ETHIOPIA — Growing up in rural America you learn many things — how to ride a horse, fix fence, cut fire wood, and tell city folk how they just don’t get it.
Growing up in Manassa, Colorado was a great. My friends and I used to catch water snakes and scare the neighborhood girls, now some of them are married and I think their kids are still carrying on that wonderful tradition. I never really thought, way back then, that I would be living in Africa.
But here I am, from the beautiful, wide open spaces of the SLV, to the bustling city of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, five million strong and growing.
Over the past two years I have learned a lot about the continent of Africa, and even more about Ethiopia. Ethiopia is about twice the size of Texas, and one of the most populated countries in Africa.
The food is totally different, and next time you go to Denver, I recommend trying it, specifically the Bayonetu with some extra Tagabino.
One of the more important things that I have learned is that people need each other. In this current political climate it’s hard to think about others, especially when they are half way around the world. From the hurricane disasters, to the constant 24-hour wash, rinse, repeat, cycle of political news shows, it can be overwhelming. But as CNN regurgitates the same news cycles over and over, life in other parts of the world continue.
Here in Ethiopia I watch as a farmer, barefoot, plows his rocky field with two ox and a plow. We talk over lunch, some miser wat and Habesha gomen, about how China is flexing its muscle across the entire region while American leadership dwindles. We work towards battling the near 40 percent childhood stunting rate through nutrition programs and agriculture.
We go out and dance; we drink T’eg and talk about the weather, and how it’s changing, and how the rains are becoming more and more unpredictable. Is this year’s teff crop going to get enough water, what if the rains don’t come, what if it rains too much after cutting? I’ve had those same conversations with family in the valley about alfalfa hay.
Many Africans seem more knowledgeable about American politics then many Americans. I get asked by some of my Muslim friends how Americans can be so racist. We are banning travel from predominantly Muslim countries. I get asked by some of my Orthodox Christian friends why cops are always shooting black people. Black Lives Matter protesters are targets of alt-right propagandists. I get asked why Americans love guns and like to shoot each other. The USA has the highest rates of gun deaths of all the developed world.
Those are difficult conversations to have. You see, they watch the same regurgitated CNN news cycle here. But I have those difficult conversations, we are not all racists, I own a gun and go hunting, I consider myself a responsible gun owner. I’m Catholic, we believe basically in the same bible as the Ethiopian Orthodox. Most cops are dedicated hardworking men and women who care for their families. America does have problems, there are some racists, and, in some parts of the country issues are systemic.
America is a huge country, with 50 states, many regional dialects, and Spanish is widely spoken throughout the southwest and Florida. I get called Ferengi, (not the money hungry alien race from Star Trek, but the Amharic word for foreigner) and there is no distinction here between white and Hispanic, we are all the same to them.
When I go home some people ask me about Africa, like it’s one country, and not a continent with 54 countries, with over 1,500 spoken languages. For some of us, they too are all the same. Here in Ethiopia there are several distinct cultural and ethnic groups, Afan Oromos, Amharas, and Tigrinyas, to name a few, each with their own language, food, and culture.
But there are amazing similarities. Everyone only wants what’s best for their children, people love each other, people go out of their way to help me, people argue and yell and scream, people hug, laugh and cry. People argue about their governments’ policies; go home, get up, wash, rinse repeat.
At the end of the day though, I suppose we are all just trying to do the best we can and love our families unconditionally. Just one thing to remember though, we are all family, we should take care of each other, whether white or Hispanic, whether Afan Oromo or Amhara, Ferengi or African, it’s good to take pause, take a deep breath, and know deep down, we are all family.
Michael Armenta is a Peace Corps volunteer in Ethiopia.
Captions: Mike Armenta is serving with the Peace Corps in Ethiopia.
A village in Ethiopia
Photos courtesy of Michael Armenta