Smile

Every time I think of Ethiopia it brings a huge smile across my face. Reflecting back, it is one of my favorite memories.

It’s been exactly a week since we’ve arrived back in Sactown and I’m dying to go right back. Even when boarding the plane in Ethiopia I was trying to think of possible solutions to extend our visit. The trip was incredible and I would do it again, and again. Going on this trip has peaked my interest in other programs that travel abroad. I’m planning on traveling again next summer and doing community service through another program. I haven’t decided what country, let alone what continent I want to travel to next. Maybe I’ll return to Africa or try South America or Asia.

The transition has been harder than I expected, especially waking up and realizing that you no longer have a roommate. Not only will I desperately miss the country and people in Ethiopia, but also the 10 friends that I embarked the journey on with. It’s hard trying to share your experience with family and friends and not to do the image or experience your describing justice. It’s another thing when something reminds you of the trip and you turn to your side to laugh or talk about it with one of the 10 people you shared your trip with aren’t there sitting next to you. Thankfully, water polo and soccer have both started this week and have kept me busy because I would have been in my room sulking that I wasn’t in Ethiopia anymore.

I have already started saving for my return trip to Ethiopia, which will hopefully be very soon.

Goodbye everyone!

It’s been a full week since returning to Ethiopia and I can safely say I’m ready to go back. Don’t get me wrong, I love the states and I missed my friends and family like crazy, but Ethiopia was breathtaking. I keep looking through the pictures that I took and wish I could just step back into that moment.

Now, there are also moments where I’m happy to be back. For example, water. I tell you, it’s so much easier to not have to worry about drinking tap water. Even now, I sometimes panic a little bit when putting my toothbrush under the faucet. Also, I was really happy to see my family. My sister brought me cupcakes, my parents balloons and flowers, and other loved ones surprised me by just being there.

In most of my other blogs, I commented that I couldn’t wait to share this experience when I got home. I’ve come to understand what Pam (our group leader) meant when she warned us that some people will ask about the trip and your experiences, but not really care. Still, I’ve discovered that there are a lot of people who DO care and couldn’t wait for me to share all of my pictures and favorite memories. For me, it seems that the interested people far outweigh those who ask to be polite.

Being home has been a new experience in itself. I’m glad to be home, but also sad to have left my “Ethiopia group family.” I know that this trip will always be special to me and will encourage me to travel more in the future. I can’t wait for my next adventure. Bye!

Citizen of the World

Last night, I flew into Sacramento from London, England. It’s been five weeks since I have been home, and the reality of this hasn’t quite hit me yet. I’m jet lagged, tired. My senses are somewhat dulled. As I try to come up with a way to express how I feel about all the experiences I have had this past month, I find that I am conflicted. I am glad to be home. I am sad that I left. It feels good to be home, but it feels wrong to be away. I am in love with Ethiopia and its welcoming people. I am both horrified and interested in the poverty and culture clash that we have seen. I am happy that we have made a difference by donating and working in some of the orphanages we’ve visited. I am stunned by the contrast between the attitudes and lives of those in Ethiopia versus those living in the U.S. At times, it’s saddening.

But above all, I am irrevocably glad that I have had such an experience that has made me feel so complicated and so emotional. Being my first international trip since Germany at ten years old, Ethiopia has made me fall in love with international travel. It has made me fall in love with Africa, and the emotional complexities it thrusts upon me. Ethiopia has inspired me to become a citizen of the world.

Final Blog

It has been exactly one week since we arrived in SFO and my feelings are all over the place. Originally while waiting in the airports during our tiresome layovers I was getting excited to see everyone–especially all the of the friends I hadn’t talked to for a month but when I actually came home and got to sleep in my oh so comfy bed I chose to ignore the 10 unread messages asking me if I was finally home yet. It was weird because this whole time I had been planning on all of the things I would do with everyone when really I didn’t want to do anything. The only people I wanted to be with was everyone who went on the trip. I was often bored but resorting to twitter just made it worse as I became quickly frustrated with everyone and all I wanted to do was go back.

The jet lag didn’t pose too much of a problem but adjusting was something more challenging than I expected. It may sound strange but back in Ethiopia one of my favorite things was just driving around and being able to stick my head out of the window and try to capture everything going on–it was exciting because people were everywhere in the cities and there was always something beautiful to be seen in the country. Now as I look out the window I’m almost disappointed. It may just be because I have seen everything for the past 15 years but I think it’s more than that. Even the smells I miss (good and bad). Wherever we were there was always a distinct scent but around Sacramento the closest thing I get to smelling something strong is when I’m at a gas station…

However now that I’m finally getting used to things I can say I’m happy to be back, but whenever I look through my pictures I always get a little sad inside, especially all of the photos of the children. Hearing so many people, including myself, say how much we don’t want to go to school makes me think of the little bright faces in Acheber and how those kids walked for quite possibly hours just to learn during their break! These are the little things that keep coming to me, all the little memories. So often situations come up where I want to share a laugh or cry with everyone on the trip but no one else around me understands, though I guess that will just be something I have to get used to.

Busy since returning

It’s been a little over a week since our return, and the past month feels like a distant memory. I’ve been so busy with school starting next Monday and sports picking up, I haven’t really had a chance to reflect on our trip, or even show my family the pictures! Getting off the plane, I went straight to field hockey practice the next day and have been going ever since.

While my days are busy, I’ve had a hard time falling asleep at night with everything going on inside of my head. It’s so strange to spend 30 days talking with someone until you fall asleep, and now, silence. I never realized how lonely I would be. Luckily I continue to participate in a very active group message that is draining my data, and have been in contact with Abraham.

Most importantly, the cornrows are still going strong!

Final Blog

Hey everyone! So we’ve been home for a week now and it was definitely a big transition coming home.

It was awesome to see family and friends that I missed. Catching up and talking to them was amazing. But now I find myself missing my friends in Ethiopia like Kelly, Solomon and Abraham and especially missing my team. Whether we like it or not we definitely became somewhat of a family and it feels weird not being with some of my favorite people all the time. Of course we’re keeping in contact and all but it’s different. Our group experienced everything together and sometimes it’s hard to explain events to other people. I also find myself catching our inside jokes in regular conversation and looking around waiting for people to laugh, but no one does.

Another thing that I’ve noticed is my impatience for traffic lights. I got so used to the Ethiopian roads where stop lights were rare and there was a lot more swerving in and out of donkeys. The roads here just seem different.

I would say that I’m adjusting well but things are definitely not the same as they were before the trip. I’m more aware of how much I have and I’m so grateful. I think the trip was an amazing experience and I’m extremely glad I went.

Two Homes

Do you splash right into the final post? I find it hard to say, “Hello, how do you do,” because I already know that answer; I’m in regular contact with my Sacramenton peers.  What is the meaning of this post? Beats me. For the first time in several days, I’m sitting down and re-contemplating the initial re-entry, and it almost feels surreal. Biking through the streets of the park, waking up in my bed, seeing excited, friendly faces; I find myself in a trance-like state, not entirely unsimilar to when I initially entered Ethiopia.  I miss the Motherland. Everyone in the group does. But it seems to me that I’m comfortable being home, content with the adventure of a lifetime, and satisfied with myself among all things. I can rest and breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that I’m home, and knowing that I’ll go back. Endale will be reunited with his Ethiopian brethren again.

Seeing, however, that it is foolish to be so gloomy and miserable at the thought of leaving and so farfetched to hope to return at this time, I find myself in a sort of middle ground: coming and going, home and away. And what does this do for me? It stimulates the deepest tissue of my mind, and one by one, the memories begin to float again softly to the surface: The world we live in. This great big world of white folks and black folks and all those in between. Cultures so diverse and intertwined that the twin destinies are forever bonded; the domino, the feedback loop of push and pull and tug of war. A world where a boy like me can become Ethiopian for a month… or more.  A plate of fried chicken, hold the chicken. Spanish folks, English folks, and soccer players from Carolina. A few fish heads, with rubber corn and happiness in sickness and distress. A group of friends who you will love and cherish for the rest of your life, because a month across the world creates bonds so strong that they cannot be broken. A mat and blanket, and a bug fortress to keep the little buggers away. A month of rain. A spiritual exercise of mind, heart, and body with every step you take. A collection of drums and machetes; smiling faces and corn rows. A long ride on the bus, watching the world go by, but not forgetting. A child’s smiling face. A group of teens and adults, having the time of their lives.

You can miss the country and its inhabitants, but with a blessed, memory, it can be right there. Right there, in the 105° heat, or the crowded classroom, or in a world of hate, ignorance, and frustration; one can travel back to a little mountain village in the Rift Valley, and live those days, with spirits soaring high and flooding with the passion for our new home, forever and ever.

The Return

Being home is peculiar. I remember being so excited to get back so I could go to In-N-Out, but as soon as we landed in SFO, I was ready to go back to Africa. The excitement of being home faded pretty fast. We spent so long there that being home actually seemed unfamiliar. It was so weird to see white people as the majority. We got so used to automatically drawing attention to ourselves that it was weird to blend in. No one cared about our presence anymore.

Now that I’ve been back for a few days, I can’t help but feel some of that first-world guilt. I used to view our home as decent, but now this one-story house is a freaking mansion in my eyes. We are so incredibly fortunate to have what we have, and I want to appreciate it as much as I possibly can because I know how incredibly grateful our Ethiopian friends would be to have what we have. Sometimes when I’m walking through my neighborhood, I contrast the houses and buildings to those we grew accustomed to in Ethiopia. It’s astounding how different the quality of living is. And yet, the people we met seemed so much happier and more appreciative than anyone I’ve met here. People who have less have to find their own happiness outside of material possessions. It seems that the more we have the less value we place on our belongings. For us, it’s so much more convenient to obtain the supplies we need. I guess I’d care a lot more about my shoes too if I only had one pair and no money to replace them.

One of the hardest parts about coming back has been re-introducing myself to my peers, like my friends and teammates. Sometimes it’s very hard to listen to teenage girls constantly complaining about how much they lack. I know we all do it, but going to Africa has really opened my eyes to how ludicrous those complaints are here. They hold absolutely no meaning. But that’s not something you can just tell someone, because it really does take first-hand exposure to dire poverty to change your perspective like that. Many kids our age tend to carry this attitude of entitlement. I hated it before I left for Ethiopia, and now I can’t even tolerate it. Now it’s easy for me to see that it just isn’t worth getting wrapped up in the petty crap that teenagers especially are always consumed by. I can see now that nothing is as important as we make it seem. And that realization has actually lessened a lot of stress for me about senior year and my future outside of high school. I have this newfound motivation to be my best for those that don’t have the same opportunities. Regardless of what happens in my future, I’m so lucky to have the opportunities that I do.

It’s also been hard to acknowledge that some people really won’t care about the trip. I know that was one of the things we needed to brace ourselves for, but it’s so crappy to see that people are truly disinterested. And that’s why it’s been so hard being without my girls. We have an entire month of experiences together that only we will understand the significance of. No matter how hard I try, sharing stories about the trip will never do it justice.

The most assaulting difference between Ethiopia and America is probably this heat. It is just too damn hot in California. While conditioning with my volleyball team last Friday, I thought that I was actually going to pass out while running through Land Park in the middle of the afternoon. I don’t think it had even hit 90 yet, but I am not used to these temperatures whatsoever.

But don’t get me wrong, being home is so nice. It was amazing to finally see my three best friends in the airport – my parents and Evan. I’ve gradually been seeing more of my family, like my brother and cousins and uncles and aunts that all helped support my trip. They’d all been following the blog and I know they genuinely do care about the unique experiences I had there. It’s also been so cool to give them their Ethiopian gifts, and share the African adventure with them. And this Internet speed is pretty fantastic, too. I also never thought I’d appreciate a toilet or running water this much. Plumbing is truly a blessing.  But I do miss the rain. And the food. And our bus. And Kelly and Solomon and Abraham and basically everyone. Truthfully I am more than ready to go back. Who’s ready for #EthiopiaTripRound2 ?!

And just like that, it’s over

Well, we have been in the United States for exactly a week now. While I wouldn’t consider the transition from Ethiopian life to American life to be necessarily difficult, I would definitely say it has been sad. On July 7th I went to SFO with an open mind and open heart, ready to embark on a journey with people that I really didn’t know that well. On August 6th, I departed Africa with a new mindset and a heart full of memories. It’s crazy how a month ago I was crying as I thought about leaving everyone back home, yet just a week ago I was crying as I left a country that I fell in love with, as well as my new friends who made the trip more than I ever expected it to be. As I look back on the trip, I notice all of the friendships that I have made with my fellow travelers and the people who we were forced to say goodbye to in Ethiopia. What has been hard for me is having to deal with not seeing these people who I grew so close with over the month. I learned to depend on them, trust them, and experience a whole new way of life with them.

It’s hard for me to write this blog because there’s so much I want to express, yet I don’t even know how. Coming home was amazing but it’s so hard to process everything I just experienced. Everything is so different. The other day I was relating a story to someone and forced myself to stop because I was starting to cry. As I sit on my bed trying desperately to write, I can’t help but notice how quiet it is. I can’t hear Jackson and Henry’s guitar from a few doors down the hall, Sofia’s laugh, the constant cries for food or a bathroom, or the quiet buzz of CNN playing on the small hotel television. I miss the Ras Hotel’s breakfast that was nothing but carbs, the constant reminders to take our malaria pills, the smell of our bus, and the changing landscape on our nine hour bus rides. I even miss the traditional bathrooms. Come to think of it, I take back what I said at the beginning of this blog. Transitioning from Ethiopian to life back home in California has actually been extremely difficult. I’m still not sure what exactly to say or how to relate my stories and experiences, but thinking about it now, I’m not sure if I’ll ever be able to do that to the extent that I am wishing for.

This is our last blog ever. I remember our first time blogging and how I had no idea what to write. That’s when I had the whole journey in front of me. Now, I still am not sure what to write, yet the journey is behind me. I replay and replay memories in my head, smiling to myself the whole time. I loved every second of this amazing journey and want to thank the readers of this blog for following us on our trip to Ethiopia.

Home

Well, the trip is over and we’ve all returned home safe and sound. The plane ride(s) back were a little rough. We were put on standby, our plane was delayed, we were seated next to some…less than desirable travel companions and those layovers were rather lengthy, but we all made it back and we will get some pretty great stories out of it.

Things are slowly starting to return to normal here in California. My eating habits are returning to normal (I’m no longer consuming three loaves of bread a day); I’m starting to catch up with my friends and family, relating the tales of our Ethiopian adventures and catching up on what we missed while we were away; and slowly, oh so very slowly, the jet lag is beginning to disappear. It’s definitely a little weird not being surrounded by 13 other people every day. There are some perks (like sleeping in my own bed), but it’s also really sad not being able to see everyone whenever I want. Something else I’m having to adjust to is the weather! Ethiopia was overcast, rainy, lushly green and mild. Chico is hot, dry, sunny and HUMID. I expected it, and so far it really hasn’t been too bad, but it’s still weird to think that a few days ago I was all bundled up when all I can do now is eyeball the pool and turn the fan on full blast.

I learned a lot about myself, Africa and travel on this trip. No one can say exactly how an experience will affect them in the future, but I can say for sure that this experience will have an impact, on both myself and others. I’d like to thank everyone who went on that trip with me for making it so memorable. I made some really great friends and some really great memories, and for that I am grateful.