Friday, December 26, 2014

The Trip to Hailu's House

Now that we've been here a while, our coworkers are starting to invite us to their houses for coffee and snacks. It's really awesome because I feel like the community is really welcoming us to Durame and accepting us into their lives and culture. Yay, for integration! :)

A few weeks ago, we went with my coworker, Hailu, to the place where he grew up out in the country. After walking about 45 minutes out of town, we turned down a narrow road lined with plants and shaded by towering eucalyptus trees. It was beautiful already.

We met his brother and his family and his mother at the house where he grew up. His mother is very old and missing quite a few teeth, but very friendly and kind. She was very impressed with my limited Kambatissa (local language) skills and laughed deeply as I greeted her, showing all of the few teeth she has left.

Hailu was eager to show us around the whole place and we were happy to see how an Ethiopian farm works. First, we saw the barn, where the cows, goats, sheep, chickens, and his mother sleeps. See the picture below to see her bed, tucked into a back room of the barn. The corn hanging from the ceiling are seeds for next year. The cows are just to the right of the frame. Under where the corn is, is the pen for the goats and sheep to sleep at night.

As we toured the farm, we saw all kinds of fruit, vegetables, and grains. There were big avocado trees and swooping gishta trees, clumps of banana trees and single incet (false banana), small, sprightly coffee trees and thick mango trees, alight with blooms. We saw cabbage, sugar cane, bush beans and fields of golden tef, the grain they use to make the national dish, injera. It was absolutely amazing how many foods they were growing and how healthy everything looked, including the plump babies running around the house. :)

After the tour, we tried some sugar cane. It was our first time eating it and I must say, that stuff it tough!! First you have to whack a piece off with a knife. Then you have to take off the outsides with your teeth and spit it on the ground, you don't eat the purple part. Then finally, you have to gnaw a piece of the inside off, chew it a bit, suck the sweet juice out and spit it out. You don't actually swallow any of it but the juice. It is seriously hard work. My teeth were getting a work out! As you can see from the picture below, the kids were highly amused at my suffering.

Of course, no trip to an Ethiopian's house would be complete without having coffee and some snacks. We had bread, some delicious red beans, too many bananas to count, avocados and tiny cups of deliciously strong coffee. It's amazing that every single thing we had was probably grown within a mile (or closer!) of where we were sitting enjoying it.
On the walk home, in the afternoon sun, we caught a great view of Ambericho Mountain (the same one we can see from our living room window!).

Then we met up with a group of boys going to the market to sell matches. They were very friendly and wanted to speak with us. We used all the Amharic we could and then some. We asked them some simple English questions and a few could answer. They were a lot of fun!

It was a really great day. Ethiopian hospitality never ceases to amaze me. The kindness and love shown to us does not go unnoticed or unappreciated. Durame and its people have found a place in my heart.

Buna Blossoms

I spotted these coffee blossoms in my compound a couple weeks ago. Aren't they lovely?

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

On IST and Heading Home

Last week we traveled to Addis for a week long training, called IST (In Service Training) or Reconnect. It was a chance for our training group to get back together and talk about how everything is going at site. We shared experiences, specifically about what is working and not working at school, and we all left with some good ideas of things we can implement at our own sites. We also got to learn some more things from Peace Corps staff and learn about how we will report our work to them throughout our service.

At night, we explored Addis and it was so much fun! I can not even express how much we enjoyed it. We ate as much food as we possibly could and drank fancy cocktails and cold beers to our hearts' content. It was magical and such a great time to hang out with our fellow G11s, who are some of the coolest, best people I know. We are all going through this service together and that instantly bonds us. We received the same training, are all teaching English to high school students at our sites, and we are all trying to improve our students' abilities so that they can receive a higher education and make their country and this world a better place. I felt like I was with family and there is nothing one misses most this time of year than family.

And then the week ended, leaving all of us hungover, dehydrated, and extremely sad to be leaving it all behind. We won't have another whole group get together like this until October—10 months away. Leaving was very difficult. I didn't want to go back to my site away from all the friends and food I had enjoyed over the past week. As I hugged everyone goodbye, I never wanted to let go.

On the morning we were headed back to Durame, Spencer and I were eating breakfast and talking about what kinds of things we want to do at our school, beyond our primary project of direct teaching. We were making plans and bouncing ideas off each other. It was exciting to think about what kinds of activities we could do, but I was still sad. I told Spencer this and he agreed. Then he started talking about how lucky we were just have the training at all and how lucky we are to have such amazing people sharing this experience with us all over Ethiopia. Leave it to Spencer to think of the bright side.  He was right and it helped me some, but I was still a bit down.

We left breakfast and headed to the bus station. When we found our bus to Durame and boarded a guy at the front asked me, “Kambatgnyayichallal?” Which is Amharic for “Can you speak Kambatissa?” (the local language in our town). I replied by greeting him in Kambatissa, and the whole bus erupted in whoops and cheers. In that moment, I felt love. I felt all the welcoming handshakes and invites to coffee we get in town. I felt the pride that the Kambatissa people have concerning their language and culture. I felt all the kindness coworkers, students, and neighbors have shown to me and Spencer over the past three months. All the negativity vanished. We were going home.

Sunrise on the Road

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Ambericho Mountain During Harvest

Ambericho Mountain during harvest time, all the golden squares are fields. This is the view from our house. How lucky are we??! :)

Friday, December 19, 2014

Christmas in Durame

I love Christmas but it's the hardest time of year to be away from all my family and friends back home. I try to stay as jolly as I can and decorating for Christmas really helps. I love crafting, and making decorations while watching Christmas movies and listening to Christmas music really gets me in the spirit. This year, I made a Christmas and tree and ornaments out of paper and hung it on the wall. Even though it doesn't live up to the beauty of a real Christmas tree, I love it all the same. Merry Christmas everyone!!!  

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!!!

Sunday, August 31, 2014

A Brief Escape to Lake Langano

About midway through our Pre-Service Training (PST), Peace Corps took us out to Lake Langano for a day of swimming, picnicking, and fun. The US embassy owns a little slice of shore on the lake and they kindly let us use their facilities. They even had some kayaks/canoes we could play with. It was a nice place to relax and hang out on a Sunday afternoon.

Lake Langano is brown, which is precisely why we can swim in it. See, there's this awful disease that somehow incorporates urine and snails to be created. I think it's called schistosomiasis. Anyway, because the lake is brown, the snails can't live in the water and therefore there is no disease! Yay! Apparently, it's the only lake in Ethiopia that's completely safe to swim in and it's only a couple hours away from our training site, Butajira.

There was music, volleyball, t'ej (locally made honey wine) drinking games, water activities, and Spencer and I brought our slackline. It was a great day!

Thank you to Peace Corps for organizing the trip and thank you to the embassy for letting us use their beautiful space!