That is all.
That is all.
Despite the fact that I thought I’d make a good teacher, I never seriously considered studying education in college, because I thought it sounded boring. I started out with International Politics because, while I wasn’t sure that I wanted to work in politics for the rest of (or honestly any part of) my life, the subject FASCINATED me.
Fast forward to a 400-level class titled “The Advanced International Relations of Africa” (African history pre-slavery to modern days, plus current political relationships) – this was when I really realized that I had no interest in a career in academic or applied political science. The subject was still fascinating, but the disconnect between research and application is a vast and depressing canyon. [PoliSci research will clearly state that A+B=C. Politicans will say that they want outcome C; and then do A+D…or D+E….basically anything other than A+B. It’s unbelievable.]
(A scene from my current school – a question and answer game between sections.)
A few years after graduating, and for a few years before Peace Corps, I started teaching ESL at a Waldorf High School (no relation to the salad). Then last year, I started subbing at a Quaker elementary school. I fell in love. I still have no desire to study educational theory, but I love teaching.
There is no good reason to like it. Many of the people you are trying to help don’t care, don’t know why you’re wasting their time, and are at such a chaotic time in their lives they can’t even figure out which way is up let alone why that essay needs another round of revisions. (At least I remember High School as an incredibly chaotic time with a handful of peaceful moments scattered throughout).
Teaching in Ethiopia has its own layer of challenges that make it difficult for me to feel like I’m doing a good job. Education isn’t valued very highly in farming communities like the one I’m currently in, because many people are illiterate. If your parents have lived happy, successful lives without an education, why would you need one? Teachers are highly respected, (I still get really happy anytime someone calls me “Astamarii” or “Barsistuu” – “Teacher” in Amharic and Afan Oromo, respectively) but there are only a few students in each of my classes, who genuinely want to learn. I suppose that’s a problem in most classrooms (below 12th grade) around the world, but on bad days it’s incredibly disheartening.
(My school without the students.)
Additionally, a good handful of students have made it into my classroom (9th grade) without learning how to read or write. (Incentive based performance does not work in education, people!) Teachers pass students to have high passing rates so they can get a raise/keep their jobs. Also, since Teachers don’t crack down on cheating, (it’s a culture that values helping each other…cheating isn’t seen as bad like it is in the States) there are students who’ve cheated their entire academic career. Another difference from the States – if everyone in the class fails one question, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the question was bad or that the information needs to be re-taught.
There was a military government here in the 90’s (the derg) that killed the educated elite, and de-valued critical thinking. Ethiopia is still rebuilding from that. I obviously don’t know what the Ethiopian education system was like before that, but I’ve been told by a few people that some of the current challenges have their roots there.
Another challenge that isn’t unique to the education system is the “lack of hustle” found in most industries in Ethiopia. Being from the NE, I get that I’m much more “let’s get sh*t done” than most places in the US, however, Ethiopia is more laid back than even Southern California. (To my So Cal friends – I love you a lot).
Using our calendar, school is supposed to start mid September. The school I’m teaching at didn’t actually start until mid October. Once it “started”, there were rounds of meetings with just teachers, county-wide meetings, ones with parents…students and teachers…so many meetings. And I didn’t understand a word of any of them. It was, to my American sensibilities and Philly attitude, bizarre. But that’s just how things are done here. People are valued over things, and time doesn’t mean much, if anything. If it doesn’t happen today, it’ll happen tomorrow. If not tomorrow…. maybe next week?
(Me looking particularly teacher-ish. Photo credit – Jesse from g17. Taken during PST).
That all said, I still love teaching. I love that look when students are thinking about something new, or in a way they never have before – and then they get it. That is seriously the best feeling.
The 9th graders I teach don’t have a national exam to take this year, so they’re a bit more laid back than the 10th graders. The standard Ethiopian style of teaching is writing notes on the board, sometimes lecturing, and occasionally asking questions. Since I come in with a communicative approach to teaching, many of my students were super confused in the beginning. They’ve now (mostly) gotten used to my accent, my habit of asking them to think, ask questions if they have them, and read from the board as much as possible.
Today* I had some 10th graders in my classroom (because, being the day after a holiday, only a few people came to school); and I was able to see how far the 9th graders have come. They spoke up and read from the board so much easier than the 10th graders. That was encouraging to see.
On the other hand from the students who don’t seem to care, there are those who have walked an hour to get to school. Or who live so far from a high school that they rent housing in this village for the week, just so they can go to school.
The school I teach at has no library, no science lab and no computer lab (but they do have “information technology” classes once a week??). It’s a 9th and 10th grade school that has opened those grades up to many students who wouldn’t be able to take those classes otherwise. It’s currently sharing a building with the 1-8th grades (they get it in the morning, we get it in the afternoon), but there’s a proposal to build 9th and 10th grade their own building. I don’t think I’ll see it’s completion, but it’s an exciting thought.
And hopefully while I’m here I’ll be able to add female-friendly “bathrooms” to the building plans. Maybe a library too? We’ll see.
(Sunrise over my village. Taken as I walk to the bus yesterday morning.)
*Since the internet is out, this is “today” as of me writing this, not posting it. Sunday Jan 7th was Ethiopian Christmas which is why on the 8th, very few students showed up, and on the 9th, only about 2/3rds of the students were there. I’m expecting I won’t be able to post this until Sunday Jan 21st at the earliest.
Some days I wake up to a beautiful 65 degree and misty morning, that fades to a 75-degree day; and I think back to PA and how it’s probably 36 and rainy (or recently 9 degrees and snowing!!!) and I’m so glad I’m here. Other days, like on December 25th, I wake up disoriented from a vivid dream where I was playing in a high school production of Carmina Burana with my middle school music director (who was absolutely fantastic)….and then I remember my sister is thousands of miles away, and all I want to do is cuddle with her and my dog while we wait for our
parents dad to wake up. (Mom usually woke up a few times and went back to sleep.) And those mornings are tough.
Before I left, I asked a few of my friends and family members, people I worked with and people I love; to write me letters. I brought those with me, and have been opening them a few at a time while re-reading ones I’ve already opened. They help. My sister and I had been talking about getting a tattoo together for years, but when I knew I was leaving, we figured it out and got it. That helps. Most days I’m so glad I’m here because this is still a crazy adventure of mundane things….but on days like Christmas, it’s definitely hard to see the point. Especially when the internet is blocked. That’s when I call friends here, eat snack foods I’ve hoarded (from care packages – you know who you are – I love you all), drink a few beers and listen to music.
(Abu and one of her puppies.)
Since Ethiopia is on its own calendar, (either Gregorian or Julian…I’m not sure sorry. And I don’t have access to google right now soooooo) our New Years is nothing special. Their New Years lands on our September 11th, usually.
Ethiopian Christmas just happened on January 7th. They celebrate by visiting family, drinking lots of coffee, eating doro wat (spicy chicken soup…ish? With hard boiled eggs and eaten on injera), kitfo (chopped up, spiced raw meat. Absolutely delicious. Eaten with injera or this banana-leaf stuff I don’t remember the name of…again, no google. Sorry.), kurt (chunks of raw meat (usually dunked in arake – the local moonshine that tastes like soap) I haven’t had the courage to try it yet, especially since when there’s been kurt, there’s usually kitfo too), kai wat (which is like doro wat without the eggs or chicken. With mutton instead and served with the omnipresent injera). What they make depends on the family, but everyone takes a day (or two) off from work. I celebrated with my neighbors by eating more food than I’ve had in one sitting since I’ve been here. It was all delicious.
And as I’m writing this a full 24 hours later, I’m still stuffed.
(The puppy I named Cricket.)
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.)
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: https://joetravelsite.wordpress.com
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.
If you’re education sector, coming in June, you’ll be coming into the rainy season which is tough. It gets cold. Bring a pair of wool socks or three. Bring a warm sweater/jacket…or both.
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)
A few flash drives. You can use them directly with the printers here, in the Jimma office anyway.
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, lifetime length.
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 speaker! Worth it.
Insurance. I’m currently working with a claim for my laptop. Peace Corps recommends Clements.
A few cheap solar lamps.
A headlamp or two – one that uses a rechargeable battery 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. You can only buy them in Addis, and they’re not the type you know. 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.
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
Ear plugs – there was one day during PST that the church near me was blasting music for almost 24hrs straight. They took about ten 20min breaks. It was awful.
Small French press coffee maker
Small non stick pan
Decent chopping knife
Lock back knife
Some of my favorite spices (garlic powder! You can find garlic here, but garlic powder is so much easier to use)
Some of my favorite teas
Grayl water bottle – orange filter. Not necessary, but it’s nice to be able to drink sink water at hotels without worrying.
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. Maybe.
Clothes pins – where I am, it’s hard to dry clothes sometimes.
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.
Photos of friends and fam – to show people here, and for walls. (I never feel at home anywhere until I put photos on my walls.)
Snacks – in re useable containers. I repackaged my favorite snacks in ziplock type containers, and it was a fantastic idea. I’m now using those containers for sugar, salt and spices. They sell things like that 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, cheap containers. Also some super expensive stuff…don’t get lost.
Jerky – They don’t eat meat as much here. Again, especially if you’re an education volunteer you’ll be coming in during 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.
After a spectacularly prolific October, November flew through my hands leaving no trace of it on my blog. Where the hell does time go?
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.)