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!