My Favorite Things

I know I’ve been a little negative in my past few posts.  That wasn’t my intention; I was just trying to give a realistic picture of life here.  Peace Corps isn’t all sunshine, butterflies, and puppies (more like sunshine, hoards of flies, and rabid dogs).  But, to bring my blog back up here’s a list of some of my favorite things about my life here in Ethiopia (in no specific order):

The Food: I’m an eater, and all I have to say is, thank god I’m doing Peace Corps in Ethiopia.  I’ve talked to PCVs from other countries where the food is just awful.  And don’t get me wrong, there are some foods eaten here than no one should be subjected to eat.  Take dulet, sheep/goat intestines, a dish that my landlords have a penchant for.  I can’t tell you how many dulet meals I have gagged down because I just don’t have the heart to tell them that I think that this might literally be the worst food in the world.  But, for every bad dish there are more good ones.  Bayanat, a vegan variety plate of vegetables and lentils is my favorite (unfortuantly you can only get it on fasting days – Wednesday and Friday).  When I first came to Ethiopia, I could barely stomach injera.  Now, I crave it.  I couldn’t even eat a whole piece of it and I now can destroy meals that seemed impossibly large (even for me).  

Bunna: The coffee.  Oh my god.  I already know I’m going to be a coffee snob when I get back to America because there’s nothing like the coffee here made in the traditional way.  On top of that, coffee ceremonies have become one of my favorite things about Ethiopia.  Sitting for 1-3 hours while fresh coffee is roasted, pounded, roasted, and then made used to seem interminable.  Now, I can’t think of many better ways to spend my afternoon.  On occasion, I have endured some horribly awkward bunna ceremonies.  In one of them, the person that invited me actually left in the middle but informed me I should “stay, and play” with a bunch of people I’ve never met and who don’t speak a work of English.  My landlord recently got injured in what was described to be as a rock-throwing incident.  From the amount of pain this man was in, someone must have thrown a boulder at his leg.  He was bedridden, and screaming/moaning in pain.  However, this did not prevent my landlady from inviting me into his bedroom to have a coffee ceremony with him. 

My students: Now, when I say this I do not mean ALL students.  If we were in America, I think I would be the most bullied kid in the school, even though I’m a teacher.  Some of them chase me around the compound, swarm me in my classroom, and when I lock them out, throw rocks through my window.  But, my students, the ones that come to my English clubs and spend time with me on their off periods, are wonderful kids.  I mean, how many kids email you an audio file of a poem they wrote asking for corrections?  Or show up at your house just to tell you about a dream they had that you were in?

Other PCVs:  I’ve met some wonderful people here in Ethiopia.  We never have to explain ourselves to each other.  We may not all be here for the same reasons, but we all understand why we’re here.  We’re all in the same boat.  No matter how much I tell people at home about my life here, you can’t fully understand unless you actually live it.  There are not many people I can text about a horrible pants shitting incident I had and they respond, “yeah, I shit my pants today too”.   Peace Corps dissolves all normal friendship boundaries you thought existed.  We may be a freakshow when we get together, but we all love each other.

My school: I know I complain about the teachers at my school a lot.  Do they want to go to my trainings? No.  Do I enjoy their company? Yes.  I try to go to school for a little bit each day.  Most of the time I just sit in the teachers’ café, drink tea, and talk with them.  I have never paid for my own tea, they always invite me.  They make me laugh.  Upon returning from Italy, feeling a little hefty after 2 weeks of eating like I was a hibernating bear, they immediately asked me “Courtney, why have you gotten so much fatter!”   Most of you would consider this horribly offensive; I have learned to laugh at these well-intentioned offenses from Ethiopians.  They are also remarkably inquisitive.  While they don’t really accept much teaching methodology information I give them, we often have discussions about American politics and culture.  

My free time: Even on my rare busy week, I still have what seems like endless free time.  I used to wonder if I would survive the boredom.  I would fill my days with activities like feeding gummy bears to monkeys or following ants around my house.  Now, I have grown to love having nothing to do.  I have read more books than I think I had in the 5 years previous to joining the Peace Corps.  I take no shame in watching half a season of a TV show in an afternoon.  If I’m feeling more social I sit in my compound with my landlords “servant” Kasanesh, and watch her do work and practice my Amharic.  Or I go into town a sit at a café, drink coffee, and read.  Usually someone I know strolls in and we talk for a little while.  Even in America I’m slower paced than most people, but I have definitely slowed down even more, and I love it. 

My compound: First of all, I love my house.  Well, my bedroom really.  I have tile floors, a legit ceiling and nice windows, which are all luxuries for PCVs. I live 30 seconds from my school, making my work commute nonexistent.  My landlords are awesome.  I can’t actually speak to them.  They don’t speak a work of English, I don’t even think they know “Hello”.  They also speak way to fast in Amharic for me to understand most things they say.  However, I know they treat me like a daughter.  They feed me, they give me coffee every day, and they invite me to family holidays.  When my town inevitably does not pay my rent on time every three months, they don’t kick me out, they just let me know so I can deal with it.  They are wonderful people. 

The street kids:  I think street kids can haunt a lot of people.  These poor, seemingly (and most likely actually) parentless kids that wander the streets trying to get you to buy their tissues or gum.  They’re dirty, barely clothed, shoeless, and usually can be horribly mean to each other.  In other towns, like Bahir Dar, they drive me nuts.  However, in Woreta, I’ve somehow managed to form a gang of my biggest admirers in the street kids.  When I walk to the center of town I hear my name “Corky, Corky” (my favorite Ethiopian variation of my name) being yelled out.  They greet me; they give me their valuable products for free.  Most importantly, they help me out.  If someone is calling me farenj they tell them, no her name is Corky, don’t call her faranj.   One time I was walking home when it was dark, something I know I shouldn’t be doing alone.  So, two of them held my hands and walked me all the way to my house.   The only qualm I have with these kids is that they have also become a love note delivery system for random strangers.  On two or three occasions one of them has run up to me with a piece of paper saying “I love you” blah blah blah and giving me someone’s phone number.  Funny the first time, after the third, not so much. 

So there you go…some of my favorite things! 

 

 

 

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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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Malaria Mania!

Well, April is Blog About Malaria Month (BAMM) and this Thursday was World Malaria Day.  Even though I’m an education volunteer my site mates and I decided to do some programs educating students about the disease.  My town is considered lowlands in Ethiopia (even though the elevation is still higher than most places in the US), which means that malaria is an issue here.  In fact, malaria is the most commonly reported disease in Woreta, with over 5,000 reported cases in the past year.  However, when you ask Ethiopians in my community about it they typically reply “there is no malaria here” or “there used to be malaria but it is not a problem now”.  Well, I have news for you all – that’s a flat out lie.  While it is less common in towns and more prevalent in the rural areas, it is still a serious problem that needs to be addressed.   

So, to dispel these myths of malaria being nonexistent, my site mates and I did a program at our high school last week.  To start, we had a nurse from the local health clinic come to the flag ceremony in the morning and give a talk with educational information about malaria to the students.  It would have gone better if the microphone was functional, but I think he gave some good information (not that I would know…it was in Amharic).

Later that day we went back to the high school for a more fun and interactive program.  Since Jeopardy is my favorite game show, I decided to make a malaria version of the game.  The students competed in groups and did pretty well!   When the game was over we distributed flyers with information about malaria in Amharic and instructed the students to hand them out to people on their way home from school, or to give them to their family and neighbors.  The goal was that the students would not only learn about malaria but also teach others in the community about the disease as well.

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Some high school students playing malaria jeopardy

 

This past Wednesday, in my primary school English club, I decided to do a session about malaria as well.  We talked about the disease; the symptoms and what to do if you think you have malaria.  Then the students read some dialogues discussing certain topics about malaria. 

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One of my students got really into his role as a father so he drew a chalk beard on his face.

 

After that the students made posters in English about malaria that will be hung around the school.  While there are some serious spelling errors the students showed their creativity and did some great work! 

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Marlborough –> Ethiopia: My Mom Came to Ethiopia

I know all of you at home have been waiting for this post.  Yes, my mother came to Ethiopia.  I was expecting pure hilarity at seeing her exist in the society that I now consider home.  While there were entertaining parts, it was a pretty low-key visit.  Besides mom’s body rejecting Ethiopia (she got sick in like, every way possible), I’m fairly sure she had a good time.

 

Yes, she saw the sights – Lake Tana and a 700 year old monastery, the Simien Mountains, and the castles and churches in Gondar.  I would have loved to have taken her to other places, like Lalibela and Aksum (and many of my Ethiopian friends were disappointed that I did not take her there), but there was not enough time. 

 

I think what was most interesting were the things that have just become so normal to me that I didn’t even think to explain to my mom.  Take the shoulder bump, for example.  When Ethiopians greet each other, you not only shake hands but you also bump shoulders.  The first time someone tried to shoulder bump my mom, she hugged them.  Oops, forgot to explain that one.

 

We took public transportation from Bahir Dar to Woreta, which was the part of the trip I was most worried about.  Mini-buses can be a nightmare here.  Hot, smelly, overcrowded, and no one will open a window.  We got in a bus pretty easily, and my mom thought we had the entire seat, that would normally fit two people, to ourselves.  As more and more people loaded on the bus I had to tell her that no mom, this seat is not for two people, it’s for four. 

 

We went to a friend’s house for lunch.  I didn’t really prepare her for the part of Ethiopian hospitality that requires them to stuff their guests full of so much food their stomach literally feels like exploding.  I don’t think I’ve ever been so full after a meal as I have been when invited to Ethiopian’s houses.  They don’t take no for an answer and will always give you more food.  Mom was served injera,  shiro, potatoes, cabbage, and bread.  After she had been picking at the food that she probably didn’t even like that much for 10 minutes, our host came out with a giant plate of spaghetti for her as well.  She looked at me and said “Courtney, I can’t eat this” and I told her it was okay not to.  At the end of the meal our host also presented my mom with about 5 kilos of shiro powder (enough shiro to last my entire Peace Corps service).

 

I also noticed what a hermit I’ve become.  I haven’t been around someone that speaks fluent English for nine days straight in 10 months.  I’m constantly around people here, but conversation is limited because of my subpar Amharic skills.  When I see my site mates its for a few hours a couple days a week.  While I loved being able to see my mom and show her my life here, I was also exhausted by simply having to be social for so long. 

 

Overall it was a great nine days and I’m so glad someone from my family could come and understand what my life here is like.  She was a champ.  For someone who has never travelled to anywhere nearly as exotic as Ethiopia, I think she did great.  She tried the food, drank the coffee, took some cold showers, and even used a public shint bet.  Gobez mom, you survived Ethiopia.  

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Peace Corps Challenge

I wish I was awesome enough to make this up on my own, but it was directly stolen from my friend Nora’s blog: http://alternatenavigations.wordpress.com/

I know you all wonder what my day-to-day life is like here in Ethiopia.  And I’m also sure some of you never want to experience some of the inconveniences that I do every day.  However, if you want to live a week in a PCVs life try out this little challenge.  

Do one, do two, or do ALL the things on the list.  Just try it out, and let me know how it goes in an email to cesmith1020@gmail.com.  There are all things I know that I took for granted in America, and now I go without every day.  If you’re feeling super adventurous and get around 400 points, I’ll send you something fun and Ethiopian in the mail.  

Some are one-time options which can be repeated at your leisure, yet others are highly encouraged for an entire week.
These options are marked with a 1W.

Best use of the Challenge: Pick one week, and cram as many challenge items into one single week as possible.  You may pick and choose as you please! 

Point values are assigned to each challenge item.
For 1W items, you may only get the points if you do the item for an entire week.
The maximum points you could possibly get is 770.

The Challenge

 

  1. Do not use your personal vehicle.
    Options: hitching rides from others (spouses don’t count), bicycle, public transportation, by foot.
    5 points per day
  2. 1W Do no leave your house after 7 pm, unless you will staying at a friend’s house.
    10 points
  3. 1W Wear only 3 outfits. Rotation, rotation, rotation.
    15 points
  4. Spend an entire evening after dark (minimum 5 hours) without electricity.
    Flashlights are allowed, but candles are preferred.
    15 points per day
  5. 1W Live on a maximum of 3.50 USD per day, spending.
    If you had food in your fridge and bring a sandwich to work, you’re in the clear.
    This only applies to people who are not listed as a dependent on anyone’s taxes.
    15 points
  6. 1W Watch only television channels in a language in which you are not fluent.
    However, you can watch previously downloaded TV shows or movies that are on your computer- in any language you prefer.
    20 points
  7. 1W Do not use the internet.
    *This isn’t a regular challenge for me, though it is for other volunteers. But I have previously gone months without internet; I also have infrequent weeks when service and network disappear.
    20 points
  8. 1W When you have to go to the bathroom, first go outside of your house/workplace and close the door, then walk back inside. Then you may go to the bathroom.
    30 points
  9. 1W Only use water from a bucket i.e. fill the bucket from a tap and only use water from the bucket.
    You may refill the bucket as many times as you like.
    40 points per day you do not use your indoor tap
  10. Do not bathe for at least 3 days (washing of face and feet are allowed).
    3 days is the minimum.
    Because on a regular basis, I shower twice a week
    10 points for 3 days; an additional 5 points for each day added
    If you go one week, 100 points
  11. On bathing day, take only a cold shower.  An ice cold shower.  I know its cold out at home, but I think I took a cold shower in 50/60 degree weather so give it a try. 
    5 points per cold shower
  12. Wash an entire load of laundry by hand and let the clothes hang dry.
    20 points for wash; additional 5 points for dry
  13. 1W Your only food options are the following:
    Your only veggie options are carrots, tomatoes, cabbage, onions, chili peppers, and potatoes—unless they come from your own garden.
    Your only fruit options are bananas, oranges, mangoes, and limes.
    You may only supplement them with rice, lentils, beans, pasta, injera, or bread products.
    You may not eat any dairy products, including butter/margarine.
    You may not eat any canned foods.
    You may not eat meat.
    But you can eat all the eggs you want.
    40 points
  14. 1W Your only drink options are the following:
    Water, Coke (not Diet Coke), orange pop, tea, and coffee.
    20 points
  15. 1W You may not use your oven (stove top is okay), microwave, nor your dishwasher.
    20 points
  16. 1W Do not open your refrigerator.
    How to survive: store foods/leftovers in a pot or Tupperware on the counter.
    Be sure to reheat each time you eat.
    30 points

 

That’s it! Good luck and let me know how it goes if you choose to give it a go! 

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Ethiopia -1, Courtney – 0

I hate to complain, but some days I just wish things would go my way here in Ethiopia. I just found out today that my counterpart, the director of my school, was fired. A counterpart is the person who is supposed to work with you and help you get things done, because it is next to impossible to accomplish things completely by yourself. I was already on my second counterpart, and now he’s gone.

Unfortunately, him getting fired isn’t even the worst of it. I had a regional training last week, which I invited him to. He came, planned projects with me, and made all sorts of promises about seeing these things through when we got back to Woreta. Little did I know he had been fired BEFORE the training. Which means that he came and lied straight to my face for two days straight.

I can handle getting spit on by a random stranger or punched while walking in the market. Those people don’t know me. They don’t know why I’m here, and chances are they’re a little crazy. But for someone who I had worked with for the past 6 months at my school to do this to me is just entirely disheartening.

After my training I was excited. I had so many project ideas and things to get done. Now, I’m back in town and still want to accomplish these things, but I have no one to help me. I’m at a loss and it doesn’t matter how many times the teachers at my school tell me “izosh” (stay strong), I’m just not sure I can pick myself up this time. It has been battle after battle in Woreta. First it was being homeless for three months, then it was dealing with the incessant harassment that is inevitable when living in a truck stop, then it’s the unmotivated teachers at my school. And now, the one person who had actually helped get some small things done at my school has completely let me down.

I’m sorry to be a negative nancy, that’s not who I am. I always say that you can’t let things that are out of your control bother you. But, some days Ethiopia just shits on you, and today is just one of those days. I know things will get better, and I’m not giving up on Ethiopia. But today, Ethiopia beat me.

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The Small Things

I’ve said this before, but Ethiopia is not always an easy place to live. While I am completely content and happy with my life here, some things are a constant struggle. Work is an uphill battle. I love my school community, but getting things done at my school is always a challenge. For example, I had my first Teacher’s English Club this week. The club was supposed to begin at 2pm, however none of the teachers actually arrived until 3pm. When I started teaching, many of the teachers talked over me and failed to give me the respect that they expect of the students in their classrooms. Frustrating? I think so.

Just walking down the street can be a nightmare. The harassment that comes with being a ferenji female living in a truck-stop town is never-ending. While I used to be able to mindlessly ignore it, I’ve started to get angry with the men who yell at me every time I leave my house, and in some cases, I have started yelling back. At first I thought I was just losing my cool, but I’ve realized that I’m learning how to stand up for myself.

With all this being said, I have learned to cherish the small things in life that make me happy. Some days, that’s all I have. I’m proud of the fact that most of the kids in town know my name (or some weird variation of it). I love my compound and the people who live on it. Every Sunday I drink tela with a bunch of awesome old ladies who hang out at my compound after church. I found a woman who sells spinach in town (a rarity in Woreta). Even though I hate waking up at the crack of dawn, I love watching the sunrise over the mountains in the distance when I go running. The small words of appreciation for doing my job here also help. After an English club, a student said to me “Courtney, we appreciate you. You are a big man”. While gender incorrect, it completely made my day.

Honestly, I have only really had small successes here in Woreta. Things move so slowly, and there is so much against us that the thought of making a huge change is just unrealistic. On the first day of my English club, one of the English teachers told me that the creative writing program was just too hard for the students. Now, some of them are writing wonderful stories on their own. English teachers at my school have finally started approaching me for advice and with questions about the textbooks and language. While this isn’t something I’ve planned, it’s a step in the right direction.

Even on a really bad day, something good happens here. Whether it be students hanging out with me in my classroom or a random street vendor kid giving me a free fakiya (Ethiopian stick toothbrush), there is always a reason to smile.

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