Monday, November 10, 2008

In my life, never have I seen such a season

I imagine that everyone back home is talking about the election so… I will too! It's certainly the only thing we talk about here. Walking down the streets of Finote the last few days, all I've heard is "Kristie! Congra!" People are so happy for me that I feel like I've won the election myself. Never before have I been so overwhelmingly congratulated for something that I've had absolutely no role in. (Sidenote: where do you think absentee ballots go when they aren't needed?)

Like most things these days, watching a United States Presidential election from outside of America was a new experience. I went to Bahir Dar (the big city where electricity and CNN are guarantees) and stayed up all night with an assortment of Americans, Ethiopians, Germans, Swedes, Dutchmen, and Brits. Partisan politics aside, I was enormously proud to be an American Tuesday night. I'm so thankful to be part of a country where people can go to the polls without fear of imprisonment or persecution if they vote for the "wrong" party. I'm proud to see so many people utilizing their freedom of choice and going out to vote. And what an example it sets for other nations to see the loser of a free, democratic election step aside so graciously; to hear the winner promise to listen to the voices of all his constituents regardless of political party, economic standings, or ethnicity. I think a powerful message has been sent to countries that have gone years or even decades without open, fair, blood-shed free elections.

That being said, Obamamania08 is getting intense here and it's hard to know how to respond. For Ethiopians to see the direct descendant of an African be elected to one of the most powerful offices in the world is a huge thing and I hope it encourages them to take school, work, and community involvement more seriously. However, it's easy to see them placing all their hopes in one man. I can't tell you how many times I've heard in the past three days, "now Obama will come here and fix all our problems." A common phrase in Amharic is 'Xheyhabir yistaling' which means 'God bless you/ give you strength.' One of my friends heard a cab driver tell a little girl 'Obama yistaling.' He explained this by saying, "God number one. Obama number two." Though most people wouldn't take it this far, at least openly, in many ways Obama has become a kind of deity for people. How do you tell people that when they put all their hopes in one human being they will inevitably be disappointed? How do you explain that he is not going to come across the ocean and immediately set everything right? How do you delicately say, "The same constraints and limitations apply to Obama as they do to everyone else. And he just might have to give other interests priority over Ethiopia." Maybe I should just come out and say, "he's not God" but I doubt anyone would hear me at this point.

I guess what I'm slowly realizing is what a huge impact our decisions have on the rest of the world. And I'm increasingly humbled by the responsibilities that come with being a US citizen. Even the BBC was running a commercial before the election that anticipated a result that would change the global economy, the food crisis, and poverty. Can we really do that? And what role are we as citizens expected to play?

In Ethiopian news, it's still raining here in the north. This has moved beyond simply a muddy annoyance and is now a genuine concern. Teff, the grain used to make injera, came up nicely in September and is supposed to be harvested now but they can't because it's too wet. Much has already been lost and walking down the streets you can hear the farmers talking about it. The rains failed down south earlier in the year and weren't strong enough this summer so their crops aren't great either. It's hard to say what's going to happen but with food prices continuing to rise, it looks like things could get pretty tough soon.

We just had our Peace Corps mid-service conference last week in which we were congratulated for making it a whole year! All the volunteers and PC staff went bowling one night, which was one of the more incredible experiences of my life. It was like bowling in the 1930s or something. Scores kept on paper, shoes that smelled like they hadn't been washed since the 1930s, pins set up by pin setter-upper men who were probably born in the 1930s, unwaxed wood floors from trees cut down in the 1930s… amazing. And most of the Ethiopian staff had never been bowling before so that was hilarious.

Life in the Finote has been awesome as well lately. The other day I instituted take your daughter to work day with my landlord, Ato Genanow. He is a veterinarian and often goes out to the rural areas to give vaccinations to large animals. The way this is done is the farmers gather all their cows into a large field and small boys wrangle large bulls and Ato Genanow runs up and jabs them with a needle. The community we went to was awesome- next time I move to Ethiopia I'm living there. It was cool to see Ato Genanow in the work setting. People respect him because he keeps their means of livelihood healthy, so almost everyone we ran into referred to him as 'zemed' or relative. We got a ton of food and respection, as they like to say.

So life here is good. I'm busier than I ever have been here, trying to help one of the local schools get a grant to start an agricultural project. If it goes through 200 orphans and disabled students will have the opportunity to get business training, earn money for school supplies and uniforms, and have access to better food. Hopefully that works out. Grant writing is tedious. I'm also teaching English, which is a lot of fun. I just like hanging out with students- they're hilarious. I'm working on getting the girls to be less shy around me, which is probably the biggest challenge in my life right now. I'm discovering that I'm not a good teacher however… it's just so much work and the students expect you to actually know things. Who knew that was part of the deal?

In other news, I will be heading to the United States of America in 35
days. I miss you guys! And cereal. But you all more! Much love.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

The other, other white meat

Happy New Year! My how the time does fly. On September 11th we celebrated the beginning of the year 2001 here in Ethiopia. To help bring in the New Year, my good friend Patrick came over to travel around! We, along with two volunteer friends, headed up to Lalibela to see the famous rock-hewn churches. Lalibela (previously named Roha) was the capital of a large dynasty during the 12th and 13th centuries and the 11 rock churches we saw were built during that time. King Lalibela got it into his head that he wanted to build a new Jerusalem and began an ambitious building project. He also named things after the old Jerusalem- Calvary, the River Jordan- which is a little disorienting. The churches are amazing, many of them completely cut free of the massive slabs of stone that surround them. It's hard to reconcile this ornate, detailed, powerful picture of Ethiopia past with the Ethiopia that I currently live in. Discuss Lalibela with any Orthodox Ethiopian and they'll tell you that angels did much of the church building. It wouldn't take much to convince me. I just don't understand how a person could chisel 50 feet down into a slab of rock and carve out a freestanding, three-story tall church in the shape of the cross. Apparently neither could some 14th century pilgrims to Lalibela. They were so amazed that they decided to up and leave their decaying bones laying around for the enjoyment of tourist for centuries to come.

Notes about tourism in Ethiopia: It's not safe for children, people who are not sure-footed, or daredevils: there are often no guardrails where there should be guardrails. They haven't gotten the hang of preserving ancient relics: books that are older than the United States of America are just laying around for anyone to thumb through. And there are bones everywhere. Just so you're aware.

After getting stuck in Lalibela for an extra day, Pat and I headed straight for the Finote. Why no guidebook has deemed Finote Selam worthy of mention, I do not know. We had a full day of monkey tracking and hiking out to the local waterfall. Sure, monkeys are a little less predictable during rainy season and the towering cornfields are disorienting when trying to locate the waterfall. but it's still lovely. It was great to have a friend come, to have that touch of home, to share my life here, to introduce new friends, to demonstrate my skills at the coffee ceremony. And to have someone else experience the rat situation and know that I'm not exaggerating. No lie- a rat crawled across my forehead the other night. I stopped messing around, put out poison, and the next morning it was lying dead on my stoop. The family I live with has not stopped reenacting my freak-out 5 days later. Don't worry- there are still two more living in my ceiling.

The party didn't stop with Pat's departure- we're still celebrating holidays here! Last weekend was the celebration of Meskel- the cross. This is when we celebrate Queen Helena finding the cross Jesus was crucified on by lighting a huge bonfire and following the smoke of the incense to the cross. Some will say that this story can be found in the Bible. That's debatable. This was probably the most exciting Ethiopian holiday I've experienced thus far, however. On Friday, the eve of Meskel, literally all of Finote Selam gathered in a large field beside the St. George Church. The priests were there with their umbrellas, the ark, and big sticks that they swing around in the air while chanting. There was also a massive bonfire that I swear would rival the Texas A&M bonfire. As dusk approached, the priests circled the bonfire with large flaming sticks to the sound of beating drums.

After the fire was lit and we sang and danced around it for an acceptable length of time, we took charred pieces of wood from the bonfire and used the ash to mark crosses on our foreheads. We then formed a drum beating, Ethiopian flag waving, chanting processional behind the priests to make our way back towards town. It was such a neat sense of community and a feeling of joy to be celebrating as a body with the people I live and work with. even if the history of the holiday is a bit sketch.

The actual day of Meskel began at 4:30am when the whole town awoke and lit millions of bonfires. The sky had the eerie glow of a town on fire and the smell of incense lingered for days. How everyone could be so cognizant, alert, and enthusiastically beating drums at that hour is beyond me- but it was really cool. The rest of the day was spent in community drinking coffee, dancing in the street, and eating meat. So much meat. The Peace Corps community has begun referring to the meat we consume as 'the other, other white meat.' It can be located at your local meat house- huge slabs of it just hanging there waiting to be gnawed on. Don't mistake it for the tender and juicy other white meat. This other, other meat is nice and chewy and you can feel it clogging your arteries as it goes down. Yet this fatty substance is a delicacy so what choice do you have, I ask you?

Work has been frustrating as of late, but I've been trying to step back and gain some perspective. It is sometimes easy to get caught up in the pride of being a volunteer. It is easy to say "I am giving up my time, my energy, my comforts to serve you people. You should want to work with me." It's easy to focus on the fact that I'm doing this alone, I'm living amongst the people, I'm living on less than other foreigners in this country, I'm riding public transportation. Finote Selam should recognize the sacrifices I'm making and be tripping over themselves to start projects with me. It hit me last week that, as much as I try to live like those in my community, it will never be the same because I made a choice to be here and it is within my power to choose to leave tomorrow. The people I live with don't have this luxury of mobility; they didn't choose this lifestyle. They also do not have the luxury of deciding to drop their daily tasks to help me out because I cannot promise tangible compensation. They have to earn money to meet their needs and volunteering time and energy is not a luxury the people I work with can afford. When I focus on the ways in which I live like those around me, it's easy to forget that their money does not just magically appear in a bank account at the beginning of every month regardless of the work they have or have not done. It's easy to revert to thinking about poverty as a vague concept rather than something my neighbors face daily because we're eating the same food and washing our clothes by hand together. But they're fighting for their food and I have enough money to pay someone else to wash my clothes if I wanted to. The last weeks have been intensely humbling and have raised some challenging questions, but I pray that they have also led me to be more sensitive and understanding rather than frustrated.

Next week, October 7th marks my one-year mark in Ethiopia. So strange how long a year can seem and yet how quickly it goes by. So strange how comfortable you can feel in a place after only one year and yet continue to be reminded by people yelling 'ferengi ferengi! (foreigner foreigner!)' that you don't really belong here. Strange that you can feel increasingly confident and supported through new friendships and families that have formed over the past year and yet still long so deeply for friends and family back home. All in all, a strange place to be in right now- but a good one. I am thankful for the peace and confidence that God has provided lately that this is where I am supposed to be today and He'll be there to let me know when that changes.

I don't say this enough, but thank you all for the support and encouragement you've shown this past year. I can't begin to say how it has held me up and pushed me forward. I thank God every time I think of you all and trust me- that's often. I miss you all! 70 days!! Much love!

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Finote Selam is the place where you survive

You know what's great about Ethiopia? Two birthdays. On the first one, your American friends come to the Finote, you hike out to the local waterfall, do some exploring, play cards while drinking mango and avocado juice, sing birthday songs and blow out large '2' and '3' candles at the Extreme Hotel (pronounced "X-trim"). On your second birthday, 6 days later, the internet guys throw you a legit Ethiopian birthday party complete with coffee, popcorn, oranges, small cookies that are made without sugar, and of course the required large '2' and '3' candles. More singing is had by all, however, this time when they don't really know the tune or all the English words… improvising is best.

You know what else is great? The Olympics. You may not know this, but I am kind of a fanatic about the whole thing. This is the first summer Olympics in 8 years that Carney and I haven't made iron-on t-shirts of our favorite athletes. I've made up for it by wearing red, white, and blue every day for the last week as well as sporting my awesome Ethiopian beanie. Ethiopians don't mess around with their Olympics, especially when it comes to track and field. They won a few gold medals and went crazy each time- yelling in the streets, waving flags. My office took field trips every afternoon to watch the races on the big screen in town. An experience that will go down in the top 10 best Ethiopia experiences: watching Tirunesh Dibaba school everyone in the 10,000 with my friend Anna at a café with tons of Ethiopians. The café erupted when Tirunesh crossed the line, including Anna and I. The Ethiopians fell silent when the cameras switched to the American who finished third… but Anna and I kept cheering. Loudly. At first our friends didn't know what to do with us, but then they started cheering too… more for us than for the girl who placed third. Another good experience that has come out of the Olympics- teaching the Finote the proper use of the verb "to school." Ex: The United States schooled Angola in basketball.

Peace Corps mission numbers 2 and 3: Sharing American culture with Ethiopia and sharing Ethiopian culture with America. If the Olympics hasn't made me an ideal volunteer, I don't know what would.

In other news… it's still summer here and that means it's still cold and rainy. With going on foot being the Finote's only mode of transportation, rain tends to shut everything down. I've learned to seek shelter when the thunder comes and to settle in for a cup of tea. Or two. Also, I never leave home without reading material. Who knows how long you'll be stuck? The rain also means that not much is getting done. Say you want to go talk to someone about a project… you could go, but you'll get covered in mud and the chances that the person is actually there are slim. So mostly people just get to a place and then stay there during rainy season. It's interesting.

Another volunteer, Christen, was in town last weekend to watch the closing ceremonies and we took advantage of a rare sunny morning to get outside and do some more exploring. We headed out to the hills, which are exploding with crops, and wandered around the farming trails for a few hours. We would get lost in the maze of towering cornfields and then be dumped suddenly into an open field full of cattle. We shocked quite a few farmers when we just appeared out of nowhere, I'm sure. I love getting out of the Finote just a little- amazing how different life is for people just a 15-minute walk out of town. Amazing how different the people are just a 15-minute walk out of town. Amazing how much greener the valley looks and how much closer the mountains seem. It's a good way to get your bearings and remember where you are.

By noon the clouds were becoming ominous and we were in a rush to get back to town, which involved crossing a river. I will confess - being here sometimes leads me to do stupid things that I would, under different circumstances, think twice about. But instead I think, "I'm in the peace corps, I'm in Ethiopia, and I'm wearing Chacos. I can cross this river even though it's swollen to twice its normal size and is moving rapidly." False. More like 'I can fall into this river -soaking my jeans, t-shirt, and cell phone- have to be pulled out by a farmer boy who is scared the white kid is drowning, and walk back into town dripping wet because the river is swollen to twice its normal size and is moving rapidly.' That's not embarrassing.

In conclusion, I shall share a story that gives me hope for the future and also serves as watermark for how much I have grown in the past ten months. One morning -on a recent weekend trip to Anna's house- as we were getting ready for our day of accomplishment, the cat the Anna has quasi-adopted wandered into her house. I noticed that it was particularly interested in something behind the bookshelf. Anna has also been afflicted with rats, so we pulled the bookshelf out a bit to see if cat was onto something. As it turns out, the rat was just chilling behind the bookshelf all morning. Nice. Mama cat goes crazy, attacks, and much painful squeaking is heard. Rat manages to squeeze completely under the bookshelf, ticking Mama off. Anna and I eventually decide that eradicating the rat is worth whatever mess Mama is about to make of it, so we pick up the bookshelf allowing Mama to grab the rat by the neck in one fell swoop and cart it outside. As we stood on Anna's porch analyzing the technique Mama was using to strangle the life out of the rat I came to two realizations:
1. Hope for future - I too can eliminate my rat problem if I find such an effective and efficient cat.
2. Watermark of growth - Ten months ago I would not have been able to watch such a brutal death without becoming nauseous or at least repulsed. Now I can unflinchingly appreciate that at least it won't be eating Anna's food or waking her up at night.

Miss you all! Much love!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Currie Way meets Ethiopia


roommates in Africa!

Jen and Kris helping to dig
a well at Lake Langano
with Water is Life

Jen's favorite food. You tear off a piece
of the pancake-like base (injera), hold it in your
fingers, and scoop up some of the topping
(mashed veggies & meat)

in Zanzibar with Alisha
feeding turtles

this is my road in rainy season!
we are trying to make habitats
that are pleasing for the malaria mosquitos.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Thirteen Months of Sunshine

Whoever coined this slogan for Ethiopia obviously never lived in the country. For starters: sunshine? Haven't seen a truly sunny day up here in the north since May. The rain has been pounding my roof incessantly for the last 36 hours. The only option in footwear these days are my beauty Target rain boots, much to the delight of the townsfolk. I have adapted. I can't describe the fear that grips me every time I start down the road in and out of my house. The mud is a force to be reckoned with. It almost got the best of me- I had a nearly fatal slip. I escaped with only one arm coated in mud up to the elbow. I can't hope to be so fortunate next time. Next, lets evaluate this thirteenth "month." Since we like to be uniform with our calendar, we give each month 30 days. This leaves us with 5 day left over, which we give the name Pagumey and call a "month." Five days isn't even a week. It doesn't deserve to be named, much less incorporated into a national slogan.

As messy as the rain makes everything, everyone is thankful for it. I've never experienced life that is so dependent on the weather for survival. Never fully grasped what it means for people to see the rivers fill up and the land coming to life. Never recognized how much food security can ease burdens and give confidence. I've taken Wal-Mart and its never-ending supply of food for granted.

Much has happened since I last updated… most significantly- my college roommate of three years, Jen, came to Ethiopia! She has been traveling the world with a team studying the UN millennium development goals and they stopped in Ethiopia for two weeks. The team was awesome and let me follow them around for the whole two weeks… beginning the day of their arrival at 3:30am when I met them at the airport and where I may or may not have squealed and plowed into Jen immediately upon seeing her. They looked at projects around and to the south of Addis, allowing me to see a side of Ethiopia I've never experienced. It was so encouraging to go to places like the Hamlin Fistula hospital where women are so thoroughly cared for and nurtured. Women who were previously ostracized from their families and communities because of injuries that arise from complications in childbirth are suddenly given lodging, food, clothing, blankets, surgery, physical therapy, literacy classes, skills training, legal counsel, and medical follow-up. They are treated with love, dignity, and respect. I can't imagine what this must mean for a woman who has had to bear the shame of leaking urine uncontrollably. The team also visited orphanages, technical schools that assist orphans in developing job skills, midwifery-training programs, and sports programs that help youth build life skills for the future. I came away excited about the things that are going on in Ethiopia and encouraged to try and help those who are doing such good work.

Much of the team's time was spent in the rural and beautiful area of Langano working with the Selam Water is Life well-digging program. I've never been in a place like Langano- the poverty is stark even in contrast with the Finote. The kids have the red highlights in their hair and distended bellies- whether from malnutrition or worms. Water is Life is working to bring safe drinking water as well as physical, spiritual, and economic growth to the rural poor. Again, I was amazed at the thoroughness of the program. They've thought of everything. They start with the foundation of serving people out of the love of Christ. They build on this by providing clean water and sanitation education, which reduces the number of people suffering from amoebas and diarrhea. It also enables people to plant gardens and keep them watered during dry season. The staple crop in this area is corn, which doesn't lead to a very balanced or diversified diet. I've never seen so many corn fields. For miles- as far as the eye can see- corn. They are hoping to see improved nutrition as a result of greater access to water. Water is Life hopes to one day introduce micro-enterprise training with the end goal of job creation that would enable these people to move past subsistence living.

One of the highlights for me about the time at Langano was getting to know the well-digging teams. Digging the wells is intense, arm-straining, blister-inducing work that is done by using a pulley to slam a drill bit into the ground. Community members provide the labor so that they are able to take ownership of the device that will so impact their lives. They are led by guys in their mid-to-late 20s who have been trained by Selam Water is Life. Most of them were brought up in the Selam Orphanage and attended the Selam Technical School. Yared, the leader of the teams, is by far one of the most incredible Ethiopians. Ever. Right behind Emperor Haile Selassie but before Teddy Afro definitely. He was orphaned at age 8 when his parents were killed during the war between the Derg and the opposition. His mother was killed while holding Yared and he too was injured and spent time in a hospital before going to the orphanage. He rose to become a shop master at the technical school before being asked to help with the new water initiative. His impact among the communities he serves is apparent. He could easily be mayor. Everyone knows Yared's name and his affection for the people is contagious. Despite setbacks and the loss of more of his family, Yared continues to be hopeful, to set high goals. He is not content with his job even though he his given much responsibility and even a pick-up truck (kind of a big deal). He wants to continue his education, to learn more about engineering, so that he can continue to serve others. The other guys had similar stories and incredible work ethic as well… I learned a lot from them.

Something else that I learned while with the team is how quickly my concept of what is and is not normal changes these days. For instance, when Jen was here it seemed like a very normal thing to be crammed into the cab of a pickup with my roommate and Yared chasing hyenas through the local landfill. It seemed like this was how things were supposed to be, how they always had been. Not unusual at all. Who doesn't spend their evenings chasing hyenas? It's been a strange to readjust to just hearing the hyenas howl down the street from my house, not being brave enough to go out and chase them on my own. Just doesn't seem pertinent to chase hyenas without a pickup truck. Or my roommate.

To help recover from the loss of Jen, I immediately traveled to Zanzibar, an island off the coast of Tanzania. There I met another college friend, Alisha, for five days of seafood, sand, and water. You may be thinking, "my, but it seems that Kristen has taken to being away from the Finote for long periods of time." It's true. But the students I work with have all gone back to their families for the summer so I don't have much to do. Lay off. I will now share some facts on Zanzibar.

* As you fly in, you'll note the remarkable number of paved streets. What infrastructure!
* Guests from South Africa to Zanzibar will say things like, "I'm so ready to leave. This place is so dirty" and "If I have to eat one more egg-oh-my-gosh I'll just die." I myself was astounded that they A) have white buildings and B) manage to keep them white. And the Mexican omelet was simply tasty and delicious. I'd eat one right now.
* People say things like, "I don't know, but I imagine in my head…" What a creative way to give people wrong directions! I respect that.
* Zanzibarians are healthy. No malnourished babies, no contestants for the Gojam-No-Leg Competition. Just normal sized people. I attribute this to the wide variety of food available to them.
* Lobster, crab, shrimp, prawns, shark, octopus, fish, tuna, chicken… so much chicken. And eggplant. I didn't even know I liked eggplant.
* Ice cream. So much ice cream. Sometimes twice a day. I'm not ashamed.
* There is an active "Zanzibar for Obama" Association, complete with life-sized portraits. The man who runs it has business cards which state 'Zanzibar for Obama Volunteer. Also expert tour guide.' He also has a petition you can sign… not really sure what he's petitioning for or why exactly Zanzibar is for Obama, but that's just funny.
* Fotozani occurs nightly. A dark alley crowed with vendors grilling up their catch of the day. Or yesterday's catch. Or maybe the day before that? Who knows really how long the seafood you're eating has been sitting there. All that matters is that it's not served on injera and it's delicious.
* Not only are the showers hot in Zanzibar, but they come out of the spigot with gusto! It's like they're excited about being bountiful and so hot that they want everyone to be happy about being clean. As much as I love cold water bucket baths… wait… nope. No I don't.
* Beaches, waves, sand, water, Indian Ocean.
* Mountain Dew. There is Mountain Dew in Zanzibar. Mt. Dew is easy to forget about. It's one of those things you only drink on long road trips or with your dad while eating subs & bar-b-q chips. You don't realize you miss it until you see it. Then you must have it immediately.

So that's life lately. I'm back in the Finote after being away for quite awhile. Getting off the bus is always the hardest part of coming back. That feeling of losing all anonymity, of everyone knowing you, of having every move observed and commented upon… it's intimidating. But after you make that first step you remember that you have friends here and that you're really excited to see them again. I wouldn't mind, however, if the whole town didn't hear that I slipped in the mud. I have to go get some sleep now. My landlord just graduated with a diploma in veterinary science and we're having a big party tomorrow. Gotta get up early and help slaughter the chicken. Yum. Miss you all. Much love

Monday, June 23, 2008

Pictures at Long Last

Cheese in Addis!

the office volleyball team
Kary & Mom visit for SpringBreak

Smith & I trying to understand the high-tech flight schedule at Bahir Dar airport

Melissa Gibson & Sarah Wolf in Addis

A hat I bought off a kid and mailed to Cheese.

Simien Mountain hike

last camp site;
highest & coldest one

swallowing a rainbow

on top of our world

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Saturday May 17th, 2008: Hanni in the Finote

6:30am- Hanni snooze #1.
6:35am- Hanni snooze #2.
6:40am- Hanni gets up. Washes 3 days worth of dishes.
6:45am- Straw awakened by emergency tekemat program (don't ask). Is laughed at by landlord's wife.
7:00am- Straw washes 3 days worth of dishes. Makes eggs in non-stick pan (what an invention!)
7:30am- Hanni to Selihome's (best Ethiopian food this side of the Gorge)- tea and eggs for only 4.75birr.
7:53am- Hanni encounters crazy man in bus station. Selam nesh? (Are you at peace?) Dehna nesh? (Are you fine?) I love you nesh. (Are I love you.)
8:00am- Hanni on bus. False alarm on actual departure.
8:07am- Hanni gives spontaneous HIV education on methods of transmission.
8:30am- Hanni actually departs Bahir Dar.
10:00am- Straw heads to market. Poked by approx 10,000 little old women;typical for market day.
- Hanni sitting in Injebara for unknown reason.
10:45am- Straw goes on wild goose chase all over the Finote for peas (current food obsession)
11:15am- Hanni takes excursion to Burie, the blackhole of West Gojam.
11:30am- Straw leaves house, concerned about lack of cell phone service and Hanni being unable to find her house. Informs everyone on street to be on the lookout for "layla ferenji." (another foreigner)
11:35am- Straw at post office. No sign of Hanni.
11:40am- Straw hangs out with internet guys. Tells them to watch for Hanni.
11:42am- Straw goes to bus station for 1st time to look for Hanni.
11:44am- Hanni exits bus in front of internet shop. Pointed in general direction of Straw's house by internet guys. Abandoned on side street.
11:46am- Straw receives sketchy handshake by creepo, informed that bus tickets for Addis (Hanni needs to go the next day) will be available at 1:00pm, and is urgently beckoned by internet friend to return to shop as Hanni is waiting there.
11:47am- Hanni is picked up by friends (??) of Straw's who inform her that Straw is from Oklahoma and very sociable. People Straw has never seen before yet know exactly where she lives.
11:48am- Straw at internet shop. Told Hanni has gone to her house.
11:49am- Hanni walks past Straw's landlord's sister's (Marta) shop. Is told to wait there by Marta, but Hanni decides to go to house instead. Is told by children at house that Straw is not home. "She has gone to look for friend." Hanni responds that she is friend. Returns to Marta's shop.
11:50am- reunion in front of Marta's shop! Overjoyed and relieved. Return to Straw's house.
12:40am- bus station visit #2 to "pick up ticket." Told to find Tsigay… if only we has realized how important this would be… instead get caught up in angry mob waiting to put names on a list. Watch a woman pound a man with her fist. Wait.
12:50am- discuss Miss Kim (Peace Corps volunteer in the Finote 10 years ago) from Washington, as predicted by Straw, with Sophie's teacher. He helps get Hanni's name on list.
1:00pm- name on list. Told to return at 2:30pm for ticket. This is very important as all the tickets will be gone by 3:00pm. Do not be late.
1:05pm- Walk to Extrim Hotel.
1:15pm- tasty and delicious shiro.
2:00pm- bus station visit #3. We wanted to be early.
2:05pm- told to come back at 3:00pm. Straw decides to surprise Hanni with exciting discovery.
2:20pm- arrive at discovery: waterfall. Beauty. Scary bridge, vultures, and excessive amounts of trash. Less beauty.
2:45pm- bus station visit #4. Followed by 11 children.
2:45pm-3:15pm- wait. Confused.
3:15pm- Straw departs for emergency tekemat program. Hanni feels stares of people intensify 10-fold.
3:30pm- Straw returns, bringing a small child of unknown origin who seems to know Straw very well. Hanni has moved 30 feet.
3:35pm- sit on log.
3:40pm- ask official-ish looking man about possibility of ticket. Confusion. Lookers-on confirm 'wait. Bus has not yet arrived from Addis.' Skepticism about "system" grows.
3:45pm- Begin to play hangman. Attract large and uncomfortably close crowd. Small child of unknown origin hangs on Straw. Hangman words reflect desperation: inefficiency, inside my comfort zone, Djibouti.
4:00pm- Ato Kassahun shows up. Straw wonders how long it will take Hanni to notice world's longest fingernails. Hanni notices immediately. Kassahun begins incomprehensible exchange about looking for a carpenter. Kassahun then becomes the enforcer.
4:05pm- Kassahun brings us Tsigay. Told we may "order him as a brother." He is "manager of bus station system." Wait.
4:10pm- shay/bunna (tea/coffee). Offered eggs. Sit next to pant-less boy in deck chairs that have 2 legs. Propped up on logs.
4:12pm- false alarm. Bus arrives from Jiga. Sit back down.
4:15pm- Straw threatens to go buy bread and bananas. Hanni refuses to allow her to leave. Girl of unknown origin returns. Says bus is now in Jiga. We are doubtful of her authority. She now hangs on Hanni.
4:23pm- bus arrives, in all of it's crimson and yellow glory, from Jiga. Girl of unknown origin was right. Hundreds of people make mad dash. Do not think to lose sight of Tsigay.
4:25pm- general chaos. Wait. Shamagely (old man) is almost crushed by falling suitcase.
4:26pm- notice that boy standing immediately to Hanni's right has made interesting decision to grow out left hand fingernails and paint them metallic pink. Wait. Chaos.
4:29pm- Tsigay moves away slightly. Crowd leans forward. Choas. Uncertainty. Wait.
4:30pm- bus turns around. Tsigay boards.
4:30:30pm- Hanni beckoned, "come on." Receives "nay" (come here) gesture. She runs. Straw jumps ship, fearful of being crushed by angry mob. Hanni, at steps of bus, is only one for whom ticket is cut- much to dismay of mob which continues to tighten around her.
4:32pm- Triumph. So glad we got there before 3:00pm.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008


I'll tell you one thing: Ethiopia is a huge country. During the past four weeks I think I've seen most of it. How is this possible, you may ask? Public transportation is always going to be the answer and it will never be pleasant, but it's worth it. I think. [Did you know that Ethiopia has the highest per capita rate of car fatalities in the world? 190 deaths per 10,000 vehicles. Newsweek teaches you all sorts of things you'd rather not know. This explains the ridiculous number of wrecks I've witnessed lately.]

Travels began by going down south to Oromia region for our two-week training. I learned many valuable lessons such as:

· Do not "violet" the rules (compliments of safety and security officer)

· Safety never takes a holiday (he really has some great one-liners.)

· Do not think to cross the river (unless you and friends find a hidden Huckleberry Finn raft and have always had secret dreams of traveling the Mississippi… then you must "violet" the rules and think to cross the river. Just beware of man with gun on other side.)

· They meant it when they said there are hippos in the river. Apparently that's why you're not supposed to cross it. Hippos are big and kind of intimidating when they aren't in a zoo.

· Always close the balcony door lest the monkeys get in and eat Nehemiah, Psalms, Acts, John, and a large portion of the concordance out of your Bible. They will, however, leave the Ayn Rand book right beside it untouched. That has to mean something, I'm just not sure what. Demon possession?

· When you and your roommate are fed up with sitting through redundant meetings, decide to skip, and get away with it- be aware that your "friends" will be jealous of your freedom. Do not leave room key lying around. You will find all the contents of your room, including bedding, stolen and the beds shoved against the door so that you cannot enter said room. You will then have to climb over your third floor balcony (safety was again taking a holiday) in order to find a note written in Amharic denoting the whereabouts of your belongings. This will, naturally, set off a week of pranking in which the honey in the shampoo bottles may make an appearance once again. People love that one.

Umm… so training was lame. But Sodere, the resort it was at, was awesome. It has natural hot springs and much swimming was had by all. Seeing everyone again was a lot of fun. Community is just great. A few of us had a girl's only weekend that involved guacamole and was really refreshing. Another good thing that came out of training is that I was elected as an advisory committee member for my zone. This means Peace Corps will pay for me to come into Addis every three months. Knowing that I can eat Mexican food and ice cream every three months might just be enough to keep me sane.

After training seven of us left the hot, dry south for a five day hike through the Simien Mountains in the north. One may assume that because it is dry season and you live close to the equator that it will not be wet and cold in the mountains. Do not think to accept this assumption. Always pack socks. The Indiana sweatshirt saved my life and now has a funky smell that may never go away. Sorry about that Patty. It was an incredible experience though and absolutely beautiful. We had a great little scout whom we affectionately refer to as 'Scouty.' We carried walking sticks. Scouty carried a gun. We stopped approx every 30 minutes for water and snacks. Scouty was fasting most of the week before Ethiopian Easter and thus was hiking 7 hours a day at an altitude of 4400 meters on an empty stomach. Scouty also had a working knowledge of the English language. His favorite phrases were "upupup,' 'downdowndown,' and 'no problem!' Interesting thing to note about the way Ethiopians hike: they don't believe in switchbacks. It's either straight up or straight down. I mean, why waste time meandering your way up the mountain? We suspect that Scouty may have been trying to kill us. About two hours into our hike the first day we realized that Scouty wasn't really taking us on a defined trail but rather through people's backyards. We think Scouty was using the opportunity to catch up with all his old buddies before the holidays. Scouty was also a pro at the 'hollerback conversation'. We'd be half a mile away from whoever he was talking to last and he'd still be yelling back at them. We believe that Scouty has the gift of communication. No problem!

This trip was the first time that we've done something fun just as friends. Not peace corps related… not a training… just fun. It was so necessary. I'm convinced that if you ever need to be reminded of the bigger picture, that things will work out, that it's ok not to have enough strength to go on alone… the Simien Mountains is the place to go. Plus there are Gelada Baboons and Walia Ibex. They're just cool.

So I made it back to the Finote and it's apparent that it's been awhile. It's been good to see everyone though. Spirits are high since the two months of fasting before Easter are over and everyone is eating meat again. It has been one non-stop holiday (Worker's Day, Patriot's Day, I-ate-too-much-injera-so-I'm-not-going-to-work Day) since last Sunday so there's not much work going on. I have, however, consumed more goat than I had ever hoped to in an entire lifetime. It's also started raining. A ton. With hail. I live under a tin roof. This will wake you up in the middle of the night. The compound I live on has turned into a swamp. When I walk to town I sink three feet into mud. I was excited about rainy season and getting rid of some of the dust… now I'm realizing how wet, cold, and muddy the next few months are going to be. It's really nice to watch everything turn green overnight however… you don't realize how dry and dead everything was until it's bright green and very alive!

Umm… If you guys could pray for my landlord, I'd really appreciate it - he's been sick for about a month and has been at the Addis Ababa hospital for about three weeks now. He's pretty miserable and hasn't been able to work for most of the month. With the rising price of food, it's been rough on the family. It's weird seeing global economics affecting real people. I don't know that I've ever been so aware of it. Also… Ato Asmamo, the leader of our PLWHA/ one of my favorite people in the Finote, is very sick and in the Bahir Dar hospital. On top of that, my nearest peace corps neighbor/good friend has decided to go back home and is heading out this week. And my house has become home to rats again. It seems that re-entering reality after a month of ignoring it can cause what some refer to as a downdowndown.

In conclusion, I checked my mailbox for the first time in a month today. Dang. You guys are awesome. Much love.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008


Don't worry! Life continues on in the Finote! It's seemed extraordinarily busy lately, which is good I think. The biggest news to relate is that the Finote had visitors! My mom and Kary came to visit for springbreak and it was incredible. We were only in the Finote for a day, but it's still kind of a big deal. Apparently the town had big plans to throw a party but fortunately we snuck away at dawn before they could catch them. I think this was wise- as much as mom and kary loved the local food (ha), I don't know that they could have handled what was coming their way. When we weren't in the Finote we were doing all sorts of touristy things: big waterfalls, taking speedboats (ha) to islands with monasteries, touring castles that once housed the kings of Ethiopia but were then bombed by the Brits in fits of colonial rage. That was really unfortunate. I've never really done the tourist thing, so it was a nice change. Particularly nice was staying in hotels with showers. Showers with hot water. It was great to have mom and squeaky here, but hard to see them go. It's also been difficult to deal with the repercussions of allowing them to leave the Finote without experiencing 18,000 coffee ceremonies. I have been told on numerous occasions that I 'made mistake' in allowing that to occur. Whoops.

In other news, I recently became aware of the fact that next week will mark my sixth month living in Ethiopia. This has resulted in a time of reflection on lessons learned, accomplishments, failures, and setting goals for the future… some of which I will share:

Lessons learned:
^ Enunciation is key. For example- say your counterpart has gone to Mota to visit his family. When people ask where he is and you tell them "Mota," their responses of shock and sadness should tell you that something is not being conveyed properly. Don't just assume that everyone else is as bummed as you are that he will be absent for two weeks. As it turns out, 'Mota' sounds remarkably similar to 'murta' (he died) when you don't pronounce it correctly. The question now is- do I go back and explain my mistake to people or allow them to be overwhelmed with joy when Beza miraculously reappears next week?
^ Going six months without driving a car is hard. Real hard. Every time you get in one you have visions of hijacking it just to have that feeling of freedom, that feeling that you can go anywhere you so desire.
^ It really is best to properly wash fruits and vegetables. I say I've learned this lesson, but I haven't really. I'll get lazy again and not wash them right and then have the same unpleasant problems that hit at inconvenient times throughout the day. Such is life.

^ In the past 6 months I have read 20 books. Five were read during the first 10 weeks of training. The remaining 15 books have been read in the 14 weeks I've been in the Finote. I don't know that I've ever consistently averaged a book a week. I like it.
^ When people say things such as 'how do you find it?' 'are you voluntary?' 'I think you would like examine the content matter?' 'I go to the defecation of the toilet.' 'are you fine?' 'you are beauty everywhere I see. Would you like a boyfriend?' or 'that bag is excess birr (money)'- I can a) respond appropriately and b) do so without laughing.
^ I've made some pretty good friends. Definition: I can call them when I'm bored, hanging out feels more like fun than work, and we are able to converse on a broad range of topics.
^ I have successfully introduced April Fool's Day to the Finote. We decided that today was just a practice run and kept it light… sending people to the wrong office, setting up false meetings that no one knew who arranged, wild goose chases to the bus station… In 10 days when it's April first again, it has been agreed that there will be no holding back. Sweet fancy Moses someone needs to give me a real job.

^ None of my accomplishments are related to HIV/AIDS education, which is what the taxpayers back home are paying me to be here for. This is negatively affecting my sense of purpose and occasionally causes me to question why the heck I am here.
^ I have yet to gain the courage to convey my dislike of coffee and still end up drinking an average of two cups a day. Today I drank four. I'm going to be up all night.

^ To learn the language well enough to understand life stories. I have a lot to learn from the people I am surrounded by, but I have currently hit a wall in language comprehension. This is frustrating because I want to know more about people like Ato Asmamo, the leader of Finote's People Living With HIV/AIDS Association (PLWHA). The man is incredible. It's obvious that his concern for others is genuine and everyone loves him because of it. He is tireless in making sure that people get the care they need and is a huge advocate of increasing understanding about HIV/AIDS. I've managed to grasp that there was a point when he wasn't sure he was going to live and as a result he had to give his daughter, who is now 8 years old and lives in France, up for adoption. How did he get from there to where he is now- a healthy, well-educated, leader in his community? I think he would tell me if I asked, but I wouldn't understand. I need to get motivated about learning this language.
^ To make some pretty good friends who are girls. Language acquisition would go a long way in aiding this goal as well. Girls here are smart and know more English than they think they do, but they're too shy to speak it.

Umm… that's enough for now. So, most exciting upcoming event is I'm leaving for IST (In-Service Training) on Friday. Oh! Another accomplishment! I'm really good at acronyms now! PST, MST, PMTCT, ET, OVC, IGA, COS, HIV, AIDS, HAPCO, VCT, ART, HBC, PEPFAR, ROSCA, M&E, CC… I could go on… that's sad. Sorry. I've had a lot of coffee today. Anyway… IST! Everyone is getting together at a resort (this term should be used loosely) for two weeks! They say there is a swimming pool. Most of the day will be full of meetings that may or not bear some relevance to daily life, but at least it will be in the company of cool people most of whom I haven't seen in three months. There is talk of the Bible study meeting up again, which should be awesome!

Been missing you all lately. Much love.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008


You know those days when you see really old men wearing hot pink pants and you think, "oh… he's color-blind. That's sad" and then he asks you if you like his pink pants and you realize that he was fully aware of the decision he was making when he woke up that morning? Those days happen a lot here. I like them. They make me happy.

Additionally, you know that saying that every village has their naked guy? I'm finding it to be true. I've been hesitant to bring up naked guy in order to avoid causing anyone (read: parents) undue concern. However, having encountered him on numerous occasions these past two months in the Finote, I've ascertained that he is harmless. Our village naked guy's favorite pastime is hopping on public transportation at one edge of town and riding it to the other edge (maybe a mile? Probably less...). He then walks back, hops another bus, and repeats. What's interesting about this, other than him violating all public decency laws, is that it's obvious that he has no money. He has no pockets. The only thing he carries is a large stick. So these people are just letting him on the buses? That seems odd. But on any given Saturday, you know where naked guy can be found… just don't run into him as he is making his trek back across town. It's awkward.

Speaking of transportation… I think before this time in my life it would have been difficult to identify a form of transport that I did not love. I love to travel. Planes, trains, automobiles, undergrounds, canoes, paddleboats… love them all. I have now identified a means of travel that makes me want to stay at home for the rest of my life: any type of Ethiopian public transportation. It's horrendous. I have to mentally prepare for days before going even an hour away. Five minutes into it I wish I had never left home. Three hours and twenty minutes into a trip that should've taken two hours (30 minutes by car… two hours by ethio bus…), I was actually eyeing my bench mate's rifle and wondering if I would get there any faster if I shot myself in the foot. I envisioned getting whisked away in an ambulance with flashing lights. I've never experienced this form of transportation, but it sounded nice. Then I realized I've never seen an ambulance here so I'd probably have to stay on the bus in additional pain. Then I started wondering why dude had a rifle on the bus and if it had a safety. Then my knee caught on a protruding metal bar and ripped a hole in my pants.

There are few things that can convince me to make the 8 hour 49 minute and 42 second bus ride into Addis Ababa (don't worry. I timed it)… but if Andy Sisk is in town I will go. And he was, so I went. It was incredible. Great people really. They let me tag along to old Orthodox churches on hills that overlook the city, took me shopping, and introduced me to a Mexican restaurant. Mexican food in Ethiopia… who knew? Cheese also brought a map of Birmingham that Sarah Wolf (who I stayed with and is amazing) poured over for quite some time, locating the homes of just about everyone we've ever known. It's difficult to explain the impact of this past week on my life. Cheese is just great and it was just so refreshing to have a bit of the family here. Just to warn you… Cheese has taken up handholding and wearing man-skirts. Ethiopia does that to some people I guess.

On the way home I had one of the most disturbing experiences of my life. We came around the corner and came upon an absolute slaughter of donkeys. It was so strange. No exaggeration- at least 20 dead donkeys and some very large birds scattered all over the road. They had been there a while but showed no indication of what might have killed them. I could go into greater detail, but it was gross. A few of us were in the PC car and when asked the driver suggested that perhaps it was a "seasonal disease." He was not sure though as "this was his first time." Yeah. Ours too. What kind of seasonal disease drops donkeys and birds dead at the exact same time in the middle of the road, I ask you? I blame the bunny doctors. I've never been a fan of them.

We will now commence a series of posts in which I introduce you to people in town that I like. We begin with my landlord and family. Ato (Mr.) Genanow is 41 years of age and is a veterinary assistant. Sometimes he comes home rather bloody. I've learned not to ask. His English is very good, so he can tell you all about the breeched baby cow that he had to remove from an uncomfortable mom cow. The stories don't usually have good endings. He tells me that he respects me and that I am as a daughter to him… thus if I am not home by 8pm, he can be found wandering the streets with a flashlight searching for me. I'm very safe. Asenaf is his wife and she is awesome. She has an incredible sense of humor and is not easily fazed. They have a really good relationship and treat each other like equals which is a big deal in a society where many wives are still treated like servants. Sophonias (Sophie) is nine. He stands on the main road in the evening and acts like he's not waiting for me to come home from work… but he is. We both arm ourselves with rubber bands and race home trying to snap each other. The people we pass like to make an "errrah?" noise in the back of their throats at us. It translates as: "Why is that boy not respecting the ferenge?" or "What is the crazy ferenge doing now?" Rebkah is six and is constantly dirty. You've never seen a dirtier kid. She also likes to walk around without anything but a t-shirt on. She knows how to turn on the tears in order to get her way, which I suppose is a valuable skill if you have an older brother. She cries a lot. We're really good friends because I team up with her against Sophie. The rubber band wars get intense.

Umm… in other news, work is good. I'm getting to go out into the rural areas a bit more. I love it. I think I might just move out. Except for the lack of water, electricity, and food that I know how to cook. We are trying to start doing more testing for HIV out there but have run into some pretty tough obstacles… mainly lack of education and willingness for farmers to get tested for a disease that they know nothing about. You'd think this could be easily resolved but… who knows? I'm discovering that I'm pretty impatient. If you could pray that I would resist the temptation to give into frustration at the slowness of everything here, the lack of structure, and feeling like I'm wasting time, I'd appreciate it.

Much love.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Another day, another holiday

These Ethiopians have more holidays than you can fathom; it's ridiculous. So January 27th's holiday was St. Yeorgis (St. George). The missionaries in Christie's town invited us to celebrate with them out in a rural village where they have horse races. I'm thinking "ohh! A horse race! Bleachers to sit on, railings to keep the horses away from crowds, women with big hats, and ice cream (I don't know if they have ice cream at horse races, but I like to think about ice cream). What fun!" I'm a moron.

So the way St. Yeorgis works is you drive until there is no more road and then you drive a little bit further. When you can't drive anymore you get out and walk thirty minutes through the rural countryside. Keep in mind we're up in the mountains now, so it's beautiful. Eventually the trail dumps you into a huge open field by a church and people are pouring in from all directions. Where they come from, you have no idea. The missionary's friends invited us in for lunch and lets just say that huts in rural Ethiopia are a lot different than living in a small city. No more complaining about living in the boonies for me...dang. So then we head out to the horse races…

It's just absurd. The priests come out again with their umbrellas, horns, clapping, and singing. It was explained that the thing they're carrying is an ark (you know they say the real Ark of the Covenant is in Ethiopia somewhere…). So the ark is set out to watch the races I guess. Then everyone lines up on two sides of the field. All the horses are decked out in their Lion of Judah finery and they assemble at one end. They then come tearing down the field two at a time with their riders screaming as if death is upon them. One rider has a shield and the other rider has two "spears." They call them spears but there is no tip on them… so really they're just two big sticks. Call them what you will, the objective is for one rider to throw the spears and see how many times he can get them to bounce off the shield. You are particularly talented if you can get the spear to bounce off the shield and catch it again. In order for this to happen, the horses have to be dangerously close together. The horses go up and down the field countless times… no one is really keeping score, so no one wins. You just do it until people get bored. Or someone dies.

You can see, the opportunity for things to go wrong is great. For example: the crowd lining the field can inch closer and closer together giving the horses less and less space. Spears can go flying into the crowd. Small children can run out into the field, overwhelmed by the excitement of it all, and have near scrapes with death. Tired horses can decide they've had enough and run into the crowd. Spears can go between the horses' legs and trip them. Someone can drop their whip, hop down to get it, and get run over by the next set of riders. It was one of those "where-the-heck-am-i?-this-is-awesome!" days.

There's no electricity out there, but I noticed that the hut we visited had a light bulb connected to a switch. They showed me how it worked… rigged to a battery. Granted, it only gave off maybe 4 watts of light but for the first time in my life I thought, "That's cool. I could be an electrical engineer someday." I'm also developing an interest in health care, counseling, economics, seminary, agricultural science, and would like to be a history buff someday. Rather than these two years providing a narrowing of direction, I'm starting to realize I could come out of here more confused than ever. So that's nice.

For our educational tidbit this week, we're going to discuss a rather sensitive topic in broad terms: regulation. I've long been of the opinion that regulation stunts effectiveness, efficiency, and creativity but seeing it in action is mind-boggling. When education is regulated and people are forced to study subjects they have no interest in based on test scores not only are they unmotivated, but you're really hindering your economy. They aren't going to be enthusiastic in whatever field they're forced into and won't work to their full capacity. And when public services are regulated, such as cell phone network, it's just not going to work. It's going to be more expensive than necessary, service won't be available during peak hours (which includes working hours, evenings, and weekends… so all day really), and you won't be able to use international text messaging like the rest of the world. Not that this is frustrating or anything. Additionally, apparently a new thing they're doing is banking over cell phones. I don't know enough about how it works, but it seems like an interesting approach to development… however it won't do much good if you don't have a cell network that works. And if your country doesn't allow private banks and doesn't adequately support the banks that they operate… it could complicate things. Just something to think about next time you're governing your own country.

So the highlight of my day has become going to work. I still don't accomplish much, but I'm learning a ton and the people are hilarious. This week I learned that there are three things that a girl must be able to do in order to be a good wife: 1) make injera. 2) make duro (chicken) wat. 3) Make tella- the local equivalent of moonshine. It is the color of dirt and has stuff floating in it. I've only sampled on occasions when it got too awkward to continually refuse and it is worse than you think it could be in your wildest imagination. I told the guys that I've tried to make injera and failed, refuse to pluck a chicken and thus will never be able to make duro wat, and that tella makes me nauseous… so the office joke has become that I'm unsuitable for marriage. Since going to the panel on gender equality, I've become a big advocate - so I asked what a guy has to do to become a good husband. Apparently they only have one requirement: to plow a field with a team of ox. I asked these guys, who all come from bigger cities, if they've ever done that… and they hadn't. I felt vindicated. So that's what I do at work...distract people. Awesome. I've also learned 91 out of 231 characters of the alphabet. When I demonstrated my increasing knowledge today they said, "Oh, you can read like a first grader."

With April coming ever closer and our Peace Corps imposed travel ban lifting, we're all trying to make our sites sound appealing in order to attract visits from other volunteers. People are beginning to advertise hot showers, camels, lakes, hiking, shops that sell ferenge products (cereal!), and the like. I'll be honest, it's been hard to promote the Finote… umm… "When it rains we have really consistent running water? Sometimes the electricity only goes out for a half hour at night instead of 3 hours? The Extreme Hotel has the best shiro wat this side of the Blue Nile Gorge?" But last week I think I found it-the Finote's selling point: monkeys. That's right. We have monkeys. Haile asked if I had been out to the jungle (it's not a jungle, but that's ok) to see the monkeys. I asked him why it had taken a month to decide this was something he should share. It's awesome. And it's maybe a 10-minute walk from my house.

I've also started going to the Protestant church in town. It's taken me awhile mostly because going to a new church by yourself is scary. But it wasn't too bad. They only had me introduce myself and then asked me to preach twice. We eventually agreed that it would be best for me to wait to start my public ministry until I learned a bit more of the language, so that's a relief. It was so great to worship with believers though; my heart needed that. Also, there are women at church and some of them appear to be around my age. That was an exciting discovery.

This is too long. I'm done. Miss you all! Much love!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Oprah for President!

My office friend Haile, who is well educated and highly intelligent, gave me a good laugh the other day when he told me that he would vote for Oprah if he were American… then I realized he was serious. He told me he read in a magazine that she was running. I actually almost believed him (how would I know?) until he proceeded to tell me some wild conspiracy stories that had also been presented to him as truth... by another magazine. When I asked where they came from he looked at me like I was dumb and said, "America." I'm not kidding-journalists should be required to take ethics courses. The things they get people to believe are absurd. Incidentally, for you Northerners, Haile's office attire of choice is a Weis Grocers polo.

Life in the Finote carries on! Work is slow, but there is hope that it will become more defined soon. My supervisor and I have an appointment to discuss my short-term work plan this week. Even though we are together everyday from, pues, 8:30am till 5:30pm it is still necessary to schedule an appointment. I did participate in a conference on gender equality, a panel discussion at the high school, and English Friday at the prep school. I'm also supposed to start meeting with girls at the prep school during breaks a few days a week. Teachers are concerned that the girls don't actively participate in classroom discussion and want me to help them gain confidence. The teachers at the schools are typically males between the ages of 23 and 27. By typically, I mean that I've met one female teacher in all of Finote Selam and at least 75 male teachers. If I were an adolescent girl, I wouldn't participate either. I want to tell them that the girls need role models. If they want them to have confidence, give them some girl teachers and an example to follow… not sure how that would be received though.

Christie and I have decided to try and get together every other weekend… that's about as long as I can go until the desire to speak English becomes an actual need. So last weekend it was her turn to come here. The Finote went crazy. Two ferenge (foreign) girls with the same name? Whoa. We set out on a hike to my favorite tree in hopes of enjoying another picnic in the out-of-doors. Nope. In a mere matter of seconds we were surrounded. We decided to time the kids, seeing how long it would take for them to get bored of us just sitting there. Turns out we were timing ourselves. We only lasted 4 minutes and 55 seconds until we couldn't handle answering the same questions repeatedly and had exhausted our Amharic vocabulary. We're weak. Turned out well though- we just kept walking and found a lovely river to eat our gummi bears, bananas, and peanut butter by. Later that day we made the most incredible meal and had our inaugural evening of Bible study and quesadillas. You cannot fathom quesadillas this good. With Spanish rice and canned corn? A meal with color! And quality English conversation!

This weekend I headed to Debra Markos because I discovered that the only ingredient I was lacking for banana pancakes (just like banana bread if you don't look at them) is flour, which they don't have in the Finote. There are two peace corps volunteers placed in Debra Markos and while I'm not saying that other people are living more civilized than I am… other people are living more civilized than I am. My first clue that I had been out in the boonies for too long was when I stared at the flushing apparatus on KB's toilet and said, "so… wait… you go to the bathroom inside? And you pull that and the stuff goes somewhere?" I got a "wow Straw" in response. Oops. But once again, going to a bigger town has made me really thankful for the Finote. I like the smallness and that literally everyone knows my name now… ok, sometimes that still freaks me out a bit…

Sunday was another holiday in Ethiopia- Timkat, or Epiphany. It was fun being in Debra Markos to celebrate. We went with KB's landlord to the Orthodox Church for the festivities. Think what it must have been like when the Israelites surrounded Jericho then add traditional Ethiopian garb and ornately dressed priests carrying massive umbrellas and crosses. This is Timkat. Many Orthodox churches here are circular, so people were running/dancing around the church, blowing horns, beating drums, clapping, and doing that guttural Africa yell that is impossible for non-Africans to imitate. I kept waiting for the walls to fall, but they never did. We headed out when too much attention became directed on getting the ferenge to participate in the cultural dancing. It's just embarrassing. But we did continue celebrating on our own by making chocolate pudding (compliments of the Luetchfords… brilliant people really) topped with mashed up Oreos. What are holidays without desserts?

I'm again noticing a fixation on food in these blogs which is really only interesting if you're the person eating so I'm going to endeavor to diversify and include some educational tidbits as well. This week's topic is goiters. I don't think I knew what a goiter really was until coming to Ethiopia… I certainly had never seen one. Did you know it's caused by lack of iodine? It makes the thyroid swell to massive proportions, results in mental impairment, and can cause birth defects. Approximately 655 million people in the world have goiters. I read some crazy statistic on how many of those people are in Ethiopia… but I can't find it anymore and internet has been out in the Finote. You should look it up. Basically every other person you pass on the street here has a goiter. And the only thing you have to do to prevent it is consume like a dash of iodized salt at some point in your life. Ok, I'm making stuff up now but it's interesting. Take advantage of wikipedia. I would if I were you. Goiters. Crazy.

In conclusion, the 'tenish zenab' (small rain) season has come to Ethiopia, making an umbrella a necessary purchase that I have been reluctant to give in to until now. You see, Ethiopians are part of a small sect of people who believe in carrying umbrellas regardless of the weather. Not only am I convinced that this is dangerous (thousands of umbrella wielding people on market day? Someone is going to lose an eyeball), but I'm pretty sure that at some point in my life I've mocked people who carry umbrellas on sunny days. I will not do it. The easiest way to explain this resolve has been to state that I don't currently own an umbrella… however I was caught out in the tenish zenab, which is not so tenish. Thunder, lightening, and torrential downpours are an every afternoon occurrence, usually perfectly timed to the moment I walk out the office door on my way home. I'm trying to look at the positives and consider it an opportunity to rinse some of the grease out of my washed-twice-weekly hair. Right.

Don't forget to be thankful for food that crunches, consistent internet, and iodized salt!

Much love!

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Christmas / New Year's Program? Is possible.

Merry Christmas and Happy 2008 everyone! Or, if you're in Ethiopia, Merry December 15 and Happy 2000! Sure, having your own calendar is cool and unique but it's gotta be weird living seven years and 10 days behind the rest of the world. I guess it'll be nice to have two Christmases…Ethiopia's is January 7 th. And it's been fun celebrating the Millennium again. The new year here began September 11th and the party hasn't stopped yet. "Yeah, yeah, yeah … Millennium" (actual lyrics of a popular song as well as a popular phrase for children to yell at passing foreigners).

As it turns out, Ethiopia is nothing without its programs. There are two categories of programs: 'is possible' and 'is not possible.' Christmas program in Bahir Dar complete with the largest lake in Ethiopia, nature trail, hippos, hot running water, nine other peace corps volunteers, and really old Canadian bird watchers who tell you more than you could possibly want to know about endemic birds? Is possible. Fixing my decaying latrine program? Is not possible.

Those in the near vicinity of Bahir Dar decided to gather and celebrate the holidays… and do some much needed shopping. The program started for me when I stopped by to visit Christie, who lives an hour away… if you get on the right bus. Anyway, her site is in the mountains and we had a full day of hiking in the rural areas. We packed a lunch of peanut butter, bread, raisins, wheat thins, and squirt cheese and enjoyed it on a hillside overlooking running streams and farmland. It felt really right to be in Ethiopia. Her site also includes American missionaries whose program is Forestry, Fruit, and Foraging for Farming Families. The important f-word to note is 'Fruit.' They're introducing different fruits to the area for farmers to grow including apples, strawberries, blueberries, passion fruit (mwuah), nectarines, pears, peaches, and GRAPES. Not much is in season right now, but we did get to eat some really ripe nectarines and some tiny strawberries. It's only an hour away. There is no way to express the emotions I feel with written words.

Bahir Dar was big and overwhelming and civilized and has a lake with water and restaurants with pizza and ice cream and shaded parks with benches and TVs with English Premier League soccer (I root for Arsenal and Fabregast is my favorite player. Who knew?) and is simply delightful for a weekend. We cooked an American Christmas dinner complete with everything anyone ever received in a Christmas package including: Pringles, Christmas tree Little Debbies, canned cranberry sauce, stovetop stuffing, cheddar mashed potatoes, premium canned ham fried in chicken fat, fried chicken, kraft mac & cheese, no-bake cookies, hummus and bread, coke, PURed water, and popcorn. When I say fried chicken, I obviously mean that we bought two chickens from the market, Lavis (previously known as Levi…then the Ethiopians got ahold of him) sawed their heads off while they were still tied together by the feet, then Beth, Anna, and Christie plucked, gutted, and fried them. The second chicken saw what was coming, was not pleased to be part of the program, attempted to escape, dragged the decapitated chicken that was tied to it, and coated Lavis with blood. I took no part in this program. I was, however, in charge of the premium canned ham program, which was a surprising success…thank you dad. We all felt adequately disgusted with ourselves after eating all this, but in the words of C. Smith, "forget it. I have no regrets. I'd do it all over again if I could."

You may be interested to know that since returning home today I have witnessed a wild stampede of approx. 50 horses down the main street of the Finote and not only did a chicken walk into my house, but so did a goat. I find these occurrences curious because until today I had not seen a single horse in the Finote and no one on my compound owns a chicken. Or a goat. It's really nice to be back though, which was a good feeling to discover. It's good to be among people who know me, to be called temermeroo again, to see familiar faces, to talk to my shoe-shining friends who used to be rude until I told them that nice boys didn't talk like that. We're pretty tight now.

So, before the Christmas program, I had been in the Finote for two weeks on my own and it's been really good! We hit the ground running at work: doing more HIV testing at schools, distributing uniforms and school supplies to orphans and vulnerable children (OVCs), and attempting to hire a secretary for our office. We're also starting two income-generating projects for older OVCs who didn't pass the test to go on to more schooling. We're helping them open a hair saloon and Laundromat, jobs that will hopefully give them skills to sustain them in the future. When I say "we," I mean these projects have been in the works since before I've been here and I'm just offering positive reinforcement. There is another group of OVCs that they want me to come up with a project for on my own… I'm supposed to identify a gap in the Finote Selam market and find a way to fill it. Right. Because gaps in markets are easily identifiable in the first two weeks of living in a town. I'm still trying to find the market.

You may have heard that I've been having a bit of a rat issue. For those who haven't heard- I have a bit of a rat issue. He kept coming in my bedroom, though I couldn't figure out why. There's no food in there. After the first week I kinda got used to him, didn't mind so much, was able to sleep through his scurrying, and even considered giving him a name. Then I discovered what he was after. I had a pile of laundry on the floor (not because I'm being Schloppy, but for lack of a better place at the current moment) and apparently I had spilt something on one of my skirts. Must have been tasty, because the stupid rat chewed a hole through my red skirt. This decreases my outfit variety options by at least 1/7 th. I had been accommodating and understanding; now I am angry and my vengeance shall know no bounds. I bought some rat traps, (which I affectionately refer to as Buford 1 and 2 after the illustrious Buford the Rat Trap Racer) when I went to the big city. This aggression shall not stand any longer.

In other news, people here have begun questioning if it is safe for me to live on my own. My landlord's wife, who speaks maybe 3 words of English, even had the audacity to ask if I had ever taken a home economics class. The questions began in earnest after the great Vegetable Oil Spill of 2007 (or 2000 depending on which calendar you use). It's embarrassing and I don't like to talk about it, but the result was my left knee swelling to the size of a softball and developing a bruise that still has the locals talking. I will not be defeated though! I will learn how to cook and I will not get a maid! So ha! Really, I'm kinda having fun. It's like camping and I like camping. Incidentally, the vegetable oil was imported from Malaysia and is a safety hazard. If any of you (Candis) are considering moving to Malaysia for two years… I would think twice. Or avoid the vegetable oil.

Lately God has really been putting 2 Timothy 1:7 on my mind- "for God gave us a Spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control." It's been very easy for me to get in the habit, already, of staying in the safe and easy places. I go to work, home, post office, and internet. I have friends in these places and by associating only with them, I avoid the inevitable questions and stares from strangers. I avoid having to be loving to people I don't know. I avoid the exhaustion of trying to come up with things to say to these people. God has been revealing the error of this and also reminding me of His ability to supply the energy and love that I don't have. So I've been going for runs in the morning to familiarize myself with the town, going for hikes after work, and trying out new cafes to read at instead of sitting in my house. God has really blessed these times and I've met a lot of people. I'm praying these develop into friendships. I told one guy that I needed some friends that were girls and he volunteered his wife. It was really funny, but he was serious. She has invited me over for a cooking lesson and to become her friend. I'm pretty excited.

Ok, this is ridiculously long but I'm going to justify it because it's New Years Eve and I am determined to entertain myself until midnight. Not really sure what happens then, but it'll be a good program. Is possible.

Much love and Happy New Year!