The contents of this blog are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. Government or the Peace Corps.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016


January 25, 2016

All of sudden it was time to go. All of sudden two years were gone. Someone once told me that everything in the Peace Corps feels like a month. Waiting for a bus in the busy, harassment-filled bus station: one month. Sitting in the office just chatting or not, trying to get projects started: one month. A week in site with good days and bad days: one month. One year in site and returning to Addis for the Mid-Service Conference: one month. Going from my house to the big market on Saturday and back: one month. Two years in Ethiopia: one month. Then, there was really only month left. 

With some political tension in the Oromia region and my town, Peace Corps pulled us (other PCVs in my area and I) out of site and gave us a nice little two week, paid vacation in Hawassa, a beautiful lake town. And, although, I’m appreciative and understanding of the Peace Corps and their reasons for keeping us in Hawassa for two weeks, I missed out on so much time in my town. A time that could have been very valuable for working on research, finishing up projects, and just hanging out with friends. I got home on Christmas Eve. It was so nice to be back, felt so comfortable, but then I realized what little time I had. So began my last month at site and in Ethiopia with some wonderful family and friends that made all the difference in my service. 

I started to get lots and lots of invitations to coffee and meals and holiday celebrations. I ate meat, and doro wat (chicken stew, a traditional celebration meal), I drank coffee and t’ej (local mead), I played Old Maid and watched movies with my friends and compound family. I started to pack. That was a task. I had so much stuff in my little, mud house. How did I accumulate all this stuff? I started to give things away to everyone who had done something for me. I promised to sell my big furniture to friends. I cleaned and cleaned and did laundry and did some more. I was so busy and so emotionally unsure of what I felt, I don’t know where the time went. 

The last week, was one of the hardest and most bittersweet I have ever had. It started with goodbyes at my environmental club and my Agriculture Office. Then slowly I said goodbye to my friends over coffee and food, and beer. Then the night before I left, my best friend and counterpart, Tarikua came over to my house. We sat and talked and ate and watched a little bit of a movie, like any other day we would hang out. Then, she went out and got a garri (horse-drawn carriage) to take my couch, stove, and oven (now hers) to her house. We loaded it all up and then it was time for goodbye, a real goodbye, a maybe-won’t-ever-see-you-again goodbye. I kissed her three times on the check and said I would miss her and I love her and she said it back. My watering eyes mirrored hers and she walked away. 

The next morning was just a bad, or worse, or not? I’m not really sure. It was so unreal. My compound mom made me breakfast and my dad and brother walked me to the bus station. My heavy, stuffed backpack wouldn’t fit in the back of the bus so I sat in a tiny, narrow seat with it on my lap, spilling into both of my neighbors. Hugs were given awkwardly, but lovingly while I was sitting the bus. As my compound dad and brother walked away, Henok (my brother) turned to wave and I could see him crying and I lost it. I started bawling in a bus with Ethiopians staring and confused, but I guess that wasn’t uncommon. I had pulled myself together by the time I got to the next town over where I met my fellow PCV, Cody, who would travel the rest of the way to Addis with me and it was over. Just like that. 

Leaving this part of my life was like no other experience I have ever had. Other goodbyes might have seemed final at the time, but there was always a potential there that I would go back or see the people again because they weren’t halfway across the world. This time it was halfway across the world and, truthfully, I didn’t know if I would be back or see the people again. I never imagined how unimaginable that would feel. There’s no way I could put this experience into words, what I learned, how I grew and struggled, how much the people meant to me. I just know I was there, I lived, grew, loved, and wouldn’t trade it for anything. So thank you Ethiopia and goodbye, for now.  

Thursday, December 17, 2015

This holiday season will be the second one I've celebrated in Africa. Last year I was on the lovely island of Zanzibar, enjoying beautiful sandy beaches and seafood. This year, though it is not set in stone, I will probably be hanging out in my little Ethiopian town, eating a normal dinner of injera and misir wat (lentil stew) with my compound family. Loud Ethiopian musical videos with girls dancing in traditional clothing in a beautiful field with mountains in the background will be playing on the TV set by the door. As I get close to finishing my service, I relish these normal family dinners with my compound, but missing home, family, and friends gets a just a bit harder this time of year. Small parties of white elephant gift exchange with fellow PCVs and skyping with the parents will help make the time just a little bit like it is back in the states. Even though it's weird missing yet another fondue Christmas dinner and the Pratt's New Years Day Potluck, there are times it doesn't even feel like the holiday season. Here we are not surround by Christmas trees, music, or stacks of red and green cookies. There are no breaks in the schools or offices, no advertisements for shops, no snow, or even cold weather for that matter. So, I will not dwell on what I'm missing, but enjoy the normal family dinners and beers with other PCVs.

Enough about what is not here, let me give you a little taste of what the holiday season has in this wonderful country. The main holiday season here is in September, which is the Ethiopian new year, as well as, a big holiday called Meskel, that celebrates the finding of the true cross. In addition, Ethiopian Christmas will be celebrated just a could weeks after our own. Holidays mostly consist of eating, much like our own. Goats, sheep, and chicken are slaughtered. T'ela (local beer) is made, family is invited, and a good time is had. Groups of small girls singing songs come house to house to entertain and sell flowers. At night large piles of dried sticks and corn stalks are burned. People chant and sing, sit and dance. The common Hoy-ya, Hoy-yay and clapping can be heard around town long into the night. The next week, leftovers are heated up and reheated up and life moves on. Holidays may be different around the world, but in many ways they're the same. A time for celebration, family, hope and love.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Girls Run the World

October 11, 2015

Today is the International Day of the Girl. Today we celebrate all the girls who have and continue to break stereotypes, who stand up and say they will not let cultural norms stop them from following their dreams, who believe that together they can make this world a better place. Today we celebrate all the women who have given the girls a positive example to follow, who lend their support, love, and passion to helping girls work toward gender equality. Everyday I witness gender inequality, suppression, and prejudice towards women and girls. And everyday I see, brave women and girls fight back. I see the determination, strength, and devotion o these people standing up for themselves and others. I would like to give all my respect, gratitude, and love to the women and girls of Ethiopia and Adaba who are working for a better and more equal tomorrow.  

A couple a months ago, I was the director of a summer camp called Camp GLOW, which stands for Girls Leading Our World. Thirty-five girls rom the Arsi and Bale Zones o southeast Oromia came and learned about self-confidence, health, goal setting, and empowerment. I made the following video from a session in camp about what the girls will do in their future. It was called “Girl rising, if you let girls learn. . .” It is for all of them who fight the good fight. 

Friday, October 30, 2015

The Family Comes to Ethiopia

August 25, 2015

The people: my dad, Graham, a 64-yea-old chimney sweep born and raised in Kentucky. My mom, Melinda, a tree-hugging, nature-loving environmental education hero. And my aunt, Chris, a wonderfully sarcastic middle school principal who runs like an Ethiopian. These three lovely people flew thousands of miles to come see the place that I call home. Pretty well-versed in international travel, this was the first trip to a country as historically, culturally, and physically rich and challenging as Ethiopia. This, however, never stopped them from taking on and experiencing the country with clear eyes and full hearts. 

The activities: The first glimpse I had is of my dad's hug mustache walking out of the international terminal, a head taller than anyone else. There were tears and hugs and laughs and then the adventure began. We went eveywhere. We went to Gondar, on a day hike in Simiens, Axum, Lalibela, Harar, Bale Mountains, Adaba (my site), and, finally, Hawassa. With them I saw more of the country than I had in my first year and a half. We learned about the history. We experienced the culture drinking lots and lots of coffee, having selfless hospitality, buying beautiful crafts, following women headed to church in their natellas, and eating injera and injera and fir fir (injera) and injera. Oh, and we even stopped in on a local t'ela bet for a taste of the local beer after dodging a herd of goats and donkeys running down the middle of the street. We saw the beauty of natural Ethiopia and ate fresh fruit bought from a market with colors of all hues. We relaxed with wine by the lake in Hawassa, watched the storms roll in, toured my town, ate with my compound family, and turned heads as we strolled through the market to buy spices and incense. And we just were together. We talked and caught up, played cards, and read side by side flying around the country.  

The result: Amazing. It was amazing to have my family here and to see where I have been and will be living for two years of my life. It was amazing to see Ethiopia though their eyes and be a tour guide to this wonderful place. It was amazing for them to meet who I've been having shaybuna with every day for the past 15 months and to see my desk in the Agriculture office. It was amazing to have them by my side as I experienced new parts of Ethiopia and shared familiar parts. I will forever be grateful to have had them come and experience such a big pat of my life with me. But, maybe the best part was how fascinated everyone, especially kids, was with my dad's rockin' mustache.

Monday, September 14, 2015

The ramblings of an Ethiopian stranger

June 11, 2015

I had a very interesting conversation with this man on a bus. Well, it was more like we had a round about conversation through this nice man who translated (as much as possible) what I could not understand. As usual the man asked me my name and where I was from and such. I told him my name and that I was from the US and when I said I was American, he said he did not like the US. For an Ethiopian, who usually all say they love the US and will live there someday, this was an interesting response. After a bit of chatting with our in between guy, the man related that he did not not like the US, but didn’t like the government. He said our government thinks they can do whatever they want and often do. I did not take offense to any of this and had no intention of talking politics (as I don’t now) with this man, but since I had only gotten about two hours of sleep the night before, I guess I looked sad. They kept telling me not to look sad. “Don’t be sad, don’t be sad, it’s not you, people are the same.” The man then went on to say something that I did not entirely understand, but got the gist of from the translator, that went something like this: I like you because you are a person and people are just people. A government is not a person. We are people and the world is just people, all of us are the same.
Not only was this one of the most insightful and thoughtful things I had heard from an Ethiopian, especially a stranger next to me on a crowed bus, but it also gave me a little hope. Even though at times here, I feel so different and alone, I’m not. I am just a person living, working, and laughing with other people. It’s amazing how sometimes people can seem so different, but we all belong to this world and this world belongs to all of us. And it’s us who have to change it, together.  

P.s. This conversation as represented above may not seem like ramblings, but what I summarized was about a 20 or 30 conversation of round abouts and saying the same thing over and over just in slightly different ways, normal Ethiopian convos. 

My Life in Pictures

Plan: I am going to post a picture every so often (hopefully every week, but that may not happen. . .) in this blog of my life here in east Africa just to you give you all a little visual taste of my world.

September 13, 2015

This little nugget was at an Easter celebration at one of my friend's houses. She loved the cat, but it hated her.
September 17, 2015
This is my most amazing counterpart and best friend, Tarikua (in a huge fig tree) J
September 21, 2015
The wonderful G12s I trained in Permagarden :)

September 28, 2015
The Agriculture Office in my little town Adaba

October 5, 2015
My little brothers and momma in my compound :)

October 12, 2015
The Michael Jackson mural I painted with help of kids in the school last year. 

October 19, 2015
Sports club attendee. Cutest one there. 

October 26, 2015
My town looking from south to north to the Wabe Shabele plain. 

Thursday, June 25, 2015

"Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe."

May 17, 2015

At our MSC (Mid-service conference) we had a session, a roundtable more like, of experience sharing and motivation. We were asked about successes and challenges of the past year and about hopes and worries for the year to come. And, although, almost everyone had some kind of success, there were at least two challenges to go along with it. And each hope for the future was paired with the worry that hope would never come true. Looking around our circle of bare-footed Environment volunteers, some in chairs and some on the floor, it seemed a gloomy place. But our wonderful and wise PCVL (Peace Corps volunteer leader, a third year who works with the program staff), Sally, read us the quote used as the title by Abraham Lincoln. She told us that according to her calculations we still have four months of sharpening to do before we start chopping down the tree. So we started talking. Coffee ceremonies, days spend in the office just sitting there greeting people and reading on our Kindle, meetings with promises only to be followed up by another meeting with the same promises, doro wat, Ethiopian music videos, tea and coffee breaks, shoulder dancing, markets, sorting lentils, injera and break, oh, and more coffee. We had sharpened and sharpened and would continue to sharpen. When the time was right, hopefully, out this sharpening would come work. However, if work never picks up, there’s something to be said for all the sharpening. All the relationships, all the memories made, all the boundaries pushed, all the living that’s been done. So, here’s to sharpening and to hoping.

Ethiopian Flag

Ethiopian Flag