All About Coffee, 3 Months at Site

Somebody told me it takes 3 months to adjust to a completely new situation. If so, then I’m right on schedule.

As I slowly wake up, while still lying in bed in the morning, I try to determine if I have electricity, because that determines how easy the morning will be. I have an electric stove (slow, but easy) and a charcoal stove (slow to get started, but much faster and hotter than electric).

If I have electricity, I roll out of bed, turn on the kettle, and crawl back in bed, usually to read. If I don’t have power, I wait till I wake up fully, then bring my charcoal stove outside, collect tinder, and start it.

I don’t teach until almost 1pm, so my mornings are pretty peaceful. When I make lunch, I try to make enough to last me for dinner too…because I’m a lazy cook. Since I broke my laptop, I’ve been reading more. I also have a guitar that I play on occasion. I found a mat that works well for yoga, and of course there are always papers to grade and lessons to plan.

Many mornings I’m invited to my neighbors for coffee. (They are confused that I drink coffee first, then eat breakfast.)

Speaking of coffee…

(A neighbor friend – Samira.)

About a week into this adventure, while completely sleep deprived and scrambling to adjust to a new…everything, I wrote a post mentioning Ethiopian coffee here: Magic Coffee.

Since I’ve now been here awhile, and I’m living in the heart of the coffee growing region, I thought I should write another post and do the subject justice.

Nearby is the Keffa region, the place in the world coffee was named for. All around Jimma are the places where the best coffee in the world is grown. Here, I can get a cup of coffee for 3birr (27birr : $1). The coffee exported from here is the super fancy stuff sold for $4 or $5 a cup at Starbucks. So that’s amusing.

First the beans are picked. (Right now is coffee harvesting season.) They’re dried in the sun, and then the cherry is taken off and the beans are dried again. This is the step where coffee is usually sold.

When you get the beans, you want to wash them again, and roast them. Don’t wash and let sit. I made that mistake. It was super sad. Once they’re roasted, you grind them. Either by pounding them, or, if there’s electricity, by a grinder I bought for 150birr. Totally worth it.

Traditionally, coffee (buna) is roasted and brewed in front of you. I keep some grounds handy because I brought a small French press. What Ethiopians do, is put a few spoonfuls into a djebena (coffee pot), and put it on the fire. They wait until it boils, then pull it off the fire to let the grinds settle to the bottom of the pot. They serve it in small cups – with sugar, salt, butter or “dua” (black). Lately, sugar has been super expensive because of a shortage, so yeroo hunda (always) I have been drinking my coffee dua.

People drop in on their friends for coffee frequently. If someone is making it, they will invite everyone over. When I was sick, my land lady offered me coffee in bed. When she twisted her ankle hard, I brought her some in bed. A PCV told me once that he never ran across a problem that he couldn’t solve with a conversation over coffee.

It’s a deeply cultural experience, which is why coffee is still inexpensive here. I’ve heard PCVs in Columbia drink instant coffee, because all the good coffee gets exported. I’m thoroughly addicted to caffeine, and coffee is my favorite form. So I’m grateful.

Just like in the US – if it starts with coffee, it’ll be a good day.

(Sometimes all it takes is the truly bizarre to brighten my day.)


Christmas in Africa

Written while listening to “The Twelve Days of Christmas” by Straight No Chaser. (The last verse devolves into “Africa” by Toto. It’s epic.)

Since the weather here is warm, and mostly sunny, it most definitely doesn’t feel like Christmas. I grew up in the North East – where Christmas is supposed to be accompanied by snow, freezing winds, and lots of warm clothes. This is weird. Also, as a singer, I usually spend a lot of time singing and listening to Christmas music. I’ve tried, and it definitely helps, but it’s also definitely different. (Since I’ve spent the past 6 years working at the King of Prussia mall, the holidays have also been filled with a level of frantic stress I’m glad to be rid of.)

December 14th was my 28th birthday, and my sisters 21st birthday. It was painful that I couldn’t call her. (Ethiopia shut the internet off. Because they can). I did get lucky though, that my birthday fell during our “Reconnect”. (Three months into site, there’s a training where everyone from my group got pulled together again. It was a great check-in, and it was absolutely fantastic to see everyone.)

The night of my birthday was a bonfire, and a bunch of the guys made the women coffee. In Ethiopia, making coffee is something that is usually always a woman’s job. Ethiopia is frequently overtly and explicitly misogynistic; and the guys in g17 did this for us as a “We see you and respect you all. You deal with some awful sh*t you don’t deserve. You’re awesome. You got this” gesture. It was a pretty emotional experience. They also wrote each of us a card. (Mine is now tacked on my wall.) It was so comforting to learn they’ve got our backs – to the point where they went way out of their way to let us know.

Later that night was a meteor shower. So while I wasn’t able to watch the new Star Wars movie, it was definitely a birthday I will always remember.

(The above photo was clearly stolen from a friend’s Instagram).

Christmas is coming the goose is getting fat…

My family has a few awesome Christmas traditions. One of these is new pajamas on. Christmas Eve. Another? Christmas morning breakfast. Possibly my favorite though is splitting a large bottle of wine – usually Chianti – with my sister on Christmas Eve, while we blast Christmas music and wrap our gifts/write cards in adjoining rooms, with the door open so we can talk. That is something I’m going to miss this year. I don’t know if it’s easier because it doesn’t feel like Christmas, or worse. I’d imagine it’s super tough to have a seat missing at the Christmas table – so Mom, Dad and Danielle – I love you so so much. Hopefully I’ll have internet and can call you.

Instead, a bunch of us are meeting in Metu for Christmas and New Years weekends, to drink, eat and play Jaded Aid. It’s going to be fun. Thanksgiving in Jimma was awesome, but it’s far. Metu will be smaller, but a more peaceful trip overall. The PCVs here, we’ve already become a family. NYE will probably be a bit calmer than I’m used to…but it’ll be good I’m sure.

New Years has always been a “friends holiday” for me. I just got a Halloween box they sent which is hella appropriate (because it’s my favorite holiday) and exciting. I’m saving it to open at home. (I’m currently borrowing WiFi from a hotel in Metu to post this). I love you all, and it is so encouraging to know you support this crazy thing I’m doing. hugggg

There isn’t much about Ethiopia in this post…it’s definitely a personal one. Look for the next post – it’ll be alllll about Ethiopia. I think. Maybe. At least it’ll have more information than this one.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!! What’s up 2018?

Thanks for reading! Love you all 🙂

Caption: Italian-Americans take back Ethiopia?? Joe has a great blog too, check it out:

Packing for Ethiopia, Illu Babour/Oromia edition

So the thing about Peace Corps Ethiopia is that there is arid highland, desert, and the rainforest. They take your weather requests into account when placing you, but because it’s Peace Corps, you can’t count on anything.

I’m in a high rainforest, so based on that, here are my thoughts.

Also, if you’re wondering how the holidays are here, sorry. Next post! (Which will be soon. Like tomorrow haha).


Disclaimer: I’m an education volunteer, and a woman. Teachers here dress nice, but jeans are considered nice because they’re Western. I wear mostly dress pants or flowy (baggy/hippy) pants, and I’ve never had a problem. I’ve heard from some agriculture volunteers that wearing skirts helps them integrate….most of the female teachers at my school wear skinny jeans.

Health volunteers work closely with the highest educated HCNs (host country nationals), and locals…so they have a bit of both.

Ultimately, the most important thing when picking clothes to bring, is that you feel comfortable wearing them. Bring a few of your favorite T-shirts. Bring your favorite pajama pants. Bring a hoodie. Bring underwear that makes you smile. It’ll help you so much.

Secondary note : quite a few things on this list are fairly superfluous (school supplies, organization stuff…) I’m naturally very disorganized; so if my stuff isn’t organized I’m fairly non-functional. It might seem like I’m type A; I promise you I’m not. I included them because they don’t take much space, but they’ve come in handy.

If you’re an education sector volunteer, coming in June, you’ll be coming into the rainy season which is tough. It gets cold. And muddy. Bring a pair of wool socks or three. Bring a warm sweater/jacket…or both. Not a winter coat. But a warm jacket will probably be helpful.

During PST they expect you to be professional (business casual) at all times. At the same time, you’re washing your clothes by hand. I wore T-shirts with a scarf and sweater/jacket (warmth, not suit jacket) often, and wore a button down occasionally.

A recommendation I got that I want to emphasize – go to goodwill and thrift shops. Look for cool, breezy, business casual-esque pants. If they adjust to fit you even if you lose/gain weight, even better. Some last minute impulse buys have become my favorite pants here.

Another note – a friend gave me two wool sweaters that have been absolutely invaluable. The temperature in the morning will be cold, then heat up to what would be in the US – shorts and sleeveless weather (here shorts are “special slut wear”), and then drop again at night.

Some people say bring some extra underwear only for the second year. I brought quite a few pairs (17? 20? Underwear doesn’t take up much space) – some cotton, some quick dry, and some Thinx. High high recommendation on the Thinx pairs. They’ve saved me quite a few times. Bathrooms here are …. challenging.

Rain clothes : bring them. Especially where I am, rain boots and a good rain jacket are a must have. I also have a rain cover for my backpack. One of my friends brought rain pants, and he definitely wore them. I’m ok without them, but I’m so glad I brought my boots. My friends up in Tigray? They’re fine with just hiking boots. But if you’re an education volunteer, your PST will be in the south during the rainy season.

Final note on clothes – no matter how light you think you are packing, you will likely bring more clothes with you, than people own here. So there’s that.


Shoes hold a special place in Ethiopian culture. People pay to have their shoes washed frequently.

Also, shoes get DESTROYED here. I brought a few pairs of ballet flats….they lasted 3 weeks. You can buy cheap “shint bet” shoes here no problem, but when deciding which ones to bring – go for sturdy ones. And bring at least one nice (enough) close-toed pair.


Solar charger (I’ve got a Anker Power Port Solar – two panels, two USB ports). It doesn’t charge my laptop, but it handles my phone and nook just fine.

Battery pack. Keep an eye on Amazon’s sales, and get one. Mine charges my phone at least 8 full times. (Rav power)

At least a 2T external hard drive. (I’ve got a 1T and a 2T. I currently have 2.5gigs of files.)

A few flash drives. You can use them directly with the printers here – at least you can in the Jimma office.

Unlocked smart phone, with a VPN. If you hunt around, you can find vpns that aren’t too expensive. You can also find free ones, but I wouldn’t trust those. I got one for $70 – 5 devices, for a lifetime.

Nook or kindle. I think a friend of mine has a library membership where she can rent digital books any time she has WiFi – rare, but it happens. I signed up for BookBub’s daily email to alert me to ebooks that were cheap ($0.99-$3.99) every day for the year or so before I left. I caught quite a few good books through that.

Small bluetooth speaker! Worth it.

Extra headphones. The ones you can buy in country are either SUPER expensive, and in Addis only; or absolute trash.

Insurance. I’m currently working with a claim for my laptop. Peace Corps recommends Clements. (*update – since my laptop couldn’t be fixed in country, it was a bit of a headache getting the paperwork they wanted to certify that. Once I got it to them, it was no problem.)

A few cheap solar lamps. (You can buy these here, but they’re expensive and bad quality).

A headlamp or two – I’d get one that uses a rechargeable battery (Petzl for the win!) because AAA batteries are tough to find here.


They say bring enough for 3 months…I say if you’re attached to something, bring more of it. (I’m super attached to my toothpaste – LUSH toothy tabs – I worked there for several years) and I brought enough for possibly two years. One year at least.

You can buy everything, even deodorant, here….but sometimes it’s difficult to find. Or really far away.

Tampons! If you’re a tampon person, bring many. And prepare a box to be shipped to you during PST with more. I heard you can only buy them in Addis, and they’re not the type you know. (edit: I’ve been looking for them in Addis, and I haven’t found them yet.) I’ve heard good things about the diva cup, everyone I know who uses one loves it. Get used to it in the states is my advice. I’m working on figuring it out here, and it’s just a little more stressful here.

Again – Thinx – they’re wonderful. I can’t use them on their own, but when I’m at school – 30mins walk from my house….. they’ve saved me a lot of embarrassment and stress. (Quite a few people here use them.)

Hand sanitizer – a friend brought a TON of this. It was super helpful during PST. Now, 6 months in, I don’t use it as much. But in the beginning it was so, so helpful.


Push pins/thumb tacks – to put photos on your walls. If you’re in Tigray….maybe tape? (The houses up there are concrete.)

Ear plugs – there was one day during PST that the church near me was blasting music for almost 24hrs straight. It was awful.

Paper clips – like many things, you can find them here, but they’re weirdly expensive. I had some lying around at home in my “not-junk” drawer.

Small French press coffee maker (Hi my name is Mari and I’m a coffee addict. Definitely not necessary, but I like to make myself coffee on days my neighbors don’t invite me.)

Small non stick pan (You can buy these in Addis, but they’re expensive based on the money Peace Corps gives you.)

Decent chopping knife (I brought this, but I don’t use it often. I use my Spyderco lockback for just about everything.)

Lock back knife – I use it more than the dollar store chopping knife I brought.

Leatherman (Sometimes you just need a screwdriver…or something random.)

Chopsticks – it’s weird what you miss here.

Some of my favorite spices (garlic powder! You can find garlic here, but garlic powder is so much easier to use. And difficult to find.)

Some of my favorite teas (I have not been able to find Mint tea for my life. Or any herbal tea. There’s plenty of black tea though.)

Grayl water bottle – orange filter. Not necessary, but it’s nice to be able to drink sink water at hotels without worrying.

Sleeping bag

Sleeping mat for camping

Hammock (I’m in the forest, so I use it.)

60L pack – It’s huge, but a lot of times I use it because my 30L is too small for longer trips. Also I’m 5’10, 200ish lbs. I think if I was smaller and a better packer, I’d be fine with a 40L. Probably.

Clothes pins – where I am, it can take three days for clothes to dry during the rainy season.

Letters. I asked friends, family…people I loved to write me letters that I could open and read later when I was down and out. Such a good idea. Now that I’ve settled into my house, the letters are pinned up in my room.

Grammar book – digital and physical copies. Digital is nice because I’ve got it on my phone. Physical is good when there is no electricity. In a couple more years I expect the regional offices will have plenty of copies floating around. Right now, not so much.

Luggage locks. (Bag slashing isn’t so much a problem here. Unzipping is. But mostly in Addis. Ethiopia is a high petty crime and harassment, low violent crime country.)

Photos of friends and fam – to show people here, and for walls. (People like looking at physical photos. And I never feel at home anywhere until I put photos on my walls.) ** since I live in Oromia – dirt walls! I staple my photos into my walls. My friends up north use tape or putty to attach theirs. (They have cement houses.)

Snacks – in re-useable containers. I repackaged my favorite snacks in ziplock type containers to save space packing, and it was a fantastic idea. I’m now using those containers for sugar, salt and spices. In the market, they sell things in plastic bags here. If there’s a container store near you – (there’s a company called “the container store”) check it out. They’ve got some good, fairly cheap containers…don’t get lost.

Jerky – They don’t eat meat as much here. Especially if you’re an Ag or Health volunteer you’ll be coming in during a major fasting season – almost no meat anywhere for a few months.

Surge protector / converter – I bought a Bestek one – so far so good! There are also cheap converter plugs here that are probably fine…that’s when I’d definitely get insurance though.

Pillow – I brought a pillow because I’ve had neck challenges here and there. It was a good life decision. Normal pillows are definitely available here though. A bit pricy but available.

Microfiber towel – useful for travel. Tough to wash, but all towels are. Some people hate them though. I’d try it before bringing it.

Duct tape – for so many things. The first thing I used it for was to put names on hard drives. Then names on bags….photos on walls…. endless uses. I’ve heard you can find it here, but so far I’ve only found electrical tape.

So those are my thoughts! I hope you found that useful, or at least not a waste of your time.

Good luck and Baga Nagaan Dhuftaan!!


Buses, Bajajs and Kit-kits oh my!

After a spectacularly prolific October, November flew through my hands leaving no trace of it on my blog. Where the hell does time go?

The highlights:

I’m (still) settling in, this still kinda feels like an extended vacation, I’m getting to know the frustrating and extremely unreliable transportation; while adopting an Ethiopian attitude about it – I’ll get there when I get there. I’m getting to know how my students learn, and trying to figure out how the communication within the circle of teachers works (I keep walking into the school to learn that today, there is a club I’m running, or a test I need to give, or a meeting after school…..things I think I should know in advance.) Maybe by next year I’ll know what to expect?

For Thanksgiving I went to Jimma. Seeing people outside the Metu loop was great, plus it’s about 75 degrees here, and there was a pool!!!! (If you don’t know, back home swimming was my thing – at least twice a week for the past few years.) Swimming was absolutely magical. I was able to completely ignore everything and just be.

A sour note at the end of that trip was when I was a complete ******** idiot, and dropped my laptop. I’m pretty sure it’s just the screen that was broken…I’ll know more soon. On the upside, I have some absolutely amazing friends, who completely humble me with their support of my craziness, and they have already started helping me figure out how to fix it. (I seriously love you guys.)

So now that you’re caught up, on to the post.

As I was on the bus this morning from my site to my hub town, I had the random thought “who the **** thought I was qualified to do this?” And then I realized, it was me. Well then.

Transportation in Ethiopia is an experience. One that is making me a better person….stronger person??….more patient?? I’m not sure, but it’s definitely forcing me to handle sht differently. Sometimes literally. More frequently it’s vomit though. Sht has (luckily) been rare.

Sometimes chickens roam freely on a large bus. Sometimes they’re strapped to the top. Sometimes the person next to you pukes… I’ve only puked once on a bus so far, and it was somewhat self induced. Lesson learned.

The craziest story I’ve heard thus far was about a mother, who thinking (correctly) that the bus was going to crash, tossed her toddler out of the window to save it. The kid survived, but I think had a broken leg? Not 100% sure about the kid’s injuries, but everyone definitely survived.

The buses leave when they are full and arrive at the station when they do. There is no real schedule, and time is seen as subjective and fluid here.

Another American assumption that does not hold – seats are not for a set number of people. They are for as many people as can be crammed into them. A bajaj with 3 seats in the back and one in front for the driver? I’ve seen (and been one of) 9 passengers. A “mini bus” for 12? I’ve been one of 27. The larger buses….cram as many people in as you can. Hold on!

An unfortunate addition to this is that some people think fresh air brings diseases to you (??)….so unless you’ve staked out a window, settle in for a long, hot ride.

As I said in the intro, I’m thankfully relaxing and getting the hang of the transportation “system”. I made it to Jimma and back by myself, which definitely helped me with feeling like “I can do this!” thing.

(*about thelittle three wheeled vehicle, and a kit-kit is a type of bus.)