August 1, 2011

Holding Sway, Part 2

Currently Watching: Shark Week.
Verse Love: God is not a man, so he does not lie. He is not human, so he does not change his mind. Has he ever spoken and failed to act? Has he ever promised and not carried it through? (Numbers 23:19)

When I was thinking about this post, I came across this piece I had started to write last summer for an essay contest (I think?) for missionary kids (MKs). I remember writing this while I was still in Kenya last summer, about to go back to the States and that whole life, and these were the issues I was thinking through right then - and probably because I was still in the middle of them, I didn't really know how to move beyond the questions and form a conclusion. And then I forgot about it completely. Either way, here's a glimpse into the unconcluded thought process of a grown up (growing up?) MK:

In the two years since I’ve been at college in the States, my former life has been tidily tucked into a box and slid onto a shelf in the backroom of my mind. At first it was out of necessity: if I was ever going to survive in this new land of free refills, interstates and well-dressed classmates fresh from the ever-frightening American public high school, I had to meld myself to their ways – starting with developing the most efficient way to answer “Where are you from?” After that, it was because I had become successful at melding, and so in my college life, a story about growing up in Ethiopia took so much background explanation that eyes would glaze over before I even got to the main point of the story. Knowledge of my other life was reserved only for my closest friends – but I doubt even they fully understood.
Every once in a while, though, I would start remembering on my own. I would slide that box of the shelf, blow the third-world dust off the lid and open it. Out would leak a string of memories, erratic and idiosyncratic, tattered but proud, each leading further into the depths until I would wonder, Was this my life? And then, sadly, How could I have forgotten?

This summer I went back to Addis Ababa, the overgrown village of a city built on a plateau 8000 feet above sea level that I consider my home. The fact that Ethiopia is the only African nation to never have been colonized by a European power is a source of fierce national pride, but the negative effects are also emerging – instead of technological advances, Ethiopia continues to lag about twenty years behind and remain ragged around the edges. It is a land of juxtaposition: domed Orthodox churches project sermons out of loudspeakers that collide in midair with the drone of the Muslim call to prayer; flagged, sleek diplomats’ cars bump along potholed roads past the beggars that stretch their palms out hopefully to the tinted windows; beautiful Italian restaurants catering to foreigners are just down the street from the hole-in-the-wall cafes of scuffed linoleum, ancient espresso machines, and the best injera b’wet around. Unlike other cities where nice areas are walled off and far from any hint of the third world, in Addis, the whole range is all on top of each other and in your face. It is poverty and potential, development and dust. It was like this during all of my teenage years, and it was exactly the same when I went back – even, shockingly, more vivid and gritty than what I had remembered.

I came back to my college life with renewed perspective and a lot of thoughts to work through. Ethiopia – and Kenya, where my parents now live, and Africa as a whole, and even the world – is where my heart is. I’ve never wanted to remain in the States for the rest of my life, but rather have always planned on returning somewhere overseas in the future, to teach at an international school like the one I went to. I want to teach international kids because I was one, and I understand that they are in a unique situation with unique needs.
With my future goals seemingly so tidily laid out, then, why is it so easy to fall right back into the business of an all-consuming, activity-filled college life? I substitute the immediate for the important and before I know it the memories have been put back on the shelf. But this is not how I want it to be.
Yet it is possible to reconcile the two worlds; can the scent of roasting coffee and the sound of a rainy-season storm beating on a tin roof permeate the success-driven, polo-shirt-wearing atmosphere of college? How do I make this happen? And what would it look like?

...I think I still might be looking for some of these answers.


  1. I love your writing, Caroline. May God bless you and use your terrific writing skills.

  2. I love your style and sincerity Caroline. May God bless you and keep you faithful and devoted to his service just like your parents who are making difference in shaping African theology. Keep it up.

  3. Very Nice Caroline! We also recommended it to our daughter, Hannah, who is a blue-eyed Tanzanian far from home in the city of her birth, St. Paul, MN. My PhD Intercultural Studies professors were mostly MKs and that was much of the source of their wisdom. They (Bob Priest and Paul Hiebert) have also written excellent analysis of the experience, but I like your story describing the experience.
    Steve Rasmussen - NEGST

  4. We, like your Mom, have no bias---You are a beautiful deeply talented thinker/writer. Wonderful to read. Much love, PJ

  5. Thank you, everyone! I appreciate it :]

  6. Hi Caroline, I found your post via Design Mom and so happy to also have you as a resource. I will be on the trip with Gabby and the ONE Moms and would love to share your posts and insights about Ethiopia with the women traveling.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...