Sunday, June 24, 2012

My Host Family

So, I’ve been with my host family a week and it’s still tough going. Communication is a huge problem, especially when my host dad isn’t home, but they’re all good people.

H is my host dad. He works at a college in Assella teaching Civics so he’s only home in Eteya a few nights a week. He’s very into helping me integrate, having me learn bits of the culture and practicing my Amharic.  But he gets that it’s slow. When the food is two spicy for me, he’ll wipe off a piece of duro (chicken) before handing it to me. He wants to have one of the unfinished rooms in the compound be a library and I think that’s wonderful. 

My host mom Y is super kind. She also makes the best eggs I have ever had. She taught me how to wash my clothes yesterday, and just like a Greek lady insists on over feeding me. I swear, she gives me a portion twice the size of what she gives the twins. She also has a job as a tax collector, which is rare in Ethiopia as it usually the man who works (though teachers are paid really, really low so maybe she needed to work). She also manages the family store.

The Twins

M and D are 10, and just finished up the third grade.  I’m surprised at how western they are, wearing pants and playing soccer with the boys in the open field just outside our compound. They can read really well, though their conversational English is rough, and they have a strange fascination with my hair. I can’t tell if its cuz it’s curly or finer than theirs.  Their own room was finished just last night, and they had to show it off this morning by having me eat breakfast in there.

Little B is the child of the house at 3.  He gets into everything and likes to disrupt our games. He’s also very, very spoiled. One of the differences I notice the most between here and home is how he’s treated. If he falls down during soccer, he won’t get up by himself though he’s capable. One of the twins puts him back on his feet and brushes him off. And if he tries to hit one of the girls or his dad, they don’t tell him hitting is wrong, just try to avoid the blows by moving. He has learned “yes”, it’s one of three English words he knows and he says it all the time. I like asking silly questions like ‘are you a dog’ and ‘am I a boy’ and having him say yes.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

My last day in Addis

For the second half of the day, we broke into groups and explored Addis with our LCFs as guides.  LCFs are language and culture facilitators, they mostly live in Addis but will be in our host family cities with us to teach us language and culture for the next two months.

Exploring Addis just made me more ready to leave the city. It's too busy and dirty and large for me. I knew my way around Wellington after about a week of living there, but I can't do that here. Maybe it's the lack of posted street signs, or large landmarks that can be seen for a ways. I don't think I'll ever be comfortable embarking out into the city on my own.

As a group we saw the Emperor's Palace. While Ethiopia is currently a democracy, it wasn't until 1991. It was a military dictatorship before that, a regime called the Derg, from 1974 - 91.  But for all other times of Ethiopia, which records going back to Ancient Egypt (but are truly solid starting 1150) Ethiopia was a kingdom.

Unfortunately, all we could see of the Palace was the gate. It, and several other compounds in the area, are used by government officials and we weren't even allowed to walk on the same side of the street as them.We also tried to get in to see an Orthodox church, but they wanted an admission price of 50 bir, at which our LCFs balked at.  While it's common here for prices to be higher for ferengi, 50 bir was the local price. 

While I thought this was a seagull, it's probably a dove instead as there's one on either side of the gate to the house the head of the Orthodox church lives in.
Instead, we headed to the national museum. (admission only 10 bir for us ^_^).  It was a small museum, but had a range of stuff. Artifacts from multiple emperors, art work, and the whole basement was dedicated to evolution. 

I think the best part of the day was simply walking around the streets however, seeing the city at the ground level and looking at some of the bazaar stands. I tried a bit of honey wine, which is nothing like the mead of the States. It's got a strange aftertaste, slightly bitter, and is stronger than what I'm used to wine being. 

Tomorrow morning, I'll be getting a taste of a different city. I'll be moving to Eteya, a town 30 km north of Assella to live with my host family. While Eteya does have a post office, it does not have a Internet access. I will however, have a running shower. ^_^

Friday, June 15, 2012

Addis Training

Here in Addis, our days look like something like this: breakfast, morning panel A, tea break, morning panel B, morning panel C, lunch, afternoon panel A, afternoon panel B, tea break, afternoon panel C, afternoon D, dinner.

It's a lot of eating and sitting. We're all gonna get fat.  Which equally has to do with the type of food that's eaten here. Lots of bread, rice, meat, and sugar.  Our drink options at main meals are pretty much only soda and water (which you get bored of) and when you order tea/coffee it's common for it to come with at least two heaping spoons of sugar.  I get it for the coffee, it's super strong here, but tea? Apparently consuming sugar and meat is a sign of wealth, and because people want to impress ferengi we get feed that a lot -_-

Not all of our sessions are useful.  The history of Ethiopia was boring, we went all the way back to Ancient Egypt.  And some partner organization had people come in to talk to us, but compared to PCVs are telling us they're detached and not quite understanding of what goes on on the ground.

While technical training doesn't truly start, today was certainly an improvement. But I also pin a lot of that on the presenters too.  Today was a lot about the PC processes; what the three goals of edu volunteers are (linkage and mentoring of school and teachers, bringing English outside of the classroom, building the capacity of OVCs [orphans and vulnerable aka female children]), what development is, the six practices of PC development, and roles volunteers will perform.

What's also nice, and apparently new to the program, is PCV talking about their experience on site.  We had a panel on perceptions and harassment in our sites.  As Americans, we'll lie on the border - not oppressed but not privileged either. We might get some benefits, like being served first at the bank, and but we also get hassled a lot by name calling and unwanted advances (females more so than males, obviously).

It's nice to get an understanding of what to expect, and how to diffuse some situations.

I did get some practical experience in today - doing laundry!

I have been kinda stock piling, thinking I'd just have room service take care of it for me, but I must have heard the village price instead of the Addis price because there is no way I'm having them wash all my clothes. 15 bir for a pair of pants?! Sure, that's less than a dollar, but when your allowance 600 bir till the end of the month, you become slightly stingy. So -

What I Learned From Doing Laundry in the Sink
  1. You have to find your own plug for the drain (a sock works well, but water still drains)
  2. Don't leave the sink running when you search for the Woolite
  3. The front of the sink may be lower than the drain hole in the back
  4. If your camping rope seemed a bit stretched to reach across the bathroom, it will snap off one of the walls and dump your wet, clean clothes on the wet, dirty floor.
  5. Socks takes up more drying space than you would expect.
  6. You'll need more soap than you would expect.
  7. It's a lot quicker to use a machine.  I hate to think of the drying time. I miss the Western world already. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012


The first thing we noticed getting off of the bus was the amount of stares we got. In the whole five minutes we waited for the local PCV to come collect us, the 11 of us has a crowd of maybe 30 Ethiopians staring at us. Mostly children, but a few adults too. They didn't do much but stare at us, blatantly so, until the PCV arrived and shooed them away.

It was something that happened a lot in Kimese. As a small town, they aren't use to firengi, or foreigners, (culutre note: the locals call themselves habasha, which translates to burnt face) and are prone to staring like moths attracted to a flame. They're just drawn to people who are different, and I don't know if they're actively aware of it because if you stare back they usually look abashed and turn away.

It's common for the kids to call out "You, you" or "China, China".  China has a huge influence over the area, and for some Ethiopian's they don't know there is a difference between Asians and Whites.  If one person who looks different is called on thing, others who are different will be called the same thing because they don't know any better. Similarly, calls of "money, money" were directed out way. It was hard to tell if they wanted some, or if that was the one English word that popped into their heads and they wanted our attention.

The second thing we noticed was if you pay attention to the kids, they're really sweet. They'll fist pump you, the girls will hold your hand as you walk. They love getting their picture taken! They also seem to be every where. Unlike my 'stay on the block' boundaries, these kids are allowed to wander the village and do as they please as long as their work gets done. You can't go anywhere without running into small packs of them.

You also can't avoid the animals. They, like the children, were set loose in the town to do as they please.  However, they have an immunity to cars. Sort of.  There's a rule here that if you hit and kill a useful animal - cow, goat, sheep, horse - you have to pay the owner to replace it.  If you hit anything else, including a person, the driver isn't held responsible. Cows will stand in the middle of street, not moving even as a car coming up honks it horn and has to swerve at the last minute. And goat could very well be sitting beside your gate as you leave the compound in the morning.

The best part of Kemise though was that we got to see a Muslim wedding.  They're usually private affairs, not many PCVs get to see one, but the PCV we visited lived with a landlord and it was his sister-in-law getting married so he extended her invitation to all of us.  I had expected one full day of partying, but it was broken down into three (all of which we participated).

Day one was the prep, though we missed the killing of the goat. Not that I'm too upset at missing it, but it seems like a cultural thing I'll have to witness sooner or later. Day two was a celebration by the bride's family only. We were feed and got involved in the dancing a little. It's really awkward dancing, involving only the shoulders. I kept wanting to used my hips or pop my chest at the same time, but that's not how it's done.  At least in this region, others have their own version of traditional dances.  The highlight of day two was when the groom and his friends show up, eat, and then take the bride off to the grooms home. (The word to marry in Amharic is apparently the same as to take). Come the third day, or rather third night, the bride and groom return and it's the bride's family's job to show the family of the groom a good time to symbolize that the marriage is to a good family.  This was the party I had been expecting! Dancing, food, it was all there.

Like the kids, adults seem obsessed with images. They had hired a camera man to film the entire weekend. We also seemed to be a popular form of entertainment, as we got filmed a lot.

I had a great weekend. It was nice to get out of the capital a bit and see what life will be like where we will be stationed (showers maybe twice a week, bathrooms a step below a latrine, and if you're lucky water access every day). An eye opener, and one I'm glad I had before I arrive on site.

Demystification Praticals

For this weekend I have to send out a huge shout out to the G5 peeps, for they are the group responsible for setting up the demystification I just went through. Apparently, they spent 10 days straight in Addis, not being able to leave the hotel, before being asked about what type of site they wanted. And then were dropped in the middle of it without any idea of what was going on.

Not wanting to have us go through the same thing, they set up this weekend. While all of us in G7 are edu volunteers, only half of G5 were, so our PCMs (Peace Corps Mentors - those who have been in country for at least a year and are there to help us out, all of whom are G5 for us) took us on trips to visit edu sites and the PCVs who live there.

I went to Kimese with eight other volunteers. It's about a 6 hour bus ride north east of Addis, in an area called Welo.  At  about 20K, it's on the smaller end of a town that PC will send us (which, considering I'm from a town of less than that, it isn't that small). It's also very Muslim, about 80%.

I learned so much, visiting the primary school and the CTE (teacher's college), about how the school system works, about how classes are run, about government edu structure. And then, since I actually stayed in volunteer's house, about the mechanics of living as a PCV. How to shower, how to use the outhouses here, how to deal with people who stare at you.  And even more about what will get you kicked out of Peace Corps, and what will help you make it through the full two years. Plus, a lot about culture and what I can expect. 

I can't begin to understand or comprehend how other groups survived (or how you will Matt) without having some one to talk to to show you the ropes. Most of the early groups here in Ethiopia had a low COS (completion of service) rate, few stayed for two years in their sites. I feel like G7 has it easy - not only do we have access to PCVs to ask questions of but most of us will have site mates from other groups.  The number of sites PC places us in are tight, and my group is so big, that all of us will be within a short travel distance from at least one person in our group.

While I still feel nervous about starting, for all the PCVs I hung out with this weekend said it was hard, especially the first 3-5 months, I at least feel a little bit prepared. Less likely to be surprised maybe, but still capable of being so. Kimese hasn't helped me decided if I want a site like it or not though, mainly because I have nothing but Addis to compare it too. But I wouldn't want to stay in Addis, even if that was an option.  Too dirty, too nerve-wracking, too Western. After seeing the  country side, rural Africa, I looking forward to living in it. 

Friday, June 8, 2012

Leaving Addis

I've been pretty good about trying to post every night, but I'm letting you guys know that that will no longer be the norm.  Two reasons.

One, I blew the one working outlet in our room (my poor surge protector, thank goodness nothing was plugged into it). Actually, it was a pretty severe blow out, cuz the room next to us also no longer has working outlets.  Oops.   But hey, we do have one advantage of other rooms. We have immediate hot water! But it does mean I won't always have a powered laptop to work on.

Two, I'm leaving Addis. We've been living in King's Hotel for a while, reenacting the first days of college (hanging out in rooms with people you've just met, eating in the cafeteria, going to class), but now things are changing.  This weekend (I'm leaving at 4:30 am [European time] tomorrow, joy) I'm visiting a educative site where a volunteer currently works with a group of eight of G7 volunteers (G7 stands for Group 7, the one I belong to). I'm excited to see what sites actually look like, and for the Muslim wedding we've been invited to attend on Sunday.

While I'll be back in Addis come Tues, I won't be there long before heading to my host family site near Assella. Out side of Addis, and the hotel where I have free wi-fi, I'm not sure how often I'll be able to get online. Especially before I can get settled into my own site.  I just wanted to warn you guys so you don't freak out if I don't post for the next couple of days.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

The histroy of English in Ethiopia

Ethiopia has never been colonized, but from the beginning English was a common foreign language as well as Italian and French. Then came the Ethiopia-Italian war which devastated the school system here. The British helped push out the Italians, and then helped rebuild the education system in the British image with English as an important corner stone. This was about the time PC first came into the country.

And then the Derg came into power (the previous ruling party) and there was a movement by the government to push Amharic and English was no longer in schools (this was also when PC pulled out).

That...didn't really work out, and the new party (which has been in power since '91) turned English into a focus. It's used quite a bit here, on business forms, ads, working with foreign organizations, banks, insurance, travel agencies, public signposts, and news. Thus, knowing English is a must have skill to get out of the rural villages.

So at least the kids I'll be teaching know English is important.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Introduction to Addis Ababa

Traveling is always weird on the body. We landed quarter to 7 local time, 3 am MI time (if I remember correctly), and every one was fine. We didn't really hit jetlag land till about 3 pm. (The only reason I'm still up at 6:30 is I'm waiting for food to be served, then I'm straight off to bed!)

We went straight from the airport to the hotel, so I didn't get a long look at Addis, but enough to tell it's an interesting city.  It's the capital of Ethiopia, and yet I was surprised by the amount of English on the signs here.  While I know I'll need to learn the language, I'm relieved people here do know English.

There were a lot of interesting juxtapositions; nice adobe apartments and businesses are mixed evenly with half finished buildings with wood scaffolding, stalls and homes made of tin roofing, empty lots with kids watching goats.  While the trash isn't too bad, and the roads are new, the sidewalks could use a lot of work. Apparently, there are uncovered sewer entrances that sneak up on you.

Today was designated a light day, lunch (which was very similar to the Blue Nile if any of you want to experience what I'll be eating on a daily basis), and then more paperwork. But while you were waiting for lines to get your Ethiopia SIM card to shorten, you could partake in a coffee ceremony. It's something that is usually done daily, either at night or in the morning, and traditionally you drink three cups of coffee. I tried, I had half a cup, but I just couldn't take the taste of coffee.  Thankfully, it's usually served with snacks: popcorn (for reasons unknown) and dabo ዳቦ .  While that directly translates to bread, it's like a spiced sourdough? It's really hard to explain but really good.  Even better than injera እንጀራ , which is this spongy bread with a hint of lemon you eat with, kinda like you would naan for Indian food.

Lemon rice, injera, a roll, two types of khan (a chicken dish) and an interesting stir-fry of hard boiled eggs, steak, pineapple, and onions. Not to mention mangos and fried cabbage. The food here really agrees with me ^_^

What is slightly disappointing about today is that the sun sets about 6:30.  Every single day. That's the problem with being close to the equator.  And apparently Ethiopia has it's own time system; days start when the sun rises.  So, when the sun rises at 6am European time, Ethiopian time would pin it as midnight. And when the sun sets, that's noon.  This will take some getting used to, and ensures that I'll have plenty of down time in the evening cuz for safety we shouldn't be out really after dark.

Why Ethiopia Airways is Awesome

  1. They serve really good eggs
  2. They give you blankets.
  3. And pillows
  4. And an eye mask
  5. And toothbrush/toothpaste
  6. And socks (Though I don't understand the last one)
  7. The seats are color coded.
  8. They allow us to fly direct to Addis, and not have a layover

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

It's time to break out the cards

It's nine, the plane doesn't leave till 11, and I've been at the airport since 6:30.  It was actually pretty quick to get us all through, leaving a lot of down time. But it meant we could relax when eating breakfast, and hook up to Dulles's internet for one last taste of high speed. Apparently, it's back to the dial up speeds come tomorrow.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Staging - Day 1

While I knew another PCT (Peace Corps Trainee, I'm not an official volunteer yet) was on my flight, we didn't actually meet up till after we disembarked.

After which we were giddy for a bit as we realized our trip to Ethiopia was actually getting under way.  And then we hopped in the taxi and realized how little we knew. How would we get paid in country? How does the language work? Later that day? I had a mini drama attack when the hotel came in sight an I realized I had no idea how to check in. Was the room under my name? Or the Peace Corps?

Really, just getting our bags on the cart and through the door was difficult, we have so much stuff! (I have a large suitcase, a mid size one, a carry on backpack, and a stuffed purse which pretty much contains most of my actual books. And that with Christine's stuff...we needed a minivan just for two people).

But as soon as we stepped into the lobby we knew we were in the right place. There were signs pointing to where registration was, and they simply asked us our names and checked us in. They're used to this (PC uses this hotel a lot, as evident by the alarm in the room is preset for the right time) Christine and I were thankfully in the same room. It's so nice being with someone who has some familiarity with home, and it certainly made travel easier with someone rather than alone.  

It was rather easy to tell who was a PCT, based on luggage upon arrival, and we wrangled up a group of people for lunch before Staging. Trying to get as much out of America as we can before we leave, we had nice pizza.

And then came Staging. It's hour after hour of information. Challenges you might come across, reviews of PC's core values and goals, plans for the night and tomorrow morning, talking about our anxieties, and getting to know everyone. (Also, I learned Ethiopia has 13 months. For real. I'll have to learn more and tell you all about it.) One of the points that was really driven home was that we put so much into getting here, and all have similar issues on our minds. I am amongst people that instantly understand what I've been going through during the application process, about dealing with how people have reacted to the news I've joined the Peace Crops and their varying degrees of support. It's great to have people to share a journey, physical and mental with.

On top of that, we're all great people to get along with. At lunch, and later at dinner with sushi (PC gave us $120 to spend over the course of the night, we couldn't resist the call of sushi. But we all pretty much have most of our money left), conversations were lively.  I felt that if you looked at us from the outside, it would have been impossible to tell we had only met 6 hours prior. (Though, be bubbly could also be how we hid how nervous we are all.)

But I found that life was like that when I was a tour guide on Mackinac Island too.  You bond real quickly to people going through the issues you are, form a support group and create friends. And all 70 in my training group are great people. I can already tell we'll all be close.

I think these next 27 months will be okay, with future friends like these.

Tomorrow, our flight doesn't leave till 11:15, but we're checking out of the hotel by 5:30 oh boy.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

I'm Off!

Come tomorrow morning, I'll be hopping on Delta flight 1844 to my staging location (Arlington, VA) and then leaving the next day at 11:15 am for a 13hr flight for Ethiopia. Wish me luck!!!