Saturday, January 31, 2015

Peace Corps Ethiopia Taught Me to Izosh.

This will be my last blog post. It took me a while to come to this point. I knew I wanted to write one final blog about my time in Ethiopia but it needed to be at a  time when I could fully appreciate the experience I had as a volunteer. That time came two nights ago when Scott and I were at a Pittsburgh Area Peace Corps Association (PACA) event.
     I arrived late because of class and was immediately herded to a young woman who has been considered for Ethiopia to serve as an education volunteer. My first thought was "oh boy". My next thought was how do I talk about my experience without scaring this poor girl. The answer was: tell the truth.
    There are  some things about being a Peace Corps volunteer that are pretty universal. The hilarity that comes from being a foreigner trying to integrate into a different community or incessantly talking about bowel movements. The sadness that comes when someone you know back home is suffering or a grandparent has passed away. The loneliness, the awkwardness, and the humility are all parts of being a volunteer.

    All of these things I shared with this young woman but I knew the hardest part was coming. A large part of my experience was overcoming the obstacles of being a woman and dealing with the verbal sexual harassment I encountered on a daily basis. I could have glossed over this part of my experience but then I'd be lying about the impact it had on my service and my life.
    Now that I have been back in America and have had time to reflect and feel the difference this has had on my life, I can say very confidently that I would do it again. In a heart beat, I would do every hour of it again. I say this because I know what it feels like to have struggled and felt that pain everyday and come out of it better than I was than when I left for Ethiopia two and a half years ago.
    I told this young woman about the fear I felt walking out of my house everyday. How I had to take many deep breaths before I opened that door and how some days I would give up and succumb to the crippling anxiety. Those days I stayed home and watched movies and fell deeper and deeper into despair. I was letting the forces outside of my control dictate my day and what I was trying to achieve with my community.
    I went through a series of stages. At first, I tried humor. Making jokes with my friends and ignoring the harrassment. After enduring this behavior for months I became angry. I would scream and try to shame the men. I said unkind things and generalized Ethiopian men and the culture. They would laugh and I would insult the whole country. (Rational, right?) Then I plateaued. Numb to the pain and despair. That's when the depression creeped in. That's when I stayed home. A lot. Finally, I sought help. I utilized one of the many resources available to us as volunteers: counseling. The counselor helped me realize that most of my troubles were out of my control but that I could control my reaction. I needed pull strength from deep down. I didn't even know if I had this strength.  But I had to try. That's when I knew how important that moment would be for the rest of my life.

    I had to take my time. My own time. It was a roller coaster. Up and down days. Up and down weeks. But in that confusion, anger, and optimism I realized I wasn't alone. My fellow female volunteers were going through the same struggles. My students  were born into that life. These women shared their experience with me and that gave me strength. I am grateful to my heroes who stayed positive and strong and to Sarah, Bright, Jerry, and Haymanot (our students at Camp GLOW) who taught me that hope and determination were the answers all along. Without these amazing women I could not have persevered.

   My time with the Peace Corps is not summed up into this one aspect of my service. This was just the hardest part of it. My time was also filled with laughter, adventure, love, and friendship. Peace Corps was the hardest thing I have ever done but it was the hardest parts that made me better. In conclusion, my message to those out there questioning joining the Peace Corps is the same one I told that young woman: Do it. Duh.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

In a Nutshell

Inspired by another Peace Corps married couple, Scott and I decided to chronicle every month of our service. Here it is...

June 2012

Leading up to the departure from Ft. Lauderdale International on June 4th, our families had pulled out all the stops and we gorged ourselves on good food and drink. We landed in D.C. and met the other volunteers for Staging. We had our “last dinner” with the married couples (including Brett and Adam) then headed to Ethiopia for a 14-hour flight. Channeling Dan from Staging, we were “really excited”. We were met by Dan Baker and Bob Gingrich who tried to give us a mini tour of Addis Ababa but that went over all our heads because of all the excitement. Next were the constant introductory training at King’s Hotel with the added experience of injera. We were shipped off to Debre Berhan for Demystification with another married couple, Erin and Tony. This trip included a lot of firsts: Aracai (local grain alcohol), lews chai (peanut butter tea), juice spritz (avocado/mango juice), G.I. problems (not the first for Jessi), and Ethiopian “hotels”. We had a blast and so did “Drunk Dan”. More training then we went to live and love Tigist, Solomon, and the girls.

July 2012

July is the month of Bekoji. Actual training for PST (for some of us the second time around), language classes, cultural misunderstandings, and market day. We started with the LCF Abera (or Borat) and ended with Herr Biniam playing musical chairs and the ladder game. We still dread that shintbet. Shai/Buna at the “Bekoji Bosses” preferred spot with our favorite server, Dawit. We had the G7 Site Ceremony and Tigist asked us if we chose Mek’ele. We had Site Visit where we thought it would be the end of us due to several landing attempts. Finally we landed safely…in Axum. How did that guy get off the plane? We were able to get to Mekelle. All night we tried to kill a mouse and had t’hilo for the first time with Diane. Back to Addis with a UTI and Scott got typhoid. WTF. Health, wealth, we have our first birthdays in country. Sodere. We don’t need to discuss Sodere except warm pool, dirty springs, diving board, and lots of monkeys. God bless America, the Olympics were awesome. Go Dibaba from Bekoji!

August 2012

August is the “what just happened to us?” month. We were winding down our last weeks in Bekoji and ready to get out of the rain. Started to feel at home with the family and now we don’t want to leave them or our friends. Scott hits 10k on his runs uphill, there is the greatest Murder Mystery party of all time, and we begin to pack our bags…again. Had lunch/dinner with some of the host families and had the Host-Family appreciation ceremony complete with kitfo. We had our interviews with Daniel O. and Greg. We say teary good-byes to our family and head back to Addis. Swearing-In and Tigray volunteers find out that we have to stay an extra week due to Ashenda (a holiday where girls ask for money for the churches). Ashenda ends up not happening because the Prime Minister Meles Zenawi dies. Still hanging out in Addis. No complaints because of awesome food. Before we leave we have desert and tea at Country Director Greg’s house. Time to go home top Mekelle.

September 2012

We both joined the “Shit Your Pants Club” in September- the first month at site. Change of scene and dirty water equals countless visits to the “cleanest shintbet in country” and a host of new experiences. The “New Year” came and went along with Jamee, diane, and Linda. We met some bloody good Brits and celebrated the torch ceremony of Meskel. Volunteers from Ethiopia in 1964 shared their service experience and their lives with us. The beginning brought us hiking to a waterfall and beers at beer/creepy amusement park garden. School began, and then officialy began. Jessi gets an office with a computer (hopefully) and Scott gets a lot of setbacks. Finally people pull through and Scott gets busy. Kind of. Watching movies and playing “Asshole” at the St. Georges Club, T’ihlo whenever we want, and friends (habesha and ferengi). Mek’elle is beginning to feel like home.

October 2012

October is the month of “getting to work”, sometimes. We began the month by observing every teacher  in every school and ended by looking  little too forward to In-Service Training. Jessi went to an Ethiopian wedding at the invite of one of her teachers and was honored as the “ferengi” guest. Lord of the Rings marathon with Sarunas because we just couldn’t seem to face the day after the night of too much wine.  More work getting to know our schools and what’s possible. Operation Smile came to Mek’elle bringing with it other PCV’s that we hadn’t met yet. The last night of Op Smile gave us a lot of new friends and we danced the night away at Axum hotel then Lazoreea +. We also got to see an “older” plastic surgeon get down like a teenager (from 1955). The next morning we were both dealthy ill with the flu and had to stay in bed for a couple of days. After recovery came the Halloween party when Sam was reintroduced to civil society and finally got a decent haircut. The party was a success thanks to great food and Dan Baker. Last visits to the farther way schools and we are ready to begin the CENA. Next stop, IST in Ambo.

November 2012

November is the month of IST. We began the month at the local internet bet, spending countless hours (and birr) preparing CENA’s (Community Educational Needs Assessment). We slowly realized the insane challenges that lie before us. On November 12th, we travelled to Addis for one night before Ambo. We left the airport and headed straight for delicious cupcakes. On the way, Scott was spat on for the fourth time in country by a thief with a get-away car! The scene which seemed like it was in slow motion almost came to a fight but in the end everyone kept their Peace Corps “cool”. When we made it to Bole road, all of our worries and furies were forgotten in cupcakes, tuna fish sandwiches, bratwurst, and “German” beer. We got to see our friends again. Night, night at King’s and then off to Ambo. We got the Penthouse Suite and took glorious, glorious baths. The food was delicious, yet poisonous and gave everyone bacterial infections. The public pool was cool until we were surrounded by ogling habesha who ended up asking us for money. The chubby kid and dinner with the “Bekoji Bosses”- minus Linda- provided lots of laughter. Beer pong, high-stakes poker, and paper football were among the festivities. Training was fun too. Quicker than we knew it, came Thanksgiving at Loti with Rachel, Shayna, Sam, and Nathan. Went to Bekoji to see Tigist and Solomon and hung with G8. Back in Mekelle just in time for Mike to teach us that we have the right to oppose.

December 2012

December is the month of new site mates and the end of a great year. Scott and Jessi receive three new people in Mekelle: Elle, Becca, and Hannah. With that came new restaurants and media. We started the Teacher Mentor Program at our schools and everything went really well. Igziharia had to stop being Jessi’s counterpart but that didn’t stop her from being a friend. Being in front of the classroom taught us a lot about the education program and our schools. The holidays caught up with us and then passed us by. Ben’s parents brought us our lap top and our salvation. Christine and Jessi started the Harry Potter Book Club then we went on the treacherous road to spend Christmas with her, Joel, and Jenny in Axum. We had dinner with Greg and his family where we met some habesha from Lancaster, PA. She has a great tattoo. New Year’s was hectic, fun, and full of “whiskey”. We missed family but friends were good to be with.

January 2013

January is the New Year. Everyone in Tigray came to perform the biggest show Mekelle has ever seen. Hannah proved, once again, that she is the coolest girl in the world by dancing with fire and we set off actual fireworks at midnight. Ethiopian Christmas (Genna) was yet another holiday where we swore off food. Kinfe and his family made sure we celebrated in the true Ethiopian fashion. After our food comas Scott attempted to start his English clubs. After tons of copied essays his attempts failed. Try again next semester. We got a visit from two RPCV’s who are friends with Greg. We gave them the gift of white honey and t’ihlo. Jessi had her first PAC meeting in Addis just as Timket was kicking off. Scott partied with Meta Beer and ended the night with a food fight at Hannah’s house. We completed Battlestar Gallactica, Jessi finally got the computer and printer in her office, and we began Rosetta Stone…again. Ethiopia played and lost in the African Cup of Nations, we finally saw Dad and Karla, and Tigray police gave us a night to think about. Big month. Didn’t realize that until we relived it.

February 2013

February was a heartbeat. Well, more like a heart attack. A lot happened and then it was all over. We started out with the Super Bowl spending all night at the Winter Bar watching Beyonce and whoever was playing. We’re getting too old for this shit. Sam invited us to Maichew so we could hike, play Civilization, and have some tejj. On our return home, Scott finally got his English clubs going. We ran a 10k for Meles’s Vision. We celebrated by making burgers and traipsing around everyone’s houses. Greg and Maureen came to visit, we finally found the pool, and we started what we hope will be, a great World Map Project. Regional IST was busy, fun, and full of Continual Professional Development. Not so bad for eight months in country.

March 2013

March was a quiet month if 200 volunteers in one city can be considered quiet. The CPD project started and then took off. Scott began his warden training and Jessi had another PAC meeting. We all met up at the Ghion Hotel and headed traight for the pool which was not something we were missing. A lot of people began the weekend at the Hakim Stout bar and we were able to talk with old friends and make new ones. Training began; we played catch, and participated in the Talent Show. 200 volunteers made the Harlem Shake a traditional dance and some people got into trouble at Illusions. St. Patrick’s Day was legendary. Bailey left but we were able to throw her Peace Corps party. We are almost done with the World Map and we started preparations for G9. Work and play was the theme for March 2013. Just ask Sam.

April 2013

April was one of those months that we were just trying to get through. It had its ups like Scott starting six English clubs and making a breakthrough for camp planning. The downs were Jessi getting amoebas and the schools having exams. We had our first camp meeting that lasted for hours. Tigray played some basketball in honor of the Final Four and Earth Week went pretty well. Hishe and Hawot payed us a visit and Tim and Rose had a chili night where we got to sit on some real couches. We met a German who drove around the country on a motorcycle and Scott helped with GIZed’s field day. We hit 10 months in country. April wasn’t that exciting but at least we got some good work done.

May 2013

May’s big event was the (H)Awassa Race. We left Mekelle for Maichew because Sam was going to America. We said good-bye for a couple of weeks and headed to Kombolcha on an empty bus!! The bus guy was nice and gave us our change. Kombolcha is a good city and Nathan was a terrible tour guide. The next day we headed to Debre Berhan (late) to see Tony and Erin for the last time. On the way to (H)Awassa we just had to stop in Addis to haggle for an “illegal” bus. Everyone did well in the race and Bernard was out by 8 am. Peace Corps had a good time at the Beer Garden but then it was time to head our spate ways. Iron Man III and PAC. Scott got obsessed with Permagarden training and made our garden beautiful. Ben and Andrew celebrated their birthdays with volleyball, Indian food at the German’s house, and Scott and Thor ran the beer pong table. We celebrated three years of marriage and discovered Tasty Soya Pieces. Adult women sleepovers and having “Chili Night” at Rose’s with chocolate pudding pie rounded off our 11 month in country. Hello one year! Oh yeah, single-barrel Jack Daniels. Thanks Sam!

June 2013

June was the marking of our one year in country. We celebrated by having dinner with Sarunas and Elle. We reflected, reviewed, and resolved ourselves to another year. Chili nights and Downtown Abbey season three were more important because Rose left us. Gone are the days of hanging out in a normal house with couches! For some reason- we will never know- we planned and failed desert which resulted in the brownie incident of 2013. Keith let us play volleyball and then rented a bus to Atsbi for G5’s Pig Roast. So much pig! Scott loved Jano Band and Elle’s birthday dinner came with a side of Zebib. We finally made it to Abyi Adyi to visit Ally and King Thor. Best tagamino ever! Straight from the worst bus ride ever, Jessi spent days in Addis only to discover she has developed Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Yep, IBS. A very “decent” souvenir from Ethiopia. Made it back for Mary’s surprise going away party at Marta’s. We found out that we may have to move to another house but enough about that. It’s time for camp! School’s out for the summer.

July 2013

July was meant to be a relaxing month but we were busier than ever. We started off American by having what was to be our last cook-out at our first house. Deviled eggs dyed red, white, and blue (thanks to Becca) coupled with burgers and beer made for a great second Independence Day in country. Sham became part of the Mekelle Crew while Kevin did not. G9 stumbled exhaustively out of the airport and were confused by our excitement. Pete and Merre and Terry and Ellen are our new “marrieds”. One afternoon, after having lunch, we moved into our new apartment. Then we proceeded to have zero water experiencing how “real” volunteers live. Camp started and we met Ato Condom, got gorshad so many times we don’t know how to eat properly anymore, and Jessi got to lead the Green Team to 2nd place (out of three teams). Scott put on a flawless Field Day, there was a belis incident, and MC Alulla made us forget all the drama at the Talent Show. Sarunas became homeless after his vacation to Lithuania and we had to say goodbye to G5. We got Dustin as PCVL! Now it’s time to figure out what to do with the rest of lives. Happy birthday we are one year older!

August 2013

August was packed with “lackluster ambience” as it rounded off our third column. Jessi went to help G9 with their highly useful Practicum for two weeks in Butajira. G’iners were stressed but came through better than when they started and Logan fell through an old shintbet hole. That’s what we thought at first which makes for a better story than “he fell through a big hole” (which is what actually happened). We made plans to see a lot of rocks and Shayna’s site. Rock churches, monkeys, and seeing some of the 2013 Green Team was amazing and there are no pictures to show for it. Tigray celebrated our “One Year After Swear-In” by having a “nice” dinner at Green Fire Grille. The G’iners helped celebrate by clubbing with us the night before. Ashenda actually happened this year and we took family photos for Becca. We met some kick-ass Dutch girls and said good-bye to our Germans. Go Clemens! Our house developed a spectacular black mold problem and the Regional PC Office is just about ready. Free wifi here we come! We ended the month by travelling to Bahir Dar to see the Arnolds and some touristy place called the Blue Nile Falls. Mid-Service Conference is before us, but let it be known that you cannot throw a banana peel at Scott McAllister’s wife without that same banana peel being rubbed in your face.

September 2013

September was the month of MSC and our second round of Ethiopian holidays. G7 decended upon Addis and we began some of the most useless trainings yet. Us veterans just wanted to spend time together eating delicious food and sharing horror stories. Jessi presented CPD and did the double dragon while Scott had Sishu for the first time and almost got caught at Kaldi’s while skipping sessions. We went to a masquerade ball with too many ferengis and cold food.  We finished the trainings and stayed for medical. Scott may have a bacterial infection and Jessi got stitches. Good food, movies, and friends ended MSC and started our second round of holidays. We brought in the New Year (2006) with, again, too many ferengi’s before flying back to Mekelle. The Peace Corps office is open and nonoperational. Dustin joined the ranks and we had a wicked Harry Potter/Going Away party for Becca, Nicole, and Carla. Cauldron cakes and butterbeer helped Jessi dominate trivia while Sam cried in a corner licking Becca’s hairy legs. Jodi came to visit and left us with a lot of memories (all 1,300 of them). The Dutch girls left us but not before making us bandits in the night to retrieve their belongings. We missed Meskel due to being stupid and now our days will be filled with GRE studying, personal statement writing, and work at our schools. We will return to battle dragons and sorcerer’s in D&D and look forward to Thailand. 10 more months to go!

 October 2013

October was our last October in Ethiopia. Dustin moved to Mekelle and started the D&D revolution. We celebrated Sarunas’s birthday a week early and Jessi had to buckle down for the GRE. Becca left our group, left some great furniture, and left a huge hole in our hearts. Life goes on and so does work. Scott finally finished his personal statements and English Clubs are in full swing. Jessi had her first CPD training and we both proposed a PDM training for Mekelle supervisors. GRS Training was a blast and Sarah was a superstar. On the last night Andrew threw a sandwich at a drunk driver and then that same driver backed into Leslye. We met another group of Israeli volunteers and had our last great Halloween party. Scott was Sarunas and Jessi was the white and black swan. Nothing beats Dan Baker though. We booked the tickets for Thailand (12 more weeks!). Time is flying so keep enjoying the ride.

November 2013

November flew like those chickens never will again. We popped things off with Tigray Trek at Adi Haki school. Everyone was dead tired and the speakers didn’t work. Scott finished his grad school applications and Jessi, Pam, and Shayna took the GRE. Nathan had a fight with the proctor about his U.S. Citizenship. Jessi got her bottom wisdom teeth taken out and was awake for the whole thing. Teeth flying and pill taking can sum up that experience. Yabet created an English club for Scott and the Cloth Book workshop came with Nazi Anne. “The Magic Buna Tree” gets picked to be published and Dustin gets an Xbox. There go romantic nights at home. We still don’t have water and Sarah turned 15. Pop rocks are not her favorite candy. Rachel came to Mekelle and we celebrated Thanksgiving by killing three chickens and breaking in the PC Office shower. Avak will never bring a quarter kilo of green beans anywhere and we learned how angels get their wings. Kicked off GRS and we have to say good-bye to Rachel, for now. Sam is still in our house. 18 months in country.

December 2013

Another December, come and gone, along with another year. We finished our grad school applications and now we just have to wait. Jessi started Grassroots Soccer with Sarah and the camera’s battery died at the graduation ceremony. Clever Jessi. Scott received a hand-made, amazing, Christmas present house from a betami gobez student and we reignited the World Map Project. The computer took its last shit but continues in a vegetative state thanks to Michael and Dustin. No more West Wing. The office was officially opened by Greg, Bob, and the president of Tigray. Scott’s speech garnered him a presidential hand shake and we got computers and some internet access in the VRC. Christmas Eve with Jerry’s pizza and “A Christmas Story” drinking game. Christmas day saw pesto, eggplant parmesan, and delicious deserts. Whitney had to leave us and we gave each other crazy pants. New Year’s Eve at Winter Bar- two fire dancers and one hell of a night brought in 2014. Beers with the Country Director, peanut butter dressing, and Thailand around the corner. Thank you, December. We had fun.

January 2014

Welcome to a New Year and the last one we spend in Ethiopia. Stories from the night before helped us recover and we continued on with work. Genna or second Christmas with Berhana and we hope she can figure out that puzzle. Timket with Sam and Mike in Maichew. The boys “bro-ed” out through song and Jessi learned to never drink gin with that fruity monstrosity again. The “parade” was thousands of people marching and we finally got to see the Arc of the Covenant. We couldn’t figure out how the Arc was in so many cities on one day. Now, forget everything we just wrote (because we did) and focus on Thailand! Qatar Airways is a vacation in itself. Best brownie ever. Sorry Elle. Met a nice bloke named Daniel and we shared a cab to Phuket Town. 7/11 is everywhere. 400 Baht for a hot shower, clean white sheets, and A/C. Thailand is the best country ever. Singha was our first beer at a blue’s bar with live music. Thank you to Roxy’s staff for welcoming us and being our Thai watering hole. Buses to Karon and Kata beach beach run on time and have no windows! Next toTakua Pa to see Evan. Live music, motor bikes, and first encounters with lady boys. Scott manages to get hurt while opening a fence and we stayed in a beautiful house. Khao Sok National Park gave us vertical hiking, jungle trekking to waterfalls, cave swimming, and floating bungalows on the lake. Green curry can make your lips fall off and the staff worry that you’ll die in front of them. The “Big Man” made the whole trip. From Khao Sok we were invited to Surat Thani with Evan to meet some UF Alums and go to the most epic beach party. Kha Nam and Jam Bay Bar hosted about 100 hundred Ferang living in Thailand. Red Bull and Sam Song rum started the night right. It was an all night beach party that met the sun rise and it was gorgeous. We welcomed February on the beach. Thank you Evan, Susan and Fiona.

Feburary 2014

After the epic beach party on Kha Nam we were ready to spend a week on the beach relaxing. One night in Surat Thani contemplating KFC and buying clothes. Krabi boat rides are especially touristy and stressful but Ton Sai on first sight was beautiful. Jungle Huts and Anadaman Nature Resort, wifi, monkeys on rooftops, and Small World drink wonders. We went deep water soloing for a day and had lunch with a dragon. Chill Out Bar is exactly what it sounds like and we got ready for two days of Beach Clean-Up 2014. Live concerts, tent food, fire dancing competitions (for the record, Hannah would have killed it.), and fireworks rounded off our beach lounging days on Ton Sai. One last hike to scare Jessi senseless then it was back to Krabi. Smile Guesthouse, ravioli, and more meat with a stick. Tiger Temple was worth it and long walks made us buy more clothes and more toasties. Air-conditioned ride back to Phuket and we finally stayed at Peng Man. Never mind the rats, the food was great. Subway on the beach, foot and back massages, and Guiness draft we are feeling like normal again. We had a crazy Thai night out with Evan, Eben, Chow, and good looking lady boys. Thai Supremes with indie chick glasses and passed out 15 year-olds. The night is not over until the fat lady sings, literally. It’s a rule. Leaving sucked and Ethiopian airlines did it again. Nathan came for a very welcome visit and we celebrated Forrest’s birthday in Abi Adi. We had a great sunset hike and Thai rum. Avoiding school and losing the camera made coming back to Ethiopia kind of difficult. We’re back and ready to leave.

March 2014

Nathan left Mekelle in March. It’s cool because we get to see him three weeks later at the All-Volunteer Conference. It was agony waiting to hear back from grad schools and what would be the next step in our lives. Jessi had a heart-attack due to all the stress. Just kidding it was a pectoral injury blown out of proportion. Jessi went to Freweini/Sinkata for International Women’s Day only to turn around immediately to Mekelle to take some tests. Several tests and one uncomfortable ECHO reveal the torn pectoral. Scott went six for six in acceptance letters while Jessi gets her number one choice. Still waiting for a few more. Went in early for AVC to transfer PAC powers to Pete in G9. The Ambassador’s dinner was very diplomatic. 200 volunteers in Addis seemed bitter-sweet this year because we will never see some people again. We celebrated at Hakim Stout and the 2nd Annual Talent Show. Scott got into Illusions for free using his Tigrinya and we got to see what we missed in America thanks to Brett Chandler. Cronuts? What!? We sang karaoke and had our first camp meeting. Camp starts July 6-July 12 and we leave two weeks later. G10 came to visit their sites and we thinkwe are leaving Tigray in good hands with Kristen and Evan. We almost have a decision on grad school. Stay tuned for next month’s edition.

April 2014

April dragged by like a sick horse in the street. Good things were scattered about the month but it was still crazy slow. We had our first official camp meeting at the Peace Corps office and Jessi became the Counterpart Liaison and TOT Coordinator. Dustin started hosting UFC fight nights and now we have more excuses to waste insane amounts of time at the office. Scott and Jessi got the news they have been waiting for. Scott got a full tuition scholarship and a $13,000 stipend to attend Pitt and Jessi got a tuition scholarship and $10,000 to attend Duquesne. We’re moving to Pittsburgh! Time to find an apartment. Raymond and his white cultural outfit came to stay for Easter (Fasika). We ate amazing tibs and doro wat at Berhana’s then trucked our fat asses to the next Meat Marathon at Kinfe’s house. Brendan was here to visit and found a new meat house. The cockroaches pretty much run the place but what do we care? We celebrated Nicole’s birthday and are waiting for G10 to arrive this weekend. Less than three months to go. So ready yet so not ready to go home. Next up, COS Conference.

 May 2014

May started off with a satisfying bang. Our Project, Design, and Management training at Adi Haki School was a huge success. Now we just have to drop off those manuals. We thanked Berhana by going to Habesha 2000 for dinner and discovered, much too late, Gored Gored. Exams have started which means that work, as we know it, has ended. G10 needed furniture so we amply supplied. We have been successfully married for four years. Four more years! Four more years! Korean food was deliciously expensive and Brendan pulled out the port. The familiar ride to Bekoji was surreal. The kids are huge and so is Tigist (because she’s pregnant!) Braided hair, muddy baseball, bed bugs, and playing with puppies made us feel at home. Us and Nathan said good-bye for now and headed to our COS Conference. Beer and hearing about everyone’s next steps was a must. The next morning we headed to Lake Langano. Feeling like deprived children, we flooded the Africa Lodge and wondered when we would be able to do cannon balls into the pool. Scott said F- it and got in. Feelings, admin stuff, more feelings, that became genuine, and a massage rounded off our stay at Africa Lodge. Sabana gave us soft-serve, spa treatments, and more feelings. Fireside chats helped us say good-bye. Back to Addis for medical with a little TB scare. We pooped in cups and had our last beers with some damn good people. Gonging out is real. “To Do Lists” and then we too, need to be ready to leave.

June 2014

June was the last full month in Ethiopia before we go home. COS Conference was fun but COS medical was even more fun. Scott made Wuhib laugh (and cry) by filling up his poop cup all the way to the top. We did a double feature, double date with Brett and Ashley that ended in Lebanese food. X-Men was awesome while Maleficent was in 3-D. Our last time coming back to Mekelle was strange but exhilarating. We got the apartment in Pittsburgh! Scott took pictures with his English clubs and had a hard time saying good-bye. Camp TOT was a success and it was nice bringing everyone together. We watched America tie Portugal at 3 am (such a waste to trade for a full night’s sleep). At least we’re still in the cup. Jessi went off to Maichew to watch movies while Scott went to run a half marathon. We met back up in Alamata for Michael’s going Away Goat Roast. Slaughtering animals just doesn’t get old for us. Cases of Meta and questionable babysitting meant that we had a typical, yet amazing party. The bus ride to Korem had to be expected after too many bus rides without issues. The bus overheated and we had to walk a tiny ways until we got picked up by another bus. Two hours to Korem for 19 kilometers. Lunch for Pam’s Going Away party and then back to Maichew. We summated Sebet. Yep, 26,000 (I mean 13,000 feet). Tired and sore limbs accompanied well deserved beers. Good times still to be had before we jet off. Two full years! We did it!

July 2014

Our last three weeks in country! On our way back to Mekelle our bus got a flat tire. We hung out with a good view for about an hour and then luckily, another bus drove by with a spare. A little rigging and then we were on our way. We completely forgot about Independence Day but then remembered. We watched France vs. Germany and displayed our patriotism with sparklers. Camp started on July 6th and it went by in a flash. Jessi was leader of the Green Team and Scott was the leader of the Black Team. Except for some water issues we had a very successful camp. Scott facilitated the Gender Roles session and Jessi made Staying in School a priority for girls. Scott and the Black Team won the Color Team Competition and the kids were crying once again because they didn’t want to leave camp. The G7 Pig roast is up next and then we are out of here! Family, here we come! 

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Sarah with an H

I have been asked multiple times in the past couple of weeks why I haven’t been writing in my blog. Honestly, life to me here is pretty normal. I didn’t write a blog in America because everyone else was doing the same things I was and who was I to think that I was special? Well, I moved to Ethiopia with the Peace Corps and thought that was special so I started a blog. 
The first couple of months were exciting and I loved noting all the crazy differences between America and Ethiopia but now those differences are my every day and are no longer differences. They still annoy me. Like, when the bus boy collecting all the money snaps in my face because he wants to be paid or when the waitress is in the back of the restaurant watching television and I have to get up and get her because we are ready to order. All these things provide daily laughter for us volunteers but that hardly provides exciting or moving tales for people back home.  So, today I thought I would write about my very special friend, Sarah. While talking about Sarah, maybe I can highlight the difficulties with the Ethiopian education system and how despite a lack of opportunities, this incredible young woman refuses to give up. Maybe she’ll help me to never give up on anything.
Sarah is a regular 15 year old girl who happens to live in Ethiopia. She loves her cell phone (or her mobile as all the kids call it) and inevitably loses that same cell phone about every two weeks. I used to not answer numbers I didn’t know for fear that it would be some random Ethiopian who dialed the wrong number and in finding out that I was a foreigner would repeatedly call my phone after I initially hung up. Now, because Sarah constantly loses her mobile and calls me from someone else’s phone I pick up in the off chance that it’s her. Sarah also loves clothes (even though her wardrobe is very minimal) and she loves being called beautiful, which she is. The one thing Sarah does not love about being an Ethiopian teenager is that she can’t go to a private school where the quality of education is obviously and painfully better. She would love to go to a school where she can exercise her skills with capable teachers and converse with fellow students with equal talents.  I don’t know any kid in America who says that.
I first met Sarah when she was assigned to my Green Team for Camp GLOW Mekelle 2013. When I first met her, among the craziness that was orientation, I assumed that she was another “Mekelle Girl”. We had girls from all over Tigray but the only kids who had access to a larger city (with an airport) were the Mekelle kids. We called the teenage girls “divas” because they wore lipstick and giggled- a lot. (I am starting to realize as I’m writing this, that this doesn’t sound so bad compared to what awaits us back in the U.S. Apparently, Miley Cyrus is “twerking” on sports mascots and kids are crying because they can’t have a BMW for their 16th birthday. Maybe some kids wearing make-up and chatting too much isn’t such a bad thing.)
I was easily impressed with this young woman once she opened her mouth. Her English was excellent and she was more than willing to help me out with all the kids. Most of my kids did not speak English and my Tigrinya is not on the level of explaining what a summer camp is and what I expect of my team. Sarah jumped for the opportunity and I was grateful.
Throughout camp Sarah quickly became a favorite among the counselors because she was able to help translate and she was a good teammate. She never broke the rules but still had fun being a girl. It was weird how professional she was while we were in session because she seemed like a counselor herself but then session would end and she would be gossiping with the other girls. Without Sarah I would not have found out whom One Direction is (although I’m still a little foggy on what songs they actually sing that I would actually listen to).
Camp ended and Sarah got the Camp Leader award which she well deserved and she cried along with everyone as they were saying their goodbyes. Before camp ended I knew I needed to work with Sarah again but I needed to give her a better opportunity to showcase her talents as a leader. That’s when Grassroots Soccer provided that opportunity.
                Grassroots Soccer is a global HIV/AIDS education program that is also a partner with Peace Corps. Who better to run GRS than Peace Corps Volunteers and their counterparts? We had used the program during camp and gave the campers certificates for completing the program so Sarah was a graduate. I had to write to the GRS and Peace Corps staff and explain that even though Sarah was only 14, she could easily learn the material and facilitate it in a successful program. After some debate Sarah was allowed to accompany meet as my counterpart to the GRS training in Mekelle.
                For one week Sarah and I were trained in the program (which Sarah had already participated) and performed a “teach back” to the group (that Sarah led by herself) where we performed one of the activities as if we were running our own program and then we were ready to have our first intervention at my primary school with my English Club of 8th grade girls. During the training, the GRS staff from South Africa found out that not only was Sarah only 14 but that she also graduated from the program. They asked her and another GRS graduate, Lilly, to present what they learned from GRS in a 15 minute presentation in front of the whole training group. I beamed with pride as Sarah and Lilly talked about Camp GLOW and GRS but did it with such enthusiasm and ability. Everyone looked at me with wild eyes, mouthing how incredible Sarah was and how well she spoke for someone so young. I couldn’t help but feel pride in the fact that I not only knew this remarkable young woman but that she was working with me.
                After our training Sarah and I organized and facilitated the GRS program at Adi Haki School. For four weeks we met with my English Club and Sarah led 12 girls through the program to completion. She did everything and I literally did nothing except oversee that we were hitting all the required marks. At the end I did all the Monitoring and Evaluating junk and she was ready to start a new program at another school.
                Now, Sarah is looking forward to applying for a junior counseling position at this year’s Camp GLOW Mekelle 2014 and she is finishing her first year of high school. Sarah’s dreams include earning a scholarship to an American University and not getting in trouble for correcting her teachers for their many English mistakes. Sarah lives in a small two bedroom house with her mother, brother, a new baby brother.  She prepares coffee every day for her family, helps with household chores, studies English everyday (not homework), and plans for her future. Sarah does all of this in the hopes that because she works so hard she will be given better opportunities. Sound familiar America? Unfortunately a lot of those opportunities will not be available to her because she is in a government school in Ethiopia.

                Private school students and students who live in Addis Ababa, the capital, are more likely to earn scholarships elsewhere. Hopefully, Sarah’s skills will get her to University in Addis where she can earn her Ethiopian undergraduate degree (which won’t count anywhere else in the world) and become a doctor in Ethiopia. My hopes for her are that she gets whatever she wants and if I had more influence in the world I would get her a scholarship to any school she desired. But the one thing I have learned (and hope I am wrong in this) is that in Ethiopia some things are just not possible even for a girl as talented and wonderful as Sarah. Still, Sarah works harder and keeps smiling and I am thankful to know such motivated and capable young woman. 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Nature of This Injera Beast

My friend Becca will be boarding a plane tonight to start her long journey back to America and her home. After two years she is going home. I think about the day she will have today. Her last day in Ethiopia. What will she think about while counting down the hours till she will no longer call this place home. Will she think of the moments that stand at the forefront of her memories? Or will she search hard for the one she may have forgotten? What will she think constitutes a good last meal in Ethiopia considering she is going to the land of plenty? Will she be sad or lonely in this moment knowing that none of her brothers or sisters in arms is going with her this time?
                I know that I am happy for my friend. I long for that moment when I step off the plane and I know that around one corner is my family who I haven’t seen in over two years. The excitement of knowing the familiar but having been changed so thoroughly that it seems you will see it again for the first time. I’m talking about the drive from the airport to your home which you've done more times than you can count but this time, is different. My friend will think about a lot today but I hope she thinks of how much we will miss her from our lives here and how happy we all are that she has succeeded where we haven’t yet.
                I first met Becca when she was visiting our city for the day and stopped off to have lunch at our dearly departed “Italian” restaurant.  The “Italian Restaurant”, as we called it because an Italian man owned it, was a hard place to find. Come to think of it, I’m not sure who found it first. One of the great mysteries of our time here I suppose. After providing patronage to this place once or twice most of the volunteers in Tigray were familiar with its semi-secret location and came at least once or twice per week. Becca happened to come in when we were eating lunch.
  I knew she was a Peace Corps Volunteer immediately and I knew more specifically that she was an environment volunteer. All environment volunteers have a certain “dirty” look about them like they’ve been rolling around in the mud all day or planting trees. She was wearing an Ethiopian soccer jersey and some sort of headband used to hide her 6 days not washed hair (a custom I am now used to).  She was smiling, a lot. I know most Americans are known for smiling too much and I’m not complaining, I like this about us, but she was brilliant. She spoke very quickly and was excited to meet us, the new group of volunteers.  After a much deserved chicken salad sandwich she hitched a ride with us on the line taxi so she could go to the bank because she didn't have a bank in her town. We learned that she was a part of the elusive G6 group and that she had been in Ethiopia for one year already.
                We were friends instantly. You can’t not be friends with Becca. If you don’t immediately want to be her friend she will find you and turn you. Once you are friends you wonder how you weren’t before then you realize that you hadn't met her and therefore couldn't possibly be friends. Then you go cross-eyed because the space-time continuum is messing with your brain. What I’m saying is that you have the feeling that you've been friends for as long as you can remember.
                Fast forward 10 months later and my friend is leaving. We went through some pretty crazy times. First crazy moment, Becca beat a man into the fetal position because he grabbed her boob (well deserved but the man should be in jail) and broke her arm because she hit him on top of the head. We haven’t had others like that together but she has seen her fair share of crazy. More normal moments include “girls nights” where we would watch movies, make food, and just be ridiculous. Her working at my school to create an environment club and now having all my students ask me where R’ebkah is. Our counterpart being given gifts from Becca before she left then our counterpart crying because she loves Becca so much.  The Injera Monster (we will see you again), Harry Potter Party, slapping kids, World Maps, family photos, and the general way of living here in Ethiopia that will provide us many stories to tell back home.

                Having good friends here is sometimes the only way you keep your head above water. They push you out of the house when you feel like taking one step over the threshold will break you. They make you laugh when that is the one thing you needed and they make this experience. The friends you make here are the ones you have for life. No one else can know what it means to be here day after day. But they do and they will always understand you. One of my own is leaving today and I’m going to have to muster the courage to pretend that this is just the nature of the beast. Soon we will see each other again in that lovely land we call home. I’m lucky to have Scott but I was luckier to have Becca too. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

It Is Not Possible

The past couple of weeks have been fraught with the legendary Peace Corps “downs”. I knew I was headed into a funk when most of my thoughts turned immediately to the negative if something or someone would upset me by yelling some atrocious word because it’s the only one they know in English. I found myself dreading the moment between songs when there would be nothing but the sounds outside of my headphones. I knew that someone would most likely say something to me or about me and that act would ruin my 8 minute walk to my school.

                Pedestrians or the inevitable slackers on the side of the street in tea houses aren’t my only problem this month. Every time I go into Addis (which is more frequent than I assumed it would be) for a PAC meeting it seems as if I am splitting my work life in two. I am excited to get on the plane and have at least four days to work with my fellow PAC members and get things done. I come home (happy to even be home) and upon my return my teachers ask me where I have been because I have not been at school. By the way, they already know that I was in Addis doing work for Peace Corps. Either they forget or just have fun making me feel like I am never at my own school. The other possibility is that it’s just culture for them to ask me where I have been and I am taking it wrongly because I am already frustrated. For the purposes of my sanity, I normally choose the latter.

                April 15 is a particularly frustrating tale. But I will get to that in a minute. When I returned from Addis I was, for the millionth time, dealing with G.I. issues. For one of the days I was actually bed ridden during a barbeque at my own house. So, needless to say, I did not go to work that week but I did keep in contact with my principal and my counterpart. They knew that I was ill and things at school went on without me (as they should because I am not a permanent fixture).  Every Friday in my absence was English Communication Day led by my counterpart, Berhana. Other projects were put on hold though. English Club for Students is not solid enough to be led by another teacher, my English Club for Teachers is pretty much dead in the water due to lack of attendance, and the Teacher Mentor Program can’t be done without me seeing as I’m the mentor.

                After my week of unspeakable bathroom atrocities, I headed back into school eager to get things back on track after my long absence. Becca and I were ready to continue painting our World Map and I had some fun things planned for the eighth graders for English Club. As I walked into my office I noticed that it had been used as what appears to be a paper shredding room that had no trash can. Pieces of paper were everywhere so I asked my Vice Director what happened and he immediately began tidying up. After protesting a bit Becca and I began to help. Once I sat down at my desk I realized something else. The power strip was missing. Not a problem. This can be easily handled by going into the office next door and asking for it back. Nope. The power strip had a shortage. No more power strip, therefore, no more computer work for the time being.

                We then proceeded to the world map to paint. The next day we came back to paint again and found that some of the students decided to dip there cute little (not in kindergarten or first grade) fingers all over the map. Setback? I think so. This exercise continued for the next three days until Becca and I decided that we could not continue work on the map until the Summer when the students will not be there. You may be asking yourself if we exhausted all available forms of influence in order to get the students to stop defacing the map. Yes we did. We begged the teachers to speak with their students about the importance of the map and all the hard work we had been putting into the map. Not too long ago I talked about the map during the morning announcements. Apparently, as in the U.S., some students just don’t have respect for the works of others. I am hoping that by discontinuing our work the students will have learned a lesson. I may be hoping for too much.

                During our frustrations with the map we had a number of teachers approach us and we pleaded again to have them speak with their students. The reply of the teachers only added to our current climate of toxic negative thinking. The teachers complained that it was the students. “They are all stupid” they claimed. Now this is for lack of a better word. Remember people, most of my teachers have very little skills in English so when they use the word stupid I take that for a whole host of different words. For example, they could mean “disrespectful”, “arrogant”, selfish”, or really just “unable to learn”. Either way they don’t literally mean that their students are stupid.  Becca and I assured the teachers that t is their job to teach the students not only to not touch the map but also to not keep calling us “ferengi”. Yes, I am still being called “foreigner” by the students I have been teaching for eight months. The teachers respond by explaining that when they were children it was very exciting to see a foreigner but that kids do not do this today. After we just explained that the kids call us ferengi he responded by saying that that doesn’t happen anymore. So I reiterated. “Every day students, children, even young men call me ferengi or baby.” He acted shocked and asked me if this is true what I was saying. Part of me wanted to shake him and say “Yes, you moron. I just said that didn’t I?” But it is a tribute to my time here that I did not do that but recognized that him asking me that is a part of his culture. What he really means is that he is genuinely shocked and is expressing that shock by asking me a question.

                After a heated discussion we all came to the conclusion that this kind of behavior in the students would only stop if enough people were to teach children that it is wrong to call someone a name because of their skin color or where they come from (sound familiar?) and that it would take some time. Well, I will never see that change in our time in Ethiopia so here’s hoping! My week back was turning out to be somewhat of a disaster. We had to stop the World Map Project, my English Club which was moved to Wednesdays was cancelled because no one told me that the students would be occupied and I had to move the club meeting times back to Mondays, and English Communication Day was another lackluster occasion. Most of the teachers do not participate in English Communication Day nor do the students because they are too afraid to speak and be wrong. That problem is for another blog though because I have an idea for a solution but I would need some help and right now help is what I do not have.

                Which brings us to April 15 which happens to be today (well I am writing this on April 15 but most likely won’t post till another day.) After my USAID visit, which happened on Tuesday but for obvious reasons I will not discuss in this blog, it was decided that better communication was needed between me and my administration. Well, duh. More than I would like to admit there have been scheduling conflicts and miscommunications that have abruptly dismantled any plans or programs I had made at the school. I would say communication is the biggest issue I deal with on a daily basis. I have learned to go with the Ethiopian flow but sometimes my American culture (yeah, we have a culture) just creeps up and wants to tell everyone that their excuses are unacceptable. Today wasn’t that day. Nor, will any day be that day. I revere my relationships with my teachers and staff and I refuse to tarnish them because I have lost my temper. That doesn’t mean that I don’t play out scenarios in my head.

                After discussing new methods of communication we decided on a weekly report wherein I state what my functions were and what problems or successes I encountered. Along with this report I expressed what I would like my plans to be for the next week. I wanted to start the Teacher Mentor Program (TMP) again  with a new teacher, reschedule English Club for Students on Monday, create a presentation for  the teachers about CPD (for information check out my other posts), and start work on Earth Week. My plans faltered again because 5-8th grade were going to be in mid semester exams. That was okay because the teachers I wanted for the TMP were going to be 1-4 teachers. “Not possible” was the answer I got. All teachers would be busy. I didn’t press because I would have probably smoked at the ears. Well, at least there was English Club for Students (CPD presentation can be done at home). Or so I thought. I went into work this afternoon, preparing for English Club only to find out at 2:30pm that no one was coming back to school for the afternoon. My Vice Director, when confronted by this fact, merely shrugged and said that there was no school. “But what about English Club?” I demanded.  “Oh! What about tomorrow?” he asked. “Is there school in the afternoon?” I had no right to hope. And of course he said that there wasn’t so no hope for English Club. Don’t ask me about how this logic works out because it doesn’t.

                This is pretty typical for numerous volunteers here in Ethiopia. We are told after days or weeks of preparation that on the scheduled day of events that “it is not possible”. Most of us have come to expect it and therefore are not bothered when these disappointments rear their ugly heads. Sometimes though, it cuts through and leaves us wondering about the impact our work has or whether or not our schools even want us here. Two years of your life is a lot to sacrifice for uncertainties but I guess that’s part of the experience. I haven’t given up and I hope it doesn’t come across that I don’t love or appreciate my life here. I do. I learn something every day but not all of it is good. I learn some things about myself that I may not be proud of but I hope to keep the persistence and optimism I think I have acquired during my life so I can change for the better. 

Monday, March 18, 2013

Work Dudes.

The thing I have noticed lately is that the more time we spend here the faster everything seems to go. It is now March 15th and we have been in country for more than nine months.
                Last month we watched the Super Bowl, our first away from America. And in order to do this we had to ask our friend, a bar owner, to keep his place open all night because the game would be playing at two am our time. By the time the game was over the sun was coming up. School had just had first semester exams and was ready for a two week break. Well, for Scott it was a two week break. My school went right back to work after one week of holiday.
                For the second semester I decided that whatever I wanted to in the school I was just going to do without the sweet demeanor I had in the first semester. I was no longer going to ask multiple times for resources or attendance to my English club meetings. I know we have that saying in America “if you want something done you have to do it yourself”. Well, I have never taken that more seriously. I am supposed to be incorporating local materials and community members but when people are utterly unwilling to attend the things they say they so desperately need, you lose patience with them and begin to work only with people who actually show up. I may have only a few people I work with but when we work together we get things done.
                Sorry for the rant but I guess it helped me transition into my main reason for writing.
I have had an amazing couple of weeks. Not only did we run in a 10K (my first) and finish well but I have also been having huge successes in my professional life and I guess I can attribute these successes to my new tolerance. 
                With the help of my friend Becca and my husband Scott we have started and will finish a World Map Project at my school. The map they had before was outdated and not to scale. Plus, it was in Tigrinya. This map will help students identify the different countries and improve their English. The bright side is that I get to paint something. That’s one of the projects that I have going that will provide quick and lasting results.
                I began my English club with students and  my kids are the best. They are willing to work hard and have fun. We meet every Monday at 4:30pm and so far everything has been going well. I have made contacts at our Regional Education Bureau (REB) and we have begun the process of implementing CPD. The REB is in charge of the education system in Tigray. For those of you who don’t know what CPD is I am going to tell you right now.
                CPD, or Continual Professional Development, is a program mandated by the Ministry of Education in which all teachers and schools continually develop through trainings, mentor programs, and certificate earnings. As of late most teachers (in Ethiopia) do not understand or implement CPD, nor do the Directors of each school. Every school will tell you that they do, but in reality there is no trace of an efficient CPD anywhere. The MoE and Regional Education Bureau have yet to figure out a way to ensure CPD practices in the school because of under staffing and high turnover rates within the school system. They have also not noticed that they have fully trained, and better yet, free staff in their school to help develop the CPD program, the Peace Corps Volunteers.
                In the last two weeks I have made a wonderful contact at the REB with the help of my British Volunteer friend, Barbara. We have been able to break down the process of CPD and conveyed that information to the Tigray PCV’s during our Regional IST this past week. It’s a very complicated process and I now understand why no one has been implementing CPD. In the past Cluster Supervisors have given one training on how to conduct CPD but haven’t evaluated teachers understanding of it nor do they monitor application. This is where Peace Corps can come in. We have the training and the time to help teachers record and gain CPD hours (each teacher is required to have 60 CPD credit hours).
                To top this all off my Program Manager, Daniel Okubit, wants me to help develop a module for the other education PCV’s in Ethiopia and make my school a model school for CPD implementation. For this process I am going to create and distribute a manual that my fellow PCV's can use to implement our new CPD program. Is this a big project? Yes. But, why not?

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Holidays

It has now been seven months in country. We have regular schedules at work albeit we can change them at any moment’s notice. The holidays came fast and passed even faster and the coming months are going to make the end of our first year in country go by just as quickly.

December was a month of new friendships and looking back on some that we may have put on hold for the time being. We gained three new site mates, Rebecca, Elle, and Hannah. Normally Peace Corps doesn’t just move three people at once to a new site but two were special circumstances and one is just a volunteer from the new Group 8. We are in Group 7 and in another five months Group 9 Education will be here marking the end of our first year in country.

Peace Corps reminds me of certain aspects of high school and college sometimes. All the same ridiculous sort of social rituals of high school; rumors, cliques, and the same hurt feelings caused by both but yet the camaraderie and inclusiveness that also accompanies those aspects. The addition of new classes or groups and the older groups rightfully moving on reminds me of college. Everyone gets younger, or looks younger, and you feel the inevitable feeling of being squeezed out of a place that you’ve come to know so well. The older generations pass down their useful yet irrelevant experiences (irrelevant because every volunteer has their own individual experience) because this situation is only understood and appreciated, to a certain extent, by other volunteers.

Still it is an entirely unique situation for everyone involved. So sharing and empathizing are an essential component to this life for all groups. When we were able to meet some of Group 8 Environment in Bekoji while visiting our host family, Scott and I shared how we got through PST and how we continue to “get through” every day. We talked about work and what has been successful for us. Mostly we discussed logistics (how to get people to come to meetings and what the benefits of inviting people to shai buna are) because that information can be transferred throughout every program. While exchanging all this information, in a familiar place that our group thought of as our own, I began to feel the squeezing process take place. It was nice to be knowledgeable and share what we now know about the inner workings of Ethiopian culture and how to be an American living in this country but I felt that time was once again getting the better of me of pushing me to the end of another adventure. Do I enjoy every moment? No. But then again, same goes in America.

Here we are in a new year. I guess I should explain in detail the events and situations that brought us to this point.

Long ago, in ancient PST, Scott and I promised a certain fellow Tigrinya student that we would visit her for Christmas. Back then, Christmas was some event that I could not fathom. We wouldn’t be going to Brett’s annual Christmas Eve party with his family that I have come to think of as part of my own. We wouldn’t be going to midnight mass with my grandparents or opening just one present at my mother-in-law’s house or sitting and talking with her, Carter, and Uncle Bob over wine and delicious food. We wouldn’t be with family. But, choosing not to think about things ultimately brings them speeding to a halt in front of your eyes. The holidays were around the corner and I was not prepared for the emotional consequences of our first holiday away from the home country and family. Thankfully, it wasn’t the disaster I imagined.

Before we left for our holiday weekend we were invited for lunch at Igziharia’s house. She has been making monumental efforts to keep in touch and we are always glad to go somewhere that feels like family. Igziharia also had other intentions for luring us to her house besides the promise of delicious food. She meant to give us a present in the form of savory sweet bread that had baked onto the top “Merry X-Mas”. This gesture caught us off guard but was generous and beautiful all the same. After we left we realized that we probably would not be able to devour this whole thing before we had to leave for our trip so we had Sarunas and Getachew over for dinner so we could have a last dinner together before the holidays. When we first came to Mekelle it seemed like we had garnered a little trio so it was only fitting to have Sarunas over for Mexican food in the form of Christmas dinner.  We made them eat and take away good amounts of our gift from Igziharia so I guess you could say we had some other motives as well. After they both left we packed away our things so we could get up at the crack of dawn the next morning and leave.

We were set to leave on the morning of Christmas Eve, our first trip outside of site besides training. The bus stations in Ethiopia usually give me an anxiety attack before I even get there. I just imagine all of the “where are you go?” questions and the pushing yet leading to the right bus. The yelling and people only talking about us kind of gets to me. But we made it there and found a bus quickly. Maybe it was because it was still dark outside and no one could notice our obvious differences but we didn’t get a single question or comment on the way to the bus. Now actually getting on the bus was another matter. Once everyone saw us they politely began to talk about us amongst themselves. We sat down and settled in. Our hopes of sleep were never really hopes because our previous experiences traveling by bus in Ethiopia have taught us that unless you can literally sleep through anything, you will never sleep on a bus in Ethiopia. However, we were prepared for the long haul and as soon as the sun came up we began to read.

About an hour into the bus ride I looked out of my window and immediately saw the cause of my death. We were basically grinding the edge of a cliff at about 35 km, a cliff that was probably 500 feet from the earth. Mind you were are on a huge bus that seems to be rocking like a cradle and barely hanging on to its own wheels. If I have one very serious and possibly rude criticism of Ethiopia it’s their driving. And I’m from South Florida! Imagine a teenager who recently acquired their license and is trying to show off by driving ten miles over the allotted speed limit through a crowded neighborhood. Now change that teenager to a grown Ethiopian man who has no license and isn’t trying to show off but refuses to go any slower around hairpin turns on a 500 foot cliff. That is the ride to Axum from Mekelle. I truly do not understand the logic behind such daredevil tactics. Is it because they don’t fear death and therefore I should be impressed? Or is it that they do not understand or acknowledge the danger involved in driving so recklessly? Either way, I am never going anywhere by bus again.

We arrived in Axum around two o’clock in the afternoon and after we checked in to the hotel we went to see Christine’s house with Joel, Jenny, and new friend Josh who has lived in Egypt for the past three years. We all went to lunch and caught up with each other and talked about Christmas. Some people told us Merry Christmas and that was nice. At least we weren’t the only ones recognizing the day. That night we had dinner with our Country Director, Greg and his wife and daughter. The woman and her husband who owned the restaurant spend time with family once a year in Lancaster, Pennsylvania my home town. How small is the world? Physically it’s humungous but seriously how many people can know each other across the globe? Well, just when thinking about home became easier that day because we were around our American friends, home came to me in the form of a beautiful Ethiopian woman with a tattoo of the obelisks on her arm and her husband who reminded me of my dad. Touché Ethiopia, touché.

The next morning we woke up, had delicious special full, and went to Joel’s to exchange gifts White Elephant style. I got a bunch of treats courtesy of Christine and Scott got a birthday candle holder that resembles a flower opening when you light it. After presents it was time to sight see because after all, how can you go to Axum and not see what it has to offer. This my first time sightseeing on Christmas but it seemed a good way to spend the day. We went first to the ancient Obelisks and tombs of the Axumite Empire that fell around the time of the fall of Rome. I am still trying to comprehend our experience there so excuse me for not revealing my opinion just now of what it felt like to be there.

While down in the tombs we inevitably did what young people do in ancient structures, we started making jokes and taking goofy pictures. We had a run in with a bat that ruined a good picture opportunity but laughed all the same because we were terrified by a little bat. We walked through the museum for a more serious explanation of the history of this ancient place and its structures. We ran into other ferenji who were pretty surprised that we live in Ethiopia. Reactions we are looking forward to when we get back to America.

After the obelisks we went to Sheba’s palace. Yes, the Queen of Sheba. The walk out of the city was nice and we got to spend time in the ruins all by ourselves. It was nice to site in this questionably structured observation tower and look out over this ancient city. The mountains in Ethiopia never cease to amaze me. I have seen mountains before but these ones are surrounded by arid land that was once incredibly fertile. The markings left on this land by an extinct environment are something I have never before had the pleasure to behold. As we sat looking around, contemplating stealing a camel, we ran out of water so we figured it was time to get some beer and we headed back into town.

Dinner was a nice affair because the food was decent.t the best, but certainly one of the more memorable Christmas dinners. Josh had a friend join us who is Ethiopian but grew up and still lives in Germany. He has the best accent I have ever heard. It’s so unique and undefinable. We were sitting next to another table of ferenji and from what I could tell they were American but we never said one word to each other. Maybe, like us, they have run into so many ferenji during their stay in Ethiopia that it is rendered unnecessary to be introduced. I mean, we aren’t going up to everyone in our home countries and trying to get to know them. After dinner we let whoever wanted a hot shower to take one. Least we could do on Christmas. Then we all settled, accompanied by Ethiopia’s finest wine (Gouder), and watched a Muppet Christmas Carol, a movie I hadn’t seen since childhood. It was nice to recognize parts and songs because they were lodge somewhere in my memory and I only had to be reintroduced to remember them.

The next day we took our last hot shower and headed to the bus station. A young man noticing our ferenji-ness escorted us to the bus that was headed to Mekelle. After getting seated I reached for a tip. Now, all this young did was walk us to a bus, not exactly saving my pets from a burning house or anything as crazy as that. I handed him one birr and he looked at me and said, “one birr.  Is that it?” Because I am a ferenji it is my duty to pay him at least five birr. F that. Well in my indignation Scott pulled out another birr and gave it to this young fellow. Well, now that I was all fired up it was time for the death race back to my home city. I can’t even go into that because it was too traumatic.

The days went by and I succumbed to the cold that had been threatening me since we arrived in Axum. But good things are usually around corner. New Year’s was coming up and we had a serious number of people coming to town. Being in a larger city we meet and befriend a lot of foreigners. I am so happy that English has become a medium because there is no way I could have learned Hebrew, German, and whatever English our friends from across the pond were trying to speak. Besides, beer is good in any language. Apparently so is dancing. We danced the night away. One of our friends here, Getachew, said that he had never seen anything like it and wondered if we did this every year. We all emphatically screamed “yes!” I don’t think I should go into more detail as to respect the privacy of others but let’s go ahead and say whatever happens in Mekelle, stays in Mekelle.

The New Year definitely started off with a bang. Being in Ethiopia with our new friends just made it that much more special. We will never forget that night and this year’s party will be tough to beat. But seeing as it will be our last in country I guess we can try our best. We have our first Program Advisory Committee meeting coming up this month and the next few months will be filled with things to look forward to. Until the next post…