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The Lessons Vermin Carry

by Sara — July 13, 2015

[This post is inspired by this article about living abroad.]

csiDo you ever wish you could CSI a moment in time? Like if you lost your keys, you could use an app that looks back in time, in slow motion, focusing in and highlighting the clues of where you were when you dropped the keys down the side of the couch. Something happened this morning where I both want to CSI the moment but worry it may be too much information. I was deep into a dream but woke up with a sharp pain on my finger. I knew right away I had been bitten.


And the only culprit during this rainy season, living near a river, is a rat. My CSI app could answer some questions for me…Was my hand hanging over the edge? Was it sniffing at my lifeless hand for a while? What colour was the rat? How big was the rat? Did it have rabies?


Old Yeller. That’s what I know about rabies. I started the rabies vaccine. Better safe than sorry because I don’t want to end up tied up in a shed foaming at the mouth. The nic on my finger is small but, because it’s red, the doctor says it punctured the skin. Vaccine it is.

I’ll be leaving Addis soon for my (now) annual reconnection with my people. It means I’ll need a shot in each city I visit. It’s the strangest way to be tethered to Addis no matter where I go.

Impatience and anger have peppered my days lately. I get like this every time before a trip away. It’s an acknowledgment that I don’t have to deal with this (whatever it may be: power outages for days, water shortages, rat bites) soon enough. It’s a privilege to be able to travel. And at the same time, having the option to leave scares me. Emotions float that much closer to the surface. Joy and appreciation are there too; it’s not all bad. But I feel both pushed away and pulled back at the same time. Is there a vaccine for that?

I read a quote from K’naan with respect to Somalia (and perhaps Africa) that was essentially this: where the West sees suffering, we (Africans) see struggling. My ability to appreciate a “normal” day (i.e., the absence of the problems above) is immense. A day without much of a struggle is enough to put me on a high. I enjoy my cup of tea that much more; a kiss from my girls is that much sweeter. It’s intensely satisfying to go to bed at the end of a “normal” day with a sense that you were able to be your best self. K’naan, of course, wasn’t referring to my kind of day even though I live in Ethiopia. He’s talking about deeply rooted problems of war and violence and poverty and injustice. But even then, he calls it a struggle.

There was a time where I felt like I was suffering in this place with so many problems and inconveniences and not-my-kind-of-normal. My perspective has shifted. Some days are a struggle to be my best self. But who’s to say that’s bad? Who’s to say that wouldn’t happen elsewhere in the world? So is Addis getting in the way? Or does Addis serve as a litmus test of happiness? Truthfully Addis is just a city, like any other city. My reaction to this place, how I handle those not-so-smooth days, is up to me.

And at the same time, being somewhere that is not Ethiopia is all golden. I appreciate a lot of things – the ease of getting around, the availability of different kinds of food and not standing out in a crowd. The conveniences amaze me and scare me too. Without some struggle, how do you know what you have?

I had a tough time falling asleep last night knowing there could be a creature lurking and hungry for humans. The girls have a fan in their room. In my mind, the rotating clicks would keep anything intimidated by noise away. In my room, I listened to podcasts for quite a while with the light on and saw a woosh run under the door and into my room. I was up, clapping my hands and stomping on the bed so fast. It was under a chair now so I banged on the side of the chair, all the while staying off of the floor. I awkwardly pulled the chair towards me and out came a little grey mouse. It was exactly like a cartoon – as it maneuvered out from under the chair and attempted to make a ninety-degree turn back towards the door, its feet spun and spun unable to make contact on the concrete.

And then my little Jerry was gone. Gone into the living room. But, more importantly, no longer in my bedroom where I think he had experienced enough scares to ever come back. Or so I like to think.


It feels better to name the beast: a mouse. A mouse is far less scary and far less likely to carry rabies than a rat. Seeing it for what it is calms me. Being real about my life in Addis – the highs, the lows – my resilience and what it takes to fill me up should be ever present. I can’t push it down any longer. Let me name the beast: struggle. When it’s a struggle, I appreciate it all that much more. Thanks, Jerry.

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