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.


Elizabeth Ketner said...

Yes, we Americans love our privacy - and also our safety. Living in a house all by itself would be worrisome. Do you know karate? Are you afraid to hurt someone if your life is in danger?
(from Marcy's mom)

Anonymous said...

Hi Jess,
I updated your address per your request. If you want just email me things you want changed, and I can do it for you. It seems pretty straighforward.

Take Care, Christine