03 March 2008

it's gonna take a lifetime to take me away from you.

Um...it's March already? Five months ago today I got on a plane,
landed in DC, and signed my life away to the Peace Corps. That feels
like it was yesterday, yet I feel like I've lived here forever.

Last Friday, we went to a HIV/health/hygiene program for OVCs and
their caregivers, put on by Youth 2 Youth, an anti-AIDS club (not
affiliated with a high school or college, a sort of AIDS-focused YMCA
or scout troop). Our friends at Child Aid Ethiopia, a local NGO,
invited us so we could meet the organizers, health department
officials who were there, etc. If this sounds like precisely the sort
of organization I should be working with, then you've been paying
attention for the last few months. Who should we run into at the
event but my boss, in the flesh? He seemed shocked to see me there,
probably because he realized this was the sort of thing he should have
told me about. Whoops. Thanks goodness for Child Aid and the other
NGOs, or I'd have even less to do.

Y2Y meets weekly, so we went back on Thursday afternoon for a coffee
ceremony/discussion (is anyone seeing a pattern here?) with a couple
dozen students aged 11-18. En route, I forgot I lived in Africa and
showed up early, so I got to talk to the organizers for a while as
they set up and prepared the coffee. It brought back fond memories of
Vox meetings in college - the group members are obviously all friends,
which makes for a more relaxed group dynamic. All our old roles were
filled - the token guy, organized leader, and even the shameless girl
who was singing and dancing, but probably would have worn the gator or
condom costume if that was an option. Ahh, memories.

Unfortunately, the english speaker was "late" (I spent 3 and a half
hours there, so I'm of the opinion that the "late" ship had sailed in
favor of the "not showing up" one), so I had only a vague idea of what
was happening, but the discussion seemed quite spirited. That fact
that kids were willing to sit for what turned out to be two hours of
discussion about HIV and sex with no giggling kept me interested, even
if I missed the salient details. The organization is doing some great
work - they have little compound with an office (someone's there every
day, manning the phone and office for clients), storage room, and a
garden/courtyard where they have meetings and events. It may be made
from straw and mud, but it's far nicer (and bigger!) than anything Vox
ever had at the Reitz. Ya'll should be jealous.

I had a dream about being in a grocery store marveling at the array of
broccoli in the produce section and trying to decide how many heads I
could conceivably buy and eat before they would rot in my kitchen.
The following night, I dreamt I was on a yacht making donuts with a
tall, dark haired, handsome stranger while sailing to Australia. I
also dreamt I joined the Army, but I think that was prompted by
watching Lions for Lambs. Speaking of food, it turns out you can use
unripe papaya in place of apples, but only if you cook them. We make
turnovers, saving a small fortune since papayas are 5 birr/kilo and
widely available, and apples are 8 birr each and only available
sporadically in Adama.

While splurging on some cornflakes at a local souk, the guy asked me
where I came from. Feeling spunky, I told him I was habesha
(Ethiopian) with a straight face. I had him going for a few rounds
before I lost it. He was amused.

Fun fact about American gluttony. La Vache qui rit (Laughing Cow)
cheese spread is available in Ethiopia, and since it doesn't have to
be refrigerated, it's been a lifesaver in keeping my cheese habit at
bay. The Ethiopian version (which is actually an imported European
one) is a 120g package, while the American version I got in the mail
is closer to 160g. Either way, it's delicious.

Not to reinforce stereotypes or anything, but a diatribe on the
resiliency of Ethiopian flies is necessary. In cartoons about
Ethiopia (most memorably, Starvin' Marvin in Southpark), people are
depicted with enormous flies crawling all over them. That's not a
Hollywood theatrical device. The flies here are bigger, louder, and
hardier than anything I've ever encountered. They don't respond to a
simple twitch or wave of the hand, either. They'll continue to crawl
over your skin until you actually make an effort to swat them. As a
result, Ethiopians have grown immune to the tickling sensation, and
the little bastards don't know when to quit. The only option is to
get used to them or go insane trying to fight them. The
probably-carcinogenic bug murdering aerosol spray is effective in the
home, but then they just wait outside the door and follow me around
town. At least there aren't mosquitoes in Assela.

How long would you guess it takes to clean, roast, and grind a kilo of
raw coffee beans? If it was a movie, it'd need a potty break in the
middle. Just over 3 hours. In a peace offering to my landlord, since
I usually refuse his food in the name of gastrointestinal tranquility,
I asked him and his wife to teach me how to roast coffee, Ethiopian
style, so I could send it to people back home. First you rinse the
beans several times, then roast them over a charcoal fire. The
charcoal burners are maybe 10 inches in diameter, so you can only do a
handful at a time, hence the long process. We roasted them with a
mysterious spice that I'm almost certain is cardamom, but may well be
something I've never heard of. The grinding is the most satisfying -
no electric grinders here, just a giant mortar-and-pestle. There will
be photos on facebook at some point in the not-so-distant future. If
you'd like some coffee next time I do this, write me a letter and
request some.

I went to the post office in Assela to attempt to mail my coffee
presents, where they were weighed, stamped, and on their way to the
mail bin when he caught a whiff of the envelopes. I tried to pretend
they were letters, but I think the pungent odor gave me away. Since
there's no customs official in Assela, all non-letters have to be
mailed from Adama. I sort of knew this in the back of my mind, but I
was trying to beat the system. I failed. But, I love my post office,
since he put up with my failed cunning and peeled off all of the
stamps without charging me for them. Then I signed for a registered
letter in Candace's name and picked up boxes for me (thanks
Stephanie!), Jolene, and Nod. He just thinks I have many names. And
even more friends, I suppose. TIA.

-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
-Twizzlers pull and peel
-Kraft mac and cheese
-Chocolate covered gummi bears
-Gummi anything

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