24 January 2008

i'm a believer, i just need a moment.

Buying eggs in Assela is like buying drugs (or what I imagine buying
drugs would have been like had I not spent my formative years
anticipating a career in law enforcement). I go to the grain section
of the market, off in the corner of an open clearing, and a woman
selling corn whispers "enkolal?" (egg in Amharic). I walk over to
her, and she either digs in the bottom of her corn sack or walks into
the dingy building behind her and comes out with a handful of eggs. I
pay, slip them into my purse, and walk away before anyone notices.
Scallions are even worse, since there's only one dealer in town, and
she hides in the shadow of a row of booths on the edge of the market.

Friday night, we finally met up with the VSO volunteers in town. It
was refreshing to bond with other foreigners, venting about the
frustrations of living in small town Africa. There are four VSOs in
Assela, plus Phil at the Red Cross and MIchael at the UN. Phil has a
Red Cross truck of his own, so this feels a lot like high school when
having a friend with a car opened a whole new world of possibilities.
Like staying out after dark. Saturday, we drove out to Sodere, a
small town with a hot springs resort an hour outside of Assela.
There's an Olympic-sized heated (well, hot spring-ed) pool with two
diving boards and, like the Negash Lodge in Wolisso, feisty monkeys.
We entertained the Ethiopians with races, dives, and flips, and
cheered on the few Ethiopian men who dared go off the high dive (and
by high, I mean max three meters). This could well end up being a
frequent weekend excursion for us.

That night, we went over to Phil's palatial house and watched movies
on the projector he'd borrowed from work while not-so-silently envying
his refrigerator, oven, and water heater. He let us have a hot
shower, which worked out splendidly since the water at my house shut
off Friday afternoon. Seems Candace and I have chosen the wrong
development organization. Phil oversees the Red Cross's orthopedic
department, designing and building prosthetics (mainly for people
injured by land mines, but also those disabled from birth or by
childhood polio). He has a pretty impressive photo gallery of before
and after shots of their patients. Rewarding work AND luxurious
accommodations? Sign me up.

Sunday was Timket, the celebration of the Ethiopian epiphany, so we
went with some of Phil's coworkers down to Ardu, the next village
south of Assela, where four area churches combined for a massive
outdoor service. As with all things Ethiopian, it wasn't starting on
time, so we ended up taking a two-hour stroll through the biopark down
the road and made plans for future barbecues under the thatched
gazebos around the lake before heading back at noon, just in time for
the start of the 9 AM service. TIA. But the scenery around here is
breathtaking, even (especially?) in the misty gray clouds that hover
all morning until the afternoon rains, so the delay was less
frustrating than usual.

We attracted massive crowds of children anytime we stopped moving, as
usual, so we headed back in the car to beat the parade/processional
that would be coming down the main road to the church at the bottom of
Assela. We stopped for a leisurely lunch, and two hours later, the
processional started. In general, it was calmer than most massive
religious demonstrations, but there was some mild singing and dancing
en route to the church. Still no water at my house that night,
bringing us to 48 hours and a rapidly accumulating pile of dishes in
the sink. (update: it returned briefly Monday afternoon, vanished
again, and made sporadic reappearances Tuesday and Wednesday. The
neighbors are digging up the yard - perhaps they're to blame?)

One of the VSOs, Andre, works at the teacher's college at the bottom
of the hill, and when I joked about never working, he said I could
help him get the Anti-AIDS club at the college up and running if my
boss remained MIA. That's right along the lines of the things I
should be doing anyway, so we're talking to the PLWHA association and
trying to set up a meeting in the next couple of weeks. They want to
create a workplace HIV/AIDS poster and organize some testing sessions
at the college. I'm excited. Fiona, another VSO, is going to help us
find an Amharic tutor so we can avoid the potential disaster of
posting a flyer with our phone number. Sometimes I wonder why there
are even government agencies and large organizations here - the entire
country seems to function on knowing a guy who knows a guy.

Candace had to go into Addis for a dentist appointment, so we took
advantage of the situation to procure some hot dogs and cheese,
setting us up for an Arrested Development-inspired feast of corn dogs,
Bluth bananas, and (unrelated) onion rings Wednesday night and French
onion soup and white chocolate cranberry cookies for the weekend.
Very exciting.

My absentee ballot also arrived in Addis, and although it's highly
unlikely it'll make it in time to be counted in Florida's 29 January
primary, I mailed it back like the good patriot I am. Those of you in
America have no excuse. Get your ass to the polls!

Grandma, got your package and letter, and Grandpa, I got your letter
as well. Dad and Co, I got the post-Christmas box. Jenna, I love the
calendar! It's already on my wall. Stephanie, thanks for another
excellent edition of leisure reading!

17 January 2008

places look the same, we're the only difference.

It seems the little rainy season is upon us. My royal blue rain
jacket is almost as exciting as the sight of me carrying a chicken
down the street. I've never lived under corrugated iron before, but I
could get used to falling asleep to the sound of rain falling on the
roof. Certainly does a lot to drown out the roosters! It also helps
make the hot cocoa more appropriate. The ensuing humidity is doing
wonders for my hair, however. I think I'm on my way to a charming
mullet-afro combination. Sexy. John the dog tried to come into
Candace's house to get out of the rain. I guess you can spot a sucker
in any language. However, our recent bouts with bedbugs have made us
reluctant to let a cute, but likely flea-infested, animal into the
house.

I finally started working, sort of. On Saturday, the health center
sponsored HIV testing (Voluntary Counseling and Testing - henceforth
VCT) at the health post outside of town. I sat in on the morning
sessions and did my best to follow along with the Amharic. It was
quite inspiring to see people come in for testing. A twenty-something
couple came in together, and after they got their results, the man
thanked me for coming to Ethiopia as a health educator.

There were also a bunch of early-twenties guys who got tested, a
demographic that is usually virtually impossible to convince to find
out their status. It's encouraging to see the community rally behind
the cause - whenever I mention that I'm here for HIV education, people
are excited. Everyone seems to know the importance of prevention.
The epidemic in Ethiopia hasn't reached near the levels of other
nations, and the population seems hell bent on keeping it that way.
This is the kind of climate where it's possible to actually make a
difference, not just feel like you're standing in front of the damn
with a finger in the hole, hoping for the best.

At the bus stop in Adama, trying to find the minibus to Welenchiti, we
nearly sparked a riot. Apparently my wanting to go there was almost
as exciting as me with a chicken. A thoroughly intoxicated man who,
thankfully, wasn't our driver, showed us to the bus and promptly
plopped himself down next to us, picked up Candace's discarded juice
can, and began licking it. He then demanded a tip, but since he
hadn't done a service, we refused. His other, slighly more sober,
friend came to join us, and our drunk companion burst into peals of
laughter at his turban, calling him bin Laden, then showing us his
cross necklace, and cracking up again at the thought of a Christian
al-Qaeda leader. We didn't find it as funny as he did, but then, we
were still sober at 1230 in the afternoon. Silly us.

The Welenchiti Anti-AIDS Club carnival was more of a talent show, but
hilariously entertaining nonetheless. A handful of skits addressing
some AIDS issues (well, as near as we could figure from the Amharic),
dancers, singers, and some fierce gymnastics. The gymnasts were more
impressive considering they performed on rocky dirt and probably
learned there as well. During the freestyle dance portions, Candace,
Sinead, and I earned ourselves much admiration for spirited dancing.
After the show, the organizers passed out pamphlets on HIV prevention
and testing. All in all, quite inspirational, especially considering
the massive turnout. I'll post pictures in a few weeks if I can.
Candace and I are hoping to organize one of our own in Assela.

We spent the night at Sinead's, with Chachi the monkey quaintly
chained up next to her little house and hordes of children and people
stopping by just to peek in the door at the firenji gang. She's the
first white person to live in Welenchiti in recorded history, so the
sight of six of us was nearly mentally overwhelming. On the ride back
from Welenchiti to Adama, via deathtrap mini bus, we had a
stereotypically African bus ride. Twenty-three people crammed onto a
16 passenger van, and we denied entry to two women with chickens and a
man with a goat. We passed a white cow who'd been painted with a
diagram of the cuts of meat under his skin. We passed trucks on the
left around blind two lane curves, people hung out the sides, and we
prayed for our lives. You know, the usual.

Jess, I got your package - I forgot I knew someone in Spain - the
stories are great. Joey, you're the best!

10 January 2008

soberly, without regret.

Ethiopian Christmas came and went. After weeks without Ethiopian food
(read: happiness and independence), our digestive tracts were
ill-prepared for berbere reentry. Thankfully I'd already laid down
the no-meat clause, so I was able to avoid the kitfo (raw beef).
Unlike many of its western cousins, Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity
apparently has no qualms about alcohol. Tella (moonshine) is a huge
part of any holiday, and they take immense pleasure in pushing it on
firenji. I graduated from the University of Florida, so I can hold my
liquor, but that's only fun if it tastes palatable. Tella tastes (and
looks, for that matter) like unsweet tea (blasphemous in its own
right) spiked with cheap grain alcohol and a hint of vomit. After
Candace and I went home to lay down after the meal, my landlord
brought me my very own pitcher to drink later. Yum. During the
course of the meal, my landlord's visiting son stealthily took
pictures of Candace and I with his camera phone. Well, not so much
stealthily since he neglected to turn off the fake camera clicking
noise effect. It was a bit creepy. We started posing for them to
make the situation less awkward.

Speaking of creepy, the bajaj (glorified golf cart used for short
distance public transport) driver with whom we had the chair-transport
fight a few weeks ago apologized to Candace, gave her a free ride
home, and has now taken to offering more free rides and lunches.
Sadly, I wasn't with her for this little adventure, but the driver's
friend took a liking to Candace and gave her a Christmas card that
said "Merry Christmas I love you." They tried to take her to Adama on
Christmas morning. Not by bajaj, although I'm sure that would have
been an amusing twelve hour journey.

I also missed the afternoon where Candace's compound family fed lunch
to the village idiot (of the Jew blood sucking fame). Turns out, he
used to be a high school teacher in town and actually did his master's
degree in the States (hence explaining the shockingly good english).
He went crazy a few years back, and mental health facilities being
what they are here (truthfully, nonexistent), now just roams the
streets ranting and raving. The family fed him, but locked the kids
away first and threw him out as soon as he was finished. It's
heartbreaking to see the fate of the mentally ill here, but the man
still scares the crap out of me( and Candace's family encouraged us to
avoid him), so I'll continue avoiding him at all costs.

Tuesday was a slow day of gastrointestinal recovery, but the laziness
did enable me to finish five books. I'm never trying heroin after
Naked Lunch. I probably wasn't ever going to try it, given my fiscal
conservatism and lack of knowledge as to how to obtain it, but now I'm
even more resolved. Yikes. Entertaining read, though. I recommend
Elliot Smith for the background soundtrack.

I finally started running here. Well, intervals of downhill jogging
interspersed with uphill power walking. There's no oxygen here, so
this'll be a slow acclimation process. Anyone wants to race when I
get back, just say the word. But, it turns out that me running is
even more exciting than me carrying a chicken through the streets of
Assela. Kids chasing me, crowds of men applauding as I ran by
(probably having more to do with the shortcomings of my sports bra
than my athletic prowess), and the usual shouts of firenji and
nonsensical english phrases as I run past. It certainly encourages me
to go faster, but also makes me want to carry (and use frequently)
pepper spray or just a large stick. Still waiting for the day when I
can walk down the street and be treated like a person by a majority of
people. Or just a statistically significant small percentage. I'll
take what I can get. At some point the sight of me has to get old,
right?

John, the dog at Candace's compound, is now squarely in our corner and
ready to viciously defend us. Not sure the dog is capable of being
vicious, but he'd try for us. Candace bought some beef for Mexican
night (well, as Mexican as tortillas and empanadas can be without
cheese) over the weekend and gave a few scraps to the dog. He now
waits patiently outside the door, wagging his tail with a sad
expression on his face, whenever we're both there for dinner, since he
knows we're probably making something good. The family finds it
ridiculous that we not only feed the dog, we also talk to him. Often,
and in the "good dog" baby voice. He's golden and fluffy with big
brown puppy-dog eyes. How could we not?

I had a nostalgic afternoon reading through these old entries while
recovering from Christmas on Tuesday, and found a handful of
embarrassing spelling and grammatical errors. For shame. Forgive me!

I'm still not working...my counterpart appears to have gone MIA. I'm
about to stroll into the local NGOs and volunteer my services. Gizaw,
our pick-up driving friend at the Alliance for Development, already
wants to bring me next time he goes out into the rural areas with the
family planning outreach counselors. That's precisely the sort of
thing I want to be doing anyway, so I'm going as soon as he gets back
from Addis. There's an FGAE branch here too, so I'll probably just
stick my head in, introduce myself, and see what sort of excitement
they have going on there.

On Wednesday, I'm going to visit Sinead in sunny Welenchiti (pop.
5,000) for some sort of "carnival." I suppose kettle corn and candy
apples are probably too much to hope for in a town where you can only
get carrots on market day, but I'm sure the event will be absurd, as
always.

Seems the mailman quit working for a few days, but when he finally
came back, it was an exciting day. Mary and Mike, you two are
fabulous and the Sharrow family Christmas card cracks me up. Dad,
your pre-Christmas box made it, and mom, the two missing boxes finally
arrived as well. Leah and Cassie, got your Christmas cards too. Love
you all!

Jenna got pictures up on photobucket.com. The link should be on the
side panel, but if not, go to the website and search for
"jessinethiopia" and that should bring you to the main album page.
There are plenty, so enjoy yourselves! I'm also trying to get a few
on facebook, but no promises.

Wishlist:
-Books (Justine, Marquis de Sade [don't judge, we watched Quills
recently], any novel by Mark Leyner)
-Yarn
-Sticky tack
-Trivial Pursuit
-Cheddar goldfish crackers
-Sour cream and onion Pringles
-Kraft mac and cheese
-Cream of tarter (snickerdoodles, anyone?)
-Gummi anything
-Hershey's cookies and cream chocolate bars
-Non-refrigerated cheese products (anything!)

04 January 2008

democracy in action.

Well, not in Ethiopia, but Iowa voted.  I knew my boy could do it.  

Florida lost.  Kelly P and I will be wearing Michigan colors at in-service training.  Don't know what those are yet, but I'm confident Shaun will brief us.  Let's hope Gator basketball season goes better.

My landlord can't seem to get his mind around the concept that in America, I am, in fact, an adult who's been living alone for several years now and was selected by her government to work in Africa partially on the basis of that independence.  He keeps trying to feed me (injera, nonetheless) and woke me up at 7 AM for tea.  I declined.  The final straw came when he refused to let Candace leave my house after sunset on New Year's (although she stayed with me that night, we still didn't make it to midnight).  

As the workman was fixing my kitchen sink Tuesday, my landlord continued to linger and make conversation about how I was his daughter.  I tried to explain that I'm not a child but the message wasn't getting across.  Ethiopians live at home until marriage, but I'm already strange here, so why can't my insistence on sweeping my own floor and cooking my own food be one of those eccentric quirks too?  

Earlier that day, I found broccoli in Adama (hallelujah!) and was in the process of preparing it during said conversation (Christine, that hollandaise sauce was a godsend!).  He turned to discussions of Americans' diets and was utterly appalled by the notion of vegetarianism (last weekend's organic, locally-raised chicken aside, the amount of labor involved in meat is incentive enough to avoid it).  Ethiopians have three vegetables widely available here (potatoes, carrots, onions) and availability doesn't necessarily entail eating.  The shopkeeper in Adama was bewildered as to why the sight of broccoli, zucchini, and bell peppers sent us into a frenzy of excitement.  Think getting kids to eat their vegetables is hard - try Ethiopians?

But I digress.  It's hard enough to explain the environmental ramifications of meat production to Americans, let alone non-native speakers of English.  I think I at least got the message across that very few Americans are vegetarians.  It's funny - every balks at any inadvertent stereotypes of Ethiopians on our part, but seems shocked to discover that all Americans don't think, eat, dress, or even look alike.  Candace and I walking together is enough to provoke utter amazement.

Moving entirely off the topic of food, I received not one, but two, anonymous notes in the last three days.  On Tuesday's visit to the post office, the nice man who handles the packages gave me a note from a mysterious woman with a phone number.  Turns out there are four VSO (Volunteer Service Organization - the British Peace Corps) volunteers in Assela.  One of them saw my name in the package ledger and assumed I was probably a foreigner.  We're meeting with them next week - new friends!  Jolly British ones.  We're very excited.

The second anonymous note was a bit more absurd.  The servant girl on my compound brought me a card and note someone left at the front door for me.  This means they know where I live.  It was from a 14-year-old 9th grader who is a clever student and whose favorite subject is math.  They left their phone number and nothing more.  Except a musical birthday card, re-gifted from the mystery student.  If one of you is lucky, you may get it in the coming months.  Every move I make seems to attract a crowd, so I suppose this was only a matter of time.

Returning to the topic of food, we've discovered how to get cornmeal in this town.  And ground anything else we see fit.  Took an hour and a few dozen observers, but it cost a whopping 15 centimes (1.5 cents) to grind a kilo of corn.  I picked up a tail in the market - a little girl followed me while I waited for my corn, stopped to pick up a mug, purchase a small stool, and check every souk between the market and my house for powdered milk (only sold in limited stores, it seems).  I feel like a celebrity all the time.  I see why people snap and start fights with paparazzi.  We made cornbread and ate our feelings while hiding in the sanctuary of my new couch.  

I killed two enormous spiders after Candace left last night.  Electricity and running water aside, this is starting to feel like Africa.  I may asphyxiate myself on the insect killing spray I bought, but I will win this war.  

Strolling through the market in search of eggs Friday morning, the little old lady who sells grain and sometimes hoards eggs under her bags called me over because she knew the white girl usually wants eggs.  The souk on the corner by my house, which rarely sells eggs, also knows that I typically want them.  She's still never had them, but when I approach looking for something else, she always asks.  It's nice to be remembered for something besides looking funny.

Monday is Ethiopian Christmas.  We'll be having dinner with my landlord and his wife.  Should be an evening to remember.  Well, since Candace will have to be let out before dark, an afternoon.  

Grandma, I got your package - thanks so much!  J^2, the religious tracts made it through the watchful eyes of Ethiopian customs.  You two crack me up.  Dad, got your letter as well - great to hear from you.