30 November 2007

life is how it is, not how it was.

The current road asphalt paving project seems to have Assela in a
tizzy. I walked out of the internet cafe on Monday to the sight of
hordes of people crowded along the side of the road and the median
watching the bulldozer creep down the street. The project, in true
bureaucratic third world form, appears to involve virtually every
remotely able-bodied man in the town. A contingent of men sweeps the
dirt and rocks off the road, then another group crawls on their hands
and knees with steel brushes, scrubbing the animal dung off the old
layer of rocky asphalt, before the bulldozer goes through with the
actual asphalt. The purpose of the poo-scrubbers escapes me, but I'm
still impressed with the efficiency of the project. Almost an entire
direction of the road is done already - we may see the completion of
this project before we move in permanently in December.

Tuesday morning we visited a handful of the NGOs around Assela that
work on HIV-related issues. The health center has tested some 12,000
people in the last two years (total population 75,000) with a
prevalence rate around 11-12%, which is frightening considering the
national prevalence is around 2.1%, but the number tested is
impressive. Other organizations have what appear to be some excellent
programs in progress (including some education and income generation
projects for commercial sex workers), but how effective they actually
are remains to be seen. Either way, it's exciting to begin to see
what we'll be doing. Our actual jobs are still quite vaguely defined,
but meeting people is a step in the right direction.

After two days of excruciating attempts to communicate our desire for
housing with our counterparts, we finally called Lisa, the assistant
PC director. Apparently PC has paid a deposit for the homestay that I
visited on Saturday and fully intended for me to live there until we
told them otherwise. I wanted to cry. Okay, I did a little. The one
good house we visited has been secured for Candace, which is great for
her but I find insulting since I was probably placed in the homestay
because I'm younger. I'm so sick of being treated like an animal
and/or a child here. I was selected for this job for a reason and I
wish someone (anyone!) would believe that I might actually be
competent and capable of living my life unsupervised. For the love of
all that's good and holy, I can wash clothes and cook food! Is that
so hard to believe? I can come home to an empty house and be safe. I
have parents. I moved out of their house(s). I'm not looking for new
ones and I certainly don't need a babysitter.

PC is communicating with my counterpart since I can't, and hopefully I
can see some more options this week and find housing that will enable
me to maintain some semblance of my sanity during the next two years.
I can shit in a hole as long as it's my hole, but I can't handle being
a trick-performing monkey who has to hide in a bedroom in order to
remember what it feels like to be a person. Everyone has a breaking
point and I know full well exactly where mine lies. I adjusted and
internalized near-constant sexual harassment and assault in Jordan,
but this is so much harder. I guess if I had to choose, it's easier
to be a sex object than a freak. (NB: This isn't a solicitation for
advice or consolation, it's my way of expressing my emotions. There's
no right or wrong, there's just the way I feel. Please don't confuse
frustration with unhappiness or regret.)

To move onto more amusing aspects of my life, the best food we've had
thus far in Assela has been a day-old chocolate donut. I've been
eating egg sandwiches for lunch and dinner for four days now. I
really like eggs and all, but the prospect of cooking my own food is
the most appealing idea I've heard in two months. We're quitting my
hotel's restaurant and switching to bread and fruit tomorrow. Without
a Negash Lodge to distract us, we're realizing just how terribly most
Ethiopians cook. My kingdom for some cheese. Or really, just
anything prepared without a foundation of a half gallon of vegetable
oil. Candace and I already have elaborate plans for Christmas dinner
(see wishlist below, please contribute!) at our house(s).

My counterpart abandoned us all day Wednesday, so we didn't get to
visit the other housing options. The suspense is killing me.
However, Candace and I spent the day exploring the town and pricing
various items we'll eventually have to buy. This being an
Amharic-speaking town, we struggled a bit at the furniture stores, but
I think we got decent price quotes. We don't know what kind of space
we'll be dealing with, so we can't actually purchase things yet, but
knowing is half the battle, right?

We also found the market and the decent souqs selling firenji food.
There are, in fact, vegetables in this town, something our restaurant
doesn't seem to know, but in two weeks we're breaking in the new
stoves with french onion soup (sans provolone, sadly) and homemade
bagels (not related to vegetables, but related to not-nauseating
food). We also found ketchup, black currant jam, vanilla extract,
cinnamon (apple pie for Christmas if we can find apples!), tuna, and a
grater, all things we thought we were going to have to find in Addis.
No olive oil, cocoa, yeast, cheese, or syrup, so we still have an
excuse to occasionally venture into civilization. Housing issues
aside, we're growing to really like Assela. It's beautiful here, both
weather and scenery, and once the road paving project is finished,
there will be significantly less dust in the air, so the prospects
look good for the next two years. Although the sun is blindingly hot,
there is a constant cool breeze running through the town and the
nights are downright chilly. I love it!

Reading over this, I'm realizing why people keep journals. It's
entertaining to track my emotions over the last few days. On Thursday
morning, we decided to take the plunge and negotiate for our beds.
Good thing we did, since the carpenter said it'd take a month to make
them, which will put us sleeping on mattresses on the floor for our
first two weeks. We also ventured back into the market since Thursday
is an official market day, and were we ever glad we did. The
selection widened considerably when everyone showed up. We found
scallions, which improves our plans for a Chinese (thanks Will for
that sweet and sour sauce!)-and tapas-themed Christmas feast and,
better yet, guavas. Considering the only other fruit here is bananas
and (green) oranges, we nearly peed with excitement when we smelled
them and realized what they were. Better yet, they cost 10 birr cents
each, which is slightly more than a penny. Life gets better and

I also further explored my plans to keep chickens for eggs, and
discovered that each hen will cost me approximately four dollars, plus
a few more birr to feed them and build a coop and nests. Yes. We
were surrounded and accosted by a horde of men who were fascinated by
an obvious firenji and a vaguely-Ethiopian-looking firenji who wanted
to buy chickens. They also like to touch, usually inappropriately.
White skin feels just like black skin, I promise. I'm thinking four
chickens so I can slowly build a surplus of eggs for baking. Two have
already been named Ducky and Piggy (long stories), but any suggestions
for the other two?

After lunch, Daniel took us to the Assela hospital to meet a few
people, then we visited what will become my new house. Apparently I
got the "no homestay" message across, and I now have a cozy baby blue
private house inside a family's compound. It's a 2 room + bathroom
house with a little porch that looks onto the back of the family's
house. I think the chicken coop will go in the corner of the porch so
they stay out of the way and I can easily get the eggs. My bathroom
(when finished) will have an indoor shower, sink, and western toilet,
something I'm no longer ashamed to be happy about. I can't wait to
move in and decorate! The compound already has a pretty lush garden
in the front, which means the soil is fertile. The corn on the cob is
terrible here, so I can't wait to grow sweet corn. We won't even
discuss how excited Candace and I are for broccoli and zucchini. I
can't believe I spelled both of those right on the first try.

After the housing adventure, with both of our houses finalized, we
went back to the furniture stores to order the rest so they could get
started on production. We went with Daniel, my counterpart, but soon
discovered that our inability to communicate with him wasn't helping
us get better prices. He noticed too, and used the opportunity to
ditch us again. It worked out in our favor since we now have the
satisfaction of knowing we obtained our furniture entirely on our own
with our dozen words of Amharic. We're feeling pretty good about
ourselves, not going to lie. We should have fully furnished places by
New Year's, if not Christmas.

I was still on a nice high from knowing I had a place to live, so
while fighting with one guy over the cost of a simple kitchen table, I
decided to dash across the street and ask another carpenter. I
sketched out what we wanted and he quoted half of what the other guy
was asking, which resulted in a fun battle for other pieces and better
prices for us. The word "sofa" here means any sort of living room
seat, from chair to loveseat to three- or four-person couches, so I
scored amusing foreigner points when I explained that I wanted a sofa
for "sost koot" (three butts) since I didn't know the word for person.
Explaining a bookshelf was a difficult process in a country where
most people don't read for pleasure, but thanks to my artistic skills,
we got that covered as well. We're picking out fabric for curtains
tomorrow. I feel like a newlywed, except I'll be living alone. Well,
I guess the chickens will be like roommates.

We're stopping off in Addis on Saturday for a decent lunch before the
return to Wolisso for two more weeks of greasy homestay food. More
homemade pasta and pesto for me! Maybe even a banana split. Eating
to live is decidedly depressing (the satisfaction of increasingly
saggy pants aside), but no matter how bad the food gets, we still have
that American love for good food. Candace and I have plans to start
running in Assela, which will probably leave me ready for a marathon
by the time I move back to the oxygen-rich paradise that is the
eastern seaboard of the United States. We haven't had mail since
before Thanksgiving in Addis, so our return to Wolisso should be

New Address (hint hint):
Jessica Ducey
PO Box 986
Assela, Ethiopia

26 November 2007

assela: part one.

I'm keeping this entry as a journal of sorts during my site visit, so
pardon the lack of logical transitions.

Thanks-mas dinner was a rousing success. Peter, our country director,
lives in a beautifully un-integrated compound mansion, where we were
able to have a proper binge, albeit sadly lacking apple pie and
cornbread. For having never actually lived in the United States,
Peter puts on a pretty fabulous holiday party. Six gallons of
Breyer's chocolate chip ice cream was the highlight of my evening, but
the turkey and mashed potatoes were also delicious. Yes, I ate mashed
potatoes - amazing what life in the third world does to you.

Before dinner, we had a hilarious white elephant gift exchange - given
the lack of stores and wrapping paper in Wolisso, there was a
disproportionate amount of toilet paper, odd snack foods, and duct
tape. Plus some uber-stylish fashion accessories. Just wait for the
pictures, they'll be up sometime around real Christmas. After dinner,
we skipped the one month between Thanksgiving and Christmas and went
straight to Elf on a television of such enormity and modernity that it
took a dozen of us a good ten minutes to remember how to turn it on.
God bless America.

The next morning, we took off with our counterparts for our site
visits. Daniel, my supervisor, is a delightfully jolly man with
limited english but full knowledge of all development buzzwords -
capacity building, social mobilization, monitoring and evaluation. I
visited one of my potential homes on Saturday afternoon. It's a room
in a house with satellite TV, a fridge, and a western toilet, but I'd
give anything to be living somewhere else. Is that strange? I just
can't imagine myself remotely happy living as a zoo animal for another
two years. My potential landlord doesn't have kids, but I'd still be
sharing a house with a family and hence only have a bedroom as a
sanctuary. The first thing she said (in Amharic) was "she's just a
child," which doesn't bode well for my independent streak. I just
want the freedom to come home and make dinner while dancing around in
my underwear if I so desire. I want to be able to sit on my couch and
laugh at immature toilet humor and not put on a happy face or perform
tricks or make conversation night after night. It's not finalized
yet, so I'm going to do everything I can to not live there. I just
want to have a place of my own to go home to at night. If it's a
one-room mud hut with a pit latrine out back, that's fine.

Ethiopians remind me a lot of Floridians. It's probably 75-80 degrees
during the day here and perhaps down to 60 at night here in Assela,
and everyone is bundled up in coats and the traditional shawls that
function as blankets. I'm so excited to be living in a temperate
climate for the first time in my life!

The entire town of Assela is an enormous construction site. It's in
the midst of a massive project to asphalt the main road and
build/update gutters and sewer systems, so currently, the main road is
a rocky mess with four-foot-deep gullies on the sides and precariously
balanced logs or concrete slabs functioning as deathtrap bridges
leading to the various shops. It'll be extremely convenient when it's
finally finished, but currently, I've lost count of the number of
shattered ankles we've narrowly avoided.

On Sunday, Daniel and I teamed up with Candace and her supervisor for
continued housing tours. At dinner Saturday night, I explained that I
did not, under any circumstances, want to live with a family, and
thankfully, Candace backed me up Sunday morning. As a returned
volunteer, I think her opinion carries more weight than mine, but I'm
just glad my feelings were validated. We visited a second possibility
that was a private home within a compound - a bedroom, indoor
bathroom, and living room/kitchen area, all with its own private
entrance and currently under renovation, so it'll be a nice place when
it's done. The host family in the compound was very nice and hands
off, so that's a significant improvement.

There's another private home, no other family on the compound, off the
main road that we're going to see later in the week. Daniel seems to
think that the no family part is a problem, but Candace and I are
doing our best to make it clear that Americans love their privacy and
are, in fact, quite capable of washing our own laundry unsupervised.
He also thinks it's on the expensive side and potentially un-secure
since it's on the road with no family, but we're prepared to live
together and squelch both of those problems with one blow. Plus,
being able to furnish one home with two settling-in allowances will
result in one fabulous party house in a gorgeous city. I'm trying not
to get my hopes up in case the house isn't as nice as it appears from
the outside, but it'd be great to have my/our own garden and chickens
and privacy.

After the housing visits, Candace, her counterpart, and I went on a
tour of the market area, but since Sunday is generally a day off and
specifically a holiday this weekend, most of it was boarded up. We
also found a handful of internet cafes along the main drag, and have
located the bank and post office, although they're closed for the
weekend so we haven't actually been in them yet. We got dinner at my
hotel since Candace got food poisoning from hers, and then a
contingent of Ethiopian men cornered us as we were leaving, telling us
"we want to invite you." Not sure to what or where, but we erred on
the side of caution and beat it out of there. At least our town is

Monday morning we opened our PO box with surprisingly little
difficulty. Copying the key however, has proven a far more difficult
feat. We decided to save money and share a box, so if you know
Candace and have stumbled on this blog, go ahead and mail to the same
box. If you haven't written to me yet, now would be a great time
considering I'll arrive just in time to spend Christmas moving in. My
new address:

Jessica Ducey
PO Box 986
Assela, Ethiopia

Perhaps as punishment for the rapidity with which we were able to open
a PO box, we then spent an inordinate amount of time trying to open
our bank accounts. After handing over residency permits and passport
photos, we waited while they hand wrote our files. Then, they
demanded our father and grandfather's names, just in case. We
explained the paternal nature of surnames in America, but the teller
couldn't grasp the concept. My paternal grandfather being dead didn't
faze them, but Candace was adopted. Incidentally, by two women, thus
leaving her fatherless, a fact that completely bewildered the teller.
She invented ancestors to pacify them, and then we waited again while
they dealt with this new information.

As we actually opened the accounts, he asked if I had had problems
with immigration (um, no?) and warned me that because of problems in
Ethiopia, I shouldn't try to withdraw more than 10,000 birr.
Considering we opened the accounts with 500 birr, I didn't forsee that
being a problem, but he insisted that 10,000 birr wasn't that much. I
assured him I'd never even have that much in the account. Candace,
being half-African American, got no such warning, but my milky
whiteness apparently meant I was likely to have massive influxes of
cash. He didn't grasp the "volunteer" concept and couldn't move past
"firenji give me money" assumptions. TIA.

Tomorrow we get to meet the police and maybe some of the people with
whom we'll actually be working. We're also holding out for visiting
the lonely house and reinforcing that bizarrely American desire for
privacy. Perhaps putting some down payments on furniture, too? It's
an exciting life we lead here in Ethiopia.

21 November 2007

what's the meeting about? farting, i think.

Firenji movie night was a success, although I think our counterparts may have been a bit scarred by some of the choicer examples of stoner-toilet humor (see post title).  Such is American culture - high and low.  The staff even gave us permission notes to take home to our families the day before explaining that we would be with PC staff until 830 PM.  That was the latest most of us had ever been allowed out, so when the movie ended at 730, a group of us stuck around and had a dance party at the hotel to take advantage of the unprecedented level of freedom.  Probably frightened the hotel staff, but we're already stared at like freaks anyway, so it's about time we started earning the whispers and stares. 

On Saturday we all went into Addis to learn how to use public transportation.  They bussed us all into the city en masse and turned us loose in small groups to explore.  Addis reminds me of Amman in a lot of ways, although significantly less developed.  It's dotted with small enclaves where foreigners can go and not be treated like zoo monkeys on holiday from their cage.  Steph, Levi, and I, under the expert guidance of the hilarious Ato Mokonen (choice quotes: "That dog is ferocious.  He will devour us" and "It's so windy today you should put rocks in your pockets so you don't blow away."), went to a firenji restaurant called The Blue Tops where we had delicious homemade pasta and banana splits (plus a milkshake appetizer...don't judge).  As I learned in Amman, the true marker of a good firenji establishment is a menu entirely in English with no traces of the native language.  Better still if the name is in English - the Blue Tops meets all these criteria.  Since we discovered this place via Lonely Planet, we also ran into approximately half of our PC group during the course of our meal.  The promise of ice cream sundaes is hard to resist - we're easy, what can we say? 

After lunch, Mokonen led us on a whirlwind tour of the city, of which we remember precious little, but perhaps it'll come back to us when we're abandoned there alone.  We rode public transport, better known as blue donkeys or service taxis - they're little death trap blue and white vans that careen through the streets of the city, stopping only to unload or cram in a few more people at quasi-designated stops.  We visited a firenji grocery store, which leaves much to be desired after the Safeway and Cozmo of Amman, but at least carries peanut butter and cereal, if lacking a refrigerated section and hence cheese.  Supposedly there are others around the city, so I trust that in time, I'll find a way to MacGuyver some mozzarella cheese sticks.

Since we were told to be at the bus station no later than 4 to catch public transport back to Wolisso, you can imagine that all of us clung to every second of freedom and bombarded the bus station precisely at 4 PM.  As a result, we were able to pack an entire bus full of firenji, thus losing much of the experience of public transport (chickens and goats, anyone?), but giving us a fun end to a day of freedom.  Levi and I frightened my former Amharic teacher by (not-so?) silently rocking out to an iPod mix featuring such classics as Nine Inch Nails' "Closer" and Buckcherry's "Crazy Bitch."  Guess she thought I was a bit more sweet and lovable than that.  Funny how people make that mistake. 

I gave Zacharas and Sarah (plus a random neighbor kid wearing an Orlando Magic sweatshirt - cue "It's a Small World") a small squishy ball to play with the other night.  Myself being an American kid raised on football and baseball (I've been a St. Louis Cardinals fan since birth - ask Dad for pictures), my instinct when thrown a ball is to catch it and throw it back.  Not so with Ethiopian children.  Granted, my two are a bit young to be expected to have the hand-eye coordination to consistently catch a ball, but the ten-year-old was just as inept.  I suppose spending your childhood watching a game where you're not allowed to touch the ball with your hands really ruins the instinct to catch.  I still don't like little children, but I'm making an effort. 

Burdette, our medical officer (and perhaps the greatest member of Peace Corps/Ethiopia staff, and not just for the candy she always brings) came into town on Monday for an entertaining presentation about sex in Peace Corps and thankfully fewer shots than anticipated.  Seems our influenza and HPV vaccines are held up in customs.  A side bar - although Peace Corps may seem illogical and disorganized at time, I salute their HPV vaccine policy.  They're paying for the vaccine for volunteers through next spring since it wasn't approved recently enough for most of us to have been in country long enough to receive the series (and save the money since most insurance companies won't pay for it).  Hooray for Peace Corps medical services! 

Parents entertaining naive notions about your little babies' innocence may want to skip this paragraph.  Speaking of sex in PC, apparently only 30% of sexually active volunteers always use condoms.  Since most of us work in fields at least indirectly related to health education, that's more than a little frightening.  I hope the married couples are skewing that statistic.  Forty percent of PCVs will have sexual relationships with host country nationals, and 90% are sexually active by the first 20 months of service.  I'll leave that for your pondering. 

After a day's delay for the ultimately non-existent shots, we finally discovered our site placements in an elaborate afternoon "Price is Right"-themed ceremony involving a map and pushpins designed solely for the purpose of torturing poor volunteers with little else to do in the past weeks besides wonder about our placements.  They did throw in a celebratory party at the lodge (with an 830 curfew again!) to pacify us, so life isn't all bad.  Anna accidently stepped on a cat, who retaliated with a small nip on the ankle, which means she gets to go to Addis for rabies boosters, just in case.  Nice to know they're looking out for us.

I'm going to Asela (the town I mentioned a few posts ago with the FGAE branch!), along with the lovely Candice (who loves children and will hence spare me all of the OVC projects).  It's about 3-4 hours south of Addis Ababa, up the mountains lining the Great Rift Valley and chain of lakes region.  Candice and I will both be paired with the local HAPCO (HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control Office), the federal agency overseeing all HIV/AIDS work in Ethiopia.  We don't have a lot of specifics yet, but there are quite a few local NGOs operating in the area, so I imagine we'll be doing a lot of networking between different programs.  Candice is a returned PCV who served in Swaziland before this, so I'm excited about having someone with a ton of experience with which to work.  Apparently Amharic is widely spoken in Asela, which isn't doing much to help my complete lack of interest in Oromiffa.  Three more weeks and I can hire a tutor to learn the language I wanted to learn anyway, and as it turns out, will be using. 

Sinead's about two hours north of me in Welenchiti, a small town that doesn't appear to make it into any of the guidebooks but is quite close to Addis.  Levi's up in Bahir Dar and Steph is in a small town about an hour around Lake Tana from it, so at least it'll be easy to visit my favorite Amhara region volunteers (well, easy in the sense that Ethiopian Airlines has cheap domestic flights - 15 hours by Ethiopian bus is pretty much everyone's definition of hell).  A couple of people are way out in the sticks - two days by bus from Addis and several hours from internet or cell service in the case of Tikil Dingay (the only consolation is the sheer fun-ness of saying "Tikil Dingay"), so I'm pretty content with my site.  Can't wait to see what I'll actually be doing! 

After Friday night's Thanksgiving/Christmas party at our country director's house in Addis, we leave on Saturday for a week at our new sites.  Most of us should have our housing arranged, so we'll be able to start setting up our new homes.  Our future supervisors will babysit us as we explore the town to set up banking services, PO boxes, furniture, utilities, etc.  We'll all be having electricity and some form of running water - if not pipes in the house, than a spigot on property.  A far cry from the rural mud huts most of us were expecting (hoping for, perhaps?).  The verdict's still out on whether or not we're actually disappointed.  I'll have a new PO box next week - I'll post the address here, but the Addis one will still get to me (eventually) as staff make visits to our sites during the first few months.  Feel free to send to Addis in the meantime, but then switch to the new one. 

I'm not sure how much time we'll have for internet during site visits, so don't expect an update from me for a while.  I'll do what I can, but you'll probably not hear from me again until the first week of December.  Mom, I got the box - not sure at what point you got the impression I liked pumpkin pie, but several others were excited!  Thanks for the UF news!

Hi Anna's mom!  Hi Straw's mom!

-Cheddar goldfish crackers
-Sourdough pretzel nuggets
-Crystal light packets

15 November 2007

when life seems absurd, all you need is some laughter.

As I sat at Negash Lodge, enjoying the company of some of my favorite
volunteers in our free time before dark, a mischievous little monkey
sat quietly in the tree above our table. He strategically positioned
himself on his branch, steadied himself, whipped it out, and proceeded
to let loose a stream of urine. Not a little stream, either, a
full-on golden thunderstorm. Our reaction time was admirable,
however, as Aly yelped an "oh shit!" and we all leapt over our chairs
to safety, immediate breaking into hysterical laughter as the
Ethiopian staff stared in confusion, gazed up into the tree, back down
at the puddle on the table, and suddenly understood. TIA. (this is

... in other news ...

Despite the monkey pee, I'm currently in a splendidly good mood after
several carefully executed surprises (although the recent influx of
candy and letters hasn't hurt either!). Several of us were discussing
how much we love a particular volunteer who wasn't getting enough
mail, in our humble opinions, so we wrote an onslaught of letters to
surprise him. It's going to be wildly amusing for us when they all
arrive en masse with no return addresses. I threw in an extra for
another friend just for the additional entertainment. Then, Sinead
and I rallied the kids in her neighborhood for a massive photo project
involving them holding up signs wishing her friend luck at his
wrestling tournament this weekend. Steph and I have also organized a
massive firenji movie night at the hotel (well, late afternoon, given
our curfews), complete with popcorn. Grandma's Boy comes to Ethiopia.
If you haven't seen it, go rent it.

The kids and creepy men have been particularly spunky lately, and I
accidently stumbled across a man beating up a mentally retarded kid
yesterday, but I can't be brought down. It's times like this I'm
reminded why I'm here. Sure, it's not always fun and rarely easy, but
no one ever said it would be. You don't join the Peace Corps for a
vacation (well, maybe if you get assigned to a beach in Fiji, but I've
heard even that's no cakewalk!). Hard times and obnoxious children
aside, this is one of the most rewarding, albeit challenging, things
I'll ever do. I've learned more about myself and what I'm capable of
in a few short weeks here than in four years of college. The group of
people I'm currently working with are, without exception, incredible.
New programs have an attrition rate around 50%, but we've only lost
one and no one is showing signs of lagging. Our six returned
volunteers say that this is the most dedicated (stubborn, perhaps?)
group they've ever seen, and I can believe it.

For those concerned that us lonely PCVs wouldn't be able to properly
binge on Thanksgiving, have no fear. Our country director, Peter, has
invited us all to his house in Addis, where we've been assured we will
be stuffed to the brim with the closest thing to a Thanksgiving feast
we can conjure up here. I'm really just hoping for apple pie since
dad already sent the can of olives. That doesn't mean we won't still
be freshly arrived at our sites and alone on Christmas, though, so
keep sending those care packages!

Site announcements come on Monday - I'll finally know where I'm going
and have a vague sense of what I'll be actually doing!

Candace, I've been listening to Reema's "Love on a Bike" mix for days
now and have only been able to identify four songs. You wouldn't
happen to have a song/artist list, would you now? I'd love you
forever if you'd email it to me!

It's been a windfall mail week. Mom, your box and a letter made it -
thanks for everything, especially the Reese's! Grandma, I got your
letter as well. Matt N and Nick, you two seriously made my day on
Tuesday - I never expected to hear from y'all that quickly, and both
on the same day! Love you guys! Jess - thank you for an excellent
package (Haribo = delicious, and there really aren't words to describe
how excited I was when I saw the Oreos!) and thank your class for the
great letters! I had a whole afternoon of entertainment reading them.
A response is on the way, and I should have pictures online by

12 November 2007

the curious girl realizes she's under glass.

I listen to far too much Bright Eyes.

Although training sessions tend to err on the side of ever-so-stimulating lectures, we had a surprisingly lively lesson about Ethiopian administrative structures. Although it sounds horrendously dull, Ethiopian society is divided almost exclusively on ethnic lines, much to the chagrin of several of our staff members. Ethnicity isn't clearly inherited on either side, so intermarriage is screwing up the numbers. Ethiopia being the democratic utopia it is (ahem), our presenters were hesitant to express their true feelings, but a sizable number of thinly veiled criticisms got the point across. All in all, a very interesting picture of the Ethiopian political culture.

Due to some poor planning on our part, our cultural exchange day was a culinary disappointment since we didn't get to raid the firenji grocery stores in Addis. However, we thoroughly amused our counterparts with a racy version of "The Dating Game" and some hilarious dancing, including classics like the sprinkler, shopping cart, lawnmower, and, exclusively choreographed for Ethiopia, the buna (coffee) ceremony. The Chicken Dance, Electric Slide, and Macarena all suffered without the background music, but fortunately we all have less shame than musical talent and were able to hum. I think our language and culture teachers are all utterly traumatized by American culture. Interestingly, they were most impressed with how well everything came together, since we started planning the afternoon before. Skillful procrastination must also be a uniquely American value.

Speaking of American culture, I've introduced my family to the wonders of Ramen. We'd lost power that night and I ended up having to make it on a gas burner with the children hovering in the darkness and staring. It was actually rather creepy since it's hard to see them coming in the dark, but the deliciousness was worth every awkward moment. Send more please!

Next week we're having "practicum" sessions, where we'll be out in the town visiting various NGOs and clinics to observe, report, and make recommendations on their current practices. To prepare, we've made some brief visits to a handful of organizations in the area. Our first was to the Wolisso People Living With HIV/AIDS Association (henceforth PLWHA). Although it was interesting to hear about the progress they've made in reducing stigma and encouraging members to be open about their status, a lot of their hopes for Peace Corps volunteers were disappointing. Seems the principles of sustainable development haven't quite caught on in the developing world. All they could think of getting from PC was money and material resources, the two things we don't do. I understand the urgency of the situation necessitates immediate solutions, but Ethiopia has already seen backlash from the collapse of outside-funded projects. Case in point - a project giving formula to HIV+ mothers so they could reduce the risk of breast milk transmission fell apart in the second year, resulting in a massive increase in infant mortality in that area. If that doesn't illustrate the importance of local sustainability, I don't know what does.

At another visit, I had a thrilling afternoon where I was hit with why I came here and why I'm so excited to get to work. We visited a private clinic, funded in part by IPPF (International Planned Parenthood Fund) that was precisely the kind of organization in which I envisioned myself working. It provides low cost (sliding scale, so free to some) contraceptive and family planning services, HIV counseling and testing, and a host of peer education programs for kids and young adults in the community. It's set up as a community center (a la the YMCA) with sports equipment, games, and a library for kids to use in the afternoons. While they're there, they can't help but be exposed to a little comprehensive sex-ed in addition to their constructive social development. There are several dozen branches of these clinics around the country, some in the towns we'll be assigned to, and I really hope I end up at one of them. I get to do my practicum observing their programs, so hopefully PC staff will notice how excited I am and actually do something in line with my expressed interests (if y'all are monitoring our blogs, I'd love to work with the FGAE in Asela!).

My next door neighbor got me drunk Wednesday night. I live in government housing consisting of duplexes, and the other half of my house is inhabited by a family hosting Miranda, another PC volunteer. Miranda's little sister came over to retrieve me and bring me to their house, where her mother proceeded to pour a seemingly ceaseless flow of tella, which is the equivalent of Ethiopian moonshine - home-brewed, frightfully strong, foul-tasting beer. I've virtually given up drinking here since I'm not a huge fan of the beer and there are few socially acceptable opportunities to drink anyway, so my tolerance has rapidly declined since my days as a Gator. I came home after two glasses and my mother made fun of my white girl flushed cheeks.

The weather's getting increasingly dry and windy - clear sunny days with storm force winds that are doing a number on the gates and fences, not to mention our eyes. I'm sure I'll regret this, but I can't wait for rainy season!

Shocking reproductive health fact about Ethiopia: We visited St. Luke's Catholic Hospital to see their PMCT (prevention of mother-to-child transmission - I feel like I"m beginning to live my life based on acronyms) and education programs. They mentioned that they provide post-abortion care, which naturally led to the question of whether they perform abortions. Being a religiously-affiliated hospital, they don't (*bites tongue*), but it turns out abortion is not entirely illegal in Ethiopia anymore. Recently, laws have been passed (apparently in response to the numbers of unsafe and illegal abortions - how convenient when your argument plays out to its logical end) permitting abortion in cases of rape and (*gasp*) underage pregnancy. If a woman goes to a medical facility and says she's been raped or is under 18 (medical records being what they are here, age is more difficult to prove than you'd expect), she can have an abortion. Interesting that baby steps to liberalize abortion law in Ethiopia are exact opposites of parental notification/consent laws to restrict it in the US. Given the broad (oppressive?) reach of the Orthodox church here in Ethiopia, I think it says a lot that advocates have been able to pass these laws. It gives me hope for other religiously-backed governments.

Although my frustration with Oromiffa has been brewing since the day I found out I was switching languages, I think I've reached a breaking point. My teacher is a really nice person, but that doesn't translate to teaching skill. Also, several of the counterparts we met a few weeks ago told us that they speak predominantly Amharic in their towns. We'll be working directly with government counterparts, and government work is conducted in the national language (that's Amharic, if my annoyance wasn't apparent). To add on the final straw, after today's lesson about shopping and bargaining, we went out into Wolisso (a town situated well within the Oromo region) to practice our new skills. I wanted to buy a pair of tennis shoes (a mission at which I was successful, no thanks to language class), so we visited a series of shoe stores. In not one of the shops did the clerk speak, let alone understand, Oromiffa. I just wanted to ask prices and haggle, and they couldn't tell me numbers. My host mother speaks no Oromiffa. My father does, but if he's home one night out of seven, I consider it a banner-headline week. So, I'm getting sub-par classes, no practice at home, and minimal practice in town for a language it may turn out I won't even need to understand. But, since I'm not learning Amharic, I'll be SOL when I get to my site and have to figure it out as I go along. A perfectly logical arrangement, wouldn't you agree?

On a cheerier note, it turns out Miranda, my neighbor volunteer with the alcoholic mother, used to read palms. We had an entertaining morning reading futures as we waited for training to start. I'll apparently have two significant romantic relationships, possibly marriages, and two boys. Success will come easy and all my choices will lead to a single destiny. I'm moderately cautious in love, but fall hard when I do. Sounds like things that could describe virtually anyone, but it was a fun exercise.

Will, you're fabulous - Sinead and Levi extend their thanks for the Cadbury that has brightened our Arrested Development/movie afternoons and the soup cubes are a welcome change from my mother's oil soup. Eight day arrival from the UK may be a record for a box delivered by the Ethiopian postal service. I don't think they're as quick on the outgoing mail, but everyone keep an eye on your mailboxes - I've been keeping busy with letter writing.

-Bullion/soup cubes
-Dried fruit
-Sourdough pretzel nuggets
-Cheddar goldfish crackers
-Peanut butter anything (reese's PB cups!)
-Blank CDs
-Kraft mac and cheese
-Ramen noodles (oriental flavor)

07 November 2007

everything all of the time.

Happy "UN-Peacekeeping troops-pull-out-of-the-Ethiopia/Eritrea-DMZ!" day!   Let's hope this all goes well.


It's come to my attention that the parent email list has resulted in some new readers.  Hi Randie's mom!  Hi Sarah's mom!   Hi to anyone else reading - we're all still alive and well!


Sorry about last week's downer post.  We were in a rut there, but we're coming back out.  Our language and culture facilitators put on a mock wedding and funeral to teach us about Ethiopian culture and traditions.   There're dramatic, let me just put it that way.  Wailing at the funerals, spirited dancing and singing at the weddings.   The best man's job is to wave the bloody handkerchief around town after the wedding night to celebrate the deflowering of the bride.  No blood can mean grounds for returning the bride.   American men, I'm sorry if I've ever suggested that a bachelor party with strippers was somehow demeaning to women.  I was wrong.  


We're doing our own "cultural exchange" next week.  We're thinking about a Superbowl party/tailgate, 4th of July, and Christmas extravaganza.   Mainly for the food, but those are also some of the most American holidays around. 


As a reward for making it four weeks, we went on a firenji field trip on Saturday.  They took us out to Wenchi Crater Lake, a beautiful mountain lake 40 km from Wolisso.   Ethiopian roads being what they are, that means an hour and a half roller coaster ride of a bus trip.  I never had motion sickness problems until I moved to the developing world.   To add insult to injury, the 2.5 mile road from the top of the crater down to the water is not bus accessible, so we had to hike to our relaxation site.   I briefly regretted not bringing tennis shoes to this country.  (That turned into serious regret the following day when I attempted to play basketball barefoot.   Whoops.)  Thank god for the horses on the way back up! 


But seriously, whining aside, it was a welcome respite from training.  A few lunatics went swimming in the frigid water, but most of us just relaxed on the shore.   To top off the evening, Peace Corps bought us all pizza at the lodge.  They're making a concerted effort to keep our fledgling program happy, and I must say, our love certainly comes cheap.   Our six repeat volunteers said they never had it this good.  If this program fails, it won't be because the volunteers left - we're still at 42 of the original 43!   (We are, however, watching the border situation closely.  We'll all be very far from Eritrea, no worries.)   We had a quick update before the field trip, and I will admit, I had a bad flashback to the hotel in Tel Aviv last summer. 


We got let out of Wolisso again on Monday for a trip to Addis for the day's training to meet with some people from Save the Children and CDC.  These busses and roads will be the death of me!   More exciting, however, was the firenji market near the hotel.  I didn't make it because I was distracted by mail (Mom and Grandma - I got the three letters but no packages.   Leah, you made my life!  Dad and Christine, the box was excellent!  Everyone else, your packages/letters haven't arrived yet.), but some people brought back cheese and chocolate.   Coupled with the hot and delicious buffet at the hotel we used for training, it all worked out to a pretty exciting afternoon. 


To top it all off, a fruit actually entered my house.  I got an orange with my oil soup for dinner that night.  I don't particularly like oranges (and they're especially strange here, since they're green, but still called orange), but it was fruit and I devoured it.   My kingdom for a banana. 


Word on the street among the firenji is that there is an Olive Garden restaurant in Addis Ababa.  I think we may all be projecting our desires on to our new home - I was pretty certain OG hadn't gone international yet.   Dad, can you look into that and let me know?  You have the potential to make or break 42 people's days. 


Seriously, someone send me a football.  We played basketball for firenji sport time on Sunday, and it wasn't pretty.  Footballs appear to be the only piece of sporting equipment you can't purchase in Ethiopia.   Figures.  Volleyball next week, so please hurry!



-Small deflated football!

-Blank CDs

-Cheddar goldfish crackers

-Peanut butter anything (reese's PB cups!)


-Kraft mac and cheese

-Ramen noodles (oriental flavor)