23 July 2008

clever, not beautiful.

After 10 days in northern Ethiopia, I've decided that this country,
despite some transportation and culinary flaws, is beautiful. Of
course, this is the rainy season and everything is lush and green, but
I think my ability to love it while wading through ankle deep mud is a
testament to its beauty. I had my first visitor, the lovely Alana,
and we tore up the historic circuit, Gator-style. This included not
one, but two, hikes up muddy mountains in flip-flops and a nearly-lost
shoe in a deep puddle the local shepherd boy was kind enough to point
out as a breeding ground for malaria mosquitoes before retrieving the
shoes. For a price, of course.

The inappropriately named Bahir Dar ("house of the sea") on the shores
of Lake Tana is a charming city with good food, dancing, and palm
tree-lined boulevards. Although the last bunch of volunteers to go up
there got robbed on three separate occasions and hence holds a grudge,
I'm in love. I'll be back. I impressed (amused?) the clientele of a
local "asmari beyt" (traditional dance house) by joining in the
dances. Ethiopian traditional dancing involves primarily
shoulder-shaking, which is humorous for any white person, but the
sight of Levi, the giant linebacker, was almost too much. Alana and I
would have had the hottest YouTube video since the stoned UF
management professor, but for our lack of a camera and YouTube's being
blocked in this country. Alas.

We celebrated Steph's birthday, then headed to gorgeous Gondar,
perhaps my favorite city in Ethiopia thus far. Castles, a trek to the
Simien mountains to see the endemic gelada baboon, and the fabulous
Tara Center, an animal-rescuing/poverty-reducing NGO that I wish
desperately had a branch in Assela. We played with dogs who actually
love people and lovable, if mischievous, monkeys (photos coming soon)
while being wildly jealous of the three PCVs who actually live there.
I was minutes away from adopting Lulu, a hyperactive little brown
puppy who stood up to the big dogs even though she was half their
size. Alas, I had no means of getting her back to Assela, but I'm
keeping an open mind. A monkey farted in my face and attempted to
remove my clothes, which is always amusing. I'm now fully committed
to going to Rwanda to see the gorillas - anyone want to join? In
another life, I'd most certainly have been Jane Goodall.

Lalibela turned out to be a bit of an overpriced disappointment, but
we still had a good time crawling through the towers and tunnels of
the church complexes. Orthodox Christianity continues to frighten me.
It's the icons. We met a German and Italian guy who'd just finished
a few years working in Kenya and were in the process of driving from
Nairobi to Italy. After a night of tej (honey wine), we discovered
the bus we planned to take neglected to show up, so we rode in the
back of their ancient Land Cruiser, thus cutting our travel time in
half. They had little patience for the ubiquitous livestock in the
road, which made for a thoroughly amusing trip. We spent the night in
Debre Tabor, stuffed our faces, then headed back to Bahir Dar, a trip
covering half the distance but taking twice the time of the day before
due to the dilapidated bus. Can't win 'em all, I suppose.

After nine months, I'm starting to actually like (as opposed to just
tolerate) Ethiopian food. Just shiro wat so far (chickpea puree), but
it's a start. Perhaps there's hope for me after all.

I read The Sex Lives of Cannibals by J Maarten Troost - perhaps one of
the funniest writers ever. I want to be him. If I wrote a book about
living abroad, I would want it compared to his. I also read Collapse,
Jared Diamond's sequel to Guns, Germs, and Steel, and although he's as
long-winded-but-thorough as ever, I respect a man who lists religion
as a major reason societies make irrational decisions and slips not
one but two subtle critiques of US family planning policy abroad (or
lack thereof) into a chapter about hope for the future.

I'm currently back in Addis, saying goodbye to my site buddy, Candace,
who's leaving to take a job as a flight attendant with Emirates
Airlines in Dubai. Two other volunteers also left this week, one also
from my area, so it's been a rough week for the Peace Corps and me in
particular. I suppose I expected PC to be a lonely and isolated two
years, but after 9 months of being pleasantly surprised with my
proximity to other volunteers, it's hard to return to that mindset.
Hamda allah for knitting, I suppose.

Jason, Dad, and Mom, got your mail - thanks!

-Kraft mac and cheese
-Gillette Venus razor refills
-original cheddar goldfish crackers
-instant broccoli cheddar soup mix
-non-refrigerated cheese products

09 July 2008

for it irony, for the thrill of it, for everything that mattered.

Week two of language class: Censorship. Once I explained the term to
everyone (teacher included) - a fact that I think says more than the
discussion ever could - we had a lively discussions, much of it
focused on the famine and former Derg government. I won't go into
more detail, but read the article I linked to in my previous post.

Week three: Comprehensive v abstinence only sex ed. Everyone should
be well aware of my feelings on this matter, so suffice it to say that
if certain policy makers had consulted much of the world before
implementing PEPFAR, we'd be looking at a very different (and much
more effective) HIV-prevention program on this continent. Alas.

The prison program is off to a good start - thanks to the health
center, testing is in progress and everyone is surprisingly eager to
volunteer for testing. I'm working on a proposal to fund vegetable
farming and chicken coops for the HIV-positive prisoners - nutritional
support, income generation, and job training. Next month, we'll start
weekly small-group discussion classes, which will hopefully eventually
expand into a peer education program, but that's tricky since it's
such a transient population. Even if they're just bringing prevention
education back to their hometowns, that's progress.

I'm off to Bahir Dar, Gonder, and Lalibela for the next 10 days - back
in Assela 20 July. I'll be taking my first domestic Ethiopian
Airlines flight. Wish me luck. Although, given that Ethiopia is the
most dangerous place in the world to ride in a car, I'm looking
forward to my first peaceful transport experience in 9 months.

24 is only getting more stressful. I read Tucker Max's I Hope They
Serve Beer in Hell and almost peed myself. Degrading, offensive, but
oh-so-hilarious. Wouldn't recommend it for fathers though.

I learned to make cornmeal pancakes, which puts me halfway to arepas,
one of my favorite foods. Now all I need is a regular supply of
cheese. I also successfully had pants made in Assela, thus solving my
increasingly hole-y and baggy pants problem. Victory.

Ruby, thanks for the excellent reading material!

-Vanilla frosting
-Gummi LIfesavers
-Non-refrigerated cheese products
-Original cheddar goldfish crackers
-Kraft mac and cheese
-Dried fruit
-Right Guard extreme stick deodorant
-Gillette Venus razor blade refills