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

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Trekking Across Tigray


September 23, 2014

As most of you know, or at least some of you, for the past two weeks I was running across the northern part of Ethiopia, Tigray. It was the second annual Tigray Trek, an event focused on bringing awareness to and giving trainings on HIV/AIDS throughout Tigray. This year a group of about 25 PCVs (runners, bikers and support team) ran from Atsbie to Korem, giving sessions on ABCs of HIV/AIDs, birth control, nutrition, and container gardens in eight different communities. If you are curious or feel like looking on a map, our exact schedule, route, and approximate distances were as follows: Day 1: Atsbie à Wukro (25 km), Day 2: Wukro à Mekele (47 km), Day 3 Mekele à Kwiha (9 km), Day 4: Kwiha à Hiwane (47 km), Day 5: Hiwane à Ata Shoa (38 km), Day 6: Ata Shoa à Maychew (35 km), Day 7: Maychew à Korem (41 km), Total of 242 km over 7 days.
Day one was wonderful. The champion marathon runner, Gebregziabher Gebremariam started the run with us out of Atsbie. Of course, he was running all the way to Mekele that day for training and he was in my sight for maybe 2 whole minutes. That first day was easy, very little uphill, a nice long downhill at the end, a good breeze, and a beautiful view of surrounding hills. Spirits were high and everybody was optimistic about the rest of the trek.
The second day started out with a light drizzle keeping us cool, even though at 5:30 in the morning we didn’t really need it. The first three or four legs of Day two were nice and easy, just like the day before. But, before I go on I should explain a couple things. Every five kilometers (although this wasn’t very accurate, sometimes it was 4.5 and sometimes it was 7) the support bus, carrying all our bags, water, medical supplies, and snacks stopped and all the runners/bikers got a break. We called these legs. It might seem like that is a lot of stopping, but really it was very necessary towards the end of the trek and, truthfully, I don’t think anyone minded the extra nutella and banana sandwiches we got to eat. Anyways, back to Day 2. It was the fifth leg, that terrible fifth leg, that let us all know just how hard this venture was going to be. At the break after the fourth leg, we stared at the road ahead winding up and up and up. Seven kilometers and one break later, we found the top and started on sweet, sweet downhill. That was just the first of many hills to come that day. In Mekele that night, I was so sore I couldn’t walk. I was waddling. Luckily, the next day was a nice and easy 6-miler and by the start of the fourth day I almost felt normal again.
The days, the legs, the hills, the little villages all blur together. Every night someone would comment “Hey guys, I’ve got a good idea. . .let’s run to (insert name of the next town) tomorrow!” We started running around 5:30 or 6 in the morning once everyone had wrapped up their blisters and chaffing. I, myself, by the end, had several blisters on both feet, chaffing on my collarbones from my t-shirts, and a sore knee. Not so bad. Once we reached the town we would stay in, we took over whichever small restaurant could feed a pack on ravenous ferenji, devouring plates of injera, tegabino, t’ibs, and eggs. And by 7:30 or 8 at night most of the group were sound asleep.
I spend the night before the fifth day hugging the (luckily) western toilet of our small hotel room in Hiwane. The next day I ran the first two legs, biked the third, and sat out, feeling quite unwell, for the last three. From past experience, I was pretty sure I had a parasite. That night I started taking medicine and felt well enough, if not 100%, to finish the last two days of running. 
On the morning of the 6th day, the golden sun climbing above the mountains of Raya region was one of my favorite moments of the trek. With the incredible sunrise behind me, wearing one the of the three home-made, mosquito-net tutus that had become a tradition the year before, I felt like I was flying, like I could run forever. I was actually running 11 minutes miles, definitely not flying, and that run-forever feeling faded about 2 kilometers later after I hit my first big hill of the day. But, oh, for a little while I was never so happy to be running.
            Then it was the last day. I couldn’t believe how fast it’d gone. Eight legs, that’s all we had left. The road was winding and the mountains were beautiful. Like the six days before, the people of the small villages we passed through were either rude, yelling “ferenji” and laughing or kind and encouraging us on with “Izosh,” and “good, good.” On this last day, at the top of a particularly steep hill, the kids of a small village came out in hoards and clapped for each runner/biker as they came in. Then one came out with a drum, beating the custom heartbeat rhythm of Tigrian music and an impromptu dance party ensued. The freshest of legs from the support team and some bikers joined the group of kids shoulder dancing in circles.  Evenutally, we had to pack up and start running again, but that group of kids put a little skip in our steps as we jogged away.
            Finally, Korem and the end was in site. For the last leg, the entire group decided we would walk the last 2 or 3 kilometers and all finish together. Crossing the toilet-paper finish line, the group exploded in cheers and sense of relief and accomplishment overwhelmed us, well, overwhelmed me at least. Two hundred and forty-two kilometers, eight towns, and seven days later, we were finally finished. It was an amazing feeling, amazing learning experience, and amazing week.
            Hopefully, the Tigray Trek will continue to take place every year, but we hope to hold it in other parts of the country in the future. Maybe we could run it Amhara or the Bale region, where I live. We could call it Tigray Trek III: Bale Edition. Rolls nicely off the tongue, huh? 

Friday, August 1, 2014

A Day in the Life


June 27, 2014

Monday-Friday

6 am- Wake up, workout, eat breakfast.
            For my workout, I usually do an Insanity video, but break up the week with short runs. Running along the main road, I get stares, cheers, and sometimes running buddies in the form of kids jogging along beside me in their 10-birr sandals. People clapping, giving me a thumbs up, and saying “Izosh,” (be strong), in addition to the sun coming up behind the foothills of the Bale Mountains, makes for a pretty good start to the day.

8:30am – 12 pm- Work.
Now, during the first three months Peace Corps encourages us not to start any work projects, but just to settle in and work on our Community Needs Assessment report. So, a busy workday is completing one interview and setting up another (checking two things off my very short To-Do List). A slow workday, consists of reading through the Amharic Language Manual, trying to memorize 4 or 5 words from my Oromifa dictionary, doodling, and/or reading a book. This routine would sometimes be broken up by coffee breaks, when my friends, Tarik and Gutaa, and I would head over to the buna bet for a macchiato.

 12:30- Lunch.
            Sometimes I make greens, cabbage, rice, potatoes, or tomato salad at home or I meet up with my site mate, Amanda, for a deluxe meal of Bayinet (a variety of vegetables and wat with injera) and Tagabino (a thick wat made from the flour of different beans, known as shiro) at the Wabe Shabele Hotel, affectionately known to us as “Old Faithful.” All other restaurants, besides the T’ibs bet, never seemed to live up to Wabe Shabele or ever have any vegetables in their Bayinet.
            When we are feeling especially ravenous, we head to the T’ibs bet for a meal of grilled chopped beef and onion, kept hot on a clay dish with simmering coals underneath.

1:30-5:30 pm- House work.
            The afternoons are filled with lots of nothing. Reading, watching movies or TV shows on my laptop, and doing crossword puzzles make up a normal weekday. Occasionally, writing a section of my CNA report makes me feel extra productive. Although, sometimes I feel quite restless, I have come to enjoy this alone time just to relax.

2:30 pm- Buna break.
            Most days, my neighbors, Mimi and Fire, invite me over for afternoon coffee. As we sip our very sweetened coffee with milk, we watch Komud (the Bollywood drama I wrote about in an earlier blog) with fascination.

6 pm- Dinner.
            Dinner usually consists of leftovers from lunch or a freshly cooked one-pot meal of the same types of food mentioned above. Dinner is usually followed by dessert of a banana and peanut butter or a large plate (I don’t have any bowls yet) of popcorn. Occasionally, my compound friends, Yarid and Mimi (a different one), will invite me over for dinner, coffee, and an Ethiopian prank show that seems to show the exact same episode over and over again. Ethiopians don’t seem to notice, however, they laugh genuinely at the same spots every time.

9 pm- Bedtime.
            (I think I am turning into an old lady).

Saturday and Sunday

            Weekends consist mostly of my weekday afternoons, being lazy and drinking coffee with laundry and cleaning thrown into the mix. Saturday mornings I head to market to pick up my week’s supply of bananas, mangoes, cabbage, greens, avocados, tomatoes, onions, and garlic. The market is a trying place, people calling out at you, laughing when you ask how much a kilo of banana costs, kids trying to sell you soap or gum. Recently, with the rainy season in full blow, the market is also just a huge pile of gooey, slippery, depth-deceiving mud that I try to navigate with out falling flat on my face.

It is a not a super exciting life, but it is a good one, full of friends, good food, and coffee (of course). Although the work is not what I expected it to be, I hope planning and implementation of environmental and educational projects will start soon. 

Monday, June 16, 2014

Jemila


April 20, 2014

I shift a little bit to find a more comfortable spot on my yoga mat that provides a thin cushion between my concrete floor and me. My friends and I are piled around my large room, all entranced with Disney’s Robin Hood that plays on Quinn’s laptop, set up on a chair. It is Sunday, our one full day off and we have a grand plan of watching Robin Hood, relaxing, having a beer or two, and relaxing some more. Chris sings along with every single word of each song as he hands out coveted Jolly Ranchers. Then it happens. Wailing. Or is it laughing? No, definitely wailing. A chorus of high voices, not quite crying, not quite screaming, just wailing “wayyo, wayyo, wayyo.”
Since I arrived in Butajira, my host grandmother has been sickly, hardly ever leaving her bed. I only talked to her once or twice, while sitting in her room having coffee and collo with the family. But for the two weeks before that Sunday, she had become very sick. Neighbors and friends brought injera and wat, so my mom and sister could spend time taking care of my grandmother. My aunt, Asma, began spending all her time sitting on the bed next to her mom, helping her drink and encouraging her to eat.
When the wailing continued, I got up from the floor and peaked out my bedroom window to see my uncle, Hamdi, sitting on the porch with his head in his hands. I knew then. I knew that my grandmother, Jemila, had died. Just twenty feet away, her body laid in her bed, but she no longer did. My eyes caught Andrea’s and sadness passed between us. My aunt, Asma, was her host mom, and Jemila, her host grandmother too. All pretty unsure of what to do, stopping Robin Hood, Quinn, Jamie, Jake, Ellery, Chris, Bay, Andrea, and I slowly and, as quietly as possible, filed out of my room and my compound. All except Andrea and I, headed to a place we called the Secret Garden for some lunch. The two of us slowly walked back to my house, holding hands. We slipped through the crowd of women pacing and wailing in the hallway and into our living room.
My host mother, Leyila, was sitting in a chair, wearing her beautiful blue and purple, flowered shitti that I have always envied, quiet. She is not crying. Her usually animated and smiling face was an expressionless mask. I have never seen her so down, so still, so broken. I sit down next her, holding her hand on one side and my sister, Elham’s hand on the other, not knowing what else to do. After a little while, my mom’s shoulders begin to shake and, finally, tears come. Visible sadness begins to flood over her. And, although, I did not know Jemila very well, I feel her loss greatly; heavy on my heart, as I watch the new family I have come to love suffer deeply.
Over the next two weeks, my house is a buzz of activity. Never quiet and never without piles of injera and unimaginably large pots of wat. A tent miraculously popped up in the road right outside my compound by the end of that first day. Our living room, front yard, and the room next to mine that was used as a language classroom were emptied of any furniture and become a place for people to sit, eat, and sleep. For those next two weeks, people pounding coffee, cleaning dishes, and cooking misir wat wake me up every morning. Carefully, I have to pick my way over pots and pans and countless women who sit on the porch outside my room. I have been introduced to most, but all their names except a few escape me. Even though I can still see the pain my host mom is in, she tells me to eat and drink and eat some more. I take comfort in this familiar Leyila.
Slowly and surely, things wind down. The tent comes down, fewer people sleep in every room of our house, the stacks of injera lessen, my younger sister, Haniya, comes home from Asma’s house. I can see light coming back into my mom’s eyes and I can see energy coming back into Elham’s movements. I feel as though my family is back, but closer, tighter. I feel more a part of it then I ever did.
About a week after Jemila’s death I saw a picture of her in my aunt, Asma’s house. A stunning, sepia-toned portrait. Her face strong, elegant, and gorgeous. Her deep brown eyes accentuated by the fushia headscarf she wore. This is how I imagine my family to remember her and this is how I will remember her. Not old and frail, skin and bones, as I knew Jemila, but with the strength and beauty I could see in that picture, with the amazing ability to bring an unlikely family closer together. 

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Ethiopian Firsts


Feb 15, 2014- First use of a Shint Bet.
It was at a stop on our 12-hour bus ride to Demystification in Bonga and I couldn’t tell and didn’t know if there was one for male and one for female  (there isn’t). So I stood there awkwardly, examining these two Shint Bets before starting towards one and changing my mind and going into the other. Overall, it was successful, but it was dark and I couldn’t see much, so I am just assuming the best.

Feb 15, 2014- First “you, you, you, ferenj, ferenj, ferenj”
            Within one minute after we walked out of the bus station in Bonga a hoard of kids spotted us and started yelling, “you, you, you, ferenj, ferenj, ferenj, money, money, money.” This happens so much now, it’s hard to believe there were days in Ethiopia I did not hear it.

March 8, 2014- First time doing laundry in Ethiopia.
            I really shouldn’t say that I did laundry, it was more like I would start to wash a shirt or pair of pants and one of my sisters would shake their head and take it from me. They showed me several times how to do it, but never seemed to be satisfied.

March 15, 2014- First animal slaughter.
            One evening I came home after training to an endless bleating coming from our outdoor kitchen. I peaked over the flimsy piece of wood blocking the door to see what would be my dinner for the next week. My mom came out and saw me looking and smiling she said “Beg,” as she slide her finger across her neck. The next Saturday, my daily, way-too-early, wake up call would finally stop. When it was over, a dead sheep and an increasing pool of blood filled the hallway of the main house making it tougher and tougher to get from one room to the other with clean shoes. By the afternoon there was no sign that sheep had just been slaughtered in our house besides the head and end of the tail carelessly thrown into our front yard.

March 16, 2014- First attempt making Shiro.
            My sister, Elham, stood beside me, watching very closely, as she gave me step-by-step instructions on how to make shiro. Although, there was nothing more complicated than chopping onions, adding ingredients, bringing it to a boil, and stirring, my mom and sister were incredibly proud my shiro-making abilities. As my family and I ate, they insisted it was delicious and I knew they really thought it was, if only because their new ferenji daughter and sister had made it.

March 25, 2014- First Ethiopian gorsha.
            While eating with the compound family of my site mate, Amanda, on site visit the 3-year-old Isra decided to gorsha me (feed me) about eight times. No better way to feel welcome.

April 27, 2014- First shitti/pajama/Ethiopian moomoo-
            As a going away present, my amazing host mother made me a shitti. A shitti (not sure if that is actually what it is called or just the ferenji name for it) is basically just a bag of colorful, patterned cloth with a head and arms holes. It very common wear for Ethiopian women (and anybody else who happens to ever try one on). I am in danger of wearing my wonderfully comfortable bag of cloth all the time, anywhere and everywhere.

April 20, 2014- First marriage proposal.
            Day was fading into dusk as I walked home to Kebele 5 one evening and, as commonly happened, an Ethiopian man started talking to and walking with me. He told me he loved me and asked me to get coffee with him several times. After insisting I couldn’t and telling him to go away to no avail, I told him I had a boyfriend. That’s when he popped the question. “Marry me, you.” It was sweet, but I had to decline. After that I started ignoring him and he eventually lost interest. I hope the next one will be a little more romantic, or, at least, phrased as a question.

May 18, 2014-First crazy addiction.
            Almost every day around 2 or 2:30 my neighbor invites me over for coffee. We sit, drink, eat collo, and watch this completely ridiculous Bollywood drama in Arabic. I love it. I can’t understand it and my neighbors can’t understand it, but we are totally engrossed by it. Mainly, the show follows this love story of two young adults who occasionally talk, but mostly just start longingly at each other as the mood music plays softly in the background. I am now way too invested in this love story and will have make time in my extremely busy (not busy at all) day to further my addiction. 

Sunday, May 11, 2014

My Butajira Home and Family



3/30/14

My compound sits nestled between two others in the middle of Kebele 5 on the outskirts of the town of Butajira. The rickety wood/shrub fencing and crooked, pink, tin door hide a beautiful, multi-colored house and yard filled with papaya and avocado trees. My large, pink room is behind the main house in a separate building with the shintbet just around the corner.  The living room, filled half with a floor couch and half with a dining room table, is where my family gathers in the evenings to eat, chat, and watch TV. Leyila, my host mother, makes coffees and tells animated stories in Amharic as though I can understand and insists I eat more and more and more. “Be, be, be,” (Eat, eat, eat). Nasir, my host father, lays on the floor couch and calmly translates selected parts of what Leyila says. Haniya (12 years old), my host sister, patiently tries to teach me Amharic, while Elham (16 years old), my other host sister, laughs at me trying to pronounce Amharic and braids my hair. Hamdi (22 years old), my host uncle, helps me learn a card game called Crazy and tries to make me recite a tongue twister in Amharic. It doesn’t go so well, so I give him one in English and we are even. Finally, Nori (24 years old), my host brother, makes small talk with me in English, but goes on to spell out each word and define them just in case I wasn’t sure how to spell nose (which he spelled n-o-i-s-e, while pointing at his face) or what preparatory meant. Below, from left

From left to right: Nasir, Elham, Nori, Haniya, Asma (my aunt), Leyila
My beautiful house

Ethiopian Flag

Ethiopian Flag