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Ethiopia ‘mish kid’ spins memories in new book

‘A Road Called Down on Both Sides’ details Ethiopian education, economic development efforts

by Kathy Melvin | Presbyterian News Service

Sisters Jane (at left) and Caroline Kurtz are seen in Maji Valley in southwestern Ethiopia. (Photo provided)

LOUISVILLE — Caroline Kurtz felt exiled to a foreign country — not when she traveled with her parents and sisters to Ethiopia, but when she returned to the United States to attend college in Illinois.

She’s written about her experience in Africa, both as a child of Presbyterian missionaries and as an adult teaching English to children in Ethiopia, Kenya and South Sudan. The book, “A Road Called Down on Both Sides: Growing up in Ethiopia and America,” is available at Catalyst Press, Amazon and at many independent bookstores.

“My book covers early life in Ethiopia, boarding school, the disorientation of returning to the U.S. for college, adult adjustment to U.S. culture, and my return to teach for six years in Ethiopia,” she said. “My journey involved two cultures. On a narrow road, one can slip off either side, but even a difficult road leads to home in the end.”

Kurtz said she longs to see Africa and Africans thrive, but more often than not sees instead how difficult life in Africa is. “And still people find hope and joy,” she said.

“A Road Called Down on Both Sides” tells the story of missionary to Africa Caroline Kurtz. (Photo provided)

She refers to herself as an adult “mish kid” who at age 4 left her hometown, Portland, Oregon, with her parents, who worked in Ethiopia 24 years. She grew up in the remote mountains of Maji, Ethiopia in the 1950s in a mud adobe home with her parents and three sisters. The world she remembers outside her house was one of drums, Jeep and mule treks into the countryside, ostriches on the airstrip and the sound of many languages she barely understood.

At 10, Kurtz began attended boarding school in in Addis Ababa and then Alexandria, Egypt. When she arrived in Illinois for college, she felt she had been exiled to a foreign country. Nothing was familiar.

In 1972, she married a childhood sweetheart, also the child of American missionaries to Ethiopia. The couple returned together with their three children to live and work in Ethiopia, Kenya and South Sudan.

She went back to Ethiopia to teach, confronted by the realities of life under a communist dictatorship. That meant constant outages — water, electricity, sugar and even toilet paper. But she was willing to endure for the chance to live in Ethiopia again.

After returning to the U.S. with her family, she lived in Salem, Oregon, coordinating partnerships for 12 years between PC(USA) churches and churches in Ethiopia. When her husband died in 2013, she returned to Portland, where the journey had begun, coming full circle. She remodeled a house to live in and started Maji Development Coalition, a nonprofit bringing solar power and women’s development to Maji, a city in southwestern Ethiopia where she’d lived as a child.

She and her sister, children’s author Jane Kurtz, recently launched Ready Set Go Books for early readers in Ethiopia, where Ready Steady Go has printed and distributed more than 70,000 books. She returns regularly to Ethiopia, bringing solar power and economic development options to women in Maji.

Learn more about Caroline Kurtz and her work at

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