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.

A seasoned oracle might have seen it coming before I even exited the front gate of my compound, at which point I caught a slight glimpse of what was about to take my breath away. A steady downpour throughout the night set the stage for a brilliant scene as the sun made its way above Galema Mountain. Getting out the door before 6 a.m. to hit up the forest for a run definitely has its side benefits. It’s a bit earlier than I’ve been going there since I arrived, but I need to get into an earlier pattern with school coming into full swing. When I arrived, I was not met by the usual, “Hey, come run with me” invitations. As much as I love running with different groups, it’s nice to go solo, especially when you work your way toward a field where that incredible sunrise has cast a sharp, defining light on the various peaks surrounding Bekoji, which are typically shrouded in cloud.

I followed the run with a call to my counterpart to let her know I would be at the school in the afternoon and sat down for an oatmeal breakfast, accompanied by a self-roasted, self-brewed cup of coffee, as I manhandled the computer in a game of chess and drafted some long overdue email responses. Before setting out on a full list of tasks, I was greeted by two separate visitors. First, the incredible home stay coordinator in Bekoji stopped by to let me know about a program at the Wabe Hotel this Sunday to greet the new group of trainees that will be in town. Sweet. Then, the girl who helps operate the tea-and-fried-dough shop in the front of the compound, who speaks zero English, knocked on my door and motioned for me to follow her. Upon entering the shop, I was greeted by the first non-Peace Corps American I’ve seen since arriving in Ethiopia. His name is Jamie and he’ll be in Bekoji for about a month through the visiting runner program facilitated by Running Across Borders. Also sweet. As we munched on “biscuit” and sipped our shai, I noticed a large vehicle approaching that was undoubtedly of Peace Corps distinction. It’s always good to see those friendly faces, as they were the backbone to our PST experience.

Off to the bank. No crowd to fight with. In itself, a win. Then down to make copies. No power outage. No broken copier. Yet another win. As I strolled back through the center of town, I noticed lots of kids clad in green fabric, the official uniform color of my hub school, Tigil Fire (pronounced “free”). One by one, groups of three and four came right up to me, smiling, offering their hands, saying, “Teacher, teacher! Joseph? Teacher! Hi. Yes. Hi. How are you?” Looks like the time Emebet and I spent going around to each of the 5th-8th grade classes last week is paying nice dividends.

As if the smile on my face wasn’t big enough…just as I was about to round the corner to my compound, a teeny, tiny little girl ran up from behind me, clung to my hand, and kissed it. Swoon.

A light lunch of banana and peanut butter and it was off to the school. When I got there, I couldn’t find my counterpart, so I just kind of poked around and mingled with a few different teachers, one of whom offered to take me around and introduce me to the 2nd grade classes. Considering the result of the last round of intros, I was all in. Afterward, my counterpart was tied up with some administrative matters, so it became clear that the tasks I came prepared to tackle were not getting checked off the list today. So I again poked around, this time talking to random students. One handed me his 8th grade English book, so I opened it and started reading aloud a dialogue about Keninisa Bekele. A modest crowd gathered around for what turned into an impromptu English lesson. We read the dialogue together, analyzed the meaning of various phrases, and acted out the more abstract points. From an apparent waste of a visit to a surprise teachable moment, I moved on to a conversation with the physical education teacher about baseball. Score, score, and score.

Foolishly thinking I had reached my quota of “OMG YES PLZ” for the day, I walked right into my second hand kiss of the day. This one came from the lips of an old man who greeted me with a shake, kept my hand in firm grasp as he told me about how much he loves Ronald Reagan and Abraham Lincoln, and then planted a firm smooch on the back of my hand. I was so blown away that I didn’t even hesitated when he offered his hand for reciprocation.

So that’s it right? It can’t get any better than that, can it? Why yes, it can!

Within one block of my home, a woman stopped me on the road for a shoulder bump as she exclaimed, “Johnny!?” In Ethiopia, I go by many names. John (especially Cena) happens to be one of them, so I went right along. Turns out it was Tigist, the host mother of friends and fellow G7 Volunteers, Jessi and Scott. I happened upon her cuter-than-a-teddy-bear daughter the other day, though I did not know it at the time, who greeted me with, “Jessi friend?” I was so blown away by her cuteness that I had to share it with Jessi and Scott. It made their day as much as it did mine.

Tigist was very excited to meet me, so I ended up walking with her back to her beautiful home where I was met with a cold beer, fresh injera, and news that she can hook up pizza. OMMFG. We sat and chatted for a while, which was rather refreshing since her English is incredibly strong compared to what I usually encounter in Bekoji. Just as I finished up my delicious surprise, the daughter I’d met the other day, Genet, bobbled into the door from a day of grade 4 learning. Her face light up, she sprung toward me, embraced me in the biggest little kid hug I’ve ever, and nestled up against me on the couch like a little puppy dog. I taught her how to say, “The Eiffel Tower is in Paris, France,” showed her the spot on the map, and got school in Rock, Paper, Scissors and arm wrestling. A Genet-guided tour of the Host Family Photo Album and my surprise diversion was a wrap. I seriously want to steal this kid. Cutest ever.

There’s no topping that last one, but the day’s end wasn’t about to stand down from the competition that preceded it. Upon returning to my compound, my host brother Fawod was awaiting my return to head over to the carpenter to check on the status of my furniture. Looks like it’s going to be ready about a week early. The walk to and from the carpenter was highlighted by a 360° array of sunset colors, bumping into Jamie on the road as he returned from his second run of the day, and making an appointment in Amharic with one of the forest regulars for some strides tomorrow morning.

And now I sit in my home watching my favorite movie of all time, Field of Dreams.

What a day. 


  1. Awesome read dude! Glad to hear that you're enjoying Bekoji. Tell Tigist and the fam that we say hi and hope to see them soon!

    1. Will do, hopefully over pizza! She absolutely adores you two. She told me she was depressed for "at least 15 days" after you guys left. It really impressed her how you guys just dove right in and got comfortable right away. Hope you can manage a visit at some point. Bekoji would love to have ya! Hope all is well in Mekelle.

  2. Absolutely awesome! A day full of so many sweet littles adds up to one superly, supremely awesome day! Funny, I was just thinking about Monday nights, and how the television was overtaken by wrestling. Your comment obout John Cena truly made me laugh out loud.
    You are building it, my son......and they are coming! The kids, the old men, the motherly figures, the beer , the pizza. Just keep being you, and they'll keep coming.

    1. The love for John Cena here is mind-blowing. I don't get it as much in Bekoji, but in Sagure I was known by that name more than my own. I can't wait to visit and feel like a wrestling superstar.