Halfway Heaven

I know…it’s been an atrociously long time since my last post. But I’ve been busy! We had our Mid-Service Conference (and medical – all good) in Addis for a week and a half, and then I went on a journey up north for another week and a half. I’m finally back at site and I’m exhausted. It’s going to take a few days – or a week! – to get a blog ready about Northern Ethiopia, so be patient.

In the meantime, I know you were wondering why I hadn’t posted a book review lately (and by that I mean I’ve only raved about two books so far, both by Cheryl Strayed). But a friend recently mailed me a book called Halfway Heaven by Melanie Thernstrom (along with American candy – just in case you guys were wondering what a good friend looks like!) and I haven’t been able to put it down.

The book is nonfiction and it’s about a murder at Harvard that took place in 1995. An Ethiopian immigrant, Sinedu Tadesse, killed her roommate, Trang Phuong Ho, also an immigrant from Vietnam. The book is fascinating because the author (an investigative journalist) travels to Ethiopia to try and understand Sinedu’s upbringing and how that might have played a role in the tragedy.

I did little (to no!) research/reading about Ethiopia before I came here, because I didn’t want to come in with preconceived notions. Instead, it’s been a “learn as you go” experience. But now that I’ve been here 16 months, it’s interesting to compare my views of Ethiopia with others who have been here.

Melanie Thernstrom stayed at the Hilton while she was here (I’ve never been, but I’ve heard it’s about as close to being back in America as you can get in Ethiopia)…and here were her thoughts:

“Nothing in the Hilton quite works like an ordinary hotel. In the small tourist office in the lobby, the next morning, six employees are sitting around, idly chatting. When I ask where their tours go, they respond agreeably, ‘Anywhere you like.’ I inquire about a brochure, and they say they don’t have any, but they are thinking of getting some printed. I ask about a map of the city and they confer with one another and then point to the wall, where a map of the entire country is pinned up. I locate Addis Ababa on it, but it is small and crudely drawn, like an illustration in a children’s book. The hotel elevator doesn’t line up with the floor; the detail strikes me – the small misalignment, the gap that will not close. I mention it to a hotel clerk and he shrugs – they don’t know how to fix it.”

And you have to keep in mind that she came here almost two decades ago, but that still sounds like the Addis Ababa that I know. In addition to painting a vivid picture of Addis (I don’t believe she leaves the capital during her visit), she also does a great job of uncovering the way women here are viewed and expected to behave. She interviews numerous Ethiopians, both those who have left Ethiopia and are now living in America (similar to Sinedu) and those who knew Sinedu but still reside in Ethiopia. The contrasts in their viewpoints are stark.

So…I guess this post is just to say, if you’re interesting in knowing a little more about Ethiopia (and Harvard, I suppose), give Halfway Heaven a glance – it’s a super fast read. Though, for the record, I’m only about halfway through, so if the second half takes an unexpected switch to awful, I can’t be blamed! I’m not there yet! But I have high hopes for the conclusion of this book : )

Happy reading!

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