Sunday, August 29, 2010

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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Play Me Some Mountain Music

…like Grandma and Grandpa used to play…instead of this Tigrigna nonsense. It’s kind of nice (OK it’s very nice) to wake up to a power outage, when I don’t hear the “DA DUN” beat of the standard Tigrigna music that is ever so popular here. At least my compound is situated far away from the mosque and the big church in my town, so I don’t get those lovely sounds (aka moans) in my ears as well. The compound I live on is rather small, yet there are multiple noise-producing devices and they always all seem to be turned on and playing different music. Cacophony at its finest! Ethiopians seem to love loud music, especially at 6:30am. But sometimes the local radio stations will play American music…Celine Dion, Shania Twain, Michael Bolton, and Michael Jackson are favorites. A lady I work with often tells me, “I am really really lover Celine Dion…and Michael Bolton.” (Pre or post haircut???)

Life continues to move at a pretty glacial pace over here, but in the big picture, the time is passing quickly. My group of volunteers arrived to Ityop’ya in the beginning of October 2009…and we’re almost halfway through July 2010 now! I’ve been staying a bit busy with trainings and the like. In late May, PC had all the volunteers in country get together in Yirgalem, which is wayyyyyyy down south. It was great to be on social overload for a week, but I always seem to get in a funk when I come back to site from being at a farenji-fest. Perhaps it’s normal. More recently, we had a 5 day permagarden (sustainable gardening) training in my town and the G3 PCVs in Tigray and our counterparts created a beautiful garden that will benefit some members of the PLWHA (Persons Living with HIV/AIDS) association in my town. We learned many aspects of gardening, including site development, composting, mulching, land contour, creating swales (they’re swell), seed spacing, etc…Check out my shutterfly site ( for pictures (they’ll make you want to start your own garden!).

In other exciting news, I’ll be turning 24 on July 17th…not sure what the past has in store for me (it’s currently 2002 here in this wild place), but we’ll see. My guess is a large round loaf of bread and some coffee??!! And if I’m lucky, a banana. The other time I had a birthday in the year 2002, I was turning 16 and got my driver’s license. How many people can say they’ve had 2 birthdays in one year, but 8 years apart? This concept is strange to me.

Also, belas (cactus fruit) season is in full swing. It’s a Tigray thing, to eat cactus. The fruit is way cheap (4 for 1 birr, or about 8 cents), and they’re full of VitC and other nutrients! But the saying goes, “Too many belas makes you fight with your anus…” (I think the latter can be said for many things here)…so you shouldn’t eat too many at a time. Did you know that camels actually eat the cactus leaf, spikes included? Ouch. Let’s see, what else…the new health center in my town will supposedly be opening this coming Thursday. Ever since I came to Quiha for my site visit last November, I was told the building would open in “2 months”…so January, right? Not quite. 2 months came, another 6 months passed, and now, it is finally going to open! The actual building has been complete for awhile, but there was no electricity or water, and “without electricity or water, it is not a health center.” And how! So we’ll see if it actually opens…it’s quite a step up from the old facility.

Happy July!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Future FCVs Coming to Ethiopia

Dear future PCVs coming to Ityop’ya,

You might have stumbled across my blog while frantically trying to learn about Ethiopia and what life as a PCV is like here…if that’s the case and you have any questions, please feel free to contact me via email ( Your days in the states are numbered at this point – cherish them!

A few recommendations I have for you all – some companies give discounts to PCVs – do a google search or something of the sort. Check out Chaco, Timbuk2, and Macabi Skirts for about a 50% discount on their products (definitely worth it). Also, a really good brand in travel purses is PacSafe – I think REI carries them, but they also have a website. Ladies – I highly recommend purchasing a DivaCup or something of the sort – tampons are not widely available at all in this country. Also, although PC recommends you not bring contacts, I say do it, if that’s what you’re used to wearing. I brought my contacts and wear them quite often (bring a big bottle of contact solution, as I’ve never seen it for sale in country).

If you’re thinking about making a blog (or have already), I don’t recommend blogspot, as you will not have regular access to the site. For whatever reason, it’s a blocked website in country, and most of us did not know that until after we arrived here…so to post an update, you have to have someone back home do it…kind of annoying. Wordpress is reliable here and worth looking into.

Bring some flea powder with you (and a fly swatter). There’s a very good chance you’ll get fleas at some point…in your bed. Not a good time. If you have any other questions about what to pack, holla at me.

Hope you’re all getting excited about coming to Ityop’ya – get ready for “13 months of sunshine”!!!! Yippee.



Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Traditional Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony

One thing that Ethiopians and Americans have in common is their love of coffee. However, the difference is in the way that one prepares the coffee here vs. America…

I think I have previously mentioned the Traditional Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony before, but it is such an inherent part of life here, so I’ll give you a little insight into this “ceremony”…usually when I think of this word, “special occasion” comes to mind…but this is not always the case. People will perform the ceremony any time of the day, multiple times a day, no special occasion necessary! I’ll set the stage for you: long blades of green grass or green leaves (or in some instances a couple potted plants or a plastic mat that has a tacky grass-like fringe around it) are put down on the floor where the coffee will be made, and sometimes flowers (fake or real) and popcorn are scattered throughout the grass. A box-like contraption (that sometimes has wheels) is used to display the coffee cups and saucers. A small stool is used by the person making the coffee. She (almost always a woman’s job) will first roast the green coffee beans over a charcoal stove, then pound them using a mortar and pestle (usually a heavy metal rod of sorts). However, after the beans are done roasting and before they are pounded, the lady will walk around the room and shake the beans/aroma to your nose’s delight. You are supposed to gently waft the fumes toward your nose and smile. The coffee grounds will then be mixed with boiling water in a jebena (traditional coffee vessel), then left to percolate for awhile in a little holder. During this time, a snack (coursi bunna) will be made and/or passed around. Popcorn (fandisha in Amharic, or ambeba in Tigrigna) is a favorite, or bread or a piece of injera with berbere and/or salt sprinkled over it is also common. If it really is a special occasion, sometimes bananas, orange slices, small cookies or pieces of candy will accompany the popcorn. At this point in the ceremony, incense is usually lit - either in stick form, or loose-leaf style (looks kind of like potpourri – I had never seen incense in this form before coming here) and the smoke/smell fills the room.

The first jebena of coffee that is made is called owl. The second is tona, and the third is baracka. The coffee is served in tiny cups that resemble large thimbles. It’s kind of like attending a child’s tea party… The cups generally do not have handles, so one must be careful so as to not burn their fingers when holding it. I have become good at the “tripod hold”, placing my pinky finger underneath the cup, and holding the rim delicately with my thumb and index finger. Ethiopians do not skimp on the amount of sugar that goes into this tiny cup – usually 2 or 3 heaping tiny teaspoons per cup. In my region of Tigray, after you take/taste the first sip of owl, you are supposed to say “T’ium bunna” to the person who made the coffee, meaning “sweet coffee! It makes your host feel appreciated. The coffee is potent here, and don’t even think about asking for a cup of decaf – it’s nonexistent! This ceremony is performed at any and all hours of the day – for guests, for fun, out of boredom, special occasions, etc. It is an everyday part of life for pretty much every single Ethiopian (correct me if I’m wrong!).

And it kills me when people ask me if I have ever been witness to the “traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony”…or when it’s happening they’ll lean over and say “this is cultural”…yeah, no kidding! I have been in this country for 8 months at this point – and probably sit through at least one coffee ceremony per day. This whole process, from set up – the end of the 3rd thimble full takes about an hour (at least). I think the most coffee ceremonies I’ve ever sat through in a day has been 4…When I moved to site I started keeping count of how many I attended (for lack of better things to do with my time!), but my count was growing at a rapid pace, so I stopped. I am also asked very often if I prepare coffee in my home…and the answer is yes, just not the Ethio way. I brought a French press w/ me (thanks dad!) and buy ground coffee in Mekele…probably the ultimate Ethiopian faux paus. I do not own a charcoal stove, nor do I own a jebena, but perhaps it will be something I’ll take home as a little relic of having lived here, to place on my bookshelf. The ceremony is quite time consuming and I do have the time, but while I’m here, I think I’ll stick to my western coffee making way (sans drip machine)…

I have seen an electric coffee grinder for sale, in addition to a drip machine, but they are not in any way/shape/form common here (except maybe in Addis).

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name...

...and then sometimes you don’t...

I recently got back to site after traveling to Hawassa (aka Awassa…note: every single town/city in this country has a minimum of 2 different spellings) to participate in a 7k race that kicked off the EveryONE campaign – a new health campaign aimed at significantly reducing national infant/child/maternal mortality within the next 5 years. It’s nice to spend time in a place where no one really cares that your farenji and you can simply walk down the street in a peaceful state, where every person who passes doesn't call out your name or Farenji/China/YOU! It was also nice to get away from site for a few days and see other PCVs! The run was SO hot and humid, but I finished (with a bit of walking thrown in the mix), and that’s what matters, right?! Part of the course went along the lake, and there were people lined up watching/cheering, while others took the opportunity to bathe, fish, and do laundry. Typical 7k Sunday morning scenery…

Other happenings as of late…The real Silence of the Lambs, aka Fasika (or Easter) was a couple weeks ago, and it definitely made for an interesting holiday. It was not my typical Easter celebration of a sunrise church service, followed by a delicious brunch prepared by my mother, and then the traditional egg hunt…trying to explain a large rabbit, tasty candies, and eggs (I honestly don’t even know why these are all symbols of American Easter…) is a lot of work, so I just sat back and observed/enjoyed the holiday in the spirit of the Ethio way. Meat is a big to-do here on holidays, so in the week preceding Fasika, there were many a goat, sheep, and chicken for sale. Common sightings included goats and sheep tied down to the top of nearly every car/bus that passed through my town, in addition to people nonchalantly carrying chickens around by their feet, or tugging a goat or sheep on a leash through town. The butcher shops all opened up again, as Fasika marked the end of the Orthodox Christian’s 55 day [vegan] fasting period. There are always oxen tied to a tree outside one of the butcher shops in my town – I think it’s kind of morbid and a way to let the oxen know that “Hey, you’ll probably be showcased in this window in the coming days!”

I spent my Easter-eve watching a chicken be slaughtered on my compound. It was definitely interesting, and I documented the occasion with my camera (pics are on my shutterfly site). Sabihi darho (chicken wat in Tigrigna) and siga wat (meat wat) were the main dishes served at all holiday celebrations, but I do not eat meat in this country – there is something to be said for knowing where your meat comes from, but non-meat dishes are so much more appetizing to me here! Word travels like wildfire that I don’t eat meat in my town, so people at all the houses I visited for Easter were very kind and made me scrambled eggs. Additionally, there’s never a special occasion without sewa (or sewage) – the local beer of Ityop’ya…it’s called tella in Amharic, and some of the locals jokingly refer to it as “dirty water”…if you can imagine, it’s just that good (and usually has some floating chunks around the top – you just casually spit those on the ground).

I have also been to two weddings in the past couple weeks. I must say that these celebrations are very different from the American weddings I have attended. Here, it is common for the groom to give his new bride a suitcase (or 2) full of “goods” – clothing, jewelry, shoes, etc…The bride opens the suitcase in front of everyone, then it is taken away, and I think the elders on her side of the family either approve or disapprove of what has been purchased for her. It’s kind of nerve-wracking in my opinion, but it’s a cultural thing!

Other interesting happenings as of late: I got vommed on by a fellow bus passenger on the way home from visiting a friend somewhat recently. No warning. No apologies. Gross! When using public transportation for more than about 20 minutes in this country, it is very common for people to vomit. Usually, they are able to do it into a bag or out the window, but not this time. The girl sitting to my right blew chunks on my right leg and foot…fortunately, most of it either got on herself or the floor, but still…it was nasty. But I guess this country has mellowed me out quite a bit, as I wasn’t really fazed by the situation. I calmly got out my “soft” (TP), wiped off her vomit to the best of my ability, and went back to staring out of the window, hoping the ride would be over soon.

It’s been raining on a semi-frequent basis, and little bits of grass have started popping up around these parts! My town is pretty desert-ish, and so this new greenery is gladly welcomed into my life! As is the sound of rain on a tin roof (minus the small leak in my ceiling!)…it’s so relaxing.

I’ve been staying somewhat busy teaching English a couple days a week to the staff at my health center. It’s extremely informal, but I do have a blackboard and chalk! My health center offers a comprehensive 17-component health extension package to people/families in the community, and these past few weeks I have been going on home visits with one of the health extension workers. It’s been a nice change of pace from my seemingly mundane life, and I’m being exposed to and learning a lot. The components we’ve been checking up on include a cover over the latrine, a hand washing station, and garbage disposal (2 separate things for solid household waste (garbage) and liquid household waste (like coffee and tea grounds)). Hand washing stations can easily be constructed out of a used plastic 2 liter oil container and the casing from a ballpoint pen – so simple! They are then hung near the latrine and voila – “running water”!

I’ll try to update this more frequently – it’s just something that slips my mind! Hope all is well out there and Happy Mother’s Day!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Laura, the Land-dwelling Whale!

First they uncovered Lucy, and then Ardi, and now I’m the first of its kind to exist in the land-locked country of Ityop’ya – a bipedal, land-dwelling whale with reptilian skin! Hearing you’re fat/HUGE multiple times a week does nothing good for one’s ego, but such is a very common way of living here as a female volunteer. It gets reallllllllly old, and somewhat painful on the inside, especially when weight is a sensitive subject where I come from. Let’s hope I don’t develop an eating disorder while I’m here! I have to keep a sense of humor about the situation (and with most aspects of life here), because there’s not much else to do. And tact is a difficult concept to instill in grown individuals…

A lot has happened since my last post (it’s been quite awhile!) – most likely a few Ethiopian holidays have been thrown into the mix, along with more awkward moments. Woo hoo…February 11thth anniversary of the TPLF’s (Tigray Peoples’ Liberation Front) struggle against the Derg regime. And then came the commemoration of the Battle of Adwa (where the Ethiopians defeated the Italians), and finally, the Muslim holiday that celebrated the birth of Mohammed. There really are a lot of holidays here. Next weekend is Fasika, or Easter, which is a widely celebrated holiday. It also marks the end of their 55-day fasting period (no meat, eggs, dairy), so people are getting really excited about the prospect of eating meat again. Animal slaughter party 2k10 – my heart goes out to all of those poor souls that will have an end put to their life in just a few days time. (Lekatit Aserta Hada) by the Ethiopian calendar marked a big holiday, at least in my region. It was the 35

My group of PCVs recently had IST (In-Service Training) at a “resort” south of Addis, called Sodere. It was nice to get away from site for roughly 10 days and see everyone again. We spent a couple days in Addis, then were taken to Sodere for a week. We hadn’t been together as a group since our swearing in ceremony, back in December. The place had an Olympic sized swimming pool, another pool (both with hot water), a river, wildlife, and nature trails! There were also some obnoxiously sneaky little blue-testicled monkeys running rampant on the grounds. They were not at all afraid to approach the humans and steal things as well! Luckily, I did not have anything stolen, but some people in my group did. Among my other wildlife sightings: baboons, a hippo, a crocodile, warthogs, beautiful birds, and healthy looking horses.

Life continues to be dry here in the desert in every sense of the word – I feel it in the weather, my skin, and my sense of humor. My skin has become somewhat reptilian, and lotion has become a dear friend of mine. I am really looking forward to the rainy season, which starts in June or so. It did rain (actually it poured) the other day at my site for the first time in a couple months and then there was a huge rainbow in the sky – a pretty spectacular site! And also a small leak in my ceiling – time for repair!

About half of my group signed up to do a race down south in Hawassa on May 2nd – a 7k. Hopefully I’ll be able to run the whole thing, but we’ll see! I started “training” recently, and literally I have had about 20 people tell me they saw me doing “sport” in the morning. Nothing I do goes unnoticed in my little town. It’s kind of strange and overwhelming at times. Anywho, I’m looking forward to seeing my fellow PCVs again, and a new part of the country!

I also recently moved into a new compound. I had to move, as my landlords wanted to rent out their whole compound to make bank…so now the project manager of a large wind power project that recently started up outside of my town and some of the other workers live where I used to…good news is that Ityop’ya will have some serious wind power in three years time! My new compound mates are very nice, but it’s kind of like living with a host family again – we’re all situated very close together. And unfortunately, I no longer have a toilet – back to the old squatting position over a hole in the ground, aka quad-strengthening exercises. When in Ityop’ya…

I’ll try to update this blog more frequently – my apologies for it being so long! Hope all is well with everyone out there and we’ll be in touch! Check out my shutterfly site for pictures if you’re bored! The link is on the side of the page.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Week of the GURSHA!

This past week I received my first “gursha”, or force-feeding. Basically, in this culture, if someone really likes you, they will feed you with their hand (the right one) to show their love/respect. This happened to me not only in one setting this week, but two. The first was during a luncheon at my health center. One of the lady staff members got me twice! With injera and meat broth (she skipped the meat because they all know I don’t eat it)…so that threw me off guard. And then after picking small rocks out of a huge bag of wheat with my landlords’ house girl, she snuck me into the kitchen for a snack of shiro wat and injera, where she proceeded to practically feed me my entire snack, while thanking me relentlessly for helping her.

A few weeks ago Ethiopians celebrated “Timket”, better known as Epiphany to you English speakers out there. My neighbor invited me to join him at the huge celebration in Mekele, which consisted of literally thousands of people gathering in a huge field, while wearing their finest Habesha kidan (Ethiopian clothing). Some people (mainly the religious big wigs) carried fancy umbrellas. Alas it was a very colorful celebration! As usual, I had no clue as to what was going on around me, but at the end of the ceremony, holy water was dispersed into the crowd and everyone went wild…There are a lot of holidays in this country…Tomorrow marks the start of a 55 day meat/dairy-free fasting period for the locals.

My “community discovery” continues to go well. I feel as though I am integrating nicely into Quiha. I have learned how to bathe a cat, and I have also had my feet washed/lotioned by a nice lady in my town. (Dirt shows up more on white skin – go figure!) While attending the local Youth Association meeting recently, I was invited to cut the special bread (woo hoo!). On special occasions there is sometimes a huge circular loaf of bread (this one was about 2 feet in diameter) that is served during the coffee ceremony, and a VIP of sorts is the one who gets to cut the bread in front of everyone. After the bread cutting, we danced to traditional music (everyone small-stepping in a circle, shaking their shoulders and tapping their feet) – I was told I looked like a natural. However, these dance moves aren’t reserved for the elite.

We have IST (In-Service Training) coming up in about a month in a “resort town” called Sodere. It’s kind of close to where we lived during PST (Pre-Service Training!)…And I’ve heard there are lots of monkeys, which I’m very excited about. At IST we will present our CNAs to the other people in our group of volunteers, and have trainings on various topics. I’m really looking forward to seeing everyone again and catching up, etc. Plus, it will be nice to have a little greenery in my life. My area is rather desert-like, with a lot of dirt, rocks/stones, cacti, and camels (very little grass or trees). I’ve heard life gets a bit greener during the rainy season, so, in a nutshell (preferably almond or cashew), I’m looking forward to the rainy season! It should start in the coming months.

Happy Valentine’s Day – can’t say it’s a widely celebrated holiday here…well, maybe in Addis, but I live about 800km from there.