On Saturday we found out where we will be living for the next two years. I felt a mix of anxiousness and apathy. Considering it is two years of my life, it was kind of a big deal, but I also feel like I still know next to nothing about Ethiopia so they could have said any town and I would have nodded and smiled. I went in with no expectations and no requests. I came out with what I think will be a great site for my project interests, research and personality. I’m feeling pretty lucky.
So, I will living in … drumroll please … Dese!
Everyone reading this probably feels exactly how I did when I heard that. Namely, where is that? Is it big? Small? What language do they speak there? Where will I be working? What’s the weather like? Yup- I was as clueless as you. But after a bit of research (asking around the old fashioned way), I am getting more and more excited.
Dese is a pretty large city of 150,000 in the East Amhara region. I am about 8 hours (by bus) north east of Addis Ababa. I have one of the largest sites in Ethiopia. Most people are going to have what you might call the “typical Peace Corps experience” (if there is one) in a smaller town or village. I am moving to one of the bigger cities in the country. So working through some pros and cons:
Lots of options for cafes, souks, and even some ferenji (foreigner) grocery stores!
More resources, including a university for projects/funding and counterparts. Hopefully this also means a motivated community.
I am paired with a local NGO (ARC- AIDS Resource Center), not a government health center, which is more my line of work. It works with Behavioral Change and Communications (BCC) programs, which fits nicely with my communications/marketing work
I have a site mate! A guy named Korey, who I have not yet met, but I’m sure is awesome. And by awesome, I mean speaks English.
They speak Amharic (the national language) so I don’t have to switch languages and I can still travel anywhere in the country. Whew!
Ease of access by public transportation. Dese is the largest city in the area so I can always find a bus going there.
I’m the hub city for a bunch of volunteers in the region. I have at least 4 or 5 volunteers within 30 minutes of me so I will get to host all the holiday parties haha.
The weather is supposed to be pretty mild- warm during the day and cool at night. Seriously the weather here is so crazy it deserves its own post in the future.
Good access to internet! Yay for blog posts.
Last but certainly not least (in fact, this probably should have been #1) I have a private toilet and shower in my house! SCORE. It’s the little things. But actually… (any other volunteers shouldn’t be too jealous though, there was nothing said about hot water).
Integrating into the community where everyone knows my name will be next to impossible
Most likely I’ll get more harassment as a single gal in a bigger town that has a lot of transit through it.
More expensive. I’m told my house is 2 rooms for 1500 birr a month (about $90). Some volunteers have full 4 room houses for 400 birr (about $25) a month. Though I’m told that will get a larger allowance to compensate. All you Americans get your idea of “house” out of your head now. These houses are still made of dried mud walls- though I will have electricity (most days).
Somewhat isolated in a zone of East Amhara volunteers. While we are close to each other, we are cut off from people in the south or even West Amhara.
Getting around the city will involve more negotiating with bajajs (3 wheeled scooter taxis) and line taxis rather than simply walking. Though I’m sure my transportation language skills will be top notch by the end of 2 years.
Clearly the pros outweigh the cons. What will make for a very difficult first 6 months I’m sure I will appreciate in my second year. When I went on demystification to Debre Birhan (a city of about 100,000) I was worried that it would not be close to my experience. Now I have some realistic expectations about larger sites.
Another interesting tidbit- Dese is the city/region where all the models in Ethiopia come from. And considering basically every woman in Ethiopia is gorgeous, that is a very intimidating fact. Oh well, maybe it will give me more ambition to actually use my private shower more than once a month. Peace Corps hippiedom stay back! I brought my nail polish!