Monday, June 26, 2006


Well, I'm finally home, and after a few days of rest, errands, and cleaning, I'm up and running again. I was unable to post for a couple of reasons. For one thing, as my dad mentioned, I was unable to access blogger from Ethiopia. Also, unfortunately while in Ethiopia my computer contracted a virus (or actually over 11,000... and it never even went online!), and it crashed. Thus, all of my blogs were inaccessible, and it wasn't until I was leaving that I brilliantly realized that I could actually handwrite entries! Anyway, here are nine (i think) new blogs that are actually beginning to get quite old as the days keep ticking by, finally up and posted for your pleasure. Enjoy, and there will probably be two more in the next few days.

En Route

Monday, June 19, 2006

Sitting on the airplane, people are still boarding. Even though it was ridiculously humid and hot as we walked through the passage-tunnel thing connecting the airplane to the airport, it’s beginning to rain. Raindrops splatter against the window. Some remain stationary. Others tumble down the window like tears.

We’re seated in the very last row, and I’m nestled into the right corner. I like sitting next to the window. I like observing, and I like watching things go by.

My observation for today is that even though I’ve left Ethiopia I haven’t actually left it. True, as soon as I stepped off of the plane and made it through customs, I saw hordes of clean white people, a shocking sight to my eyes. True, an hour later I went on a shopping spree for fake food, sugary, artery-clogging goodness; I got a cinnabon cinnamon roll, venti Starbucks raspberry mocha frappuccino, and garlic fries swimming in an ocean of oil. But I got “real” food as well: Panda Express.

Now, those are absolutely NOT Ethiopia. But here’s the thing: we hiked all the way to Panda Express, and it happens to be right in front of the Ethiopian Airline gate. And there happened to be a flight boarding heading back to Addis. My ears devoured the sound of Amharic being spoken all around me, and my eyes relaxed at the sight of many Ethiopians, the familiar faces of strangers. We even saw someone who we recognized from Addis! Ethiopia is truly inescapable.

…Although, I suppose that now that I actually am back in the States my blogs will soon come to an end. Shame, I’ve enjoyed myself.

Abiy Again (but this time for good)

Monday, June 19, 2006

In Washington Dulles airport, getting ready to board flight to San Francisco. Am I really only a 5-hour flight from home?

The 17-or-so-hour flight, direct from Addis to Washington, actually wasn’t hell! I guess that I’ve gotten used to waiting. Mom and I spent the last few days just kind of wasting away the time, waiting until our flight. We just didn’t have much left to do. And we were ready to come back home.

Before we left Abiy came by. He gave me his advice, said his thank yous, and finally said goodbye. His eyes started tearing, and so he kept avoiding our eyes, staring interestedly at the ceiling, and glancing at the TV. After playing Stevie Wonder for a few minutes, he finally met our eyes, smiled weakly, and rubbed away the tears. Abiy had to leave to pick up another client, but he called again later for a last goodbye. And that was that.

The Talk

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Sometimes adults will look at me, not necessarily inquisitively, but out of a bored interest. They paste on a smile that doesn’t usually look happy, and they slightly cock their head to one side.

“So, Samra, you’re leaving soon, right?” Why do they ask me when they already know the answer?

“Yep…” I reply, my voice trailing into an awkward silence. We twiddle our thumbs for a moment until (lightbulb pops over their head!) they ask me, “So, are you excited to be going home?”

I think to myself, Ugh, not this question again, but out loud I say: “Yes and no,” I put on a half smile and tilt my head from side to side, “I mean… I’m happy to go home and see my friends again, but it’ll be really sad to leave Ethiopia.”

I don’t know if they’re now actually interested, or if they just have nothing better to do, so they ask, “So you’re happy that you came to Ethiopia? If you could do it all over again you would?”

“Of course, without a doubt,” I answer. They raise their eyebrows and nod their head. “Really?”

They are surprised.

“Really,” I say, nodding my head along with them.

“Well, that’s nice.” And they go back to sipping their drink, or looking about the room, or they begin chatting with someone else.

Trip Down Memory Lane

Saturday, June 17, 2006

I’m leaving tomorrow night. Already. I can’t believe it’s already over. I once wrote: “Each day might seem long, yet you look back and it dawns on you that you slept through it all.” Perhaps this time I wasn’t actually sleeping, but there are some things that I didn’t take advantage of, and now regret stings in my tears. For example, it was only within the last couple of weeks of school that I was really getting tight with and hanging out with kids in my own class. My closest friends throughout the year have been Sally and Veerle, both seniors. Finally at the end of the schoolyear I really started spending time with the kids in my grade, although I will admit that it was probably most out of necessity because the seniors were frequently gone. And it was then that I realized how much MORE fun I could have with so many MORE people. Alas, and so it goes.

Despite these regrets that I will carry with me, - few maybe forever, but most until I get too caught with life to care and remember – I’d say that overall it’s been a great year. On the very first day of school, that oh-so-memorable half-day, I got home and cried, and cried, and cried, until my eyes were red and swollen. Even my dad came in and started up a symphony of sobs with me, complete with sniffles, wailing, and sputtering incoherently about wanting to go home. My dad is a sensitive guy, but I can count the times I’ve seen him crying on one hand. But seeing his baby girl cry like that and mumble about how she hates his country, she hates ICS, she wants to go home… well, I’m sure that his tears not only stung with regret, but also pain, confusion, and worry. He was so excited for me to come to Ethiopia and learn the culture and the language, but on that first day of school I was so scared and lost and lonely. He gently rubbed my back and cradled me in his arms. He stopped crying, but his voice was still wavering as he told me that maybe this was a mistake… if I still wanted to come home in two weeks, I’d be on a flight.

That was August 17, 2005. Ten months later, and I’m leaving tomorrow. When I get home I will flop down on my bed. And I will cry, and cry, and cry, until my eyes are red and puffy.

Tick, Tick, Tick...

Tick, tick, tick… Every second that passes brings me closer to my final moments. Haha, it sounds like I’m talking about my death…which really isn’t that funny. But I suppose that in a way it is a sort of death of me. Although a new part of me has been born and I have been forever changed by this year, as it comes to an end, so a chapter of my life comes to a close. Slowly, qes beh qes, a part of me will die as I’m driving down Bole, entering the glass doors of the Addis airport, checking into my flight, sitting on an Ethiopian Airline plane.

This is life: you are born, you live, you die. To everything there is a beginning and an end. I will continue to say “hello” and “goodbye.” Another of my favorite singers, Brett Dennen, sings, “Nothing lasts forever/ not even the mountains/ some day they will be swept away and swallowed by the sea.” We keep moving forward, tumbling and tumbling towards a future that is unknown, but that has a definite end. It’s bittersweet.

As sad as I am that all of this has come to an end, I am so happy that I had the opportunity to experience it. “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” Hmmm, I still don’t agree with that statement. You see, I will most definitely smile because it happened. I’ll look back on it all, sigh and smile sadly, tenderly wrap it up, and store it in the warmth of my heart and soul. But I will also sob until I have no more tears to cry; my nose will be red and runny, and my eyes will be so swollen that I can hardly open them. I’m a sensitive girl, this is natural. Good memories and bad, it’s been a wonderful experience…

Excerpt from ICS Yearbook

Nice excerpt about Ethiopia from the ICS yearbook:

Emerging from the eastern horn of the African continent is one of the most misunderstood and stereotyped of Africa’s developing nations. It is narrowly portrayed by the western media as a sub-Saharan wasteland fraught with chronic drought, populated by starving children with distended stomachs and fly covered faces and burdened with economic hardship. But these images are only a small part of the reality of Ethiopia, an ancient civilization once called Abyssinia, which is the archaeological site of “Lucy” and perhaps the origin of man some three and a half million years ago.

This is Ethiopia… a country unique in all of Africa, a country that managed to retain its cultural heritage because of centuries of isolation, yet a country that is also a melting pot of Mediterranean, Arabic, and African influences. Perhaps most noticeable is the theocentric orientation of its 50 million people, assembling regularly for religious holidays to honor the different Patron Saints. Most remarkable is that peaceful co-existence prevails among the equal representations of Christian orthodoxy and Islam, unlike the clashes between fanatic religious factions characteristic of other parts of the world. Most Ethiopians express their gratitude to God or Allah in quiet devotion, without zealous fervor or proselytization.

The dress, music, religious ceremonies, lingual intonation, and even facial characteristics display this beautiful and distinctive marriage of African and Arabian, Christian and Muslim. Ethiopians essentially interact in a spirit of unhurried cooperation – miraculous, considering the economic devastation and disadvantaged conditions most of them live with. Yet Ethiopians display not despair, but open affection, gentleness and quiet joy, many walking hand-in-hand, or arms about each other’s shoulders.

Geographically situated in the heart of Ethiopia is its capital Addis Ababa, literally “New Flower.” It is a bustling metropolis of contrasts, with modern architectural wonders set aside corrugated tin hovels; crammed buses and funky Fiat taxis compete on pot holed roads with heavily laden burros, sheep, goats, cows, and hundreds of thousands of pedestrians.

Advertised as having 13 months of sunshine, the climate is often ideal. Addis Ababa’s 8,000 foot elevation makes it dry and sunny throughout most of the year, with heavy rains during the months of July-September.

About 80 embassies exist in the capital, along with the continental headquarters for many Africa relief agencies. Both the African Union and the Economic Commission for Africa are headquartered in Addis, making it uniquely international and the longtime home of many humanitarian-oriented epatriates.


Sunday, May 28, 2006 (European Calendar)
Sunday, May 20, 2006 (Ethiopian Calendar)

Zare ginbot haya newot. It marks 15 years since the downfall of the dergue. In 1978 Colonel Mengi Haile Mariam seized power in Ethiopia, assisted by the Soviet Union with $2 billion worth of arms, 20,000 Cuban troops, 300 tanks, and 3,000 technicians. Obviously it was a pretty violent time, and the dergue regime was not the most democratic. All day ETV’s been broadcasting scenes of people celebrating and dancing in commemoration of how lucky they are now that Ethiopia has become a “democratic” country and their votes and opinions count.

In other news, last night was the ICS prom. It was quite a success, with over 400 people present, the biggest prom in ICS history, and parents, family, and kids sufficiently buzzed. Funny thing: before coming to Ethiopia the closest I had gotten to anything Danish were the Danish pastries from Albertson’s that we sometimes ate for breakfast on the weekend; my date to prom was half Greek and (yep, you guessed it…) half Danish.

Now that prom has come and gone it truly seems as though the end is near. At the beginning of the year I wrote: “So… my family leaves today. In only a few hours. How has a month gone by already? Will an entire school year go by just as fast? In a blaze will it all be gone, over, swallowed by flames in an instant? Each day might seem long, yet you look back and it dawns on you that you slept through it all.” Well, now I know the answer: yes. This is life, you can’t change it. You have to accept it as it is, and that means that you have to try to savor every moment. It’s a lot easier said than done, but once I finish finals I truly will live up my last 2 ½ weeks in Addis.

I’ve just read over all of my blogs and recapped on the year. Haha, it’s interesting to hear the change in my tone, I’m actually beginning to sound really depressing… not good, but at the same time kind of inevitable. This year truly has taught me a lot and I’ve lived a different life (not draaastically different, but most definitely not the same). Yes I’ve fallen off my bike, pretty hard once or twice, and I have scars to prove it, but I wouldn’t trade this year for anything. I’m so happy that I made this decision. And now (yes, yes, cue the broken record…) I’m leaving.

It’s funny looking back at my first day of school: “I feel like such an outsider, it’s weird to be in a place where you really don’t have any friends. You feel very alone… I just can’t help but think ‘Oh @!^#, what the *$#% did I get myself into?!’ Sure I had the balls to say that I want to be here, and don’t get me wrong, it’s a great opportunity, but it’s really scary now.” In the end it all turned out better than ok… English award, scholarship award for academic achievement, student of the quarter of the 11th grade for the 3rd quarter, high honors each quarter, MVP in soccer and volleyball, athlete of year, awards during spirit week, and most importantly some friendships that I hope will last until I die. People tell me and write in my yearbook that I am such an amazing person, I’m always smiling and my positive energy is contagious, I’m inspiring and have helped them realize their potential, they’ve never seen a single person make such a profound impact on a school and community. A lot of people don’t actually seem sincere to me, it’s more that they just say it to say it. A lot of people tell me how much they’ll miss me, and again I don’t know how sincere they are, because at the end of the day we really didn’t spend that much time together, which I really regret in retrospect. But there are those people who have really, genuinely touched me and make me struggle to fight back the tears. I know that graduation on Tuesday is a lost battle and I will let my tears flow gracefully: in great, heaving sobs :-).

Three more weeks.

Windows to the Soul

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Driving and walking down the streets of Addis I often feel the pressure of eyes on me. Clean, healthy, comfortable. That’s me. I cross the street, or glance out of the window of a car as a big orange and red anbesa bus goes past. People crammed inside without room to move gaze at me intently, inquisitively, wondrously. I wonder what they’re thinking of me while they’re stuffed inside the stiflingly hot bus. Are the envious, curious, hateful? Am I just another person in the backdrop of their day? I know that I sound conceited and self-absorbed, but I never feel like people are simply indifferent when they see me. They observe me, but I don’t know why. Their eyes seem to be searching me, but I don’t know what for.

It’s frustrating to not always have answers, but I prefer not knowing the thoughts flickering behind those gazing strangers’ eyes than to understand the sadness their eyes sometimes fail to shield. There are times when a man will be selling something on the side of the road, puppies or beautiful wooden structures, which catch your eye. Your gaze lingers on his merchandise, and you can see him perk up, mentally straightening his tie, at the sight of a prospective customer. Heylo, heylo he calls to you as he waves his hands. How much does his little gadget probably cost, 20, 50, 100 birr? That’s nothing to you, but he lives day-to-day, and that 20, 50, 100 birr helps him get through today. Usually it’s just not worth it, you don’t have the time to take care of a puppy, you already have a dog, you’re leaving Ethiopia in a month, and so you just smile politely and shake your head no. You dismiss the item that caught your attention, and you will dismiss him as well, but as your eyes shift away from that man you catch a quick glimpse of the subtle transformation that sweeps across him. Most things are fairly hard to notice: his shoulders slump a bit as he sighs, he irritably kicks a stone, he fretfully clenches his jaw. It’s his eyes that are most telling, because now they fail to shield his sadness and disappointment. He longingly watches as you drive on down the bumpy road to your $15,000 a year school, and remains standing there on the side of the road with his merchandise in hand.

The End is Near

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Nothing Gold Can Stay

Nature’s first green is gold
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower,
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf,
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day,
Nothing gold can stay.

-Robert Frost

Friday marked two weeks until the end of school. Prom is next Saturday the 27th at the Sheraton. The cafeteria that was supposed to open in January has finally opened and has had a successful first week. I had my first final exam, an English oral presentation, and received an A. I bought my yearbook and fought back the tears caused by memories dredged up by the pictures. Thursday the 18th marked the one-month countdown until I leave.

I know, I know, I’m a broken record, but I’m leaving. On June 18th I’m getting on a plane and leaving Ethiopia. I’m returning to Oakland.

I’m actually really excited to go back home. I miss driving, I miss grocery stores, I miss Mexican food (…and Chinese food, and smoothies, and real American sandwiches), I miss the view of the bay at night. Things are easy here in the sense that you don’t have to cook, clean, or wash anything, but I miss convenience in the sense of driving five minutes to Rite Aid to buy a bag of cotton balls for $2.00. I missed prom with my friends. I see their pictures, and everyone looked gorgeous, which I guess isn’t that hard, they’re 17. I hear them laughing in my head, imagine what it was like shopping for dresses, getting their hair done, at dinner. Yeah, our prom is this weekend, and the Sheraton will be beautiful… but people don’t even wear corsages here.

I’m actually ready to go home, I miss it. I’ve learned that at an international school, you are totally introduced to other cultures and your eyes are opened to so much more. I can recognize so many flags now. But what’s funny is that it also makes you that much more nationalistic. I have friends from all over the world, but I can commiserate with my American friends in a very different, much more personal way; we can talk about certain places, even restaurant chains like La Salsa and Baja Fresh, and things about American culture. As much as I hate American politics and how America stomps about the world, I have never been so proud to be American.

But I worry about what it will be like when I return home. Last year I wrote an essay about my anxiety over leaving for Ethiopia. In it I mentioned how scared I was to come home to too much change: “There is the possibility that home will become too much of something that it isn’t now, and I’ll no longer fit. I worry that while I’m gone life will go on too easily without me. I won’t be missed; I’ll be forgotten. After a year of absence and growth, my present friends and I will no longer know each other. I imagine returning home only to be the awkward girl that follows and clings on to people because she has no one. I am afraid of being left behind.” I do still have those fears; I know that it won’t be a simple, seamless transition, and that there will be an initial awkwardness with my friends. I can already see us sitting around and talking, when someone says, “Oh my god, remember last year when…”. This will happen, and this will be all that it takes to make me an outsider looking in on other peoples’ lives. But what if we change that quote around a little bit: “After a year of absence and growth, my home and I will no longer know each other.” I will never see things in the same way as I did before I left, and I blame this on Ethiopia; it has changed and shaded the way I view the world. But I will miss Ethiopia. The sad thing is, Ethiopia has taken my home as I once knew it away from me, and I can never get that back. And once I go back to that different home, the Ethiopia that I know, my version of Ethiopia, it will never exist. As excited as I am that I’ll be back here next January for my uncle’s wedding, I dread it as well, because it will be so different from my Ethiopia right now. Nothing gold can stay.

Leaving Ethiopia… leaving real injera, Amharic lessons, maids and drivers. Leaving ICS, swimming at the Sheraton, Abiy and his adorable baby. Leaving family, beggars, and unpaved roads. How many friends have I made that I’ll never see again? Do I write in their yearbooks ‘have a nice life!’??? Next year I can’t laugh with anyone while we speak broken English with heavy Ethiopian or West African accents. Everyone will have misconceptions about Africa and Ethiopia.

“We meet to part, and part to meet again.” – Anonymous bullshitter. This is life? A sequence of ‘hello’s and ‘goodbye’s and ‘have a nice life’s?

“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” – Another anonymous-trying-to-make-the-best-out-of-nothing. We’re supposed to just look back fondly on memories, sigh and smile, and then pack up those memories, lose them in the dark, in the back of our hearts and minds, and just walk on forward. 30 years from now we’re supposed to be submissive, forget our dreams and principles and fight, forget the names of people we cry as we say goodbye to, forget they even existed. This is life?

Mr. Frost, you’re too right: nothing gold can stay. Give up, let go, start forgetting now. This is life.