X is for X-Wing

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FandangoNOW

I know what you’re thinking.

“Really? An x-wing? What does that have to do with Ethiopia?”

I promise. There’s a legitimate connection. But even if there wasn’t a real connection, you really shouldn’t be surprised that X is for X-Wing. During my first endeavor into the Blogging through A to Z Challenge, I announced that X is for X-Wing. And that it will always stand for x-wing, no matter the theme.

While I was in Ethiopia, The Force Awakens was in theaters around the world – including Addis. I even had the opportunity to go to the cinema housed at a nearby mall and watch the long-anticipated and much-hyped Star Wars sequel.

Edna Mall in Addis

It would’ve been a pretty interesting experience, watching Star Wars in a foreign country. And it would’ve been fun to share this experience with the missionary friends of mine who suggested that we go watch it together. It’s always memorable to watch a movie in a different place.

StarWars_BannerAds

I remember watching A League of their Own with my family when we were in the Southwest. I remember watching Apollo 13 and Batman & Robin in the same night in Taos, New Mexico. I also watched Independence Day in Taos the following year. That was also the year I wound up looking down on the fireworks display, but that’s another post for another time.

It was certainly tempting to watch the movie in Ethiopia. I really didn’t want to have to wait any longer. But I had a commitment to watch it with Aiden. And I was going to keep that commitment. I’m glad we have that shared memory together.

Obligatory “We’re about to watch #StarWars, y’all!!!” pic.

A photo posted by Matt Todd (@mattdantodd) on

Of course, I’m looking forward to the release of Star Wars: Rogue One this December. It’s another memory I’ll be able to share with my boys. Shoot, I’ll probably share it with my whole family. Because the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. I became a Star Wars fan at a very young age. And I’ve done my best to pass on what I have learned.

Me and Vader

Maybe there will be some x-wings in this new installment. I mean…Rogue Squadron had a pretty strong connection to x-wings. But who knows if Rogue One is actually connected to Rogue Squadron in any way, shape or form? There’s part of me that hopes there isn’t a connection. But there’s also part of me that does.

That way I’ll already have my “X” entry for the 2017 Blogging from A to Z Challenge. Of course, at the rate I’m posting for the 2016 challenge, it might be 2017 before I finish posting!

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W is for Water

Less than half of the population of Ethiopia has access to clean drinking water (source). This is not a good thing. We take water for granted here – even in our rural areas. Yes, there are some outliers, like the water crisis in Michigan. But very few people in the States worry that the water they’re drinking could actually kill them.

When  you throw in the fact that many more people in Ethiopia lack access to proper sanitation, I think you can see the potentially disastrous situation here.

There are many fine ministries and organizations that are working to help end this problem. I saw some of them with my own eyes. They’re making a difference. And if you join me in partnering with World Vision, we can help them change communities, too.

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V is for Vehicles

Traffic in Addis is insane. It’s just crazy. I was recently with a family who lived in New York. They said that the insanity of Addis traffic puts New York City’s traffic to shame.

Instead of explaining the vehicles we saw in Ethiopia, I figured I’d share a few pictures.

The red trucks on the right? If I understand correctly, they have a reputation of shutting down at inopportune times. They’re not looked upon favorably. The truck on the left is a water delivery truck. I’ll talk more about water in the next post.

China trucks and vehicles in Ethiopia

Rickshaws…

Rickshaw and motorcycle in Ethiopia

You never know when you’re going to encounter a livestock-induced traffic jam. Sheep in the road in Ethiopia

Put all of this together and it looks like an insane video game. I didn’t take this video, but it captures the traffic perfectly.

This might give Frogger a run for his money.

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U is for Understanding

U is for Understanding #AtoZChallenge

When I worked in New Mexico, I met people from all across this nation. By listening to them talk for a few minutes, I could usually pinpoint where different groups were from. I was pretty good at recognizing the different regional accents throughout the United States. And somewhere along the way, I managed to pick up a Wisconsin-style accent (in spite of my preference of having a hint of a Southern drawl). There are definitely some distinctions between the regional dialects in the States. A Bostonian can have trouble understanding someone from the Bayou. Of course, the converse is true, too. And there’s likely to be at least a little miscommunication between a Southerner and a New Yorker.

It’s not uncommon for us to have trouble understanding each other. And we all speak the same language.

Imagine what it’s like living in a country where more than 80 different languages are spoken. Imagine what it’s like living in a country where well more than 100 different dialects are used. It kind of boggles the mind, but that’s how things are in Ethiopia.

That opens the door to a lot of misunderstanding. But it can also open things up to a greater understanding between people. Because sometimes you have to show a little patience with each other in order to communicate.

Maybe we could learn something from that. It seems like all we like to do on social media and in political discourse is to talk past each other. Maybe we could work a little bit harder at talking with each other and listening to each other. Maybe we’d be able to get more accomplished as a country. Maybe we can even find a deeper level of understanding.

This is my prayer. Not only for our country, but also for all humanity. I hope we can come together in peace, hope, love, and understanding – celebrating our differences as well as our commonalities. Like a beautiful rainbow, I pray that we can become one.

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T is for True Cross

Around two months ago, I built a fire in the backyard. It was a relatively small fire because we just wanted a few coals to roast marshmallows, not a burning inferno. It was kind of like this one from the Fall:

Preheating the oven for dinner.

A photo posted by Matt Todd (@mattdantodd) on


When Weldu came out, he asked me about the fire and why it wasn’t very big. I explained to him why and he seemed to be satisfied with that answer. Then he explained to me that the fire he was expecting was one like the fires they have during Meskel.

By Beevo at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=43996793
By Beevo at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=43996793

Meskel is the annual celebration of the discovery of the True Cross by Queen Helen, the mother of Constantine, in the 4th Century. According to legend, Helen was on a mission to discover the cross upon which Jesus was crucified. She had a vision in a dream that instructed her to build a fire and it would show her the location of the True Cross. She had the people of Jerusalem build a giant bonfire and she added frankincense to the flames. The smoke went high into the air and then came back down – exactly where the cross was buried.

image via Wikimedia Commons
image via Wikimedia Commons

They celebrate this day in Ethiopia at the end of September. And it makes sense for them to have a giant bonfire in commemoration of this legendary event. Legend also has it that one of the cross-shaped churches in Ethiopia has a piece of this cross buried underneath it. So this day, Meskel – the celebration of the discovery of the True Cross, is a big deal in Ethiopia.

So I can understand why Weldu might have been a little disappointed when he saw our rinky-dink fire in comparison to the giant tower of flames that he’s used to seeing.

Maybe we can fix that the next time we go camping. If that’s the case, I should probably have a few campfire stories to tell. And I have a few, thanks to my experiences at Philmont. I just have to dust them off a little.

Of course, we’ll have to add this holiday to our growing list of family celebrations. But any excuse to build a rockin’ fire is a-OK with me!

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S is for Soccer

This post may use affiliate links. Learn more in my Disclosure Policy.

S is for Soccer #AtoZChallenge #AtoZChallenge2016

When I kicked off this series as part of the 2016 A to Z Challenge (which is taking a month longer to complete than it should), I mentioned in the opening post that Ethiopians love their soccer.

So when a kid comes up to you and asks you to play soccer, you play soccer. It doesn’t matter if you’re wearing your guard uniform or still working the front desk. If a kid asks you to play, you play. And that’s what happened one afternoon in the courtyard of our guesthouse. It was a pickup soccer game that I never thought I’d experience.

Soccer at the guest house #AtoZChallenge #AtoZChallenge2016
Manchester United FC

Of course Weldu’s friends love playing soccer. Several times a week, they’d play a pick-up game in a nearby alley in the shadow of some building construction. Two things I hope you notice…

    1. Note the scaffolding on the building in the background. It looks crazy, but I’m assuming it’s more sturdy than it looks to me.
    2. You see those two rocks stacked on top of each other? That’s one of the goalposts. The other is behind them.

Street Soccer Game in Addis #AtoZChallenge #AtoZChallenge2016
I didn’t grow up a soccer fan. I played one season in fourth or fifth grade (maybe sixth – I honestly don’t remember). I was not very good. And I never really showed much interest in the sport, other than the occasional World Cup game. That’s changed since Weldu has come home with us. It turns out both of us have a lot to learn. Playing an organized soccer game on an official pitch is quite different from the pickup games that he’s used to in Ethiopia. But that hasn’t dampened his passion for the game. He would eat, breathe, and sleep soccer if we’d let him. And he continues to hone his skills in anticipation of this Fall’s soccer season.

Weldu heading the ball in Addis

And me? I’m learning all the teams and terms and intricacies of the game that he loves. I’ve got a long way to go, but I know it’s worth it.

Because he is worth it.
Manchester United FC

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R is for Rainy Season

nature-plant-leaf-rain

Here in Indiana and the majority of the continental United States (except maybe the southwest and southeastern corners), you can generally expect to experience four seasons throughout the year. Summer, Fall, Winter, Spring. That’s how it goes.

OK, considering the fact that it’s the middle of May and we’ve had several days that were 15 degrees colder than an average day, one could argue that Spring hasn’t been much of a season this year. But you get the point. As a rule, there are four seasons. And Winter is drastically different from Summer.

In Ethiopia? Sure, there’s Summer, Fall, Winter, Spring, but there’s another season that makes a huge impact on people’s lives.

Rainy season.

I haven’t been in-country during the rainy season. We were there shortly after the rainy season when we first visited Ethiopia in September of 2009. And Christy happened to be there at the beginning of the rainy season last year. She said some of the roads were already starting to wash out and the serious raining hadn’t even happened yet.

The heaviest rains apparently happen in August and sometimes into September (in Addis, anyway). The rains are so heavy that the Ethiopian government traditionally shuts down during the month of August. And sometimes this even goes into September. The roads are that unreliable during this time.

It happens like clockwork. And the people of Ethiopia have adapted to it. Because that’s what we do. When we can’t change the situation, we find the pattern and adapt to it.

Perhaps this is what the Teacher meant in the book of Ecclesiastes. And if Solomon was really the author,* wouldn’t it be interesting if he had the Queen of Sheba and the seasons of her kingdom in the back of his mind when he composed this poem. It’s unlikely (or maybe even impossible), I know. But the point remains. There’s a time for everything and everything has its time. It’s up to us to make the most of the time that we’ve been given so we can live life for the purpose we were created to fulfill.

To every thing there is a season

So what season is your life in right now? What can I do to encourage you?

*I know tradition says that Ecclesiastes was penned by Solomon. Many scholars dispute that claim. Does it really matter who wrote it? No. Its message is still inspired and profitable. Let’s focus on more important things.

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Q is for Queen of Sheba

queen of sheba

And when the queen of Sheba had seen all the wisdom of Solomon, the house that he had built, the food of his table, the seating of his officials, and the attendance of his servants, their clothing, his cupbearers, and his burnt offerings that he offered at the house of the Lord, there was no more breath in her. – 1 Kings 10:4 & 5

And King Solomon gave to the queen of Sheba all that she desired, whatever she asked besides what was given her by the bounty of King Solomon. So she turned and went back to her own land with her servants. – 1 Kings 10:13

According to the legend that we heard when we visited the National Museum of Ethiopia (home to “Lucy”), the Queen certainly got all that she desired. All of it.

In this story, King Solomon and the Queen reach an agreement when she arrives at the king’s palace. He won’t attempt to seduce her during her stay as long as she doesn’t take anything that doesn’t belong to him. Sounds like a fair deal. Right? I mean, aside from the fact the “No” should mean “No.” But that’s not really the point of this story (although maybe it should be the point).

One night (possibly her last night in the palace), Solomon treated the Queen to a fabulous dinner. He had his servants pull out all the stops. He also had them add extra spice to the food so it would be extra-hot. Now, I need to digress here for just a second. I’ve had Ethiopian food. Some of it is pretty spicy. How hot was this meal? It had to be on fire for a woman from Ethiopia to think it was spicy. Right?

Anyway, she ate and enjoyed the extra-hot food and eventually retired to her quarters. As she was preparing for bed, the spices did what spices do and the Queen needed some relief. Conveniently, Solomon had ordered that a glass of water be placed near her bed.

The wisest man in all the world had just tricked her. She had taken something of his without permission.* She had failed to uphold her end of the bargain. So Solomon was free to pursue her.

Cue Barry White.

Nine months later, on the road home, the Queen of Sheba gave birth to a son. She named him Menelik, “Son of the Wise.” And subsequent emperors claimed direct descent from Menelik I.

I told you the Jewish connection ran pretty deep.

* First of all, is it really taking something without permission if you place the glass of water right in front of a person who desperately needs a glass of water? Implied consent and all that. And secondly, Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines. There were plenty of women around who would do whatever he wanted. Why the need to trick someone like this? Solomon might have been wise, but he seems kind of shady here.

 

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Chocolate covered peaches, Coca-Cola, and a Date-iversary

This shop has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and The Coca-Cola Company. All opinions are mine alone. #ShareMemories #CollectiveBias

Happy Date-iversary #ShareMemories #ad

Music. It has such a powerful connection in our lives. As a recovering Band Geek, I really shouldn’t be surprised. I’ve known this since high school. Music is powerful. When you hear a few words or a couple of notes from a song and you’re instantly transported to another time, another place. It evokes strong memories. Some songs can make you cry. Others can make you dance like nobody’s watching. This Summer, Coca-Cola™ has tapped into the almost mystical connection we have with music by adding song lyrics to their bottles, inviting all of us to “Share a Coke and a Song.”

Share a Song Bottles #ShareMemories #ad

Twenty years ago this month, I was smitten. I’m still smitten, but everything was all brand-new in May of 1996. After an entire school year of pursuing her, I finally gathered up enough nerve to ask Christy out on a date. I don’t know what I was nervous about. For all practical purposes, we’d really been dating for the past several months. But nothing was ever “official.” So when the time came to actually ask her out, my heart skipped about three or four beats, my forehead gathered tiny drops of sweat, and my hands shook like they’d never shaken before. I was nervous.

Of course, she said yes. And so we went on our first official date twenty years ago this month. We didn’t have smartphones back then, so we don’t really have any photos to document the event. But I promise you, it was a memorable evening. We did the traditional date night: dinner and a movie. I honestly don’t remember what we ate, but I remember talking to Christy with such ease and comfort that it already felt like we’d known each other for years. It was an amazing dinner. Then we went to the movie. It was the animated one about a boy and a big-huge peach. It was…

well… Continue reading Chocolate covered peaches, Coca-Cola, and a Date-iversary

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P is for Planes

P is for Plane

For Christy’s trip last year, my trip last year, and our most recent trip, we flew to Ethiopia via Ethiopian Airlines. I’m honestly not a fan of the long flight, but our experience with Ethiopian Airlines helped ease that pain a little bit. The food was good. Soft drinks and water were readily available. The in-flight movie selection was pretty good (I’d like to thank the newest version of Fantastic 4 and Iron Lady for helping me fall asleep during the long flight home). Ethiopian Airlines is one of the most successful airlines based in Africa. And the government seems quite proud of their success (Ethiopian Airlines is owned by the Ethiopian government). As well they should be.

While waiting to board the flight from Dulles to Addis Ababa, we encountered a life-sized sign of a flight attendant from the airlines. I tried to get Aiden to put his arm around her. Somewhere buried  in the boxes and boxes and boxes of family photographs, there’s a picture of me when I was about his age. And I have my arm awkwardly draped around a cutout of Jessica Rabbit. So I thought it would be a good idea to get a picture of Aiden in a similar pose.

He wouldn’t cooperate. This is the closest I could get him to standing beside the cutout. But that’s OK. I think it’s still a pretty good picture.

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