25 September 2008

i'm not like all of the other girls.

Last week, I was eating leftover new year's cake with Negash and
Warake (my landlord and his wife). We had a brief discussion of
how Ethiopian cakes are generally pretty bad, and I was glad they
can at least recognize the weakness, even if they're not clear how
to fix it (hint - add sugar). I'll make them a chocolate fudge
cake sometime soon and see how it goes.

Cake aside, the conversation turned down a very interesting road
after talking about the little spawns of satan - oops, I mean
children - returning to school and thus having less time to follow
me down the road. Warake, who speaks virtually no English, was in
and out cleaning up the kitchen, then sat down and said, in
Amharic, that she was tired after the new year. She said had to
make the tella (moonshine), dorro wat (holiday chicken dish), and
all the other food, then clean up the house, all while the men
(pointed look at Negash, sitting in the comfortable chair in the
living room) sat around. Negash said that the men work outside
the home while the women work in it, so I countered that he's a
teacher, and hence hasn't been working for months (summer
vacation), plus he gets evenings and weekends off. Warake, on the
other hand, works all day, every day. I said he should help and
she agreed, but he said that other people (read: men) would make
fun of him if he did housework. I said that the only opinion that
matters is his and Warake's - she agreed - but he wasn't buying.
I told them I wouldn't marry a man who refused to contribute and
the daughter agreed, so at least the younger generation is on
board. Funny how the women tend to want change before the men
do.

This week in English class we started talking about the role of
the West in development. My views can be summed up as: "Give a
man a fish, you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, you feed
him for a lifetime." Hence why I came here and why I don't give
money to children or beggars (besides not having enough for the
sheer number who ask). I saw a few students writing it down, so I
think a lot agreed. One brought up the Marshall Plan and I think
that's the model we ought to use - the recipient nations need to
play much larger roles, from project development to implementation
to monitoring and evaluation to accountability. No handouts and
no forced ideals - change has to come from the ground up, with
community support, to be sustainable. It might take longer, but
it'll last, and I think that's the goal we ought to keep in mind.

Someone brought up the question of whether the West really has an
interest in helping poor countries. I think there was a time
where a source of cheap resources outweighed any real humanitarian
interest, but I think we've reached a point as a globalized
society where security is a bigger priority. Rogue states are all
underdeveloped. No one's threatened by Sweden. I believe with
development comes stability, and with stability, security. We
can't expect people fighting for their next meal to think of the
future, let alone tomorrow or any notion of "greater good." But I
digress.

A couple of students suggested that it's the responsibility of the
West to fix the problems of the developing world. Bantie, the
teacher, in particular is a big proponent of the notion that the
developed world is somehow superior - he uses the term "backward"
to describe Ethiopia and Africa often. I cringe every time. I
disagree - I believe developing nations need to have a stake in
all stages, and the developed world should only come in to fill
resource gaps and provide guidance as requested. Imposed
solutions rarely (never?) work, especially in the long term. I
asked these students if they would be willing to accept my
solutions just because I'm an American. A handful said yes, then
I said that one of my solutions would probably include turning all
religious buildings into schools or hospitals and removing all
semblance of religion from laws and government. They disagreed.
I rest my case.

It turned into a rousing discussing of American foreign and
development policy - shouting, interrupting, the works. I was
proud - Ethiopians aren't generally accustomed to passionate
discourse because so much is taboo here. I explained that moments
like that illustrate why I defend my country and why I get riled
up when it's blindly criticized. I'm allowed to disagree with my
government - in print, in a public forum like this or in a
classroom, even - without fear of retribution. They don't have
that privilege but I think they're starting to grasp why I value
it so dearly.

Next week we've decided to tackle religion. I'm so excited! I'm
currently reading Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion, so I'll be
bursting by the time class rolls around. Dawkins is basically the
CS Lewis of the atheist/agnostic community, so if you've ever
suggested I read Mere Christianity, I have - now I urge you to
read Dawkins. It's the sort of book that would change my life if
I weren't already on board. It's joining Middlesex on the list of
best books I've read thus far. I also finished the Harry Potter
series and I'm sorry I ever made fun of anyone who waited in line
at midnight to buy the next book. Unless you did it in costume.
Then I still reserve the right to judge you, but just a little.

Wishlist:
-freeze dried mangoes
-original cheddar goldfish crackers
-instant broccoli cheddar soup mix
-non-refrigerated cheese products
-dried seasonings
-sourdough pretzel nuggets
-sour jelly bellys
-Right Guard extreme invisible solid deodorant
-baking products (chocolate chips, frosting, mixes, etc)
-yarn
-books

20 September 2008

always a siren singing you to shipwreck.

Happy New Year! We celebrated with a reggae party in Adama until the
wee hours of the morning. Not a very Ethiopian celebration - here,
the holiday is only on New Year's day, they don't do the "countdown to
midnight" aspect, but then I'm not into the church services, so it
seemed a fair compromise. The hotel that sponsored put up tents for
those too cheap to shell out for real rooms - that turned out to be
just us, but it was a good night and the tent remained waterproof
during the dawn downpour, so everybody wins. Plus there was a pool,
and we won't even discuss how much I miss water activities. Seems the
band we saw is sort of a big deal in the Ethiopian Rastafarian
community. Quite a few people from Jamaica and the US attended, but
only a handful of "real" (read: white) firenji were there, so it was a
pretty interesting experience. I have virtually no experience with
the Rasta community, but we had a great time. In true Peace Corps
fashion, we ate before the party and smuggled in our own liquor.

While waiting to meet up with Sarah and Suzi at a cafe in Adama, a
group of guys at a neighboring table attempted to attract my attention
by playing cell phone ringtone music, making noises (and laughing in
response), and finally, by taking photos of me reading quietly with
their cellphone cameras. They forgot to turn off the fake camera
noise, so it was pretty obvious. What do I have to do to be seen as a
human being? They wouldn't do that to an Ethiopian woman, so why am I
any different? I hate how angry this makes me, but things like this
are so common, I can't just write it off as a handful of rogue
individuals. It just helps to vent, so pardon the negative tone.
It's not all butterflies and rainbows over here.

After sleeping most of the day after New Year's (some things cross
oceans and continents), I went up to the fancy Darartu Hotel cafe for
the afternoon. It's no Maude's, but it's nice to have a change of
scenery and they don't do enough business to force you out if you want
to read for a few hours while only ordering tea. While there, a man
and his three kids came in for sodas and donuts and I had fond
nostalgic memories of my brother and I going with my dad to Dairy
Queen for Blizzards or Mister Misties after playing miniature golf.
I'm not sure if we ever actually did those two things in the same
evening (Adam/Dad - did we?), but in my mind, they're associated. Or
maybe I just really miss ice cream? Probably a combination thereof.

Sarah, Suzi, and I are working together on a series of HIV seminars
for the nursing students at Rift Valley College, a private school in
Adama. We had our first session this week - HIV basics and ARTs. We
had a good turnout - about 100 people for the two sessions, although a
lot were pharmacy students instead of nursing. At least we focused on
ARV drugs, so hopefully they learned something. We're offering a
certificate program for those who attend 3 of 4, so I think that was a
big incentive. Offering certificates in Ethiopia is like offering
free food and cash in the States - everyone will show up. If the
certificate might be relevant to your career, even better.

My latest group of prisoners was exceptionally interested in HIV's
possible monkey origins. They assured me humans got HIV because
someone had sex with a monkey (cue giggles). I tried to explain that
we don't really know where it first came from because of the long lag
between infection and symptoms, but they were having none of it. I
suppose if you're going to cling to strange myths, I'd rather it be
that than "HIV is an invention of the west to kill Africans" or "HIV
is in the condoms, so don't use them." There's really no harm in
being amused that a man may or may not have made sweet love to an ape.
The following day, another group got on the topic of "double-bagging"
(using two condoms, for those readers not fluent in modern sexual
colloquialisms). I managed to get that message across (don't ever do
it, unless you want two broken condoms!), so I'll call the week a
victory.

Amisha, I got your package - thanks so much! Mom, your box and letter
arrived as well. Thanks!

Wishlist:
-freeze dried mangoes
-original cheddar goldfish crackers
-instant broccoli cheddar soup mix
-non-refrigerated cheese products
-dried seasonings
-gummi Lifesavers
-sour jelly bellys
-baking products (chocolate chips, mixes, etc)
-yarn
-books

09 September 2008

you've changed so much but it's still you.

Happy Ethiopian New Year (11 September)! Party like it's 2001.

Last week I met with the women at the prison. Gender inequalities
persist right down to the penal system. Their compound was
haphazardly built and lacking most of the facilities that the men have
(like tables and chairs). We had our session in a glorified barn -
one real wall, the rest more of a stick fence - with most of the women
crouching on the dirt floor, breast feeding children to keep them
quiet. Conditions aside, they were just as polite and grateful as the
men, perhaps more so. Especially when we talked about how part of the
reason women are at higher risk for sexual transmission is that they
have very little control over their sexual decisions. It's one of
those things everyone knows but few actually say. My translator even
did a little double take when I said it. This remains one of the most
rewarding projects I've ever undertaken.

The following day, while back on the men's side, I stumbled across a
"Government and Civics" textbook. I only made it through the first
few pages discussing the rule of law and origins of democracy, but I
was thoroughly intrigued. I was just about to get into the
independent judiciary section when my class arrived. Pity. If I find
it again, I'm tracking down the teacher and offering my services.

23 November: The Great Ethiopian Run. Most all of the PCVs not
traveling then will be huffing and puffing our way through a 10K at
8500 feet. I think the altitude is getting to us.

Living here is turning me into a total sap. I find myself misty eyed
at every corny romantic comedy I watch. Even ones by the Farrelly
brothers. For shame.

I watched the documentary "Jesus Camp." Horrified, traumatized, and
nauseous don't even begin to cover it. I honestly had to stop it and
walk away several times. Bad flashbacks to that <a
href="http://www.new.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2351095&l=b18d7&id=2001205">website</a>
I found last year. Fortunately, Harry Potter 6 and Richard Dawkins
arrived the following day, so I have more than 1000 pages of blasphemy
in which to drown myself. I threw in Fear and Loathing too, just for
good measure. I'm immensely proud to be the "enemy."

Obama...Biden 2008? Not my first choice, but hey, go Dems. Figures
the Republicans would once again (potentially) have the first woman in
an important position.

I made donuts, guava jelly, homemade ravioli, and my first layered
cake recently. FYI, donut recipes have a high yield and the "jelly
stage" takes quite some time to reach. Fortunately, it wasn't like I
had plans for any of those evenings.

Nick, Will (and Illana - love the cookbook!), Caitlin, Candace, and
Jason/Julie, thanks for making my week. I may not feel nostalgic for
icy showers and muddy roads when I'm home again, but I'll miss the
excitement of opening a mailbox to more than bills and junk mail.
Speaking of junk mail, kudos to those political staffers who bother to
send ads to the international absentee addresses. I don't now nor do
I ever intend again to live in Orange County, so I won't be voting in
the local elections, but I do appreciate the thought.

Wishlist:
-mac and cheese
-freeze dried mangoes
-Gillette Venus razor refills
-original cheddar goldfish crackers
-instant broccoli cheddar soup mix
-non-refrigerated cheese products
-dried seasonings
-gummi Lifesavers
-sour jelly bellys
-yarn
-books