Bright Spot

Tucked into a busy little neighborhood in Awassa and down a wide dirt road, there is a little house with a great big kitchen.  I spend my Monday morning there with a few dozen women from all walks of life.  Over the last few months, I have taken on teaching cooking classes at Selam’s vocational training program for women.

It’s one of the highlights of my week.  These women are all different ages and from all over Ethiopia.  They’re in a scholarship program through Selam to learn how to cook and they do an incredible job.

Guests are welcome on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays for a delicious 5-course meal that the trainees prepare and serve. The crowd is a mix of expats and locals and both sets seem to enjoy the cuisine equally.

My dear friend, Roman, is the lead instructor there and she requested my help to teach dessert and bread baking classes.  Slowly my course load has evolved into appetizers, soups, and main dishes too, but I’m not complaining.  I love spending the day with these women as they laugh at my Amharic skills and I teach the basics of how to measure and whisk and sift and knead. I love the challenge of trying to come up with recipes that use only local ingredients and are doable without a lot of modern kitchen utensils that most of us are accustomed to.  So far everything we’ve tried has turned out…for the most part.  Next week we’re doing a whole Mexican meal.  It should be interesting! I say a little prayer as I convert all the recipes to metric. My Amharic and my math skills are certainly being stretched!

We start with devotions early in the morning and work solidly until noon.  Ben and Elaine usually join for lunch and critique our work. Elaine spends the morning at home with LemLem.  She’s in heaven when she gets to Selam- so many eager arms to hold her and friends to play with!

So that’s a bright spot in my week.  Getting to love these women and watch them grow. This program opens the door to countless job opportunities once they graduate from the progam.  It’s really a life changing opportunity for them, and I love watching them transform into confident chefs.


Little Update

A lot has been going on in the Taylor household these past months and time is just flying by.  We’re in the throws of our last 2 months in Ethiopia.  I get a lump in my throat every time I think about it.  We’re closing out our time with Water is Life and are looking forward to moving back to the U.S for a new season.  There are a lot of unknowns in our future…where we’ll be, what we’ll be doing, but from the moment we made the decision to pack things up here, we’ve had this extraordinary peace. We’re looking forward to what God has in store down the road…a little nervous, but mostly excited.

We’re making the most of these last months here in Awassa.  Every day I love this town and these people more and more…which doesn’t bode well for the inevitable goodbyes.

Ben’s been traveling a lot, which has given me the time and incentive to really invest in my relationships with other women in town.  I looking forward to the day when I’m not home alone quite so much, but in the mean time, I spend most of my days wandering the streets of Awassa with Elaine in tow and having coffee at friends’ houses.  I’m incredibly blessed to be surrounded by women that welcome me into their lives and love on Elaine while Ben’s away.

Here’s a little glimpse of what’s been going on in our lives over the past 2 months or so.

Elaine celebrated her 1st birthday with a big bash. She loved being the center of attention and waddled around in her traditional Ethiopian dress.

We also had a visit from some Carolina friends.  Greg, Abbie, and Ashley came out for a quick whirlwind taste of Ethiopia.  We loved having them here!

These ladies below were two of my dearest friends here in Awassa.  They both are back in the US now, but I’m not sure I would have survived my years in Awassa without them!  Those goodbyes were hard to say. I’m already looking forward to coming back for a visit!

 On September 11th we celebrated the Ethiopian New Year.  Hello, 2005!  This holiday is a big deal here and we celebrated it with good friends and lots of food! We made three stops and filled up on our doro watt allotment for the year.  It was delicious!

Elaine is growing and changing and keeping us on our toes.  She’s learned how to escape from the house and twice we’ve found her outside digging in the garden and playing with the hose.  She’s figured out how to open the gate on our porch, thanks to Mac’s demonstrations, and she now prefers to wander the yard solo.  Thankfully we live in a gated compound, but I seriously have to get her under control before we live in a place where a baby wandering outside alone isn’t so kosher.  She eats like a horse and is never ever still.  Her napping skills are still atrocious, but she’s taken on the habit of sleeping in till 9, so I can’t complain.  She loves guava, which is good, because that’s all that’s in season right now, and she can down 2 avocados in 1 sitting. She is the sweetest companion and I love spending my days with her.

Yesterday we celebrated my 27th birthday.  Ben was home, and made sure it was a special day.  He even whipped up his famous fried chicken and sweet potato biscuits.  I almost felt like I was back in Charleston.  I’m so glad he was home to celebrate. I felt very loved…and didn’t have to change one single diaper.

The meskal flowers were in bloom just in time for my birthday.  I love this time of year.  Ben hired a man to sneak into the “airport” (which is really just a fenced off field of grass) and pick these.  I’m a lucky lady:)

Our internet is t.e.r.r.i.b.l.e these days.  If this ever loads it will be a miracle.

Love from Awassa!

Ebenezer Grace

Down the dusty street from my house is a little orphanage that my friend, Rachel and her husband dreamed up and started, Ebenezer Grace Children’s Home.  Just 5 minutes down the road from our home live 16 of the cutest little kids you will ever see who have, for one reason or another, been orphaned or abandoned.

I wrote about one of the little girls, Yirgalem, a few months back.  When I first met her she was a dirty, bruised, and helpless newborn- found in the trash in a town not far from here.  Flash forward 8 months or so and when you walk into Ebenezer Grace you see a strong, healthy, beautiful baby girl.  And those cheeks….my goodness, those cheeks.  They were made for squeezing and smooching on.  I couldn’t help but think about how much her life has changed.  Adoption is an incredible thing and even though she does not have parents, she has been adopted into the Ebeneezer family and her life will be drastically different because of it.

Over Ethiopian Christmas a few of my friends and I decided to host a little party for these kids. In the craziness of the season the planning got sidetracked and the details were thrown together at the last minute.  As I drove up I did not have high expectation for this little event that at one point had sounded like a good idea, but had kind of fizzled in my mind.

But I should have known better.

Just walking up to the house I was smothered with hugs and squeals.  We didn’t have to bring one activity or treat and they still would have been completely thrilled.  But once the party really got started they were over the moon.   There was popcorn stringing, ornament making, face painting, kite flying, cookie decorating and lots of laughing and singing and running and being crazy.  I baked some old-school clay ornaments for them to decorate and hang on their tree and they turned out so cute.  Even the house mamas got in on the action.

I also got to man the face painting station.  I am not an artist, by any means, but they didn’t care one bit.  I loved sitting in the grass under a shade tree, painting flowers and balloons and lions on little brown faces.  I loved how still they would sit as I tickled their cheeks with my brush.  How they would giggle shyly as I showed them their reflection in the broken mirror- and then how they would steal glances throughout the party, just to remember how pretty they looked. I loved how the onlookers would ooh and ahh and say “betam konjono!” and rave about how beautiful my current customer looked.  I loved seeing their grin spread across their face in pride.  It’s just face paint, I know, but I loved that they felt adored and beautiful at that moment.

As I was sitting there I was wishing that I could go back and paint over every bad memory in their past and steal the hurt and fear and replace it with the joy that they felt sitting under the tree, paintbrush on cheek.  If only it were that easy.  I cannot even begin to understand the feelings tied to being orphaned.  I am so thankful that God has woven the lives of these children into Ebenezer Grace…and woven my life into their stories as well.

Looking for a project to support in 2012?  They are just too cute to ignore, don’t you think?

Ellie’s 2nd Christmas & Other Celebrations

Our lucky girl has already celebrated 2 official Christmases and one New Year’s day in her first 4 months of life.  December/January is packed full of festivities.  Here in Ethiopia Christmas is celebrated according to the Orthodox calendar on January 7.  (We’re also only in the year 2004- so technically Elaine is -8 and Ben and I are still in our teens- well maybe not technically, but still, how strange is that?)

So we celebrated the start of 2012 and Christmas 2004 all in one week.  Who needs time machines when you live in Ethiopia?

For New Years we had some North Carolina friends, the Posts, from Addis come down for the weekend.  It was relaxing and refreshing and a great way to start the year.  They were so patient as we badgered them with parenting questions.  Their kids are so well behaved- and cute to boot.  We tried to soak up all their advice.  Meanwhile Elaine was thoroughly doted on by their daughter Kiki.

The Post fam

Hike up Mount Tabor over Lake Hawassa

Elaine also got to meet her little boyfriend, Levi Hall.  Laura and Brian Hall live in Langano, about an hour up the road from us.  Laura and I were due with our babies the same week and shared pregnancy notes over here.  Levis is the cutest little thing.

After the New Year’s celebration, we hopped right into Ethiopian Christmas.  We got to celebrate with two great families- the Grays that live in Soddo (where my grandparents lived many, many years ago) and the Swarts that live down on the Omo River near Kenya.  We had 6 adults and 6 kids running around the house- never a dull moment.  Elaine loved the excitement and even got her first mouthful of hamburger (whoops) and had her giraffe stolen by a monkey. TIA.  Ben and I don’t get a lot of time with people around our age and it was so nice to just relax and laugh and speak as fast as we wanted to.

Grilling out with the gang

We also got to celebrate with our co-workers and neighbors at two different gibshas (feasts).  The meals were full of doro watt, dulet (goat intestines) and tripe (more innards).  My stomach does not get along with other stomachs very well.  But the doro watt (spicy chicken stew) I love!  Elaine got passed around and loved on and was on cloud 9.

The men and the kids…lots of kids!

My sweet friends Liya and Tsehay and our babies.

Sometimes I’m just blown away by the community God has lavished on us.  Who knew that out here in the middle of Ethiopia we would find such good friends.  As a new mom I am so aware of how lonely this journey could be out here- And I’m so, so thankful for the women that have come alongside me for this season.  Seriously.  It blows me away.

Happy New Years, Friends (a wee bit late).  Love from Ethiopia!


Christmas in (H)awassa

When we moved to Awassa it was just that- “Awassa”.  But now (and by now I mean the last few years-we’re a little slow) the thing to do it change the name and/or spelling of towns and cities back to their pre-communism name.  Thus we should now be “Hawassa”.  It’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks- especially when that trick is a silent “H”.  So we vacillate between Awassa and Hawassa.  But it’s the same place.  So bear with our fickleness.

Anywhoo.  Christmas in Awassa.  It was a first.  Not my first in Ethiopia.  I think it was my 14th?  Maybe?  Something like that.  My 17th or 18th in Africa.  But my 1st in Awassa and my 2nd this far away from family.

We really celebrated on Christmas Eve.  In the morning, Ben got a call that we had packages to pick up from the post office.  A Christmas Eve miracle.  And one of the reasons it’s nice that Ethiopians celebrate on the 7th of January and not on the 25th of December- the post office was open!  So Ben went and picked them up and put them under the tree.  Two USPS red, white, and blue boxes nestled under the tree.  It was beautiful.  Really, it was.  My mom and dad had also brought us Christmas gifts when they visited so they were under the tree too.  We felt so incredibly loved…and remembered.  It was perfect.

For Christmas Eve dinner we went over to celebrate with our friends at the Helimission compound.  We had an American/ Swiss/ German/ Canadian feast.  It was delicious.

And there were plenty of kids to entertain and love on Elaine.

Can you tell her dad dressed her?  Those shoes….

We spent the afternoon relaxing with friends and the kids even got to go on a donkey ride.

The big kids got a ride too

Christmas Eve night we read Twas the Night Before Christmas to Elaine and put her to bed while we watched White Christmas (my all-time fave) and sipped on apple cider (ok, maybe it was really hot apple juice, but we pretend).

Christmas day was really low key.  We spent the morning making and eating a delicious breakfast, reading the Christmas story and opening our gifts.  It was exciting and relaxing and fun and anticlimactic all at the same time.

In the afternoon we went to a Christmas service with our fellowship group.  Elaine got all dressed up in her beautiful Christmas dress that a friend made for her.

We also got to skype with our families.  I don’t know if this technology makes it easier or harder to be so far away.  99% of the time it makes it easier, but seeing everyone together, actually touching each other- not just looking at each other through a computer screen, with a big, glowy tree in the background and blocks of cheddar cheese and turkey sandwiches in hand did make us incredibly homesick.  (Ok, they didn’t actually have turkey sandwiches and blocks of cheddar cheese- that would have just been mean.  but you get the point?)

Overall it was a great Christmas…just the three of us.  Celebrating the birth of a King that came into the world in a place that probably looked pretty similar to what most of Ethiopia looks like today.  Animals everywhere, dirt, dust, inadequate healthcare, oppression, no running water (if you’ve delivered a baby, the no running water thing is especially painful to think about).  Even I left this place to have my baby.  And as wonderful as I think Elaine is- she is no King of Kings.  And God sent His son here…for us.  The undeserving.  The depth and pain of that sacrifice was especially evident to me this year.

It’s now January 4th and Christmas is long over and I’m just now getting around to posting this.  Ethiopian Christmas is this weekend- so if you think about it, I’m actually ahead of the game.  We’re looking forward to spending the weekend with friends and celebrating Christmas all over again…this time with a lot less cookies and a lot more injera ba wat.

Merry Christmas from the Taylors!

Miss·Elaine·eous: 3 months

Yup, that’s right, Elaine made it to her 3 month milestone.  She’s growing and changing so much everyday.  When Ben gets back from his trips away he’s always enamored by her and how much she’s changed.  They are quite the pair.

The last month has been filled with some pretty big changes for her.  The first and most obvious change was moving halfway around the world.  It’s taken a while to get adjusted to the time and the dry weather, but she survived jet lag and her first cold and seems to be thriving.

She’s also had to adjust to just hanging out with me, myself, and I.  Ben has been traveling a lot and so we’re getting A LOT of one-on-one bonding time.  This has been a big change from life in NC with lots of doting family members around.  (But lets be honest, this has been a bigger adjustment for me than her).  I am so thankful for LemLem who works for us and loves to take Elaine off my hands so I can jump in the shower or eat lunch with two hands.  It gives me a nice break before the long evenings when we’re BOTH missing Ben.  How do single moms do it?  I am in awe.

She’s also getting used to lots of attention from amused Ethiopian spectators.  They love to come right up and snap their fingers in her face and say something like “Cootchie, cootchie, coo”.  I laugh about it now.  Let’s hope I have the patience to keep laughing.  The good thing is that we’ve avoided the common blessing here of being spat on.  Ugh.  I much more prefer blessings from afar.

Elaine’s other favorite activities these days include sitting in her bouncy seat on the back porch with Mac while I cook in the kitchen, testing out her conversation skills as I read her People magazine in my most animated teacher voice (I’ll switch to good night moon and the likes when it’s time- don’t worry) and standing up, sitting up, and anything that doesn’t involve lying down.  She’s constant movement and motion.

I am so thankful that she is healthy and happy and doing well out here.  I was really worried about her getting sick and even specifically prayed that she wouldn’t get a cold while Ben was traveling.  Well…the day Ben left on one of his first trips- bam- she was down with a cold.  At first I was a little scared and a little upset that it was exactly what I had prayed against, but then I realized that it was a good thing (after the fact).  Surviving it gave me a huge boost of confidence as I learn to take care of this little goob- in sickness and in health.

Figuring out the whole parenting thing out here has been an adventure.  I love talking with my Ethiopian friends and comparing notes on how we raise our babies (three of the my friends here just had babies.  so fun!).  They think some of the things I do and have are crazy…sound machine, pacifiers, humidifier,  separate nursery…ok, I can see how some of those things would seem a little strange.  But I think some of the things they do are crazy too- bundle up a baby in layers and layers of blankets when it’s 10,000 degrees outside? heck no!  We’re doing good if we have even have a diaper on her some of these days:)  We obviously have a lot to learn from each other!

Well, Ben heads out tomorrow for the week and Elaine and I will be fending for ourselves yet again.  Prayers appreciated!  But we have something to look forward to!  Nani and Papa Joe will be heading this was at the end of the week for Thanksgiving!  They just couldn’t stay away from their little grand baby.

She’s a keeper.

The ride home

A short and incredibly anticlimactic clip of  Elaine’s first trip down to Awassa.  She just looked so cute and I figured the grandparents wanted proof that she made it to Awassa in one piece.  Well, actually 5 pieces if you count her luggage- she does not pack light, that’s for sure.