29 December 2008

melkem firenji addis amet.

Happy Foreigner New Year!

That's what it's called here. Ethiopians rang in 2001 on 11 September, so this is just a Thursday to the rest of my temporarily adopted country. I got an intestinal parasite for Christmas, so I've spent the last few days in Addis producing stool samples to identify the little bugger. It's been loads of fun. On the upside, this is my first "real" illness in Ethiopia, so I'm just glad I made it this far. I was probably due.

Christmas itself was fun - Steph and I cooked up a storm at Kelly's place in Ambo, shared some cookies with the new trainees (I've never claimed to be above bribery), and watched mindless movies. All in all, a strange-but-good holiday. I'm looking forward to being back in Assela, if only to be able to check my mailbox. T-minus 17 days until Zanzibar!

20 December 2008

the ecstasy of being free.

Merry Christmas!

I've realized what it is I miss about home. Anonymity. Or just individuality. Knowing that whatever I say or do won't be extended to every other American/young/female/white/ suburban/Polish/atheist/vegetarian/middle-class/sad music-loving/educated/ sarcastic/southern/liberal/brunette person. The ability to represent my country was part of what attracted me to the Peace Corps, but sometimes I miss just representing Jessica. When I could just have a bad day and not worry that I was fostering anti-Americanism by not discussing the weather with every person on the street. Part of what makes me want to represent America abroad is that we're proud of what makes us different, that conformity (besides to unreasonable physical standards of beauty, that is) isn't valued - I miss that. So on that note, Merry Christmas! Celebrate in your own weird way and be thankful you don't have to explain or justify it to anyone.

Dad, Grandpa, Mary Ann, and Sinead, I got your Christmas mail - thanks!

Wishlist:
-dried fruit (apples, cranberries, or cherries)
-original cheddar goldfish crackers
-non-refrigerated cheese
-sourdough pretzel nuggets
-Fritos
-sour cream & chives noodles
-sour jelly bellys
-yarn
-books

08 December 2008

nobody said it would be easy.

Happy belated Thanksgiving...we celebrated in Assela with veggie lasagna (from scratch - homemade noodles and everything!) and brownies. And birthday cake. Not exactly festive, but then I've never seen a turkey in this country (well, outside of the commissary at the embassy, but that's technically American soil and hence not "in this country"). I've realized that I haven't spent 14 consecutive months in the same country since high school (but no, I'm not an addict) and am now suffering from cabin fever. So, I've decided to go on vacation in January. Cheapest destination with a beach is Zanzibar (and in the southern hemisphere, so it's summer, and the Indian Ocean is warm. Victory.). Anyone want to join me? My trip falls over MLK day, so it's even a real holiday for Americans.

Thanksgiving week, Alliance for Development's major donor came to visit (she's from a Canadian foundation based in Quebec), so we had a two-day tour of all the programs she's funded around Assela, plus my prison farm, which is Alliance-sponsored but Peace Corps-funded. One of those was a kindergarten, which translated into thirty minutes in my own personal hell, but another included a visit to Konicha kebele (district/neighborhood), my favorite kebele in Assela. It's way out on the edge of town, down a ravine, across a river, and back up again, so it's pretty isolated. In May, Alliance built a water point for the community so they'd no longer have to make that trek to get water. When we inaugurated it, the entire community turned out for singing, dancing, and lots of heartfelt speeches thanking Alliance, plus an elaborate coffee ceremony. We expected to make a quick trip out there, see the site, maybe talk to a couple of the beneficiaries, and then head back to town. Not so much. Everyone greeted us at the bridge to escort us to the site, then the kebele committee set up an even-more-elaborate coffee ceremony than last time on the bank of the river (arguably one of the most beautiful places in Assela). Both kinds of ceremonial bread to start (one of which is delicious; the other is, at best, strange), then coffee. Then the local Oromo delicacy, gunfo. In both forms. One is basically barley flour, which will suck all moisture out of your mouth but is otherwise harmless. The other is a bit more special - they call it porridge. PCVs call it "play doh volcano with spicy melted butter lava." Our description is more reflective of the actual taste (and appearance). Then we got "milk at the mother house" (so named because of Anna's story - she was the first volunteer to have the experience), which is watered-down sour yogurt mixed with cottage cheese. Not "like." "Is." There's no other way to describe it. Both of these things are expensive and difficult to make, and hence a very big honor to be served. (see photos: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2662617&l=4f875&id=2001205) Like PIKE frat boys, Ethiopians just won't take "no" for an answer. Crappy food aside, I still love Konicha.

I spent last week in Ambo helping with "training of trainers (ToT)" for the language and culture facilitators for this year's new volunteers. We have quite a few returnees from last year, so we had fun bonding with them again. Plus teaching them about the eccentricities of American culture, lessons they seemed to enjoy. Almaz, one of the leaders, especially did a good job absorbing the "diversity" lesson - during a practice lesson by one of the new teachers, he touched her leg (completely normal in Ethiopia) and she turned around to us to ask if that'd be weird for Americans. She also played the role of the disinterested, lazy student who couldn't pronounce anything, which cracked us up. All in all, thoroughly amusing. And I finally finished Orientalism. The back half of the last section and the epilogue were tolerable. I can't say the same for the preceding three hundred pages, but at least I've finished it.

Yesterday, we had a welcome party for the new trainees (yes, they're finally here!) and four of us got the honored distinction of being the first volunteers to meet them. Then we had a dance party with various Ethiopian dances, followed by "Born in the USA" and "Sweet Home Alabama," the two songs we picked when instructed to bring some American music, which are classic but not necessarily dance-able. Plus, we don't really have "traditional" American dances. So we did the electric slide and various dances in the lawnmower/sprinkler/shopping cart/cabbage patch family, much to the amusement of our staff. One of the trainees commented that we seemed sane and well-adjusted - I think that may have had more to do with the previous six days of hot showers than anything else, but we took the compliment. We have forty new trainees (including 19 men, a ratio unheard of in the Peace Corps, especially in the health sector. I'll plead the fifth on that one.), all of whom seem like good times - bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, which brought back fond memories of our arrival 14 (!!) months ago. It's nice to have a group of people who are genuinely interested in as much as you have to say about PC and Ethiopia as possible. Then Smith and I discovered a new, cheap pizza place in Addis that has an extensive (for Ethiopia) wine list and cocktail menu, but doesn't actually carry any of said drinks. In a poignant testament to how long we've been here, that wasn't surprising or even disappointing.

I'm currently reading (and loving!) Reading Lolita in Tehran and have developed a newfound fascination for modern Iranian history (especially the overthrow of the Shah and its aftermath). I want to learn more. If anyone can recommend/send me a good, balanced historical overview, I'd love it. Or two not-at-all balanced histories from competing sides. It IS almost Christmas, after all...

Christen's dad, thanks for the SEC championship update!

Pouya, Grandma/Mary Ann (I could definitely see your influence in that package!), and Mom - got your mail, thanks! Happy Birthday little bro!

Wishlist:
-dried fruit (apples, cranberries, or cherries)
-original cheddar goldfish crackers
-non-refrigerated cheese
-brownie mix
-Fritos
-sour cream & chives noodles
-sour jelly bellys
-Pantene conditioner (small-ish bottle)
-yarn
-books