18 October 2008

i don't want to be adored for what i merely represent.

This week I met with Susie and Pat, two of the VSOs, about our 1000
pounds to spend. We've decided to have a week of seminars, one long
one for teachers, talking about stigma and the role of community
leaders, and one (well, a lot) for the approximately 4000 students,
with more of a focus on prevention. Since we have money, we're going
to bring in some speakers and have refreshments so people will be
motivated to stick around. And of course, testing from the hospital
or health center. From there, we're going to recruit interested
students to form a peer educator group that will become the backbone
of the Anti-AIDS club, who will then run future seminars for new
students. We're so sustainable. Once we cover per diems, copies,
shay buna, etc, we're spending the rest on condoms since the teacher's
college is out on the edge of town and far from the health center and
NGO offices that distribute free condoms. I'm super excited - these
women are great and very dedicated to HIV and gender programming.
Then we had a lunch party at Pat's house, which is approximately the
size of four PCV houses combined. Massive living room/dining room
bigger than my entire house, two bedrooms, a bathroom with a water
heater, internet access, and a kitchen, also bigger than mine.
Jealous doesn't even begin to cover it. I'd settle for just the water

I'm joining the Tae Kwon Do club in Assela. This could well turn out
to be even more fascinating then me buying a chicken. Then I promptly
sprained my ankle on a run and hence had to delay my "sparring with
small children" debut. Damn. My grant money for the prison farm
finally came through - in the form of a check that has to be picked up
in person in Addis. At least I get a hot shower or two, good food,
and the chance to go grocery shopping. Two weeks ago, an evaluation
team from Peace Corps DC came to talk to volunteers and visit sites.
Thanks to this blog, a member of the team (hi!) was thoroughly amused
by my profound love for cheddar goldfish crackers. She didn't think
they'd travel well, so she brought us chocolate instead. Our love is
so easy to buy.

I was watching some Southpark after a day of crappy children and found
myself suddenly nostalgic for the holiday season after the Mr.
Hankey's Christmas Classics episode. So I spent the afternoon
listening to my collection of Christmas music. Between this and last
week's sudden craving for shiro wat, I think I might be going round
the bend.

-reese's peanut butter cups
-freeze dried mangoes
-original cheddar goldfish crackers
-powdered drink flavorings (gatorade, crystal light, etc)
-hot cocoa mix
-non-refrigerated cheese products
-dried seasonings
-sourdough pretzel nuggets
-sour jelly bellys
-baking products (chocolate chips, frosting, mixes, etc)

10 October 2008

i'm a joke that you probably enjoy.

I'm sorry that formatting is always screwed up on these posts - I have to post via email since blogger is blocked in Ethiopia (but not on the PC computers, which is why this one has been corrected).

I was walking down the street this week and suddenly found myself craving shiro wat (chickpea), so I went to the famous tibs (meat) beyt and had some. This has never happened to me in the ten months I've been living in this town. Ironic that I'd pick the tibs beyt, but it's a good place to get vegetarian food since everyone else eats the meat - they have to make the shiro fresh.

We ended up not discussing religion in english class - we talked about the relationship between parents and children. They were interested in the notion of allowances and chores and learning
fiscal responsibility. We also talked about how women are generally better savers than men - some of the older guys said that's because the men have to do the calling (rather pricey on the Ethiopian telecom network) and "inviting" (taking out for tea, coffee, food, etc). I said, and most of the women agreed, that that's a small price to pay for also having the freedom to be out after dark and not be a domestic servant in your own family. Some of the girls mentioned that their mothers are better with money because they're the ones who go shopping and see how changes (well, really just massive increases) in food prices affect the whole family. Men in Ethiopia generally have no idea how to cook food, let alone what it costs.

Case in point: Gizaw, my counterpart at Alliance for Development, mentioned that injera is easy to make. His daughter was visiting and she said it's not. It's a 3 day process to ferment the batter, then the baking takes the better part of an afternoon. The teacher mentioned that men get married when they want someone to take care of them at home - us women said that makes marriage a very attractive arrangement for us. We had to explain the sarcasm, which ruined the moment, but they got it eventually. All in all, not as exciting as religion, but a good discussion. I'm pushing for religion next week. I'll also be investigating the location of the Tae Kwon Do center since I feel I need some variety in my physical life and I don't think there's a dance studio in this country.

After class (which fell on t-minus 4 weeks until Election Day), the teacher, Bantie, and I got into a discussion of the election. He'd vote for McCain to make the world safer. He's a die hard, neo-con, Bush-loving Republican who supported and continues to support the Iraq invasion as a means of catching the 9/11 perpetrators and ensuring global security. Bantie also believes the world is safer since the invasion - I think victims of bombings in Madrid, London, Casablanca, Amman, and elsewhere might beg to differ. It was an ironic little moment to hear a US policy most conservatives have rejected defended so passionately. He's the most fiercely anti-Islamic person I've met outside the American south - he contends that all Muslims want to see the destruction of the West and all infidels. Then he asked if I knew any Muslims (you can actually see the minaret of the main mosque in Assela from the window of the classroom, a visual irony I enjoyed). It seemed to deflate him a bit when I reminded him where I lived for the better part of last year. While I'm hardly an apologist, I think even moderate religion (of any denomination) does in fact pave the way for extremism, and I didn't mention my Iraqi neighbor who made us watch "Insurgent TV" (the propaganda channel often celebrating the deaths of American soldiers), my experience in the Muslim world suggests that the vast majority don't give a damn about global jihad and would prefer to have things like schools and hospitals and the ability to use them without fear of untimely death. But I remember why I love my conservative friends - I realized I hadn't had a genuine debate over policy since I left last year. I still think he's a bit nutty, but I enjoy the debates.

One of the students was lingering after class during this discussion and couldn't resist the urge to jump in. He had a hard time following in the beginning, and assumed I was the McCain supporter and interrupted to ask me why I liked McCain. The horrified look on my face set him straight (although it's not really McCain I can't stand, it's Palin being second in line to a man who's a long way from young and vital), and then he seemed painfully confused defending Barack Obama alongside me against his teacher and fellow Ethiopian. I was proud that he was willing to stand up to his teacher and assert himself - that's pretty socially unacceptable here. He probably only dared because it was an English class and I drive home the point every week that discourse is an important part of my class, but it was a small victory nonetheless.

On Thursday night (okay, afternoon), I got mildly tipsy on homemade moonshine that's been brewing in a bucket next to my toilet (covered, of course) for the last two weeks. What has my life become? FYI, the last two inches in a 20 liter bucket equals more glasses than you'd think. For my first attempt, it wasn't half-bad. I may have a future in this. You know, if bringing peace to Israel and Palestine doesn't end up working out.

Photos from the Olympic celebration last week:

-freeze dried mangoes
-original cheddar goldfish crackers
-powdered drink flavorings (gatorade, crystal light, etc)
-hot cocoa mix
-instant broccoli cheddar soup mix
-non-refrigerated cheese products
-dried seasonings
-sourdough pretzel nuggets
-sour jelly bellys
-baking products (chocolate chips, frosting, mixes, etc)

04 October 2008

where do you stand when all your idols have fallen?

It's been a year since I signed my life away to the Peace Corps.
Tuesday will be 1 year in Ethiopia. Time flies....

The new VSO volunteers arrived, and while a strapping young Irishman
with a sexy accent was not placed in Assela, I did get Susie, a
twenty-something British woman working on English language education,
which is potentially more exciting. And not just because it's a
friend who will understand what it's like to be a white woman of
marriageable age in this country. Since we're all here for the start
of the school year at the teacher college, we can work together on
programs and get them started from the beginning. I'll get to play a
bigger role in teaching English - we're planning a film club to help
get people used to english and provoke discussion in a stress-free
environment, plus some classes for the teachers. We're also doing an
HIV/sex ed orientation for the first year students, bringing testing
to campus, and reviving an info board where students can leave
questions anonymously and we can post answers for a little passive
education. I'm excited.

Thursday ended up an unofficial holiday of sorts - the Olympic
medallists and president of Oromiya region came to Assela for a
ceremony and dedication of land for a new athletic village being built
just south of Assela. This is one of those times I love my
disproportionately famous little town, although lacking such amenities
as the cheese, customs agents, olive oil, and affordable internet
found in the big-city sites of other volunteers. Being white served
me well throughout the morning. I got caught up in the parade of
people entering the stadium (Ethiopians don't just walk into events
silently, they parade en masse - see photo link below) and instead of
getting held up with the pesky pat down searches, a cop just waved me
in (a valuable security lesson in and of itself). I was sitting in
the crowd along the edge of the stadium, but then other army guys kept
noticing me and moving me into gradually better spots. I ended up on
the field next to the stage with free reign. I guess carrying a
respectable looking camera made them think I had to be a journalist.
I also managed to get myself interviewed by ETV, the Ethiopian state
channel. I'll be famous.

(edit: On Saturday, I was in Adama for some grocery shopping and
someone recognized me from Friday night's news broadcast.)

As a result of being mistaken for someone important, I ended up within
a few feet of Tulu Darartu (of Darartu Hotel fame, Assela's equivalent
of the Ritz) and Haile Gabreselassie, Ethiopia's most famous
marathoners and former (possibly still current) world record holders.
It motivated me to not embarrass myself at the Great Ethiopian Run
next month. They had a 3000m men and women's race for some of the up
and coming athletes in the area - some of the runners were barefoot,
which befits Africa. All in all, a fun morning. I'll try to get some
photos up on facebook in the next week or so, but no promises.

If you don't believe religion should be subject to the same discourse
and challenges as other ideas, then you should probably skip the rest
of this post. This is a culmination of spending the last two years in
highly religious cultures and there are just some things I can't
handle being silent about anymore.

I was reading Dawkins in a cafe when a guy asked me what it was. The
children had been rather touchy and demanding that morning, so I was
in a "take me as I am, I won't lie to win your approval" mood. I gave
him one chance and said it was about religion. He responded, "Oh,
you're a Catholic." Not so much, so I said it was a book about how
there's probably not a god and religion has a negative impact on the
world. He gave me that awkward, pained smile people resort to when
you tell them something shocking that they're not sure how to take.
He asked if I knew about Orthodox Christianity and said I had to
believe it since I lived here. If you know me well or have ever tried
to convert me, you can probably see where this is going. I told him
that in my country, we respect people's right to hold different
beliefs. That's probably rude, but we all have a breaking point and I
can't handle being preached at like I'm incapable of reasoning for
myself. In my book, forced conversion is equally rude.

I've realized that when you move to a new culture, you have to examine
your personal values and decided what's nonnegotiable for you - what
you won't compromise to fit in. For me, it's how I feel about god and
religion and attempts to convert me. (We can discuss whether I should
keep spending time in devout countries another time, but I'd say that
beliefs are strengthened by discourse). I won't stand for having my
opinions belittled. People tell me that's insensitive, so then why is
it courageous and noble for a Christian to continue practicing in the
Muslim world, or for Catholics to worship in Orthodox areas like
Ethiopia? My rejection of his faith would be just as strong if I were
a Catholic. Stronger, even, since I'd believe he was destined to
eternal hellfire and now I just think he's wrong. I'm tired of having
my beliefs rejected when I'm not allowed to do the same.

Anyway...moving onto our religion discussion in English class. Eid
Mubarak. The holiday fell a few days earlier than expected, so
Tuesday ended up a day off and class was cancelled. Lunar holidays
can be tricky. I celebrated with a Owen Wilson mindless comedy, some
instant broccoli cheddar soup, and a few beers. I tried to have a
meeting with the HIV-postive prisoners in the afternoon, but was shut
down, despite the fact that neither I, my counterpart, my translator,
nor any of the prisoners, are Muslim. I suppose I learned my lesson
about trying to work on holidays. Alas. I also learned that Ayalew,
my translator, was just released after serving seven years for killing
a man. I knew he was an inmate working in the prison administrative
office because he spoke english and was well behaved, but I had no
idea of his initial crime. I sort of wish I still didn't know.

In sum, I'd like to reiterate that you all should read The God
Delusion. Seriously.

-freeze dried mangoes
-original cheddar goldfish crackers
-powdered drink flavorings (gatorade, crystal light, etc)
-hot cocoa mix
-instant broccoli cheddar soup mix
-non-refrigerated cheese products
-dried seasonings
-sourdough pretzel nuggets
-sour jelly bellys
-baking products (chocolate chips, frosting, mixes, etc)