Living in Gondar is 60% the same as America, 40% totally different. I still get up, go to work, have a social life, cook meals, exercise, chat with neighbors, avoid getting run over by cars (and donkeys!-difference), and generally go about my business. The differences come in the “hows.” Here are a few key adjustments I have made living in Gondar, which are certainly less than the adjustments some volunteers have made in the smaller villages.
I still love to cook and experiment, but cooking entails a few different processes. My ingredients are most definitely not packaged and processed. Having shopped at farmer’s markets a lot, I’d say I’m pretty ingredient savvy, but every once in a while I come across some produce I simply have no idea how to cook/prepare. Of course, I haven’t even attempted to buy a live chicken or goat yet- maybe year 2.
Oh the one stop supermarket, how I miss you. Shopping entails going to each individual souk or produce lady, looking at each individual item, bargaining over that item, being pulled away by the owner’s brother to introduce you to his mother, coming back, not getting a discount, walking away, getting a discount, explaining why I can speak Amharic, how long I will live here, why I’m not married, why I don’t want to give said brother my phone number, remembering I need another item, bargaining again, all while hopping between my feet so the kids don’t pickpocket me. Sometimes it’s really fun, other times it’s really exhausting.
Being a big city, Gondar has many children who come from rural villages and big families to hawk the streets and make a living. While there are homeless children in America, it just doesn’t compare to the 100s of kids you see running around Gondar. In general, Ethiopia has a huge (unemployed) youth bulge (like many nations on the continent- cue Arab Spring). Many of them are very nice, lovely children, and others of them (adolescent boys) are the ones I get the most lewd comments from. Walking up through the piazza area, sometimes I tend to shut down and ignore most of what’s happening around me. From the “Hey mister!” to trying to sell gum or Kleenex or whatever’s in the boxes to getting my ass grabbed to just the general extra attention I get in that area I tend to blanket ignore. But every once in a while you have a really sweet moment with a kid. Most of them now know that I live here and I won’t be asking them to tour me around the castles. But what is amazing is the entrepreneurial spirit of some of these kids. Chalking themselves up as tour guides they learn English, French, Spanish, German in an effort to entice tourists to pay them to be their guides. I actually had a full Spanish conversation with a kid just to mess with him before I switched to Amharic and told him I lived here. (Gotta get your kicks somehow). Then the other day a little girl (probably about 4 years old) ran up to me, remembered my name, gave me a big hug in the middle of the street and tried to figure out why my toenails were painted blue. Some of the children meet tourist families, and get “sponsored” by them to go to one of the better schools in the area. And it really does mean they get a better chance. In fact, some of the best English, most clever kids I’ve met here are basically working the streets. I’m hoping to do some work with an NGO here that runs a few street kid orphanages and a mobile education program.
The Shint Bet
Ah, the latrine toilet. Shint bet literally translates as “urine house.” What a love/hate relationship. Squatting to do your business is just one of those things that every person not in America does. You deal. What I find incredibly amusing is when there are “fancy” shint bets that are porcelain holes and have flush mechanisms! Ok, if you’re going to put all that effort into the latrine, install a toilet! (Though I understand plumbing problems are more of an issue) I am lucky enough to have a western toilet on my compound, the difference being I have to go outside my house to get to the bathroom and I share it with everyone in the compound. It’s fine, I think my favorite bathroom mate this week was the chicken waiting to be slaughtered for Timket (Epiphany). Yesterday I went in to use the toilet and the chicken was sleeping… and snoring. I think it was one of the top five cutest things I have ever seen in my life. It almost made up for it waking me up at 4am crowing. I bet you will tastes delicious in the doro wot (chicken stew).
The point is, I don’t have indoor plumbing. Yeah, yeah you’re in Peace Corps we get it. So there is a spigot/tap outside my house but inside the compound that I get my water from. So I go outside every morning and evening to brush my teeth, wash my face, wash my feet etc. Can’t wait for my solar shower! Hot water wahoo! (It’s a black pastic bag that you fill with water and sit it in the sun- ooh technology… ) I really have it pretty easy. I fill up a big bucket with water that I use for cooking and leave in my house and I’ve never had a day yet where the water has been off. My good friend Morgan lives in a small village about two hours from Gondar and the only water source in her village is in the middle of town, so she has to stand in line with jerry cans and stalk up for the week. Peace Corps also issues every volunteer a carbon filter, which I fill up and then have a big bucket of drinking water.
The city “bus system” is a system of line taxis that run, well, lines. They are mini buses that seat 12, and fit 25. They run from the market to piazza, down the hill and out of town, on a few different routes. Each stop is about one birr or two. Only 3.50 to the Dashen Brewery! If you don’t want to take a line taxi, like if you have a lot of stuff to hold (cut to me lugging 2 giant crates around the market, don’t ask), you can pick up a bajaj.
These guys will take you wherever you want to go door to door like a taxi, but they will probably pick up more passengers along the way. They are also more expensive, especially if you want the whole bajaj (again the crates) and you look like a tourist (you’re white). If you’ve been to India or know what a tuk-tuk is, that’s what these are.
For bigger items, or in more rural places, there are also horse drawn carts or “garis.” I used one the other day to get my kitchen counter from the top of the hill to my house. In Iteya we rode in them a few times to out of the way places (no paved roads).
So like I said, a lot of the same, a lot different. I’m doing the same things, I’m just getting them done in different ways.