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 in to days when there is a club I’m running, or a test I need to give, or a meeting after school…..things like that 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 f******* 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 fuck 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 shit differently. Sometimes literally. More frequently it’s vomit though. Shit 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 relaxing
portation “system”. I made it to Jimma and back by myself, which definitely helped me out with the whole “I can do this!” thing.

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


Moving is Exhausting 

Moving is Exhausting 

It’s so easy to start comparing sites….who has it the hardest (no electricity), who has it best (a computer lab and wifi in your school???!?)….but to do that you have to quantify the unquantifiable. It’s as fun as banging your head against the wall. 

For the record, my house has occasional electricity, occasional cell service, and a porch! Which is super helpful. Also, a friendly dog (Abu) who just had puppies. My school is shared with grades 1-8, and has no lab or library. The woreda (county? district?) is currently working to raise money to build a high school in my town. 

[Side note: peace corps works exceptionally hard to distinguish itself from other aid organizations. Our mission is to empower and educate, primarily. Not provide money. That said, if there’s an opportunity for me to facilitate donations, I’ll let you all know.]

[The view from my school, looking towards town, and the Oromia flag.]

In the chaos of navigating a new culture, town, and bus system; (Septa – I’ve heard you’ve been having troubles lately, but know that you’re forever safe from my criticism), what I’ve been missing most is familiarity and feeling comfortable. Just knowing what’s going on and how things work or being able to walk outside without second guessing – are they talking about me? Is something I’m wearing culturally insensitive? Does that man want to help me because he’s being nice or does he want something else? 

It’s been exhausting. Luckily, a month-ish in, I’m starting to feel comfortable. The fact that I love my landpeople and my house, has helped a LOT. Also, learning the incredibly unpredictable bus system has also helped. There are a few days I now know…ish. 

While every volunteer has their laundry list of foods they miss; the Illu Babour G17s were talking about foods we miss, and we realized that the underlying theme is variety. (But specifically for me, it’s Penang curry. And sushi. And appropriately salted foods. Also, olive oil. You can find it here in the big cities, but it’s expensive.) 

[Abu again! And her puppies. Dogs aren’t well thought of here. Luckily, my land people know her and are ok with her hanging around.]

Final two notes for this incredibly disjointed post: my regional peace corps office is in Jimma. There are fantastic people in Jimma. 

Secondly, a friend has a blog that gives a really fantastic and thorough accounting of his experiences here. And it’s a hilarious read. Long, but totally worth it. Check out his most recent post here: Colby’s Blog.  

[attempt to roast coffee, try one. Partly burnt, partly uncooked.]

Packing List!!! PST Edition

Disclaimer: Every country is different. (Obviously.) Additionally, there are different PST sites within each Peace Corps country….sometimes…..so even if you’re headed into Peace Corps Ethiopia (welcome!), this might not be helpful. That said, I hope it is. 

[Also, what?? two posts in one week??? What is this craziness??? —> I finally remembered to “schedule” a post. No, I probably don’t have cell service right now. sigh]

Without a doubt, the most stressful part of getting ready to leave for Ethiopia (for me) was packing. Especially since I picked up a trip last minute that ate a week almost right before I left. (KWS Class of ’17 – I would do it again in a heartbeat. I had so much fun with you guys. I hope you’re all doing amazing!!!) 
Since I just moved into my site (edit: no, now it’s been about a month), I’m looking backwards at what things were unexpectedly helpful during PST (pre-service training). The things I brought specifically for site, I’ll talk about later. (At this rate, it’ll be when I’m about to leave hahaha). 

The biggest thing about peace corps and packing, is to know yourself. What small things make you happy now, and make your life marginally better? A particular pen? An article of clothing? A brand of toothpaste? Find those small things, and bring them. As many as makes sense. In the long run, it’ll be worth the workout in the airport. 

[a piece of the Addis skyline from my favorite hotel.] 

Miscellaneous – things I’m so glad a brought. 

A small sewing kit – 2 colors of thread, a pack of needles, a few pins, and small scissors. I’ve used this 9 times already. 

A hammock. I’ve only used this once yet, and it was already, totally worth it. (I got an ENO single, with the regular Atlas straps. which can double as a laundry line. 

Battery pack. Just do it. The best you can afford. I stalked amazon and found a pretty good one on sale. If you find one that charges via solar too – even better. 

External Hard Drive – at LEAST 2T. Mine 3T is already almost full. (Shout out to Lisa and Joe for being the #1 reason it’s over 75% full). 

Jerky – this saved me so so many times. (Shout out to Trader Joe’s Terkey Jerky!) Ethiopia is very very religious. I was with an Orthodox Christian family (they do drink alcohol, but during fasting days – (all Wednesdays, Fridays and holy days), they don’t eat any animal products. There was a month with meat only once. They gave me eggs a few times, specially, but that was rare.) 

Clothes pins! – super helpful. 

My travel mug – I needed this so much. About halfway through PST I hit one of many walls, and being able to make my own tea and take it with me to trainings saved my sanity. Ethiopian culture is incredibly helpful and generous, but being able to make my own tea, without sugar, in a “normal” size mug, was magical. 

Earplugs! – between all of the churches and mosques, who always seem to have generators, there were plenty of nights when I would have been woken up at midnight, 2am, 4am, 5:30 and 6am. There was one 24hr period where a church took 8 20min breaks from continuous music. That was not a good day for me to say the least. But with earplugs, I survived it. 🙂

[My first attempt making coffee all the way through from cleaning the beans to “boiling” the coffee. It went pretty well. Also featured: my front porch! Notice the paint can in lieu of a coffee tray. The tiny mugs are borrowed from my fantastic land lady.]

ORGANIZATIONAL ITEMS!! Of all kinds. – packing cubes (lightweight/backpacking kind), ziplock baggies, a toiletry bag that props open….whatever it is that works for you, bring it. I’ve been living out of my suitcase for the past three months, and I’m not sure when I’ll find something to transfer everything to. If you need to be organized to stay sane, bring things to help you. (edit: one month into site, and I’m still living out of my suitcase.)

Gear ties – google them. If you have a problem with charger cords….you’re welcome. 

Duct tape – I wish I brought more. I have heard that it’s available somewhere….probably Addis. 

Photos from home – for me, putting photos up in a room makes it mine. Also, everyone here wants to know when your family looks like. They make a great addition to a host family gift. Also, I gave my host dad a picture of President Obama and he kissed it he was so happy. 

Grayl water filter bottle – if you don’t want to pay for water but haven’t set your filter up yet….this is for you. 

Toiletries – they say 3 months, but if you’re attached to a brand or something, bring more. The only thing I’ve run out of so far is deodorant. Shout out to Catie and my friends for sending me more. 🙂 

[My joy at receiving a package from my amazing friends. And if you can read that, it’s not my address anymore. Email me if you want to send me a letter. 😁]

The Basics:

Clothes. I read somewhere to bring about three weeks of clothes. I have about three and a half weeks of underwear. Although it’s easy to wash, there have been a couple times I have used almost all of them. Especially since during the rainy season when it can take clothes 3 days to dry. 

I did bring leggings, a few pairs, and I’m so glad I did. I wear them in my house, when I’m doing laundry, and even a few times to run. If needed, I just toss a skirt over them. Super easy. 

And they make it easier to use the shint bet. Important things. 

Tshirts!! I brought 8. They’re not super difficult to wash, and they’re easy to dress up with a scarf. 

Nice shirts – I brought 5. 

Dress pants – 3, and they are a pain to wash. I’m glad I have them, because they make me feel more like myself, but they’re difficult. 

Skirts – I wish I brought more. You can wear them more times before you have to wash them. Also, darker colors are the best. 

[The momma dog who adopted me. She’s named “Abu” as in abucado (avocado). No, I didn’t name her, but I like Abu.] 

School-related Things:

A folder. I’m so glad I brought it. 

A notebook, or 3. If you’re a notebook snob, bring one. I brought a small-ish one that had all my notes from language and PST sessions, and then a big one I’m going to use for lesson plans moving forward. 

Writing implements of all kinds. There is one type of pen available. If you’re not a pen snob, don’t worry. If you are, bring some. Or steal some from the hotel at staging. 

Paper clips, a small stapler, binder clips, rubber bands….things like this. I brought an altoids tin with these things. You can find them in country, but they’re tough to find. I found them helpful. Because I’m naturally very scattered, organization is necessary for me to be a functional human. 

I’m sure I’m forgetting things, but c’est la vie. I hope this is helpful. Or was interesting. If it was neither… email our customer support and I’ll be sure to refund you. 


We’re Official! 

About a month ago – (already??!!? Sorry, lack of connectivity – so bad I can’t even use data for anything other than messaging and if I’m lucky, email – has pushed this post back.) – we became official PCVs. Peace Corps Ethiopia G17 has sworn in! For those of you confused about the 2-and-a-bit year commitment, the 2 years start now. 

[We’re the five G17s headed to Oromia. And one of our teachers, Abiyot.]

Three of us got to give a speech at the embassy during the ceremony. I got to speak for the group. If you know me, then you know how much I love public speaking. I really love the speech I wrote, so here it is: 


Your excellency, …. and fellow trainees, thank you for allowing me a few minutes to speak. 

And thank you to the Government of Ethiopia for inviting us to come here and work along side local teachers and administrators. We are all honored to be here. 

We are here today to witness and celebrate the next step in a dream that many of us have worked towards for years. Countless internal debates, essay revisions, application submissions, medical tests, packing decisions and goodbyes led us to D.C. in June, and then Ethiopia. where we committed to three months of pre service training. 

We have been in Ethiopia for only three months. Three months of eating new foods, drinking too much coffee, living out of our luggage; wading through rain, mud and new cultural norms…(for my friends in Tigray….water shortages, walking through dust and around rocks? I’m not sure, sorry.) We have had three months of homework assignments, sweat, tears, vomit, diarrhea, upset stomachs, fevers and overall not enough sleep to land here today. 

Over the past three months we have waded deeper into the waters of the Ethiopian culture, making shifts and finding new norms that have woven us into the tapestry of Ethiopia at a deep level – creating ties that have already changed us forever. Our service will only weave us deeper. 

I believe we represent the best ideals of America – that love is stronger than fear. That hope and truth will always win. That equality is worth sacrificing for. That every human deserves respect, and the freedom to live a life they choose. 

We have chosen to surrender our old lives and blindly jump into the world armed only with our intention to be a force for good, and our friends to support us. To quote President Obama; inherent in the fabric of America – the tapestry we came from – is “the idea that for all our cultural differences, we are all in this together. That we all rise or fall as one.” It is this belief that has led us here, to help where we can, if we can. 

There will be many days where it will be difficult or even impossible to see the changes we are making, but the truth is that simply by being present – wherever we are – we are changing the world around us. So let’s just take a breath, lean on each other, and celebrate the small victories we can find in each day. 

I am so grateful for all the volunteers before us who have built this program, for the staff who are our bridge between cultures and the behind-the-scenes support; for our LCFs and PST team who have graciously answered every difficult question, and welcomed us into their culture; for the programming team and administration (Nancy, Brannon, Caroline and Dr. Dan), who believe in this program and support us tirelessly, and to Jules, Andre, Madeline, Bennet and Alyssa – PCVs and PCV Leaders- thank you so much. We wish you the absolute best as you head out. Thank you for supporting us through the blood, sweat, tears and vomit of the past three months. We love you.   

To G17 – here we go! 


[It’s important to note that I was asked to take the mentions of vomit and diarrhea out due to it being a formal, official occasion. This, however, is my favorite version.]


[this is the “oh-my-god-we-made-it-through-PST-now-what???” face. Also, these are traditional Oromo outfits. We’re the only two women headed to Oromia so we decided to represent.]

Because this is posted so late, I’ve been living at my site (a tiny village outside of Metu, in the Illu Babour region of Oromia), for about three weeks now. 

School started this week, but it’s a slow rolling start. And coffee harvest season is coming up soon, which will also keep some kids out of school. Not that I didn’t know this going in, but I’m learning flexibility. Again, and again, and again. In new and fascinating ways and areas. 


Site Visit! 

Site Visit! 

(The picture above is of Mettu) 

Site visit!

This is a week, sometime during PST (Pre-service training) when we go and see where we’ll be living for the next two years.
(Monkeys are like squirrels here, but more destructive. And shyer.)

There are three main languages in Ethiopia: Amharic, Oromo and Tigrinya. Oromo is spoken by the highest number of people, living in Oromia – a swath of land through the middle (west to the center, around Addis) and then south east of the country. Amharic and Tigrinya are cousin languages, both using Fidel script, spoken in Amhara and Tigray respectively. (Amharic is also the main/official language for SNNPR (Southern Nations), and is the official language of the country.) I’m headed to Oromia, so I’ve been learning Afan Oromo. 

My site is a tiny village near-ish Mettu, in the Illu Babour region of Oromia. (West/ Central Oromia). It is FAR from Addis. Those of us around Mettu – our regional office is in Jimma. Jimma is 65%ish Amharic speakers and 35%ish Oromo, but people who speak Oromo are always thrilled when we ferengis (foreigners) speak it, so that’s fun. Jimma is a day’s travel away, but I get to meet up with great people there, so it’ll be worth it. (Volunteers in the Keffa region of Southern nations are centered in Jimma too.)

(I found apples!!!! But they’re so so so expensive.)
Site visit was stressful, and incredibly helpful. The best part was meeting the PCVs already in the area. Because of events that happened in Ethiopia last year, everyone currently serving in Peace Corps Ethiopia was given the opportunity to go home and receive “interrupted service”. What this means for me? Everyone who is here, really wants to be. I get to join an amazing community of people. 

Over the past few months I’ve felt my standards changing – for almost everything. Hotel rooms, cell phone use, coffee, clothes, restaurants… food diversity… but after coming back to our training site we all realized where we are right now is not rural. We’re all about to go through another big lifestyle change. Again. This time for two years. So we’ll see how that goes. 

My home for the next two years! My land lady is a gem. She’s absolutely fantastic. 

Living the Hobbit Life*

Living the Hobbit Life*

Happy Month-ish-a-versary!!

Emphasis on the “ish”. It’s officially been 43 days since I flew out of PHL with two suitcases, a duffel, a backpack and a colony of butterflies in my stomach. 

It’s been a month(ish) of living out of suitcases, eating new foods and meeting new people who are crazy in the same way as me. It’s been a fantastic rollercoaster. 

In honor of this anniversary-ish, here are a list of superlatives, and random facts. 

And some fun pictures. 

The compound rooster, with his legs loosely tied together to stop him from flying over the fence into the neighbor’s yard.

What do I miss most? My dog, Luciano. Sorry everyone. 

Person I miss most? Danielle. (Duh.)

Food I miss most? Tough, but I’ve got to go with prosciutto. Salty Italian meats, oh how I love and miss you. 

Text that has made me laugh the hardest? Lisa and Joe – your response to my shower in Addis. 💗💗💗😁  I’m telling people here that story and sharing the laughs. I love you both. 

Best communication method? Surprisingly? Email. Letters take about a month. Text is tough for anything lengthy. 

(Feel free to email me, if You’ve got my address. Feel free to ask someone if you don’t.)

Most painful thing I’ve seen? The way animals are treated here. Hands down. The US has a HUGE problems with the way animals are treated – livestock and labs (—> cosmetics testing), but here it’s blatantly in the open. And it’s painful. 

Most beautiful thing I’ve seen? Lake Langano. Mostly because I was able to swim in it last week. It was miraculous. 

Best thing I’ve eaten here? Freshly fried samosas. Called “sambusas”, they’re fantastic. And cheap. 

Best coincidence I’ve encountered? My sister and I are 7 years apart and share a birthday. My host sisters are 5 years apart and share a birthday! Way cool. 

A monkey seen on a friend’s roof.

Random Facts:

  • Of the 32 days I’ve been in Butajira, it’s rained at least 25 of them. The rainy season ends in September, so until then, I’m going to keep congratulating myself on bringing my rain boots. 
  • The tops of glasses and mugs are just suggestions here. Water tension is tested on the daily. If it’s not about to spill, the glass isn’t full enough. 
  • An invitation to someone’s house for coffee, even casually as you’re waking home, isn’t actually a coffee invite. It’s an invite for a full meal
  • Salt is though of as slightly unnecessary. Nothing here is salty enough for me. But pepper (berbère) is in almost everything. 
  • There is a wide array of technology here in Butajira – even flat screen TVs! But electricity is super spotty. 
  • The Ethiopian New Year is coming up! Ironically, in my opinion, it’s on September 11th. Also, they follow a different calendar year as well, so it’s going to turn 2010 here. I get to see that happen again! 

Lake Langano! Because it’s silty, certain bacteria can’t grow, and therefore it’s safe to swim in! 😁

About Peace Corps Ethiopia:

Well, this section is more accurately “About Peace Corps Ethiopia G17”. I don’t know enough yet to give an overview of the program(s) here. 

  • We are a group of 40. We’ve been split into a group of 10 that went north to Tigray and 30 that are here in the south. The 30 of us down south are split between three towns – Kela, Bu’i and Butajira. 
  • We are called “G17” because we’re the 17th group serving in Ethiopia since the country opened back up to the Peace Corps in the 2007. 
  • We’re all going to be teaching HS.  – the odd numbered groups are education, the even number groups are health and agriculture sector volunteers. 
  • The health and ag volunteers come to Ethiopia in January. Education comes in June so we can start the school year in September. 
  • Our classrooms will probably have 60-100 students. Maybe more. Probably not less. 

I’ve had some tough days recently – there’s nothing like getting sick to make you rethink anything, but today was good. 

We started teaching a 3-week English camp, creating lesson plans from the text book for whatever grade we’re teaching. (I’m with 10th.) 

The first day was anxiety inducing. But I’ve been able to draw out and connect with quite a few of my students; and despite the names being really foreign to my tongue, I’m figuring them out. And laughing along the way. 

Friday’s class was excellent. I felt super comfortable, despite the fact I’m getting over being sick. Today I feel like I can do this thing. 

And tomorrow is Sunday – I get to sleep in!!!!!

So. Excited. 


*about the title – there are so many meals a day. Breakfast, mid morning “shai buna”, lunch, pre-dinner snack, dinner, and post-dinner coffee. 

How many days look. Our local “buna” (coffee) place.

Finding Your Way

Finding Your Way

This post title sounds like it is some beautiful metaphor, but since I’m currently reading Jenny Lawson, it’s definitely not.*

I have long felt that the best way to get to know a city is to get lost, and then find your way. This method has helped me explore Boston, San Francisco, London, Vancouver, Quebec City, NOLA, Philly and NYC (although it’s tough to get lost in NYC. Especially Manhattan. It’s a grid.) You might notice that these are all cities where google maps works and there are street signs. Butajira has neither. (Well, google maps works but only two streets show up…and if there are street signs, they’re written in Fidel script….so yeah.) 
I’ve been metaphorically lost (or at least wandering) these past few weeks amidst a few new languages, new food, new cultural norms and expectations; but last Sunday I literally got lost in Butajira. 
After about 10ish minutes of serious wandering; with a vague idea of the direction I should be headed and a possible direction I’d come from, I finally admitted to myself I was lost. And wandered for about 5 more mins. 
When I realized that I had passed the same street 3 times, I broke down and reached out for help. (Luckily there was still some sun, because street lights are another luxury absent from many parts of the world. Although if there were street lights, there’s a good chance they wouldn’t be working because electricity is spotty…It’s totally enough if you plan properly, but not something to be counted on as a constant.)(side note within a side note: These first few weeks have been a series of rolling realizations of the things I’ve taken for granted (utensils, deodorant, emergency response and the ability to call/text) and the subsequent enlightenment that they’re not necessary after all. – Don’t worry mom. I’m healthy. They gave me enough meds to have on hand if needed to stock a small pharmacy. There might even be a “sew-your-own sutures” kit from Klutz. I’ve heard they branched out.)
ANYWAY, after wandering for about 15mins – if I’m being honest – I called my host mother because she speaks the best English. I told her that I was at the mosque by her house…because I knew that at least, and then I asked for help. Well, I tried to ask for help. Looking back on it, I definitely did not ask for help. I’m awful at asking for help. So, when she hung up, I decided to wander around some more, giving myself 20mins to find the house. I started wandering in the direction I thought it wasn’t, and I got lucky. 10 minutes into this wander, I recognized a street and a Protestant church with loud gospel music. I definitely said “thank god” loud enough for quite a few people to hear. Since most of them were staring at me anyway because I’m white….it didn’t really matter. 

Now, a week later, I’m pretty sure it would only take me 5mins of wandering to find my way again. 


*do yourself a huge favor and pick up her book “Lets Pretend this Never Happened”. It is f****** amazing. Seriously. Reading that book (for me) is some serious self care. 

Above: a proud mama sheep. Found on my wandering. This is what sheep look like here. A friend and I decided that they should be called shoats, or geeps, because they look like half goats. 

This baby was super new. And clean. And cute. (Obviously). 

Soundtrack currently in my head: 

Rickie Byers Beckwith – We Let it Be
And the Moana soundtrack. Because I watched it with my host sisters last night.