Meet Mr. Bean

 

How Do I accurately describe my host father? He is calm, gentle and loving. I used to think of him as an all knowing, perfect reincarnation of Buddha (Until he said some mildly offensive things about Judaism). Regardless, he has a big heart. When he speaks in Amharic, it is always quiet and solemn. He looks up to God and thanks him. He compliments everyone he knows and he hates to say anything bad about anything. However, a different side of him comes out when he speaks English. He goes from being a quiet observer to a loud exclaimer. His accent is a hilarious mixture of a loud German and Gandhi.

He is Mr. Bean and I love him.

  • When I’m playing with the dogs on our compound: 

    Michael there is place for MAN. And there is place for  (pause) DOG!

  • When he hears I did something at the kindergarten or with kids: 

    Michael! You are GENTLE man!

  • Everyday when we drink coffee: 

    COFFEE! It is GOOD

  • When Jon goes on a bike ride or makes food: 

    Jon! He is (pause) FREE MAN.

  • When we were building a clay oven (with Ben Hawkins) and He and I disagreed on the structure: 

    MICHAEL you are LAZY and NOT RIGHT. Ben is (pause) SMART man.

  • If I’m doing anything remotely considered work on a weekend:

    MICHAEL! Take REHST. Work is not good TODAY.

  • Again, working on a Sunday: 

    Today it is REHST DAY. WORK it is for MAHN – DAY!

  • If I’m on my front porch, shoeless: 

    Barefoot is NOT GOOD. FOR HELZ (health)

  • If I say something new in Amharic: 

    MICHAEL! You are FINISHED AT Amharic LANGUAGE

  • On his way out of the compound: 

    I go to FOREST AREA. There is (pause) WORK today in my forest area!

  • When jon says a joke: 

    JON. He is FUNNY MAN! He is FREE MAN!

  •  Every other day: 

    How is KAR-LEE. She is very SMART woman.

  • When we are discussing politics or the simple fact that Alemua hates being here and prefers the capital city: 

    NO NO. THIS IS NOT RIGHT. (waving finger) SHE IS LIAR WOMAN.

  • Shortly thereafter: 

    KAFFA. It is best country It is GREEN COUNTRY!!!!

  • When it’s been raining for several days: 

    RAIN. It is Best. Mud, it makes me HAPPY!!!!

  • When we are at dinner, talking about the school work and how Mesfin has helped me so much: 

    Mesfin. He is STRONG man. He is best MAN!

  •  At the Dinner Table: 

    This is fresh food. It is ORGANIC!

  • When I tell him I don’t want to eat meat or that I don’t really like it:  

    Michael! WHAT IS ZIS?! FRESH MEAT. Why Not EAT. Freash meat it is GOOD!

School Update

Here are some pictures of the school!

So much work has been done, and there is so much left to do. These photos are a little old, but uploading pictures is very difficult. As of today, the cement and brick has been finished. The school looks beautiful. A more important recent development has been the community involvement. I spent many fruitless days, trying to convince people to come lend a hand. Then, with the help of some local leaders we began having “campaign days.” Every day for the past two weeks 60-100 people have shown up at the school every morning to bring water for concrete, move bricks, and shovel sand and cement. It has been beautiful to watch the community adopt this project as a priority. I am humbled by their efforts. Below you will see the new floors, (new interior walls to come) the brick exterior, and some of the guys I helped deliver loads of stone, sand, and cement with!

So much done, even more left to do…

 

Things I will miss about Ethiopia

I’m leaving in a few months. I’m trying to come to terms with this, not worry too much about my future, and live in the present even though the future is exciting. The school project is coming along really well, reducing my stress incredibly. My thoughts have shifted to trying to not take this time for granted. Here is a list of things I will certainly miss about my adopted country:

 

1. How an Ethiopian can find a deep connection with someone over lunch or a bus ride. Ethiopians don’t put up social walls.

2. The things I hear every day on the street: “hello you man. What is you do?” or “YES! ZIS is ZEE FOOT BALL”

3. The ‘whistler’ a schizophrenic man who used to call me a “stoopid shit stupid blackboard” but now blows me kisses because I bought him breakfast.

4. A dinner of Injera with fresh garlic and hot pepper infused Tegabino – for 75 US cents

5. How anything you could ever need is here. Everything beyond what is locally available is a luxury. Life is simple.

6. The way people tell you exactly what they think about you. For example, people keep telling me I’ve gotten fatter – to my face.

7. Related: People constantly talking about how smart I am. I’m told I’m “gobez” about 45 times a day, and I’m getting kind of used to it.

8. Being able to make a kid bust into an uncontrollable smile.

9. Being able to make a grandmother laugh on the bus.

10. Coffee. Even though I can’t drink it often because of my disease, it’s so rich delicious.

11. Evenings in general. The sunlight is spectacular.

12. Playing catch with Jon down by the Hippo grounds. The baseball gloves were the best things I brought from America.

13. Bumping into Hippos, Antelope, Civet Cats, and monkeys on my way to work.

14. How loosely defined “work” is. Sometimes, work means playing basketball and cooking dinner for my host mom.

15. The opportunity of living in a place where $12,000 can buy a new school.

16. Seasonal food. You appreciate a tomato more when you haven’t had one in four months.

17. Two (three?) hour lunch breaks

18. My friends. They are such genuine people that I feel like I have a dirty mind when I talk to them – Folks like Gezehegn, Yidne, Milkiyas.

19. My Host Family. They treat me like a son.

20. Peace Corps Volunteers. They are generally awesome people.

21. The way people say my name: Mickey! or Mai-KIL!

22. Our rudimentary basketball court and the way the guys have become so much better at basketball in the time I’ve been here.

23. Setting my own schedule and being my own boss.

24. The way respect is given – the more uncomfortable an action, the more implied respect: a low bow is respectful. A lower bow is more respectful. Waving with two hands is better than one.

25. How hungry some of the kids are for knowledge.

26. The stars. I can’t describe how much of a planetarium I live in.

27. Dinners with my host family and Mesfin. Especially when a visitor brings some music. These nights are magical. Live music takes something great and makes it even better.

28. Being able to joke in another language.

29. Feeling like I’m making a difference, even if it is small.

30. Hanging out with the work crew at the school and learning how to lay brick.

31. My kindergarteners at the Hope Academy. They have so much love.

32. Walking to a restaurant late at night with Jon and making great jokes and terrible puns.

33. Feeling robbed when a meal costs more than 2 dollars.

34. The way the whole country stopped to cheer, and cheer more passionately than anything I’ve seen, when Tirunesh won the Gold Medal in the 10,000 meters. It was at 2am.

35. Ambo Water – the sparkling mineral water that costs 40 cents here but 5 dollars in the states. I don’t know how I’ll live without it.

36. The relationships I have with waiters and kids on the street. Our inside jokes and the mutual ability we share to brighten each other’s day.

 

 

Home

Family Home, Mizan Teferi, Ethiopia

Family Home, Mizan Teferi, Ethiopia

Its 1:19 AM and I was sleeping 30 minutes ago. However, I just felt an urge to write. The truth is, I was not awoken by some creative calling, but rather a Hippopotamus. The behemoth is growling so loudly just outside my house, that it sounds like thunder mixed with a cow orgy.  

In fact it is so loud, that I was afraid it (they?) had entered our compound. I went to check it out, but the hippo had retreated to the water.

Life, like this memorable night, is pretty wild right now. My main project is progressing better than I had imagined. Pictures won’t load to my blog, but the school looks just beautiful. Cement has been laid, and the brick walls give the school a 1940’s feel. I am painfully anxious to see the final product. The children will have a transformed place to learn and grow.  Solar light bulbs will soon add some sun to the refurbished walls. The difference is night and day.

Also, doctors from Northwestern University are coming in 6 weeks. Together we’ve been working to address infant and patient mortality during labor. It’s a huge problem here. So we’re fundraising and preparing the invitations for the invited midwives. The doctors will lead a great program that will save many lives.

It’s strange though. Although I have never had this much going on in the present, I’m finding it hard not to wonder about the future. I can’t help but count down the days until I leave. Forgive me for being excited, but I’ve had a handful of hot showers in the past year and I’m going home to the prettiest girl, possibly ever.

Peace Corps told us this would happen, and most of my anticipation is actually rooted in fear. I’m scared of going home. I don’t know where I’ll live or work. My friends have moved all over the place. I don’t know if I’ll readjust well, or how my new mindset will affect those that I love.

But I came to a realization a few moments ago. This is without a doubt the most confusing time in my life. I’m now entering the real world, and coming from the oldest of worlds. All of us, just out of college, are trying to form ourselves, and form an identity. We are branching out and discovering ourselves, and yet this leaves us yearning for home. When we return to our original home, its not quite the same. The people who have made it what it was now live in Colorado, Tennessee and Europe. How do we bridge the gap between staying close to our roots, our families and remaining friends, yet find a place that calls to us in a special way.

But really, none of these things really matter. They are just the self-obsessed fears of a self-esteem driven generation.  I’m worried about finding a great job, being comfortable, and if I can spend 900 dollars a month on an apartment. I worry that I won’t be a great boyfriend, and that I missed out on some great years with great friends.

Meanwhile, my favorite man in Ethiopia just lost his young wife to Cancer. The labor manager at the school just accidentally killed his daughter while chopping down firewood. The tiny tree fell at just the right angle to kill her. She was six. Floods, the same one that brought the hippo to my doorstep, destroyed homes by the river. One kid drowned. Months ago, Carly took a family photo and delivered it to a beautiful woman and her several daughters who live on the road. One of her daughters died on Wednesday.

My trivial worries, our collective 20-something worries may dominate our minds. But in the breadth and depth of the human struggle, they mean so little.

We want to find the perfect job, home and happiness. But it’s important to remember not to worry too much about things that will one day be resolved. Things worth worrying about generally present themselves when you least expect them, and remind us of how good we had it beforehand.

So for those of us living in the beforehand, let’s take a second to enjoy the moment, count our blessings and remember that home is sometimes not a physical place but a state of mind.

Help Us Save Lives In Ethiopia

Peacecare.org/donate

In nearby Chiri, a nurse arrived at the scene of a complicated delivery. The midwives, upon seeing the protruding arm of a baby, had tried to pull it out. The result of this tragic attempt was a torn uterus, and an infant who became a statistic.

In two months, doctors from Northwestern University, in collaboration with the Peace Care Organization, will arrive in my town of Bonga, Ethiopia. The doctors are conducting a training that will reduce infant and maternal mortality. Today, I’m asking that you donate what is in your ability, one dollar if possible, to help us succeed in this mission. Equally as important, try reposting this link to social media and help spread the word.

For two weeks, the doctors will train midwives and health officers in the ALSO course, teaching life saving techniques and safe delivery practices. Health professionals will be traveling from all over the region, some up to two days by bus, in order to attend the training. The Peace Care model asks Peace Corps Volunteers to work within the community to identify a problem area. In Senegal, Peace Care is working alongside PCVs to implement cervical cancer prevention services.

Too often in our world, there is a great disparity between the haves and the have-nots. As a volunteer in rural Ethiopia it can be heartbreaking to see a problem and be unable to do anything about it.  This is the power of Peace Care. They asked me to find a problem, and then offered to help solve it.

I conducted several focus groups and informant interviews, posing the general question, how can experienced medical professionals help Bonga and the surrounding area of Kafa. The answers were unanimous. There is a lack of obstetrical knowledge among many of the nurses, midwives and health workers. As a result, many children die before they even get a chance to live. Many mothers die without getting to see their children. Across the world, 500,000 mothers die every year in childbirth. 99 percent of them come from areas just like this.

Across Ethiopia, Uterine ruptures leave physical and emotional scars. Fistulas in the Uterus cause urinal leaking. The smell is so bad, that these women are kicked out of the community. They are left to live, or die, in solitude. Sometimes, they are 13 or 14 years old.

Peace Care will end some of these tragic problems. By teaching a program tailored to this environment, we will train dozens of teachers. In turn they will teach hundreds of midwives.  The midwives will better understand how to handle an emergency and deliver a baby in an effective manner.

So please, follow this link, donate, and spread the word. Together we can save lives, provide hope to a region, and put a giant dent in a tragic statistic.

To donate please visit:

Peacecare.org/donate

Or repost the link to your social media followers! Facebook, Twitter, etc.

 

Camp Grow

The final day of summer camp. For campers across the world this means futile promises to stay in touch and tearful goodbyes. For counselors it means a sigh of relief and the promise of sleep. But for Camp Grow, the last day of camp meant so much more.

It would be hard to classify the week-long Bonga summer camp as anything other than magical. There was something special in the air, a palpable feeling that this camp was destined to happen. Everything came together, and the monsoon rains of July avoided us for the entire week.

It started with the kids. From the far reaching corners of Southern Ethiopia, Peace Corps Volunteers and our local counterparts hand-picked the best kids in the world. Some of the kids were incredibly intelligent. Others were very talented. Some of them were very well behaved yet a little shy. These were my favorite to watch. Over the course of a week, they broke loose from their shells and a tangible feeling of hope was visible in their eyes.

The message of camp was simple: Dream big. You are capable of anything.

One of the 26 campers was my famous friend, schooled in a terrorist camp in the capital city. He speaks five languages. One of the campers whose name means “My golden hope” is a 13 year old who does a mean Michael Jackson impersonation. His sister is an equally talented dancer. We had Banchayehu (rough translation: I see things through you) who is the best student at Sheta School. She wants to be an engineer.

‘Zegeye’  proudly claimed he wants to become a philosopher. He taught the kids that Philosophy comes from the Greek words ‘Philo’ and ‘Sophy’ meaning the love of wisdom. There was Kidist, the servant to another campers’ family. Yet, she had the biggest dreams: She wants to be the prime minister one day. There was Muse, a brilliant and polite kid who is learning Turkish. He wants to be a computer hacker and eventually an engineer.

Finally there were two students from the orphanage in Chiri. Geramew was our loveable lion, and Tigist was our quiet beauty.

During the camp, the kids became instant friends, coming together through trust falls and post bedtime whispers. They learned our songs and our games and were thirsty for knowledge. We taught them what we could, including orienteering, composting, HIV prevention, forest preservation, tree planting, Malaria prevention and leadership skills.

At night we brought in role models so the kids could get an idea of what it would take to make their dreams come true. There was my friend, Dr. Milkiyas, as well as Sofi, a female business consultant. We also had four amazing university students who doubled as counselors for the week and a friend who runs an NGO that supports children with HIV.

There were moments that broke my heart. During one activity, the body map, kids traced their bodies and filled their arms, hearts, heads and stomachs with magazine cut-outs that represented their thoughts and passions. Almost every kid put a picture of a family on their heart or head. As they presented their body map they would say, “I love my family” or “I think about my parents a lot.”

Tigist also pasted a magazine photo of an American family posing in a grassy field. She said, “One day, I want to have a family”

A few hours later our other beautiful orphan got me again. The kids would come up to me and ask if they could call their mothers or fathers. Geramew walked sheepishly up to me, the last of the kids.

“Can I call my, um….roommates?”

On the last day, we gave each kid an envelope and scraps of paper. They were told to write notes to their friends, so they could remember each other after camp. My envelope was filled with both amazing and hilarious comments:

  • Your jokes make me happy
  • You are very beauty so continue that
  • If you go to America, please don’t forget me
  • Hero
  • I like your dance.
  • I like Chase and also you.
  • So cool
  • I love you every day

And Finally

  • You were a very good teacher and friend. You are funny and friendly. I hope and I’m sure you get a good job and change the world   – Muse

Yesterday camp ended and the rain came back with a vengeance. Geramew, rather than returning to the orphanage ,is staying with his brother for a week. I wanted to walk him to make sure he arrived safely. His new friends, the dancers Firenesh and Tesfawerk lived on the way. However they refused to go to their home without seeing Geramew safely to his door. So the four of us walked over an hour to a small hut in the pouring rain and said our goodbyes to our good friend. As they hugged, the siblings asked if Geramew would like to join them for dinner at their house. You could even stay with us if you want, they added.

So in a week, children were inspired to become Doctors and Prime Ministers. Tigist found a small family, if only for a week. Geramew found a family for perhaps longer thanks to some new friends, and Muse reminded me of the simple message of camp. Dream big. You are capable of anything.

 

 

Music Video Debut!

Almost a year ago,  I had an idea to write a song that would inspire pride in Ethiopia and disseminate the Peace Corps message. With the help of terrific friends I worked on some lyrics together and came up with a beat.  The anthem was then handed to some incredibly talented musicians who turned words and a melody into music.

On the fourth of July, they performed it live at the US Embassy’s fourth of July party, and we collaborated with Sher Vogel to make this video! I hope it is the beginning of something great — using music to enhance the Peace Corps experience.