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)

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