How do you get Ethiopia?

It has almost been one year since I left home and moved to Ethiopia with 70 other volunteers.  With school being on break and me having absolutely no work to do until my vacation with my family in 13 days, I’ve had a lot of time to sit and reflect on the past year of my life.  How can I possibly sum up a year in Ethiopia? They tell us at the beginning that in Peace Corps you will experience some of the highest highs, but also the lowest of your lows.  I can’t begin to tell you how true that is. 

 When I joined the Peace Corps I thought I would go to whatever country I was assigned to and make a difference.  I mean, that’s the whole point right? But one year into my service in Ethiopia and I can’t help but feel like I’ve done absolutely nothing.  I’ve tried, relentlessly, to make projects work with teachers who just aren’t willing to receive the information I have to give them.  I’ve sat for hours upon hours, week after week, waiting for one, maybe two, teachers to show up to trainings that I have spent days preparing.  I’ve walked through the streets of my town angrier than I have ever been in my entire life.  Just waiting for someone to hurl an insult at me, or call me “nach” (white), or “mariye” (my honey), so I can yell something back at them.  I’ve been spit on, punched, and grabbed.  It still shocks me that after a year in Woreta, people can still act so ignorantly, and treat me as less than a person.

 In those ways, I guess I have failed. If being in Peace Corps has taught me anything, it is how to fail and still be okay with yourself. I recently gave up on training my teachers.  And most days, I simply don’t have the spirit to address every uneducated soul on the street that just needs to point out that I am not the same as them.  And on days when I let this get to me, I hide in my house and think, why am I here?  What would I be doing if I was in America right now?

 But when that happens, I just have to think about my students.  My English clubs have been the only successful things I have done in Woreta so far.  Even though it is small, I have to take my successes where I can get them.  While the change I have made is probably negligible, I know that some kids are speaking English one day a week, when they usually would be going home and speaking Amharic with their parents.  I like to think I’ve shown my students a new way to learn, and that school can be fun.  I’ve shared the wonder of books with my students.  While they used to sit unused on the shelves in my classroom, I now have students constantly asking if they can borrow them.  I have created a classroom where laughing at mistakes is not tolerated, a habit that is sadly the norm in Ethiopia.  I let the kids play with chalk and draw on the board during their breaks in school.  I simply let them sit and look at the pictures and posters on the wall.  I’ve seen kids come completely out of their shells in the course of a few months.  Girls who once came and sat silently in my classes are now regular participators.

 If I’m ever feeling like I haven’t done anything here in Woreta, I head over to my classroom, unlock the door, and wait.  Within five minutes I will have a group of children in there.  And even though I know they come because I am the ferenj, I can still teach them something.  Sometimes it’s not English.  We draw, we read, and we dance.  Sometimes I’m the student, with them teaching me new words in Amharic.

 The other day I was walking with a coworker and he asked me a question that I have literally been asked hundreds of times since coming here, “So, how do you get Ethiopia?”  While I usually respond, “it is beautiful, it is good,” I instead told him that, like America, there are things I like here and things I don’t like.  And he questioned, “but there is more good than bad, right?”  I didn’t even hesitate to answer, yes.  Life in Ethiopia hasn’t been easy for a moment, but I always find more good than bad here.  That is what keeps me here. 

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4 Responses to How do you get Ethiopia?

  1. Marc Smith says:

    You are making a difference to your students and that’s what really matters,You have to start with the children first,Then maybe the adults will see the changes,Keep up the good work,Keep your head up and keep Smiling,I admire your Courage.

  2. Seamus dowling says:

    I’m Seamus Dowling, rpcv from Maichew, Ethiopia 1996-1998. I lived the life that you describe.
    Please know that just getting up each day and pursuing your mission is an inspiration to Ethiopians that you’ll never meet. This is especially true for women and girls. Your presence alone opens conversations in the quiet corners of the culture. You are planting seeds that you will never see grow to fruition but know that the process is well under way. Keep up the good work!
    Seamus dowling

  3. Matt Munnell says:

    You are planting seeds and perhaps and hopefully they will take root. I know you are having an impact! How long will you be in Woreta? My wife and I are hoping to travel there next year to see her family. We would’ve gone this summer but we are expecting our second child in August. We would love to get together with you if you’re still there!

  4. Hi Matt – I will be in Woreta for another year and a few months. It would be great if we can meet up when you guys come – there are also two other PCVs in my town and I know they would love to meet you as well!

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