“Narnia taught me we must all grow up and leave our childhood behind, but must never forget it.” (Some place on Pinterest)
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.
Would love to hear what things made your childhood typical or completely unique? Is any childhood typical? Who are you because of yours?
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19 thoughts on “Ethiopia Tikdem!”
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There are days I wouldn’t trade my childhood for the world but then there are others I grapple with- well I wouldn’t have XYZ issue if XYZ didn’t happen when I was younger… but then would I be me if I changed it? Such existential questions!
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Yes. Elissa. Yes. Me too!
Rose and I had the fun of being born twins in Ethiopia. We played with Indian twins Germans Ethiopians and pretty sure there was some other language in there too that we heard all the time going up. We lived in five different Mission stations in five years because Dad was the one doing the set up of all the electrical systems on the different compounds for the mission. The second term we spent at Bingham so Rose and I never really did experience the boarding school scenario except from the other side where Mom and Dad were dorm parents. I do think my missionary upbringing was fantastic in that it definitely made me who I am today. Rose and I went back there last year to celebrate our 50th birthday. It was a joy to be back there! It was also sobering because part of what we did was a mission team to support the education system and try to do some teacher training. Wow is that ever huge area of need over there!
How many people do you know of who can claim to have stepped in a fire ant hill and survived or faced a leopard that was not caged and survived as a little kid? Or hunting wild boar. I shared these experiences with Rosie. But also for me there was that nearly dying at two years of age and having to have emergency surgery by Dr. Hicks to survive.
Then too we get to talk about having a pet dik-dik for a while and rabbits and other various and Sundry fun strange animals. And then there is Lake Longano and Lake Bishofftu and Sodarai(sp?) Hot springs. And the verse group trips. I love that we learned the verses that young! They sure have stood me in good stead over the years. I tell parents everywhere I go they need to be getting their kids to memorize verses like we did. I lovee e Ethiopia as a child! I was in my element there. It was the returning to Canada and the culture shock that I did not love and that I found the most difficult to deal with. But then that’s going to be put out in a book. I would not trade my childhood for the world I know God used it to make me who I am. And I know I’m more effective in the Ministries that I have because of that time!
Looking forward to reading some of the other fun stories from people.
I love that you brought up some things I didn’t mention: fire ants, dik-diks, Longano, Bishoftu and Sodarai! So good to hear from you Ruth! Thanks for commenting!
as atypical and painful as my childhood was, i would not change a thing…this is how God intended me to be!
Me too Carrie!
THanks for sharing Esther! You are a true TCK. Glad you didn’t have to stay longer at the boarding school though! Thats an awful young age. I had trouble sending our Amy at 16! Fortunately didn’t have to send the others as our school began to have HS.
TCK are amazing! Your kids had an experience like no other! Thanks for your comment! Nice to be in touch again!
Loved this, Esther! I have my own memories of Ethiopia:
1. Coming out one morning to feed my pet turtle and realizing that ants had eaten him/her in the night! All that remained was the shell!
2. Being anxious to get back to boarding school a bit earlier than everyone else so that you could claim the top bed of the bunk bed. The bottom of the bunk bed carried the risk of a “yellow shower” during the night if the kid sleeping there wet his bed.
3. Watching mom chop a chicken’s head off and experiencing “flopping around like a chicken with it’s head chopped off”.
4. Pulling huge blood-engorged ticks off of our pet dog Rover, then throwing rocks at the tick and watching the red explosion when hitting it.
5. On a picnic in Dedar eating a sandwich one day and having a hawk swoop down and rip it out of my mouth/hands.
Glorious memories! As weird as those memories are, I love the idea that good, bad, or indifferent, ALL of our experiences shape us to be the people we are now. I take comfort in the fact that I just wouldn’t be myself without them.
I remember the bunk bed thing too 🙂 And the chicken!
In college I was friends with Jonathan Bascom who I think lived in Ethiopia, although his research has focused on Sudan. Great guy from a great family. At SIL there was an Ethiopian gentleman who was proofreading a Bible translation. I was surprised to discover that the Bible had first been translated to Amharic in the 300s!
The Bascoms were friends of ours! Small MK world 🙂
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Super small MK world!
I hold happy memories of playing with you at your house in Addis (with the walls!) and at HQ, before leaving in 1976 for the same reasons. I think you were the first friend to ever call me on the phone. I also retain the memory of discussing our fears of hell for losing faith as we grew up. Thankfully, I have none of those fears now…
All the best.
Oh Muffy! How fun to hear from you! Would love to catch up with you! Are you on FB? Thank you for commenting. We were a pair!
I grew up in Colombia. Despite the distance between our countries we share some things – like boarding school.
I love the fact that I grew up as an MK. Yes there was good and bad and even some trauma I had to learn to carry once I grew up. The lie the enemy tells us is “you wouldn’t have had to deal with that if you had grown up in the US (or not in the ministry…)”. Oh really? Maybe. Maybe not. I could have grown up in the US with a dad who worked in a factory and ended up with bigger burdens to carry and heal from. I chose to heal and hold others as they heal from whatever they faced. Wouldn’t trade growing up as I did for anything in the world!
I hear you on so many fronts. I have had to heal as well, from some childhood trauma and especially abandonment issues, but like you, I wouldn’t trade it for the world!!