Friday, November 12, 2010

Things I would NEVER do in the US…

I finally have internet access after 3 days. Yay! We've had three great days of training here in Asela, Ethiopia. We'll be wrapping up tomorrow (Saturday), and then heading to Addis Ababa on Sunday. I just posted some pictures on facebook, for those of you with access.

One of the interesting things about international ministry is the opportunity to see other cultures. Even though I've led quite a few training sessions on "cross cultural understanding", I never fail to be surprised (and stretched) whenever I travel overseas. I've experienced three clear examples of this in Ethiopia (actually, probably more than three, but these three spring to mind).

First, I've experience some cross-cultural eating experiences. Most meals in Ethiopia feature "injira"- a tortilla-like food made from fermented grain mash. It's completely unlike anything I've ever seen in the US (or anywhere else in the world, for that matter. A traditional Ethiopian meal doesn't involve silverware. Instead, you rip off a piece of injira and use it to scoop up a saucy combination of meat/veggies/spices. I decided to jump into the deep end right away, so I had injira my first lunch in Ethiopia. We were at a restaurant, and I ignored all the more comfortable western-ish foods on the menu. I ordered Doro Wat, a specialty consisting of a thick spicey sauce along with injira. I didn't realize quite how hot it was until I felt the sweat running down my neck, and my teammates asked me why I was turning red. Once I washed down the aftertaste (about 2 days later), I decided that it wasn't too bad. I may try another helping of Doro Wat on this trip.

Secondly, I drank…brace yourself….COFFEE. Yes, I know…most of you are asking, "what's the big deal?" I have only tasted coffee a handful of times in my life, and have never really cared for it. When Julie and I got married 21 years ago, we both decided to continue our "non-coffee-drinker" status. In fact, we jokingly said it was our secret wedding vow. However, I've always said that I would drink coffee if it was socially/culturally necessary. I've been offered coffee many times in many countries, but it always seems to come with alternatives (usually tea).

But now I'm in Ethiopia- they discovered coffee here. I said that they "invented" coffee, but my teammates reminded me that GOD invented it. Either way, if there's one country in the world where coffee is a likely cultural mandate, it's Ethiopia. I quickly found out that many (most….all?) lunches and dinners are followed by a traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony. The beans are roasted by hand over hot coals while we eat, accompanied by a strong incense- all performed on a floor covering of palm fronds. (You can see a picture on facebook) It was obvious that a polite refusal would be impossible…

So I drank some coffee. As I remembered, coffee tastes like liquid tar (not that I actually know what tar tastes like). I decided to put in a spoonful of sugar. Tasting it again, I discovered that it now tasted like sweetened tar. Another spoonful (these are NOT large cups) allowed me to finish the drink.

I know that some of you are thinking, "it must not be good coffee". My teammates assure me that it's extraordinary. So I have to ask all you Starbucks-addicted coffee heads out there…WHAT ARE YOU THINKING?!?!

I suppose I'll drink it a few more times while I'm hear. Pray for me- I'm not all that nervous about terrorists or African stomach flus. It's the coffee that I'm worried about…

My final cultural stretch was…um…how do I put this? Perhaps I should start by explaining something about Ethiopian culture. Ethiopian friends hold hands. Sometimes you'll see people talking and holding hands…gender doesn't matter. It gives them a sense of connection with their friends.

I think you can see this coming. As I was walking a few blocks through town after a break in the training, Limut came up to ask me a few questions. We had talked previously, and his English is pretty decent. As we began to talk (here it comes), he took my hand. My initial instinct was to jank my hand away. Fortunately, my brain moved faster than my reflexes. To pull my hand away from a friend would have been to reject his friendship. And that's not exactly the impression we're trying to give these amazing men and women we're training.

So I walked through the streets talking to Limut, holding hands. Feeling awkward (at least I was…he probably didn't give it a second thought). It was probably 5 minutes, although it felt like about 2 hours. To be honest, I was quite glad when we arrived at our destination, and my hand was grabbed away by a wall of orphans saying, "hello….hello….hello…."

It was a little bit easier when Teshome held my hand today. But, in case you're worried, I won't be initiating any handholding….

When you travel, you join their culture….and it's not always easy…and often not very comfortable…

I'm hoping to have more internet access for the rest of the trip, but I'm not promising anything. Be checking on the blog for stories about our visit to the orphanage.

Thanks for listening. I appreciate your prayer!

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