2006.03.03: March 3, 2006: Headlines: COS - Ethiopia: Return to our COS - Ethiopia: Asbury Park Press Online: I was retracing the steps my partner, Jack, took almost 40 years ago in the Peace Corps in Ethiopia

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Ethiopia: Peace Corps Ethiopia : The Peace Corps in Ethiopia: February 8, 2006: Headlines: COS - Ethiopia: Return to our COS - Ethiopia: USA Today: My partner, Jack, who was a Peace Corps volunteer in Ethiopia 37 years ago, says I don't have a clue about what I'm getting myself into. : 2006.03.03: March 3, 2006: Headlines: COS - Ethiopia: Return to our COS - Ethiopia: Asbury Park Press Online: I was retracing the steps my partner, Jack, took almost 40 years ago in the Peace Corps in Ethiopia

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I was retracing the steps my partner, Jack, took almost 40 years ago in the Peace Corps in Ethiopia

 I was retracing the steps my partner, Jack, took almost 40 years ago in the Peace Corps in Ethiopia

We went with few expectations. Jack assumed everyone he once knew would be dead. Life expectancy hovers around 48, and with wars, AIDS, famines and brutal dictatorships, hopes of finding anyone still alive were dim. But we hadn't been in Gorgora 10 minutes before someone yelled "Mr. Jack?'' His name was Tesfaye, a man who was only 6 when Jack lived there. His brother, now dead, was in Jack's class. But Tesfaye had his own memory: a Frisbee Jack had given him, something he loved so much that he made his mother serve him dinner on it every night.

I was retracing the steps my partner, Jack, took almost 40 years ago in the Peace Corps in Ethiopia

Ethiopian village retains a sense of "home'

Posted by the Asbury Park Press on 03/4/06

BY CRAIG WILSON
USA TODAY

Maybe you can go home again. If only for a moment.

Traveling to Ethiopia, as we did last month, wasn't exactly going "home'' for me. I'd never been there before.

But for some reason it felt right. Maybe because I was retracing the steps my partner, Jack, took almost 40 years ago in the Peace Corps. We were on a pilgrimage to Gorgora, a dusty village on Lake Tana, where he taught in the late '60s.

We went with few expectations. Jack assumed everyone he once knew would be dead. Life expectancy hovers around 48, and with wars, AIDS, famines and brutal dictatorships, hopes of finding anyone still alive were dim.

But we hadn't been in Gorgora 10 minutes before someone yelled "Mr. Jack?''

His name was Tesfaye, a man who was only 6 when Jack lived there. His brother, now dead, was in Jack's class. But Tesfaye had his own memory: a Frisbee Jack had given him, something he loved so much that he made his mother serve him dinner on it every night.

"Is Huluagerish still alive?'' Jack asked, referring to the feisty woman who cooked for him and "Mr. Paul,'' another Peace Corps volunteer, now an attorney in San Francisco.

"Yes, yes. She's still up in her house,'' he said.

What happened next is all a blur. We were scrambling up a hillside filled with dogs and children and chickens. And there, on the path in front of us, appeared the woman I had heard about for years.

She made a noise I'd never heard before. It was a cross between a scream and a cry of joy. She grabbed Jack and wouldn't let go. And then she grabbed me so tight I thought my ribs would break. She didn't have a clue who I was.

Jack cried. I cried. Huluagerish cried. Even our Ethiopian driver broke down.

She then pulled us into her two-room mud house it says volumes about her that in this monochromatic brown village, she had painted her house turquoise and pink and sat down next to Jack, repeatedly slapping his forearm so hard I thought it would break. Maybe she was making sure it was really him in the flesh.

"Ato Jack,'' she kept saying. "Ato Jack.'' (Mr. Jack.)

A dozen giggling children gathered outside her corrugated tin door, peering in to see who these faranji (foreigners) were. The chickens were bolder and walked right in.

Come back in an hour, she told our driver. When we returned, she had changed into a long white dress, covered her basic furniture with flowered slipcovers and sprinkled water on the dirt floor to keep the dust down. She also had prepared a basket of popcorn, along with the traditional dish of injera and wat (spongy bread and stew).

She sat down on a low stool in the middle of the dark room and made coffee on a tiny dung-burning stove, cleansing the cups and saucers with hot water from a kettle, finally pouring the coffee into tiny cups from 3 feet up, adding a healthy dose of sugar for good measure. (Anyone who has ever been to Ethiopia knows it has the best coffee in the world.)

Then all international borders came down. We gossiped. Jack's rusty Amharic came back in fits and starts. Our Ethiopian driver translated the rest.

We talked about her children (one, now a teacher, visited us the next day at our hotel in Gonder), about the new well so the village women no longer have to walk down to the lake, and about the state of the school where Jack taught. (It's deteriorating.)

Jack asked her age. She said 50. There was a pause, then we decided to accept that as fact. A woman's age is never contested. Not even in Ethiopia.

Jack also learned that one of his star students, Dawit, was now a parasitologist in Addis Ababa. We had yet another tearful reunion with him two weeks later.

I was exhausted but couldn't sleep. Ethiopia was coming at me too fast.

A tattered tourism sticker was plastered on the window of the lakeside hotel where we stayed that night: "Discover a place where there are still places to discover.''

We had only just begun.





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Story Source: Asbury Park Press Online

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Ethiopia; Return to our COS - Ethiopia

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