Tuesday, July 9, 2013

A Small Gift

Today, July 9, happens to be my birthday. I had a great party this evening with a fantastic home cooked Ethiopian dinner and then about a dozen of us going out for traditional music, dancing, and drinks. I have pictures from all of that that I will post with this. But this post will be about another story that happened to occur on this day.

Because our class is made up of 13-to-16-year-olds, a little under half of whom are girls, we three male teachers realized a couple days ago that our women's bathrooms weren't properly equipped with everything our female students needed. So one of our friends who's been helping out with administrative tasks did some shopping for us and bought a costco-size pack of small packs of sanitary pads. Jeff made an announcement today that we had put them in the womens' room before lunch. As lunch ended, we noticed several of the girls hadn't returned to class on time, and speculated that it had something to do with inspecting the wares. 

A little later, I noticed a small wrapped gift in Yosef's cubby (each student has one in the main classroom) with writing on the wrapping saying it was from one of the girls, Hayamanot. I thought that that was really cute. I hadn't noticed before, but the two did sit next to each other in the next class discussion. Yosef's a good looking kid. I thought we might have our first couple on our hands.

At least until it occurred to me that the gift was about the same size and shape as one of the packs of sanitary pads. Then I started thinking it was sort of a mean joke (though not the first and nowhere near the meanest I'd heard about here-- ask me or Jeff sometime about the "bleach is not juice" story). I was amused but felt a bit bad for Yosef. A little later I noticed his bag was in the cubby and the gift gone, and nobody seemed too angry about anything, so I figured no major harm was done.

Until after classes ended, and one of the girls, Beti I think, asked me to come back into the room. She said they had something for me. A group of students, mostly girls, appeared with the same wrapped gift, and most of them were trying unsuccessfully to stifle giggles. The "present" hadn't been for Yosef. It was for me.

I could piece things together so I was feeling and looking pretty skeptical.  But I removed the wrapping made of paper and toilet paper twisted into ribbon, and found a box originally use for batteries. Still big enough to hold the sanitary napkins. I clearly was expecting a joke present, so when I opened the box and found little bits of toilet paper, I was a bit surprised. So I used the paper wrapping to fish around until I pulled out the gift.

It wasn't a joke sanitary napkin. It was a pair of small chocolates. The kids had actually wanted to give me something for my birthday. Remember, these are the scholarship kids. Most of them are quite poor, and more than one of them are orphans. I felt sheepish for having opened that sort of gift with obvious skepticism. But they didn't mind, and were clearly pleased to have given me something. It wasn't just Hayamanot. Three other girls had written their names on the wrapping and they mentioned a boy or two who they said the gift was also from. I thanked them as they left for the day, all of them still smiling and giggling.

I think that says more about Ethiopian hospitality than anything else I could write about tonight.

Check out this entry's Photos.

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