The Rainy Season is Coming…

The Rainy Season is Coming…

…. actually, in Illu Babour it’s already here.

The minutes leading up to a storm are some of my favorite. In life.

There’s a sudden hush. The temperature drops and birds go quiet. Thunder starts rolling in the distance and the wind stirs the trees, harmonizing in waves. The rustle of leaves sharing a secret as the wind brushes past you, heralding the coming storm.

There’s a sense of anticipation – a change is coming. Something is about to happen.

The patters start lightly – tapping the tin roof. The water builds up to roll off the roof, first sinking into the ground, then splattering into the mud.

The storm grows into a thunderous roar – pounding on the roof so loud you can’t hear yourself speak; booms of thunder that buzzes your chest and rolls out your ears.

And then the pressure eases. The rain becomes courteous, the trickle of water off the roof more delicate… until it fades; leaving behind a clear sky and mud everywhere underfoot.


It’s Primary Day in PA today…. go vote!!

It’s Primary Day in PA today…. go vote!!

It’s super bizarre – sometimes a wonderful thing, sometimes an absolutely frustrating endeavor with an icing of disconnection – trying to keep up with US politics while here in rural Ethiopia.

The Wonderful:

Its a beautiful thing, knowing when I’ve hit my limit of awful, I can close that browser window and not hear anything else about it. The chances of another PCV bringing up politics is super low. It’s more likely an Ethiopian will mention the current president, and that might lead to a semi-frustrating conversation – depending on the level of their English ability. Since his comments on “Haiti and all African countries…” a few months ago, people here like him less for sure.

When I want to ignore US politics, not only is it possible, it’s easy.

The Disconcerting:

I was an International Politics major in college (for 3 years before graduating with “Cross Cultural Relations and Community Development”) and I think political systems are fascinating. And democracies only work when people are “engaged” (aka doing shit. Like voting. And calling your reps. Boring things that are so vital.) Here, I’m completely disengaged. Even more so than when I’m in the US, it takes serious effort to keep up on the most basic overview of the reality TV show that is the current state of American politics. Also, it’s almost impossible to watch Samantha Bee, Trevor Noah and John Oliver while I’m here, and that’s just sad. I miss their shows so much.

Side note – if you’re curious about Ethiopian politics, I refer you to Google. First look up what legal protections journalists have here, (there are none) and that will tell you why you will never find politics on this blog. Also, being a representative of the US, America wants to be ethical and not meddle in other countries’ sovereignty….hahahaha jk lol. I don’t want to go to Ethiopian jail. No part of that sounds fun.

Also – shout out to the great person at Chester County voter services who helped me with all 6 of my questions when I was registering to vote via absentee ballot for a year! You’re awesome.

The semester is winding down, students are becoming disinterested, and the rains are starting to come back. I’ve decided that this is my favorite season in Ethiopia for weather – the baking hot is finally broken, and the storms stir up some gorgeous winds. It’s not constant rain and mud…yet. (The muddy season is COMING!)

I’m quite behind on posts – I’ve got about 10 that are half-finished. Internet is back but it’s really spotty. They’re on my to-do list behind actual Peace Corps assignments, finals prep, lesson planning and camp stuff. (We’re doing a GLOW camp in Metu – Girls Leading Our World. While I’m fairly competent and experienced at camp planning and prep in the US… this is different. It’s not just a whole other ball game…it’s like wandering into a game where nothing makes sense, and there’s some off the wall points system that has absolutely no logic. And you can’t even find a ball.)

So I’m working on it. I promise.

(Proof goats will eat anything)

Happy Fasika!

Happy Fasika!

After 60ish days of fasting from all animal products, Fasika (Easter) is all about eating ALL THE MEAT.

And, if you’re in an Orthodox community, alcohol too. Hence the photo. (Bedele is my regional beer, brewed where I change buses on my way to Jimma. The town is also called Bedele.)

I was woken up at 4am ish as a parade went by, from the church through town, and then again at 4:30ish when they came back towards the church again.

Around 5:15, I was woken up a third by my neighbors inviting me over for breakfast. Luckily, I was warned this would happen the night before. (Anyone who knows me knows that early mornings and I aren’t on the best of terms. It’s a rocky relationship filled with tense conversations, occasional angry outbursts and a smattering of beautiful and awe-inspiring moments. But just a smattering. I like my sleep.)

Breakfast was eggs and onions with Ethiopian cheese (I had two bites. It was delicious) and injera. We then separated to start working on the rest of the day’s food – a sheep was killed, and coffee was made.

An hour or so later, the coffee was served with milk, butter and salt, and a butcher was almost finished taking apart the sheep while our compound dog looked on enviously.

His name is “Dude”. As in “hey Dude!”

Thus began a full day of drinking and eating as much as you can put into your stomach.

Things I learned:

  • I’m not a fan of raw liver. Chunks of regular meat (called kurt) isn’t so bad, but kitfo is better.
  • It’s really something to see the whole process – watching an animal live around your house for awhile, then eat it. It makes being grateful for and mindful of your meal really easy.
  • Since most Ethiopians are much skinnier and smaller than me, most get drunk fairly quickly. (Unless they’re alcoholics. There are a few in my town – they usually help me get water. They’re chill. The 12-step program does not exist here.)
  • Drinking 4 shots of arake with your neighbors before 11am makes for a long day.
  • On Fasika, there is no such thing as “qoofee” (I’m full). The response will simply be “tino nyadhaa!” (Eat a little!) until all the food is gone. Luckily, Thanksgivings in my Italian-American family prepared me well for pacing myself. I didn’t throw up, and only ate to the point of severe regret once in the day.
  • The holiday didn’t end on Sunday night, in the words of Takaye on Monday afternoon “It’s still the holiday! Tomorrow it’s finished….maybe. (A few students came back on Tuesday, but things didn’t really get back to normal until Thursday.)

Since Sunday was market day, I went to see if I could buy mangoes and bananas. I only found a few, and they were pretty beat up. I was probably the only non-Muslim who showed up to the market.

On my way back, I was invited to coffee, farso and bread by a fellow teacher. He is super nice, and his wife is one of my favorite people in town. They have 4 kids (which is considered reasonable by Ethiopian standards. 10 children is fairly common since birth control is shunned in most rural areas.) Farso is home-made beer, with widely varying alcohol levels. I stayed for 3 glasses.

Right near my house, I was invited to beer by a group of people hanging out at the souk. Thus began the evening. Since I can’t usually drink in public in my village as a woman, it was a really nice break from the usual routine.

The night finished at a neighbors house for doro wat. (An amazing spicy chicken-curry-esque dish that’s only served on holidays. If you live near an Ethiopian restaurant – go and try it! Maybe call ahead to see if they’re making it. I’m not sure if fasting seasons hold for American-based restaurants… but it’s worth checking.)

Another interesting note – there were swarms of butterflies all day; which were amazing. Their symbolism of transformation coinciding with Easter was a pretty cool occurrence.

(A traditional coffee pot – everyone uses these, even in Addis, to brew coffee. Called a “djebena”.)

I really need to get better at taking people pictures, sorry!

It’s a beautiful day in The Neighborhood…

It’s a beautiful day in The Neighborhood…

Thanks Mr. Rodgers!

Also – the internet is back on! I’m typing this from my house. Cheers!!!

(Above: a few of my students leaning against the flagpole at school)

The idiomatic phrase is “sharing a cup of sugar”. Here, neighbors do that and more. If my door is open, anyone who knows me is likely to poke their head in, say hi, ask to borrow a cup of anything, ask what I’m up to, and/or invite me over for coffee. The other day when my landlady heard me making popcorn the other day (my default is still American style – with salt; not Ethiopian style – called “fandisha”- with sugar), she popped her head in and asked for some. Other days requests will range from borrowing my colander, a stapler, or a broom. This easy sharing of things and foods goes both ways. If she just bought some bananas, she’ll give me some. Or if i need to borrow a hammer to nail my bug net up for the tenth time… it’s an expected yes with an offer of help if I need it.

(We found a small man-made lake in a park near Metu University. Super peaceful.)

Now that I’m 10 months in, I’m officially not a newbie anymore – the g18s arrived Jan 21st, and go to site in a week or so. I have a backlog of 6 half-finished posts, so hopefully I’ll be able to post at least two in the next three weeks. This post however is going to be about a central point of Ethiopian culture – their sense of communal living.

Ethiopians are incredibly generous; especially with food and their time. If you’re sick, they’ll bring you food and walk with you to the clinic if you need to go; or if you happen to walk by a friend’s house you haven’t seen in awhile, they’ll invite you in for coffee and a “snack”. (Said “snack” bring a similar amount of food my Italian-American mother offers to all guests walking into her house when they tell her they’re not hungry. It’s a lot.) This is one of the reasons cheating in school on tests is so prevalent – they see it as helping a friend. Why wouldn’t you help your friend if you know and they don’t?

(The current Illu Babour crew (minus David and Johannah – with the 3 COSing g14s – they’re done! Congrats guys!)

Any time that the power goes out (and I haven’t started my charcoal stove), or I just got back into my village… or I’ve run out of food, I’m invited to eat dinner with my landlord and landlady – Tagel and Takaye. They understand when I have days I want to eat alone, but are genuinely happy to have me join their dinner. For holidays, it’s expected I’m going to eat with them – even/especially if they go to Tagel’s mothers house (who I truly love. She’s funny).

Ethiopians can be nosy, and upfront about personal appearance questions. (My host mother – with absolutely no ill intention – called me fat a month into service. It’s a comment that either is a compliment or bears no negative emotion whatsoever.) But one of the primary motivations for being (from the American lens – intrusive) curious is a genuine desire to help, if they can.

Another example of how “what I have is yours and what you have is mine – including your time – was when, during PST came home from work with a migraine, and told me that I could make dinner for the family that night. (!) some of this is translation error – Ethiopian languages don’t have nuanced polite requests. A simple “get in!” is considered an adequate invitation, not an affront. So the influx of emotions that followed her announcement (she trusts me THAT much? Could she have asked? I hope they like my food! …) were all because of the default – how can I help? aspect of Ethiopian culture.

People sit with each other while one person is working, or run the risk of being late so as to walk to school or a meeting with a friend… being with people is a central aspect of Ethiopian culture.

(Bar cat (above) hoping to get some of our kitfo (below))

(The rolls in the white bowl is injera. The green spinach stuff is called gomen, and the chopped raw meat is the kitfo. It’s really delicious. I promise.)

Ethiopians range from bare tolerance to active dislike of dogs; but when the puppy I’d made friends with was hit by a car (super common occurrence – warning to all future volunteers here), Tagel and Takaye were genuinely sad – just because they knew I was. They immediately invited me to coffee and made sure I ate with them that night.

The internet being out (therefore eliminating my ability to talk with friends and family back home outside of major cities) for the past four months has been difficult; but it has encouraged me to go deeper into my local community, which has been the silver lining.

The last time I returned to site, I was genuinely happy and felt at home with the people in my community, not just in my house. So cheers to that too.


Teaching in Ethiopia is Unique

Teaching in Ethiopia is Unique

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 walked 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.

(to) The Holidays and Beyond!

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.)