Friday, September 26, 2014

First Days in Durame

We are now official Peace Corps volunteers and are living at our wonderful site, Durame! :) I can not even begin to express how happy I am to finally be here and get started on teaching and making friends. After nearly three months of training, I am so ready to be here.

making tea on our very first morning
Our first week is being spent setting up our house and getting accustomed to living on our own. The first day here, we bought mattresses (seen in the back of the photo). We wanted a big bed so we bought two twin sized mattresses and are putting them together to make one huge bed. We've also bought buckets to store water in/do laundry in/wash dishes in, ordered a bed/shelves/nightstands, and bought some basic kitchen supplies, like plates, bowls, silverware, wooden spoons, a couple pots, and a strainer.

Next week, we will start working at our respective schools. The first week of work could either be co-teaching with an Ethiopian English teacher or just teaching our classes ourselves. I'm not sure how that will work out yet.

For now, I'm just enjoying some free time to relax, catch up on laundry, and figure out where we can buy everything we need in town. It's really nice to feel independent again. 

Swearing In!

Swearing in was at the United States Embassy in Addis Ababa and let me tell you, it felt like we were back in America. From all the Americans working there, to the landscaping, to the food they served us: America, America, America!

During the official Swearing In ceremony, there were speeches from our Country Director, Greg Engle, and our Training Manager, Tesfaye. Also, three of our peers gave speeches in each of the three languages we learned during training (Amharic, Afan Oromo, and Tigrinia). Finally, the Ambassador gave a speech and then led us in officially swearing in. After some closing remarks from Greg, we got to eat! They gave us some really yummy stuff, including sushi!

It was a great day and all 66 of us who swore in were so happy to finally become Peace Corps Volunteers.

Here's the proof!

Mom, Dad, and the twins, Jillian and Lauren
Shannon, Izzy, Norit, Samantha, and me
Kaylee and Summer in Oromo cultural dresses
Phil, Spencer, and Jon

our whole group! G11!

Maggie and Spencer High, Peace Corps Volunteers!

Our "Goodbye Program"

The word “program” is very important in Ethiopia. Anything can be a program. Have something to do but someone invites you to buna? You just say, “Sorry, I have another program” and you're instantly understood without question. “Program” can also be used to describe an event, a ceremony, a meeting, and really just anything planned, at all.

For our last night in Butajira, our family said we were having a buna ceremony for our “Goodbye Program” and it was lovely. They let me pour the coffee and we had lots of yummy snacks. We ate everything on the table and then they fed us dinner! Ha! Ethiopians love to feed their guests until they explode. Also, there was some goursha-ing happening. A goursha is when someone feeds you, and since Ethiopians eat with their hands, this means someone is feeding you with their hands. It's a sign of love! <3

We were very sad to leave our Ethiopian family who took such amazing care of us during training but are so excited to begin our Peace Corps service in Durame! 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The End of Training Has Come

our Ethiopian family
The end of pre-service training (PST) is rapidly approaching (swearing in is tomorrow!). I can't believe in just one day we'll all be off to our sites, scattered all around the country. It seems like we just got here and also like we've been in training forever.

No one who's been through it will ever tell you PST is easy. It's not easy. There are so many things to learn, people to meet, ways to act, and things to do. We are willingly thrown into another culture, into a family and expected to stay positive and keep learning. Keep learning the language, even if your host family can't be bothered to wake up to make you breakfast (this happened to a friend, not me!). Keep participating in training sessions, even if you have yet another bacteria infection and are just trying to get your stomach under control. Keep doing homework, even if you get home and would rather do anything but more work. Keep going, keep it positive, keep trying. Don't stop!

And inevitably through it all, we all had our bad days. We all needed time to vent about something we didn't like about our language teachers or a particular training session or our host families or whatever. We were sick with bacteria infections, amoebas, and parasites, to name a few. We endured bed bugs and cold bucket showers.

There were some parts of training that were extremely difficult, especially when some of our fellow trainees were sent or chose to return home. It's hard to lose friends in this process and I wish some things were done differently. (I miss you ,Casey!!)

It's hard, it's fun, and it can be frustrating at times. It was challenging because of all the trainings and expectations. It's A LOT of work. On the other hand, it was fun because I got to get know some really amazing Americans in my group as we went through this process together. I also got to know some really great Ethiopians, especially my host family who are some of the best people I have ever met in my life. I feel so lucky to have spent my PST under the care of Mommy (Etagu), Dad (Tadesse), and my host sister K'al. They've already made us promise we will come home for every holiday while we're in Ethiopia since our site is only about 4 hours away.

No matter how hard it is and how much I wish I could do something to change the past, I can't. I must move forward. There is a lot of work to be done in Durame and I have to give it my all.

The end of training is bittersweet. I'm excited to be off to Durame to begin working, have my own house, and meet new friends. After almost every hour being scheduled during PST, I'm excited for the freedom to make my own choices regarding my time and my diet. However, there's a lot I will miss. I will miss our parents' laughs, which are both so wonderfully unique and joyous you can't help but laugh along. I'll miss joking with my host sister. I'll miss visiting with our neighbors in the compound and the town of Butajira. I'll miss the sambusas for 1 birr that taste like heaven around the corner from my house. And most certainly I will miss spending every day learning alongside my fellow Peace Corps Trainees in G11 (Group 11). There are truly some amazing individuals in our group and I'm so happy I got the chance to meet and work with every single one of them.

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.