Alica Robey is a Vincentian lay Missionary from the USA living and working in Ethiopia. She is our first “long-term” missionary. Here is a letter from her. (CourtesyÂ of Aidan Rooney)
Greetings from Jimma, everyone!Â This is just another quick update from me, a couple stories from our brothers and sisters in Ethiopia, and two brief excerpts from my journal (again, slightly modifiedâ€¦ one about my students, their familiesâ€¦ the other about my experience on a nearby mountain), if you are feeling bored and would like to read it or part of it.
I hope that you all are well wherever you are and in whatever you are doing.Â All my love to you and to your loved ones and my immense gratitude to you for all your support and for being the wonderful people you are.Â Though Jimma is feeling more and more like home every day, I miss you all quite a bit.
Peace, Love, and Gratitude-
The US-Vincentian Lay Missionary group left just over three weeks ago.Â We had a tremendous time together, and all of Jimma dearly misses them and is so grateful for all that they gave this summerâ€¦ and is hoping that they will return someday.
I went with the crew to Addis Ababa to see them off, and I ended up staying for a little over a week (there wasn’t a car heading down the Jimma road for awhile, so I had to wait).Â During my time there, I worked with some Irish volunteers at a wonderful school by pulling a few kids out of their classes at a time for conversationâ€¦ I even got to play ‘director’ for a drama that one of the students wrote on his about combating HIV/AIDs.Â He is such a sweetieâ€¦ and brilliant!Â He would like to be a space scientist, which seems suitableâ€¦ he wants to solve the problems of the universeâ€¦ and he probably can.
Once I returned to Jimma, we reconvened our summer classâ€¦ grades 1 and 2.Â What a blessing!Â Today we had “Friday fun day,” and I brought some bubblesâ€¦ pure joy!!Â Â If I can get a photo to send, I will because there is no way I can express the smiles on their facesâ€¦ even a photo doesn’t do them justice.Â Now that we have just finished our 3rd together in this second round of classes, I find myself, yet again, overwhelmed with gratitude and respect for these wonderful childrenâ€¦ and their families.Â The other day I was particularly struck by their strength, and I wrote:
“I’ve been thinking a lot about strength lately, primarily because at the end of each class period and by the time Friday comes around, I am pretty tired.Â I know that in order to go through this year here I will need strength, but I sometimes question whether or not I’ll be able to find it.Â Then, I look around and remember that I have millions of teachings showing me what it means to be strong.
There are women who have a strength that we traditionally associate with the word.Â They can carry nearly their entire body weight or more in firewood on their heads or on their backs for many miles, back and forth from the mountain’s forests to the market to sell.Â I can only imagine that they must be fueled by some deep, incredible inner strength, as well:Â “If I can make it to the forest and back one more time, my family will have something to eat tomorrowâ€¦ we will spend another day on this Earth.”Â At least, that is the only way I can fathom accomplishing what they do every day, carrying that heavy cross.
Many parents here (and everywhere) amaze me.Â First of all, childbirth is even more difficult and much more dangerous here than in most other places in the world.Â Many women give birth by themselves in their homes â€“ as they cannot get to a clinic or a hospital.Â The mortality rate during childbirth is frighteningly high, and many women who survive childbirth will experience many complications that are painful and long-lastingâ€¦ some that even result in them being isolated from the community.Â I’m thinking of fistulas.Â There is a well-known fistula hospital in Addis that many women travel hundreds of miles in order to receive treatment.Â Indeed, parents are incredible.Â They show their strength as day in and day out they struggle to get food, shelter, and a good education for their children.Â They toil every moment and must be exhausted, yet they always seem to have energy to rejoice in their children’s successes, to find humor in the beautiful little things their children do, and to shower them with kisses and endless love.
And children!Â Talk about resilience!!Â When the sisters tell me about the lives and histories of my students, I am amazed that they even show up for school, let alone participate with as much energy, enthusiasm, love, and great intellect as they doâ€¦ not to mention tolerance for the ridiculous teacher that they have.Â To go without much in their belliesâ€¦ to work to support their familiesâ€¦ to watch their parents, grandparents, and other caregivers suffer and dieâ€¦ to bury their brothers, their sisters, their friendsâ€¦ and still to singâ€¦ to danceâ€¦ to learnâ€¦ to persistâ€¦ to have hope for the futureâ€¦ that is strength.Â I admire their strength, but I am deeply saddened and troubled that these young children have had to develop such strength.”
So, yesterday was a first for me.Â Rya, a volunteer with the Missionaries of Charity from Lebanon, asked me if I wanted to join him and a few of the workers at MC’s as they built new homes for two families who live a few miles up the mountain.Â Thinking that this sounded like a very worthwhile way to spend a Saturday, I said, “Sure.”Â I did not know what was in store for me.
I arrived at MC’s with my trail shoes, a bottle of water, and my rain jacketâ€¦ the rainy season is ending, but when I woke up, the skies looked a bit ominous.Â I was hoping that we would go without rain, as it would make the mountain very muddy and very slippery.Â We loaded up the car with tools, corrugated iron, and packed it full of builders â€“ and a couple faranji.Â JÂ We were taken to the base of the mountain, where we began our hike.Â I had anticipated the hike, but for some crazy reason, I didn’t think about having to carry all of our supplies up the mountain with us.Â Thankfully, the men took pity of me, and all I had to carry was a big bag full of injerra â€“ our lunch.Â (You might find it humorous to know that “A-lee-cha,” which sounds a lot like “Alicia” and often people often mistake my name for “A-lee-cha” means ‘weak,’ in some contextsâ€¦ I felt like I lived up to that name yesterdayJ).
By the time we reached their homes, which were nearly at the top of the mountain, I was already quite tiredâ€¦ and then the work began.Â Rya told me that we wouldn’t be building, but hauling wood.Â Again, I don’t know why I was thinking this, but I was imagining the couple Habitat for Humanity builds I went on, where we would sometimes haul 2x4s from one part of the yard to another.Â So, you can see why I chuckled (and admittedly, slightly grimaced) inside as Rya grabbed an axe, called “Kotoo” (“come” in Afaan Oromo) to me and headed further up the mountain to the forest.Â Yep, it was time to cut down trees and haul them to the two building sites.Â Definitely not a Habitat build.
Each time I got a bit tired, checked my watch, jumped because of a big bug, felt an ache in my shoulder, or slipped a little coming down the mountain, I tried to focus my thoughts on the families whose homes were being built.Â Every day they walk up and down these mountains, carrying heavy loads on their backs for miles each way.Â Then, they return to homes where they have almost literally no material things.Â They have been living in houses with just two walls made out of sticks and a roof that is thatched, infested with bugs and worms, and offers little protection from the heavy rains or animals and no warmth on a cold night.
Each step I took seemed to carry a greater purpose yesterday. I’d love for my life to be filled with those kinds of steps.
As I stood in the hot Ethiopian sun, looking out into the beautiful valley below and neighboring mountains, watching the workers skillfully assemble a house out of trees and twine, listening as Rya chopped what would become another piece of this incredible family’s home, I thought, “This is one of those moments when I remember where I am and marvel at its goodness and its beauty.”
I hope you all are having many moments where you remember where you are, all those who are in your lives, and marvel at the goodness and beauty there.