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 fiancé, a welcome inevitability in the quest to help each other maintain sanity throughout our separation. We were all, ostensibly, doing what we could. 

IF this story were to have an ending, it would still be a mystery. I do know that Zack, Michael, and I end up in different parts of the country and rarely see each other, but that’s life in Peace Corps. Friendships can seem fluid, fleeting, and a general matter of proximity. To an extent, that may be true. But there’s more to it than that. A lot more. There’s no way for me to tell you what that “more” actually is. Join Peace Corps or visit a PCV for a couple weeks and it won’t take long to figure out.

A year is a long time. There’s no getting around that. Babies are born. Teams win championships. Friends get married. People die. Friends and family get sick. Things you hope not to experience in Peace Corps happen in Peace Corps.

But the list of things you hope do happen while your in Peace Corps always seems to outnumber the other.

Summit breathtaking peaks. Observe wild animals, from dry land grazers to exotic Rift Valley dwellers, that you’ve only ever previously seen in zoos. Techawet. Soak in mindblowing sunsets. Impress locals with your “language skills.” Actually learn some cool phrases in the local language. Techawet. Meet people from all over the world. Try amazing foods you would have never encountered otherwise. Receive amazing care packages from friends and family. Not die. Host friends and family who are silly enough to come see you in Ethiopia. Write letters. Receive letters. Teach some English. Teach some baseball. Techawet. Watch a local girl win Olympic gold. Min a min a min.

So where am I going with all this? Nowhere fast. If you’d like to stick around, I’d be pleased to entertain. Up first, fourteen memorable moments to mark 14 days until one year in Ethiopia:

14. Sugar cane – He casually interrupted a conversation between Schickling and I. The sun had just begun to set over the Rift Valley as our minibus climbed south out of Adama. Annoyed at first, I let my “walls” come down for a moment only to be taken by his sense of peace with the landscape, evident the moment he pushed a thin curtain aside. “Sugar cane,” he uttered, before proceeding to tell me about the large-scale agricultural project taking place in the area. And then he was gone. Well, sort of. He hopped off in Eteya, without notice, and we never saw him again. Shickling dubbed him, fittingly, the “Keyser Söze” of Ethiopia.

13. Three days in Sagure (and the death of Meles) – Unlike the majority of PCVs in G7, I only had a short ride down the road to get from my training town to my “home for two years” town. I had a nice relationship with my host family, which made it pretty easy to request leaving most of my 200 lbs. in Sagure and pick them up on my way back down from Addis. Of course, this meant spending a little extra time with them. For a holiday. With bon fires and whips. Yes please! Ho-ya-ho-yay and all. After holding tight for a couple days until Peace Corps came through to start breaking down camp, I finally made my way to Bekoji. My arrival happened to coincide with the announcement of the death of Ethiopian Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi. 

Gathering bonfire stuffs

12. First run in Ethiopia – After several sessions warning us of our safety during our Ethiopian infancy, I finally decided I’d had enough and got up for a run – 1/10th of a mile laps around the gated & guarded perimeter of the King’s Hotel. Of course, I had a startled cat scare me half to death, considering our rabies vaccines had yet to run their full course.

11. Super Bowl – There’s truly nothing like staying up all night with your friends, sharing a “few” drinks, and watching the most American sporting event there is. I highly recommend it.

10. Phillies Openers – Speaking of odd hours for the purpose of sport, I am lucky enough to have internet strong enough to sustain a baseball radio broadcast (and a sugar mama named Janet Schickling), so I woke up at 2 A.M. and got my Opening Day on. It was pretty clutch (aside from the Phils totally stinkin' up the joint).

2 A.M. baseball wakeup call (ouch)

9. Boston Marathon – Where do I even start? This would have made this list, and probably been a bit higher, had it not been for the horror that unfolded. There’s a part of the 2013 Boston Marathon that none of us will ever forget. The part I hope to remember most, however, was the moment Lelisa Desisa won it all for Ethiopia. I wrote a little reflection on that whole experience over on my “running” blog: http://regularjoerunning.com/post/48114944295/117

8. Peace Corps Day – March 1, 2013 marked 52 years since President John F. Kennedy signed the executive order that gave Peace Corps its legs. It also marked the first day I taught a lesson with little-to-no preparation. I “winged it,” so to speak (though not to be confused with “West Wingin’ it”; thank you, Mark Robinson). This no doubt set the stage for the Tigil Fire Students’ English Club, which has by far been my biggest measurable success to date. Here's my blog post about it: http://hewhoknowspatience.blogspot.com/2013/03/peace-corps-week-week-that-wasnt.html

7. First Run in Bekoji – A very different setting than my first run in Ethiopia, but no less intimidating. On my second full morning in Bekoji, I showed up at “the forest,” on invitation of Malcolm and Biruk, and slogged through the mud and Eucalyptus roots for a good 15 minutes before feeling like I was about to collapse under 9,300 feet of less oxygen.While not about my first run, specifically, here's a bit I wrote for The Herald about my experience in Bekoji as it relates to running and the running culture here: http://eandeherald.com/2012/12/14/pcvs-in-ethiopia-7/

6. Baseball with Daniel – In case you haven’t noticed, I love baseball. Ethiopians love baseball, too, but most of them don’t know it yet. My first step in “showing the way” has been to “teach” the game to one of my closest Ethiopian friends, with the  end goal of having him help me “train trainers.” I’ve never taught anyone baseball from square 1 before, so I did it the only way I thought made sense – with the Phillies’ 2008 Championship run. It’s amazing how much of the game you don’t realize when you grow up watching it. 

Wait. So how many players are on the field?

Taking notes

5. Stars with Schickling – In case you haven’t heard of Laura Schickling before (hint: she was mentioned in number 16), here’s her awesome blog: http://9000milesfromnormal.blogspot.com/

We live a mere 54 kilometers from each other, share a birthday, and both have a significant other to whom we are deeply committed back home. Naturally, we’re friends. We went to a party at the house of a German doctor one night, way on the outskirts of Asella. We were both drawn to a dark patch of grass in the back yard, beyond the fire pit, where we reclined to find the most amazing celestial scene to which I have ever borne witness. At one point, a comet dashed across the entire span of the eastern sky, slashing a beam through the night sky that didn’t fade for at least seven seconds.

4. Summiting Gelama – To date, the highest I’ve ever stood on this planet: 11,400 feet above the sea. Paltry by some standards, I know, but for me it was a big deal, and one I hope is only a stepping stone to higher places. 

On top of the world, yo

3. Swearing In – None of this would have been possible had I not actually gone through with becoming a Volunteer.

We did it!

2. Ethiopia gets Robinson’d – Nothing says friendship like visiting a Peace Corps Volunteer in country, especially when it means living life by the same means for the better part of two weeks. Mark came through on a long-sworn promise to visit me during service. The bar hath been set, people.

The picture Schlickling and I never took

1. Dad – I mean, come on. It’s my dad. He was my first visitor in Ethiopia. Hard to top that.

Dad, fishing in Lake Hawassa

1 comment:

  1. wow, I can't believe its been a year! Looks like a memorable one!