1 Month Down, 23 More To Go

Leaving for my house was terrifying. I was to start anew with a couple of belongings but. otherwise, I had nothing. For two days in my first week alone, I survived breakfast, lunch and dinner on peanuts I had brought from Addis. On Tuesday, I ran out of bottled water and the filter had yet to be used so it leaked and tasted of bleach. On Wednesday (8th), my landlady took pity on me and let me borrowed a stove. I survived on beans for that night but I felt dizzy teaching on Thursday. Overall, I felt weak, dehydrated and the blues started coming in. Ms. Doubt and Mr. Fears came in for another little visit in my new house. That Thursday night, my landlady gave me some potatoes, spinach and eggs. It was to be my first decent and healthy meal since leaving Lalmba Health Clinic. I arose on Friday morning, bought myself a water bottle, taught and felt significantly better. I left to go to Bonga for a day trip to buy sheets, a thick blanket, and storage containers for food. Of course, it took forever to get there and since it was my first time traveling on the bus by myself, I was not aware that buses stopped running by mid afternoon on Fridays. I was stuck in Bonga unsure of what to do.

I ended up calling Sally, a Peace Corps Environment Volunteer in Bonga who did her Close of Service (COS) but will extend for a year as Peace Corps Volunteer Leader and be placed in Addis. I asked her some questions of when buses stopped running and explained my current situation. She was helpful enough to invite me to stay in her home and was really accommodating. Sally was to leave Bonga and head to Addis Ababa on the 12th of October and so, a close Ethiopian friend of hers was throwing her a dinner celebration before she left. She invited me to her dinner which was on Saturday so I ended up staying two nights in her home. It was weird watching her get ready to move and it was even weirder being in the party surrounded by people who had come to love her. I had only met her twice, but being with those people, I saw how much of an impact not only did Sally have on that community but how much she had impacted them as well. There was plenty of food, wine and tears to go around. As speeches were given, Sally stated “on my worst day, I was taught that it didn’t matter what color your skin was or where you came from but what truly mattered were the people who helped you get back up.” I left Bonga on the 5th, feeling refreshed, open-minded and a bit more thankful.

Most days, things are fine and I find ways to keep myself busy. But there have been power outages quite frequently which my fellow Ethiopians say is more than the average last year. On Thursday morning (15th), the power went out and remained out until Friday evening. I had run out of juice on my battery and so I couldn’t do anything with my laptop. On Thursday, I was also told by a fellow teacher and my director I would be given a 9th grade class that held 55 students. I was to start on Monday and to have a lesson plan prepared. In between Thursday (15th) and Friday (16th), I was to get the textbooks and find out any other information required to help make my new class a success. On Thursday, since the power went out, Tekle my vice principal and community liaison went home and he had gone in between the time I had taught from 2 to 3 in the afternoon. I thought I would get the things from him on Friday and have all my questions answered. What happens? His door was locked. Dereje, my principal does not have the key to get into the storage locker to get me the textbook and worst of all, after calling Tekle I find out he is in Bonga and would be back later that afternoon. I would not get anything for my class. I lost it.

I had to sit on the steps overlooking the landscape of beautiful Chiri outside my school compound to calm myself down but even then, I called my friend Leroy who lives in Tigray, the upper part of Ethiopia in tears. I was pissed. How was I supposed to start lesson planning if I didn’t know what lesson they were on? Was I supposed to start on the first lesson even though it’s 3 weeks into the semester? I was terrified to teach that many students. 55 IS A LOT! I needed answers and no one could really tell me anything. I talked to Leroy for 15 minutes and I expressed how much I hated not knowing. I was alone, with my site mate Todd soon leaving for America, and here I was to start a new class where I had no idea how to begin. I was dirty, I desperately needed to clean my hair and shave, my house wasn’t done and I couldn’t really eat at my house with the power being out. Leroy let me cry it out and we consoled each other by sharing stories of our experiences thus far three weeks into service. He made me realize that I was crying over things that I had no control over. How people acted and behaved was beyond me and after my talk with him, I walked to Lalmba Health Clinic to take a full shower. I walked out of that shower feeling like a freaking lady. It did not matter that I have an animal living in my roof so it keeps me up at night. I say it’s either a bat or a bird. My coworkers say it’s most likely rats. I don’t know which one is worse 😦

On another topic, it’s frustrating and tiring having people ask me for money. What makes matter worse, is having grown men ask you for money. I was waiting on the bus on the way to Bonga when a man said “I am full.” I should have gotten it right away that instead of saying I am full, what he was trying to say was rabeñ which translates to “I am hungry.” I wouldn’t have gotten so upset except he kept asking for lunch and rubbing his tummy all the while wearing a suit. He kept repeating phrases I couldn’t understand and then some phrases in broken English. Those few on the bus thought it was funny and amusing. I got off the bus in Bonga upset with this man. He was not a little boy or a little girl wearing any shoes with ripped clothing but a grown ass man with a gray suit and nice looking shoes. He was more than capable of providing for himself, but upon seeing a white woman and suddenly she was there to save the day. I was no ones white savior in the States and I will be no ones white savior in Ethiopia. In difficult times, it’s hard to remember this but if I give to one, I must give to all. In the end, I came here to affect change and while giving money might help temporary, challenging the mind of the youth is where it all begins.

I saw how rewarding my being here was in class one day. I had just given my 11th grade students their grades and to practice improving their reading, speaking and writing skills, they had to do something related to what their weaknesses are. A 19-year-old young man frustrated with his 92% made a presentation stating he wanted to do better in class and so we talked after class. This young man has a 4.0 grade point average who has pretty impressive English but because of his limitations at home, he’s been feeling stuck. He asked for help. He wanted a challenge because he wanted to better himself and his circumstances. He reminded me so much of myself, with the determination to do better, the will to try, and a yearning to learn more. I don’t know how much it will help, but I decided to loan out English reading materials to him and he could either read it for enjoyment or as extra credit, he could write a report. With participating, he could improve his grade. I have not yet started an English Learning Improvement Center (ELIC) as that will occur in the second year, but I felt this young man deserved a chance. I was so proud of the fact that he took charge of his future, of his grade and sought out help because it means that my time here is not being wasted. My being here so far away from everyone I love actually matters. I am making a change not by giving money to fix the problem, but by being where I am supposed to be: affecting change from the bottom.

Reading a blog one day, I found a really good thought of what it means to serve in Ethiopia. It goes as followed: “Peace Corps will give you a unique opportunity to “be the change you want to see in the world”, compassionate, well-rounded, reflective, accepting of new ideas, empowered, and a dynamic agent of sustainable change. But it isn’t easy. That’s what it’s like to be a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ethiopia. You will wonder what you’re doing, and when you figure that out, you will wonder if you’re capable of doing it. Nothing goes according to plan, but everything works out. There are miscommunications, but, sometimes, they’re better than if you had gotten your message across. This place will test you in ways you cannot predict, but it will reward you in ways that no other experience can. During your two years of service, you’re going to learn a lot about this place: the Cradle of Civilization, the birthplace of coffee, the land of runners. You’re going to learn more about yourself. Some things will confuse you. Others will make you laugh. Many will surprise you.”

Even though I have only been at site for a month and in Ethiopia for a couple of months, I have learned a couple of lessons along the way.

  1. Emotional Stability is a Must. Some days, you need to have a gut-wrenching, soul and heart hurting type of cries. This is the day when your fears and your doubts are silenced because for those couple of minutes, it really is just about your most basic need: surviving.
  2. Self Pampering is crucial. Doing your nails, journaling and even being able to wash your hair will be the days you have to look forward to. Taking a shower will be a lot of work but the end result is sooo good.
  3. Leave your comfort zone. Sit in meetings even if that means that you won’t understand what is going on for the first couple of times. Talk to people. Greet them on the street even if you don’t know their names. The community takes notice.
  4. Mud is everywhere. You have to be okay with being covered in mud. 9 out of 12 months, it rains in Ethiopia and there aren’t many paved roads in the country side. You will be dirty the instant you walk out into the street. You will slide in mud and probably fall on your ass. My suggestion is to get used to slipping and sliding.
  5. You have to find and keep your sanity. You will most likely be without internet, sometimes without electricity and sometimes without phone network so you have to do whatever you can to stay busy. Sew, go for a run, read, talk to your friends, color, etc. Do the activities that keep you grounded.
  6. Find the amusement and humor in anything. You will need it when you can’t communicate in the language.  You will need it when kids call out in the street using your new name of “ferenji,”  “money” or “you.” My name is not ferenji.
  7.  Spend some time making a really good and healthy meal, but it’s also okay to indulge some days in some chocolate. Doing anything in this country takes twice as long as back in the States and sometimes, there is no patience or effort for trying to make a healthy meal. There have been plenty of days where I have been too lazy to make a meal and so relied on snacks. Chocolate has become heaven sent.
  8. Keep in touch with loved ones back home. They are your connection to everything safe and dear to you. However, know that you cannot fix the problems that they are facing any more than they can fix your problems in Ethiopia. Sometimes you just need an empathetic ear of someone that knows and loves you telling you it will be okay for it to actually be okay.
  9. The work you do in a third world country matters. You will work very hard to accomplish something that may or may not succeed and at the end of the day, you may not get the praise you think you deserve. But sometimes, there are moments of pure happiness in watching a person be truly content with something you did for them that the pain, the worry, and the heartache will all be worth it.
  10. Survive and adapt two years in a third world country = survive anywhere

One Comment Add yours

  1. I’m glad you’re learning so much. You’re now experiencing why it’s worth it–the personal growth.

    But don’t worry, it’s not exclusive to Peace Corps. It’s life. With this perspective you’re gaining, you’ll continue growing when you get back. It’s so exciting!

    I’ve hurt a lot in the last few months, and learned a lot about myself. It’s been challenging, but I think we’ll both like what we see in each other when we meet again in Ethiopia 🙂

    Stay safe and don’t give up. I love you.


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