Life in Ethiopia through an American lens
By Joy Casey in Ethiopia
(Be sure to read Part 1 here.)
There is another line for this?
Ethiopians learn to stand in long lines. This is an anathema to Americans unless we are at Disneyland. You stand in one line to get this part of a transaction done and then move to another for the next part, and another until you are successful. There are a lot of people who need employment and I tell myself that by doing it this way, four people have a job as opposed to just one who could have done it. Because food prices have tripled in just the last several months, there are shortages of coal, sugar, oil and berbere (a common spice used in just about everything). To get these staples, our orphanage director spends hours standing in line to get bulk items provided by the government and similar lines are repeated all over Ethiopia.
You can’t just “overnight” it?
I was incredulous when I found out that the hold-up to get our children’s lab work done was because the laboratory couldn’t get the chemicals to process the HIV test that is required for all children considered for adoption. What? A laboratory without the proper tools to do their work? Unbelievable. We have waited two weeks-plus for them to get this precious chemical so we can get the lab results on our kids.
How much time should I allow to say good-bye?
Ethiopians take time to greet people and to say good-bye. This, of course, can be a very pleasant ritual and has become very dear to me …. unless I am in a hurry. When you enter a room, you greet everyone with hugs and kisses (3 to 4 times on the cheek) and sometimes the hugs and kisses can be prolonged, depending on how long you have been away. The same procedure is repeated on departure (and sometimes several times if they say good-bye to you in the house and then walk you to your car) until finally you drive away waving again and again out the rear window. I always allot more time for saying good-bye than I ever would in America. Relationships are of primary importance in Ethiopia.
I guess Ethiopian society is used to waiting and that breeds patience. While I might stew and stomp around, my colleagues will say, “What can we do? Let’s go have coffee.” And they are right, of course. There is nothing that you can do to make the electricity come on, the rain to stop, the network to work or a shop to open. As an “efficient” American, I saw patience as not caring, laziness, backwardness, and I won’t even tell you some other names I have called it. But patience is a virtue. “Love is patient…”
I think the people in Ethiopia are actually more efficient than I am. They don’t spend time fretting and stewing about things they have no control over. When the electricity comes back on, they print the document. When they are at the head of the line, they gratefully accept what they came to get. They allow more time to do things than I am used to so their frustration level is much lower. It is much more important to greet someone and spend time asking about their life than it is to file a document “on time”. Meanwhile, their family is the core of their life and friendships are paramount.
God gave me a rare Type A personality to work with in Ethiopia. Abebe likes results and he is on time. Delays can frustrate him and he is always looking for a better way to do things. I am blessed beyond blessed to have him at my side. I am sure that God put me with him to teach him patience!