I have been in Ethiopia for just about 2 weeks now- though it feels both like 2 days and a whole month at the same time. As soon as we stepped off the plane we were in training and it has not let up since. This is good in that I have had no time to freak out, but also exhausting and I really have to try hard to give myself a few minutes each day to process and decompress.
They say pre-service training is like drinking from fire hose. You can only get so much in your mouth, and if you concentrate on how much you are missing you will be lost forever. The best advice is to get what you can.
Well that is a pretty accurate analogy, and this week has felt like a water cannon.
Since I have been here I have travelled around Addis Ababa, up to Debre Birhan, moved in with my host family in Itaya and shot down to Assela a few times. A whirlwind of medical, safety, technical, and language training has been mixed in with making new friends, navigating public transportation, and using charades to communicate with my host family. So how to break it down for all y’all back home?
Flew into Addis and the first few days were a lot of training sessions and workshops at the King’s Hotel. A few days later I took a mini bus with five other trainees up to Debre Birhan to visit some current health volunteers at their site and “demystify” Peace Corps in Ethiopia. Debre Birhan is 2 hours northeast of Addis in the Amhara region and a larger town of about 100,000. We visited a married couple there (who are so badassadely awesome), so I don’t know how close my experience will be to theirs as a single gal, but it was good to see the type of housing and lifestyle of volunteers. Other volunteers went all over the country for demystification, some going as far as needing to fly.
Coming back from Debre Birhan (on mini-buses aka the public transportation where you just have to fight for a seat), we stayed another couple nights in Addis and took a tour of the city. We went to the national museum and saw Lucy, the ancestor skeleton thing. Since then I have moved in with my host family in Itaya, a small town of about 17,000 a couple hours Southeast of Addis in the Oromia region. There are 8 other volunteers in the town with me.
Most recently we have been bouncing back and forth between Itaya and Assela, our training hub town where we get to see the other volunteers and get all sorts of vaccinations. I mention the shots because they gave me a Reese’s Peanut butter cup, and you need to know how exciting that was. (very).
Language training has been 2 parts fun, 1 part frustrating, and 17 parts exhausting. I am keeping hold of my small victories every day and considering how much I have picked up in the language over such a short period I have to remember to give myself a pat on the back. Or you can send me chocolate (or goldfish!), if you feel so inclined J I can almost sort of pretend to read kind of! And of course my host family thinks I’m very “gobez” (clever). If saying “good morning” and “I don’t understand” make me clever then in 1 month I’m going to be at Einstein status. I have class with 2 other volunteers, and our language and culture instructor is the bomb dot com. He has also taken every awkward cultural question from me in stride- and if you know me you know I have asked a lot of stupid questions.
The food is pretty damn delicious. I was a little worried back in the States going to a few Ethiopian restaurants and not falling in love with the injera and wot they were serving. But as with everything exported, the original is always better. And thank goodness because I literally eat injera (a sponge like pancake sour bread) and wot (stew) for every meal. Peace Corps gives us a water filter that I use with boiled water also. So far so good! No sickness or stomach issues yet, though other volunteers have not been so lucky. I figure my health is half mental so if I am still enjoying myself my body will stay healthy. Fingers crossed.
Integrating into our host community has been an interesting experience. Kids are running around everywhere! And of course every single one of them wants to say hi and ciao and shake our hands. The best idea was teaching the fist bump- it’s cultural and clean! My friend and fellow volunteer Todd brought a slackline, and so we have been setting it up in the fields. Everyone wants to try it and so it has been a great way to meet community members and feel involved. The toll to try is to for the kids to teach us a word in Amharic (which I promptly forget).
My host family is really fantastic. It’s smaller than most volunteer’s families- I live with the mother and father and their 13 year old daughter. They are both teachers and the father’s English is very good. They like to watch the news in both Amharic and English and then have me explain what is going on. There may or may not be a napkin floating around Itaya with a scribbled map of Europe and a haphazard explanation of the eurozone crisis… We have been playing card games like Skip-bo which help me with my numbers. They also like to watch movies and the first two I saw on TV with them were Tootsie and She’s the Man… so basically they think Americans like to dress up as the opposite gender. Thanks, Hollywood- that was fun to explain.
So it’s been a busy couple of weeks! I will try to update my blog more frequently as I get a hold of this schedule. I also hear a rumor we might be getting a “google bet” in town soon so I won’t have to travel to Assela for internet. Oh, the small things in life.