For the next 2 months my address: But it will be changing when I go to my site
C/O Peace Corps Ethiopia
PO Box 7788
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
My phone number is
If I know you, call me on skype. You will likely hear a ladies voice. This only means that the line is busy and you should keep trying! For real. More than anything I miss people.
Things to send because you love me so much.
Soft caramel candy, Swedish fish, and dum dums.
Deflated soccer balls
I like to think that when you, sitting at home with a mug of hot chocolate, eating chicken pot pie and hot fudge sundaes, preparing for a hot bath while watching friends re-runs, picture me, your vision differs from my reality. You might picture me in a yellow hut in a yellow wasteland, surrounded by hyenas with little to no comforts readily available.
Part of me wants you to continue this notion, allowing you to idealize what I’m doing here. And honestly at the rate I’m uploading pictures, you may never realize what its like here. But I will spoil the fantasy for a moment. My house is modern, I eat very well, and at the local store I can get everything from Coke and bottled water, to power cords. Also, everything here is green, and for the first time since I got here, I’ve been able to appreciate it. This past weekend was so cool, that class went a little slower today. For the purpose of this post, I would like you to imagine that the places I’m describing are in Oregon, or Costa Rica, that’s how green and lively it is here.
On Saturday we went to Wenchi Crater Lake, a two hour drive from my town. The place was incredibly stunning, even more amazing when I realized that its not even located on most maps. It is a glacial lake formed in a hollowed volcano. The rim sits at 11,500 feet and the lake sits at 10,000 feet. (did I mention its hard to breathe here?) Surrounding the lake are banana trees, wild horses, tropical palm trees and pine trees. Sprouting out of nowhere, a few circular thatched roof huts offer their residents a pretty unbelievable view. We hiked the 2 miles to the bottom, and 3 of my more daring friends and I went for a swim. The water was surprisingly cold, and the altitude made it almost impossible to swim/breathe.
After our quick swim, we headed back up the hillside. At the top, our country director offered us a ferrero-rocher chocolate. I haven’t had chocolate in years due to my disease. I gave in. I can still taste the sensation of chocolate giving way to hazelnut on the roof of my mouth, my tastebuds demanding an answer for years of deprivation. Immediately I was 12 again and standing in the kitchen of the Deane’s house, trying my very first Ferrero Rocher. I almost cried. (Ok, I cried) It’s the simplest things in life that we often take for granted. (Miss you Ben and Pat…Pat your posts were hilarious. Ben, sorry my blog is so emo. Call me)
Our director then said that many in our group will be going to places similar to this, working to find income generating activities for locals, and promoting tourism to the parks. Amazing how I had to come to Africa to actually use what I learned in my major.
On Sunday, I met my friends Johnny and Chase in a town called Manaagesha for some Tea (and sympathy). Later, we were joined by Seth, Scott and John and we set off to hike Menaagesha Mountain. On the way, an older man stopped us and showed us a shortcut. Just past a colorful church and the priests’ graveyard, we were treated to an unforgettable show. Giant spider monkeys were showing off their skills for us in the trees above. They jumped up to 10 feet through the air, landing on the branch of a neighboring tree. I could have spent hours watching them, but they disappeared into the forest.
Just then we realized that our new friend was expecting payment for his services. He asked for 200 Birr (about 13 dollars). We offered 20. We settled at 40. Welcome to Africa.
At the top of the mountain, we made Ethiopian Hot Dogs—a split bun with a full banana and peanut butter inside, and enjoyed the view. I’ve come to realize that the people here are incredibly like me. I’ve made friendships that will last forever It is such a unique experience that only these few people can understand. I am the youngest person here, and I look up to a lot of the older volunteers. But when I look at the people my age, it’s a lot like looking in the mirror.
For instance, as we hiked, I was telling Seth about my girlfriend back home. I explained how good of an artist and photographer she is—how she can find beauty in anything, and can tell a story with a picture. He said that’s what he most wants in a girlfriend; someone who can inspire you to get more out of each day. Sure enough, that is the one thing that has really enriched my experience here. As I walk to school or hike, I try and see things as she would, noticing how a simple door is really a microcosm for the way of life here, or how an individual tree can capture the beauty and isolation of Ethiopia.
So armed with my camera, I’ve spent a lot of time taking pictures, trying to tell the story of Ethiopian life. I pale in comparison to Carly, but I try to duplicate what she can do with a camera and a computer.
I can’t wait for her to come and show me the ropes.
An Awesome Day
Today was an awesome day. When I was a baby, we had a babysitter from Ethiopia named Guenaye. Over the years we lost touch, but before I came here, my mom tracked her down on facebook (Yeah, Anne Waidmann is tight like that). She gave me great advice before I came. In Addis for a wedding this week, she drove over an hour to see me, bearing gifts from home—a perfect example of the kind of courtesy that Ethiopians are famous for.
So the care package was awesome, complete with soft caramel candy, glow in the dark bracelets, a leatherman, a cd drive so I can actually play movies, and a PILLOW (the one’s here are literally bricks).
After this I was off to Holeta, where I learned how to make a stove out of concrete mix and water, and then practiced my Injera making skills. Back at home we watched “The Patriot” as a family before I passed out on the couch.
P.S. I’ve put all this stuff to great use. Thanks mom! I literally feel like tom hanks in castaway, opening packages and finding uses for them. I use the leather-man (a fancy pocketknife) for everything. I used the caramels, some sugar and butter to turn popcorn into caramel corn. My family thought it was the greatest invention ever. I showed the kids a couple more war movies, upon their repeated requests, including braveheart.
Its been hilarious narrating movies with the little Amharic I know. I spent about 10 minutes this afternoon translating, “you can kill us, but you can’t take our freedom.” The kids love the movies, but are very upset that Americans make movies where the good guys always die. Americans need to learn how to make a proper movie, they say. After the movie, I gathered my favorite 2 girls from the neighborhood, Kidest and Meheret, (3, and 5) and gave them the bracelets.
Love and thanks are words that are rarely ever used here. When they are used, it is supposed to carry A LOT of weight. As I went back in the house, the girls told me Amasayganalo, Iwedawalu: “Thank you, I love you.” Mom, I think I might be adopting two ethiopian girls.
The greatest thing about the Peace Corps is the flexibility and freedom we are given. The Peace Corps mentality is basically that they will give us language, culture and technical training. (I am spending the next two weeks learning how to start a self-sufficient family garden.) However, it is on us to do whatever we can, using whatever experience we have, to help our village. Some environmental volunteers end up teaching English. Some education volunteers end up doing HIV work. In the end, nothing is demanded of us; we are supposed to just do what we can to help others.
My mind has been preoccupied with what I plan to do in my village. Coffee here is out-of-this world good, and abundant. However the market is often regional at best.
So here is what I want to do: I hope to start a coffee co-op at my site. The profits could be shared among the community, and be saved for local projects and investment. I have been daydreaming about potential markets as well. Finding one large customer can cause more damage than good. Having the co-op become a large operation can lead to initial profits but if it fails, as they often do, it could harm the makeup of the village and cause political strife. Therefore, I need to make this project on a smaller scale: a supplemental source of income and a job creating mechanism that could bring about economic development without altering the way of life in the community.
Here is where I need your help. I need to find a few local coffee shops willing to purchase small amounts of Ethiopian Organic Coffee. They could purchase small quantities each month, enough to run a weekly or bi-weekly special on the coffee, advertising the positive effects purchasing a cup will have on a small third world village. If three stores bought 30 dollars worth of coffee each month, this could create jobs for up to 10 people here.
For now this is just a pipedream. Perhaps my village won’t even have coffee trees. I would also need to fully research customs issues, packaging, find an importer, and actually produce and process the beans first. I’m excited about the opportunity. Call or email me if you have any ideas or resources.
I got a phone! i can’t get on gmail or facebook for some reason…but call me using skype!
251 921400360 (you might have to put a zero before the 9)
Learning the language
Much of the last week has been relatively uneventful. Uneventful I suppose is too strong of a word, given that everything I see and do is new and different. The difference between this week and last is that we have a schedule. A lot can be said about the power of routine. Routine has the power to both enhance and detract from life. Routine can make years fly by without notice. (COLLEGE) In these first few months of homesickness and culture shock, however, routine is a welcome blessing.
I have been spending most of every day studying the language. I’m starting to put pieces together and construct sentences. But it’s a tough language. There are 231 unique characters, as if every conceivable sound someone can make has its own picture. The symbol for “Cha” looks like a cross between a musical note and a manora. (Hi Beazer, Hawkins and Emily! Miss you!) Then there is a different symbol for ‘Che’ ‘Cho’ ‘Chi’ ‘Cheh’ ‘Chu’ and ‘Chih’
And yet, there is a part of me, (that I don’t quite understand) that loves this. Perhaps it is vanity-the joy I get when I see how surprised a local is to hear me talk like them. I also look forward to the day I can speak to an Ethiopian living in DC and remind him how insanely gorgeous his country is. Perhaps it is just the fact that to be in class again reminds me that I’m not quite all grown up. Or maybe it is that I actually love learning languages. However, there are days when I feel the language is hard. Days that I miss hot showers, Chipotle, and going on mundane or real adventures with Carly. Nevertheless, no matter how bad it gets, I remind myself that I am not waking up every morning, shaving, putting on a suit, and trying to sell office equipment over the phone to people who hate me.
On Sunday, our day off, we all met up again in Holeta. Individually, we are a mostly smart, responsible, and accomplished group. Together we are not. We met up at a hotel for cake and beer. Who knew that cake could be so mediocre and so delicious ? I went with my friends, Jessica and Chase, on a field trip to a market. I had heard rumors, hearsay, gossip– that something called ‘Oncholoni kibe’ could be found in Holeta. However at this point, it was merely speculation.
But to see it sitting there, organic peanut butter, practically begging me to be plucked from the shelves, I wondered if it was merely an exhaustion-induced mirage. Its funny how, of all the things to crave, we all had named peanut butter as the most coveted commodity. Personally, I rarely eat peanut butter in the states. I think it is the nostalgia of something so purely youthful and American that had my mouth watering.
On the trip home my mind was racing. Three staples of Ethiopian cuisine are bread, bananas, and honey. I think I have found out how to survive. Once home, I made PB, banana and honey sandwiches for my family. Their eyes exploded as they ate them. They have eaten them for breakfast and lunch everyday since.
A snapshot of Addis Alem
A few times a week, I walk the mile long stretch of the main road in Addis Alem to our school for a cultural awareness session.
I walk out of my house, it painted a bright clash of turquoise and lime green, and immediately sneeze. The sun is powerful here (Tommy, you would not do well here) and the sky is bright. The extreme altitude here, and the proximity to the sun combine to form the most perfect climate imaginable. As I walk out to the street, a spring well stands to my left and a grove of mango trees on my right. Just beyond the mango trees, my family is growing cilantro, corn, and avocado. Like I said, the smells here can be unprecedented.
I open the door to a mess of kids who know my schedule by now. I make a face and they laugh. They giggle and clamor for the extreme privilege of being lifted in the air. They all wear their handsome maroon red school uniforms that are proudly washed and kept clean. And yet, they are all barefoot, or wearing plastic shoes with holes cut at the toe for their growing feet. They run off eventually and I can walk in relative peace.
As I walk, wives will walk outside their corrugated tin roof houses, hands on their hips, 2 and 3 year-olds by their side, and watch me walk. Older men sit in the shade with a friend drinking wine made from honey, pretending not to care about me, and talk about old people things
Three weeks in and I’m still a source of extreme wonder. Most people know me though, and will wave and shout, “Mai keel! hello! Howareyou-Thank you!” The sidewalks and street become busier as I approach “downtown” and the interest in me fades slightly. Kids run up and down the sidewalk, guiding a small plastic wheel with a tree branch, somehow succeeding in making it roll along. This game is somewhat of a national pastime. Other kids (80% of the population here is under 25) play soccer with whatever can be interpreted as a ball. The boys here have giant eyes, a mischievous disposition, and often times a trail of snot running from nose to lip. They will soon muster the courage to ask me to hold their hand; EVERYONE in Ethiopia holds hands, and I often have the honor of holding hands with a 40 year-old man. Still not used to that one.
As I reach the market, the town becomes dustier, louder, and full of animals. Horses stand idly as goats are herded across the street. Cows and donkeys stubbornly walk in pattern-less directions, pissing off their abusive masters. I think donkeys here, if given the choice, would drink the kool-aid. They carry up to their weight in firewood, and rarely make it a few steps without the crack of a whip.
Right before I get our school, I pass a small coffee shop. I can smell the charcoal, incense, and roasting coffee beans. Intoxicating smells. A 3 year old girl named kidest will run up to me, barefoot, tell me she loves me and ask to wear my sunglasses. As I walk into school she blows me a kiss.
Ethiopia is so poor and so rich.
Finally able to upload the word docs to the internet…here is my first post
After leaving the comfort of the hotel, we were brought to our host families, an hour away. As we traveled through Ethiopia, the one thing I noticed was how green everything is. My host family lives in Addis Alem, a village of about 9,000. There is one road, a dusty market three days a week, and tons of kids. If you walk two blocks from the main road, the view is remarkable. Mountains, palm trees, rivers, and fields of wheat stretch for miles.
The first night I met my family was definitely one to remember. I spoke about three words of Amharic, and was the first white person the kids had seen in person. They stared at me and begged me to say anything. The younger kids would peek at me from around the corner and then run away laughing. Other volunteers called this the most awkward night of their lives, but somehow I was blessed with the ability to understand and entertain people. I had several tricks up my sleeve for making it through this night.
The first was based on the fact that there are actually two universal languages, smiling and soccer. I had asked my teacher how to say, “I like soccer” in Amharic. So I was in with the kids from the get go. I brought out my soccer ball and I had them do drills for a couple hours. Now, everyday when I get home from school, 20 kids are waiting at my door waiting to play soccer with me. So instead of a nap, I run drills with kids who seem to have been waiting for this opportunity their whole lives.
The other trick I had up my sleeve was my computer. I showed the kids clips from planet earth, the photobooth application that distorts video of your face, and finally my iTunes collection. This was hilarious. The boys, 9, 11, 18, and 19 begged me to play music from the following artists: Keith Urban, Michael Jackson, Beyonce, and then Celine Dion. Ethiopians LOVE Celine Dion.
A volunteer said a couple days ago, “Courage is not lack of fear. It is willingness to embarrass yourself.” I remembered this as my family responded to my iTunes collection by showing me Ethiopian music: Bahalawi Chifera-the traditional dance of the region. It is basically a mixture of tribal jumping, and shoulder popping. I remembered this quote as I tried to show off my moves. My family almost died of laughter. The next day the whole town knew about this–now a day doesn’t go by where I try and imitate the dance moves for a crowd of people. They call me Nedje-Abesha which means white-black man. I had been saying it for years myself.
At the end of the night, they took a picture of me, and taped it to the wall. My host mom pointed at a picture of her son, (who I later learned had passed away) and said “praise god, I have a new son.”
My average day.
A day in my life:
I wake up, if I’m lucky, at 6am. We have been given malaria medication that causes insomnia. I slept 3 hours a night the first week. If I’m awake enough I will read. If not, I will stare at the wall for a couple hours. I will look at pictures on my wall., pictures of my family and Carly.
By 7am, the 9 and 11 year olds are peeking into my room whispering my name. They are good kids. I understand it. I am a goofy and happy white man who loves games and has an endless supply of entertaining things. But it has been a hard adjustment. There is no concept of individualism here. I am expected to be with the family at all times. They call me son, and brother, and often pet my hair. Sometimes, I just need to be alone. But they genuinely love me. They are sleeping 6 to a room, 3 to a bed just so I can have my own room. It is really humbling.
By the time I have rolled out of bed, breakfast is waiting for me. Guests are treated like royalty in Ethiopia. No one is allowed to eat until I have. Breakfast normally consists of the best tea I have ever had, and what I can only call an egg pancake. It is like thin fried bread with scrambled eggs inside. I’m surprised no one in America thought of this. Notify Mcdonalds.
I go to class around 8, and kids fight for the right to hold my hand and walk to my class. I began by allowing the smallest and most sheepish kid hold my hand. The kids soon learned, act shy and innocent and they have a better chance. The kids really do love me. They stopped chanting “Firenje”, and now shout “Maiii Keel, Maiii keel” when they see me.
I started giving them silly bands, and it is clear that silly bands are a universal phenomenon. The kids trade them in school and wear them proudly. Sometimes they have no idea what the bracelets are. For example, the stingray is a church bell. The football is a lemon. Then there is the infamous lobster. There is only one thing a silhouette of a lobster can look like to a 13 year old.
I’m starting to worry about the perception these kids have of America. By their best guess, we are all painfully white, horrible dancers, and wear dumb bracelets of shiny penises on our arms.
Eh, pretty accurate.
From 8-5 we study the language. There are 231 characters and phonetically, it resembles Arabic. Its very hard but I can hold a decent conversation now and understand the verb structure. We study outside, and kids will gather around and help us/laugh at us. Every day here is 75 degrees and sunny.
3 times a day, we break and join the Ethiopians as they prepare and drink their famous coffee. Coffee is always fresh and rich here. They roast it, grind it, and brew it as a family in a traditional ceremony that lasts about 30 minutes. Coffee is never ever stored here. It is either fresh, or not consumed. Of all the places for the Peace Corps to send a kid allergic to coffee, this is the cruelest.
After school, I come home and play soccer with the kids. My host mom always watches me nervously and holds my hand if a car comes by. (Her 9 year old is perfectly safe but she gets way too worried for me.) One day, she even made me come inside while the 9 year old stayed and played. Until bedtime, the family will eat together and watch tv. They always feed me first (this means they hand feed me…a sign of respect). I don’t think I will ever get used to that. They proudly ask me what I learned that day, and I let them laugh at me.
Before bed, the kids join me to do push ups and sit ups. This is great for my self esteem. They think, in their ignorance, think I’m very strong. We count in Amharic and in English. I am teaching them English, and telling them to practice soccer and study everyday, to drink milk, and to exercise. They asked me if this is how they can come to America. I say, not only can you come to America, but you could likely become the chief of all of California.
Before bed, I will read. I just finished a book called “What is the What” It is the most amazing and horrifying books ever. It is the story of a 8 year old, who trekked from Sudan to Ethiopia during the civil war in Sudan. The government killed all his family and friends, directly or indirectly. Many were eaten by lions. Others became slaves. 2.5 million Sudanese people died while I was in elementary and middle school. I had no idea. This helps remind me why I am here.
Then I fall asleep and do it again.
The sounds of Africa
Living in Africa is almost sensory overload. The sights are pretty incredible. From the poverty to the landscape, it is impossible to describe in words. Hopefully I can share some pictures with you soon! The smells of Ethiopia range from the mesmerizing, roasting coffee and incense; to the pungent. (Monday is trash-burning day) But it is the sounds of Africa that remind me that I’m in another world…
I have knee issues. I always have. A year ago my knee locked up, the result of a bone chip getting stuck in cartilage. It was the most excruciating pain I’ve ever felt, but after several hours and some painkillers, the chip found its way home.
Last night, wrapped in a mosquito net above the ground, my knee locked up again. There was nothing I could do. It was impossible for me to get out of bed, the pain shooting up my leg and back if I moved an inch. I waited for three hours for the pain to go away. In the meantime, Africa came alive.
Ethiopia is a deeply religious country. There is often a religious holiday once or twice per week. On these nights, priests use microphones to chant through the night. I’m not sure but I think the priests in Addis Alem are trying to out-chant each other, both in volume and duration. Either that, or they are trying to scare the white culture invaders out of town. It might be working.
Then the rain came, pounding the tin roofs that cover our homes. The sound of rain hitting a tin roof is louder than one would expect, almost like hail hitting your windshield back home. The rain makes the dogs bark louder, if that was possible. In Ethiopia, dogs are not pets but security guards, trained to bark at the slightest movement.
And that’s when I heard a bark that didn’t come from a dog. It was a cross between a wail, a laugh, and a howl. A pack of Hyenas was outside my neighbors house, taunting the caged dog. They only come out at night and their laugh is unmistakable.
So here I was, frozen in time; Priests chanting, rain pounding, dogs barking, and hyenas laughing in the night as I awaited a bone chip to leave my cartilage. It was a night I will never forget.
I suppose ‘Ethiopian Village’ is not one of the soundtracks on one of those relaxation CDs.