Packing List

If you are coming to Ethiopia to join the Peace Corps, this should be a helpful packing list. If you are not, this will be entirely pointless to read.
For those of you coming, congratulations. I had no idea what to expect of Ethiopia but I’ve been very surprised. The country is absolutely beautiful, you’ll have a good staff, and the whole experience is pretty awesome. I won’t say much more, because it is important for you to come in with no expectations and hope for the best. If you do so, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Here is a packing list that I wish I were given before coming to Ethiopia. This is not quite comprehensive, but should give you an idea of some different things to bring. Also, I like women but don’t quite understand them. There are things that I left out that the other species should consider. Track down a female volunteer for better advice.

1.    3 month supply of all medications—Peace Corps will provide for the rest.
2.    Resistance bands/Water weights: had these mailed to me after I realized push-ups weren’t going to cut it for 2 years.
3.    A 500gb or higher Hard Drive (and a 2-16gb thumb drive): So important. We have a massive network of movies, shows, books on tape and articles that will give you something to enjoy during your down hours. Put some of your favorite movies and or tv shows on it before you come ☺
4.    A computer:  some people didn’t think they needed it and regret it. Don’t have any expectations about having the Internet. That being said, almost all of you will be able to access the interwebs (if not in your town then in a nearby one.) My internet is about 3x the speed of dialup and I’m able to video chat at times.
5.    US-Europe electronic adapters and voltage converter: 220 to 110 so you don’t fry your camera charger. Because I bet that would really suck and ruin your week.
6.    Rechargeable AA and AAA batteries and charger: Brookstone sold one that works great for me here
7.    An unlocked GSM phone:  figure out how to do this on your phone or buy one off ebay and you will get to save some much needed money in country. Peace Corps will give you money for a phone but its nice to already have one.
8.    Cooking utensils: Vegetable peeler, plastic spatula, non stick frying pan, measuring cups (tbsp, tsp, cup, ½ cup) and a good knife. The best plan is to mail your kitchen stuff (and voltage converter) to save room right before you leave. Use the flat rate boxes at UPS and ship to:

Your name C/O Peace Corps Ethiopia
PO Box 7788
Addis Ababa

9.    Condiments and spices-find a way to pack things like soy sauce, sesame oil, olive oil, vinegar, mustard, black pepper, herbs, cinnamon, vanilla,—and you won’t regret it. You could just get the tiny packets from sushi/fast food restaurants. You can get most of these things in Addis but it can be pretty expensive. Or mail them with the cooking supplies
10.    A nice pillow:  the ones here are essentially soft rocks
11.    Black socks and underwear: trust me
12.    A sweatshirt/ and a nice rainjacket: Ethiopia can be quite cold/rainy up in the mountains.
13.    Good waterproof hiking boots: a must
14.     Other shoes: running shoes, chacos, and something comfy (sandals/slippers) for around the house.
15.     Candy:  amazing how many of us crave candy–peanut m&m’s are like gold here-bring more than you think you will want. Also 10-20 packs of your favorite gum is a great idea.
16.     Wall decorations:  things to make your house more homely-lightweight things like pictures and banners/posters
17.     A small stuffed sleeping bag:  a must, in my opinion
18.     A couple nice notebooks:  the ones here suck
19.     Pens/Pencils:  the ones here suck
20.     A camera: if you don’t bring one, you are dumb
21.     Soccer ball and pump: I brought 5 deflated soccer balls to give as gifts and kept one for myself. Soccer is a religion here
22.     Other presents for your host family: American flag t-shirts, mini LED flashlights, and perfume are good ideas.
23.    Hygiene stuff: hand sanitizer, hand wipes, good shampoo, shaving cream, good razors, (an electronic shaver/beard trimmer is a great luxury to have) dandruff shampoo (I get it here because of the elevation), Dr. Bronners all purpose soap, cologne/perfume (aka an Ethiopian shower)
24.     Quick drying lightweight towel: so very useful
25.     Sleeping pills: are a great idea because they aren’t provided and man will you need them the first month. BUT
26.     Don’t bring any other medical stuff like cortisone cream or band aids: those will be given to you, as will water treatment devices and a mosquito net. No need to buy water purification pills or a steripen.
27.     Duct Tape: Jesus himself invented it
28.     Leatherman/Pocketknife: I use mine everyday
29.     Headlamp: the maid/worker of my host family thought this was the greatest invention ever
30.     A couple pairs of glasses/sunglasses: because if you are like me, you will lose your first pair.
31.     A hiking backpack: something to take on 3-7 day trips
32.     Books: you don’t need your whole library–we have lots and lots to share.
33.    12-16 passport photos-you need a lot and its better to have extras.
34.    Less clothes than you think you’ll need: I’m embarrassed about how many shirts I brought—most Ethiopians only own one or two.

Finally, things I wish I had packed but are luxuries that you probably don’t have room for:
Febreeze, tap lights, (the lighting in my room sucks) hangers, (it took me a long time to find some) a hammock (very jealous of the two kids who brought one) and my weight in vacuum dried Chipotle Burrito’s.

Enjoy your last couple months in the USA, and I look forward to meeting you all.


The Parable and the President

The Parable

“An American businessman was at the pier of a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. Inside the small boat were several large yellow fin tuna. The American complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took to catch them. The Mexican replied only a little while. The American then asked why didn’t he stay out longer and catch more fish?

The Mexican said he had enough to support his family’s immediate needs.

The American then asked, but what do you do with the rest of your time?

The Mexican fisherman said, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siesta with my wife, Maria, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos, I have a full and busy life, senor.”

The American scoffed, “I am a Harvard MBA and could help you. You should spend more time fishing and with the proceeds buy a bigger boat, with the proceeds from the bigger boat you could buy several boats, eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to a middleman you would sell directly to the processor, eventually opening your own cannery. You would control the product, processing and distribution.

You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City, then LA and eventually NYC where you will run your expanding enterprise.”

The Mexican fisherman asked, “But senor, how long will this all take?”

To which the American replied, “15-20 years.”

“But what then, senor?”

The American laughed and said “That’s the best part. When the time is right you would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich, you would make millions.”

“Millions, senor? Then what?”

The American said, “Then you would retire. Move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take siesta with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos.”


The Holiday:

On Tuesday I was feeling sick and anxious—the start of a flu I’m just now getting over. After trying all day to copy a proposal onto my computer, I decided to head home. A couple kids were being obnoxious, and the sun was pissed off at me. As I was escaping my frustrations I remembered that it was Timket, The Ethiopian celebration of the day of Epiphany. Despite the state of my body and mind, I went to the town center.

The center of Bonga is, in a word, gritty. Looking out from the town center, the rainforest falls upon rolling hills. Looking towards the center is another story. Three dusty roads converge into a makeshift roundabout. Dilapidated tin roofs and unfinished construction jobs can make the town center feel unlike the jungle oasis I imagine. It feels more like a town that belongs in a Clint Eastwood western. Poverty always rears its head in places like these. Having little in a beautiful rural setting pales to the desperation that embodies urban poverty.

So I was not in store for the transformation that was about to occur. Pictures can illustrate this better than words, so I will add some pictures soon. From the three orthodox churches, thousands had gathered in traditional clothing, and down the three roads they descended. Priests and elders dressed in ornate clothing and carrying umbrellas. Others were chanting, blowing horns, lighting candles. At the roundabout, the three tribes coalesced and headed to the river. An hour and 300 pictures later, 20,000 Ethiopians from all over the region had joined at a small clearing near the Sheta River. There, myself, Dave, and a forest of palm trees hugging the river bank were witness to traditional dancing, jumping, baptisms, and vibrant colors. It was national geographic personified.

I think of the word authentic. The most authentic American experience I’ve had was attending a presidential inauguration. The most authentic European experience I had was running with the bulls in Pamplona. I didn’t think that could be beat. But this was the most uniquely authentic event I have been a part of. On Timket, I experienced Africa.



I’ve been largely out of the loop when it comes to news, but I was finally able to read more about the tragedy in Tucson. What an ugly, ugly day. The vitriol it created can be similarly characterized. I’ve always been disgusted by the way the media can turn a tragedy into political capital, and this was just another example.Instead of further jotting down my irrelevant opinions, I’ll let someone speak for me in a way that I never could.  The parallels of the third paragraph serve as an awesome reminder of my job here in Ethiopia…

“So sudden loss causes us to look backward — but it also forces us to look forward; to reflect on the present and the future, on the manner in which we live our lives and nurture our relationships with those who are still with us.

We may ask ourselves if we’ve shown enough kindness and generosity and compassion to the people in our lives. Perhaps we question whether we’re doing right by our children, or our community, whether our priorities are in order…

We recognize our own mortality, and we are reminded that in the fleeting time we have on this Earth, what matters is not wealth, or status, or power, or fame — but rather, how well we have loved and what small part we have played in making the lives of other people better.

And that process — that process of reflection, of making sure we align our values with our actions — that, I believe, is what a tragedy like this requires.”

-Barack Obama


Sick with it

I spent the better half of last week in bed, throwing up, crying, and trying to figure out if I was hot or cold. Whatever got a hold of me last week, It put a damper on my spirits. To make matters worse, I spent those four days without power, cell service or internet.

I looked disheveled and was feeling distraught. I went outside and started a fire to boil water for tea. After several minutes, I gave up. I drank lukewarm tea by candlelight while reading a book about serial killers. It was a bad day. I needed a hug.

Matters took an immediate turn for the worst. Things got nasty. I wish I knew why I am telling this story… I had a bucket by my bed that I was using during the nauseous times.  As I was taking it outside to dump it, stumbling in the dark because the power was out, I tripped.

The next 2 seconds took what seemed like hours to unfold. In what I would call a feat of pure athleticism, I crumpled in a fashion that would keep me out of harms way. The bucket outstretched, I made sure it was the last thing to touch the ground. Time actually slowed down during this sequence. The landing was relatively smooth, save for a small backlash of dinner that landed on my face.

Every Peace Corps Volunteer has a moment like this. If they say otherwise, they are lying or being a jackass. Everyone has the day they doubt themselves. A day or actual moment when they look around and say to themselves something like, “why am I face down in the dirt, covered in my own vomit?”

So Friday was that day for me. If Peace Corps is an emotional tour of peaks and valleys, Friday was the Mariana Trench. I wanted my Mom’s soup, saltine crackers and a warm bath.

Several depressing hours later, I awoke out of my feverish stupor to a text message. It was from Zafu, an awesome kid who heard I was sick.

It said, “Mike-I hope you begin to feel better and have your happiness back tomorrow…

And then,

…Cherish all of your happy moments. They make a fine cushion for this hard life”

It was a perfectly timed text; awesome philosophical knowledge dropped on me when I needed it the most. I don’t know what was more impressive, the quote itself, or the translation of it into English. Regardless it was a much-needed boost after an ugly day. And today my happiness is back.


The Story of the Ankle and Sargent Shriver

The Ankle.

Several centuries ago, when my Dad was around my age, he worked on the democratic campaign to elect the McGovern/Shriver ticket to the White House. On election day, his girlfriend at the time told him she had voted for Nixon. High treason.

My dad, screaming, leapt up onto a table to better illustrate his anger. He then proceeded to fall off the table, breaking his ankle.

Perhaps out of the fear for more bodily harm, or the scarier thought of losing his girl, My dad became a Republican. He proceeded to marry his girlfriend (the lovely Anne Waidmann) and got a job in Washington as a speechwriter/staffer for a Republican Congressman. The rest, as they say, is history.

Along the way he and my mother were blessed to raise three wonderful children and one unbelievably exceptional one. And in a cruel twist of fate, his one exceptional son has since worked for a Democratic Congressman, grown out his hair, and joined the Peace Corps.

Sargent Shriver

However, it was with bad news that this story was brought to my attention.

My good friend Connor Cain sent me a link the other day. The link was to an article describing the life, and recent passing of Sargent Shriver. I will paraphrase some of the things I’ve learned about a man my Dad once campaigned for.

Sargent Shriver was many things, and should be remembered today for all that he was and all that he did.

Shriver ran for president and vice-president. He championed the fight against poverty and promoted peace throughout the world. He and his wife, Eunice Kennedy, helped create the Special Olympics He helped advise JFK to pursue civil rights as part of his presidential campaign and platform. He was tasked with creating and running one of newly elected John F. Kennedy’s newly proposed programs. The Peace Corps.

So from 1961 to 1966, Shriver send 14,500 volunteers to 55 countries, traveling 350,000 miles to make sure that one of the boldest and most risky political programs got off to the right start. Asked by a reporter about the discomforts associated with his job, Shriver replied, “I have the best damned job in Government.”

50 years later, as we celebrate the day John F. Kennedy was inaugurated, the Peace Corps remains one of the most successful government programs. The Peace Corps has sent 200,000 volunteers to 139 countries.

President Clinton upon giving Sargent Shriver the Presidential Medal of Freedom Remarked, “In my lifetime, America has never had a stronger warrior for peace and against poverty than Sargent Shriver.”

So as I sit here under my mosquito net, planning an English lesson for 50 Kindergarteners tomorrow morning, and brainstorming ways to export honey and coffee to the United States, I know of one more person I can thank for this opportunity.

Because I have the best damned job in Government.



The information I used/article can be found here:


Teaching and Learning

Last post, my final comment was a link to an article about a Peace Corps Volunteer who served in Bonga 40 years ago. The article was spot on.


The volunteer, Brenda Commandeur, taught English at a local school. She has recently donated her own personal money to improving the school (to the tune of 12 new computers and a brand new laboratory.) 40 years after she left, Bonga still remains a large part of her life.

In the article she claimed that these kids don’t have the privileges we have in the United States. She commented that what she was doing was not charity, but justice. She also said that visiting Bonga was more important that investing in a car, because it will change your life.

I feel like I myself have not changed too much. I still rarely wear a shirt, procrastinate horribly, laugh at farts, and hate the Dallas Cowboys. But my mindset has changed; my idea of what life should be has changed.

This is in large part due to the same feelings expressed in Brenda’s article.

The kids here have nothing save for their youth. A wonderful thing to have but something that is all-too-soon departed before it can be cherished.

So, inspired by the article, and partly because I love teaching, I have begun teaching English at three local schools. I teach some hilarious kindergarteners on Mondays. Next week I start at the Primary and High Schools, teaching conversational English. Teaching has offered itself as a mirror, comparing what I had and what they have.

I had everything. They have nothing. And yet, if given my seat in high school, I guarantee you anyone of these kids would have had a higher GPA than I did. So many of us Americans are given the chance of a lifetime.

I ask myself, What did I do to deserve the ability to travel the world, marry for love, go to college, and pick a profession I wanted? What did I do to deserve the chance to choose school over manual labor, an education over subsistence farming?

I truly don’t know, but to waste this opportunity is a crime. And that is how my mindset has changed. I hope that by teaching these kids I can give them the ability to dream outside of the town they have never left.

What I’m doing.

Its not charity. Its justice.

Pearls of Waidmann: things that are cool

27 things I think are cool:

  1. Otis Redding’s voice. I could listen to his songs all day
  2. Jack Handey’s, “Deep Thoughts With Jack Handey.” The subtleness of the humor gets me everytime:
  3. Hang-gliding
  4. My friends back in the states. Except for anyone I was a roommate with in College. Because, well, you guys are nerds.
  5. The fact that the actor just chosen to play Abraham Lincoln in Steven Speilbergs “Lincoln” is Daniel Day Lewis. Perfect.
  6. This article: This is the best application of science, ever.
  7. Modern Family—I watched the pilot last night and almost died of laughter
  8. The book, “Cutting for Stone” –paints an unbelievable portrait of my very own romanticized version of Ethiopia. I’ve loved it so far.
  9. Independence for Southern Sudan. This will be a great step for the people of Sudan who have endured more hardship in my lifetime than I could ever begin to imagine.
  10. Fantasizing about my future vacations. Everybody do the following searches on Google images: Seriously, right now. I’ll wait…
  11. Plitvice Falls, Croatia
  12. Phuket Beach, Thailand
  13. Zanzibar Island, Tanzania
  14. Simien Mountains, Ethiopia 🙂
  15. My brother in law, sister, brother, mother, father, girlfriend, and several of my friends might be coming to visit me in the next 6 months. YOU HAVE NO IDEA HOW EXCITED I AM.
  16. John Coltrane’s album “The Gentle Side of John Coltrane.” It’s one of the few albums that I can listen to while writing.
  17. Popcorn: In a land with few American comforts,  popcorn with salt and butter as a snack has been a revelaton.
  18. The Jets beating the Patriots, and not because Mark Sanchez is hot (Ahem, Carly) but because, well, I hate the Patriots.  Alright, he’s kinda hot.
  19. MLK. This is one cool, and unbelievable speech. Given that he died the next morning, this speech is breathtaking:
  20. Bubble Baths: seriously, don’t take them for granted. What I would give…
  21. Sunsets: I am at the luxury of being witness to an unbelievable sunset every night. I truly wish the sunset lasted a couple more hours.
  22. The fact that my girlfriend would rather go to a farmers market than a mall.
  24. Any movie Frank Darabont has directed: The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile—oh and he’s working on a new one –Farenheit 451
  25. Waking up in this climate. The mornings are a cool 68 degrees. The afternoon, a warm 75. Oh was that an ice storm you had in DC? Wow, sorry to hear that.
  26. The fact that one of my future groomsmen is coming to Africa to join the Peace Corps—Ben Hawkins might be going to Morrocco , Madagascar, or if Peace Corps accepts my bribe, Ethiopia.
  27. The following article and my newest inspiration





Thoughts of the week

  1. I’m pretty addicted to The West Wing right now (I have several TV shows I’ve borrowed from friends). It does a good job of depicting a fictional white house, and Martin Sheen is the perfect president. What a great show. Then again I’m a huge nerd.
  2. It still doesn’t come close to The Wire in the “greatest tv show” debate
  3. My amazing grandma sent me all the ingredients to make oatmeal cookies. Problem is I don’t have an oven. That’s like giving someone a Porsche without the keys.
  4. “The opposite of love is not hate, but indifference. The opposoite of happiness is not sadness, but boredom” –my favorite quote from the 4 hour work week
  5. My new years resolutions: Blog more, Eat more, Read more, and start/finish the P90X workout.
  6. …The guy who started the P90X series is ridiculous. I can’t take him seriously to save my life. He really is an older version of my friend Alex “Roids” Eroe. Seriously, you could do that for a living brother.
  7. I’m a city boy. But almost all of my favorite memories happened on Hikes. I got chased by Grizzly Bears in Alaska, hiked the Grand Canyon in the snow with my brother, learned curse words with Mike Jennings in boy scouts, Had life epiphanies in the Cinque Terre, had great times on a hike of skyline drive with my college roommates, Shared puns and worldviews with my friend Ben Hawkins at St. Mary’s Falls, understood what the word ‘epic’ means in Switzerland, and have contemplated the meaning of life and the beauty of kitchen utensils here in Ethiopia. Hiking is awesome.
  8. Happy belated Birthday to Carly! I love that girl, if it isn’t painfully obvious.
  9. Watching the West Wing and finally being able to access my favorite website, has reignited some of my thoughts on public and foreign policy. Because I’m feeling high and mighty, and I’m pretty bored, I’ll share with you my political rant of the week:

Citizens United

The Supreme Court decision Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission is the biggest blow to democracy in this century, and the worst ruling since the Dredd Scott decision. It ruled that corporations and foreign entities can give freely to candidates during elections.

In practice and in principle it is detrimental to our election process. The ruling suggests that according to the first amendment, corporations have the right to free speech—in the form of money. Wait, what? What a wicked stretch of the founders words. Simply put the justice’s conclusions:

Companies = People. Speech = Money

The power this gives to corporations is truly frightening. For example, GM could promise to a senator 100 million dollars if the senator votes against a bill say, forcing GM to pay back its stimulus money. If the senator backs the bill, GM promises to spend the same amount of money voting him out of office in the next election. Well at least now the Senator can vote his conscience. What an ugly toy to give to lobbyists and special interests.

We have essentially eliminated the senator from Michigan and replaced him/her with the Senator from General Motors.

During the recent midterm elections 150 million dollars was spent because of this ruling, given to candidates by corporations.

I’m sure they don’t want anything in return.