Archive for September, 2015
My morning routine is pretty set in stone. I’ll save all the sad details for another time, but the last thing I do before leaving my house is sing to my kitchen appliances and household objects. This prevents them from causing me distraction later in the day.
Just to be clear, I don’t mean that I sing in the kitchen and an appliance happens to get in the way, I mean a full on serenade with specific words.
I start with the coffee maker. “You are turned off!” I sing to the tune of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. I continue, “So don’t bother me later in the day, because you are definitely, clearly, totally turned off!”
The cat is used to it, but she does stare at me from the doorway, giving a “This guy is in charge of keeping me alive?” look. I don’t worry about it, though, since I have moved to the stove and God’s Gonna Cut you Down.
“Mr. Stove, your kill switch is down! Down. Down. Down.” And then the toasty maker, “You are unplugged!” and then the coffee grinder, “Off and unplugged, you too!” and then the dishwasher, “opened and off! Clear of water!” And after I’m out the door, “You have been locked.” And then I go.
You probably have some questions.
I’m listening to a group of sombre men. I’m jotting notes and wearing my ‘I’m concentrating’ expression, a technique which involves doing long division in my head.
‘We need people,’ she said, ‘to act like journalists.’
‘Can you do it?’
There was an audible quiet, then. The kind that comes after the boss asks who’ll pet-sit his chihuahua. The truth is that I can do it. The truer truth is that I can do it easily because I used to do it for real. But the truest truth of all is that while I can do it because I used to do it, I hated every single second of doing it when I did it. I was clear about my decision.
But then she upped the ante. ‘We’ll give you 500 Koruna.’
It’s our last night in Lalibela. Tomorrow it’s back to Addis Ababa for a day and then back to Prague. We have decided to end this portion of our trip with a few glasses of Tej, Ethiopian honey wine.
Our guide points out a pub down the muddy road. He says they have good Tej and a nice atmosphere. It’s called Torpido.
After an hour nap to recover from a day of rock-hewn church madness, we head down the dark road with our sightseeing partner, Something with a J.
Torpido is underground. Thick wooden beams are surely all that’s keeping the low ceiling from burying us. The walls are decorated with instruments, paintings, tapestries, and metal and wooden knick knacks that must be kitchen utensils of Ethiopia yore. Its warm. We sit on saddles at low tables. The room is empty.
A waitress approaches and takes our order. Tej. She brings back beakers of a dull golden liquid, breaks off the wax seal with a snap of her wrist. We order goat tibs and lentils on injera. we eat with our (right) hands, as we’ve done for two weeks. There is a medieval pub feel tonight. Shortly after arriving, the room fills up.
The entertainment begins.
As Josef drives us from the airport into what is allegedly the town of Lalibela, one thing becomes clear: we are in the middle of nowhere. Lalibela is a town hidden amid thick forests and muddy hills in north Ethiopia and looks like the filming location for The Mosquito Coast.
The van gets stuck in the mud several times allowing us to glimpse the seemingly random assortment of shops and stores that line the steep road. A wooden-thatched café called John’s, a souvenir hut, an unlikely electronics shop, and billboards that promise hotels whose existence seems impossible. As with every town and village and city we’ve been in, the roads are packed with people undertaking a variety of activities. Here, many of them are cloaked in white robes.
Josef stops the van in front of a sheet metal wall, “here we are.” The doors inch open as if he’d just activated them with the password. Inside, we hoist our backpacks and Josef brings us through a covered vestibule into a back courtyard which is as tranquil as the road is hectic. He shows us into a room. “Meet me in the restaurant in ten minutes.” He points vaguely.
Were it not for the eleven world-renowned rock-hewn churches in Lalibela, it would probably be nothing more than a nameless town in the middle of Ethiopia. But between 1181 and 1221 King Lalibela (get it?) ordered the churches carved out of rocks, laid out and named to represent a sort of mini-Jerusalem and as a center for pilgrimage. This is the official story, but since the churches vary in style and artisanship, not to mention state of decay, there’s a solid chance that the structures were at least begun at different times.
What is indisputable is that each of the churches are carved out of one rock, some of them are monolithic (stand completely alone), and some are semi-monolithic (from one rock but attached to the earth behind it). And that they are all, in their own way, indescribably magnificent.
The churches are a UNESCO world heritage site, and continue to be the focal point of religious pilgrimages and a source of universal mystery. They are why most people visit Lalibela and indeed why Mark and I have come. In fact, it’s pretty much the reason we came to Ethiopia. Our trip has been one big adventure, with ups and downs, hyenas, bouncy prop planes, the insanity of Addis, questionable food choices, brothels, dysentery, lepers, and unforgettable views from ancient mountaintop monasteries. And now, at the end, we get to see some of the World’s most incredible man-made structures.
Problem: we only have one afternoon.
Fasilides’ baths in Gondar is surrounded by Tolkienesque architecture. Not only are the ruins ancient and stone, but trees have grown through the walls to literally become part of them. We feel as though we’re traipsing through Middle Earth on a mystical journey.
The tour is great. Our guide has just led us through the doorway to the sprawling baths that once housed parties, rituals, ceremonies, and orgies (it’s possible the last one only occurred in my head). He points with pride, saying in one gesture: this marvelous thing came from my people.
Unfortunately, Mark and I are to busy inspecting small bite wounds on our forearms.
Please don’t judge; it’s not really our faults.
To travel through Ethiopia means partaking in dozens of health-related tasks meant to stave off the armies of bacteria, viruses, and infectious diseases just waiting to climb into your organs. There have been a slew of inoculations, which won’t stop until May, 2016. There is a daily malaria pill, which has the quaint side effects of insanely realistic nightmares, constipation, and mouth sores.
And that’s before even getting off the airplane in Addis Ababa. Once we arrived and started moving through the day-to-day reality of traveling in Ethiopia, things got much more real.
Yesterday, I read an article on Expats.cz titled 17 Expat Behaviors that Czechs Find Rude. In the interests of becoming a better expat in my adoptive country, I eagerly read on.
Plus, it was after lunch time and I wanted to look busy.
Many of the list items struck me for one reason or another. Whether a point was hilariously relatable, reminded me of something funny, or indicated that the writer interviewed Czech people who have never met an expat or another Czech person in public.
In any event, here are some reactions to that article.
Respect the Menu!
Keeping to the traditional menu is something I agree with. Americans, at least, are notorious for altering menu items – substituting, ordering without an ingredient, etc – in order to get exactly what they want – a great American pastime. If you have ordered a meal behind an American in Prague, you know what I mean.
I once watched an American order Svíčková with no sauce and the resulting conversation with the dumbfounded waiter. This was mainly because the entire draw of eating Svíčková is for the sauce. It’s sort of like ordering a cheeseburger with no meat or cheese.
As a person who waited tables and tended bar in the U.S for many moons, I can agree that this expat trait is damn annoying. Stick to the damn menu.
We are Gastronomical Heathens
Another bit of gastronomical aggravation for the Czechs is when expats touch their dumplings. While I have never done it, I have seen the look of horror on the waiter’s face when a visiting American friend picked up a dumpling and dipped it into his guláš.
I thought I was going to have to administer CPR.
It’s the first couple of weeks back at school and I am busy. There are dozens of duties: planning, creating syllabi, tweaking methodology, meetings out of the proverbial wazoo.
While I do love teaching and being in the classroom, it’s nice to have time to ease into things. And the above duties provide that sort of alone, unhindered time.
When teachers aren’t teaching, others seem to view their time as a thing at their disposal. For this reason, we end up with some seriously menial duties.
Today I am shredding.
Upon returning to the university we learned that the last decade’s worth of tests cluttering up the department’s shelves were to be disposed of immediately. This is, of course, so that we can make room for the next ten year’s tests.
In order to dispose of these tests, we have been asked to shred them. Today is my turn, so today I am shredding.
It’s frickin’ hot.
It’s frickin’ humid.
I have just negotiated the 4-stage hill of death that I live atop.
For all intents and purposes, I am liquid. My shirt squishes with each step, my back is attached to my backpack like a bloodied Bandaid. My vision is blurry and burning with salty sweat. This doesn’t matter, since my glasses wouldn’t be useful without windshield wipers.
Moreover, I have read today that this would be James Sirius Potter’s first day at Hogwarts. I know. I know. But here’s the thing, this means that the fictional Harry Potter is (almost) at the age I am and therefore dealing with the same issues. If Harry Potter is suffering the same pestering annoyances of middle age, how can the world be a good place to live? Also, it’s 11,000 degrees in Prague and there is no air conditioning anywhere west of Dresden.