Monday, October 29, 2007

First area of reform: establishing a FDA

So, since learning that I will be moving to the Amhara region in December and away from her watchful care, inatey (host mom) has become concerned that I will not survive on my own. I'll be the first to admit, this is a legitimate concern. Thus, she has made it her mission to make me Ethiopian. This week's lessons: food preparation and laundry.

Food prep 1: woofcha

On Wednesday we went to the mill where all of our normal looking food is ground into mush, which we eat two times a day. It's an intense place, with lots of women, grains, and spices flying everywhere. Burburrey, a spice Ethiopian is known for, is ground up here and when you breathe it in, it feels like your whole head is on fire. And I meant it when I said women were flying everywhere… three fights broke out in the hour that I was at the woofcha. I only caused one of them. I thought it might be a good photo opportunity, what with all the heavy machinery and colorful foods. I asked inatey if it was all right first, but apparently the lone male machine operator didn't think it was a good idea. The women stood up for me, but then got angry when I put my camera away. I really couldn't do anything right at this point. In the end, I got some pictures and the man and I held hands. I guess that means we're on good terms? The other fights involved women cutting in line and subsequently getting beaten with whatever was within arm's length: sticks, large bowls, wicker baskets…

Food prep 2: bunna

I hate coffee. I hate the smell of coffee more than coffee. Not only do they make me drink it, but last night I was in charge of the bunna ceremony. Apparently I am a good student and make a delightful bunna… it tasted like sewage.

Food prep 3: duro

On Saturday we only had a half day of training, so I came home in the middle of the day thinking it would be a good opportunity to do some laundry and clean my room. What awaits me as I round the corner of my compound? A chicken, splayed open and bloody, displaying it's innards for all the world to see. I think I must have turned a bit white because inatey, with her bloodstained hands, looks up at me and says "Kristen- sick?" For some background information on this chicken, it was the first thing that I demonstrated my competency in the Amharic language on, pointing and saying "ki duro" (red chicken). I hadn't seen little buddy in a while, but had noticed that the door to the "shower" (this room I don't understand- we're supposed to take showers there, but the room is made completely of dirt. Were one to bathe there, they would just get muddy. I stick to my bucket baths in my room…) had been shut for a few days. The "shower" room is right by the bathroom and every time I was taking care of business I could hear him clucking for freedom. I could have saved his life. So, inatey uses his death as an opportunity to teach me the names of different body parts, none of which I remember because I was trying to keep from getting sick. I hate dead things more than coffee. She even cut open the heart, so I could see inside, which was nice of her. Fortunately, I watched her feed the intestines and maybe kidney (liver?) to the dog, so I know they weren't mixed into the duro wat I've been eating the past two nights. Who knows what happened to the heart. I don't even want to talk about the fact that I did my laundry in the same bucket that I watched her clean the blood off the chicken in… and I'm pretty sure it was only rinsed with water.

In other news, we've been learning more about what we're going to be doing once we're done with training. It sounds like a huge, necessary, exciting, impossible job. There is no way we're going to get done what they want us to in two years. Apparently there are all these different government, non-government, international, and grassroots organizations working on AIDS prevention and treatment throughout Ethiopia. The system is ineffective and inefficient (Jen- don't even start), people are getting overlooked, the right people aren't targeted, and people who should be getting treatment are slipping through the cracks. Our job is to fix it and develop strategies for all these people to work together. We're all kinda unsure of how exactly we're supposed to do this, but a lot of people are interested in helping us, so that's cool. This past week representatives from USAID, PEPFAR (The President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief), HAPCO (HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control Office), WHO, Save the Children, etc. have all been in to talk to us. One or more of these orgs will be at all the sites we will go to and we'll be working with them. It's been great making connections and getting to talk to people who are out there meeting the needs of others… I'm just not really sure where we fit in.

Today was Sunday, the only day we get off, and it was delightful. I swam, showered, had Bible study with some of the girls (awesome), and read most of the afternoon. Swimming at high altitude is a new challenge and people have me freaked out about some water parasite that eats your brain or something, but it was worth it. This evening, some people came over and we listened to a sermon… not as much of a cultural experience as the last two weeks, but it was great to discuss and pray afterwards.

That's really about all that's going on… most valuable lesson learned this week: don't let laundry day coincide with chicken killing day.

I miss you guys and I'm starting to get desperate for contact... I'm working on getting a calling card, so if you see a strange number, you should answer it. Much love.

(Copied and pasted by Jen, who is intensely excited to be given the task)

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Aye Konjo

A post! I will find a way around internet blocks! Ha. (from the editor: emailed to Mom and cut/pasted from there).

So, here is the update after a full week in Ethiopia… things are going really well! The group has settled into out host families and consensus is that everything is much nicer than we expected. I went to a friend's house today and she even had a real flushing toilet! I am staying in a house with electricity and a tv! It gets one channel, ETV, which plays either the same three music videos or news that I have no hope of understanding. But don't worry… my host sister also has a dvd of music videos that offers some variety. Can't beat traditional Oromo music videos... I made the mistake of introducing UNO my second night here. We play a lot of uno now. Every night. For hours. And hours. I'm really good at numbers and colors in Amharic. This week I plan on pulling out the Frisbee to put some options out there. Anything but uno.

Our days are long and structured. Rooster and call to prayer around 5:00am. No going back to sleep after that. Running from 6:00 to 7:00. Breakfast. Language from 8:30 to 11:30. Lunch. More training from 1:30 til 5:00. Back home. Tell family what I learned today in Amharic. Dinner. ETV. UNO. Debate how badly I need to use Shint Beyt (squatty potty). Collapse in bed. Watch mosquitoes fly into net. Ponder how bad malaria is going to be when I get it. Fall asleep to the sound of howling dogs tearing each other apart. Repeat.

My family is great… I live with a woman and her 10-year-old niece. My inatey (mother) speaks good English, so I have communication easier than most. They are both great at speaking to me in Amharic though and are teaching me new words constantly. It's awesome and exhausting. I think I am the difficult child, however, and amuse my peace corps friends at how often I get in trouble. I can't possibly eat enough to please inatey, my room is constantly a mess (Schloppy comes to Ethiopia… who knew?) so my sister feels the need to help me clean it, my hair won't stay in the braids they put it in (they act like this is my fault), and I'm never home on time. Classic phone conversations:

Sister: Kristiana! (this is apparently my name)
Me: yes… hello.
Sister: come to us!
Me: I'm on my way.
Sister: yes. Ok. Hurry.

I haven't had this much supervision in years and it's funny sometimes. My sister is also brutally honest. I haven't been able to wash my hair consistently and it's gross, so yesterday I finally pulled it back in a ponytail. When sister saw me, she made a disapproving clicking noise at me (she does this a lot) and said "aye konjo" (not beautiful). Thanks a lot, sis.

Sunday I went to the Orthodox church with inatey. It was an incredible, overwhelming experience. Before we left for church at 6:00am, she put the Orthodox head covering on me. I thought this would help me blend in. No. As soon as we enter the church, the priest spots me and beckons me to the front where the men sit. Inatey shoves me forward and when I look back she is lost in a sea of white head coverings. Panic. Fortunately when I get to the front, cool married peace corps couple, Chris and Liz, are already there. I am handed a walking stick that everyone else in the front was holding… still no clue what that was about. Two hours of worship followed with an incredibly old, wise looking Ethiopian man poking me and saying, "sit" or "stand." I liked him a lot. We soon found out that this was no ordinary Sunday. It was the 81 st anniversary of this church, which means hours of celebrating, preaching, and worship. It also explained the cameraman who kept getting us on film (cynical church-self was thinking "seriously? Cameras in church here too?"). We are constantly the objects of excessive attention, but it was especially difficult during worship when focus should be on the God of our salvation. I struggle with feeling like I am in the way most days. The service was an experience though- lots of incense, drums, chanting, kneeling, praying, children drinking holy water… It was a humbling experience, realizing that we are all part of the same body and worshiping the same God in different ways. After the service we all hiked up a hill to the site of the original church for some more singing and chanting. We were overlooking all of Wolisso and it was beautiful.

Since Sunday was filled with new, interesting, and sometimes unbelievable (a few people wound up at the charismatic church) experiences for everyone, the subject of faith is openly discussed among the group. It's awesome and Providential. Liz and I were talking about church today and it turns out that she and Chris are reformed Presbyterian… we're going to start listening to Tim Keller sermons they have on their computer on Sunday nights. Incredible. I have also made good friends with an MK from Kenya, Becca, who is great. I'm now praying that I am posted relatively close to the people I have grown closer to. It's also been a good opportunity to hear what other people believe and why they are here. Pray that I have the ears to hear and words to speak when necessary.

Tonight was another great night… Liz, Becca, Nicole and I went out to Nagash Lodge, a resort on the edge of town for tourists. We had run into some white people who turned out to be teachers at a school for missionary kids in Addis (Providential?). They were in Wolisso for a few days of vacation and invited us to come have dinner with them. Now the lovely thing about the lodge is that you can take a shower for 5 birr. The most satisfying 50 cents I have ever spent. I hadn't taken a shower in 6 days… bucket baths do not count, I've decided. This will be a weekly occurrence. We also ate food! Real food! No wat! No injera! Meat! I hadn't had meat in a week! Tuna! Ice cream!

Pat- I'm stirring up interest in Catan. People want to play. I'm nervous… I've never been the one explaining how everything works. And as much as I mock you for your horrible set-up technique, I'm not sure I know how to do it any better. I'll keep you updated.

Em, James, and Kara- the headlamp ties with the iPod for absolute necessity… thanks so much!

Uhh… sorry this is so long… I'm typing it up before I go to the internet place giving me too much time to think and be wordy… I miss you all and find myself wishing you were all here! Much love.

p.s. The best time to call would be 9pm-12pm central time. it's early in the morning here, the rooster has already woken me up, and the phone network isn't as busy (fewer dropped calls).

Friday, October 12, 2007

phone number for Kristen

Kristen has not been able to access her blog, but she did get a phone number. She asked me to post this info(which is a new experience for one who is a non-blogger!) so that ya'll can contact her (on Skype).

251 91 311 0068 (251 is Ethiopia country code)

She is now in Wolisso and is in language training; "things are good... learning a lot! making friends!"

Kristen's Mom, Velina

Friday, October 5, 2007

heading out...

After three intense days of training, i finally know exactly what i will be doing in Ethiopia, who I will be doing it with, where we will be doing it at, and just how high speed the internet is. ok, so really... none of that is true. but i have met the people that i'm going with and learned all about peace corps values and goals! our group of 43 is really interesting, diverse, intelligent, and hilarious.

A few group specifics:
- the majority of people in the group are named Kristen (3), Christen (1), Christie (2), Christina (1), or Chris (1). they're already calling me Straw and i love it.
- most of us are around my age, but we do have some 50+ and they're spunky.
-8 out of 43 are guys. the ratio is worse than samford.

Apparently it's a pretty big deal that we're going back into ethiopia after 10 years with no pc presence. Over the past few days, we've met with the director of the pc, the deputy director, the african director, a congressman, and tonight i shook the hand of the ethiopian ambassador to the united states. our team was invited to the ethiopian embassy for some tasty food samples and words of encouragement. people tell us this is a unique event and that we're special. it was like a pep rally! everyone seems ready to go now and excitement levels are high. could just be from our first round of malaria pills though....

We've also found out that our first 10 weeks will be spent training in wolisso and we are told that it is a land of internet and honey (reston/heaven anyone?) after officially becoming peace corps volunteers on december 15 (there is a big swearing in ceremony... you're all invited. it's a saturday...) we will be sent out to who knows where.

So things are good. I am good. People are good. Good. I would really appreciate prayers... tonight has been full of intense goodbyes and it seems like tomorrow will only bring more. Pray that I would rest in confidence and trust, not in my own abilities but in what God can do. Also, pray for friendships... there are many random connections and people with similar interests, so I'm excited to get to know people better. Pray that i am able to see the needs of my teammates and that i am willing to be a servant to them. Thank you for your prayers.

i feel like this is scattered and that i'm rambling, so... i'll practice and get better at this blogging thing. love you guys, appreciate the phone calls and encouragement more than you know, and i'll be in touch soon!