Archive | August, 2013

Hyenas and Harar

31 Aug
Showa Gate to the Old City of Harar

Showa Gate to the Old City of Harar

I just returned from a quick weekend trip to the old city of Harar on the East side of Ethiopia. Close to the Somalia border, Harar is the 4th Holiest City in Islam and the root of much of Islamic culture in Ethiopia. Having lived in a highly Orthodox area for the past year, it was a nice break and a trip down memory lane to my time in Jordan. The old city of Harar had a much more middle eastern feel and some more recognizable market spices.

Harar is the site where a part of the Umma (original muslim community in Arabia) immigrated for refuge from the Mecca – Medina conflict in the late 600s. The ruler of Ethiopia (then Abyssinia) opened his doors to the Muslims and started the tradition of religious tolerance in Ethiopia. Islam is the second largest religion here after the Ethiopian Orthodox Christian Church.

Harar is the 4th holiest city in Islam - the old city boast 88 mosques

Harar is the 4th holiest city in Islam – the old city boasts 88 mosques

IMG_1819

Representing Peace Corps as I walk through Showa Gate

IMG_1874

Women selling chat – a leaf chewed by many Ethiopians with the equivalent effect of the cocoa leaf. It is very common in Muslims communities.

IMG_1878

A huge pile of dried kariya peppers, the main spice in berbere

A huge pile of dried kariya peppers, the main spice in berbere

Picking up a guide for a tour of the old city we walked through ancient city walls and toured some of the local homes and more famous residents of the town. Haile Selassie used to have a “palace” here (Ras Tefari’s house), and the interior decor of the homes was famously “Harari.” Tasting street food along the way (I am in Peace Corps after all), we finished the afternoon  with some Hakim Stout – the local brew.

Ras Taferi's house (later, known as Haile Selassie)

Ras Taferi’s house (later, known as Haile Selassie)

Carmen, Kristin, and Me at Ras Tefari's house

Carmen, Kristin, and Me at Ras Tefari’s house

A typical Harari home

A typical Harari home – these pots get taken down to entertain

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Bajajes and Blue Donkeys are common all over Ethiopia

Bajajes and Blue Donkeys are common all over Ethiopia

The main attraction in Harar though are the famous “hyena men.” These local guys sit outside the city walls every night around sunset to feed wild hyenas fatty camel meat. These hyenas have basically been domesticated over years of guaranteed food, and consistent feeding has made them huge! I did not realize just how big these animals would be. I thought big dogs, the reality was more like small bears. But, I screwed up my courage and we all volunteered to feed them ourselves, with help from the hyena man.

A very clear "what the hell am I doing with my life" face

A very clear “what the hell am I doing with my life” face

IMG_1858 IMG_1853

Carmen is BRAVE!

Carmen is BRAVE!

IMG_1833

This is one of my first trips outside my immediate region, and it was great to see a very different part of Ethiopia with different culture, food, and infrastructure. After Harar I headed down to the Southern Nations to do a training in a city called Butajira for the new group of education volunteers. So over a few days I was able to see the Harar region and a part of the south, expanding my understanding of Ethiopia as a whole.

A Simien Day Trek

22 Aug

Only 30 minutes north of my house are the beginnings of one of the most impressive mountain ranges in the world – the Simien Mountains. At least according to Planet Earth, their “Mountains” episode features the Simiens. Truthfully, I had never heard of this range before I came to Ethiopia, but that could because I had Colorado snob syndrome and will only ski on powder and hike the Rockies in the summer. I even caught myself saying “Ras Dashen isn’t even a 14er…” to someone… Rocky. Mountain. Snob.

But there is nothing like this topography in the Rockies. They call this area the “Grand Canyon of Ethiopia,” and for good reason. The sheer cliffs, crevices, and peaks are anything but typical.

A Panoramic View

A Panoramic View

So since the Cameroonians were in town, we jumped on their half day hike with our good friend and tour guide Robel. (Family, we will do this hike… bring yo boots!) We were able to see three endemic species (Lammergeyers aka vultures, Chilada baboons, and Colobos monkeys).

A Lammergeyer (vulture endemic to the Simiens) in the mist

A Lammergeyer (vulture endemic to the Simiens) in the mist

SONY DSC

So. Many. Baboons.

So. Many. Baboons.

Chilada Baboon in the mist (also endemic)

Chilada Baboon in the mist 

We hung out with some of the local farming kids (this whole Amharic speaking thing can be awesome). And circled around a herd? group? gaggle? of baboons. And clearly we had to do some photoshoots.

These kids were like mountain goats, I was so sure they were going to fall off the trail running after us!

These kids were like mountain goats, I was so sure they were going to fall off the trail running after us!

The whip sounded like gunshots

The whip sounded like gunshots

Me and my Morgans

Me and my Morgans

Ciara (Peace Corps Cameroon and fellow Boulderite and BUer) came to visit

Ciara (Peace Corps Cameroon and fellow Boulderite and BUer) came to visit

Cleary we had to do a jumping photo

Cleary we had to do a jumping photo

So I still love my Rocky Moutains, but I won’t complain about mountain withdrawal during service. In October we tackle the “big one” – Ras Dashen – the highest peak in Ethiopia. And turns out I was wrong… it is a 14er at 14,928 Ft (4,553 meters) though google seems to be conflicted (I saw one estimate at over 15,000 ft). Even the most solid things are contested here. I mean, I am still in Ethiopia.

 

A Soccer Ball, A Rock, and a Hard Place

20 Aug

An old acquaintance from undergrad came through last week; she happens to be in Peace Corps Cameroon. Turns out, I don’t want to go to Cameroon (central Africa), and after a long conversation with those volunteers I walked away with a new appreciation of Ethiopia. But the one thing that apparently Cameroon doesn’t have that Gondar certainly does: homeless kids.

Big cities. Economic growth. Tourism. There are so many positive things about those three phenomenon, but it is also the perfect storm for poverty. Many of the children who come into Gondar came from rural villages in order to make money in the biggest city in the area. Many of them have lost their parents to disease or worse. Many of them make their money selling gum, or begging. So what happens during low season, when the rains come, and the tourists flee? You get a lot of kids living on the street.

These OVCs (orphans and vulnerable children as they are known in the industry), are at the highest risk for HIV, malnutrition, physical and sexual abuse, and general hard times.

So with the help of a local NGO, a flock of Israeli volunteers in town for a short period, and a lot of soccer balls, we put together a summer camp over three weeks. I provided the programming, they provided the space and the food (yes, free food is an international language).

The Grassroot Soccer Program with Indestructible Ball!

The Grassroot Soccer Program with Indestructible Ball!

The program goes through 11 sessions of HIV prevention techniques – life-skills, understanding the disease, stigma and support, gender issues, the ABCs of protection (Abstinence, Be Faithful, Condoms), and avoiding risky situations. We are one of the first programs in Ethiopia, though the SKILLZ curriculum is currently done in about 25 Peace Corps countries in Africa and South America. It comes from the Grassroot Soccer organization based in South Africa (Cape Town), and was founded by former Zimbabwe soccer players, one of whom won Survivor: Africa in 2002.

We ran three concurrent programs with 63 street kids (about 20 per team). I trained two local NGO workers from Yenega Tesfa who run the mobile school for street kids, and brought in my trusty co-worker Edward who had already been trained on the program in May.

We were lucky enough to have six soccer balls donated from USAID for our Camp GLOW program, which I appropriated for a few more weeks.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The entire program was done in Amharic, so having trained myself out of a job like a good volunteer, I got to take photos. One of our challenges, however, was the fact that many of these kids are illiterate, having been to school off and on over their lives. We worked around that with conversations, games, and an oral pre and post test (gotta have that Monitoring & Evaluation).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Know how to assess a risky situation - RED CARD!

Know how to assess a risky situation – RED CARD!

Six goalies are better than one. Condoms are better than none.

Six goalies are better than one. Condoms are better than none.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We also didn’t really have a budget, so goals were done with rocks, props were pieces of paper, and limbo sticks were brook poles. But that’s the great thing about this program, it doesn’t need much to implement. The fact that we had balls at all was pretty great, and every time I brought the big sack from my office, I looked like a strange Santa walking the streets of Gondar. But we had new kids joining all throughout the first week as word got around about the program.

HIV Limbo - The lower the pole means the older a sexual partner, the higher the risk for HIV

HIV Limbo – The lower the pole means the older a sexual partner, the higher the risk for HIV

Christmas in Gondar

Christmas in Gondar

I was afraid at first that some of the topics would be too advanced, too sensitive, or that the giggling would override the message. But this is a real issue in Africa, and the kids understood that. I had to take my notions of 10th grade health class off the table, and I was thoroughly impressed by the participation and seriousness of the kids, between the fun.

juggling multiple sexual partners (and mutliple soccer balls) makes it hard to make your "goals"

juggling multiple sexual partners (and multiple soccer balls) makes it hard to make your “goals”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

a little gymnast

a little gymnast

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOverall the program went well. The kids all said it was “arif naw!” (awesome), and that they really learned things (especially about condoms). But I think the most rewarding part for me, is after living in Gondar for almost 8 months, my name is known. The kids recognize me, they sing my energizer on the streets, and give each other “kilos” (a version of praise) outside the program. The lessons were in important, but the community created was exceptional.

At graduation to hear 63 kids whooping and hollering about certificates, chanting my name (literally) was almost overwhelming. But then somebody started a song, and it all continued on.

Graduation

Graduation

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Here are some of the Kilos and energizers the kids loved, as well as some more photos:

Energizers – https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10153153986665523

Kilos – https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10153153985320523

Photos – https://www.facebook.com/media/set/set=a.10153153998840523.1073741830.640805522&type=1&l=119c599546

Rainy Season

12 Aug

Oh rainy season. The four (to 10) months of the year when you live like a drowned rat… and with drowned rats. When you have fleas come to snuggle in your bed because it’s the warmest place in the house, and you can’t sleep because the undrowned rats are scurrying along between the tarp that is your ceiling and the plaster canvas that is your roof. When your shoes are perpetually covered in mud, and your umbrella decides its a good time to spring some leaks. When you’re grateful you packed the ski socks and the extra sweatshirt because you end up sleeping in them every night. When your vegetables last three weeks because your house is consistently the temperature of a refrigerator, and you’re ok with it because in hot season they last 2 days.

 

Rain and hail!

Rain and hail!

Rainy season – the time when you have a real excuse to stay inside and watch movies on your laptop and make hot chocolate. When you’re not sweating 24/7. And when you just get used to not doing laundry…. or bathing.

A storm drain.... sort of working

A storm drain…. sort of working

Being a Canadian born, Boston bred, Boulder and Denver citizen, I actually love the fact that it is now consistently seeing your breath weather. It’s also much easier to be modest when you’re not overheating – I actually want to wear that cardigan! And everything is so green. The dusty brown hills become the tourist worthy Simien mountains.

 

the steps that lead up to my house - chocolate waterfall

the steps that lead up to my house – chocolate waterfall

Just a typical overflowing pipe

Just a typical overflowing pipe

And the sound on the tin roof reminds me of watching thunderstorms with my dad in the back of the van. Though there’s a little less thunder and a little more water. A little less van, and lot more mud huts. A lot more mud.

 

Camp GLOW – Environment Day

9 Aug

Environment Day started with tree cookies (the anatomy of a tree), picking up litter for collages, making soaps and salves, and composting. The next day we drove to the Agriculture college at the University of Gondar (who graciously hosted us for the week) and built an herb spiral garden in their entrance. At night we also screened a few Planet Earth episodes – “Mountains” actually feature the Simiens, which are just north of Gondar.

One my girls from Gondar has already called me saying she is building an herb spiral in her compound with her family. Permagardening and taking skills home for the win!

picking up trash for the "Litter We Know" Collages

picking up trash for the “Litter We Know” Collages

making soap

making soap

oil for salves

oil for salves

Ronny teaching about composting

Ronny teaching about composting

Herb Spiral Garden

Herb Spiral Garden

Getting dirty for permagardening

Getting dirty for permagardening

planting seeds - these are peppercorn I believe

planting seeds – these are peppercorn I believe

Camp GLOW – Health Day

8 Aug

Health and Environment Day were split over two days due to field trips and weather (camp during rainy season!). We actually got pretty lucky that every outdoor activity was dry. Health Day included talks on HIV, female health, a condom demonstration, they made reusable menstrual pads, and oral hygiene (that Global Grins for the donated toothbrushes!).

We also went on a field trip to Missions of Charity, an off-shoot of Mother Teresa’s work in Calcutta. They don’t usually allow visitors so it was great experience for the girls. They house mentally and physically disabled people as well as abandoned children. This was the first experience in volunteering for many of the girls and very intense. In our debrief session later that day, many commented on how they did not even know these people existed in their communities (mental illness is a big stigma here), and that they want to volunteer in the future. We sang songs and just basically hung out and cheered up the residents.

Drs. Liz and Alicia explaining female health and taking questions

Drs. Liz and Alicia explaining female health and taking questions

a lot of penile models... that was fun to obtain for supplies

a lot of penile models… that was fun to obtain for supplies

Condom demonstration

Condom demonstration

this expression just about sums it up

this expression just about sums it up

SONY DSC

Global Grins donated 100 toothbrushes to the cause - that was a fun package to receive!

Global Grins donated 100 toothbrushes to the cause – that was a fun package to receive!

SONY DSC

The girls made RUMPs (Reusable Menstrual Pads) to take home

The girls made RUMPs (Reusable Menstrual Pads) to take home

Camp GLOW – Education Day

7 Aug

Education Day was a mish mash of English improvement, science, IT, and geography. We staged an Africa Quiz Bowl session with all Africa trivia. While Ethiopian history was easy, many of the famous sites and people outside of Ethiopia were surprisingly difficult, though I had to remember most of these girls had never even left their tiny villages before.

We also continued the gender day activities with a Strong Woman Pinata. The girls all wrote down statements about why they were strong women, read them aloud, and then hit the pinata. Too. Much. Fun.

Morgan H (my fellow Gonderian!) doing some English lessons

Morgan H (my fellow Gonderian!) doing some English lessons

Strong women pinatas

Strong women pinatas

SONY DSC

Morgan D got a little sick that week (hello worms and 2 bacterial infections!) so she took it out on the pinata

Morgan D got a little sick that week (hello worms and 2 bacterial infections!) so she took it out on the pinata

Africa Quiz Bowl

Africa Quiz Bowl

Lava lamps

Lava lamps

SONY DSC SONY DSC

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,119 other followers