Rediscovering Normal

Yesterday I was at a coffee ceremony with my landlords. At one point, my landlady whipped out her boobs and asked if I had any medicine to get rid of some spots on them. My ever-enlightened 12 year-old host sister, Rut, instantly told her that in my culture it’s not appropriate to just pull out your boobs whenever you want.   When my landlady tried to apologize, I simply responded, “chigger yellem, habesha nan”or “no problem, I’m Ethiopian”. And it’s true. My reactions to the oddities of Ethiopian life have slowly gotten more and more Ethiopian, rather than my initial American shock at so many commonplace things here. Here’s a short list of all the things that have become way too normal for me.  

Animal slaughters: Can you imagine going into a restaurant and seeing the meat you are about to order hanging on the wall?   Well, I see that just about every time I go to my favorite restaurant in Woreta. While seeing a skinned ox carcass hanging on the wall used to freak me out a bit, I now am thrilled when I walk in and see it’s cow meat instead of goat.

Being Dirty (all the time): I shower maybe twice a week, and I would say that’s pretty frequent for the average PCV. In between my showers I work out, walk around my absurdly hot town, and often trek through mud and animal feces covered streets. I’m always dirty. Ten minutes after I shower, I’m sweating again. By the next day I am peeling dirt off of my skin. To top this off, I am awful at washing my clothes, and so they are never really totally clean. While I revel in watching my clothes turn back to their original color by my imperfect hand washing skills, I can almost guarantee that they are still dirty. I often hear my landlady whispering about me while I wash my clothes, “that’s it, is she really finished?”

Terrifying Public Transportation: I will start this by saying that I am a blessed volunteer who lives only an hour away from my hub city on a paved road. With that being said, an hour-long bus ride is enough time for some alarming things to happen. When I first got here I would nervously look out the window and grab the seat in front of me to brace myself for the impending crash. Now, swerving around donkeys and cows and nearly missing people doesn’t even faze me. I simply shake my head at the dumb kid who thought it would be smart to run across the street at the last second. People vomiting into plastic bags in the bus? No biggie, just a smelly inconvenience. I’ve learned to always travel with a scarf to cover up my mouth and nose in case the odor gets particularly bad. Another time, while sitting next to an incredibly sick looking man, I looked over to see he had pulled out a syringe. My gut reaction was “Oh my god, this man is going to stab me!” instead he just pulled up his Amhara short-shorts and jabbed himself in the leg.

Weird Food: Those of you who knew me in America know that I’m an eater. I would eat practically anything you put on my plate. Well, Ethiopia has taken that to a whole new level.   I am fairly frequently served plates of injera with what could only be considered “mystery meat”. Each time I dutifully eat and tell my hostess that it’s delicious.   Goat and sheep are pretty standard but I’ve also eaten camel, intestines, and raw meat (surprisingly delicious). All of this is typically washed down with a cup or two of local beer, which I have grown to love, despite its abundance of floating charcoal bits.

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