Archive | October, 2013
Video

Interviews with Ethiopian Girls

21 Oct

Over one week I interviewed 17 Ethiopian high school girls about what they hope for their own futures, the future of their country, why we need to support each other, and what makes them strong women. The girls were from big towns and small villages. They were as young as 13 and as old as 18. They were Orthodox and Muslim. They responded in English and Amharic. But they all wanted to see change. They all had big hopes and dreams. I’m excited that this is the generation of girls who will get to see the changes many have hoped for, who will create change, and really pull Ethiopia towards bigger things.

Here’s what they had to say:

Benches of Bahar Dar

18 Oct

Walking through the Amhara regional capital, you tend to notice a very interesting trend. Every 20 feet or so there is a clay bench, with a different theme. I don’t know if they were commissioned or if 1 person did all of them, but there has to be about 50 in the whole city. Here are a few on the way to the regional Peace Corps Office… with or without strangers

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It says - Wubit Bahar Dar

It says – Wubit Bahar Dar

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It says: Sport lehelum (stadium)

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we had to...

we had to…

Pop Up Clinics

11 Oct

Word of mouth, a bunch of tarps, an empty field, four days, 60 international doctors, 100 Ethiopian doctors, and a lot of life sticks (personal water filters). This was the scene I came upon yesterday in the Samuna Ber area of Gondar. Once a year an organization called Jewish Voice Ministries (they believe in Jesus, it gets confusing – translating who they were was interesting for Ethiopian Orthodoxers) sets up a clinic on the outskirts of Gondar that sees over 8,000 patients in four days. And it’s all free medical care.

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Reading glasses station

Reading glasses station

There were lines around the blocs for dental, eye care, medical, pediatrics, and sanitation sessions. People were queued through lines outside, waiting areas inside, and for one on one visits with doctors. Many of the volunteer translators and crowd control were street kids and tour guides I see daily in Piazza. It was so great to see them volunteering, and when I praised them for it you could see how proud they were to be helping.

I randomly came across this giant operation through word of mouth. Being a volunteer (read… foreigner) in Gondar I was ushered straight in and given a visitor’s badge. I could walk freely through the different “wards” and even helped with a bit of translating (surprising everyone…. of course). I saw people from all around the city that I knew, including one little girl who goes to school across the street from my house.

Triage station

Triage station with a volunteer doctor from Addis Ababa, and some med students from University of Gondar

waiting in line

waiting in line

Every patient was given a pink prescription card, which helped them through the process. The amount of organization was actually quite impressive. Different coloured bracelets for different wards, a general flow and lots of Gondar area volunteers helping people understand where they needed to go next.

with her prescription card

with her prescription card

the hygiene and sanitation session

the hygiene and sanitation session

After patients had been through whichever station they needed, they were sent to a pharmacy to pick up any medication that was prescribed by the volunteer doctors. On the way out, everyone was given a session on hand washing and water hygiene as well as a LifeStraw, which is a personal water filter. Over 8,000 of these were distributed throughout the week.

picked up her medication

picked up her medication

it's for clean water, silly! This little girl stuck by my side the whole presentation

it’s for clean water, silly! This little girl stuck by my side the whole presentation

showing off his skills

showing off his skills

The whole thing popped up and cleaned up in less than a week. Off to Zambia, the group do these “pop up clinics” all over the world, where former Jewish tribes are rumored to be. Gondar, being the site for a lot of Israeli aid, is the only site in Ethiopia where this event occurs. The entire operation was, at least for the two hours I stopped by, well organized, well stocked, and fairly calm even though some of the people had been waiting half the day. Small and simple surgeries were performed in a room upstairs, and more complicated ones (like cataracts on one patient who is a student at the blind school) were referred to the local University of Gondar hospital. People came from all over the city to ask their questions and get checked out for free. Many times, while going to a clinic in the Ethiopian healthcare system is free (once you register the first time – 10 birr), the medications to treat are paid out of pocket. For many people, that means they wait too long to seek care, and sometimes it is too late.

Giant pop up clinics, while a major operation, are a time people can come to find diagnoses early, and will hopefully act on those within the national health care system as quickly as possible. They aren’t sustainable, but if a quick diagnosis and free meds will help, once a year it’s not a bad thing at all.

On Senegal, Malaria, and Beaches at Sunset

5 Oct

Back safely in Gondar, tucked in to my wool blanket and sweatpants, I can reflect back on the past two hot and humid weeks in Senegal at the Stomp Out Malaria Bootcamp. A Peace Corps initiative to beef up malaria prevention programming across the continent, I represented Ethiopia as one of the regional coordinators at the conference. We spent two weeks learning from experts in the fields of entomology, epidemiology, and malaria intervention experts from CDC, USAID, The President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI), and MACEPA all stopped by.  But in between the sessions, case studies, and 12 hour days of training (it’s not called boot camp for nothing), I was able to get duly sunburned, and see the westernmost point in Africa.

Popenguine, Senegal

Popenguine, Senegal

fisherman at Popenguine

fisherman at Popenguine

They took us to the beaches of Popenguine for a day trip, where I swam, ate fresh fish, and spent a little too much on souvenirs.

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So as beautiful as the beaches were, we still actually learned a lot. And I am coming back to Ethiopia with best practices and project ideas from Peace Corps countries all over Africa.

remembering my French

remembering my French

we did a lot of this

we did a lot of this

looking for malaria parasites (microscopy)

looking for malaria parasites (microscopy)

At the end of the conference we headed back to Dakar (Senegal’s capital, and the westernmost capital in Africa) for some good times before long flights. I was able to see a friend from Korbel who is working in Dakar now – so nice to see a friendly face! On the whole Senegal was very different from Ethiopia. The food, the language, and the heat! made the trip, as busy as it was, still feel like an adventure. Senegalese eat family style (like Ethiopians) but you won’t find injera here. The staples were rice and couscous and everyone gets a giant spoon.

all for meeeee

all for meeeee

My last night in Senegal I went out to the Pointes des Almadies, the westernmost point in Africa. I got to literally pick out my dinner from the catches of the day, and watched the sun set over the Atlantic… the opposite side of the ocean from home.

Dakar at Sunset

Dakar at Sunset

Pointe Du Almadies (the Westernmost point in Africa)

Pointe Du Almadies (the Westernmost point in Africa)

My Paper Anniversary

3 Oct

It’s official, I’m past the honeymoon stage. I have made it to one year in country (just under one year at site). Pause for effect.

And because I’ve had way too much time to think, I’m going to dedicate this post to a bunch of self reflective mambo jumbo. Harkening back to my Boston U days, I’ll take stalk of the past year in the form of roses and thorns. Or to make it Ethiopian friendly, mangos and lomis (limes).

Mangos:

-          Learning a new language

-          Slacklining with village kids during training

-          Getting moved to Gondar from Desie

-          Timket (Epiphany)

-          Grassroot Soccer

-          The girls faces during Camp GLOW

-          Senegal and visting West Africa for the first itme

-          Traveling Ethiopia

  • Simien hikes
  • Gorgora
  • Harar

-          Finally feeling like I know people in Gondar

-          Hugs from kids

-          The day we discovered the fresh bread bakery

-          Anytime a care package or letter arrives

-          Staying relatively healthy

Lomis:

-          Learning a new very difficult language

-          Getting sick

-          Harassment

-          The hurry up and wait syndrome of working here

-          Rock throwing from kids

But these are all events. Some defining, some repetitive, all in the past. So far my mangoes outweigh my lomis, so I guess I’ll continue on. Persuasive I know, but that is how things go here, a weekly, daily, hourly re-commitment. An hourly, minutely, secondly, process of letting things go.

But what I really find interesting is my reaction to these things, the morphing of my personality. I would never say anything has “changed my life.” I believe I’m too strong (stubborn?) a person for that. These are difficult work environments, and people who come to find themselves tend to lose themselves further. What I do think the Peace Corps experience does is click the “boost” button in Photoshop. Those aspects of my personality that lay beneath the surface come up very clearly here, for better or worse. For worse- I see myself becoming harsher. While I let a lot roll off my back, the stuff that I don’t I am much quicker to anger, less likely to forget, and more apt to judge. I put on my happy face… less often than before. Maybe a better way to put it is that I have a shorter fuse for bullshit. For better – I appreciate passionate people much more. I have always been the “rational thinker,” putting less value on emotions (thanks to a family full of engineers), but I see the value in passionate people much more in this work environment. If you aren’t invested beyond the facts, nothing will get done.  I am also more self advocating (that’s probably in the middle), a little pushier,  but I know more what I want to happen. More sure of myself, and more flexible.

One year in, projects have been completed, and friendships have been created and grown. 15 months to go, trips to take, people to meet, and more hugs from kids around the corner. Here’s to one year, tough situations do not endure, tough people do.

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