmental conservation, family, courage, exploration, and an appreciation for the arts
  • I will recognize that play is essential for fostering connection and creative growth, not an indulgence
  • I will continue to share what I learn online through freelance writing and this blog

to Teach.

  • I will infuse my future children’s writing with lessons I hope to impart with young people
  • I will model my values by example through my life and work
  • I will speak about my life and work on panels, at elementary schools, and at conferences (Dream gig: presenting my work on the children’s literature stage at the Library of Congress National Book Festival)
  • I will do more than just raise my future children, I will teach them all I know and expose them to as many ideas and experiences as I can so they can become informed and independent thinkers
  • I will inspire and support young people figuring out where they want to go in life
  • I will gladly mentor young professionals who look up to me down the road

to Sing.

  • I will prioritize learning the skills I need to create my own music
  • I will sing as a part of service (caroling for charity, benefit concerts, etc)
  • I will record at least one solo album of original songs 
  • I will regularly perform my original songs for groups large and small
  • I will use music as my outlet for connection with others 
  • I will write and develop a musical or musical film 
  • I will produce short animations to illustrate my children’s songs
  • I will infuse the children’s programming I work on with music, or work on a program with an explicit focus on music 

to Never Stop Learning:

  • I will learn to create my own music
  • I will frequently read books on topics that excite and inspire me
  • I will keep my mind fresh by reading instead of wasting time on social media
  • I will push myself to talk with people who can offer different perspectives on topics I am passionate about
  • I will join groups to learn more from peers on specific areas of interest
  • I will engage in meaningful and enriching conversation whenever possible
  • I will keep myself aware of current affairs so that I can be an informed and socially conscious citizen

—-

Current Values:

Of course, in reaching these broad goals, it is important to acknowledge the values I want to guide my decisions on the way. At this point in my life, my five most important values are:

– music

– health 

– spirituality 

– exploration 

– love 

My current roles:

Fulfilling these values all more or less fall within performing to the best of my ability within my five main roles as of now:

Self-development/ renewal: mental, physical, emotional, spiritual

The Scrambled Sister (creative person/ writer/ blogger)

Music student

A children’s media professional

Daughter/ sister/ relative/ friend

—-


So there you have it- a pretty intimate glimpse into the life I intend to lead.

I hope this inspires you to write your own personal mission statement, if you haven’t already. Write yours in a way that will excite and inspire you whenever you look at it. For instance, I like beginning with “I will” phrases to solidify my statements. As Henry David Thoreau once said “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”

Whatever it is that you want: Memorize it. Meditate on it. WRITE IT DOWN.

Know your story and you just might become it.

untilupdate

I bought a bouquet today…

I bought a bouquet today…

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Living in Ethiopia I stick out like a sore thumb, so I’ve become a lot less self-conscious in the time I’ve been here. Even so, those old anxious feelings bubbled up today as I marched to the supermarket near my workplace to complete an errand unlike anything I’d done in Valentine’s Day past. Sheepishly I scanned the beautiful bunches I had been dreaming of and quickly made my selection. After five minutes of averting curious gazes in the checkout line, I was off and away with my prize- an arrangement of radiant red roses.

Once I held those roses in my arms the feelings of embarrassment melted away- I felt like a champion cradling my hard-won trophy. I am no stranger to catcalling on my walk to and from home here, and today was no exception. I had a few guys ask me, “You like flowers?” or simply snicker and say “ababa” (Ababa is the word for flower in Amharic. Addis Ababa means “New Flower”). And then an older man passing by flashed me a toothy grin, laughed and said pointing at my flowers, “You like you!”

Why did I buy a bouquet today? Because I like roses, and yes- I like me.

Growing up, I loved seeing my dad bring my mom home a dozen roses each Valentine’s Day- for me, that’s what love came to look like regardless of what anyone else made of the Hallmark Holiday. I’ll never forget going into the garden store near my home to purchase a corsage for my prom date and having the sales associate at the flower desk get all misty eyed as she told me how she looked forward to my dad coming in to buy the same dozen roses for Valentine’s Day every year. My dad is a creature of habit if there ever was one, but I think it’s adorable.

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“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet…” No boyfriend? No problem!

It’s funny to me how so much of what we think about love comes from the example set by our parents. My parents met when my mom was only sixteen, so I always had it in my mind that I too would meet the love of my life and marry young. When things didn’t work out with my first real boyfriend, I was devastated in part because I felt I had failed at love! It took me years to learn that I could celebrate the role that my first love played in my life without needing him back.

Though I dated a fair amount in college…I was still hung up on the desire to meet my mate young. As I’ve already discussed in my previous posts, I struggled quite a bit with self-confidence in college, and that is not a healthy foundation on which to build a stable relationship. It honestly drives me a little crazy when I think how much I sought out validation from the men in my life- granted, I am suuuuuuper picky so most dates never went anywhere, but for so long I put my true aspirations on the back burner in my pursuit of love. When I found someone I thought I could see myself having a future with, I overlooked a LOT of red flags early on in the relationship. (Note to self- if a guy insists on getting Panera on Valentine’s Day, RUN.)

This Valentine’s Day has been the most satisfying I’ve had in years- and I directly attribute that to the fact that this is the first time in a long while that I have actively NOT been looking to date or find a relationship. I’ve finally gotten to a place where I am comfortable being single- love will come my way in due time. With no relationship, or any desire for a relationship, there is no one to disappoint you and no expectations to have shattered.

And weirdly enough, I find that I am just as much of a hopeless romantic as ever having embraced that. Those close to me will tell you that (perhaps to a fault) I am fiercely loyal to those I care for and have an unshakeable belief in the beauty of love. As my buddy Frank sings, “Love is funny or it’s sad, or it’s quiet or it’s mad, it’s a good thing or it’s bad- But Beautiful.” What’s changed is that I’ve decided to channel those feelings toward the person in my life most worthy of my love. 

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That’s the sweet smell of self-love.

Before deciding to move here to Ethiopia I had a bit of an “a-ha!” moment regarding the role love has played in my life up to this point (There is a cool animated TED-ed lesson about the philosophy behind the purpose of love if you’re into such ponderings yourself). Of the guys I’ve dated, I’ve been influenced by four, fallen for two, and loved one. Between the four who have influenced me they all had one of two things in common: they were either gifted musicians or they were world travelers. Music and travel are two of my greatest passions, and for a long time, things I felt were missing in my life. At first I dismissed this connection as me merely seeking commonality with a potential partner- of course I would want to share the most meaningful parts of my life with my future husband. But as I thought about it more and more, I came to realize that I had relied on these men to fill the void in my life for the things I was really longing for most: music, adventure, and love. This realization has inspired me to take much more responsibility for my own happiness and fulfillment.

This is the way I look at it now:

Do you want more music in your life? Sing. Do you want more adventure in your life? Travel. Do you want to wake up with the person you love each and every day? Love yourself.

And in the case of today: if you want flowers on Valentine’s Day, go get them! Who’s stopping you from pursuing exactly what your heart desires?

I’m done waiting for my “special someone”… I found that she’s been with me all along.

Happy Valentine’s Day, folks. May you fill your life with love.

untilupdate

the “Tsehai” after the storm

the “Tsehai” after the storm

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If you thought I disappeared for a while after writing my New Year’s post, you are absolutely correct. I started 2016 with a bang dancing the night away at my first fancy New Year’s night out, and shortly after traveled to Gondar to witness the unique and exhilarating festivities of the Ethiopian Orthodox celebration of Christ’s baptism (Timket)- an incredible experience I still fully intend to write about and share with you, even if it’s past due. The moment I returned home from the trip I ran to the Whiz Kids Office for work, and work I did… these past two weeks have been the most trying of my early career, but in so many ways also the most gratifying.

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The fancy invitation for the big day! Image property of Whiz Kids Workshop.

To prepare for the big February 4th launch of the new season of Tsehai Loves Learning and all the other amazing projects associated with Whiz Kids Workshop’s Healthy Whiz Kids initiative, our production team had a ton of work left to finalize the 39 episodes that had been produced over the past two and a half years- no small feat! Because I have a bit more editing experience than most of the team I ended up being assigned a great deal of the final editing for details, but every single person on the team really pulled out the stops in the final push of the production. This meant a two week hurricane of practically non-stop editing, sleepless nights, and high pitched voice induced delirium. When I did sleep, I swear I saw Adobe Premiere and Tsehai in my dreams. I’m getting the nagging feeling that choosing a career in children’s media production means that I’ll face many weeks like these in the future, so appropriately (or not?) I found myself listening to the Avenue Q soundtrack on repeat. “It Sucks To Be Me” in particular sums up how I was feeling at the time.

I was completely absorbed in the work, glued to my computer (God bless my hyperfocus for kicking in when it counted this week), and feeling an odd mixture of frustration, pride, and excitement. As much as I hate to say it, while the work was demanding and I saw more Tsehai on my monitor than I did in the sky for two weeks (“Tsehai” being the main character of the show as well as the Amharic word for the sun) there was something I actually really enjoyed about all the craziness. For me, two of my greatest motivators are feeling connected to the work I’m doing and being able to work in a stimulating environment. In the past month, I’ve felt this on an entirely different level. The moments where I stepped back to recognize the value of the content I was working on was the eye in the storm.

As the smart-mouthed denizens of Avenue Q sing, “except for death and paying taxes, everything in life is only for now,” and that includes the discomfort of challenging yourself and working hard. Sure enough, the clouds did part and the sun seemed that much brighter for having waddled through the rain. The big day of the premiere was full of fun and fulfilment, of feeling proud of watching something so meaningful come to fruition. The venue for the premiere was bursting with patrons of Tsehai, from some of the Ethiopian celebrities featured on the show, to government officials and the ambassador of the United States, to (as my boss called our most distinguished guests) the children who love and learn from Tsehai. It was a truly beautiful moment when one of the speakers asked how many children had seen the show and the hands of every child in the audience excitedly shot up in succession.

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Full house for the premiere!

For these children, Tsehai isn’t the green screened giraffe puppet I know- she is their teacher and their friend. 350,000 children die every year in Ethiopia from preventable causes, so the task of closing the health education gap of the general public is a tall order Whiz Kids Workshop seeks to reach with their long-necked leading lady. The only thing I loved seeing more than the children’s genuine enthusiasm was my boss beaming as she presented the impressive research findings associated with Healthy Whiz Kids that state that the knowledge of important health topics DOUBLED for children that had viewed Tsehai Loves Learning episodes with key messages regarding nutrition, hygiene, and safety. It must be the most wonderful feeling in the world to watch the work you love make such an impact.

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Brukty the rockstar. =)

I’m going to gush for a minute and just say how much I respect my boss, the inimitable Brukty Tigabu. Yeah I’ve worked my tail off the past couple weeks, but it’s honestly nothing when I watch how much this woman works to make Whiz Kids Workshop the emerging children’s media powerhouse it is. Tsehai Loves Learning is the first and only show for preschoolers in Ethiopia (and much of Africa) so she is literally leading the way for the children’s media industry here. In the past ten years Tsehai has been running she has practically redefined the way to hustle to make your dreams come true, and listening to her ambitions for the future of her company and her genuine passion for her work is truly inspiring. In addition to the more than five million kids she teaches through her programming, she’s teaching me a thing or two about what it really means to work hard for what you want.

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My role model in children’s media.

It’s amazing to think that she co-founded Whiz Kids Workshop when she was my age, and as a self-taught filmmaker no less. It’s proof that hard work and dedication are the two most critical components of a successful career. Ten years from now, I hope to be playing a part in creating meaningful content that inspires change in my own society the way she has tackled some of Ethiopia’s most pressing issues.

For instance, Tsehai Loves Learning puts many children’s shows from the US to shame in terms of its inclusivity of girls and people with disabilities- the show stars a cast of 60% strong female characters and prominently features a blind professor and a wheelchair-using classmate of Tsehai’s. In addition, this season of Tsehai Loves Learning is fully interpreted in Ethiopian sign language so that all children can benefit from the show. Discrimination is more severe here than in the US, and the hope is that this content can help create a cultural shift in the perception toward oppressed people. But really, it should be the standard of all children’s programming (and the media at large) to feature characters that represent ALL viewers. This foresight and care demonstrates how much Brukty recognizes the importance of her work.

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My parents have been bugging me for a photo with Tsehai for months now. Finally snagged a pic with the star of the show before all her adoring fans showed up for the event.

President Theodore Roosevelt said it best: “Far and away the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing,” except he left out one detail- that prize doesn’t have to be so very far and away. I may be a bad example as I did in fact travel pretty far from home to pursue my dreams, but regardless of where we are we can all do something each day to pursue the work we love and create meaning in our lives. I’m proud to work hard to contribute to the success of Whiz Kids Workshop in my time here- after all, inspiring millions of kids to take care of themselves, each other, and the planet is certainly what I would call work worth doing.

What do YOU consider work worth doing?

untilupdate

reflections, realizations, & resolutions for 2016

reflections, realizations, & resolutions for 2016

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Ah, New Year’s Eve. So we meet again. For me and so many others, the start of the New Year is marked by reflections, realizations, and resolutions. Part of me can’t approach the dreaded New Year’s Eve countdown without wishing something astonishing would happen to ring in the next 365 days of my life (I blame this scene from When Harry Met Sally for forever giving me ridiculously high expectations for the holiday). But more than parties or proclamations of love, what I crave most this time of year is clarity. Not so much concerning where I want to go in life (I’d say I actually have pretty well defined goals for my future), but where I am right here and now- and what actions I can take that will bring me closer to accomplishing the lofty goals I have set for myself. Really, that’s all that New Year’s resolutions are- goals made with resolve (and hope) that come the end of the next year we will find ourselves in a better place than the last.

To recap, this is the Facebook post and resolutions I wrote this time last year:

If there is one single thing I learned from 2014, it was that it’s okay for things to turn out differently than you planned. Every mistake and every achievement is a learning experience- both are necessary opportunities for reflection and growth, and without mistakes, achievements wouldn’t mean as much. I’ve learned that sometimes it really does take leaving past passion projects and people behind for bigger and better prospects to emerge in our lives. If you don’t like your current situation- be it work, an unhealthy relationship/friendship, yourself and your habits, you CAN work to change or leave it. It is so much easier said than done, but you shouldn’t feel ashamed of taking matters into your own hands and making the decisions that are right for you and your personal growth. I’ve gained a lot of perspective about myself, my desires, my habits, my strengths, and my weaknesses this year that will serve me well as I begin my career. I’m learning to think long and hard about what I want and need in all areas of my life and take deliberate actions toward achieving the life I picture for myself. I’m trying to keep my resolutions simple and achievable this year as I’m slingshotted into adulthood:

1) Graduate.
2) Write, read, repeat.
3) Make music a more central part of my life.
4) Strengthen my relationships with people who matter- don’t worry about the rest.
5) Keep working hard, but spend more time doing things that make me happy

2015 will be a year of both terrifying and tremendous changes- let’s get it!

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It’s funny for me now to recognize just where I was coming from when I wrote this.

In my grand plan, I was going to continue on to grad school right out of undergrad, apply for a large children’s media grant available only to graduate students, funnel right into a career in children’s programming, become an adjunct professor, and live happily ever after. But as my senior year chugged on, I was beginning to realize that between work and school I was so burnt out- to jump right into grad school would have likely been a poor choice financially and academically. I saw this as a great failure, and felt crushed by the change of plans.

I was a handful of dates into a new relationship that I felt had tremendous potential. On the surface, the boy seemed like a great match for me: smart, handsome, punny, outdoorsy…did I mention he was really handsome? I was head over heels in- well, it wasn’t love, but at the time I thought it could be.

I had recently made the decision to leave the a cappella group I had created and nurtured from its inception. I had poured so much time, so much heart, and so much hope into the project, but it was making me extremely unhappy- as proud of it as I was, I never truly bonded with the other girls in the group and felt that my efforts were taken for granted.

I’m proud to say that in many ways, I have come so far from where I was when I wrote this post- literally and figuratively! If you asked me then where I thought I would be the Eve of 2016, it is highly unlikely that I would have said Ethiopia. While I’ve had working at Whiz Kids Workshop in the back of my mind for a few years now, at that time I honestly thought my life would look a lot less exciting in 2016 than it does right now. I was pretty eager to graduate, start my career, and have a new relationship. As my 2014 self said, it’s okay for things to turn out differently than you had planned. In my case, they turned out even better than I could have imagined.

Throughout college, I was a girl afraid of my own shadow. Since then, I have come to embrace my light- and dare I say, accept my imperfections. I’ve finally learned to let loose and love dancing, despite being told I was “rhythmically challenged” more than once back when I was in grade school theatre. I’ve learned that it takes a village to build any meaningful project and left behind my damaging misconception that I would never be successful if I couldn’t “do it all”. I’ve learned that I am capable of so much more than I gave myself credit for back while I was in school- in the right environment my scrambled mind, and all the crazy ideas that come with it, is an asset- not a hindrance.

From making my personal growth a priority and choosing to come to Ethiopia I have learned firsthand that all the greatest rewards in life come from taking great risks. While 2015 was rife with hurdles I stumbled over on my way to where I am right now, I believe that life is not measured by the times you fall, but the times you get back up. I owe a lot to my parents for not letting me lose sight of the finish line, then and now.

And how did I do with my resolutions last year?

1) Graduate.

– While it may have taken longer than I expected, sure as I am here in Ethiopia I graduated! I even had the honor of singing the National Anthem at my commencement ceremony.

2) Write, read, repeat.

– You’re reading this, aren’t you? I’m proud to have finally launched my own blog, and have made good use of my evening hours here by reading and working through several personal writing projects.

3) Make music a more central part of my life.

– More than that, this year I realized that music has always been a central part of my life. Back when I was studying film in school, it’s no accident that all three of the screenplays I wrote featured musicians as main characters.To realize my long held dream of becoming a songwriter and make use of the decade’s-worth of lyrics I’ve written, I recently committed myself to studying music theory and composition. Even though I have a loooooong way to go in realizing this dream, I’m proud to say that I’ve seen great progress this year. Just recently, I and a good friend of mine brought one of my originals to life- my first ever venture in recording! 

4) Strengthen my relationships with people who matter- don’t worry about the rest.

– I’m not quite sure how to approach this one, because from last year my perception of “people who matter” changed. All people matter. But I suppose what I had intended was to strengthen my ties to my family and closest friends, and not worry so much about what others thought of me. I still think I could do a lot better on this one.

5) Keep working hard, but spend more time doing things that make me happy 

– I’d say I’ve done pretty well with this, but honestly it is so much easier once you get out of college!

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Overall, I’m pretty pleased with my progress in 2015. I think setting a few, broad intentions worked a lot better for me then setting myself up for failure with an extensive wish list. With this in mind, I’ve again limited myself to five actionable resolutions for 2016:

1) Become a more grateful and generous person- focus more on how I can help other people.

– In my mind the two are one and the same: people who see abundance aren’t afraid to share their love, their time, and their resources. I aspire to become the kind of woman who gives back more to this world than she takes.

2) Write, read, repeat.

– Because really, this must be a constant priority if I eventually want to become a full time writer. This year I intend to become a more regular blogger, finish some of my old children’s books, and work on getting these ready to submit for publication. I am honestly ashamed that despite having completed quite a few stories at this point I have not done nearly enough to get them into the hands of my intended audience.

3) Trust my creative impulses: explore, take risks, discover.

– As my mother likes to say, “Successful people have failed at more things than most people have ever tried.” I have a ton of ideas, and now is the time to make them a reality. It’s unlikely that everything I write in my life will be successful, or even all that good. But as David Wong points out in this brilliant essay on self-betterment, you can’t hope to become a writer without actually writing (a lot). In addition, I intend to make the absolute most of the remainder of my time in Ethiopia by seeing as much as possible of the country, taking (reasonable) risks to push beyond my comfort zone, and delighting in all the discoveries I’ve yet to make here.

4) Make my bed every morning.

– I’ve found that I focus so much better and feel calmer in a more orderly environment (not really all that surprising). For a scrambled gal, coming home to a tidy bed feels like happening on an oasis in a desert of disorganization. I intend to make this a habit so I have a clear space to create when I return home from work each day.

5) Continue to build my self-confidence the Mindy Kaling way: “Work hard, know your shit, show your shit, and then feel entitled.”

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Who knows where I’ll be this time next year. Between now and next December 31st I have a lot of thinking to do and plans to make for the next step in my life journey. This I know for certain: wherever I go next, I am taking with me a smarter and stronger woman in my place.

What do YOU want to accomplish in 2016? Whatever it is, I wish you the utmost success. Happy New Year! =D

untilupdate

Missing Home This Christmas

Missing Home This Christmas

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Of all the challenges I’ve faced living and working abroad in Ethiopia, none have been more difficult than spending the holiday season away from my family for the first time. If I’ll be honest, one of the main reasons I came here was to fully immerse myself in the “expat experience”. I wanted to understand what it would mean for my future should I chose to pursue an international career. I’ve always had this fascination with the idea of “working my way around the world”, and knew I would always regret it if I didn’t at least try to see what it was like to pursue this path. I know this lifestyle does not come without a special set of consequences, but I needed to come here to gain the perspective I need to make an informed decision about the kind of life I want to lead.

I used to roll my eyes at my mother when she cautioned me to the consequences such a life could bring. Women Who Travel lead a life of loneliness, she said- for all the adventures they lead those perpetually wandering the world never have the opportunity to experience the joys of family life and familiarity. She said she didn’t know if that kind of life would make me happy.  “That’s just mom being desperate for grandkids”, I thought. I knew better. I would never fall for the familiar- I would be completely content to grow without taking root.

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Enjoying the best Christmas decorations in Addis at the Sheraton Hotel.

In many ways the expat experience is altogether enchanting. Speaking with veteran expatriates who have worked everywhere from Rwanda to Thailand to France to India and beyond, it is hard not to feel envious as they speak so eloquently of their world travels and experiences engaging with people from other cultures. A part of me whispers, THIS is the life I always wanted. This is the kind of woman I want to become- the wise, classy old traveler with many a story to share at the dinner party.

However, as they speak of their many years spent abroad, a significant number of the men and women I’ve spoken with express serious regret for never finding a “home base”, for falling out of touch with their families, for not allowing budding relationships to blossom, or for feeling “obsolete” in their home countries. Some say that they feel “addicted” to the lifestyle of living abroad and adventure, and that they almost wish they could return to the lives they used to lead. One man I spoke with said quite frankly that as a white person, he only missed the feeling of standing out when he returned home from Africa- the crushing anonymity of his life at home was what constantly pushed him to work abroad. It is important to recognize that there are plenty of older single people who truly thrive as constant expats who would never trade the lives they chose to live. There are also quite a few people who have happily married and started families abroad, or have successfully relocated their familes. However, for every person who thrives there seems to be another who feels that by living abroad they missed out on having the family and friends that make life worth living.

While I hate to say it, mom was (kind of) right.

Now that I am here and have had the chance to interact with people who have lived this lifestyle I understand that she spoke not from a place of selfishness (well, maybe just a little bit!), but from a place of love, of concern for her daughter’s wellbeing. Now that I am out of college she has very little say in the decisions I make that will shape my life. However, I now can appreciate that as my mother, it would actually be quite sad if she did not care enough to inform me of the consequences these choices could bring. She is simply offering the perspective on the other side of the coin of the worldly older women I’ve spoken with in my time here…never married (or divorced) and childless, beacons of independence standing alone in the wild waves of this world.

Is this kind of life truly what I want long-term? I’m not so sure. What I like about constant expats is that no matter where in the world they live, they find each other, support each other, and care for each other like surrogate family members. They are all in the same situation of living away from home, regardless of how close or far away they are from their home country. But many times, these relationships are ephemeral- especially in a diplomatic hub like Addis Ababa. People come and go as they work for the numerous NGO’s here in brief stints of a few months or maybe more- but so few seem to stay long term. And as I’ve already said, for as brief as their stay in any one country may be, they often spend years, even decades, away from home as the ties to their family unravel. As someone who was raised with family as a core value, that reality is a big pill to swallow.

Never has this been more evident to me than in spending Christmas away from home. Thanksgiving was also difficult, but because that is a purely American holiday (and not nearly as big a deal in my house) I didn’t miss it too much aside from missing my family. But Christmas…that’s another story. If anything, I am grateful for the experience of spending this Christmas away from home because it has made me appreciate my family that much more.

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Skype will never do these people justice.

My family members are my constant source of love, support, and inspiration and I genuinely miss each and every one of them. I’m lucky that I’ve made enough friends with other expats that I had good company to spend the holiday with, but nothing comes close to spending Christmas with the people you love. On Christmas Day I attended a dinner party attended by a motley crew of rowdy young expats and Ethiopians. As we were exchanging gifts in a silly Secret Santa (I got a cactus for Christmas) I couldn’t help but look around with a knot in my stomach and think “This is nice, but it sure isn’t home.” I missed my people (and my Aunt Joanna’s homemade pierogis).

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Represented at this Christmas Eve dinner: The U.S., the U.K., South Korea, Belgium, and Denmark. A very ferengi Christmas indeed.

Living here I also missed all the superficial, consumerist joys of the holiday season- the Christmas trees, the lights, the hot chocolate nights. While Ethiopia’s population is largely aligned with Orthodox Christianity, the festivities that surround Christmas in the States and elsewhere simply don’t exist here. Nearly all the decorations I’ve seen around are found in places where foreigners tend to gather, most likely to cater to the homesickness of wealthy expats during the holidays. My mom is pretty much the Queen of Christmas decorations- this time of year, my house just about looks as if it was hurled on by the Sugar Plum Fairy. And I can’t recall a Christmas where my dad didn’t bring home a tree that filled up the largest corner of the largest room of the house, or scale the tall trees in the back yard to hang up Christmas lights. You could argue that we are a little Christmas-crazy, but nonetheless it is a part of my upbringing that I enjoy very much.

Given that, It’s only right that when my parents sent me a mysteriously large package for Christmas THIS was what I found inside:

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On the first day of Christmas my mother gave to me: a Big Bird in a small tree!

My mom didn’t want me to be without a tree for Christmas. Too sweet.

From all the feelings of homesickness, I found myself humming the hook to a new song on my walk to work a couple weeks ago. As an avid (albeit closeted) songwriter I find myself thinking up ideas for songs all the time. Still, there was something about this one I especially liked. When I got to the office I quickly scribbled down the lyrics in my journal, and didn’t think much of it until just a few days before Christmas when, again on my way to work, I had the idea to record the song and send it as a gift to my family. For help with the music, I recruited one of my dearest friends and the most gifted musician I know. Between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day this was what we produced: “Missing Home This Christmas”

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Oh, there’s no place like home for the holidays…

The eight hour time difference certainly came in handy- before the end of Christmas Day (in the U.S.) I was able to finish the lyric video and send the song home. It meant so much to me that my family loved the gift- more than anything, that was what brought me joy this Christmas.

Unfortunately, the end of the holiday was marked by dissonance: while I was still high on pride from recording the song, my mom informed me that Bailey, my beloved, big moose of a dog, passed away late Christmas night. And with that, I came crashing down. For as wonderful as (mis)adventures abroad are, you just can’t control when those you love pass away…I never had the chance to say goodbye to my furry friend.

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Rest in Peace Bailey.

The reality is that it is possible I could lose some of the most important people in my life without warning while I’m here. To think I could miss being there for my family when they need me- when I need them- most hurts me beyond measure. And so with pain in my heart I pray that I won’t have to face that reality while I’m living so far from home… I suppose that is the price you pay when you choose the life of an expat, and you miss home for Christmas…

untilupdate

Walk with me!

Walk with me!

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The other day it occurred to me that I have now been living here in Ethiopia for just under three months. Seems like the time is just flying by faster than the cars down the busy city streets I dodge on a day to day basis. Since my last post, I’m happy to say that I’ve been settling in more to my surroundings, meeting and hanging out with some great folks (both Ethiopians and expatriates), and generally getting into the swing of things living abroad. That said, I’m a bit mad at myself for not adding another post sooner- between work and enjoying my newfound social life (something I sorely missed out on in college), I need to do a much better job of buckling down and completing the dozens of half-written entries I’ve started.

So one question I’ve been getting a lot from friends from home is generally what my surroundings look like- what I see, hear, smell on a normal day. So, I thought it would be a fun idea to describe and show some of the things I see on a normal workday. (excluding food- definitely intend to write Ethiopian food the love letter it deserves) I’m really lucky I live just a 10-15 minute walk away from the Whiz Kids Workshop office- I love having the time in the morning to clear my mind and get a little exercise to jumpstart my workday. Even on a short walk through Gergi (the part of Addis where I work and live) you can get a glimpse of some of the features found throughout the city. Here is my commentary* on some of the most regular sights I’ve seen around where I’m living, and Addis as a whole.

*move your mouse over the photos to view the captions

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If it weren’t for the trash, putrid smell, and men peeing out in the open by this creek, it would be pretty lovely. There is a cool little wooden bridge going over it on the other side.
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Down the street from the house where I’m living there is a mosque- the first one I’ve ever seen in my life. When I first arrived here I was confused when I heard prayers over a speaker system coming from down the road- I did not know what the sound was. Since then I have grown accustomed to the early morning prayers- they no longer stir me on my sleepy Sundays.
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Chicken and livestock roam the streets here- sometimes accompanied by their owners, sometimes not.
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According to one of my coworkers, there is a saying in Ethiopia (or at least the area of Ethiopia her family is from) that says something to the effect of “As long as we have peace and coffee we’re good.” Coffee is an extremely important fixture of the culture here. In poorer areas of the country, people will apparently still manage to purchase and brew coffee- even if they have to forgo other necessities.
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It’s worth noting that in residential areas you can see houses that are practically tin-walled huts right next to lavish homes behind ornate metal gates. The income inequality here is in some ways even more apparent here than it is in the U.S.

 

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It makes me so sad that there are stray cats and dogs EVERYWHERE along my walk and I can’t pet any of them. I’ve been keeping my eye on this mama and her puppies the past couple weeks and it has taken all my willpower not to try to pick up the pups.
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Burning piles of trash are a common sight- definitely do my best to hold my breath when I pass them. I haven’t noticed the toll the high altitude of Addis has on the oxygen levels too much, but I certainly feel it when I have a harder time recovering from a face full of smog than I would at home.
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Even more so than in advertising in the U.S., signs for restaurants and shops here in Ethiopia almost always include photos of the items/food being sold. Notice something a little strange about the poster for this dairy shop? My boss’s husband pointed it out and now I can’t unsee it…
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Something I’ve had to get used to is learning to utilize the tiny “souks” positioned throughout the neighborhood/ city to find my odds and ends- there aren’t any convenience stores like CVS or RiteAid here. There is a supermarket near work but the souks tend to be far less expensive. The trick is that from one to the other, you never know just what they carry- you need to walk right up and see or ask for yourself. In addition, prices tend to vary on certain items, so I’ve done a bit of shopping around to find the best prices for the items I normally purchase, such as gum or kolo (a scrumptious snack consisting of roasted barley with peanuts and dried chickpeas). This has definitely has made for some awkward interactions as I know very little Amharic at this point.
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There is a primary school very close to where I am living- every morning I pass dozens of children in their uniforms on their way to school. Sometimes they play music as the kids arrive, and when they do they almost always blast Pharrell William’s “Happy”. (great way to start the day if you ask me!) That yellow banner on the building reads “The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom” in English and in Amharic- just one of many signs found here indicating the strong presence of Orthodox Christianity. Many people wear crosses around their neck, and the taxis and minibuses are often covered with stickers depicting Jesus, the Virgin Mary, and other religious icons like doves, angels, and crosses.
bakery
This is the charming little bakery I pass every day on my way to work. Because peanut butter and banana sandwiches have become a staple of my diet, I frequent this place to pick up my daily seeded bun. The other day, the woman who works here in the morning handed me my bun before I could even ask for it- it feels kind of cool to feel like you’re becoming a familiar face living in a new place.
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Some of these shops that line the streets begin to look so repetetive. Specifically, there are a few reoccurring bars branded by different beer labels that pop up, in addition to the tiny white and red butcher shops scattered throughout the city.
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In this picture you can see some GORGEOUS flowers spilling over the edge of a walled compound. Flowers like these in all shades of purple, pink, red, and yellow flourish all over the city. As the daughter of a gardener/ flower enthusiast, this is something I truly treasure.
weight
If you want to check your weight, you should keep an eye (or an ear) out for one of these monitored scales positioned throughout the city. Every scale has a tiny (usually broken) beeper next to it, and they all play the same little ditty. Nearby, there will be a man sitting by the scale. You can pay him one birr (roughly $.05) to check your weight. Just realized upon uploading this that you now know how much I currently weigh…oh well.
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If NYC is “the city that never sleeps” then Addis is “the city that sells lots of sheep (and goats, and donkeys, and…)”
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A new office building under construction next to the condominium where I work. It’s actually pretty amazing how quickly it is sprouting up. See any cranes? This is being built with nearly raw manpower. I can’t imagine climbing up this structure-I feel terrified just watching the men work atop this skeleton frame!
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Made it to work- can’t miss that nifty banner showing off Tsehai! =)
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A side view of the building from the top floor. Many buildings here have these open hallways and stairwells, which I really enjoy- WKW has two offices (one for production and the main office) and to get from one to the other you automatically get the chance to step outside into the sunshine. This setup couldn’t exist in an environment where the weather was not so consistently calm.
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One of Addis’s many minibus taxis (the infamous “blue donkeys”) out of commission. When running, these things are packed to the gills with passengers- some even sitting on little wooden benches next to the door added to utilize each and every last inch of the bus.  Way cheaper than the contract taxis, but also far less comfortable.

…and there you have it! Thanks for joining me, and please stay tuned for more musings coming your way!

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