Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Site Announcement: DURAME

Everyone was very antsy for site placement day. We all talked about where we could possibly be placed according to what language we were learning and any small comments we got from Peace Corps staff. I was told, “You're site is very, very good. I think you're really going to like your site.” Even with this vague statement, I speculated. It was all we could talk about the whole week leading up to that fateful Saturday.

The day began with a couple hours of our LCFs (Language and Culture Facilitators aka our language teachers) showing us how to dance traditional Ethiopian dances. We also had snacks and shay/bunna (tea and coffee) which is always nice, no matter how nervous you are about being told where you'll be living for the next two years.

When it finally got started Greg, our Country Director, gave a speech. I can't remember what he said but it was something like don't be upset with your site before you get to know it well.

Our Education Program Director, Dan O., then began telling us our sites. He went region by region starting at the south of the country and moving up: SNNPR (aka Southern Nations), Oromia, Amhara, and finally Tigray. Since we are learning Amharic, we knew we'd either be in Southern Nations or Amhara.

Turns out, we're in Southern Nations! I was so shocked when we were called because it was so early in the process, but so excited to be in Southern Nations. Fresh fruits and veggies year round, mostly warm weather, and lush, green landscapes are much appreciated!!

After we all found out our sites, we went home for lunch to tell our host families and pick up our luggage. First, we spent a couple days in Addis meeting our Community Liasons, enjoying fancy Addis food, and enjoying hot showers. Finally, we all set off on buses and planes all over the country to see where we will be living for the next two years.

Our town is called Durame and it is wonderful. It's pretty small but not too small, with about 30,000 people. There are two high schools, one for each of us to work with, one post office next to the one small bus station, and many, many kind welcoming people. As we walked around town with our community liasons, Daniel and Abera, we were constantly meeting new people who would shake our hands and smile, welcoming us to their town.

The town sits at the base of a great mountain that you can see from nearly everywhere in town. I can't wait to hike up to the top and take in the view!

our street, our compound is the one on the right
At our site visit we had to do some basic things like see our future house, set up a bank account, get a PO Box, see our schools and meet the staff, meet the mayor, meet the regional education head, meet the police chief, and find out where the hospital is located. It was a lot of walking but not too bad since our town is pretty small and our house is centrally located.

The visit has gotten me very excited to be done with PST (Pre-Service Training) and move on to actually being a Peace Corps Volunteer. So many people showed eagerness to work with us on projects at both high schools and even the primary school. I can't wait to move to Durame!!!

Sunday, August 31, 2014

A Brief Escape to Lake Langano

About midway through our Pre-Service Training (PST), Peace Corps took us out to Lake Langano for a day of swimming, picnicking, and fun. The US embassy owns a little slice of shore on the lake and they kindly let us use their facilities. They even had some kayaks/canoes we could play with. It was a nice place to relax and hang out on a Sunday afternoon.

Lake Langano is brown, which is precisely why we can swim in it. See, there's this awful disease that somehow incorporates urine and snails to be created. I think it's called schistosomiasis. Anyway, because the lake is brown, the snails can't live in the water and therefore there is no disease! Yay! Apparently, it's the only lake in Ethiopia that's completely safe to swim in and it's only a couple hours away from our training site, Butajira.

There was music, volleyball, t'ej (locally made honey wine) drinking games, water activities, and Spencer and I brought our slackline. It was a great day!

Thank you to Peace Corps for organizing the trip and thank you to the embassy for letting us use their beautiful space!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Making Coffee, Ethiopian Style

Coffee is a big part of Ethiopian culture. It is a way for people to get together and share a drink and usually a snack like popcorn, bread, or roasted nuts and barley while chatting about life, gossip, or TV dramas. Coffee is most popular on the weekends, when people have time to have a leisurely cup (or three) with family and friends. Some families drink coffee every night after dinner but our family drinks it every day after lunch.

Last Sunday, we had the chance to help our family prepare the coffee beans. Our host mom, Etagu, doesn't want us to work hard at home so when I first asked her if I could help make the coffee, she said a flat out “no”. It wasn't a mean thing, she wanted me to relax! But I just stuck around and helped and she didn't shoo me away.

The first thing you do is wash the raw beans. I didn't see that part, so I don't have any pictures of it, but what you do is put the beans in a small amount of water and rub the beans in your hands. You do this as many times as it takes for the water to not become dirty, usually two to three times.

Next, you roast the beans. We roasted them on a metal disc on an electric stove stop. Jemilla did most of the work, but Spencer and I helped. You have to constantly be moving the beans around so they don't burn. While we roasted, Jemilla taught us some Amharic words and asked us if there are electric stove tops in America.

roasting the beans on the electric stovetop
When they are mostly all roasted, you take them off the heat and pick out the lightest beans. They didn't get roasted all the way, and so they won't taste good. We took them out and our host mom said they will roast them again later.

After we picked out all the unroasted beans, Jemilla put them in a hollowed out piece of wood to pound them into grounds. Again, Jemilla did most of the work. She is stong for a girl of 14! Spencer and I helped as much as Jemilla would allow us. After it was all smashed up, we put in in a plastic container and we were done preparing the beans for the week!

When you actually make the coffee, first you put water in the coffee pot (jebena jay-ben-uh in Amharic) and heat is up until the water boils. Then you add the coffee grounds into the pot, let it brew, and then pour it. Etagu hasn't let me make the coffee yet, so I that's all I know for now. Hopefully, I'll be able to do everything start o finish one day.

me and my host mom, Etagu 
The traditional coffee ceremony involves all these steps, plus burning incense (usually frankincense) and making popcorn (fundish in Amharic). Also, the coffee grounds in the pot are used three times with each pot becoming weaker. The first one is the strongest and so guests and elders generally get first dibs on it. The second or third pot could be given to younger adults or children. Or everyone could get a cup from each of the three rounds; it just depends on where you are and who's around.

What Do You Do in Pre-Service Training?

We've been in pre-service training (PST) for almost six weeks now but what does that really mean? You might be wondering, what do you really do in pre-service training?? The answer is: A LOT.

PST is a lot of work, with trainings six days a week filled with language class, TEFL training, lesson planning, language application, practicum teaching, Peace Corps trainings about safety/security and medical, and spending time with our host family, sometimes learning as much from them as from our more structured trainings. Monday to Friday, we start at 8am and end at around 5:30pm. Saturdays, we start at 8am and go until about 12:30pm.

Right now, we just finished (today!) our four weeks of practicum, which is Peace Corps' way of saying we are practicing actually teaching. We are education volunteers and our job will be to directly teach 2-3 classes of high school English. That means we will be the only teacher in the room with 40-60 high school students, teaching from the state mandated English textbooks.

Now that practicum is over, we will be more focused on language training, safety/security, medical, and will have lectures devoted to specific aspects of teaching, such as teaching grammar, clubs and how to run them, how to assess students' levels, etc.

During practicum, our whole day was mostly comprised of planning to teach, actually teaching, and talking as a group about how teaching went. Our practicum schedule was like this:

8:00 – 10:00am: Language training in small groups. Right now, my class has five students and Spencer's class has just two, him and one other student.

10:30am – 12:30pm: Lesson planning as a group. We were using the Ethiopian textbooks and modified the lessons to be more student centered and active. We had to write detailed 4MAT lesson plans and write SMART objectives about what the students will be able to do after the lesson. We planned, made teaching aids, and got help from current Peace Corps education volunteers and other trainees.

12:30 – 1:45pm: Lunch and buna (coffee) with our host family. We were lucky before and our host family lived really close to both the school we planned our lessons at and the school where we taught. Last week we changed schools (to get experience teaching different grades) and for the last two weeks of practicum we took a packed lunch with us. Our host mom made it for us. She's awesome.

2:00 – 3:45pm: This time was broken into two class periods. We taught one and watched/evaluated another trainee during the other. It was a struggle for them to get students to fill all our classrooms because there are so many trainees, it's summer and so students are off visiting their grandparents or working summer jobs, and it's the rainy season. The most I had at our previous school was 8 students. For the past two weeks, I had about 17 students a day. It's not the 40-60 we'll experience in the future, but it's better than 8!

4:00 – 5:30pm: Debrief. This is the time to get feedback from those who watched/evaluated our class. We also discussed how things went in our classes as a group. We talked about what worked and didn't work, anything we were struggling with, and any other comments we had about students, the lesson, or anythings else. This usually didn't last until 5:30, which was nice! :)

Practicum was a lot of work and I not the only trainee to say, “I'm so happy it's over!” However, it was good experience to teach Ethiopian students and get to the know the textbooks we will be teaching at site. Also, it was nice to see what was working for other teachers and to share good activities and ways to teach different topics. Overall, I'm glad we did practicum.  

Butajira Junior Primary School

For the past two weeks we were working at Butajira Primary School for practicum. It's a cute school on top of a hill with brightly colored classrooms and monkeys roaming the place. Even though it's far from our house, I'm glad we get to teach here because it's just so pretty!

Take a look.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Our Compound in Butajira

Hello from Butajira, Ethiopia! :) We've been in Ethiopia for 25 days, 10 in Addis Ababa and 15 in Butajira living with our host family. We'll be with our host family for the rest of pre-service training (until September 16th). At the end of pre-service training, we will swear in as official Peace Corps volunteers at the US embassy in Addis and will move to what Peace Corps calls our “site” and what we'll call home for the following two years.

a front gate in Butajira
Until then, we are living with Etagu and Tadesse, our host mom and dad, and Jemilla, our host cousin/sister/relative. Etagu and Tadesse have six children but they are all grown up except for one, Kalkadan, who has been visiting her grandmother so we haven't met her yet. I think she'll come home next week.

We live in a compound with one main house (where we live with those mentioned above) and some smaller houses that they rent out. Our neighbors in the compound are all very nice and let us practice our child-like Amharic with them. We chat, drink coffee together, and last Sunday we all watched a soccer game together on TV.

Our host family and neighbors are all so nice and welcoming. I feel at home and included in our house and compound. I was nervous about the homestay before we arrived in Butajira, but now I wouldn't trade it for anything. Ethiopian hospitality is really amazing. It's so beneficial to learn about Ethiopian culture by experiencing it every day with a family. They answer our questions, teach us proper manners, and feed us so well! I'm so grateful for them.

Here are some pictures of our compound and our room. In the compound we have a mango tree, avocado tree, false banana (I still don't really know what that means), and various other plants and trees. In our room, we have a bed, a small table, and chairs. Our stuff is everywhere in our room but it's organized chaos.

the gate to our compound
the view when you first walk in the compound
our front porch 
the back, shower room and latrine are to the right, house it to the left
our room
Jemilla stirring the doro wat (chicken stew). They use charcoal to cook. 

Just to let you know, it seems like I'll only make it to the internet about once a week during pre-service training so I'll try to upload a blog post every week. I'll be going on Saturday or Sunday afternoons depending on weather, host family obligations, and whether or not the internet works.  

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Addis Ababa and a Homestay in Butajira

Here we are, in Peace Corps training in Ethiopia! The first 10 days were spent at a King's Hotel in the capital, Addis Ababa. We had trainings every day we were there, including Saturday. On Sunday, we had a mandatory visit to a museum and a market for half the day and then had the rest of the day off. One half day off in 10 days. Welcome to pre-service training! :) “We own you,” our smiling country director said on our first day in country. Never were truer words spoken.

During our time in Addis, we learned about Peace Corps policies, basic TEFL (teaching English as a foreign language) strategies, the things that are going to make us sick and how to prevent that from happening, basic training in the main local language (Amharic), and safety and security. We did a lot of group work, listened to a lot of lectures with power point presentations and were given a break every couple of hours for shy-buna (tea/coffee break) or lunch. We also got a bunch of vaccinations and started taking malaria medication.

training room at King's Hotel
We didn't have a lot of free time in Addis, but we did get to go out for dinner on our own most days and had our guided sight seeing day on Sunday. At the museum we went to on Sunday, we got to see Lucy's bones from over three million years ago, as well as some local art and cultural clothing and tools.

The hotel was nice and I loved having a hot shower every night but we're learning so much more about Ethiopia by actually living with an Ethiopia family in our home stay. We moved in with our host family a week ago today in Butajira (3 hours south of Addis Ababa). I was a bit worried about living with strangers but already, just a week in, I feel like family. Ethiopians are some of the most hospitable, kind, and giving people in the world. I feel so lucky to have landed here.

our road and our compound doors on the left
Our host mom, Etagu, and host dad, Tadesse, are both so wonderful. They are taking such good care of us! Ethiopian food is so good and I'm never hungry. Etagu is always encouraging us to eat more; it's the Ethiopian way to show you care. I've been able to help with some cooking but am not allowed to clean anything but our room. Today, Etagu is going to teach us how to hand wash our laundry.

We have training six days a week, 8-5:30 Monday through Friday and 8-12:30 on Saturday. The days are full and we're learning a lot. I'm really enjoying learning Amharic and can now great people using multiple sayings at any time of the day. Greetings are a huge part of the culture here! 

Before we left for the airport in DC, our staging coordinator told us to fall in love with Ethiopia as fast as we can. I thought it would be hard to love, but I was wrong. I love it here already.