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. 

Friday, September 25, 2015

Durame Leadership Camp

After arriving back in Ethiopia from Uganda, we jumped right in to planning, organizing, and running our big summer project: Durame Leadership Camp. 

We spent two weeks teaching students about leadership, life skills, and volunteering, all in English. We taught a range of topics from goal setting to managing stress to how to start a community service project. In the beginning the students didn't know what to expect or why they should learn about leadership, but it didn't take them long to realize that these solid life skills would help them in nearly every aspect of their lives. They also really enjoyed crafting and practicing English.

We wanted camp to be informative and to give our students skills that would help them in school, within their families/communities, and in life, but we also wanted them to have fun! So we did arts and crafts projects, played games, and had a glider tournament.

making friendship bracelets
glider tournament
fun with gliders
making a leadership quote poster to take home
leadership quotes
Overall, camp was a great success! It was fun to work with some of our best students and see how much they grew and gained confidence in just two weeks. We had a really great group of kids and I'm so proud of the work we accomplished together.

Total Bliss in Kisoro, Southwest Uganga

Peace Corps life can be rough. Even when vacationing and hanging out with my best friend, I felt torn about life and what to do with mine. Should I stay in the Peace Corps? Should I go to graduate school? Is it worth it to stay in Ethiopia if I'm unhappy? What about my community? My students? My commitment to stay in here for 27 months? What about my peace of mind?

There are a lot of options, but what do you do when nothing seems right? I've been struggling with these questions and decisions for the greater part of the summer. My mind is always buzzing with questions that have no clear or easy answers, but then Amanda led us on a short hike in Kisoro to watch the sunset and everything flew away.

For a short, golden-light filled time, everything was bliss. It was the most beautiful spot we visited in Uganda and it's moments like these that give me strength. I don't have all the answers to life, in fact right now I feel like I don't have any, but it's OK. It's OK to be struggling and confused. It's OK to try your best and fail every single day. It's OK. No matter what happens, everything is going to be OK.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Still Here...

Things have been busy this summer! I still have some stuff from Uganda to share with you, a post about our 2-week Durame Leadership Camp, and a couple of posts about traveling within Ethiopia. But that will have to wait a little bit because for the next week and a half, we’ll be Addis for our Mid-Service Conference (MSC). Yay!

MSC is a chance for our group and staff to all get together, talk about the previous year, and make plans for next year. It’s fun to get together with everyone and enjoy Addis while we eat all the foreign food we possibly can. We also go to the dentist for a cleaning/check-up and get a check-up from the Peace Corps doctors, as well. I just had my check-ups today and I’m healthy. Yay, again!

Not a lot to say here, I just realized I hadn’t posted in a while and thought I should check in with all my lovely readers. I hope you all had a great summer and you are looking forward to the cooler days of fall ahead! 

Also, we just celebrated Ethiopian New Year, so I wish you all a very Happy New Year! It's now 2008 in Ethiopia!!  

Monday, August 17, 2015

Omwani Training Cafe in Kyambura

The Omwani Training CafĂ© is on the outskirts of the mountain village Kyambura, next to Queen Elizabeth Park. Amanda and Matt had been there before, having heard of it because it was the site of a former Peace Corps volunteer. Omwani trains people on how to work at resorts and hotels. Since it’s so near the park and tourism in Uganda is doing pretty well, there are lots of hotels and resorts around.

It was such a treat for us to stay there because we were the only guests, and Peace Corps volunteers get a generous discount: 50% off everything! They have a big, beautiful compound filled with big trees, flowers, and lots of green grass.

We stayed in the house, but you can also camp if you have the gear. They have a compost toilet, solar hot water outdoor shower, basketball court, wood fire pizza oven, and the best coffee in Uganda. It was really great to sit outside in the shade drinking iced coffee (they have ice!) and chatting with friends, while a flock of tiny chicks peeped by with their mother. It’s a peaceful place. 

At dinner time, they brought out the pizza menus for us to choose our toppings. The pizza was delicious, and I was so happy to eat their homemade sun dried tomatoes—yum! The staff there is really great; they made everything special and comfortable for us. They have the perfect mix of giving you space and getting you what you need. After dinner, I took a hot shower under the stars. I didn’t even need the flashlight because the moon was nearly full. 

We could only stay a couple nights, but I would’ve been happy staying for a week, drinking coffee every morning and eating pizza every night, showering under the stars and falling asleep to the sounds of the crickets. It’s a simple, peaceful, and magical place. Looking back on it now, I’m so grateful we got to stay there. I wish we had something like Omwani close to us in Ethiopia.