This update is going to sound like an advertisement for Thomas’s English muffins. And maybe this is because about 70% of my thoughts are about food, but I promise there is a point, bear with me.
This past week I visited the town that will be my work site and home for the next two years. So I went in with a “you will like it or die trying” attitude. I think the mantra helped.
My site, Dessie, is large town of about 200,000 nestled between/on/in/around/under/through Mount Tossa (thyme in Amharic). They say it was designed by a blind man if that gives you any clue to how very nestled we are. The walk up to my house from my work is literally a 45 degree angle hike up a mountain. I highly doubt Peace Corps will be able to get a car up there with my luggage… I will be the fittest volunteer in Ethiopia. The pro to this, besides the exercise, is that nobody would bother walking up that way unless they lived there so I won’t have any strangers hanging around. And of course the view. I live above the clouds.
The eight hour drive from Addis Ababa to Dessie is breathtaking. A road through flatlands, mountains, valleys, cliffs, and farms, the only way I can describe the topography of Ethiopia is as a Thomas’s English muffin. The sheer cliffs and mountains drop so suddenly into valleys and steppes that it literally looks like the pastry’s nooks and crannies. I apologize for the lack of photos in this blog so far, my internet access has always been shorter than I want.
But this week also produced some other realizations about culture, physical space and my place here that fit oh so nicely into the nooks and crannies theme. Moving into my house and beginning to meet my landlord’s family I started to understand the spaces, both big and small that I would be occupying in the compound and their lives. Right now I am the new exciting thing, but all I want is to be boring and ordinary. I never realized how much we prize privacy in my culture until I had none at all. I take my private moments in fits and starts- on a walk to work, sitting in café, the few minutes before I fall asleep. Squeezing my personal preferences and idiosyncrasies around the already established norm, I will settle into new routines and develop relationships that compromise the halves of a mismatched muffin.
While I am still dipping in and out of cultural nooks and crannies, I will also need to find my place and purpose in work and with my site specific reasons for volunteering here. It was nice to meet my coworkers and possible partners over the next two years, but it is clear I will be in and out of projects and organizations, providing bridges and weaving relationships, navigating the mountains and valleys of the professional bureaucracy.
Finally I need to literally fit in the physical nooks and crannies. Attempting to return to my training site on my own yielded a very harsh lesson in safety and physical space. I already know that I am just about four inches too tall for any bus in Ethiopia. When my knees are hitting my chin, my elbow is behind my head, and there are five people in a seat made for three, a three hour bus ride feels like five. But when this is preceded by fights at the bus station (typical) where I am grabbed and shoved away from boarding (atypical) I do sometimes wish I was 4’2”.
But the best part of an English muffin is the juxtaposition of a crunchy toasted peak next to a buttery pool in the cranny. What makes this experience worth it is both the highs and the lows, the mistakes and the education, to form a more complete delicious whole. I probably could have made the same analogy with the bubbles in injera, but I eat so much of that I wanted to leave it alone for a while.