05 December 2013

northern crosses

Lalibela is known for its cluster of rock-hewn churches, reportedly built with the help of angels, but the surrounding landscape actually offers more interesting sightseeing options. We obliged our sense of historical and cultural significance by checking out the churches of Lalibela on day one, but used the next two days to get out and see more than the average visitor. Day two saw us renting an old, rugged Land Cruiser and necessary driver for perhaps the most scenic drive I’ve ever experienced, before reaching a remote village, some 40km outside of Lalibela. From there it was 12km of off-roading (what our guide called an “African massage”) in order to access a church made of marble and cedar wood, located in a cave in the middle of a mountain. And since we didn’t get quite enough spectacular from that experience, we set off on a hike to reach a rock hewn church situated atop a mountain overlooking Lalibela on day three. In both cases, we encountered only one other set of tourists, which afforded us lots of bragging as we closed off our time in the town with a night at a Torpedo, a popular tej house, in the company of fellow travelers from Canada (see: highfiveadventures.com), France, and Spain.

29 August 2013

it's been a while

      My absence has not gone unnoticed. Were my blog me and anyone who reads it my Ethiopian counterparts, I would undoubtedly get the question, "Tefah?" Where have you been? Any significant lapse of time between encountering a person or people, especially those in your closer circles, might elicit such an inquiry. It's easy to misinterpret the intent. Generally, it's safe to assume a noticeable void existed because of your value to the person or people. For those of you have Tefah'd me over the last couple months, I thank you. I have, as those Ethiopians who Tefah me might say, disappeared. 

06 June 2013

newborn eyes

What follows is my very first journal entry from Ethiopia, entered 7 June 2012 – the morning after our plane touched down at Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa. It was an insightful read for me while thumbing through my log, a wonderful gift from my step-mom-to-be before my departure. Enjoy.

21 May 2013

in daylights, in sunsets

 Six days in, my roommate and budding friend, Michael, lost his grandfather. We hadn’t even departed Addis for our training towns yet and already someone had experienced one of those things you hope not to experience in Peace Corps. The rest of us did what we could, refraining from internet use during the funeral so Michael could tune in. Four days prior, Michael and I made a dream catcher for Zack, who had suffered some of the most absurd nightmares I’ve ever heard recounted at the hands of mefloquine. Four days after losing his grandfather, Michael would talk me through my first “ultra distance” spat with my fiancĂ©, a welcome inevitability in the quest to help each other maintain sanity throughout our separation. We were all, ostensibly, doing what we could. 

17 May 2013

and on the 345th day, he created a metallica playlist

         So that's me. And I just made a Metallica playlist. It rocks. It's been on my to-do list for a while now, and I've been keeping good notes while rockin' out with that mop on my head. In case your world is lookin' for a little rockin' of its own, here's the list (20 main set songs for 20 days 'til one year in Ethiopia, I s'pose):

14 April 2013

the crazy thing

Absolute Peace Corps

the things i carried

Before I get into it, know that I was not asked to write about packing suggestions for incoming Volunteers by any committees or staff members in Peace Corps Ethiopia. I know there is an entire sea of blogs to navigate, many of which will offer packing suggestions of some sort, as well as information sent to you directly by Peace Corps. However, I have been keeping a running list of “the things I’m most thankful for having brought” and have shared all or some of that information with a couple PCVs-to-be, so I figured I’d go ahead and make it accessible by all. I’m sure it’s also at least somewhat insightful for the many friends and family who would frequently ask, “So, how do you pack for two years” in the months before my departure (to which I would often respond, “Well, it’s actually 27 months, so…”)

Another factoid to have in mind before perusing my suggestions is that, out of a group of 70 people, I far and away hauled the heaviest packing load, coming in right around 200 pounds. There are few things in that mass that I regret bringing, so narrowing it down to “the most essential” items was a bit of a challenge. On that note, also know that it was no big deal for me to exceed the PC-recommended luggage weight limit. I had to pay for the extra weight, and it was a bit of a hassle moving it around a few times during training, but it was worth it. So if you think you might be an overpacker (quite the other end of the spectrum from the “one baggers” in our midst), be prepared to pony up the fees.  

Finally, to give credit where credit is due, I found Mike Waidmann’s packing list to be the most helpful during my preparations. Mike completed his service in the Fall of 2012, and is now back in the magical land known as America. You’ll notice plenty of similarities between his list and the one you’re about to ignore. Thanks Mike!

06 March 2013

peace corps week: the week that wasn't

I had grand plans for Peace Corps Week. I was going to post here several times related to the various themes for the week to share with you all back home. Perhaps it’s apropos, in the ironic sense of how things seem to go in Peace Corps, that those plans all but crumbled. First, there was the issue of electricity and internet; the former was intermittent at best and the latter ran out at the beginning of the week. Then there was the issue of motivation, which was thoroughly bruised by some personal/emotional speedbumps and continued frustrations with my assigned school (not uncommon, but amplified by my personal state). In the end, I did not stick to my Peace Corps Week plan. But that’s OK. The themes will provide a springboard for future topics.

Equally apropos was how the frustrations and challenges of the week were all but wiped away with how the week came to a close. I showed up at the school on Friday with plans to observe one section of grade 8 English, but the teacher was nowhere to be found. I decided to improvise. Since Friday was officially “Peace Corps Day,” I figured I’d try and teach the kiddos a thing or two about the good ole Corps. I wasn’t really prepared, exactly, but I grabbed my Peace Corps handbook, a bag of colored chalk, a few pieces of printer paper, and headed toward the class with my “wing it” attitude.

25 February 2013

peace corps week: grow your peace corps family tree

Yesterday, February 24th, officially kicked off Peace Corps Week. Utilizing a different theme on each day of the week, the intention is to share specific aspects of what Peace Corps Volunteers do when they serve overseas. The week culminates on Peace Corps Day, March 1st, when President John F. Kennedy signed the executive order to officially establish the Peace Corps in 1961. Fifty-two years later, the agency continues to be "one of the greatest success stories in U.S. international development." While the main facilitators of Peace Corps Week tend to be Returned Volunteers hosting an event in their community, I figured I would take the opportunity to use the themes as guides for my writing. You can read more about Peace Corps Week on the official Peace Corps website, but you can also follow along with me this week as I touch on select themes and relate parts of my experience I might otherwise overlook.

02 February 2013

eight fourteen

             It was 8:14 somewhere. It did not matter where. Her watch was set to some American time zone and had not been adjusted for Daylight Savings since who knows when. But at 8:14 somewhere, they were laying in the hull of her aunt’s mustard narrow boat. They breathed the boat’s musty atmosphere in the dim of another gray morning.

25 January 2013

wanna have a catch?

Were it not for Peace Corps Ethiopia All Star, Anthony Navarrete, I would have completely forgotten about these videos I uploaded while eating Burger King and drinking Egyptian beer at Cairo International Airport. I was in a total travel daze at the time, scrambling to get these puppies uploaded before my final push back to Addis. That being said, it's no surprise that the vapors of memory absconded from whatever portion of my brain in which they were temporarily stored.

Without further adieu, I present to you two separate firsts for two separate pairs of Ethiopians. Video #1 is that of an Ethiopian couple having a catch with an American football for the first time in their lives. He's 95 and she's 80. Video #2 is that of two Ethiopian girls tossing a baseball for the first time in their lives. I don't know their exact ages, but they're definitely not 95 and 80.

18 January 2013

everything the light touches

"Everything you see exists together in a delicate balance. As king, you need to understand that balance and respect all the creatures from the crawling ant to the leaping antelope." -Mufasa
"But, dad, don't we eat the antelope?" -Simba
"When we die, our bodies become the grass, and the antelope eat the grass and so, we are all connected in the great circle of life" -Mufasa, The Lion King

The Lion King is hands-down my favorite Disney movie, so it's none too surprising that it was top-of-mind in the midst of a little "Circle of Life" moment yesterday afternoon. 

17 January 2013

in memoriam: getenesh tesfaye

Late this morning, the Peace Corps Ethiopia world was rippled with the news that a member of our family had passed away. Getenesh Tesfaye, recently promoted to Program Assistant in the Education sector, will be sorely missed. Prior to her promotion, Getenesh served as a Language and Culture Facilitator (LCF); in other words, a teacher for PCVs to-be while in training. It was in her capacity as an LCF that most Volunteers had the pleasure to know Getenesh. While I did not have the opportunity to interact extensively with Getenesh, she was one of the first people to teach me Amharic, back when Ethiopia was new and relatively overwhelming, and also served as one of the guides for my group when we toured Addis and perused the National Museum. Those interactions, and the handful I've been blessed with since, were more than enough to bestow upon me the same impression of Getenesh Tesfaye that was held of her program wide - that of a kind, caring, generous, gentle individual with a passion for helping Americans adapt to life in Ethiopia.

The last time I saw Getenesh in person was in early December, when I was at the Peace Corps headquarters in Addis for my first VAC meeting. I poked my head into the Ed. PA office for a brief chat with Getenesh and Zebib, another fantastic Program Assistant. Getenesh was all smiles, as she was every time we met, which is undoubtedly how I will remember her.

Even had I not been fortunate enough to spend even a small amount of time with Getenesh, I would still have a difficult time digesting the news. The fact is that, in Peace Corps, you really do develop a family mentality with everyone in the program. We all go out of our way to help one another, knowing that we are our best supports. Other Volunteers become brothers and sisters; staff become fathers, mothers, aunts and uncles. We have lost one of our own. And while the work of Getenesh Tesfaye will carry on, with the hope that is her father's name, through the many on which she was able to leave a lasting impact, the Land of 13 Months of Sunshine is a little less bright today.

Getenesh, far left, on our Guided Tour of Addis

That I, considering everywhere
Her secret meaning in her deeds,
And finding that of fifty seeds
She often brings but one to bear,
I falter where I firmly trod,
And falling with my weight of cares
Upon the great world's altar-stairs
That slope thro' darkness up to God,