Hi All!!!

12 May

Hello Everyone,

Things have been busy and crazy lately, so sorry I have not sent a post in a while. Here are my updates from the last few months:

Yohannes is here in Dallas!!! (Still feels like a dream sometimes having him here, so surreal).
I’m married!!! Yohannes and I have got civilly married last week!!! We are still waiting to have our
bigger ceremony and get married in the Catholic Church until December.
I’m working at FedEx Office, a 5 minute walk from our apartment.
I got hired as an Elementary Art School teacher!!! I will begin teaching in August at Stephen Foster Elementary school!
I will continue to work at FedEx until August, and have let them know about my upcoming change in careers. I really appreciate them helping me when I immediately got back, I truly didn’t know if I’d get hired as a teacher this year or next, and they have been awesome hiring me on for that interim time.
I am still doing the alternative teaching certificate program, so I am super busy with online classes, and in July, night classes to be able to get my certificate, so life has been really busy right now.
I am ecstatic about how lucky I am with my life. I am truly blessed!!!
Yohannes is doing well, adjusting to life in America is not easy though, so feel free to call, text or email him and touch base as I think he needs some more social support.
His # is 214-497-7538 Yohunis@yahoo.com
He’s about to start volunteering at the Perot Museum a few days a week to have something productive and out of the house to while he waits for his greencard/work permit paperwork to come through before he can apply to jobs.
I miss Ethiopia, the pace of life, friends, family and food there, but am grateful for my Peace Corps experience which I wouldn’t trade for anything.
But life in Dallas is pretty great too, daily hot showers, no malaria worries, cheese, wine, and most importantly my friends and family here!!!

My new address is:
8200 Southwestern Blvd.
Apt # 2108
Dallas, Texas 75206

My cell is: 214-497-5713

And finally, as everyone keeps asking me to do, I am finally selling my art!!! Check out my art on Etsy website. LaurasArtShack

https://www.etsy.com/shop/LaurasArtShack?ref=ss_profile

Basically I am selling 8×10 and 11×14 prints of my paintings, and small folded, blank note cards of my paintings. 10% of all proceeds will go to Ikkittino Charity in Bonga, Ethiopia to help the after school girls programs of tutoring, homework help and life skills that Yohannes started…..which is how we MET!!!!

We want to be able to keep Ikkittino going while we are here, and are trying to figure out ways to do that.

Ok, gotta do some online teaching certificate coursework, life in America is as busy as I remember!

Check out my Etsy site if you have a minute and spread the word!

Love Ya’ll!!!

Laura

Bonga Notecard

Saying Goodbye to Ethiopia and Preparing to Come Home

28 Feb

So as many of you know I have officially done my COS, (Close of Service) with Peace Corps and am flying home next Friday, March 7th!!! I’ll arrive in Dallas about 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 8th! Which ironically is International Women’s Day, and how I met Yohannes 2 years ago. I’m looking forward to a celebration on that Sunday!!! I am in Bonga right now, to say goodbye to some friends and family here and celebrate 2 friend’s birthdays; then off to Jimma for a quick final packing excursion and a goodbye party at a cultural restaurant. After that off to Addis to fly out. For those of you who this info is totally new to……I am cutting my 1 year extension short and completing half of it as the project I was working on was not as productive as I’d hoped and Yohannes’s visa came through a little earlier than expected.

It’s such a surreal feeling right now. I am trying to buy final items, pack, sort paperwork, makes sure I’ve given back all keys, donated random items to appropriate people, followed up on a few final work items and am trying to have coffee with friends and enjoy my last week in Ethiopia and not become consumed by stress and worry. And since almost everyone in my group, (G5) has already left before me, I had to go through the COS process alone, without all the friends from my group to revel in the moment with, and to support each other. So when I talk to another PCV about my excitement in going home, they are a newer group and have months or over a year left, and so are not able to fully celebrate with me as they are staying. So it’s kinda mean for me to talk about my full level of excitement at seeing my family and friends in America. And there are a few PCV’s here still that I love to death and is really hard to say goodbye to, so me leaving means leaving them, which is emotionally hard on both of us……….so it’s an emotional week. I’ve been here long enough to where the newest group of PCV’s have come and they are G10!!!

Packing is such a challenge, I have 4 wooden, cultural stools from Jimma that I am bringing home, and a lot of spices and coffee, and some clothes, and paintings…………but despite me selling, donating and generally ridding myself of most of my stuff, packing is still a beating. I get 2 bags up to 50 pounds each plus a carry-on.

So during my COS in Addis Ababa, I got all medically checked out and tested for everything, and I am super healthy!!! YEAH!!! Usually during a PCV’s COS conference, it’s the whole group altogether, but I was in Dallas having surgery during my group’s COS conference, so I missed it completely. They got to go to a super fancy resort and spa etc… As I was not able to go to that, instead, Yohannes and I went to 4.5 hours to the nearby town of Hawassa after I COSed for a week long vacay. We had such a relaxing week. Our hotel was really nice, a great location, hot showers, and a nice free breakfast. We walked all around the lake, fed the monkeys, fed the stork birds, and ate a LOT of fresh fish. We did a picnic by the lake and went swimming in a fancy resort pool and played miniature golf too. We visited with one of his cousins and a few friends there, and had an amazing time vacationing on the super cheap…..oh and ate some terrific Italian food! There are a few legit Italian restaurants in Hawassa, one run by a guy from Sardinia, Italy.

So, as many of you may be wondering, what’s up with Yohannes coming? Well, it looks like he will be coming a little over a month after me. He has his final visa interview at the US Embassy in Addis Ababa on April 3rd, and fingers crossed all goes well, he will get his official visa within 1 week of the interview date. So he too is running around trying to get some paperwork finalized and donate clothes and finish his resume and get mentally prepared to leave Ethiopia for the first time ever. I’m glad he will be coming during April, Dallas will lure him in with beautiful Spring weather. I think the reality of it all is starting to hit him this week, as I am doing my final prep and he’s getting knee deep in his final stuff. Ideally we wanted to come back together, at the same time, but I know there are job fairs for teachers that start in April, so we want every chance for me to get hired on as an Art teacher for this upcoming school year. And I think this way is probably for the best, it will be hard to leave him for a month, but I can get our apartment set up and organized and stuff moved out of storage, and get a car and such, so it will be much less stressful when he comes to have things already prepped. And I’m sure I’ll have some reverse culture shock to process and will take me a little while to get emotionally settled.

Anyhow, as soon as I get a U.S. phone I’ll send out my number! Can’t wait to see everyone soon and to eat !!!! Until then, I have horseback trail ridding through the Biosphere reserved forest with Yohannes to look forward to on Monday!!! (The guy that will be our guide, is best one I helped train last March on Horseback Ridding Tourism!) I’ll make sure to take lots of pics.

This is a long angry vent of a post, you are warned.

5 Dec

I am hating my job right now. I love and respect Peace Corps, but the partner organization I am working with, University Success Program is a money grubby NGO made up of people who want to do the bare minimum work required and take the money and run. I swore to myself I’d never work for an organization like that, and now, somehow I think I am, and am trapped in it.
Today’s rant began by me getting a 53 page document via email and asked to review it, make sure it’s corresponds with my work plan and sign the separate agreement document, scan it and email it in. I take stuff like this a little more seriously than some people might, as this program has been a shit show for a looooong time, so I was curious how trumped up it would look on a report. And, there was a detailed budget, and I was dying to see the breakdown of how money is being spent. Now I feel like I’ve read someone’s diary and know too much, and am angry and irritated at what I read, and have little if any recourse for my frustration and knowledge. Except this: I will NOT sign off on a document I believe to be untrue. So that’s what little leverage I have.
Ok, so this project has 3 main components, the life skills trainings, the mentors and the ESL part. So I have general knowledge about the mentor and life skills part, so I skimmed that part of the budget, and it seemed a bit vague in general, and inflated, but ok. I did read over the ESL budget with a fine tooth comb and here’s what I learned. The annual budget per university for this project is a little over $40,000. This includes Training of Trainers, the annual salary for a new Project Officer for each university, life skills trainers pay, guest speakers pay, transportation for the big wigs to come down occasionally and check up on things, notebooks, pens, pads, soap etc…for the 250 female students and the like. So guess how much of the $40,000 is devoted to the English as a Second Language part of the program I am working on??? $832. Yup, that’s it. I did the math and that’s about 2.04%. Well, ok, I had Yohannes do the math for me. But still, how sad is that. They spend twice that amount of money on prepaid mobile phone cards for the mentors to use to call the mentee’s one a month or so……..and there is NO way to track that use of money to see if they are actually even making those calls.
I knew the ESL part was added at the last minute last year, when the program was piloted, so it was threadbare. The feedback was that the ESL part realllllllly needed to be strengthened, and so I thought now, in year 2, it would get a decent budget. Boy was I wrong. But they have a private card and driver for the big wigs to use, or they pay to fly them from Addis Ababa to Jimma, meanwhile, they tell me to take the shitty bus and spend 13 hours commuting for a 2 hour bullshit meeting in Addis Ababa that was useless. I won’t go to any of those pointless advisory committee meetings again. What can they do, fire me, I’m a freaking volunteer. I am not kidding, I went to the “USP Advisory Committee” meeting in August as I had not much else going on to do, and the 3 hour meeting was widdled down to 2 hours and the discussion parts were ignored and the lady just railroaded through it all as fast as possible, then after that useless meeting, I tried to get a bus ticket back for the next day to Jimma on a nice bus and all were already sold out…..so I had to pay a fortune for a taxi driver to drive me at 5:30 in the morning to get to Mercado, the scary part of town/local bus station……………to wait 2 hours for a bus standing, then 1 hour standing in the rain, as you had to get close to incoming buses to read the numbers on the side top ensure it was your bus…..I just tried to not get robbed the entire time. Then a lovely 8 hour bus ride, with a 1.5 hour delay as we stopped for a 20 min lunch break, and despite the bus being locked, someone stole a bag through a cracked window, so we spend 1.5 hours waiting, while they screamed and argued about who was to blame for this theft. What a joy. And I was voluntold to take the minutes of the meeting, and cram them into this convoluted indecipherable format they used in the past. UGH.

So anyhow, when the next Advisory Committee Meeting came up, I politely declined the email invite stating I had class to teach. I digress, so moving back to the budget, I emailed back saying I would need to know exactly what items the $832 were being spent on, and when these items would arrive as we are in the last month of the 2nd quarter of this program. I got a response stating, “The budget will be used for essential program materials in the future.” What the hell does that mean??? So far I have received about $68 worth of stuff, that’s it. I got 250 tiny, cheap notebooks for the dialogue journals which cost about 5 birr each. But, 2 months ago I was called and told the ESL budget was due in 2 hours, and if I wanted stuff I had to make a list in the next 2 hours, while I scrambled to do so, while another big wig from the program had come from Addis Ababa and was having me type student intake forms into the computer as I was a superior typist. So I got the budget quickly planned and emailed in……….and then waited and waited for supplies to come. And was told a printer and copier would come. Nope. I was told they are being repaired. Nope. They piloted this program LAST year, and I helped with it, so why didn’t they prepare and have a copier and supplies ready??? I have no idea why they didn’t.
So, I am supposedly linked with the Gender Department of Jimma University. You’d think the Gender people would care about young women right??? WRONG. They are some of the most evil, corrupt, spoiled, money grubby people I’ve met, and independent sources agree with me on this. The head of the Gender Office has her own private Jimma University car and driver to cart her around the university, where she lives on campus by the way. Upon a short meeting with her a month ago, she told me how stupid and lazy most of the girls at University are, and how many can’t even write their own name in English. So USP program did a feedback form after last years program and interviewed students anonymously about their USP experience, and their University 1st year life experience, and got some really negative feedback from the not main campus, from the farther away technology campus at Jimma University. The feedback from a few girls was about how unsafe that campuses dorms were, they had lots of verbal harassment from men, their phones got stolen, they felt isolated and terrified to go off campus at night, reports of sexual abuse and rape. So this info went into a big 14 page report, and got sent off to many people. As you can imagine, the head of the Jimma University Gender Office did not take kindly to this attack on her university. I had no idea about this report until late in the game. I went to see the head of JU’s Gender Office to tell her how the advisory committee meeting went when I got back, and apparently she had JUST read the feedback report and was livid.

She went in to a 20 minute rant about how the girls were making this stuff up. They brought it upon themselves. She had had police look into this event, and it was false. And if that’s how USP thought of Jimma Univeristy, than they could take their program elsewhere. She wanted NO part in it. That was in August, my first month on the job here. Greeeaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat. So I at that point know that she hates the program and is angry at the 3 or so females at that dorm, and blame them for making the university look bad, and I’m truly worried for these girls and wonder if any retribution will happen to them, I alert via email my Peace Corps Program Manager, who is also worried, but the USP people brush it off and ignore our concerns. They just dropped a bomb and ran off and left me to deal with it. Then fast forward to October, when they finally hired a Project Officer for Jimma University to work with me on the USP program. Again, they royally pissed off everyone at Jimma University as they hired someone from Addis Ababa, and didn’t even bother to post the job position at JU for someone internal to apply for…………….so everyone hates USP again. And per the budget, this PO gets almost $12,000 USD per year. That sounds like nothing, but is a fortune here. That’s about 20,000 birr per month before tax. To put that in perspective a primary school teacher here makes about 1,200 birr per month.

Now we’re in September, and I hear from a fellow PCV in Addis that USP guy from Addis Ababa is headed to Jimma, and I’m surprised, I had no idea. I remember this guy from the previous year, he was kinda a disorganized bumbling idiot……………..but I have his cell number, so I call him and he is all, “of course we have a meeting, I will be here for a week, you need to be at my side the entire time/” And I’m all, “I had no idea you were coming, why didn’t anyone tell me?” Let me know when we will meet on Tuesday, and he said sure. Then Tuesday morning, I get a call at 7:45 am. He tells me he’s at the Gender Head Office and I’m late. I remind him he never called me to invite me to a meeting or tell me what time, he seemed miffed my statement that I needed 35 minutes before I could be there. Then for the entire week, he treats me like his administrative assistant, wanting me to fetch this or that from him, he forgot from the office, and to charge his freaking iphone for him multiple times. I wanted to strangle him. I barely made it through that week with him overtaking my office and telling me my Amharic wasn’t good and why didn’t I read fidel, (the Amharic script alphabet with 300 + characters) and my modest sleeveless shirt made me seem naked, and him once casually adjusting my slightly exposed bra strap to under my shirt. I was seething. He was a disorganized, bumbling idiot as I remembered……..and now worked ½ the time for a different NGO in Kenya, and so traveled a lot, had NO idea what was going on and collected 2 overpaid salaries.

So I’m still not teaching yet. I had to wait as the engineering students at this university came really late, then for the British Council to do an ESL pre-test, then to get results back…..so I’m supposed to begin teaching next week……but my schedule is a nightmare. I was told that 1st year students have class all morning, and are free all afternoon, so no problem. Even though I’m dividing my time between 2 campuses that are really far apart, relying on unreliable bus to get be between the 2 I thought I could manage. But then we learned when we tried to do the ESL pre test, students couldn’t come to it, as it was in the afternoon, when they DID have class………………….so we did a survey and had students circle the times they could come to the ESL class, and the results were all over the place. At BEST, I’ll be teaching 12 classes per week (the same exact class 12 times) spread on 2 campuses, with unreliable transportation between the 2, because the car and drivers, of which there are TONS on campus, are all busy as I’m told. Of which we have no teaching manual and are making it up as we go………. And I was promised a permanent classroom on each campus, with a key, as I’ll be busy commuting, I won’t have time to reset stuff up over and over………….and that’s flopping. So on the main campus I was told I could use the ELIC, (English Language Improvement Center’s) training room that the shared with 2 other departments, but the other 2 departments rarely used it……there was a sign up sheet to make it official. And now that I will begin teaching soon, I went to discuss the schedule with another department head who was teaching in it at the time, and he and I got into a heated debate, he started telling me it was never for ELIC to use, they just did sometimes to be nice. And he couldn’t give me his next week’s schedule as he didn’t know it yet. Then his colleague chimed in and began poking me with his index finger in my arm as he spoke to emphasis his points. I then told him not to touch me, that poking me was extremely rude, and I would take the matter up with someone else. So there goes permanent promised classroom #1. The kind, sweet project officer that they hired for Jimma University, is nice, but not a leader, she’s a follower and keeps asking me for advice, and I just can’t tell her how to grow a backbone and do her job. So far she has yet to secure a classroom on the other campus for me. And so I alerted her to the issue of the main campus classroom, and told her the Gender Office, as that’s who we are partnered with promised one to me and it may be failing, so she needed to talk to them about a new one. She did, and came back with her tail between her legs and said they told her to talk to the head of ELIC. UGH. By the way, the way the issue of the gender officer head lady anger got resolved was simple, they made her a life skills trainer twice a month, so she gets a paycheck and is happy now. Despite the fact she’s never taught before, hates young girls, thinks they are stupid and lie about rape……………..and didn’t attend the week long training of trainers in Addis Ababa, and has never even seen the manual.

So now I have a horrible schedule that needs adjusting as it only accounts for 187 of the 250 girls accounted for, no permanent classrooms, a bad relationship with the Gender Office, a mediocre relationship with me Project Officer, and a horrid relationship with the guy in charge of the partly ELIC room, and now, now of all times. They announced they are taking away the ELIC office and part classroom and moving us to another brand new, still under construction building on the other side of campus. The new office is a broom closet. And the giant classroom is shared, but is for staff….for teaching teachers………….so and I quote, “Students are not allowed in the building.”. Hmmm, well that won’t work. And the ELIC is rockin, this has been my saving grace the last few months, resurrecting ELIC with a Canadian guy. We have active debate club, pronunciation club, movie club, conversation club, free talk, a 2nd debate club, a student council, English music club, and I have on average 67 students attending my club activities. And a lending library, and students drop in to get English homework help, or to practice English conversation skills. It has been amazing. And it’s all now going away……………and we’re demoted to a broom closet office and a giant, beautiful classroom students can’t enter. We fought this with the VP of the university and he swore he’d fix it, but my hopes are not high. And the ESL pre and post test to monitor the results are based off grammar, reading and vocab, and most of our teaching was told to be communicative English, so we will no doubt fail the “improvement report”.

So this evening, after I replied all to the email about reading and signing the documents and budget, and me stating the discrepancies and changes needed before I’d sign, and me getting vague fluffy emails back saying I had to sign and it was a tentative budget etc…..the head USP lady in Addis Ababa who has almost never called me called me 4 times tonight. I was too angry and worked up to answer. So this is the text I just got from her, “Laura, I want you to call me back as soon as you can. I have serious matters to discuss with you. I don’t know how it could be difficult for you to answer my calls while being able to respond to my emails.” To this I responded now is not a good time for me to talk, please call me after 8:30 am tomorrow and I’d be glad to discuss matters with you. She is such a condescending, arrogant, two faced, manipulative woman who has never had a real job before ,and just throws her weight around. She went on a 1 hour bitch session about me to a PCV friend of mine in the program the last time I questioned her precious budget. I just hate all of this. I want to help the girls and teach them English, but to he honest, if they truly only have 1 slot available in a 5 day week for 1.5 hours……………I don’t think they will be fully into my ESL class…………….they are overworked and have too many classes as it is. And now I hear that teachers have not been teaching M-F per the schedule, as they have been getting outside of campus jobs for extra money, so they hold regular, “make up” classes that are mandatory on Saturdays and Sundays, so the students don’t have time for the life skills Saturday classes either. I just feel so unappreciated and abused. ESL part of USP is the ugly red-headed stepchild no one cares about I guess.
I have no motivation at the moment, and a nasty cold. I broke a promise to myself and didn’t finish my 2 paintings as I’ve been too upset. And now Christmas, my most favorite holiday is just around the corner, and I more homesick than I have ever been. I want to grab Yohannes and run to the next plane home. I had a crazy guy almost backhand me in the face with his entire length of arm last Sunday for no reason, in daylight, right by the Catholic Church. …..and he didn’t look crazy, just poor as he walked past me, so I didn’t give him a wide enough birth and almost got cold cocked in the face, while walking with a PCV friend no less. The only mail I get anymore is 4 notes from my 90 year old grandfather, each is exactly 2 sentences long from an index card. And this whole, water comes on once a week at 1am to 2am bullshit is wearing on me. I just felt so loved and appreciated in Bonga, and here, I see the 50+ private cars and drivers and flat screen TV’s and flat screen computers at Jimma University, and can’t get a freaking classroom to use that my students are allowed in.

I hope teaching next week makes things better. I have never in the last 2.5 years cried at night and wanted to early terminate and go home as I have this past month. I’m just not sure how long I can do this. I had such a great PCV service record in Bonga, and now it’s all headed downhill.

Some bits of randomness from the past few weeks

5 Nov

A few bits of randomness from my last few weeks…

Getting a Ride Home:
So I was standing by the road with Yohannes , (who was further away from me trying a different spot for us) waiting on a line taxi, (mini bus) to head back to my house and there was a bajaj, (tiny 3 wheel “car”) next to me waiting for passengers and here’s what was said:

Bajaj driver: “I love you.”
Me: “No you don’t.”
Bajaj driver: “I love you.”
Me: “No you DON’T!” *deep sign of exasperation*

Next up: The mini bus pulls up and there is only room for about 15 people, and 25+ are waiting, and mob the bus, shoving and pushing to get in. I continue to wait, I refuse to be reduced to this unless it’s absolutely necessary. But again, I don’t really want to get a ride with the “I love you” bajaj driver either, so I’m surveying my options.
Mini bus # 2 circles, Yohannes, seeing it in the distance, judges correctly where it will “land” and jumps in quickly before getting shoved like a mosh pit. I wait this out knowing he’ll save me a seat, and then once all the ridiculousness has ended, I casually hop into my saved seat, thankful I didn’t have to get trampled for it.

Waiting for Water:
So when I first moved in, there was water working daily from all the pipes. The sink in the kitchen, the sink in the bathroom, the toilet, and the shower. Then this diminished to only part of the day, then every other day then a few times a week, then once a week, and then once a week only at 11pm-12am. And now it’s more like, sometimes water may come every other week at 1am-2am……so I had to disconnected the bathroom sink “hose” and leave the water turned on at night so if by some miracle water comes on, it will drain into a large bucket. Problem is, when it “kicks on” at 1am, I have to wake up, and replace the bucket with another bucket or it will overflow the bathroom, and do this about 6 times to collect enough water for the next 1.5 weeks. And this is all at 1am, when I am tired and cranky…..and there is no knowing which night this will happen, so I wake up thinking I hear water, and am worried I am flooding the bathroom, I then untuck my mosquito net, to go check the bathroom to discover no water….it was some other random noise. But if I leave the water turned off, I will definitely not get water. If I am really desperate, I can pay the guard 6 birr per bucket to go out to another compound and buy me water. It’s 2 birr for him to buy the water from someone else, and a 4 birr delivery service charge. But to be honest, the guard is NOT that hard-up for money, and isn’t excited about the prospect of making 8 birr, he has done this twice for me as I asked nicely and he felt sorry for me. If I want to buy bottled water to drink, it’s 12 birr for 2 liters…..but this adds up fast. And it’s the dry season, so no rainwater to collect at the moment.

I made 2 Female Friends!!!:
So making friends with Ethiopian women can really be a challenge here. Women are often very busy with school and work, but the added housework makes them crazy busy. But the greater challenge is often language and shyness. 95% of the time, the men I encounter have much stronger English skills than the women, so it’s easier to communicate with men. And often the women are shy and won’t approach me. I can be friendly with women in Amharic, and some English, but to form a true friendship, I think good communication in English is important, or else it won’t go much beyond surface stuff. I am sorta friends with 2 female neighbors, but we don’t get too far beyond simple conversations and drinking coffee.

So 2 weeks ago when I actually made 2 female Ethiopian friends, I went home as giddy as a kid on her first day of middle school who just made new friends! I mean it’s been summer, so not much happening at school, so not much for me to do therefore I havn’t met too many people……and I just moved to Jimma and my friends are in Bonga, and so I have been feeling a bit friendless lately. Also, I was worried I was hanging out with, and leaning on Yohannes too much, and didn’t want to smother the poor guy and be super needy, but at some point, a gal has gotta talk to someone! Anyhow, we had a recruiting session for 100 of the students that will be in our USP Life Skills and English Mentoring program and a ceremony at the end of the 3 days. There were two women, students, who were invited to be motivational speakers for the ceremony. One girl is a Dr. (dentist) who works at the teaching hospital on Jimma University campus. She’s super sweet, and fun and funny, and her Ethiopian fiancé lives in California as he got a scholarship. The other girl is doing her masters in civil engineering and is very fun and open too, she’s thinking about dumping her current boyfriend as he’s not quite up to par. We totally had girlfest chatting about movies, tv, clothes, hair, fashion, boys, what kind of wedding ceremony we wanted, what the colors would be, flowers, etc…they could quote Friends and the Simpson’s TV show references. Girlfest, yeaaaah!

The Dinner Party:
So I was throwing a little dinner party to welcome Chris, the new PCV to Jimma and to say Bon Voyage to Alie, the British doctor leaving Jimma and a few other random ferenji’s and an Ethiopian lawyer who’s a good friend of Yohannes and mine……..and although I had just met the 2 Ethiopian girls the day before, I invited them through a casual text message to the dinner, the day of. Anyhow, then I began frantically cooking and cleaning and didn’t think much about it when I didn’t hear back from them. The ferenji’s showed up, but 3 were unable to come so we had 5 plus me plus Yohannes, and we had made a LOT of food, so I was feeling a little vulnerable as you do sometimes at a dinner party you have over prepped for and you see the 10 tons of food and are in full makeup and hair and are wearing a nice dress and looking at the 6 guests and think you may have overdone it. In my defense, I needed a tangible project while waiting for students to teach. Anyhow, I had told the girls in the message the time and place, and then about 30 mins after the start time, they showed up dressed up and wearing date night makeup and giant hoop earrings and brought fancy jam filled sandwich cookies from the nicest hotel in town!!! They didn’t even know which apartment mine was, and they just appeared! Apparently the network was down, and later, at about 11pm, I got their response they had sent hours earlier that they’d love to come! It was such fun having them, and I the multi-cultural group all enjoyed talking about everything from University to politics. Everyone raved about the food, (I made carrots sticks and honey-mustard dressing for an appetizer, beef stew or (goat stew, still not clear on what meat I actually bought, but it was delish)for main course and Yohannes made veggie soup for our vegetarian friend and snickerdoodles for dessert) Chris and I enjoyed bloody mary’s while grossing out all the Ethiopians on this drink. There was NO food left. My next door neighbor, Sofia came back after all had left, and sheepishly asked for some more cookies to take home to her sister, it was pretty adorable. Her English is kinda mid-ranged, so sometimes it’s overly direct. Her request came out, “Uh, I need more cookies, Laura. Saddi will want some.” The American RPCV (Returned Peace Corps Volunteer ) who served back in the 1970’s is here in Jimma for 3 months for the Embassy doing English work at the University and is having a rough time, so she especially enjoyed the dinner, exclaiming repeatedly this was the best meal she’d had in her entire time in Ethiopia. I was flattered and hoped the Ethiopian peeps were not offended. Alie, the 90 lb Brit, who apparently has a sweet tooth, ate at least 6 cookies! And she could not stop raving about the veggie soup Yohannes made just for her. Needless to say, a good time was had by all.

Next Up:
Ok, so coming up this week is registering another 150 students for the USP program from the engineering departments, a life-skills training for the 100 students already registered and finishing 2 lesson plans and a writing a mini-grant. It will be a busy week!!! But the new Project Officer/my new counterpart I will be sharing an office with just arrived from Addis Ababa yesterday, and so far she seems really nice and capable! If the water actually comes on tonight I will be ecstatic!!! If not, time to go buy some more water, the dishes in the sink and my greasy hair can only hang on so long. Have a great week all!

The Great Ethiopian Road/Boat Trip Part 2

24 Oct

So after Mekele, we headed North about 40 km or so to Wukro, a smaller town to check out some nearby rock-hewn ancient churches. The churches’ exteriors were cool, and we had fun walking around this first one pictured above, and we waited about 45 minutes for the priest with the key to come…….as he was in town for Meskel celebrations……and when finally he did come, he demanded 150 birr for me as a foreigner to see the inside of the church, which was free for Yohannes as he’s Ethiopian. We tried to discuss this with them and explain I’m not a tourist, I’m a volunteer and had been here for 2.5 years and we are engaged…..to no avail. I refused on principle and we left. I’m not going to lie, I was a bit disheartened and feared we would run into same issue at other such churches.

The problem is that there is an official tourism office, and sites like at Axum charge like 50 birr for tourists (pretty reasonable) and 8 birr for local Ethiopian people, but churches go all rogue and are not technically under control of the tourism office, so they just do whatever they want. And I just didn’t like being treated that way.

1st Rock-Hewn Church

Rock-Hewn Church Hike

We got a minibus to other area, and Yohannes made friends with a guy in our minibus who he then hired to be our guide to find the remote rock-hewn, ancient churches that are supposed to be in a beautiful landscape setting. Our guide carried the larger backpack and 2 kids came and tagged along, eager to try and gain some work on their holiday….so one of the kids, who couldn’t have been more than 8 years old, carried the other bag, and the last kiddo just followed us for something to do and a way to hang with his friend. So 2 hours of sometimes easy, other times difficult climbing later, we reach rock-hewn church # 2, after a beautiful hike, but at this point, we got the guide before heading into town so we didn’t have a chance to buy water, so I ran out, and I was pretty beat, and hungry at 3pm having had breakfast at 7am and no lunch and a serious hike.

We get to the church, and they are having Mass, so we wait in the entryway, in our socks, as you can’t wear shoes inside, but the socks got pretty dusty anyways. 45 mins later, after being grilled to ensure we (mostly me) was Christian to enter the Church, the Mass ended, and we are able to enter, if I am willing to pay 150 birr. I feared this might happen again, but thought Priests are kind-hearted, reasonable people, and he would listen to Yohannes, and it would be ok. I was wrong. The Priest listened to 85 % of Yohannes’s spiel, then walked away, and didn’t let him finish, another, yet not in charge Priest, listened to him finish, said he understood but couldn’t help…..and so I struggled a bit with this decision. We had hired a guide, and 2 kids, and hauled bags,and ran out of water, and hiked for 2+ hours, and the exterior wasn’t much to see, and so part of me wanted to fork over the money, as I had a few thousand birr on me, but I just couldn’t. The way the Priest walked off and didn’t even let Yohannes finish seemed so disrespectful to me, I just couldn’t give in.

So we left, our cheerful guide who spoke mostly in English for my benefit, and to Yohannes in Amharic if he wanted to give a lot of detail about something, bless his heart, had stood aside during all of this, and simply said ok, wanna go try another one? The kiddos with us trailed behind whispering and confused I’m sure as to why we came so far to not enter the church. They were not the least bit offput at this, and were happy to be off again. I was last to walk as truth be told I was so tired, hungry, thirsty and now angry, I was fighting back tears of frustration behind my sunglasses, but was trying to suck it up and not show everyone how upset I was. ChurchOther I told our guide, “I’m done, no more churches.” And we headed onward to town. After about 10 mins of silence, and me just stewing in anger and walking downhill careful not to fall down the rocks, one of the boys found a cactus plant with ripe fruit, and explained how to know when to eat it and when it’s not ripe, and he gave one to Yohannes who wanted to eat it.

Cactus fruit we hunted for

Cactus fruit we hunted for

And in that exact moment, like a light switch, I decided to view this as a nature hike, and we got to see the exterior of an old church as a bonus. It was a nature hike we were on, as the surroundings were truly spectacular, craggy rock formations, hills, fields of long, lush green grasses, mixed with bright yellowish sandy colored wheat fields, with cactus and tiny huts, and roving cattle, and I began taking nature pics, and completely let my anger go and enjoyed the rest of our hike. landscape I could do nothing about my thirst, but I had trail mix of fancy, cashews, almonds, chocolate and dried cherries from Trader Joes which I shared with our gang, and they in turn found all the ripe cactus fruit for us to eat. We had a great time. At the end we gave 10 birr for our tag along kiddo, 20 for the one that carried a bag and Yohannes had negotiated 50 in advance for our guide, but we agreed that seemed too little for all his hard work and he was truly a joy to hang with, and a high school student, so we gave him 100 birr…….I was GLAD to give away that money and not have it go to those churches.
Here are our trusted guides

Here are our trusted guides

Once we got to “town” we waited a bit for a line taxi……and had no luck, the road had very few cars. But then, I saw a private 4×4 and flagged him down. So truthfully, hitchhiking is very, very easy to do in Ethiopia, and it’s pretty safe and harmless. Obviously I would not do this when alone….but 90% of the time, they are NGO workers who have this type of car. So the guy stopped and was headed to the next exact town we were headed to, and turned out he worked for the same NGO Yohannes works for!!! It’s sister organization in Northern Ethiopia!!! So the boys chatted in Amharic while I dosed leaning against a backpack. We reached the small town and our new friend drove us to 7 different hotels, all were full due to the holiday. Anyhow, we decided we had taken up enough of our friend’s time, and told him we’d figure it out, and we did find a crappy place to crash for the night. We were off to Axum the next morning.

Axum Steles

Axum Steles

These steles are from about the 4th century AD. There are 3 large ones, the 2nd largest one was broken into 3 parts, and taken by the Italians and only returned to Ethiopia in 2005. The largest one fell where it stood in the 4th century as the base was probably too narrow to support it. It weighs over 500 tons and would be over 33 meters high if standing…..anyways even broken and laying where it has been since the 4th century it’s an amazing thing to see. Our guide told us in the late 1970’s people were found living under part of it, and cooking under another part of it, and if you walk under one stone, you can see the burn marks on it’s “ceiling.” The third largest one is now supported by a crane to keep it from toppling over. There are many smaller, less highly decorated steleas in another field location in Axum as well. They are discovering new sites in Axum every few months, and most sites have barely been excavated due to lack of funding, a few weeks before we got there, a tour bus fell partly through some loose soil and discovered some underground tombs. There are hundreds at least, sites to be discovered, and farmers keep accidentally discovering things all the time. UNESCO is making efforts to move people to other housing, but trying to move farmers with land, to condos in the city proper creates it’s own set of challenges and ethical quandaries. Apparently Eqypt is having the same issues, they build houses and discover ruins and then need to move people, and they are running out of space for housing. Persia, Rome, China and Axum were the 4 most powerful cities in the world at that time and in the 4th Century BC to 1st Century AD it hit it’s highest point in power and trading. So Axum left Yohannes and I thinking, if we were farmers living there, we would totally be looking for buried treasure in my backyard. I think if we go back in 30 years, we will be amazed at the new finds!

Riding Camels in Axum

Riding Camels in Axum


We got to ride a camel for a little while around the Stelaes site and get our photos taken which was really memorable. The camel laid down all the way for us to get onto it! We also toured the Palace of the Queen of Sheba, many tombs and crypts, an ancient swimming pool, and had a great time exploring Axum with our guide who was also a high school English teacher, earning some extra cash in the summer. After Axum, we took a treacherous journey south to Gorgora, near Gonder. Due to so many school students headed to start at University in Gonder, buses were all full, and we started to get worried, as we had to be there on a specific day to catch the ferry. We stumbled into getting a ride on an illegal tour bus. I say illegal, because it’s driver is meant to use it to only take specific tour groups of foreigners, but was using it on the side to transport Ethiopians for extra cash. They checked ID, to ensure no one was an Eritrean (as Axum is very close to border with the northern neighboring country of Eritiria,)trying to escape into Ethiopia. Eritria has only about 5 million people and is much more poverty stricken than Ethiopia and is about as restrictive on media as North Korea, not exaggerating on that fact….it’s really sad and most people are unaware of how many thousands flee monthly and die at sea trying to get smuggled into to Yemen or Saudi Arabia. Anyhow, I digress….so the driver guy is thrilled to have a white person ride on the bus, and insisted I take the shotgun seat up front, to make the bus look legitimate as a tour bus, so traffic police wouldn’t stop and hassle us…..in return I got air conditioning and to listen to American music and get the best seat in the bus. Still, they required me to pay 25 birr more for a ticket as I am a foreigner, and that was reduced from the additional 200 birr they tried to get me to pay, which Yohannes was not allowing to happen. I think it’s funny they wanted me to legitimize the bus, and had the audacity to ask for more money from me at the same time. Anyhow, there were NO other buses, so we took it.

We got to a small town, then another mini bus to another tiny village, and paid a private car 200 birr to drive us 12 kilometers to the next town of Gorgora where the ferry departed. (To go 350+ kilometers from Addis Ababa to Jimma is about 150 birr, so to pay 200 birr to go 12 kilometers was beyond extortion.) We had gotten trapped in the tiny village and there were no buses, line taxi’s, bajaj’s or even passing private cars to flag down. We waited 2 hours almost, and as sunset approached, and we haggled with the one in town private car that we saw passing through, and a giant crowd of people, who probably had perhaps never seen a white woman before encircled us, Yohannes announced this was it, enough, he paid the man and I protested, and he told me to look at the mob forming and to just get in the car, which I did promptly. Well, I got into the cab of the small truck with the driver and his friend, while there was no room for Yohannes. He rode in the back of the truck standing like Pauly Shore in that farming movie. The passenger kept trying to talk to me in English, and I remained almost mute I was so angered at them extorting such a fee out of us…….as they were headed to that town anyways. But I refrained from any rude comments as we had paid already and could be booted out at any time. We got to the town of Gorgora witin no time, and the only hotel was lakeside and adorable, the compound was stunning, with all different flowers and vines everywhere and a beautiful dock and lake surrounding us. We had a lakeside dinner of delicious fish goulash and beer and bought our “1st class” tickets at 6am the next morning for the Lake Tana ferry to cross the whole lake in 2 days and get to Bahir Dar. The ferry left once per week, so we could not be late from that hell hole village to get to Gorgora to buy the ticket. Bahir Dar is a beautiful resort style city where Yohannes lived for 4 years getting his Bachelors degree. this would be the final leg of our trip, then we’d spend 4 days relaxing in Bahir Dar and meeting his friends and chillin at the lake.

Island Hopping Map

Island Hopping Map

The ferry, ok, I know nothing about ferries, but it looked ancient, and was being used primarily for transporting cargo between the different small town on the edges of the lake and islands along the way, the passengers were just a financial bonus, most would take a bus to get to Bahir Dar as was much faster….but this was cheap! A 1st class ticket was about 25 birr, and for foreigners was supposed to be about 200 birr, but I talked to the guy in Amharic and offered him my resident ID card, and he gave me the Ethiopian rate without an argument. I think a normal passage was about 10 birr, but I’m not sure. And the only way to get to island without having a private boat. We were to spend a full day on the ferry, with two stops, a 2 hour break where we got out and had lunch and played pool in some tiny town and another 1 hour break for tea while the crew unloaded cargo. Then about 5pm we docked for the night and grabbed a hotel, then off again the next morning for a 1/2 day on the ferry with a lunch break and arrived in Bahir Dar at 2 in the afternoon. And note that the base of the Blue Nile river starts in Ethiopia, so we were sorta cruising down the Blue Nile for about 100 km!

Departing the Ferry

Departing the Ferry


The ferry ride was truly an adventure. We walked around the top deck where there were rows of seats, hung out, talked, listened to music, I sketched a bit, looked at all the island monasteries in the distance. Down below, in the first class salon, we played local card games with the crew for 50 birr cents per game. I taught some university guys how to play farkle, the dice game, I read some of a book, talked in Amharic to the ladies in first class with kids and generally had a leisurely day and a half on a boat. What was funny was that most of the passengers wanted to sneak into first class to lay down in the wind protected area and sleep, (as most Ethiopians get cold easily due to almost no body fat, and so they were huddled with blankets wrapped around themselves in the wind, on the top deck, trying to sleep) as they had clearly done this a billion times before and were bored, and the 1 other foreigner on the ferry, a French guy who lived in Kenya and Yohannes and I spent most of our time up top with the rest of the people to have a better view and walk around. We didn’t want to just stay below and sleep.
One of many island Monasterys we saw during our ferry ride

One of many island Monasteries we saw during our ferry ride

Now, when a rainstorm hit, I was so glad to have a place to hide out. And yes, there was a bathroom on the ferry, and it was surprisingly cleaner than 90% of public toilets in Ethiopia, and had a circular window, no glass pane, cut out to look through.flag Now there were not snacks or water, but we had packed for this and it was fine. The novelty of it was one of he best parts, and somehow, it was oddly a little romantic. And I being an old soul, looooooved an excuse for hours of nothing but playing dominoes, cards, farkle and sketching, like people did before technology overtook the world. And let me tell you, Ethiopian guys looove to gamble and play dice and card games, so I played with Yohannes and the crew cards, and one I tired of that, I taught the crowd forming around me the farkle dice game I played all the time with my Grandmother. It was so much nicer than a hot, congested, fast, scary, motion sickness educing bus ride, I could walk around whenever and the breeze was amazing, and it was truly a memorable and adventurous journey.

Teaching Yohannes's friend Melaku, how to play farkle, he got addicted!

Teaching Yohannes’s friend Melaku, how to play farkle, he got addicted!

Now, the downside of the past 3ish days was tiny town have tiny hotels, and they are not that nice. So the girly girl in me had Yohannes make a reservation at a midpriced hotel that was highly recommended and had a hot shower, giant bed and lakeview. And it was WORTH every penny. (300 birr per night, usually I’d spend 150 to 200 on a hotel, but this was a bit of a splurge) bdBahir Dar was fun, the town is amazingly clean with wide pedestrian paths running parallel to all the main streets and bajaj’s aplenty. There are giant palm trees lining the walks, and benches for people to rest, that are each carved as a different sculpture of a lion, or castle from Ethiopian history, or birds and trees etc….so a city art-works project. Bahir Dar has really good fish and a decent pizza place. We walked around the lake as there is a pedestrian path all the way around and I go to meet many of Yohannes’s old friends from University. They showed us all the good local restaurants and the cultural singing and dancing house. It was a pretty lazy and relaxing few days after all of our harried travel pre-ferry ride. We had candlelit dinners by the lake and I soaked up loooong hot showers. We splurged and spent a good chunk of birr to fly back to Addis Ababa, as the “luxury” bus tickets were sold out 2 days in advance, and I couldn’t face ending such a trip of a lifetime with a crappy, cramped 15 hour bus ride. It was worth the thousand birr per ticket. The flight took 45 mins vs a 15 hour bus ride.

Well, I have no vacation time for a while, but late we still wanna visit Harar, Hawassa and the Simien Mountains….but for now I feel like our trip plus Lisa and my trip last July means I have truly seem almost all parts of Ethiopia. And now, we are signing up students this week for my English USP tutoring program so with any luck in a month, I’ll have actual work to do besides creating lesson plans!!!

Sunset on the ferry

Sunset on the ferry

Ok all, sorry this post was a bit longer than intended, I guess it’s hard to describe a world-wind vacay briefly!!! Miss ya’ll!!! Have a great week.

The Great Ethiopian Road Trip Part 1

23 Oct

FlyingSmallSo Yohannes and I just got back from a 2 week road trip across Northern and Central Ethiopia.  We had such an amazing, memorable and lucky trip!  I say lucky because there were remarkably few catastrophes which is the crux of any travel adventure in Ethiopia.  Just taking 1 bus to the capital city can be a trying disaster at times, so 2+ weeks of mostly good luck is a feat in and of itself!

We did xx cities in xx days!  We started out journey out in Jimma and although there is an airport there, there are no direct flights to other Northern cities, so we had to make it xx km to the city capital of Addis Ababa to fly out.  I was able to use my Sheba Miles which expire in December to book us 2 free 1 way tickets to Mekele, where our journey truly began.  But 1st to get to Addis….. we had bought Sky bus tickets in advance and were scheduled to depart Jimma at 6:00 a.m.  Sky bus and Selam bus are the only 2 “luxury” bus companies in Ethiopia…..luxury meaning leather, bucket seats, and no one crams in 3 people in seats designed for 2 people, so no overcrowding, no animals are allowed, they serve water or juice and a snack, and seating is assigned.  Usually this also means no one will be transporting rotting meat or highly scented and spiced butter and it has helpful things like shocks and padded seats, so your bum with thank you for spending the additional 100 birr, and your stomach for the less jarring journey, so fewer people if any puking near you.  (Roads here through mountains etc…are very windey, think driving through the Alps in a jungle while stopping every few miles for herds of cattle, goats, people etc…)Lastly, they have a networked speedometer, so if they go over a certain speed, the driver gets fined, so it keeps them from driving dangerously fast to try and increase trips and profit.  Nevertheless, maintenance, or rather almost total lack of maintenance is always a challenge here, so we sat for 2 hours waiting on the bus to be repaired before we began our journey.  2 hours later our growingly impatient group was announced that the bus was not able to be repaired, and we could get a refund at the ticket office, and were directed to the normal bus station to get outta town.  I had met a new PCV traveling through Jimma the night before, and knew a Peace Corps private car was taking her to Addis this very morning, so I called her, talked to the PC driver and he said I could go but as Yohannes is not a PCV, would have to check with the “man in charge” at PC in Addis if Yohannes could go.  I called and spoke to said man in charge and he said Yohannes would need to sign a liability waiver and we were good to go.  Thank you BOB!  We had breakfast and left at 8:30 a.m. in a free private, comfie car!!!  I was very glad of this as I had already got our flight for the next morning, so we could not be delayed in getting to Addis.  Later in Addis we got a 400 birr full refund for our tickets, and used that money to get massages in Addis at a nice, Western style spa. 

After checking into our backpacker style hotel, we walked to a nearby very nice spa and made a reservation for one hour later, then went downstairs to one of my favorite restaurants in Addis, “Oh Canada”.  They are two gals that are sisters, one owns and runs the spa and the other the restaurant.  They are Ethiopian born and lived in Canada for most of their lives, then returned to Ethiopia as their parents owned hot real estate land, and opened these businesses.  And do you know what’s great about Canadian food??? It’s basically American food, with a bunch of maple leaves on the menu.  And some of the best, if not the best service I’ve received in Ethiopia.  Then we each got a 1 hour Swedish massage and went to a nearby bar for some wine and lounging.  The pizza smells were too delicious and despite our very late lunch, we made room for a very late dinner, and shared a yummy pizza while listening to some American music. 

Slight flight delay, and then off to Mekele, for Yohannes’s inaugural first flight of his life!!! And how did he enjoy it you ask?  Well, he was glued to the window the entire hour flight, so I mostly saw the back of his head…..but he was grinning like a kid the whole time.  He later commented that the takeoff and landing were much less jarring than he thought they would be.  So we got to Mekele in time for Meskel, an Ethiopian holiday known as “The Finding of the True Cross”.  So one part of the Cross Jesus was crucified on was said to be lost and then somehow found in Ethiopia, and so it’s a huge holiday here celebrated with giant bonfires in all cities.  Almost everyone in town buys XXX a big bundle of dry sticks to contribute to the bonfire, and in Mekele, they walk the dry bunch up to the top of a giant hilltop, then add it to the bonfire, while others light theirs, and use it lite to walk down the windey, GIANT hillside.  No idea how to further explain this, but seeing hundreds of tiny fires wrapped descend around a pitch-black other wise hillside with a giant bonfire in the background was a truly magical and awe inspiring sight.  I attempted to take a pic, but didn’t do well.  Yohannes and I tried to walk up with our bundle, but were about 30 mins too late, and most people were practically running down the rocky, non-level hillside, in groups yelling and singing and a policeman told us it was too late and took our bundle of sticks. 😦  I was a bit relieved as it was a crazy, rocky, dark hike, and the people descending were all super energized and it was looking a bit dangerous to continue.  I also got some daytime pics of people in groups and religious people in full dress singing and drumming and dancing in the streets with giant crosses.  Meskel2SmallThis made for some cool photos as our hotel room was on 2nd floor overlooking a roundabout, and had a great balcony and view of festivities. IMG_0587 

Surgery, Vacay in Texas, Moving to Jimma and Getting Engaged!!!

13 Aug
Engaged!

Engaged!

Venice, Florida

Venice, Florida

Birthday Dinner

Birthday Dinner

Roasting Coffee with Bill and Josh

Roasting Coffee with Bill and Josh

Hey All,

So I got locked out of WordPress for a while and then got really busy, so I have not had a chance to blog in a while. I think most of you will know all of this by now, but for the few of you that don’t…..here’s the short story… Yohannes proposed to me in Bonga at the end of May and so we are engaged!!! Our plan is to go to Dallas, Texas in about a year after I complete my 1 year extension project with Peace Corps and he finishes his Masters in Electrical Engineering and the Visa paperwork is all approved. We will get married in the States and are thinking about details on that now.

I had to go to the States about a month or so before my intended vacation, as I had some stomach issues and learned in Addis Ababa, after a few days of testing, that I had gallstones. So…..I had to have my gallbladder removed, which typically PC would send me to South Africa to have done, but as I was about to go to the States for my month of “home leave” vacation, I eventually pleaded and convinced them to let me have the surgery in Dallas and then heal at my sister’s and enjoy my month of vacay after. The surgery had no complications and I healed well and had an amazing time visiting friends and family and soaking up all the yummy foods. Lisa and I went to the beach house in Venice, Florida and I got to see it for the 1st time and it was so beautifully decorated and the town is so cute, we had a rockin time. I got to go to my friends ranch and ride horses and soak up the Dallas Museum of Art, and all the culture I could. Anyhow, I got back to Ethiopia a few weeks ago and have moved from Bonga, to Jimma, a city about 3 hours from Bonga.

So the new post-America news:
I am all moved into my new condo (on the 2nd floor of a 3 floor building) in Jimma and it’s all I hoped for and more. It’s off-campus but nearby and is reserved for female university staff members only. It has 2 bedrooms, a living room, a kitchen, bathroom with toilet and cold water shower. The place came fully furnished with items from the University for me to borrow for the year. I ended up with a refrigerator, stove and oven, buffet table, bookshelf, coffee table, 2 dressers, big art table, 2 bedframes and mattresses, a couch, 4 armchairs, 6 small chairs and 2 small nightstand tables as well as curtains and pillows. The kitchen has a double sink and drain-board. It’s nice to have such a swank place, only difficulty so far is there is still intermittent water. I have been collecting rainwater from drainpipes all week as there hasn’t been much running water……….but 2 weeks ago it was almost daily, so it depends. It has been so nice having a real kitchen and I have been baking up a storm…. I had some friends over for pizza and it was delicious. Next up, scones. PC gave me a chunk of money to furnish my new place, and as it’s furnished already I decided to spring for a TV yesterday!!! All of my neighbors have satellite dishes, so I was able to just share off of them. So I am getting lots of movie channels, and Saudi Arabian channels and BBC. Also it has a USB port, so I can plug my external hard-drive directly into the TV and watch any TV or movies I have saved. Also it will do slideshows of photos and can connect to my laptop too….so next to try is my Nintendo emulator! Hello medium sized Super Mario, (ok, so I’d say giant, but the TV is not THAT big).

So how am I having all this time for baking and TV watching??? Well, it’s summer break, so the students I will be teaching are still on break, so there is not much work for me at present. School starts back in end of September, beginning of October realistically. I have got my office setup and met a bunch of department heads and such, but again, not much to do until school starts except work a bit at some curriculum for English tutoring/teaching for the new students. I’m planning on doing some 2 week focused classes. 2 weeks on writing, 2 weeks on reading comprehension, 2 weeks on conversational English speaking, 2 weeks on debate etc….but it’s a rough plan so far. I have found a lot of great electronic resources other volunteers have done for 1st year university students and am compiling all of these resources and organizing them and seeing want to try, what I want to alter, what I want to omit and how to create a cohesive plan. But again, it’s basically, “Go teach English” again as my vague project. However, when the students come and we start working on the University Success Program and the 10 instructors at Jimma University begin teaching from that life skills manual, I will be responsible for helping the instructors be good facilitators which is a bit more specific, though still hard to picture how that will work exactly. Anyhow, until then it’s prep, plan, and wonder if it will all be totally different once it all starts! Oh, and I hired a woman to wash my clothes, her name is Tigist and she’s got a little boy names Sammy, she’s really nice and does a great job at a fair price, so I’m glad to have that task figured out at present.

My favorite things as of this moment: living in the same town as Yohannes and getting to see him all the time, enjoying my new condo and a LOT more privacy, paved roads, being able to buy and refrigerate pasteurized milk and sometimes cheese, (it’s not the best cheese, but it’s like provolone and is sometimes available), baking, soaking up some leisure time TV watching and reading, having a whole room for an art studio, enjoying fast and free internet at the university, having far fewer people yell “you, you, you” at me and getting excited about an upcoming vacay Yohannes and I have planned to do a tour of a few place in Ethiopia and celebrate Yohannes’ 25th birthday!!! The very mild weather that’s a bit cold at times and rainy, but nice overall, and finally Katie my PC friend is coming over tomorrow night for a girls night. We are going to bake cookies and watch a chick flick.

Details to be said at a later date, but I think the U.S. Ambassador’s Special Help Project Grant I wrote last February is actually approved!!! The grant was kinda a one in a million shot, and was a LOT of work to write…(line item details on cost of labor, building materials, projecting inflation costs of concrete, meeting with contractors for building design plans, writing M and E procedures, project goals and timeline and budget and community contribution, collecting letters of support from the mayor, teachers and students, stakeholders engagement, background and capacity of applicant organization and environmental impact, sustainability and you can see why the grant was 13 pages) so fingers crossed the final details all go through smoothly and my community in Bonga and I actually won a $12,000 grant to construct a science laboratory at my favorite Barta Primary School. The guy in charge of grants that works in Addis Ababa at the U.S. Embassy came to Bonga a few weeks ago and met with all the school directors and PTA and a few teachers and said he still had a few things to work out, but it’s approved. So yet another reason for me to go to Bonga every other month or so to monitor the project.

I went to Bonga this past weekend for a short visit, to say hi to friends. Yohannes and I had some yummy doro wat at his parents house and it was good to get to see friends and catch up since I had been gone. I was struck again, but the sheer, raw beauty of Bonga, Jimma may have paved roads and milk, but Bonga is SOOOO beautiful……that will never get old. Luckily PC approved 2 new PCV’s for Bonga to replace Chuck and I, so I am glad that Bonga will be getting new volunteers for the Education sector.

That’s about it for now, oh…and my P.O. Box address has changed, I got a new one in Jimma. So please send any new mail to: P.O. Box 5094 Jimma, Ethiopia.

Next blog will be about the different culturally specific greetings in Ethiopia, some are veeeery interesting….still compiling info now!

-Laura

Malaria marching, visiting my host family and Ethiopian Easter!!!

9 May

Hey Ya’ll,

Sorry I havn’t posted in a while. I have been busy as always. April 25th, in addition to being my nephew’s birthday, is World Malaria Day, so I had a lot of activities going on in April. I organized the 2nd Annual World Malaria Day March in Bonga with 200+ participants this year, (vs. 100+ last year). I traveled to Jimma for an annual World Malaria Day week-long conference. It was for ALL of Ethiopia, and the conference just happened to be only 3 hours away from me this year, so I was able to go with a PCV friend in the Health sector, and a PCV leader in the Health sector to check out the conference this year, and see how PC can help in the coming years as the Malaria Initiative is new this year for Peace Corps. The conference was cool, lots of panel discussions and presentations and a ceremony with singing and dancing and such, but I only made it to 3 days of the events as I got amoebic dysentery (for the 2nd time) and so was a little late to the conference as I was not feeling well. We also traveled to the nearby town of Serbo, 20 km from Jimma to visit their health post, (like a mini clinic for rural areas) they have one of the highest malarial reported cases in the Southern part of Ethiopia, so awareness there and treatment is critical. I feel great, having helped in a small way, make a difference in malaria awareness.

What else??? Well, I threw a birthday party last month for a PCV friend who is in a tiny town near Bonga with NO other PCV there. We had a great time, and I made him a chocolate cake with candles and everything! It’s nice to play hostess sometimes. So Yohannes and I made a trip to visit my host family over the Ethiopian Easter holiday. He and I both had time off work, and he had time off school, so we made a last minute decision to hit the road! We went to basically about 6 towns in 5 days. Jimma to Addis to Assela to Bekoji to Shashamene to Addis to Bonga. Addis was fun, we got to visit his brother who is in seminary school and one of his closest friends who lives in Minnesota, but who grew up in Bonga and was in Ethiopia visiting family. We saw 3 of my PCV friends in Assela then headed off to Bekoji to visit my host family. (The Ethiopian family I lived with for the first 2.5 months when I arrived in country). Bekoji is a tiny town famous for being the birthplace of like 99% of the Olympic runners in Ethiopia. The elevation is so high and mountainous the air sooooo thin, if you can run there, you can run ANYWHERE!

Anyhow, I had called them to let them know I was coming and bringing my boyfriend, but of course they wanted us to stay for like 3 days and we had planned to stay for like 8 hours…..but in the end it was perfect, we toured the compound and saw all the changes, drank lots of buna with fresh cow milk, played card games with my host brother Mubarak visited a bit with my host sister Yeshi and Kedeja, my host mom and Reshid my host dad. Reshid and Yohannes talked a lot, but Kedeja speaks mainly Oromifa language, neither of which Yohannes or I speak…..but her Amharic was ok, and apparently mine had improved drastically!!! I didn’t know how much it improved, (although is still pretty remedial to be honest, as language is NOT my thing) but I remember talking and listening to them 2 years ago and having NO idea what was being said. I couldnt’ even tell the difference between Oromifa and Amharic languages being spoken, and now I understood about 70% of the Amharic conversations!!! And I could talk to everyone a bit in Amharic, so it was soooo nice to come “full circle”. We brought them a kilo of coffee from Bonga and a bag of candy for the kids, all were a big hit. They have a new 8 month old grandchild, I got to snuggle with, she was afreakingdorable!!! We had lovely doro wat, (spicy traditional chicken stew made only for major holidays) and they sent us on our way with lots of homemade yummy bread and sugary popcorn for the road. As they are Muslim, they of course were not celebrating Ethiopian Easter, but made the lovely and elaborate meal for our arrival. Yohannes gave his father, Reshid’s phone number so they could talk , sooo cute!

Shashamene was fun, it’s where the original Rastafarians are from. So now basically there are a bunch of Jamaicans hanging there and so we had some yummy Jamaican food and went to a tiny club and danced as I LOOOVED the break from Amharic music. As you can imagine the level of focus on my being one of the only 3 females in the club, and definitely the only foreigner, we decided not to stay too long. Then we were back in Addis, got my camera fixed!!! And had some yummy “American” food, lasagna and cheeseburgers and were off to Jimma then Bonga early the next morning. We celebrated Ethiopian Easter, called Fasika in Amharic a day late at Yohannes’ parents house, for more yummy for more yummy foods, tej, buna and visiting. His mom insisted I take some roasted and ground coffee home with me which was taken from their backyard coffee trees, it was so sweet of her.

So, tomorrow morning I’m off to Jimma then Saturday morning off to Addis Ababa to prep for co-facilitating a 5 day TOT Training of Trainers. We are facilitating a training for 30 University Instructors on how to be successful, interactive facilitators for the University Preparation Camp program I will be leading in Jimma. There program is also in Adama and Addis Ababa, so there are 10 instructors from each of the 3 participating Universities. So we’ll be basically teaching university teachers how to be more effective teachers and how to use the new Life Skills Mentoring Guide from USAID on such subjects as leadership, HIV prevention, communication, substance abuse, study skills etc… As even at university level, most teaching is old school style “chalk and talk” and the new guide is intended to be very interactive. After that is finished, I’m back to Jimma to immediately help co-facilitate a PDM Project Design and Management training for a new group of Environmental PCV’s. Then the next week is COS conference, (Close of Service) near Addis Ababa. COS means the time when all PCV’s in my group celebrate and have a big party at a nice lake resort before they all go home! Even though I’m extending my service 1 year, I still get to go to the COS conference to say bye to everyone and get pampered in a resort with massages and pedicures and swim in the only safe lake in Ethiopia, lake Langano.

Then it will be June, so my birthday on the 14th!!! Then I move to Jimma and come home in July for a month for a visit!!! (Ok, so originally I was coming home at Christmas, but that’s tooooo far off, and so I changed my mind and will be home for a visit in like 50 something days) So I will be home tentatively from July 2nd through August 4th. So, as I am moving soon, if you wanted to send me a birthday card or treat, do it now or wait until you see me in July to give it to me so it won’t get lost in my move and change of P.O. Boxes. So, I can’t wait to see everyone!!!!!!!!!!!!! But will have no car, so perhaps some lovely friends will want to come kidnap me for dinner a few times? Then August is Yohannes’ birthday and we have a mini-vacay planned to Bahir Dar, the lake/resort town in Ethiopia where he did his undergrad degree. September and October will be a bit dull, then my new job with UPC starts beginning of November!

On a random note, the Peace Corps Country Director, (top dog) of PC Ethiopia, emailed me yesterday and asked me if I would be willing to become the Regional Malaria Coordinator for the Oromia Region in ADDITION to my UPC work in Jimma. It’s an honor he asked, as I’ve done some successful malaria work, but I’m not sure I can do both jobs well…..and I think I know someone who may also want the position. It would also require a 11 day trip to Senegal for a training at end of June which would be cool….but I’m pretty sure I will turn it down, but it’s super flattering to be so well thought of!!! My main fear is it would require a lot of traveling thorough the country to coordinate and motivate PCV’s to care and work on malaria and run around like a crazy person, when my UPC job requires me to be literally AT the university where my house and office will be, so I fear it will be opposing schedules. (BTW, UPC was my first choice as an extension project, and malaria coordinator was my 2nd choice).

So, I can’t WAIT to see everyone in July, so start thinking about when and if ya’ll have time for me, as Lisa wants to keep me all to herself for the entire month, so it will take some prying of her paws off me. I miss you all soooo much and am super excited about hugging everyone and gobbling up as much yummy foods as possible and going to art museums, theaters, movies, Target, wine bars and pools. Again though, I will have no car, so please take pity on me.

Lots of love and see ya’ll in 54 days.

A UNT Alumni Article on my Peace Corps Service!

27 Mar

Check out this online article about my Peace Corps Service! They did a great job on it.

http://northtexan.unt.edu/laura-harrington

I hope everyone is doing well, I’m just working away, writing a mini grant for World Malaria Day next month and trying to get everything organized to have a great march this year with over 200 participants.

Have a great rest of week!!!

Lions and Elephants and Zebras oh my!!!

28 Feb

So I just got back from my 5 day Tanzanian safari and then spend 4 days in the Ethiopian resort town of Hawassa relaxing and then got back to Bonga this past Sunday and began work on a new project on Monday, training horse handlers/tour guides on how to deal with tourists and English phrases so no time for post vacation blues, I’m too busy for that! I’ll try and get pics in the next few weeks, but have to get them from PCV friends.

So here are a few funny tidbits from the safari:
“Holla, impala!” ——–we saw soooo many impalas it became a theme.

“I’m gunna find a scenic place to………puke.”———– I took my doxy antimalarial meds on an empty stomach accidently the first morning so I wouldn’t forget to take them, and ended up puking on our first safari morning, no elaborate and delish looking breakfast for me!

“Don’t pass Paul the mango first.”———-Paul, another PCV lives in a tiny village in Ethiopia that has no fruit, so when we had sliced fruit at any meal, Paul would go a little nuts and so we had to ration him.

“Are you Team Lion or Team Zebra?”———- We got to see a pack of lions hunt some zebras, and we all rooted for different herds! Luckily for us, and the Zebras, the hunt did not end in death of any animals.

“Birds don’t matter.”————I was writing down all the names of every new animal we saw each day to
keep a record and I was getting tired of writing down all the long bird names and turned to Christina and asked if birds counted for our list and she replied, “Birds don’t maaaater” in this elongated funny voice. As Chuck was the only one in our group with any interest in birds, this too became a common saying along the trip when he tried to get us to care about a yellow swallowed something bird off in the distance.

“I was born in the Crater!!!”————–an elderly, rural, potentially drunk and potentially crazy man approached the other of our safari vehicles near Ngoroongoro and wanted to use every English phrase he knew by screaming it loudly at all people in the car. They played along and asked him where he was from, and he replied in a loud, drunken, emphatic yell that… “I was booorn in the CRATEEEER!” This became a fun thing to say at any lull in conversation to see who could impersonate his voice the best.

“Jambo, mambo, kireeeboo” ————–The only Swahili words we learned besides thank you was hello, another version of hello and cool……I think we were all exhausted with Amharic learning and in vacay mode. People spoke to me in Swahili and I tried to reply in Amharic out of knee-jerk reaction, it was amusing.

“Look, a leopard!!!…….nope, it’s just a baboon in the tree.”————Leopards are hard to see in trees and stealthy, but Bailey scoured every tree on the right side of the car, and I scoured all the trees on the left side of the car. When we hit a patch of no trees, you could see the immediate relief of a break on Bailey’s and my face!

“What the hell ate half my shoe?”———–So apparently I was not supposed to leave ANYTHING outside my tent at night, and I left my pair of keen sandals outside as they were dirty and I didn’t want to get mud into the tent…….when I couldn’t find 1 of them in the morning, it took some searching to locate it, and realize that it had been a nice snack for some animal. Upon consulting with our safari guide, he said it was unmistakably the work of a hyena. Yup, a hyena ate a giant chunk outta the back of my right keen sandal….complete with hyena slobber and everything. Due to the level of destruction, he said it had to have been only a hyena. I felt so safe the next night sleeping knowing hyenas could be so close to our tent. I spend a good 20 mins a few nights later trying to locate gum in my mini backpack as I was told at this particular campsite, wild boars would charge the tents if they smelled any food. Right after the guide announced this, me and another similarly cautious PCV asked almost simultaneously if toothpaste was ok for inside the tent. Not sure how a wild boar can tell the difference between mint gum and mint toothpaste, but post hyena incident, I was NOT taking any chances. And yes, I did continue to wear the shoes the rest of the trip, with PRIDE.

So the safari was 5 days and day 1 we spend in Tarangire National Park in the Northern part of Tanzania, which is famous for lots of elephants and giant, impressive baobab trees. We saw the following animals on our FIRST day:
Waterbucks, impalas, warthogs, elephants, marabou storks, dick dicks, ostriches, giraffes, guinea fowl, lions, zebras, white storks, blacksmith birds, olive colored baboons, blue herons, buffalo weavers, superb starlings and rock hyraxes which is like a cool squirrel and vervet monkeys. But this was before I stopped counting birds.

Day 2: We were going from Tarangire National Park to the Serengeti and saw:
Superb starlings, zebras, wildebeests, giraffes, baboons, camels, (domesticated) tommy gazelles, corey bastard birds, ostriches, coke hartebeests, grants gazelles, hippos and 17 lions.

Day 3: We stayed in Serengeti and saw:
Impalas, ostriches, 9 lions and 2 babies, topi, cape water buffalo, Egyptian vultures, baby baboons in trees, African fish eagles, guinea fowl, blue starlings, vervet monkeys, marabu storks, warthogs, silver backed jackels, zebras, dark topi, hippos, secretary birds, lilac breasted roller bird, tawny eagles, and a pack of lions hunting zebras and then banded mangoos and a leopard to finish the day.

Day 4: We went from Serengeti to Ngoroongoro Crater and saw:
Dick dicks, lepards, ostriches, warthogs, hyenas, guinea fowl, impalas, dark topi, silver backed jackels, lions, hippos, heartbeests, cape buffalo, elephants, zenras, tommy gazelles and golden jackels. The hyenas were very cool on this day to see up close eating a dead giraffe leg.

Day 5: Our last day we spend traveling from Ngorongoro Crater back to Arusha town and saw:
Tommy gazelles, zebras, wildebeests, flamingos (which we accepted as cool birds that also count), 3 rinos, impala, warthogs, hyenas, heartbeests, hippos, water buffalo, elephants, elans, ostriches, (we accepted these as cool birds that DO count)

The accommodations were nice, we had hot meals for breakfast and dinner each day and a nice packed lunch. Our dinner was at least 3 courses and out chef came out of the kitchen each night in a chef apron with a flower in his lapel and a chef had on, and lifted each silver lid to announce each course. I think we got our money’s worth on the safari in food alone. Apples and chicken and cheese oh my! And as I compared our safari vehicle to all the other people’s we saw, it was obvious our’s was superior in it’s niceness, size, comfortability etc… We had a group of 10, 5 in each car and the roof popped up so we could stand and see out the top. We were not allowed to stand on the bucket seats, and as a shortie, I abandoned this rule by day 2 and my guide said nothing.

We had a guide names Cipreon, Cippy for short and a cook named Frank that traveled with us most of the time. Cippy was super nice, a few years younger than me, funny and spoke amazing English. He had a newborn baby not yet 3 days old when he started our tour with us and a new German Shepard puppy. We told him that was an ambitious plan to have a big puppy with a 1st, newborn baby and he simply smiled and said, “They can be friends!” hahahah. In the car we listened to a lot of modern reggae music, and then we played some newish American music through an ipod and my mini speaker and I swear Cippy knew more lyrics than we did!

I had brought with me a used copy of the Bradt’s East African Wildlife book on the safari, I had been studying up before our trip and it was a popular book to borrow. Although Cippy knew every animal, he liked to consult it for more info and to distinguish some birds, as his guidebook was much less user friendly and detailed. He told me several times how awesome my book was, and how much he liked it, and who was the publisher etc….I began leaving it in the front seat for his reference. Also the guide of the other car borrowed it once or twice to see this illusive book. So of course at the end of our trip as we said goodbye and thanks and gave out an envelope to each guy with a tip in it, I had written an inscription inside the guidebook thanking him for the trip of a lifetime and that I knew he’s enjoy the guidebook way more than I would. When I gave him the book, he lit up and gave me the biggest hug………..it was adorable, and meant a lot to him. So it felt nice to get to do that.

Anyhow, I have much more info on other stuff soon but wanted to get the safari blog post knocked out first. BTW it’s National Peace Corps Week, so we are asked to share info about Peace Corps and remind our friends and family back home about PC and this week etc…so here’s my reminder for you: enjoy running water all week this week.

Bonga is out of water, not just the water tank and well in my compound, but the entire town. I bought 2 liters of bottled water to drink and make coffee with, but have not showered in 5 days or washed my hair, I have a tub full of dirty dishes and all my clothing is filthy. Baby wipes have helped, but my hair is scary…..my landlord sent someone to fetch me some river water from a nearby village, so I have about a gallon for today and tomorrow. I hope I can wash my hair and dishes and body with only 1 gallon of water, if not….time to prioritize! Also, remember few Ethiopian people have the luxury that I do of being able to afford to buy water, so lets pray for some rain soon!!! Happy National Peace Corps Week!