Being a Peace Corps Education Volunteer means I have the potential to shape young lives and hope that in some way, my being here touches the lives of some. There are a lot of reasons why being a volunteer in Ethiopia as a woman is one of the most difficult things to do, but there are also a lot of reasons why it’s the best. I’ve had to face some challenges because of the fact that I am a woman but ultimately I’ve learned to accept that it comes with the territory and therefore, has shaped my experience thus far one year into service.
Living in a town, I am lucky to be well known. As I walk out of my house to start the day, I am called by my name or Miss. It is rare to ever hear “ferenji” and that usually only occurs during market days when those from far kebeles come in. I sometimes find myself walking late at night and I can honestly say that I’ve never felt unsafe. Chiri is beautiful, the people are warm and everyone knows each other by name. The only “harassment” I have ever received is the occasional “beautiful” or “I love you” and “Give me birr, money or ferenji” by the children who find it funny to be ignored. Chiri is home for me and besides the occasional nuisances, it is where I live currently. Going into the city, however, is a different story. I’ve gotten accustomed to people staring at my backside, I get whistles, I’ve had sex noises made at me, “you you you”, I’ve gotten winked at, I’ve got people who held my hand too long and I’ve had to be careful of how close I let some men into my life. It intrigues me how uncivilized but civilized the capital of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa can be. With many buildings halfway finished, so much trash and pollution but yet so many different foods, and new transportation system being built, I can honestly say I don’t like coming into the city. I like my sporadic food fixes and seeing my friends but in the long run, if left with the choice between Chiri or Addis, hands down my town is my town for a reason.
On the other end of the spectrum, living in Ethiopia means that I can experience things that men won’t. For example, I’ve gotten to spend more time with females in my community, I’ve gotten a first-hand experience in learning how to cook Ethiopian food, in having bunna ceremonies, feel more of a connection with my students both females and males. As a female teacher, I push for decency even more because I allow myself to feel. Some might say it’s unprofessional to let your students see your emotional side, but I think it’s important because as humans, we forget that our actions affect others. We forget that how we treat others can make or break their day. I honestly can say that people are more willing to help a female. During my travels I have gotten legitimately sick three times and during those three times, I have had people stop the bus so I can get fresh air, changed seats with me, people have bought me lemons to settle my stomach and kept making sure I was okay. People’s kindness and caring side reminds me that this culture is truly unique.
As an example of one of the ways that it’s awesome being a woman and serving as a Volunteer in Ethiopia, bunna ceremonies are common here and the only bad thing about making bunna here is that the process takes too long: from the washing, to the roasting, to the crushing and finally to the actual making of the bunna. The kids always help me out and I can honestly say that I’m grateful for their help. The kids and the people in my compound often tell me I should hire a maid to wash my clothes so they make it seem ludicrous for me to be doing my own work.
In general, sometimes I feel like I am told that I should not be doing any labor in my house because it’s too hard. There are some days where I am so exhausted and that comes a hard day of work. I appreciate the work and growing up, I was taught that hard work shapes who you are and so far it has. I love the intensity that goes into making bunna and I enjoy even more the community it creates as people come over. Men are more free to do their thing and while that’s great for them, I enjoy the structure that comes with a woman. I may not understand all the rules that come with it being here, but I enjoy how close I can get to people on an interpersonal level. On an intrapersonal level, because I am able to have all these relationships and connections with different people and not bound to just one, I find that I enjoy sitting down and having a conversation, especially to women. Women, in my opinion are sometimes undervalued for all the work that they do both in and out of the home, that it’s important to get to know who they are on a deeper level.
Being a woman in general is magnificent but living in Ethiopia as a woman is pretty kick ass.