April 1st, 2009
Dear Friends and Family,
I can’t believe its April already. Time is flying by and we are going to be at the end of this journey before you know it. If you haven’t heard from me in a while it is because of the internet problems we have had. Days and days I have tried with great Ernst to get with you but just can’t seem to get through. I apologize for that. I have had Safia send blog posts because she has had better luck than I and I am getting so frustrated not being able to talk to all of you that I get discouraged even trying. Today I even cried because I have wanted to hear from my husband and I can’t.
Things here in spite of the internet dilemma are going great. I finished off my first full week of teaching classes in general music and flute schools last Friday and I am half way through the second week. I am extremely grateful to have one Seyoum-Micheal (yes that is the right spelling of his name) to translate for me. He is a flutist himself, he studied at a school that is similar to what sounds like an AA in our country. He called it getting his advanced certificate. He is finishing is BA in education this summer and is very eager to assist me in every way he can. He is a God send for me because without him the flute classes would be quite challenging. Since he knows the flute and English and Tigrinya I can go forward in my classes with the students. And these classes are going very well. The students all know how to hold the flute with proper hand position, standing posture, aim the air into the flute and they have learned 3 notes. They are reading the music and playing, they get their rhythm (of course, they’re African for crying out loud) and they are doing their music theory. It’s pretty great to see the flute school really begin to take off. I have so many eager to learn students that it is downright rewarding to be their teacher. The only unfortunate thing about this is that I have so many students that the practice time on the flutes outside of class is limited to 2 days per week until we get some more flutes. As for Seyoum he takes lessons with me privately at the beginning of the week and he practices and studies hard. He wants to come to America to continue his education in music. I see potential in him and with his dedication to practice and studies with me, I am sure I can help make this happen for him. He already sounds a lot better than when I first heard him play. In addition to all of this I also am offering a singing class to students who want to learn solfege and basic singing technique. I already have 8 enrolled in the class. I am teaching 7 days a week and attending 6 practice sessions. Seyoum attends the other 6 for me. It’s a blast, lots of work and I don’t care if I get tired. I figured I can sleep on the plane on my way home.
As for other things, I hope all of you read the blog my dear niece wrote about our outing with the teachers. What a fantastic day that was. The teachers here are excellent and some of the nicest people Safia and I have ever met. We enjoyed visiting with them on the way up to the mountains, even though I screamed loudly of shear terror over my fear of these winding roads that have 600 feet drop offs and no railings. I unfortunately became the spectacle of the bus ride and I seemed to amuse the children and the teachers very much. I know I made my niece laugh so hard she was crying. This place we went to was amazing. The climb to the top was as high if not higher than the Columbia Towers in Seattle. I made it up a 1/3 but my Safia made it all the way up. She is very impressive and I applauded her when she came down. Both of us soaked in sweat from the hot, hot heat and sun joined the teachers to eat lunch which consisted of a layered injerra of potatoes and other vegetables. The teachers enjoyed and it is Ethiopian custom to feed the guests with their fingers the injerra. So I kept having handfuls of injerra crammed into my mouth. I kindly ate, and begged God my stomach could digest this foreign food. I did and I loved so much visiting with the teachers. I know you read about the man that stuffed his mouth with a hamburger size of injerra one bite after the other. When we finished the lunch he came to me and said, now I have eaten the injerra and my body is strong, so if you need me to carry you I can. I haven’t told you about this poor man. When I was attempting to climb themountain, I was having a little bit of asthma and adjusting to the high altitude, this man wanted to put me in his back and carry me up the mountain ( I tell you these people are billy goats for crying out loud, scaling hillsides and mountains like this is effortless work). I of course was not going on anyone’s back, but he didn’t want to listen to me and he truly tried to put me on his back, I was slapping him and telling to stop it. Sr. Reggie was laughing so hard because I just couldn’t believe he would truly try to me on his back. After he realized I was serious he said ok and ran up the mountain. That poor man, he really wanted to help me but I was afraid I would break the man’s back.
I was sad I couldn’t make it to the top because of the beautiful church I missed seeing. But Safia took pictures of it for me and you will see them too. When the teachers all came down they ran looking for me and were so sad I didn’t make it to the top. Safia said the last 1/3 of the climb that I missed was treacherous and she said at points she was really scared. I know with my vertigo, it probably was wise for me not to climb to the top.
I did get the chance to go into a 4th century Catholic Church that was carved out of the mountain. This type of church was similar to the one Safia went into on top of the mountain but not as old. The paintings on the walls reflected the Old Testiment , mainly stories from Genesis 1. The pictures of the Madonna were gorgeous and the tabernacle was hidden as well. To be in a place such as this the presence of being on holy ground is most apparent. One cannot help but bow before the curtain of the tabernacle and sit in awe of the quiet beauty, serenity, and peace this place brings. The church was built by the twin brothers of King Axom in his honor. When the Queen later took over the land, she was a Muslim and tried to burn down the church. But she did not succeed. The only thing she did manage was to remove the diamonds from the ceilings of the church, but the remainder of the church has lasted this entire time. When looking at the structure and carvings of the sanctuary, you can see the burned marks to this day from the fire but it really did not do anything to the church except leave some dark marks on the ceiling walls.
As one enters this place you first begin with prayers in the steps, you enter a foyer filled with painted pictures, again it is necessary to kneel and pray, and then you take two large steps up into the sanctuary into the scared vessel of the architecture. Women are not allowed but because our group had foreigners present we were allowed. We were asked to take off our shoes but we could enter with our socks on. When entering the main sanctuary, two large drums are hung on both sides. These are used to bring in the celebration of the mass. Sr. Reggie saw me admiring the drums and said, Celine you should play and she showed me how to strike the drums. (Little did I know that she was goading me on). Eager to play the instrument, I started pounding away. Of course this upset the priest and he told me to stop it. I could see Sr. Reggie off the side of me laughing her head off. Ha, Ha, Ha so funny, I was made the joke. A lot of others were also laughing at me.
Anyway, the day was fantastic, in spite of the puking kids on the bus (yah, I handled it), the terrifying bus ride through the mountain sides, scary old wooden bridges that caused me to say prayer upon prayer that we wouldn’t plummet to our death many feet below, Safia and I really had a day of in taking some of the most beautiful landscape and historical sights we have ever seen. We loved it so much.
The only thing that is really hard to handle hear in Adigrat, Zalaambasa, Goul’a and Sassie is the truly sad presentation of the orphaned children and the unstopping death from AIDS. It really gets to you. Safia and I sat down with the sisters and discussed this issue and we asked why the villages are not doing something to prevent this sadness. (If you were around as many orphans as I have been around you would ask this question too). The sisters told me that using contraception isn’t really understood around these parts and the missions are working with the village people to help them understand abstinence. I agreed that abstinence is the best way to prevent any problems but the mentality of the people is to procreate and they are strong believers in family. But victims upon victims fall to this disease and it rips your heart out to see such suffering. Poverty is a huge issue among these villages and often there are so many people in need that there just isn’t enough of the sisters to go around or the funds to help everyone. The use of condoms is such a hard controversial subject because an outsider may think it’s the wisest choice to stop this problem but to these God fearing, God loving souls, the use of contraception is wrong to them. Most of these villages do not even know what a condom is because they do not believe in this. But how do you help these villages where death and funerals are more frequent that getting groceries or attending weddings, where poverty is overwhelming, where their faith is undying, how can we help them? Abstinence is the only way to educate these people but abstinence is easier said than done around these parts, what can one do? In South Africa and even in Addis Ababa it was apparent that condoms were highly forced among their people. But where I am now these people are village people. They only know and understand God and their faith in God. Is it really right for a foreigner to come along and push their beliefs on a society that simply will not accept this? One truly can’t. Although it may sound logical and the answer to the problem, the problem stems deeper than its appearance and respect for these people and their beliefs is more important to them than anything else. I hope all who are reading have the opportunity to meet the Ethiopians. They are the most beautiful, kind souls and I love being with them. It crushes my heart to know how many children I hug and play with on a daily basis are orphaned, have AIDS themselves, and truly need all the love in the world. If there is anything we can do as outsiders, it is to send help, to help build the infrastructure so that this society really can see their hope and their beauty of who they are. I often think that these people figure the outside world doesn’t really concern themselves with their problems and they just deal with it themselves.
Each day I go to the school to teach I am immediately surrounded by beautiful children, full of love, and they run to hug me and kiss me and hold my hand. I would hundreds surround me. I love it. I love children and they never bother me, not for one second. I have given more kisses, more hugs, and more love to these beautiful little lives than I think I have given to my own children in their lifetime. I seem to have a never ending source of my love for these beautiful children. I love the teachers, they come along while I am going from class to class and grab my hand and hold it while we talk and walk across the school yard. They are so warm and friendly I cannot stress how beautiful it is to be around. Men and women a like do this with me. They all love what I am teaching the children. Sr. Reggie says the children go out to play at their recess and they are singing the songs I have taught them. I love hearing that. Seyoum says what I am doing is making such a difference to the school and everyone really appreciates the new education I have brought to them. I have been asked to stay. But I told them I must go home. They have asked when I return to bring my children and husband so they can all meet them. Everyone wants me to bring my family.
The sisters of the Religious Sisters of Filippini are most beautiful of all. Sr. Letteselassie is kind, gentle, and speaks with a soft high voice. She is a tall, beautiful woman, with kind tender eyes and is always in the presence of helping these children and the school. Sister Antonia is another gentle spirit from Italy and is very close with the girls and has helped established several women centers throughout Ethiopia. Sister Reggie is a strong, smart beautiful Indian woman who works as the schools principal and does an excellent job of keeping things in order. Sister Mary is the adorable and sassy nun from New Jersey who has a great sense of humor and a real sense of music and how to teach it, she knows practically every song we pick out for the kids and then some. It's really impressive! Sister Margaret is a kind nurse with a sweet smile and is very knowledgeable on health concerns. It's always so enjoyable to sit down with these incredible women every night and laugh and share jokes along with the amazing stories they have to tell.
To see such dedication to a cause is really uplifting. They eat, drink, and breathe in these environments most people would not last a day in. Most of these women have done this kind of work for over 30+ years. It really takes a strong individual to stomach the reality some of these poor people, they only strive to make it better and give their all to see these kids lives turn out for the better. We are very honored to take part in their cause.