This month marks the one-year anniversary of our time here in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. It has been a very emotional year, one that has seen mountaintop experiences and deep valley encounters. So, to try and help others understand the rollercoaster of emotions the past year has presented, I thought it would be fun to do a series of blog posts looking at the year through the lens of the emotions from the popular Pixar movie, Inside Out.
If you are not familiar with the movie, I will outline the basic emotions/characters. First, there is Joy, she is bright yellow and consummately happy with a sunshiny disposition. Second, there is Sadness, who is always blue despite her greatest efforts to be optimistic. Thirdly, there is Disgust, a sassy, green character who straddles the line between envy and disgust with others. Anger is the fourth character, who is perpetually red hot and hopping mad. Finally, there is Fear, a purple character who is panic-stricken in a world that looks dangerous at every turn.
Inside Out Part 1: Arrival
We said our goodbyes, put all the shades of blue and tints of purple that Sadness and Fear had to offer behind us, we cried it out in the States, we boarded a plane, and after 20 hours of flights and layovers, we were here. The battle to get here was over and now we had arrived. We had landed on Ethiopian soil. All was Joy. Faces, many new, a few familiar, met us and all was good… Everything had a glow of yellow as we navigated those first few days. All was right with the world. Well, except for when Anger reared his head in customs when they tried to steal some of our stuff, but we got through without having any of our treasured confiscated, and it was right back to Joy. We met a new friend who was taking us to his guesthouse. It was great! All great! We drank some coffee, tried and failed to stay awake through the jet lag, but every moment we drank in pure Joy. The following days were a series of running around getting a driver’s license, SIM cards for the phones, groceries. Any hiccup along the way was seen as a part of the adventure and what it meant to be living in Africa. The office is closed because someone wanted to grab an early and late lunch so we have to wait in a café for 2 hours, awesome—its so great how everything is so relaxed here. We can just sit back and enjoy the sunshine and wait it out… it is great here—pure Joy!
I remember going up to the window in one of the 5 steps one must go through to acquire a driver’s license in Ethiopia, and patiently standing behind the mob of forty some-odd people pushing into one small window trying to file paperwork at the same time. I stood there glowing golden beams of Joy as person after person pushed their way beyond me. I realized that if I did not join the mob, I was not going to get my papers filed. As I looked toward the window attendant who seemed to be rewarding the pushiest people, I thought, “this is so cool, so different.” I was so happy to jump in there and mix it up with everyone, really be a part of this culture. I beamed as I thought, “wait until I get home to tell Tiffany about this. She will be so happy to hear how I did!” Those first days were 99% yellow rays of sustained Joy!
As I look back on those first few days, I can see what a gift it was to have that unrelenting Joy. We lost a bag in the airport that was worth about $3000 on day one, and if we had not had that deep-seeded joy, it could have colored all of our experiences with fiery Anger. Even before we departed the airport, we had been taken advantage of by an attended who tricked us into paying $35 to do his job, then left us feeling awkward as we refused to tip on top of that. I can easily see how that could have shaded our perspective of Ethiopian people and emerald green of Disgust. It was the bright glow of Joy that allowed situations like that to just slip away in those early days.
James told us “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” One of the lessons God has impressed on us as we are living here in Ethiopia is that life is going to throw a lot of things your way. And, although we are complex creatures fitted with a wide range of emotional responses for good reason, we do have the capacity to wear yellow-shaded Joy glasses. Even when we go through difficult and frustrating circumstances, we can count them as joy, and that will allow us to tread through challenges in a way that produces something good in us.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Jas 1:2–4). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.