22 February 2008

you're exactly the kind of trouble i need.

Last Thursday, we did an HIV discussion with the Ethiopian Red Cross
staff. They weren't as eager to open a dialog as our previous
community groups of women, but we managed to get them going on the
topic of how to bridge the gap between the plethora of information
available in Ethiopia and actual behavior change. When they all
admitted that they'd never been tested for HIV and many didn't use
condoms, they realized they were the problem. We had a great
discussion about "leading by example," and afterwards, they made plans
to go get tested together. Heartwarming, eh? The slow days aside,
that's what makes this rewarding.

Happy belated Valentine's day - I saw two unsolicited naked penises
from crazy men in 24 hours. One was the town exhibitionist, having a
snack on the side of the road with his pants around his ankles and the
other purposefully whipped it out when he saw me approaching. Didn't
I feel special. For the weekend, we all met up in Debre Zeit for an
Arsi/East Showa zone Peace Corps party. Turns out there's a Mexican
restaurant there, open only on Sundays when the owners come down from
Addis. Whoever's doing the cooking has had some training in the
states. Delicious.

Monday morning, a few of us met with the owner of a string of thirteen
private colleges (Rift Valley University) in our region. He's looking
to bring us on board teaching health classes, running seminars about
HIV/AIDS, and working with the student groups. The Assela campus
doesn't have a formal health program, so we won't be teaching those
classes, but we're going to put together a series of lectures about
different aspects of HIV - biology, social impact, prevention, etc -
to be combined with VCT on campus. I may also be able to teach some
English classes, where I can slide a little education in on the side.
I'm excited. Even better, he also owns a massive guest house in
Adama, which he invited us to use for planning sessions and parties.
It has an oven and hot water. It's the little things.

It's still 85 degrees here, every day. A couple of rain storms, so
sometimes the temperature drops in the mornings, but still warm all
the time. I miss cold weather. Snow would be lovely. I think I've
gone round the bend. I think it's related to the mefloquin (malaria
drugs) - my dreams are getting weirder by the day. I've been
entertaining the notion of a second round in the Peace Corps if I can
get central Asia. I think it's a combination of losing my mind and
hanging out with Candace, who served in Swaziland before this. I've
got a lot of time before that's even a serious consideration, so no
one panic yet.

With Easter coming, I've stuck with my traditional Lent plan and given
up going to church. So far, so good. I'm too much of a heathen for
this holiday, but I certainly do love the candy (see below). Speaking
of heathens and blasphemy, I've been reading The Satanic Verses, and
while it's interesting, I'm not seeing how it warrants a fatwa calling
for Rushdie's death. I suppose my standards for apostasy are higher
than most.

Dan and Nick, I got your letters. Thanks! Matt and Mary, I loved the
books - you guys are the best! Mom, your box made it too.

-Cheddar goldfish crackers
-Sour cream and onion pringles
-Jelly beans
-Sour jelly bellys
-Those big marshmallow eggs with a thick sugary shell (not Peeps)
-Cadbury eggs
-Malted milk balls
-Kraft mac and cheese
-Chocolate covered gummi bears
-Gummi anything

12 February 2008

i am the stuff of happy endings.

It's funny the random little things you're reminded of when you're
this far from everything you know. Sure, I miss ice cream and
twenty-four hour news access, but I'm more nostalgic for quirky
mannerisms, couches in familiar living rooms, and solving the world's
problems over cheap whiskey until ungodly hours of the morning. I
miss you all. Write a girl a letter sometime.

Although my boss has made a cursory effort to bring me to work,
Candace and I took matters into our own hands and cold-called
(visited?) the other NGOs in town, resulting in a series of gigs
teaching health education to caregivers of orphans and vulnerable
children for Child Aid Ethiopia, an indigenous NGO. They're excited
about having us, although they seemed a bit disappointed about having
to translate for us. If nothing else, I want to learn Amharic so I
can astound people by no longer requiring a translator. The schools
are on break this week (for reasons beyond me), but VSO will set us up
with a tutor next week. It's about time, and the delay is entirely
our fault, but at least we're taking responsibility, right? Okay,
we're failures. What we lacked in initiative we'll make up for in

Thanks to middle school years playing pool after school for hours, I
was able to teach some Ethiopian men a valuable lesson about gender
equality. We spent Saturday evening at a pool hall with Michael and
Eric, and the sight of me in the building was probably shocking
enough, but imagine their surprise when it turned out I could, in
fact, nail a bank shot.

I've been on a reading kick of late, and everyone should read
Confessions of an Economic Hitman (John Perkens) and Infidel (Ayaan
Hirsi Ali). Seriously. Two of the most thought-provoking books I've
ever read. I see a frightening amount of myself in Perkins and hope
that's not the road I end up taking. If you only read one of them,
however, read Infidel. The entire last third of the book is
breathtakingly honest - agree or not, the woman has some incredible
courage to put her name on some of those ideas.

We've also branched into Ethiopia's blossoming bootleg film industry -
go watch Charlie Wilson's War. Philip Seamour Hoffman is a riot, and
there's a not-so-subtly educational twist at the end.

My guitar is on its way home from Addis. I'm sure my neighbors are as
excited as I am about my impending attempts to learn to play it.
Anyone (little bro...hint hint) wants to send some tabs (no actual
sheet music, I'm not even aspiring to that level) my way, I'll learn a
song for you.

On the topic of music - after several rounds of music-swapping among
the volunteers, I've been inspired to broaden my music horizons. If
you've felt the urge to write to me but packages are outside your
budget, I'd be eternally grateful for some CDs of new music. I'd
especially like the following artists, but I'm open to anything.
Please, please, please include a list with titles and artists so I can
satisfy my anal-retentive urge to keep iTunes organized! Much love!

Aimee Mann (except Lost in Space album)
Ben Lee (except Awake is the New Sleep album)
Hotel Lights
Kings of Leon
Peter, Bjorn, and John
Regina Spektor
Rufus Wainwright
Sun Kil Moon

Happy birthday, favorite cousin! Behave yourself in India!

05 February 2008

gamble everything for love.

Happy Super Tuesday! Sorry for the long delay - the African Union met
last week, wreaking havoc on the phone and internet networks across
the country.

Last Friday afternoon, Andre (VSO) and I went to a local PLWHA meeting
to introduce ourselves and start forming relationships with the people
with whom we're supposed to work. Due to some misunderstandings of
everyone's ability with the languages, we didn't bring a translator,
but were able to garner that they are looking for sources of income
generation. We're going to the next meeting with a translator to
facilitate some brainstorming sessions and get some projects started,
maybe helping with grant proposals for start-up capital. Of course,
that will all end up taking several months, but I'm optimistic
nonetheless. The more projects and organizations with which I can
work, the less frustrated I'll be when one or another shifts into TIA
mode and doesn't move forward for a while. The meeting, awkward
language barrier aside, was quite touching. The entire group
applauded when we walked into the room, and was very excited by our
broken Amharic introductions. I really need to learn this language.

Saturday morning, we went with Michael and his visiting brother Eric
up to the top of Mount Chilalo (4100ish meters). Their father plays
for the Assela polo team, so we were able to go with a few of the
players and the horses (beats the pants off walking). I almost died
towards the top when it got too steep for the horses and we had to
climb (the downsides to a life spent at sea level), but the view was
absolutely stunning. My butt still aches, but Candace and I are
committed to learning to ride horses. These being polo horses,
they've a penchant for suddenly running, so I was able to gallop for
the first time on the road back into Assela. Candace and I are hoping
to make this a quasi regular thing - seems like a good skill to have,
just in case we ever become fabulously wealthy.

Walking home from the post office on Monday, a little girl walking by
pointed and yelled firenji as I passed, and her mother stopped to
spank her and chastise her behavior. I'm still no advocate for
corporal punishment, but if it gets one more kid to treat me like a
person, then so be it.

Thursday morning, Peace Corps staff came into Assela for a "town hall
meeting" to introduce us to the community. Yes, we've been here for
six weeks. Considering we had five days to organize the meeting, we
had a surprisingly good turnout - some fifty people (most of whom went
un-introduced, so we don't actually know who they were. TIA.) - and
everyone seemed immensely excited about our arrival. Illustrating our
biggest frustration with PC training, when PC staff asked the crowd
what language they preferred, the virtually unanimous vote was for
Amharic. I'm realizing that we were taught Afan Oromo to appease the
government because we're technically in the Oromiya region, but the
Communist regime was frighteningly effective at instilling Amharic as
the language of the wealthy, educated, and urban classes. I suppose
that'll be the lasting legacy of the Derg regime.

Politics aside, the visit meant a meeting with Daniel (my MIA
supervisor), who has apparently been covering for his boss while he's
been out of town, and hence has been too busy to start working with
me. I'm just glad to know he still wants a PCV - I was excited about
working with him in the beginning and I'm glad I still get to. There
are anti-AIDS clubs at the two high schools who want to work with me
(much to the chagrin of the architects of the global gag rule...), so
hopefully I can get them paired up with the college versions and get
some community-wide programming going when the schools start up again
in a few weeks. I'm feeling completely reenergized about my job.
Even the old man who tried to fondle me on the walk home couldn't
bring me down. But he did inspire me to turn my extra pillowcase into
a punching bag - anything's better than push-ups for an arm workout.

In the meantime, Gizaw at the Alliance for Development has already
recruited me to help with some proposal and report editing, and over
the course of reading the yearly report, I was able to stake my claim
on precisely the projects in which I want to be involved. Gardens and
conservation projects in schools, education and income generation with
commercial sex workers, and rural family planning outreach. Plus,
there's a woman at the health center (currently on vacation) who's
working on indoor air quality and general sanitation in poor/rural
communities. All these projects in the outskirts of Assela means I'll
probably have to be able to speak both Amharic and Oromiffa, skills I
probably wouldn't have had the motivation to learn without this sort
of incentive.

The Friday after our community meeting, Sinead came into town for the
weekend and the three of us spent the afternoon at an Alliance for
Development community "buna tota" (traditional Ethiopian coffee
ceremony) discussion. Forty women from a Savings and Credit
Cooperative (who work together to pool money for small business
start-up capital) showed up, and the three of us facilitated (via
translators, sadly) a discussion about HIV/AIDS. It was inspiring to
hear these women talk about teaching their children and identifying
the problems facing their community (stigma, fear of testing,
resistance to condoms and prevention education, etc). One older woman
became our new hero. She's not a community leader, technically, but
when we told her she should be, she blushed (well, probably - doesn't
really show up on Ethiopian complexions) and said she was just an old
lady. Some summarized quotes from her, "I'm an old woman, but I went
to the VCT and got tested so I could show my daughters how important
it was to know. We have to set the example and teach our children so
we can stop the epidemic." My hero!

A rat has apparently taken up residence in the crawl space between my
ceiling and the corrugated iron roof. Well, judging from the
squeaking, it's probably a family of rats since a solitary rat would
have no need for vocal communication. TIA. As long as they stay up
there, we can coexist peacefully.

Assuming Sunday was the Superbowl, we rallied some of the expats for
an American-style feast to celebrate. Lacking satellite TV, we
couldn't actually watch the game, but no one knew who was playing,
half the party doesn't watch American football, and we weren't
entirely sure we even had the right weekend, so it was a minor
setback. I am a bit sad about missing the commercials, however. We
had fried chicken ("Dubya" - we've taken to naming all purchased
chickens, and I've become increasingly adept at handling live
poultry), cornbread, fries, and onion rings, plus apple crisp and
cranberry-white chocolate-oatmeal cookies (see below) for dessert. A
rousingly successful celebration of American gluttony, if I do say so
myself. We finished the evening with some no-stakes Texas Hold'em
while Phil schooled us in the finer points of the Welsh rugby team's
history . He wants to start a (touch) team with the kids in Assela -
any exercise that's not running sounds glorious in my book.

We're in Addis today for our second round of HPV vaccines, which means
we have two days at the good restaurants. Chinese, Thai, and Indian
are topping the priority list since sushi seems to be a pipe dream.
Plus, we have access to ice cream, free internet at the PC office, and
a cornucopia of goodies at the grocery stores. Mozzarella, here I
come. I'm also on the hunt for a cheap used guitar so I can finally
start that project.

Will, I got your box - you're fabulous! While at the post office that
day, our mailbox was actually empty, but my friend who organizes the
mail saw me and brought me into the back, where a bag of mail had just
been dumped on a table for sorting. He helped me paw through it to
find our mail (and, I suppose, save him the trouble of doing it
later). Probably a legally-questionable practice, but very convenient
for me.

Christine, we made the blueberry muffins and they were delicious.
We're hooked (see below). I also suggest everyone go buy a six-ounce
bag of Craisins and make the oatmeal-white chocolate-cranberry cookies
on the back. Delicious.

Muffin mix (anything not nutty)
Kraft mac and cheese
Dried fruit