Archive | April, 2013

This One Time, In Tikel Dingay…

29 Apr

I went to a town called Tikel Dingay last week… ok, get the jokes out now.

As Peace Corps prepares for 70 G9ers to come in this summer all in the education sector, staff are looking to new towns to place volunteers. As a nearby volunteer I got to help with the site selection interviews, and learn a bit about of the education system in the process.

Tikel Dingay is a small town of about 11,000 half an hour north west of Gondar. It’s pretty average as a site- small town, farming community, high dropout rates, exhausted teachers, willingness for a volunteer, but buzzword answers about what they would do there.

And what’s with the name? Apparently this is a Tikel Dingay:

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So the scenery isn’t too bad. There’s a crazy rock formation around every corner. This area is well known for its sesame seed production, and it’s only an hour or so from the border with Sudan on the road to Humera and ultimately Khartoum.

It has a cluster of primary schools, a high school (non-prep) and a preparatory school (grades 11 and 12). The site selection process is a combination of sector specific interviews (with education offices, school directors etc.) town interviews (police office, mayor etc.) and general impression taking. The reality is that each site depends on the volunteer that gets placed there. A great volunteer can get a crappy site, an unmotivated volunteer can get a fantastic site and they can produce the same change (minimal). But every once in a while you get a motivated town, filled with motivated people, working with a motivated volunteer and cool things can happen.

Here’s hoping for Tikel Dingay! And a new North Gondar Zone volunteer for family dinners : )

Mimi Gets Malaria, and Other Fairy Tales

27 Apr

For World Malaria Day I took over my sitemate’s English class to teach a group of 7th graders about malaria. Because we wanted to teach both health and English we put together a reading comprehension lesson using C-Change (a Behavior Change Communication strategy organization)’s storybook for kids about a girl named Mimi who gets sick with malaria.

Reading Mimi's story to the kids

Reading Mimi’s story to the kids

The book was specially formulated for Ethiopian kids with character’s like Bitika and Litika the malarial mosquitos (female anopheles variety of course), and Mimi being told to finish her entire round of medication without sharing with family members (a common problem here and the source of drug resistant and recurring strains). The story went through transmission (Bitika and Litika live in a pond that appeared during rainy season), symptoms (always go the health center if you have a fever!), treatment (take ALL your medicine), and prevention (both bed nets and spraying). Plus we coloured in the pictures and put it on bright construction paper so y’know… it’s cool.

Got some help from Morgan, the English teacher – Peace Corps Ethiopia G7

Got some help from Morgan, the English teacher – Peace Corps Ethiopia G7

Cross sector activities for the win! Here were was our lesson for the day:

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After practicing both listening and reading comprehension we went over some of the details of the health content. A question that came up was whether you could get HIV from a mosquito bite, since they suck your blood. Logical, but luckily (unluckily?) the H in HIV stands for Human so the virus dies inside a mosquito, and they can’t transmit it.

This kid used his science textbook to draw his mosquito

This kid used his science textbook to draw his mosquito

Using what they learned, we had the kids work in groups to make posters about the transmission and prevention of malaria. At the beginning when asked, only 1 student said he had a bed net in his house. At the end, the kids all wanted to know when to get a malaria net for their families (answer- health centers).

World Malaria Day in English and Amharic

World Malaria Day in English and Amharic

In Ethiopia, 68 percent of the country is officially a malaria zone, especially the lowlands. But as global warming contributes to crazier weather and mosquitoes migrating higher, highland areas on the malaria line (like Gondar) are seeing more cases. Days like World Malaria Day remind people that conditions can change, and awareness is the first step in prevention.

Here are the posters the kids came up with. Explanations in the captions:

They loved that book! Left it in the library for the future.

They loved that book! Left it in the library for the future.

Bed Nets are the best prevention
Bed Nets are the best prevention

Working hard!

Working hard!

These kids were gobez! The pond in the bottom has the life cycle of the mosquito while the one house without the net has a sick person, the house with the bed net is cool, and they drew the health center!

These kids were gobez! The pond in the bottom has the life cycle of the mosquito while the one house without the net has a sick person, the house with the bed net is cool, and they drew the health center!

Malaria transmission and prevention

Malaria transmission and prevention

This poster was location specific- Malaria in Gondar! (hence the castles)

This poster was location specific- Malaria in Gondar! (hence the castles)

This mosquito had malaria... it also maybe took some acid

This mosquito had malaria… it also maybe took some acid

Iron Chef Challenge: World Malaria Day

27 Apr
World Malaria Day

World Malaria Day

Iron chef challenge:  You have ten minutes at flag ceremony (morning assembly) to explain malaria prevention to 250 primary school kids in a foreign language with three bed nets, four teachers, and a poster. Secret ingredient: two mosquito cutouts.

Thursday, April 25th, was World Malaria Day. This whole month is Blog About Malaria Month. But the kids don’t care about that, they want to play in the nets.

So how do you get the attention of 250 children in grades 1-8, aged anywhere from 5 years old to 18? Let them play in the nets.

After a brief explanation of the number one disease in North Gondar Zone, and how you get it, we moved straight to prevention. Clock is ticking chef!

The cheapest and easiest way to prevent malaria is to sleep under a bed net. If you have a large family, give preference to pregnant women and young children. But just having a net in your home is not enough.

Choosing three volunteers, I chased them around with a mosquito cutout.  Pro tip: It’s always a good play to make a fool of yourself. This kid below was given a bed net but told not to use it, like many families who leave them unopened.

He got bit! When he travelled off the high rock

He got bit! When he travelled off the high rock

Nets are distributed every three years in this zone, but only to low-lying areas. With global warming, the mosquitoes have started to move higher, to areas not officially deemed “malaria zones.” The misconception still exists that highland areas in Gondar, even a few feet of difference up the mountain, means you won’t get sick.

The second kid was given an opened package, but wrapped himself up like a mummy. So you have a net, but if it’s not hung properly it’s not going to do any good. Sleeping with skin next to a net, the mosquito can still bite through the holes. He found that out the fun way.

Looks comfy in there!

Looks comfy in there!

This clever girl had her teachers “hang” the net up properly. My mosquito wasn’t able to get her.

Bimbee attack!

Bimbee attack!

Time’s almost up chef! Bring in your backup… aka the school director who can translate my bad grammar into something coherent.

Really getting into it

Really getting into it

Phew! There you have it, malaria prevention in ten minutes. But it didn’t stop there, later I co-opted an English class (cross sector learning!) and at the end of the day the biology teacher said he had the kids labeling the parts of the mosquito, using the World Malaria Day theme for science education.

So while doing a bit of malaria prevention awareness for the kids I was able to practice my Amharic, model some active teaching, and motivate other teachers. Not too shabby, chef.

Some Random Occurrences

22 Apr

So when you live day to day life out of your element you tend to run into some pretty funny and awkward situations. Mostly awkward, but that could just be me.

Here’s a summary of the past month in anecdote form:

-          Having a session with my tutor a bird poops all over my fidel chart, the Amharic symbols. Reasons why I love my tutor? Her response: Yup, that’s just about how I feel about fidel. Me too, girl, me too.

-          Speaking of birds, during a presentation at a college about the Aids Resource Center a pigeon bursts into the room, bounces off my head and crashes into the closed window. Shenanigans ensue. I don’t think those kids will forget our organization very soon.

-          Walking down the street the other day I had a city meets country moment. On the second floor landing of an apartment building there was a cow, just chilling. What the how? How did he get up there?

-          Walking home a little girl throws the contents of a chamber pot out on to the street—on to my feet. Great, a urine shower. As incensed as I was, the poor girl had the most ardent, cutest apology. Thank goodness the water was on that day when I got back.

-          After a presentation at a high school, similar to the pigeon story, I thoroughly embarrassed myself by attempting to give my schpeel in Amharic. Turns out it didn’t matter. Two teenage girls came up to me later and told me I was cool. Doesn’t matter what country you live in, teenage girl approval is always awesome.

-          Twice in one week I had “good posture!” shouted at me on the street. Once from a woman, once from a man. Either this is a phrase people learn in English class here or years of my mother telling my not to slouch has officially paid off.

-          If I don’t hear 3 “I love yous” 15 “Conjo!”s (beautiful) 21 “Kayo”s (the red one, a term of endearment/come on) and a couple “fuck yous” I count it a slow a day. However, the best shout I ever got came from a little toddler in a grizzly bear onsie with the ears sewed to the hood. Rolling around on the sidewalk making race car noises, I walked by and he immediately jumped up and screamed “ I LOVE YOU!” The one time I don’t have my camera!!

-          Oh the joys of second languages. Peace Corps, when read phonetically (Amharic is a phonetic language) reads Peace Corpse, prompting the very reasonable question by a coworker: “So corpse… are you guys like Peace Zombies?” No sir, no we are not, but close. I can see the confusion, as I haven’t bathed in few days.

So between the mundane and the busy, happens the ridiculous. More to come I’m sure.

An Ocean Away

19 Apr

What do you do when you get scary news from home? You’re not prepared for it. You’re the one who signed up to live in a developing country, learn a new language, be completely out of your element—the life adventure. If it happens to you, you get a good story or your family kinda maybe expected it. But when scary, dangerous, bad things happen at home you feel blindsided. Helpless. Disconnected and unable to communicate. The tables got turned and homesickness takes over. Not that you being at home would make anything different, or better. But for some reason you feel like you should be there. Everyone wants to comfort you here, but it’s not their home they are separated from. Or worse, you break down in public and no one knows why. Whether it’s big news or small, grand scale or in the family it’s not supposed to go this way. You’re supposed to worry about me.

Even when I know everyone is safe and sound it’s like I’ve been holding my breath too long. The last exhale of relief becomes a gasp of tears turning to embarrassment and anger and all the other stages.

I haven’t cried since I got to Ethiopia. Not when I got sick, not when I got mugged, not when I was irritated by everything because of some medication unbalances. But those were my issues. I may not have been able to control the situations, but I could control the reaction. When some crazy people bomb a city I have lived in or near for over nine years of my life, the city where I became an American, threatening some of my closest friends and family, I feel like I’m living on another planet.

I woke up to a bus crash outside my house at 6:30am. No one was hurt, but it was a school bus. Pretty chaotic, pretty scary. Five minutes later I get a call from a fellow volunteer, with Boston ties, telling me what happened at an event we would have both been at, had been at for the past straight years when we lived there. I wasn’t ready for it.

Marathon Monday, it’s better than Christmas. Or it was during university. Kegs and Eggs. Now Heartbreak Hill has another shade of meaning.

When you sign up to spend two years of your life away from friends and family in a developing country, living, working, creating new relationships they warn you that you might have “FOMO” or fear of missing out. People get married, have babies, new jobs, move cities. And as much as you think you’re returning to the same place two years later there is no way that can be true. But you feel that way. So when something like this happens it reminds you that the world is turning back at home. Things did not freeze when you left, as much as you would have liked them to. More things change that are good. Some things change that are bad.

I’m lucky to have my friends and family be safe this time.  And their support while I’m here has been awesome. I don’t know what I wouldn’t do without updates and emails and letters.  And I pray that they will continue to stay safe, as I’m sure they do for me.

Day and Weekend Trips of Gondar – Part 1

13 Apr Tim and Kim's Village in Gorgora

So what is a girl to do when she lives in a hub town? I can’t get out of site to do my “banking” or “buy vegetables” or “insert other excuse to leave your village here.” Of course these are all real reasons people leave site, and I’m very lucky to have these amenities in Gondar, but when I want to get outta town for a bit there are plenty of day and weekend trips of the adventure and rejuvenation variety around.

#1: Bahar Dar

Bahar Dar is a lake town about 3.5 hours by minibus away. It sits on the southern end of Lake Tana surrounded by monasteries on islands. The city is the regional headquarters for the Amhara Peace Corps Office, and boasts some nice lakeside resorts. It also has an abundance of fruit and vegetables I can’t get in Gondar (read- strawberries!). The Kuriftu resort is the favorite spot for Peace Corps volunteers to get some sun and ice cream. Just don’t tell them I’m not a member!

The Kuriftu pool

#2: Gorgora

Gorgora is a small village on the north side of Lake Tana about a two hour drive from Gondar. And by two hour drive I mean a two hour span of “road” made out of what I can only assume to be cow paths, water erosion paths, and giant holes. Should have worn a sports bra.

But once you get there, there is a lovely little resort (Tim and Kim’s Village) run by two Dutch expats with some of the best cooking in the West Amhara region. There is also a monastery on the nearest island—thought it’s males only. However, we ladies were able to take out some canoes and meet some of the local fishermen. Fresh fish for dinner!

Canoe adventure

Canoe adventure

Sunning on Lake Tana

Sunning on Lake Tana

Tim and Kim's Village in Gorgora

Tim and Kim’s Village in Gorgora

Papyrus fishing boats

Papyrus fishing boats

Buying some fresh fish for dinner from the local guy in the middle of the lake

Buying some fresh fish for dinner from the local guy in the middle of the lake

A Little Experiment

10 Apr My Bed Net - sometimes it feels like a princess canopy… if I pretend

Malaria is the number one cause of mortality for adults in Gondar. Yet, almost no one seems to think it’s an issue. To be sure, there is a season for it (right after the rains), but if the numbers are correct almost 57 out of 1000 adults and 34 out of 1000 children under five years old will contract the disease in this city next fall. For a city estimated to be about 320,000 people, that means a lot of malaria cases.

April 25th is World Malaria Day (Happy Birthday David!). Along with the plethora of other diseases plaguing Sub-Saharan Africa (see Peace Corps Health volunteers all over the continent), these awareness campaigns tend to get lost in the mire of public health announcements. So I decided to get personal with it. As an example for the people on my compound I conducted a little experiment.

Kids, don’t try this at home, unless you are taking malaria profylaxis. Mine is a weekly called methlyquine (the dream inducing kind—it’s groovy man).

Every night I sleep under a treated mosquito net provided by Peace Corps. Last night, I decided to stick out one of my legs. If you had asked me a week ago, I would have said there aren’t any mosquitoes in my house. I don’t hear them when I sleep, and because I sleep under the net I don’t get bit. Here are the results:

Out of the net - I count 14 bites just in the photo!

Out of the net – I count 14 bites just in the photo!

Under the net – No Bites! just a few freckles

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These are not a model’s legs, no thanks to the angle of the photo, but let it be known I swathed on hydrocortisone cream for the next few days.

I don’t know if I changed any behaviors, but the next day after I poorly explained my “bimbee” bites to my compound mates, I saw a malaria net washed and drying out on the line. I’ll count that a success.

Net distributions are scheduled in towns every three years according the government health office. The next distribution in Gondar should be in about two years. If anything, I’m just going to keep asking about it. Malaria is one of those disease where if caught early it is easily treatable, if you don’t catch the fatal strain. But even more than treatment, prevention is simple—don’t get bit. And since malarial mosquitoes are most active at night, a bed net is one of the most effective and cheapest solutions.

My Bed Net - sometimes it feels like a princess canopy… if I pretend

My Bed Net – sometimes it feels like a princess canopy… if I pretend

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