11 March 2008

it's going to be a glorious day.

Inflation is a bitch. I guess I never followed price increases that
closely in the US - when they're a few cents at a time, it's less
dramatic. But here, centimes are virtually worthless and everything
is measured in birr, so it's more noticeable. Or living on four
dollars a day has made me more observant (and still wealthier than
half the world, I might add). With gas prices on the increase (I'm so
glad I don't have a car!), everything has gone up - sugar, flour,
salt, bus rides... even cookies. I'm guessing stamps are next. Let's
hope our living allowance increases accordingly. Hint, hint to any
Peace Corps staff monitoring this blog.

I've noticed that much of my writing is tongue-in-cheek descriptions
of the less cheerful aspects of life here, and I promise I'm not
unhappy, just witty. Last Tuesday was a fabulous day, however. We
went down to the Assela Teacher's College to meet the dean, offer our
services, and find a tutor. It was a thoroughly satisfying meeting,
although we didn't secure a tutor until the following day. Since I
have almost complete freedom in my job (or lack thereof), he was very
excited about the prospect of two years of free labor. He introduced
me to the coordinator for the anti-AIDS club on campus, who's going to
set me up with an office on campus (about the size of my
living/bed/dining room, but with more windows) to start, and then
basically give me the run of the place. English teaching, HIV/AIDS
and health seminars, and whatever else tickles my fancy. I'm excited.
The office is next door to Andre, the VSO volunteer teaching computer
classes and currently attempting to wire the campus for internet.
That may be a pipe dream, but it could mean free internet. At this
point, I'll take not-expensive.

Sidebar: I don't know a whole lot about game theory, but I have vivid
recollections of the prisoner's dilemma. Essentially, life is easier
and more profitable if you work with other people (say soft drink
companies or internet cafes conspiring to keep prices artificially
inflated) instead of allowing competition to drive you into a price
battle, thus lowering everyone's profits. Ethiopians are still
grasping the finer points of capitalist business principles (showing
up on time, keeping regular hours, etc), but Assela internet cafes
(all three of them) have this one down to a science. They charge 40
centimes a minute, which works out to 24 birr/hour. That's
approximately USD 2.75, obscene by any standards (even in Europe it's
rarely more than a euro), but especially for Africa. In Adama, it's 6
birr/hour, meaning even with the fuel increases, I can ride a bus
three hours round trip and use the internet for an hour for four birr
more than it costs me to walk ten minutes down the road in my own
city. To quote a wise man, that just doesn't make sense. Well, it
makes perfect sense, but you see my point.

Returning to my happy day, on the way home, I had my first run in with
a real, live African wild animal (I'm not counting the semi-tame
monkeys at Negash, or the birds, of which there are many varieties).
Crawling through the gutter in front of my house was a giant tortoise,
three feet long and I'd guess in the 100lbs range. What's the point
of living in Africa if you don't get to see crazy animals sometimes,
right? On top of the close encounter, the bank received our monthly
allowance transfer, setting a new speed record for Peace Corps
bureaucracy. Finally, I went to the post office and got a delicious
package (thanks Dad!) and Candace and I discovered how to make
teriyaki sauce, thus broadening our culinary horizons. When you're
dealing with three vegetables, sauces become vital. All in all, a
lovely day.

Friday afternoon, we did a training/discussion session with Alliance
for Development's "community-based reproductive health agents,"
basically door-to-door sex educators. This was our first time with
people with actual heath training, as opposed to just basic prevention
education. We delved into more of the details of how the virus and
ARVs work, which was interesting. This being a group of more or less
health professionals, I finally abandoned possible cultural
insensitivity and asked how many of the group had been tested and knew
their status. Cultural values aside, it's an important question -
this virus will only be squelched if people lead by example. Imagine
my excitement when the entire group raised their hand without
hesitation. I love AfD. One guy also talked about his own CD4 count
before and after ART as a means of encouraging testing and treatment.
That takes courage, but what better place to end stigma than in a
group of educators?

The following day, Gizaw called me to come back to AfD because the
group wanted another Q&A about HIV. Candace was at the next town up
the road for an event with some orphans, so I had my first discussion
session flying solo. It was fun. Since she's older and has done this
before, I found myself deferring to her in joint sessions, making this
a great opportunity to step up and answer the strange, difficult, or
just flat-out ridiculous questions. (Does eating garlic cure AIDS?)
I was feeling good about myself, handling some hard questions and
knowing that they liked us enough to want us to come back. They even
asked me to hand out the certificates when they completed their
training, and invited me to come to their bimonthly coffee ceremonies
to answer questions from community members about HIV and general
reproductive health. Then Gizaw took me out to see the gardens at two
local elementary schools, where AfD is teaching kids to grow
vegetables and indigenous trees (for fun and profit!). When the
saplings are big enough, they're going to do a big tree planting day
in the deforested areas outside Assela. Sadly, I think that'll be
after my tenure, but the notion that it will happen is heartwarming
enough.

The maid on my compound was fired - I've been warned to not let her in
if she knocks on the gate. Not sure what happened, but I liked her.
She was always sweet to me and taught me random Amharic words. Like
tortoise. But, on the bright side, Negash said I can have the little
fenced in area in front of our wall for a garden. The ground is in
serious disrepair, so it'll be a big project, but the fence is intact,
which is a plus. Not like Ethiopians would want my strange
vegetables, but I'm confident the goats don't discriminate. I'm going
to start planting in mid-April, after we get back from our inservice
training. Apparently the little rainy season has been nonexistent, so
I don't want everything to die while I'm gone for two weeks. But, the
prospect of broccoli reentering my life is almost emotionally more
than I can handle.

On Sunday, Candace and I went with Children Aid to Dera, the dusty,
burning hot bump in the road on the way to Adama for an orphan
program. OVCs and their caregivers had graduated from a training
program, so there was a lengthy event with speeches, skits, songs, the
works. But, the high point for us (and I imagine everyone else) was
our presentation about HIV. Using a stuffed white blood cell and some
paper drawings of scary viruses and diseases, we illustrated how the
immune system works and how HIV affects it. We were so inspired by
this (and, let's admit, had a fabulous time acting out the battle
scenes - so what if we're four-year-olds at heart?) that we've decided
to create some more permanent HIV and disease models from yarn and
clay so we can improve the act.

I finally read CS Lewis's Mere Christianity. I'm thinking about
converting. And quitting Peace Corps to work on Mike Huckabee's
campaign. Dedicated readers of this blog may remember last year's
adventures in Jordan with al-Majali's fabulous textbook. While Lewis
has a far sturdier grasp of English (as well he should, being an
Englishman), I can't help but notice a startling resemblance in his
readiness to dismiss challenges as silly and unfounded, distort
opposing arguments in order to dismiss them in as smug and patronizing
a manner as possible, and make wild logical leaps. Even some of the
ideas presented are similar - homosexuality is a perversion, start
people on the easy parts of the religion before revealing the hard
stuff, sexual desire is detrimental to society, the importance of
accepting the religion in its totality. It lacks the blatant
anti-Semitism, fanaticism, and grammatical atrocities of Majali, but I
did laugh out loud at points. It's so silly to think I might not want
my husband to be the final authority. Me and that nutty notion that I
can be a complete person without a man looking out for me! I suppose
I'm just destined for hell. I think I'm okay with that. I'll take
the Chronicles of Narnia any day.

Speaking of hell and those who are going there - WIll, I got the next
installment. You're awesome. Ashley and Gordon, got your letters as
well. Love you guys!

Wishlist:
-Letters!!
-Cheddar goldfish crackers
-Sour cream and onion pringles
-Fritos
-Jelly beans
-Sour Jelly Bellys
-Those big marshmallow eggs with a thick sugary shell (not Peeps)
-Cadbury eggs
-Malted milk balls
-Twizzlers pull and peel
-Kraft mac and cheese
-Chocolate covered gummi bears
-Gummi anything
-Frosting
-Yarn
-Books

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