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

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.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Bale Trekking (Work!)

March 11, 2015

About two weeks ago I started working on a project with a community-based ecotourism program that does trekking in the Bale Mountains right outside my town and a town 25 km down the road, Dodola. I was approached by a guide, Bayu, that works out of Adaba and wanted my help. After nine months of asking, asking, and asking what I could do for different offices, giving ideas of projects I could help with and hardly anything coming of it, it was so nice to be asked. Success here is mainly decided by one thing and that is community/partner investment and by being asked, I already knew I had that.
I was so excited. Work? Real work? What is this going to be like? Am I going to be okay without my two-hour afternoon nap everyday? Oh, who cares, cause I get do something. I’m going to be useful! Yes, yes, yes. Even though there were a couple false starts in planning our first trip, it happened! And not only now do I have work, I have work where I have to go backpacking/hiking into the hills, check out some campsites, and enjoy. Not such a bad deal.
Our first outing was a three-day trek to two of the four campsites set up in the Adaba district. Hiking was mostly along dirt roads, through a mix of Juniper forests, wheat fields, and rural homes. There were always people walking with their donkey’s back piled high with food from the market or teenagers headed to/from school with notebooks tucked under their arms.

The first was a tent campsite in Harawa. The tents are canvas, set up all year round, and furnished with bedframes, chairs, and a table. Mattresses, sheets, and blankets were also provided. Not too shabby. The view wasn't bad either.

From there we headed up the mountain to the highest campsite, Duro, at 3,350 m.a.s.l. The forest slowly changed to Hygenia to Erica shrubland. The views were amazing.

Here there is a hut with bunk beds and a common room for tourists to use. In bathroom even had a western toilet. There was no seat and it definitely didn’t flush, but still there. And how did they get it all the way up there anyway? Not even a horse cart could make it all the way up to this campsite. On a donkey’s back? Most likely.


            The third day, we made the short, but steep hike to the top of the mountain and wandered around the rocky top. In several spots we saw areas that had been and were burning to clear land for cattle grazing.

Finally, we started down the mountain on the long walk back to Adaba. I didn’t realize how far it was back and after 30 km I basically crawled into my compound and went straight to bed.
While on this hike, I worked with Bayu and the campsite keepers to do some assessments of the area and facilities. The next week we went on a day hike to another tent campsite in the Adaba district and will hopefully get to the last one in the next couple of weeks.  Here a few more pictures from the three-day trek.
                           Sunset on the first night. Harawa campsite.


    A native flower, red hot poker, found in the highlands of the Bale Mountains

                                    On top of Duro, morning of the third day. 

                   Hiking on the way to Hajimajam campsite the next weekend. 

Ethiopian Flag

Ethiopian Flag