Why The Donkey & The Dog? #Ethiopia

Mekelle-Ethiopia
Mekelle-Ethiopia
Mekelle-Ethiopia-Children's-book

Ever since I moved to Uganda I have been reminiscing about our life in Ethiopia. I think I will always feel nostalgic about Ethiopia, first because it has an amazing culture that gets into your blood, but also because we started our marriage and family in that country and culture. Greg and I moved to Ethiopia five days after saying “I do” and it was an adventure from the start. Then we brought our first child home from that country a few years later. I can’t tell you how nervous I was to bring our newborn baby back to that remote Northern city of Mekelle, but the act itself of flying across the world with the most valuable thing in the world to me and entrusting her to a new place, bonded me forever to that town and its people. I was also bonded to that place because I found my courage there. And even though it was a quiet place out of the way of the world, that strange town helped me to re-enter the world. 

I wish I could return in kind all the gifts that Mekelle gave me during my time there. This children’s book, set in the town where we built our family, is my small offering. It is true that I am an aspiring author, but children’s books weren’t in the original plan. This book came to me over time, and it seemed to gain importance as I plugged away at the writing and illustrating process.  

I wrote the manuscript over three years ago when we first moved to Ethiopia. My husband always saw this particular donkey and dog duo hanging out around Mekelle. He thought it was hilarious that they seemed to be friends. At the same time, tensions in Ethiopia were rising between the different regions there. Then this story came to me of this donkey and dog that were from different backgrounds, but who needed each other to survive, and it seemed to have a larger meaning in the context of what was going on politically. So, I wrote this little tale with some hope that this children’s fable could shed light on adult problems. Then the manuscript sat for six months on my computer. 

I finally found some inspiration to get a local Ethiopian artist and friend to do some sketches for me. I needed to get my ideas drawn on a page. Then I left those pencil drawings sitting on my desk for over a year because I was unsure of the next steps. I finally decided to try out an artist on Upwork that could help me take the sketches and transform them into colorful illustrations for kids. I landed on hiring a Pakistani artist. I was so excited every time he sent me a new illustrated page that he brought to life with his own style and color. But I wasn’t sure what to do next, and again I didn’t do anything for a few months. 

Then I moved from Ethiopia and I got discouraged about ever finishing it. I wrote it for kids in Mekelle, but I wouldn’t be there anymore. Plus, the formatting and cover design seemed to halt the whole book in its tracks. I told my husband I wasn’t going to finish it. A few days later, he encouraged me to finish it for Rowena, so she would always remember the place she spent the first year of her life.

The fact that I actually finished this book is a huge shock for me, but I am really proud of the story and I love the illustrations that accompany my words. But mostly, I am happy to preserve a part of our life from Mekelle in this story and these drawings. I think this book would be interesting to families and children that either have a tie to Ethiopia, or more specifically to Mekelle. The drawings have scenes from Mekelle and the story has cultural references that will make any child that has spent time in Ethiopia feel right at home. Of course, there are also the messages of friendship and loyalty that can cross all cultural barriers.

The Donkey and Dog children book Ethiopia

Three Countries, Six Months

Yes, three countries in six months. I am not talking about the number of countries I have visited but the number of countries I have lived in over the past six months. I can assure you, this was not the plan. 

Traditional-Ethiopian-Birthday
Axum-Ethiopia

You know when you think you are living one story and you find yourself down the road living a completely different story? I thought we would be in Ethiopia for a while raising a family, growing a business, and building a life in that foreign land. Well the plans changed, and we found ourselves in a school bus in America trying to discern our calling, which ended up being more of a process than either of us were expecting. We were having lots of fun on our new adventure on the road, but in terms of discerning what was next, there were lots of closed doors, minds and hearts changed, and everything seemed to be happening really slowly. 

Bus-living-the-spencers
bus-living-the-spencers

Suddenly, there was a call, a decision, then everything moved really fast and within three months we had moved our family, including our dog, from the bus life in America to Uganda.

Yes, we have moved to Uganda. I had just started to settle into bus-life, with window blinds and an essential oil diffuser, when I began to make a list of what I needed to pack for Uganda. We were excited, and it felt like what God was calling us to do, but it was still challenging, and I didn’t have any more energy in reserve to start over again in an unknown place. I didn’t have the emotional vigor to wrestle with all of the questions and doubts about what my place was in this new context.

But here I am, starting over again—setting up bank accounts, getting local IDs, trying to find the right car, installing internet, figuring out where to do the shopping, what to cook, and somehow I am finding the energy in each day foreach day. 

What is it about starting over—new job, new relationships, new school, new town—that can be so exhausting? What is it about the unknown that can make me grasp for answers to my endless litany of questions? I want answers, but I am also scared to answer these questions right now with any certainty. With the roller coaster of the last year, I have found more certainty in the unknown than in what we thought we knew. Maybe it is better for me to not know anything right now and to take a rest from all of the questions.

living-in-Uganda-the-spencers
Ethiopia-to-uganda

 

A dear friend wrote out this quote for me when I was in another time of transition a few years back. I hung it up on the wall over my desk and I still read it often. In this season of the unknown it is speaking to me again.

 

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” - Rainer Maria Rilke

 

Don’t worry, we will still be living in the bus when we are back in the States for a few months this fall—part-time bus and part-time Uganda.

#HowToSeries: How To (Almost) Learn A New Language.

Language has always been a struggle for me but when we first moved to Northern Ethiopia I was determined to learn the local language. I regretted never getting the hang of the local tongue when I lived in Malawi. I hated being left out of conversation after conversation, and Ethiopia was going to be different, as I assimilated into the culture and language. Here are my keys to (almost) being successful. Read the rest of this post on the Taking Route Blog.

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Gheralta Guide: The Rock-Hewn Churches of Ethiopia

You don’t have to be a person of the Orthodox faith to enjoy this deeply spiritual pilgrimage past pastoral farms, up through canyon walls and into the mountains in search of these ancient treasures. The physical act of hiking to these hidden churches mirrors for me the life-long journey of the pilgrimage toward God. It is a unique opportunity to see yourself, away from the busyness of routine and habit, as you climb up into the ancient mysteries that these mountains hold.

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Bringing Back the Wonder of Life Abroad

I remember when my husband and I drove fifteen hours from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to our new home in the north. I loved every minute of the heat, the god-forsaken hotel, and the lack of water when we arrived at our new home. I vividly remember thinking, “I am the luckiest person in the world that I get to have this life.” Fast-forward six months to a year later, and guess who was crying? ME. Read the rest of this post on the Taking Route Blog. 

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Listening to the Rhythms of Life Abroad.

There are rhythms all around us sending us messages. The power goes out. The water tank is empty. The internet hasn’t worked in days. The car breaks down. The baby just wants to be held. In those moments there is a very critical choice that will make or break my day; will I listen to the rhythms or try to create my own? Read the rest of this post on the Taking Route Blog.

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Fears of a New Expat Mom.

Maybe I’m the only mom that has ever been nervous about raising and caring for a child in the developing world. I try to calm my anxiety with reason—millions of moms have raised their babies in the developing world in worse conditions. I shouldn’t have a problem. Right after my daughter was born, the reality of living in Africa became real and I honestly don’t feel equipped for the challenge. Read more of this post on The Taking Route Blog.

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Part 4: The Importance of Need. #MakingMekelleOurHome

Need, I am finding, is one of the greatest gifts in the world. Maybe it is a gift to need redemption, to need grace, to need water, to need God to provide. I have never felt my need as clear as I do here in Mekelle; it’s a combination of the brokenness I have embraced in myself in recent years mixed with the vulnerability of our life here. Away from the familiar, distant from community,  and adapting to the unknown.

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The Best Kept Secret in East Africa.

I hesitate to write this article, because I am worried that I will unveil one of the best kept secrets in East Africa: the Ancient Rock-Hewn churches of Northern Ethiopia. To get to most of these churches you have to hike up into the mountains, where you will find hidden 1600 year-old churches that have been preserved by the monks and priests of modern and of old. Most of the churches were carved deep into the rock to protect them, as well as their history, from invaders. Read the rest of the blog on the We Are Travel Girls Blog.

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Part 3: The Miracle of My First Friend. #MakingMekelleOurHome

Quitting my job last summer made me face my real life, or should I say lack of a real life here in Mekelle.Greg had started a business, he had employees and friends and was getting a hang of the language. It had been tons of work for him, but it was paying off. He was blossoming and I was sinking in to the shadows.

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