Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Place Where I Live

The place where I live has no pipes running through the walls. It has no glass in either of the two windows and a single light bulb near the ceiling of each of the two rooms. It has uneven mud walls, painted over with thin plaster and cheery yellow paint. The floor is cement covered with sheets of patterned, brown plastic flooring. There are no built in closets or cupboards. There is no toilet. Without a doubt, it's basic. But it's ours and I love it.

Of the two rooms, one is filled with a custom-made king size bed fashioned from two twin mattresses. The mattresses are foam and are just under five inches thick. Sheets were found to cover this enormous monster at a single store in the capital. Never could we find sheets that size in our town or even our hub town, the capital of our region. Our bed is draped in a mosquito net which fills the room to near capacity but when you are inside it sitting up or sleeping, it is very comfortable and roomy. On each side of the bed is a square wooden nightstand. Also in the bedroom is a shelf for our clothes and a much smaller basket-style shelf for bathroom and other small supplies. Above this is a small plastic mirror, hung on a nail. It is our only mirror. Next to it is a black bag containing a yoga mat bought in Addis for a very large amount of money, all things considered.

The other room is our kitchen, living room, and dining room. In one corner is our kitchen cabinet, which doubles as storage and a worktop. Atop this is a water filter, an electric kettle, a propane stove (for when the power goes out), an electric stove (for when there's power), some fresh fruit from the market (if we have any) and usually our pots and tea kettle when they are not in use or dirty. Inside the cabinet is storage of food, spices, tea, coffee (both raw and already roasted and ground) utensils, plates, bowls, plastic cutting boards, tupperware, and foil. Under this cabinet is a big aluminum pot with a lid (used as an oven on the stove top) and a green plastic basin for dirty dishes. Next to it are two yellow jerrycans filled with drinking water to be boiled and put through the filter.

In another corner is an identical shelf to the one in the bedroom holding clothes, expect this one contains books and other various office supplies, more foodstuffs that don't fit in the cabinet, candles, toilet paper, games, and various other small things. Next to this shelf is a wooden table and two chairs, where we spend most of our time when we're at home. Next to the table is the corner where we keep the trash can (used only for paper/plastic trash and not food waste), buckets of water for washing, and a bucket for used water/food waste that we dump out in a big hole in the compound every day. The last corner is reserved for the door and behind that, hanging on the wall are the broom, dustpan, an umbrella, and the frisbee. Our shoes are near the door and we have indoor shoes, which we wear inside at all times.

Outside our house are some common areas we share with the family whose compound we live in. One is the shint bet, which is the latrine/squatty potty/hole-in-the-ground-where-we-relieve-ourselves/bathroom/whatever-you-want-to-call-it. It's a small room with a porcelain squat toilet set into cement over a massive, very deep hole. There is also a basket for used toilet paper (to be burned later), a broom, a bottle of bleach powder, and many little winged bugs that are never absent. The family keeps the shint bet very clean. It is very rarely smelly.

Also, is a similarly sized room with bubble gum pink walls and an orange ceiling, called the shower bet. As you can tell from the name, this is where we shower. There is a square piece of shower floor with a hole that drains into the same hole as the shint bet. There is a shower head that gets water from a big plastic barrel filled with water on a tall, thin tower made from branches, located just outside the shower bet. Gravity brings the water down to the shower head and also to the sink, which I didn't mention before but is in there too. Lastly there is a big barrel in the corner which holds extra water. When our buckets (for washing) run out, this is where we fill them up again if the tap out in the yard is not running (It usually comes on about 1-2 times a week).

When we shower, we usually heat up water and carry it in there with a bucket and then pour it over ourselves. It's worth the extra work to not have to take a cold shower. All through pre-service training I took cold showers and I've had enough of them, at least for a while. I've been told that it gets really hot in January and February so maybe then it will feel good. We'll see.

That's about it! This is our living situation in Durame. Oh, I almost forgot the best part—the view! We have an absolutely gorgeous view of Ambericho Mountain from our window. There's a big incet (false banana, looks like a banana tree but doesn't grow bananas) tree and some laundry and power lines and then the beautiful, green mountain. I adore it, especially during the golden hour before sunset. The picture does not do it justice, at all

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Settling In...Still

Hello out there! Sorry I haven't posted for a while, but we've been busy settling in here in Durame. We are both teaching English 4-5 days a week and figuring out everything you have to figure out when moving to a new town. Even though we've been here for six weeks already, I still feel like we're just getting the hang of things! I prepared a longer blog post with a few updates but now it's not loading on the internet cafe's computer. Oh well, such is life! :)

While we're getting settled here, I'm curious: what kinds of things you would like to see on the blog about Durame, Ethiopia, or our life here?? Please let me know in the comments and I'll try to get some posts up about whatever you are interested in. Don't worry if your answer is specific or not, I would still love to hear from you!

Today is market day, so we're off to haggle over some fruit and veggies! :)

P.S. The photo above is of the little kitty, named Peek, who lives in our compound.

Friday, September 26, 2014

First Days in Durame

We are now official Peace Corps volunteers and are living at our wonderful site, Durame! :) I can not even begin to express how happy I am to finally be here and get started on teaching and making friends. After nearly three months of training, I am so ready to be here.

making tea on our very first morning
Our first week is being spent setting up our house and getting accustomed to living on our own. The first day here, we bought mattresses (seen in the back of the photo). We wanted a big bed so we bought two twin sized mattresses and are putting them together to make one huge bed. We've also bought buckets to store water in/do laundry in/wash dishes in, ordered a bed/shelves/nightstands, and bought some basic kitchen supplies, like plates, bowls, silverware, wooden spoons, a couple pots, and a strainer.

Next week, we will start working at our respective schools. The first week of work could either be co-teaching with an Ethiopian English teacher or just teaching our classes ourselves. I'm not sure how that will work out yet.

For now, I'm just enjoying some free time to relax, catch up on laundry, and figure out where we can buy everything we need in town. It's really nice to feel independent again. 

Swearing In!

Swearing in was at the United States Embassy in Addis Ababa and let me tell you, it felt like we were back in America. From all the Americans working there, to the landscaping, to the food they served us: America, America, America!

During the official Swearing In ceremony, there were speeches from our Country Director, Greg Engle, and our Training Manager, Tesfaye. Also, three of our peers gave speeches in each of the three languages we learned during training (Amharic, Afan Oromo, and Tigrinia). Finally, the Ambassador gave a speech and then led us in officially swearing in. After some closing remarks from Greg, we got to eat! They gave us some really yummy stuff, including sushi!

It was a great day and all 66 of us who swore in were so happy to finally become Peace Corps Volunteers.

Here's the proof!

Mom, Dad, and the twins, Jillian and Lauren
Shannon, Izzy, Norit, Samantha, and me
Kaylee and Summer in Oromo cultural dresses
Phil, Spencer, and Jon

our whole group! G11!

Maggie and Spencer High, Peace Corps Volunteers!

Our "Goodbye Program"

The word “program” is very important in Ethiopia. Anything can be a program. Have something to do but someone invites you to buna? You just say, “Sorry, I have another program” and you're instantly understood without question. “Program” can also be used to describe an event, a ceremony, a meeting, and really just anything planned, at all.

For our last night in Butajira, our family said we were having a buna ceremony for our “Goodbye Program” and it was lovely. They let me pour the coffee and we had lots of yummy snacks. We ate everything on the table and then they fed us dinner! Ha! Ethiopians love to feed their guests until they explode. Also, there was some goursha-ing happening. A goursha is when someone feeds you, and since Ethiopians eat with their hands, this means someone is feeding you with their hands. It's a sign of love! <3

We were very sad to leave our Ethiopian family who took such amazing care of us during training but are so excited to begin our Peace Corps service in Durame! 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The End of Training Has Come

our Ethiopian family
The end of pre-service training (PST) is rapidly approaching (swearing in is tomorrow!). I can't believe in just one day we'll all be off to our sites, scattered all around the country. It seems like we just got here and also like we've been in training forever.

No one who's been through it will ever tell you PST is easy. It's not easy. There are so many things to learn, people to meet, ways to act, and things to do. We are willingly thrown into another culture, into a family and expected to stay positive and keep learning. Keep learning the language, even if your host family can't be bothered to wake up to make you breakfast (this happened to a friend, not me!). Keep participating in training sessions, even if you have yet another bacteria infection and are just trying to get your stomach under control. Keep doing homework, even if you get home and would rather do anything but more work. Keep going, keep it positive, keep trying. Don't stop!

And inevitably through it all, we all had our bad days. We all needed time to vent about something we didn't like about our language teachers or a particular training session or our host families or whatever. We were sick with bacteria infections, amoebas, and parasites, to name a few. We endured bed bugs and cold bucket showers.

There were some parts of training that were extremely difficult, especially when some of our fellow trainees were sent or chose to return home. It's hard to lose friends in this process and I wish some things were done differently. (I miss you ,Casey!!)

It's hard, it's fun, and it can be frustrating at times. It was challenging because of all the trainings and expectations. It's A LOT of work. On the other hand, it was fun because I got to get know some really amazing Americans in my group as we went through this process together. I also got to know some really great Ethiopians, especially my host family who are some of the best people I have ever met in my life. I feel so lucky to have spent my PST under the care of Mommy (Etagu), Dad (Tadesse), and my host sister K'al. They've already made us promise we will come home for every holiday while we're in Ethiopia since our site is only about 4 hours away.

No matter how hard it is and how much I wish I could do something to change the past, I can't. I must move forward. There is a lot of work to be done in Durame and I have to give it my all.

The end of training is bittersweet. I'm excited to be off to Durame to begin working, have my own house, and meet new friends. After almost every hour being scheduled during PST, I'm excited for the freedom to make my own choices regarding my time and my diet. However, there's a lot I will miss. I will miss our parents' laughs, which are both so wonderfully unique and joyous you can't help but laugh along. I'll miss joking with my host sister. I'll miss visiting with our neighbors in the compound and the town of Butajira. I'll miss the sambusas for 1 birr that taste like heaven around the corner from my house. And most certainly I will miss spending every day learning alongside my fellow Peace Corps Trainees in G11 (Group 11). There are truly some amazing individuals in our group and I'm so happy I got the chance to meet and work with every single one of them.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Site Announcement: DURAME

Everyone was very antsy for site placement day. We all talked about where we could possibly be placed according to what language we were learning and any small comments we got from Peace Corps staff. I was told, “You're site is very, very good. I think you're really going to like your site.” Even with this vague statement, I speculated. It was all we could talk about the whole week leading up to that fateful Saturday.

The day began with a couple hours of our LCFs (Language and Culture Facilitators aka our language teachers) showing us how to dance traditional Ethiopian dances. We also had snacks and shay/bunna (tea and coffee) which is always nice, no matter how nervous you are about being told where you'll be living for the next two years.

When it finally got started Greg, our Country Director, gave a speech. I can't remember what he said but it was something like don't be upset with your site before you get to know it well.

Our Education Program Director, Dan O., then began telling us our sites. He went region by region starting at the south of the country and moving up: SNNPR (aka Southern Nations), Oromia, Amhara, and finally Tigray. Since we are learning Amharic, we knew we'd either be in Southern Nations or Amhara.

Turns out, we're in Southern Nations! I was so shocked when we were called because it was so early in the process, but so excited to be in Southern Nations. Fresh fruits and veggies year round, mostly warm weather, and lush, green landscapes are much appreciated!!

After we all found out our sites, we went home for lunch to tell our host families and pick up our luggage. First, we spent a couple days in Addis meeting our Community Liasons, enjoying fancy Addis food, and enjoying hot showers. Finally, we all set off on buses and planes all over the country to see where we will be living for the next two years.

Our town is called Durame and it is wonderful. It's pretty small but not too small, with about 30,000 people. There are two high schools, one for each of us to work with, one post office next to the one small bus station, and many, many kind welcoming people. As we walked around town with our community liasons, Daniel and Abera, we were constantly meeting new people who would shake our hands and smile, welcoming us to their town.

The town sits at the base of a great mountain that you can see from nearly everywhere in town. I can't wait to hike up to the top and take in the view!

our street, our compound is the one on the right
At our site visit we had to do some basic things like see our future house, set up a bank account, get a PO Box, see our schools and meet the staff, meet the mayor, meet the regional education head, meet the police chief, and find out where the hospital is located. It was a lot of walking but not too bad since our town is pretty small and our house is centrally located.

The visit has gotten me very excited to be done with PST (Pre-Service Training) and move on to actually being a Peace Corps Volunteer. So many people showed eagerness to work with us on projects at both high schools and even the primary school. I can't wait to move to Durame!!!