In my young years, I heard this shouted and chanted: “Ethiopia Tikdem! Ethiopia Tikdem! “Ethiopia First! Ethiopia First!” Sitting at one of my favorite Ethiopian restaurants not too long ago, it came to mind as I ate injera ba wat and savored every bite.
The year is 1966, the month is February and a little girl is born. Not in a hospital, but in a back-woods clinic in a tiny town called Deder, Ethiopia. I, Esther Joy Maret, was born the fourth child of missionary parents who wanted to serve God. Having three older brothers, I was the answer to my mother’s prayer for a girl. Much to say, I did not have your typical American childhood (I guess that has to be left to author Annie Dillard and many of you to describe). Here is a peak at my Ethiopian childhood…
I had a Somali nanny who didn’t speak much English during my preschool years (see picture above).
I went to a local French kindergarten because I was wide-eyed, early reader at four years old.
I was in boarding school at just five.
We memorized Bible verses each morning at 6:45 am. Our end-of-the-year prize was going to the airport for a luncheon if we memorized all of the verses.
I knew "O Canada," "God Save the Queen" and the "Pledge of Allegiance" because our school was filled with people from all different countries.
We learned the local language of Amharic.
I saw my brothers in passing as they were much older. I never saw my oldest brother because he was away in Kenya for his boarding school. We spent vacations and holidays together.
I played outside unsupervised after school with my dorm mates (it was like being a college student when you were seven).
We had field day, sporting events, Halloween parades, chapel, piano lessons, school plays and homework. Sometimes, parents showed up to these.
I stood in endless lines waiting for vaccinations. Gamma Globulin was the worst. It was hard to sit for a week.
We listened to the Chronicles of Narnia being read by our dorm mother each night after we were fed and washed up. (And here’s a little secret: I loved Aslan, the kind, loving and gracious lion in the stories more than I loved Jesus. He seemed like the kind of Savior and friend that I wanted and so desperately needed, very different from the one I had learned about or conjured up in my head, the angry one who might just send me to hell if I didn’t behave or believe the right thing. I still love Aslan.)
I saw my parents on random weekends and vacations or if I was sick (which was super fun because I got to listen to The Wizard of Oz on reel-to-reel and drink tea).
I lived in guarded and walled compounds when with my parents, being frequently robbed for our clothes and plastic, even our Kerplunk game. (We got a kick out of that because when the thief got home, he or she would find that the plastic was filled with holes and useless for whatever his purposes were.) So much for the guard and the wall.
A communist coup came in 1974 that brought the death of King Haile Selassie, many of his children and grandchildren. War ensued. There were communist marches and guns fired in the streets. Famine came. After two long years of brewing hatred for foreigners, my parents decided that they would leave all their belongings behind and take their four children back to the United States.
Not your typical childhood.
But like each and every one of our childhoods, even though mine was a little "out-of-the-box," it was filled with good and bad, scary and peaceful, happy and sad, ups and downs, boring and interesting. These are the things that make our childhoods sacred and unique and help to form us into who we are today, the beautiful and broken and complicated and messy and wonderful us. And probably like many of you, I wouldn't trade mine for the world.