Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Our Visitor & Houseguest

Muluneh, with the kids and me in front of our house

For the last month, we have had a houseguest. His name is Dr. Muluneh Abshare and he is a geography professor at Addis Ababa University. Now you might be thinking that houseguest for a month can be a drag. Au contraire mon ami, this experience was far from it. In fact, it was pretty darn delightful! So before I tell you about our experience, let me tell you about how we got to this point by telling you how we met Muluneh.

In 2008, when we adopted Semira, Steve made the decision that he would shift his developing academic research focus from Tanzania to Ethiopia. The move made perfect sense. He wanted to cultivate relationships in Ethiopia so that we would have opportunities as a family to live and work there at some point in the future. It was all part of a long-term plan to stay connected to Semira’s homeland. Steve started by emailing a bunch of professors to introduce himself and to arrange a meeting. Low and behold, Muluneh responded.

The gates of Addis Ababa University (above) and Steve in front of the building that houses the Geography Department (below) in 2008

In April 2008, Steve, Lily, and I walked onto the campus of Addis Ababa University and found the Geography Department. Muluneh was the chair at the time. We had a nice meeting where strangers introduced themselves and plans were hatched. For all Muluneh knew, Steve could have been typical of the many people who attempt to start up international collaborations by making all kinds of pie in the sky promises that amount to little. But Steve isn’t like that... Steve and Muluneh quickly orchestrated the signing of a memorandum of agreement between the University of Wyoming and Addis Ababa University. Shortly thereafter, Muluneh invited Steve to come give a short course and we used many of our frequent flyer miles to send him to Ethiopia so he could teach for the department in Addis.

The rest is history… Steve has been back five times since our inaugural 2008 visit, teaching another month long course and doing field research with both students from Wyoming and local Ethiopian geography students. Steve has many true friends over there and the the Department of Geography and Environmental Studies at AAU is definitely his second academic home.

This fall, Steve decided to try and bring Muluneh to the United States as a visiting scholar at the University of Wyoming for a portion of his sabbatical leave. This meant that Muluneh would give a few talks and seminars then work on his own research. Money is always an issue when doing these types of things so we needed to find an inexpensive place for Muluneh to stay. Long story short, Ch√Ęteau Prager quickly became the best option. Our house is not huge, so having Muluneh here meant he would be in the thick of things. There is no vacant wing of our house; practically every space is used all the time. And we have our nutty dogs, Mattie and Biggie, to contend with.

The experience was fantastic! Our family had an entire month to show Muluneh life in the U.S. and in return, we had time to have many conversations about life in general, politics, economics, and culture -- a sort of compare and contrast of life in two very different places. The best thing for me was spending a month having to really think about why we do some of the things we do and trying to explain the rationale to someone from a completely different culture. When I say “we” not only do I mean our family on a personal level, but Americans in general. Coming up with these explanations is not all that easy! These conversations definitely took me out of autopilot mode for a month.

We also wanted to show Muluneh the beautiful landscapes that we are so blessed with here in Wyoming and the surrounding areas. We enjoyed hiking the Turtle Rock Trail at Vedauwoo and a day trip to the Snowys (along with pizza at the Bear Tree). Muluneh also joined us and four other families over Labor Day weekend for our annual camping trip to Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. Needless to say, I think he was impressed by what he got to see. Who wouldn’t be?

Emerald Lake hike at Rocky Mountain National Park...ugly, huh?

On a cultural note, we hosted a fairly large Ethiopian New Year’s party on Sunday, September 11 with our Laramie friends and students with connections to Ethiopia. Lastly, Muluneh a attended services at three different Laramie churches and even accompanied us to Shabbat last Friday to check out what the Jews do.

Muluneh getting to eat some Ethiopian food in Wyoming

Steve made another amazing vegetarian feast for our friends, some of whom are seen below

Yes, it was a busy month! But instead of being burdened by having a guest and all that comes with it, we embraced it. When it was time to say our good byes, we were all genuinely sad to see Muluneh go. Even the kids, who had grown accustomed to engaging him in their own conversations and enjoying his company, were quite touched by his departure.

Not knowing how Muluneh would perceive his time amidst the chaos that we call home, I could only hope that Muluneh enjoyed his stay with us. After all, one can never be sure exactly what the person on the receiving end is experiencing. The night before he left, Muluneh thanked us for the hospitality and for welcoming him into our family. He said the experience was more than he wished it to be or could have even imagined. I was humbled! It is people like Muluneh who will make our future year-long sabbatical in Ethiopia a great one. Who knew that a chance email in 2008 would lead our family to amazing new friends and colleagues from across the globe. Thanks Muluneh!

No comments:

Post a Comment