13 December 2012

i can even make lame jokes in ethiopia

I recently fashioned a screen for my door and window out of an old mosquito net. My landlord and others on the compound were quite fascinated by my creation, offering compliments on its practical qualities. I proudly stated, “It will keep out the bugs, but not the sheep.”

The Amharic word for sheep is bug.

27 November 2012

kittens and spiders and baby sheep, oh my!

It’s been more than a month since I’ve had a chance to put something together for your reading pleasure. The previous post pretty much explains why – a 36 page research report and a two-week training conference effectively zap one’s ability to do anything else. I’ve been so busy that I didn’t even realize it’d been so long. I’m now back in Bekoji and preparing to start working on some of the activities put forth in my report. Since I’m still recovering from the calamity of the last month, traveling on public transport, and whatever was in the food at our training hotel, I’m going to keep this one pretty light. Here are some recent highlights of my life in Ethiopia, told mostly through pictures and a couple video clips.

25 October 2012

just a little update from ethiopia

As the countdown is on to the G7 (my Peace Corps group, the 7th in this wave of Ethiopia Volunteers) In-Service Training (IST) event (more parentheses to confuse you), I have been pretty busy gathering all of the elements to compile my Community Education Needs Assessment (CENA). The CENA is a 15-25 page document that will both display the work I have done so far in Bekoji, as well as lay the foundation for an Action Plan, to be developed at IST, that will guide my work for the coming nine months. Today was a milestone day as I finally started putting some of the puzzle pieces together to get a clear sense of what my CENA might look like. It’s been a while since I’ve written any sort of research paper, so even getting the started on actually writing the document is a big step. On top of all that, I just finished writing the second of two requested pieces of writing. The first was an “alumni” article for Solutions for Progress, where I worked before joining Peace Corps. The second was an article about Bekoji for The Herald, a quarterly publication aimed at returned Peace Corps Volunteers from the Ethiopia/Eritrea region. Keep an eye on the December 1st issue for my handiwork. Expect an announcement right up on this here blog once it goes to print.

This is all to say I’ve been a bit too busy to keep the eight or nine people who check here regularly updated on life in Ethiopia. But since I just finished the article, and officially got started on my CENA, I figured I’d take a little break and hit up some highlights, told mostly through pictures. Enjoy.

12 October 2012

so a ferenji walks into a bar…

If only I knew how to translate the punchline, I’d be more than happy to share the rest of the joke. This was essentially how the final hours of my Friday started off. I expected to be writing about how I taught real* Ethiopian students for the first time today, introducing baseball equipment, Scrabble, skiing, hide-and-seek, and key phrases such as “Go Phillies!” to four separate classes of 8th grade students (if you’re following closely, that’s roughly 200 new Phillies fans Phans). While that’s certainly nothing to snuff, there will be plenty of teaching experiences to come, but what followed is a bit more unique.

09 October 2012

the landscaping crew, hard at work

One of the nice things about life in Ethiopia is that you don't need to hire a landscaping crew, or even purchase a lawnmower. Just let your livestock take care of the work.

Pictured here are the sheep, calf, and mama cow that live on my compound. The previous PCV who lived in Bekoji, a Health Volunteer named Jen, called the big cow "Tractor" for how much vegetation she mowed down. That beast sure does some serious nom-nomming.

This crew as a whole is a primary source of daily entertainment for yours truly.

08 October 2012

excuse me while i clean up my slobber



Many endless thanks to my good buddy, Steve DeTurk, for this incredible care package. Nothing like a box full of goodies from DeTurkey. He even slipped in a little bit-o grandpa's medicine. Bravo, my friend.

If you wanna be cool like Steve, and be featured on the preeminent blog about a Peace Corps Volunteer in Bekoji, here's how: http://hewhoknowspatience.blogspot.com/2012/09/handle-with-care-updated-shipping.html

02 October 2012

we don't need no water, let the meskal fire burn

The timing of our group’s swearing-in ceremony could not have been timed better. Rainy season is tapering off, kids are excited to be getting back to school, and it’s holiday season in Ethiopia. The latest celebration was that of Meskal, which marks the “finding of the true cross.” According to our handy-dandy, Peace Corps-produced Cross Culture Workbook, when no one would show [Empress Helen] the holy tomb, [she] lit incense and prayed for help. The smoke drifted and beneath it she dug to find three roses, one of which was the True Cross of Jesus,” part of which resides in a church north of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The holiday is only recognized by the Orthodox Christian denomination, which is one of the major religious divisions in Ethiopia.

How is it celebrated? With fire, of course. Lots of fire. And bright costumes. And drums. And chanting. And lots of meat washed down with glass after glass of t’ella.

01 October 2012

it just keeps getting better

Victories as a Peace Corps Volunteer tend to come in small doses, often in the form of what might otherwise fall under the mundane outside of this context. Current volunteers imparted this wisdom while our group was still in training, with examples such as, “They put us up in hotel X instead of hotel Y and my day was made.” I have very quickly found this to be true. Last week, I wrote about three small interactions that totally made my day. So when a series of events comes along that leaves a PCV absolutely dazed with awesomeness, he has no choice but to write about it.

21 September 2012

three awesome things that just happened

I'll talk about it more at some point, but sometimes it's really hard to get over the anxiety that keeps me from leaving my compound and going out into the wild world of Ethiopia. At other times, it's downright impossible. But just about every time, something happens that forces me into a "what the hell was I so worried about" moment.

Today, I kept putting off going out into town for a document printing mission. It's a much taller task than you can possibly imagine. I finally pulled my boots on and went at it toward the later part of the day.

Immediately upon exiting my compound, the group of kids that always runs up to shake my hand or lay down a fist bump, double in size of the normal crew, ran straight at me, excited as could be. I gave an "exploding fist bump" to each, and each resulted in an explosion of kiddy laughter. When I turned the corner, I could hear them all fist bumping each other, pairing it with the "Ptschhh" explosion sound I introduced. Everyone in sight lit up with smiles and laughter.

One dusty block later, I turned downhill to head toward the market area. There were plenty of "selam noew" greetings, but the real kicker was the shoutout I got from a gari driver. A gari is essentially a two-wheeled, horse-drawn cart that totes people and lots of stuff around town, a very common method in the more rural areas and smaller towns of Ethiopia. The driver, who I recognize from nowhere, shouted out, "Hey Mr. Joe! Where you go!?"

With my day already made twice, I returned from a small but mostly successful trek, sans printed documents (see, I told you it was a lot harder than you might think), to be called over by one of the local "kiosk suk" operators. He was talking with two of his friends and wanted me to join the conversation. I didn't quite feel like it, but seeing as I was in such a good mood, I couldn't say no. I came over to appease, and he gave me a free pack of "Hip Hop" chocolate wafer cookies.

Sometimes being here is too awesome for its own good.

12 September 2012

first day of school

All of the usual suspects were in attendance. Nervousness. Excitement. Uncertainty. Anticipation. Curiosity. I gathered all of my books, gathered my pens, prepared a thermos full of coffee, and donned my best sweater-and-button-down combo for the occasion. I stepped out the steel door of my 10’ x 10’ home and walked down the long pathway toward the aluminum gate to my compound. The +/- 0.5 mile walk through an intensifying downpour was chock full of a bouquet of the noted emotions. It’s been quite a while since I went about my “first day” in a new profession, and even longer since my last “first day of school.”

11 September 2012

happy new year! melkam addis amet!

You’ve probably heard of Chinese New Year. You may even know that Rosh Hashanah marks the passing of another year on the Jewish calendar. And seeing as we’re nearing our apocalyptic end in 2012, you’re likely well aware that the Mayans publish a different calendar every year featuring their hunkiest of tribesman. But did you know that Ethiopia follows an entirely different calendar than the rest of the world? It was news to me, too, and that’s just where the fun begins.

10 September 2012

handle with care

I originally drew up this post as a guide for friends and family interested in sending care packages my way. It seems to get a good bit of traffic, which makes me think folks are looking to it as a resource, so I've tailored it a bit so that it can act as more of a general guide. While some of my advice may seem over the top, I can attest that I had few problems with care packages making it my way.

30 August 2012

the road to bekoji

It has been said that  all roads in Africa lead to Addis Ababa. Ethiopia’s capitol is a large, bustling metropolis in the heart of the Horn that houses the African Union, situating the “New Flower” as a focal point of continental and global politics. Metaphors aside, a quick map study of Ethiopia will show that to be in Addis is to be at a crossroads for the entire nation. After some artful dodging of “blue donkeys,” and actual donkeys, one might end up on a road that leads due south toward the Arsi Zone of Ethiopia’s largest region, Oromia. Within minutes of crossing city limits, travelers along the road are treated to a vast, scenic landscape marked by sky-scraping mountains and sprawling planes in all directions. Livestock and wild animals, such as cattle (lam), sheep (bug), goats (fiyal), horses (ferres), packs of camels (not the ones you smoke), monkeys (zinjero), and feral dogs (wusha) gnawing on the remains of such creatures are as common as people walking or hawking their wares along the dirt shoulder. Dust funnels are not unheard of, and grass & mud huts (gojjos), dot the horizon.

Two hours on a cramped mini-bus later, if you’re lucky enough to escape Addis without significant traffic congestion, you come upon the binomial gateway to Arsi known dually as Nazaret and Adama, marked by a large, ovular archway you pass atop a hill before descending into this surprisingly Western-ish city. The warm Rift Valley temps, palm trees, abundance of tropical fruit, and flip-flops galore could fool you into thinking you’ve stumbled upon West Palm Beach (...sort of...?) rather than some spot in Sub-Saharan Africa, especially if you take in an American style poolside lunch at the Safari Lodge. 

Life as a PCV is tough, I swear.

26 June 2012

catching my breath

Today is Saturday. It’s the third Saturday I’ve spent in Ethiopia. It could just as easily be my 103rd. I am sitting in my 6’ x 6’ room inside my host family’s house in Sagure. The sun is shining through my westward facing window. We just took our first in a series of weekly Amharic assessments. Two of my four host brothers, Yosef and Anteneh, are standing at the door of my room playing with the simple handheld arcade I brought along while I listen to Foster the People and take the first real opportunity I’ve had since leaving Addis to simply sit and reflect.

My daily routine for the next two months will consist primarily of two variations. On language and cultural training days, I exit the rear of the family compound, walk down a red dirt road, past roaming goats, dogs, cattle, donkeys, and horses, to another nearby compound. I enter through a branch-and-aluminum gate and join two other Peace Corps Trainees (PCTs) and a Language & Cultural Facilitator (LCF) for a day of Amharic lessons. We take our lessons on a porch, amidst sunshine, cool breezes, and a livestock soundtrack. We break for “Shai-Buna” around 10 A.M. and again around 3:00 PM, and join the seven other Sagure PCTs at a nearby café to enjoy tea, coffee, and conversation. The breaks aid in digesting the rigorous study sessions while simultaneously sprinkling in an important element of the Habesha way. We return to Amharic before lunch, during which we soak up Ethiopian food, culture, and tradition with our families. I have already been greeted with two variations of the coffee ceremony, one of which included visits from my host grandmother, aunt, uncle, cousins, dog, cat, and cow. We go at it for another round of glottal I’s and explosive T’s before another Shai-Buna around 3:00, and close the day off with informative and entertaining cross-cultural sessions before returning to our families for the evening.  

12 June 2012

we all see the same moon

Today marks one week since we set sail from Dulles in search of Ethiopia. We have since been on a Peace Corps crash course of the Ethiopian way. Many agree that our time spent here feels more like a month than it does a week; every day has felt more like three full days than one 24 hour cycle. In one of my first journal entries, I wrote that I felt like a newborn baby, cast about a world I barely understand, surrounded by people speaking in tongues that relay no meaning to my ears. As true as that statement was at the time, babies who will soon have to play a part in teaching English to Ethiopians must attain understanding about their surroundings at a substantially rapid pace.

In just one week’s time, I can tell you more about Ethiopia than I can about most cities in the United States. I have picked up some basic Amharic; enough so that my face doesn’t twist with confusion when the King’s Hotel staff offers a “Dehnah deh?” when our paths cross each morning. I helped teach a minimum of 30 Tygrinian children how to say “baseball” and thusly throw said sphere. I have learned that John Cena is beyond popular among Ethiopian boys (I learned this in Tigray, but apparently it’s true everywhere). I’ve figured out how to deflect barrages of “frenji!” from the many small children who own the streets of Wukro. I’ve even taken quickly to use of the shint bet, wherein I’ve realized my hidden talent of impeccable aim when directing my own waste toward a hole the size of a coffee can.

02 May 2012

pack your bags

After four months of eye twitching, likely related to unprecedented stress and drinking lots of coffee to acclimate myself to life in Ethiopia, I can finally take a deep breath of some relief. It's all official. By way of the Peace Corps desk in Ethiopia I have received final confirmation of my departure details. While there have been many points along the way where I've said this, never has the actualization of my Peace Corps dream felt so real. My final weeks stateside until 2014 have arrived. It's time to start packing my bags.

22 February 2012

what i really do

A friend sent this to me. A glimpse into my future, perhaps?

13 February 2012

wish you a good journey

If you've been paying close attention to the social networks, the cat has been creeping out of the bag for months now. But even if you are one to Tweet or update a Facebook status with feverish regularity, we've got some catching up to do. Without further adieu...

At last update, I thought that I would be going to Central or South America for an assignment starting some time around, well, now. A little more than two weeks after lamenting my goodbye to baseball, I received a call from a strange number on a Thursday while sitting at my desk (editing content, naturally). Seeing as it's my personal policy not to answer calls from strange numbers, I identified the occurrence as automated telemarketing and moved on. That is until I listened to the message that shortly followed, the content of which confirmed the other part of my personal policy; if it's important enough, they'll leave one.