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Christmas in July

COLUMN by MARIAH LIN
Schurr Scroll Editor in Chief

“It is easy to take things for granted as we fall into the familiarity of our daily lives. It was through working to empower a community that I learned to truly appreciate everything that I have. This Christmas, perhaps we should all set aside some time to give back and spread the holiday spirit.”

A festive array of delicious smelling foods lay invitingly atop the faded, brown table, a stark contrast to the barren, gray walls.

Outside, the incessant sound of raindrops falling onto the thatched roof and mudbrick walls made being inside feel even cozier.

After finally arriving in Ethiopia after the longest flight I had ever taken, I smiled enthusiastically across the room at the new friend I just made. “Hello, what is your name,” I exclaimed excitedly.

“Tiringo,” she replied. “Selam, Endemin-nesh? Sime Tiringo yibalal,” she replied looking expectantly at me. Thinking she was asking for my name, I continued to bombard her with questions and comments about myself and how excited I was to finally be here.

It was only after five minutes of this rather funny exchange that I realized Tiringo did not speak English and we were having two different conversations about totally different topics. I wished I had remembered the few Amharic phrases I had tried to teach myself. “Gebany?” Tiringo said. Laughing embarrassingly, I shook my head, trying to tell her I did not speak Amharic. Seeming to understand, she smiled and pointed to the table, “Food.”

Tiringo was the first person I met after arriving in Ethiopia this past summer. She was the housekeeper for the host family I was living with. After our initial encounter, I soon came to discover that Tiringo’s favorite hobby was to cook. It seemed she could make anything, from traditional doro wat (a chicken stew) to spaghetti and meatballs.

For the next couple of weeks, Tiringo and I bonded over food. She loved to make it and I loved to try it. Every day was a new adventure, and although it was summer, I was reminded of Christmas. Tiringo became my guide and companion as I attempted to navigate through the unique language, customs and traditions of a foreign country.

Though we still could not speak each other’s languages, except for a few words here or there, we were somehow still able to communicate. Our conversations were strenuous and consisted of many hand gestures and drawing indiscernible shapes on paper; yet, I had never felt more connected to a language or place.

When I first met Tiringo, it was obvious we came from different parts of the world. She never had the chance to finish middle school, instead having to stop her education after eighth grade so she could find work to support her large family.

This holiday season, I cannot help but think back to my summer in Ethiopia and how thankful I am for the opportunity to receive an education and chase my dreams and passions here in the United States.

It is easy to take things for granted as we fall into the familiarity of our daily lives. It was through working to empower a community that I learned to truly appreciate everything that I have. This Christmas, perhaps we should all set aside some time to give back and spread the holiday spirit.

During our last meal together, the night I left Ethiopia, I looked at that same brown table as it seemed to once again groan under the weight of an enormous pile of food. I felt incredibly happy that I now knew the Amharic name of every food on that table.

As I sit around the table next week with my family members celebrating the holidays, I will wonder where Tiringo will be.

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