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!

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