Archive for April, 2014

Happy Earth Day

Ethiopia+78Earth Day seems like a good time to start my new blog thread…going from being a somewhat restless traveler to putting down roots. Literally.

It all goes back to Maji, Ethiopia.Ethiopia+77Since there was no winter in Maji, my sisters and I spent huge chunks of every day outside, exploring. This is an old picture that’s marked “4000 foot sheer drop off.” That was Maji. Breath-taking and stomach-dropping.

Ethiopia+76My sisters and I would tag along after our dad as he went to to one waterfall to check on the ram he had installed to pump water up to our house–it seemed to inevitably get clogged with leaves–or to another waterfall to check on the mill he had installed to grind grain for the community. We made up a game of Water Babies (which I wove into my novel Jakarta Missing) with the curled fern tips we’d collect on the way down and send swirling down the river on leaf or wood boats.

Ethiopia+82Except on days when fog rolled up the valley, this was the view from the back yard. We made up complicated stories using flowers and frogs and ant lions and lizards…all right there for the touching.

02420And we loved Dad’s garden. I’m reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver, and this made me laugh…and nod. “Underneath our stylish clothing it seems we are still animals, retaining some vestigial desire to sniff around the water hole and the food supply.”

Somehow in years living in the U.S., where the world around me often felt unfamiliar and distant, a lot of those outside genes had gone dormant. But when I moved to Portland, they bubbled forth.IMG_0196This spring, I’ve been digging a rain garden.

I’m going to write for a while about discovering a back yard. And yes, my writing is intertwined. Both Lanie and Anna have been along for the ride.


Other people, Barbara Kingsolver says, “fast or walk long pilgrimages to honor the spirit of what they believe makes our world whole and lovely. If we gardeners can, in the same spirit, put our heels to the shovel, kneel before a trench holding tender roots…who’s to make the call between ridiculous ad reverent?”




The threads of longing and art

My first blog tour is over!

Last answers (for now) about Anna Was Here.

injeraMost people wanted to know how moving was part of my own childhood–easy peasy answer there. This picture must have been taken not long after we arrived in Ethiopia when I was two (I’m the one on the right). My mom and dad were in language school, and we were living in Addis Ababa.

arialThe next move was to Maji–when I was four. “Did you even have electricity?” someone asked me last week.

No. Not at first. Eventually my dad read a book and figured out how to use the power of the waterfall in the right of this picture to put in a mill to grind grain for the community and then, at night, to give us some hours of electricity.


down on both sidesBut as I wrote in several interviews, also scary. This is the spot I talked about in the last interview–the place where the road dropped away on both sides and made my stomach swoop every time.

hike out of MajiI love my childhood in Ethiopia. It sure left me with a lot of questions, though…

IMG_0559Some of those questions were about girls who didn’t have access to school.

img152Other questions were about where I belonged. I knew I was a visitor to Ethiopia. Our travels to the US never convinced me that this was home, though.

And thus…art.

Aklilu 3Whether an Ethiopian artist, Aklilu, seeing and showing his world, or me writing Anna Was Here, we unspool our memories our impressions our visions and questions and weave them into something different. The thread is what we feel and what we wonder and what we know.