So I’m about to go to the airport now and will leave this wonderful host of a country. I thought that for my final afri-mation that I would actually post something I wrote weeks before I even left for Ethiopia.
It’s an excerpt from a new book I am writing with co-author and friend, Jacqueline Seidel called Free At Last: Live, Love, and Work Abroad and Become a 21st Century Global Citizen. I’ll pepper my writing with some photos from last night (dinner with students and a music show at Mama’s Kitchen) and today (visit to the rock church, Adadi Mariam and the UNESCO Heritage site, Tiya Field).
Thanks again for reading and hope to be in Rome again soon.
I’m sitting in my favorite writing spot in Villa Sciara in Rome, Italy wondering if I’ve made the most horrible mistake of my life.
A few months ago, a spunky Roman professor friend of mine invited me to teach the very first ever animation course at Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia where she had been lecturing for over a year.
Before my brain could get a word in edgewise my heart welled up with joy at the prospect of travel and adventure to a part of the world I’d been curious about since I first saw the harrowing images of famine on my family’s old television set back in 1980’s Swansea, Massachusetts. I’d finally get a chance to meet real Ethiopians! They can tell me their own stories in their own words and together we can share them with the world through the power of art and animation. This will be such a wonderful adventure.
I heard myself say, “Oh! That would be an amazing opportunity. Count me in.” We started to make plans for my arrival but somehow the entire time it all felt unreal, like some sort of dream. Would this even materialize? A small part of myself thought that maybe the whole thing would fall through.
But last week my invitation letter from the university arrived so I could start organizing my Visa. Yesterday I missed the Foreign Travel Health Services office in Rome by just five minutes during their two hours of operation to try and organize any vaccines I would need. I found myself scurrying through our “important papers and passports” drawer looking for my vaccine records. This morning I sheepishly and sorrowfully told my son’s teacher that I would miss their holiday recital because “I’d be teaching in Ethiopia” on December 17, the day of their show.
My children! What sort of mother leaves her six and four year-old children behind to go off and have adventures frighteningly close to the borders of Somalia, Eritrea, and Sudan? I know people go on business trips all the time, especially fathers, yet somehow the world looks upon mothers who do the same with a special brand of scorn. Or is it also the guilt we feel that intensifies the world’s judgment, real or imagined because we are amplifying this judgment in our own minds?
My own mother sent me a panicked email last week shortly after the Russian airplane crashed in Egypt allegedly due to terrorism. “Do you HAVE to go Kristen?” it pleaded. It continued on with dire warnings of Very. Bad. Things. Happening. if I should dare set foot in this ancient kingdom of historical and cultural treasures.
But I have a husband who works at The UN’s World Food Programme. He is kindly supportive of my two week trip just as I have been for him when he spent a week in Sri Lanka last year and will give a presentation (on gender equality!) in Kenya in January. The security threat level for Addis Ababa is low according to the WFP. I’ll be staying with my trusted friend in her apartment just across the street from the University and have new colleagues, students, and friends waiting to meet me once I am there. Who are they? I have to go there or I will never find out.
I’ve certainly traveled independently before and rolled up my sleeves to do volunteer work for extended periods, most notably with Cross Cultural Solutions in India (2000) and Tanzania (2005.) In 2007 I created documentary videos in Liberia for The World Food Programme (before my husband worked there). This time is different though. Now that I am a mother it’s no longer all about me, myself, and I. I have an even bigger responsibility now to return home safe and sound and in one piece.
Eleanor Roosevelt once famously dared the world to “Do one thing each day that frightens you.” I’m about to jump way outside my comfort zone, something that is the essence of the global citizenship experience.
We global citizens (even the ones who are firmly planted at home) live by the Golden Rule. We treat others as we would like to be treated because in fact “we ARE them and they are us.” We go out on a limb to meet and connect with people who might never have the ability to leave their own land. When we are at home, we share what we love about other cultures with those who may never own a passport.
When we go off and then return home, we come back with a new appreciation for even the mundane and ordinary. We see our loved ones again with new eyes and we pick up where we left off in our daily lives with a new perspective, verve, and zest. We are changed, as are the ones we briefly spent time with, hopefully always for the better. That is always the intention of the whole-hearted global citizen anyway. Do no harm and certainly always try to do good.
So as the day of my flight in a few weeks creeps closer and closer, I’ll march towards my uncertain future with love and friendship in my heart and aim to return again a little more whole than before I left.
Thanks again for following my journey and thanks for reading! And thanks Ethiopia for a wonderful adventure. I hope to come back again one day.
Kristen (Global Citizen)