Friday, March 25, 2016

Keeping Busy with Creativity

I’ve always been a big crafter. I love, love, love making things and can get so in the zone that I skip meals. It feels good, like fun work. I’ve really been taking advantage of the free time I have right now by creating things almost every day and I wanted to share some of my recent projects with you. I’m working on a couple different skill sets and really letting my creativity flow. The more I create, the more I want to create!

AGE Summit 2016

Peace Corps Ethiopia’s Gender and Development Committee (of which I am a part) recently put on a 4-day conference in Addis Ababa called The Action for Gender Equality Summit. It was 4 days of learning about how to be leader, sexual health, gender equality, and teamwork.

the whole Summit crew with Ambassador Susan Page
Ten Peace Corps volunteers from around the country each brought 4 students (2 boys and 2 girls) from their communities and five of them also brought their Ethiopian counterparts. The idea is that the students come to learn about new ideas and how to be a leader and then they can go back to their communities and teach other students about what they learned. Also, they can then be junior counselors at a Camp GLOW (Girls or Girls/Guys Leading Our World) in their area during the summer.

The days were long, beginning at 7am and going until 10 or 10:30pm. We did mostly serious learning, but we also did yoga in the mornings, danced the Whip/Nae Nae, made prayer flags, and had a talent show. It was a good mix of solid learning and fun activities, with a definite emphasis on the solid learning!

morning yoga
students performing skits
We also had a couple guest speakers, a career panel, and the girls ran in the annual Women First 5k. The race is only for women and was a lot of fun! The boys made signs to cheer us on the night before, and it was so cool to see them holding up signs for us and gender equality.

the boys cheering us on
the Women First 5k, 2016
All the students, counterparts, Peace Corps volunteers, and additional volunteers from organizations in Addis were so great. We created our own little community during those 4 days and worked together so well. I hope the students learned a lot and had a lot of fun both at the AGE Summit and visiting their nation’s capital (for most, it was their first time in Addis). I’m so proud of everyone who was involved in this event. It couldn’t have been great without everyone who was there! Thank you!

Crossing the River, a team building activity
It was amazing to be a part of the AGE Summit and I am so proud of our committee!

the GAD Committee

Search #AGESummit2016 for more photos!

Katie in Ethiopia

One thing that made coming back to Ethiopia a lot easier, was having Spencer’s sister Katie come to visit! We all flew back on the same flight and spent 10 days traveling around Ethiopia, visiting Addis, Hawassa, Bale Goba, Riiraa, and of course, our town, Durame.

It was fun to show her all the places we usually go to in Addis and Hawassa. It’s so interesting to see Ethiopia through a tourist’s eyes, rather than those of a Peace Corps volunteer. It’s so different! She was excited to see things that I have long since forgotten were interesting when I first arrived. It was very refreshing.

hippo in Lake Hawassa
fishermen on Lake Hawassa
Sunset over Lake Hawassa
We also went to visit some new places with her, namely Bale National Park. We stayed with my friend and fellow Peace Corps volunteer, Samantha, in Goba which is just outside the park. We woke up before dawn and took a very crowded bus out to Riiraa to go hiking and see a waterfall. The bus ride took us through the coldest part of Ethiopia, so cold that hardly anything grows up there. It looks like the moon! Once in Riiraa, we walked to the trail head and started exploring. The forest was beautiful and it was so fun to hike around in the woods without seeing anyone. It was so peaceful.

Bale Mountains National Park
hiking in Bale Mountains National Park
climbing in Riiraa
Getting back to Durame from Bale was a challenge since there were some protests happening in Oromia. We took an alternate (although much longer) route and got there in the end. We had dinner with our compound family, took bucket baths, the power went out, we visited each of our schools, and heard the hyenas whooping at night. It was the perfect showing of our life here.

street art in Addis

Much sooner that I would’ve liked, it was time for her to fly back to California. We sat on another long bus and I cried when we dropped her off at the airport. Goodbyes are always hard, but it’s nice to know that we’ll be together again this summer. 

A Glorious Wonderland

At the end of January, we went back to California to visit family and friends and to attend my cousin’s wedding. I have a lot of cousins but this particular cousin is extra special to me because we grew up very close. When she told me she was engaged and asked if I would go back for her wedding, I said yes in a heartbeat!

We made it just in time for her bachelorette party in San Francisco, although our luggage stayed in Istanbul (where we’d had a layover) for an extra day. I was a bit stressed about leaving for the party without any of my things, but thank goodness I have such a great sister-in-law who hooked me up with clothes, shoes, make up, and accessories to wear in the City for the celebration. The bride also brought me extra clothes and asked her friend to bring me extra clothes, so in the end I had more than enough!

Visiting California was like a glorious wonderland. We had no responsibilities, we had all the food options we could ever dream of, and we got to spend precious time with family and friends. I am so grateful that we were able to visit home in the middle of our Peace Corps service. The notion that we had the trip planned helped me stay dedicated to my service, even through one of the toughest times of year to be living away from family: the holiday season. Looking forward to something is always good.

Plus, it was just a nice break! Everything was easy. Going shopping was easy. Communication was so easy!  I could ask a waiter anything and they would understand and then I would get the exact food I wanted! I know this might sound oddly normal to those of you living in the States, but this was huge for me. I was also so happy to eat all the foods I’d been missing so much!

The one thing I struggled with was finding one thing I wanted in a big selection of things. For example, I went to the grocery store and wanted to buy a certain kind of vitamins. I was looking at the vitamins for a while and I couldn’t find the ones I wanted. It was like my brain was overloaded! It could not process everything at once. It wasn’t stressful though, I just asked someone who worked there to help and she found them right away. Communication wins again!

It was such a great trip. Coming back was a little hard, but it’s all good. We’re in the middle of our last semester of teaching and the end is near. I’m happy and excited for the next step (grad school, yeah!), but for now I’m enjoying the slow pace of life and all that delicious Ethiopian coffee. 

Friday, January 8, 2016

Christmas and Genna

We spent Christmas in Addis with a bunch of our PCV friends eating delicious food at one of the fanciest hotels in Ethiopia, the Sheraton. There was sushi; it was glorious. 

We spent Genna (Ethiopian Christmas) with our compound family in Durame. I helped clean two chickens to make doro wat, which was quite the experience! Spencer helped the kids put together a couple palm fronds to make a Christmas tree and then we all made decorations. It was great and our Genna dinner was SO delicious. 

The Simien Mountains

The Simien Mountains are on many tourists’ travel itineraries while visiting Ethiopia, and we’re no different. When Amanda and Matthew came to visit at the end of August, we knew we had to go. Located in the northern part of the Amhara region (very far from where we live!), the mountains are home to many endemic animals and are sometimes referred to as The Roof of Africa.

We visited in the rainy season, which made the views beautiful and green. The downside being that the rain limited our hiking and also some views were obscured by the clouds. When you’re that high up, you literally are walking through the clouds. We took a two-day, one-night trek into the mountains and even though it rained in the afternoons, the mornings were beautiful and clear.

On our second day, we trekked to a lookout point to see a massive waterfall. Our guide said it was over 500 meters tall! A good thing about going in the rainy season: the waterfall was fully flowing.

One of the most famous endemic animals in the area is the Gelada baboon. These furry, monkey-like creatures eat only grass and are so gentle you can walk right up to them. Our tour guide told us they especially like ferenj (foreigners), but I think that’s only because foreigners don’t have crops to protect from them.

We also saw a Menelik’s Bushbuck (I think) and a lot of birds and flowers. It was nice to see all the flowers blooming, which we would have missed had we come in the dry season.

a bushbuck's backside
A trip to the Simien Mountains is expensive (especially for Peace Corps volunteers), but well worth the beautiful scenery and unique wildlife. I think if we went again, we’d stay for longer. We didn’t get to hike much, because of the rain and our limited time. It would’ve been nice to get a couple longer walks in. 

Monday, October 12, 2015

International Day of the Girl

Girls are important, but oftentimes, in Ethiopia, girls are important because it’s them who fetch the water, cook the meals, clean the house, and make the coffee. Many Ethiopian girls are given fewer opportunities than boys and both women and girls are discriminated against in many different and subtle ways. Ethiopia is not alone in this. Many other countries suffer from similar problems, and even in the US, women and men are not treated 100% equally.     

presenting at the morning flag ceremony
In Ethiopia, 60% of boys are literate, but only 40% of girls are. Half of Ethiopian children don’t finish their primary education and only 1 in 3 girls go to secondary school (high school). There are 9 million girls in Ethiopia, and if two thirds of them are not getting a high school education, that’s 6 million girls who have missed the opportunity for an education. Six million girls who are falling behind with little opportunity to make money for themselves and their family. Six million girls who are heading for a life of poverty.

If every girl finished school, they would add 4 billion dollars to the Ethiopian economy, which is more than Ethiopia receives in international aid each year. That is why I decided to celebrate the International Day of the Girl on October 11th. I want to support all my students, but especially the girls. They need encouragement and guidance and they need to know that they are worth something, and that something is not small or insignificant.

To commemorate the day, Spencer and I worked with my coworker, Kebede, and a group of 52 ninth and tenth grade girls to create a Wall Against Discrimination. First we showed them a video called Smart Economics, given to us by an NGO called Girl Effect. It talks about the importance of girls and gives examples of how girls’ lives could be better. It also talks about the $4,000,000,000. After the video, we gave each student colored paper to trace their hand and we wrote some sentence starters on the blackboard to give them ideas about what to write. We wrote things like: I wish to stop discrimination against women and girls because…, I wish all girls…, and Girls are important because… It was written in both English and Amharic to ensure the girls understood. A big thank you to Kebede for translating everything!

The next day at the morning flag ceremony I presented our Wall Against Discrimination to the school, while the school director (principle) translated what I said into Amharic. I put it up on the wall on the outside of the administration building, along with some statistics about girls and women in Ethiopia. It’s a central location where every person who walks into the school can see it.

students watching my presentation at the flag ceremony

It’s a small, grass roots project in just one school in a small town in rural Ethiopia, but for those 52 girls, it was great. Change will not happen overnight and it cannot happen with girls alone. Everyone needs to make an effort to create an equal society for all people. Our project might be small, but even if all we did is get people talking about the issues, we have done something worthwhile. 

All statistics are from Girl Effect.