03 April 2008

they'll name a city after us (then say it's all our fault).

On the bus home from Adama last weekend, I sat with this jolly old
Ethiopian man named Mesatu who works as an economist for a Texas A&M
research project. He had a pretty solid grasp of English, so we had
an interesting hour and a half discussion of Ethiopia, America, and
the world. He asked me who I supported in the election - Barack or
Hilary. This is a pretty standard question - for most Ethiopians,
McCain and the Republicans don't really come up. I suppose most of
their experience is with left-leaning development workers, but it's
still amusing to me. He was at least familiar with McCain and said he
would have supported him "because he's a hero" if not for his
continued support of the Iraq war.

Ethiopians I've talked to about the US election generally back Hilary,
which is interesting to me since I've read a lot of editorials about
how the third world would support a candidate who looks like them.
Not so here - they loved Bill and associate Hilary with his triumphant
return to the world stage.

Like most Ethiopians who speak English, it turns out he was taught by
a Peace Corps volunteer back in the 1960s. She was black, and he went
on for a while about how pretty she was and how it was the first time
he learned that Americans came in "black." It never fails to amaze me
how many people's lives were touched by PCVs and how many still
remember their volunteer vividly. They ask if we know "Bob" or
"Ashley" - usually forgetting that I'm at least twenty years younger
than them and their volunteer is probably older than my parents by
now. But still, it's exciting to be in a place where Peace Corps has
such a long and respected history. Certainly makes our job easier.

As befits any conversation with an Ethiopian, we eventually turned to
marriage and children, but unlike a lot of Ethiopians, he wasn't
appalled that I had reached the ripe old age of 22 without husband.
(He did, however, remain shocked that I shop, cook, and clean all by
myself.) He asked how many kids I wanted and was impressed with my
desire for two. He said he had five, but that it was too many because
he was old now and still had two at home. I told him my brother,
step-sister, and I were all in college (well, in a few more months) or
graduated, and my dad had retired since we were on our own and no
longer demanded constant feeding. He was impressed, and more than a
little jealous, I think. Chances are, however, his kids will learn
from him and cut back, so I suppose learning from experience is more
effective than lectures. Fond memories of Simret, my host mom in
Woliso, who said two was bakka (enough!).

Fun fact about Assela - turns out there's a prison on the road behind
my house. Neat. Maybe I'll do some peer education and HIV talk with
the prisoners - starting over after prison is a great time to initiate
behavior change. Plus, I suppose it's always better to have prisoners
on your side in case they escape, right?

Strawberries magically came back into season, as did grapes. Of
course, they're not in Assela, but they are in Adama. Our fruit
selection has virtually doubled in a week. Strawberries and cream
oatmeal! Is it sad that Sarah and I attracted a crowd in Adama when
she yelped and spotted grapes across the road? The guy selling them
was excited that we noticed - otherwise, it looked like he hadn't had
any customers all day.

Sunday, Eshetu (my tutor) and I had a make up session that turned into
a hilarious discussion of cultural standards of beauty. We started
with the part of the body vocabulary lesson, which led into what those
features mean in Ethiopia. As it turns out, women try to bleach their
skin, draw their eyebrows thicker, and girls wear extra pants to make
their butt bigger. "Fat" is a compliment here (but only because thin
usually means sick). He was amazed to discover that American women
lay in tanning beds to darken their skin and will risk starvation to
lose weight. This led into a discussion of the phrase "the grass is
always greener" and more giggles.

In Ethiopia, if you want to hint to a man that he's probably not the
father of his kids, you tell him the baby has his shoulders - since
you can't really see your own shoulders, it's a subtle way of saying
there's no facial resemblance. Eshetu thought it was funny that
identifying bastard children is easier in the West since we have
recessive hair and eye colors that make it even more obvious. We also
swapped fables about the creation of man - Amharas (the dominant
ethnic group in Ethiopia) say that god first made white men, but
forgot to fire the clay, then made the Somalis and Sudanese but left
them in too long and burned them, and finally made the Ethiopians just
right. I responded with "you always make a rough draft before a
masterpiece, that's why men came before women." Amharic class is
always a good time - it's fun to swap cultural oddities with someone
who understands colloquialisms. He's also amused by the difference
between pants in the states and pants in England. We sometimes
regress towards a little toilet humor, but in general, we're learning
a lot. Plus, he appreciates my grammatical fanaticism, so we're
getting along splendidly.

This week, I started co-teaching English at the teacher's college. My
partner teacher is a blind woman named Freihewot (which in and of
itself is fascinating in a country with no ADA legislation and
treacherous streets for the sighted). I'll be leading
discussion/conversation sections with the students. For my first
class, I picked abstinence only vs. comprehensive sex education, based
on a US News article (thanks Stephanie!). I felt it was appropriate
for an HIV worker in Africa. They were a little shy to speak and not
used to an American accent (I think I'm the first American working at
the college in quite a few years), but those who came out of their
shells unanimously defended comprehensive sex-ed. Take that,
PEPFAR/Global Gag Rule! Now the rest of the department is clamoring
to get me into their classes too, so I'm feeling quite loved.

I'm off to Sodere (the hot springs town) for two weeks of in-service
training (and swimming!). Figures - just as I'm bombarded with people
wanting to work with me, I leave. We've got a few days in Addis for
dinner at the embassy, bingeing on good food, and partying for
Sinead's birthday. I'm not sure I'll have internet access while I'm
there, so you may not hear from me until I get back to Assela April
19. Then I'll be starting my garden, so that'll probably be amusing
as the neighbors stare at Sarah and I turning pink and sweating in the
sun. Not to mention my actually eating the strange vegetables that
come out of there.

Leah, you certainly know how to brighten an African day!
Mom/Grandma/Grandpa, I got the Easter boxes - thanks!

WIshlist:
-Green, yellow, and red yarn (Ethiopia's flag)
-Cheddar goldfish crackers
-Fritos
-Sour Jelly Bellys
-Kraft mac and cheese
-Gummi anything
-Frosting
-Popcorn salt
-Dry pesto seasoning
-***SPF 15 body lotion
-Any other yarn
-Books

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