Tag Archives: Gondar

Meskel, or Why are People Burning Crosses?

1 Oct Meskel Square, Gondar

Ah Meskel, a holiday that celebrates the toil of St. Helena who traveled to Jerusalem to follow a bonfire towards the true cross. A cozy family holiday where people eat meat dishes, pick yellow daisies… and burn giant effigies to the ground!

lighting the compound meskel

lighting the compound meskel

The day started at 6am when my compound family knocked on the door to let us know that they were ready to burn a cross! Gathered outside of our houses, we watched and took photos of the meskel (cross) as it went up in flames, then sat down to a typical breakfast – coffee (of course), mutton bits with injera, popcorn, and holiday bread.

Later that day, we dressed up in our Habesha best (white embroidery) and headed up to the center of town to watch the big celebration. UNESCO just designated the Ethiopian Meskel Celebrations as a World Heritage event last year, and considering how many people came out to see a giant cross on fire, I can safely say I’ve never experienced anything like it. Using our “ferenji power” we just walked past the line of police and national military towards the priests. Sometimes it pays to have a nice camera. But once the prayers were said, and the cross was ignited (yes, they doused it in kerosene), all sorts of chaos broke. Chanting, young men grabbing burning embers and running through the crowd, mobs and riots and blessings? It was crazy, and we were in the middle of it! I just kept clicking my camera. Here are the  results:

... reasons why I can never run for office

… reasons why I can never run for office

the cross fell towards my house! I think this means something

the cross fell towards my house! I think this means something

if you needed proof of how tall I am

if you needed proof of how tall I am

a two year struggle - EAT! NO!

a two year struggle – EAT! NO!

gathered for Meskel

gathered for Meskel

the cutest gorsha ever

the cutest gorsha ever

no, no, I can talk...

no, no, I can talk…

a typical family photo

a typical family photo

Priests and their umbrellas

Priests and their umbrellas

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#selfie

#selfie

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Meskel Square, Gondar

Meskel Square, Gondar

small riot

small riot

A Partnership Project

5 Aug

So my friend Sally from Bonga down south, has started a fundraising campaign for a project that involves Gondar. It’s basically a training program for environmental tourism. I’m a co-signer on the grant and have helped her with contacts in Gondar and the Simiens. Please send it along if you want/and donate at the link.

Bonga, Kafa Zone, Ethiopia

Bonga, Kafa Zone, Ethiopia

Here is her/my project:
Hello friends! I send my best regards and hope that you are well. I am
writing to ask for your help and support. I need to raise funds for a
sustainable development project as part of my Peace Corps service.
Please find details below, and the link to my project here:
https://donate.peacecorps.gov/index.cfm?shell=donate.contribute.projDetail&projdesc=14-663-028

“Whenever we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to
everything else in the universe.” -John Muir

We are one world. Try as we might to preserve one little corner of it
– a national park here, a bird sanctuary there – that effort is lost
without thousands of similar efforts far away from us; we are all
connected. Many of us who work in environment-related careers remember
a formative experience as an intern or volunteer, learning both love
of nature and the skills to communicate that love to others. This
project intends to provide such a formative experience to promising
young environmental leaders in Ethiopia, by sending interns from the
newly formed Makira Tour Guides Association in Bonga to  learn with a
more established tour guide operation in northern Ethiopia.

Bonga is a developing town of around thirty thousand in the southwest
administrative zone of Kafa. Nestled in breathtakingly beautiful cloud
forests, Kafa Zone was recently declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.
This designation recognizes Kafa’s complex ecosystems supporting
natural coffee and abundant wildlife; it also aims to provide means
for sustainable development and poverty alleviation for Kafa’s one
million inhabitants. As the population here grows, there is more
demand on forest resources; work is being done to promote sustainable
use of these resources, as well as to introduce alternative
livelihoods such as ecotourism. Well over a hundred thousand hectares
of forest here preserve millions of tons of carbon dioxide, besides
supporting unique biodiversity and a landscape known as the
“Birthplace of Coffee.”

Members of the Makira Tour Guides Association here were trained two
years ago through a project run by Naturschuzbund Deutschland and the
Ethiopian Wildlife and Natural History Society. However, while these
and other organizations have been working hard to promote Kafa as a
tourist destination, the new guides have not had much practice. A
refresher training I ran this year as a Peace Corps Volunteer shows a
group of eager, but untried guides, with little knowledge of how to
structure a tour, provide for customer needs and comfort, or market
their product to the world. By contrast, Simien Mountains National
Park in Ethiopia’s north has been welcoming tourists for decades. The
leader of Simien Trek Tour Company (www.simientrek.com), Shiferaw
Asrat, has an easy command of the tools of his trade. He has agreed to
accept two representatives of Makira TGA to intern with him for four
weeks, observing and apprenticing with him, then drafting their own
two-year plan to bring back to their association in Bonga.

So many fundraising efforts by charity organizations in the developing
world involve acquiring stuff: food, construction materials, water
filters, medicines, supplies. This effort aims to spend money on
building capacity, by forging connections between Ethiopians
themselves. It is a relatively small investment – the total I need to
raise is under $2000. But this small amount could get this business
off the ground and help these rising leaders to benefit their local
community in a sustainable way.

Thank you for all that you do for the environment and the development
of our world.

I Am a Strong Girl. Statements from Ethiopian girls.

29 Jul

Last week Peace Corps Volunteers around West Amhara hosted the 6th annual Gondar Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World). Over the week the girls bonded, learned, grew more confident and shared their stories.  Two of my favorite/inspiring stories came from one of my Gondar girls who I had brought back in a leadership position and one of the girls I lead through small discussions through out the week.

Tigist, one my campers from last year, who I brought back as a junior counselor this year, shared her past during a “Personal Tree” activity. The activity uses the life of trees as an analogy to think and share about our pasts. She revealed that she had been born in a small town near to Gondar (Tikil Dingay – another PCV’s site) and ended up in Gondar as an orphan after she was put in jail in 8th grade for attacking a man who was harassing her. She was able to put her life back together through a local NGO orphanage program and now rates as one of the top students in her class.

The other girl, really a woman, Asmira is an 18 year old girl in 8th grade. She revealed that she had been married off as an 8 year old girl by her parents. They were married for a few months before the boy’s parents decided she was too young and they should get a divorce and then the family would come collect her later, when she was “older.” Once she was divorced she started going back to school and expressed that “now I am educating myself, I have the confidence to say no! That marriage is over!”

These are just two of the stories form girls in this region. See below for some of their “Strong Girl” statements.

 

I am a strong girl because I can participate any activity. I can learn in the class.

I am a strong girl because I can participate any activity. I can learn in the class.

I am strong girl because first strong me was born female sex. After I learn sometimes then I teach my family. Now I come to Gondar and teach some things so I said I am strong.

I am strong girl because first strong me was born female sex. After I learn sometimes then I teach my family. Now I come to Gondar and teach some things so I said I am strong.

I am strong girl because to participate to education. I have confidence in my self.

I am strong girl because to participate to education. I have confidence in my self.

I am strong girl because I  have good behavior and I am special girl.

I am strong girl because I have good behavior and I am special girl.

I am a strong girl because I can make a thing which can make me happy. Also I have a strong families which are making me to be strong. Based on that I will never give up. Finally I am helping people who have no chance to be strong like me & I am voluntary to make good things to others. No one can stop me to achieve my dream.

I am a strong girl because I can make a thing which can make me happy. Also I have a strong families which are making me to be strong. Based on that I will never give up. Finally I am helping people who have no chance to be strong like me & I am voluntary to make good things to others. No one can stop me to achieve my dream.

I'm a strong girl because I have a self reliant.

I’m a strong girl because I have a self reliant.

I am a strong girl because I believe in myself.

I am a strong girl because I believe in myself.

I am a strong girl because I hopefully for anything and I never give up.

I am a strong girl because I hopefully for anything and I never give up.

I am a strong girl because I am studying anything in a book. I love you.

I am a strong girl because I am studying anything in a book. I love you.

I am a strong girl because I achieve my goals. I know myself. Anything I do it as my self confidence, my self reliant.

I am a strong girl because I achieve my goals. I know myself. Anything I do it as my self confidence, my self reliant.

I am a strong girl because I have self confidence to make a decision and I love it.

I am a strong girl because I have self confidence to make a decision and I love it.

I am strong girl because I am self acceptable and I know my self.

I am strong girl because I am self acceptable and I know my self.

I am strong girl because I believe myself.

I am strong girl because I believe myself.

I am a strong girl because I have confidence and I am not hopeless.

I am a strong girl because I have confidence and I am not hopeless.

I am strong because I am the one can change the world.

I am strong because I am the one can change the world.

I am strong because I never give my hand to my problem.

I am strong because I never give my hand to my problem.

I am a strong girl because I do what I want.

I am a strong girl because I do what I want.

I'm a strong girl because I say so!

I’m a strong girl because I say so!

I'm a strong girl because I've a big goal & self confidence.

I’m a strong girl because I’ve a big goal & self confidence.

I am a strong because I believe self confidence.

I am a strong because I believe self confidence.

I am a strong girl because I have self confidence.

I am a strong girl because I have self confidence.

I am a strong because I believe in my self.

I am a strong because I believe in my self.

I am a strong girl because I have self confidence.

I am a strong girl because I have self confidence.

I am strong because I am a confidency girl. I being myself!

I am strong because I am a confidency girl. I being myself!

I am a strong girl. I have appreciative self and self confidence by education group participation, also I have goals.

I am a strong girl. I have appreciative self and self confidence by education group participation, also I have goals.

I am a strong girl because I have a self confidence and I do everything on myself.

I am a strong girl because I have a self confidence and I do everything on myself.

The Programs of Menna

3 Jul

Over the past few months I have helped a fledgling NGO set up some communications (website, brochure etc.) Their main program is a daily meal that is really one of the first soup kitchens in Africa. The group started as a bunch of university friends who wanted to make a difference in their community. While they are still quite small, their passion has really made an impact.

Here is the video I put together highlighting their programs, their beneficiaries and some of their info. Check it out to see the type of work I’ve been doing, and some interviews with people in my city.

Sorry for the crappy quality – not much I can do with a flipcam and 5 hours of uploading.

More Day Trips from Gondar, and My 100th Post!

16 Jun

Recently some friends visited me and I finally crossed those elusive random touristy things off my Gondar list. Here are some awesome trips you can do within 1 day from my site.

1. Simien Mountain Trek.

Last time I did the Simiens was for the Big Kahuna – Ras Dashen. This time, it was a short jaunt to Sankober (the first camp) with lots of selfies with the baboons along the way. This trip was much cheaper, shorter, and had a lot more monkeys. And per usual, the Simien views were amazing.

well, it was a little foggy at first

well, it was a little foggy at first

but the views got better

but the views got better

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so many selfies

so many selfies

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2. Boat Trip on Lake Tana

Just 3 hours south of me is Bahir Dar, the regional capital and city on the south of Lake Tana. A boat ride is cheap and fun, and if you time it right you may be able to see some hippos! People usually do the boat tour to see churches and monasteries around the lake, but having lived here long enough to know they all look the same we crossed our fingers for the wildlife. There was also some great bird watching. The best time to go to see hippos is around 4pm or so, when they come up to eat and it’s not so hot.

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These kids lived on an island in the lake. Coming home from school, this traditional papyrus boat takes them across twice a day.

These kids lived on an island in the lake. Coming home from school, this traditional papyrus boat takes them across twice a day.

 

3. Blue Nile Falls.

This was a big tourist check. I had planned to go with my family back in December, but flight schedules and the promise of a dry riverbed dissuaded us. I was skeptical if the falls would be impressive so close to the end of dry season, but we saw something even cooler. With the heavy rains over the past few weeks, in the 30 minutes or so that we were at the falls we actually saw them grow! The river visibly swelled minute by minute. I will definitely have to return in September when the falls are at their full force.

We arrived the local way, which was much cheaper. Most hotels or tour companies will sell you a driver for multiple hundreds of birr per person. We simply went to the bus station and caught a big bus for 14 birr per person to Tis Abay (the village that is a 20 minute hike from the falls). This was great, until on the way back, an axel broke. We caught a ride the rest of the way on a tuk-tuk type truck. Super uncomfortable, but I sorta feel like the boys enjoyed their Type 2 fun (at least there was a great story.)

Keith, John, and I at Blue Nile Falls

Keith, John, and I at Blue Nile Falls

The suspension bridge that you have to cross

The suspension bridge that you have to cross

Willy Wonka Chocolate River much?

Willy Wonka Chocolate River much?

 

An Engagement, and a Party

24 May
Morgan and Robel, the happy couple

Morgan and Robel, the happy couple

Oh my gosh you guys!!! My site mate Morgan just got engaged to her long term Ethiopian boyfriend Robel. What does that mean? It means a meat tent, a group of men jumping in circles chanting, being blessed by a priest, and a lot of ridiculous photos at the Gondar castles. What started as an “engagement party” basically turned in to a mini Ethiopian wedding.

I was unofficial photog for the day, capturing all the lovey dovey cute adorable moments, as well as a fair share of “what the hell is going on?” moments. This was the ultimate cross-cultural experience. Though don’t worry Peace Corps, we got some Goal 2 activities in there – I made some hot pink frosting cupcakes and we did a traditional American wedding cake photo :)

had to do a traditional "American" cake photo

had to do a traditional “American” cake photo

The day started gathering at Morgan’s compound to hang out with her “Ethiopian family.” Afterwards we were ushered into vans to drive to Robel’s house, the site of the party. But of course we had to do a little scenic route around Gondar first, just to let anyone who didn’t know yet that Morgan and Robel were engaged. (Seriously though, everybody knows.)

riding around Gondar and honking at everybody

riding around Gondar and honking at everybody, wouldn’t be Ethiopia without a party bajaj/tuk-tuk

After arriving at Robel’s house, we were ushered through the crowd to the inner room. This is one of the few times I have been able to witness what goes on at these things. Being Morgan’s “family” we were VIP front row seats!  This entailed watching the priest bless the engagement and rings (Morgan got a new Orthodox name – Wolleta Selassie, awesome) and then he danced around a bit. Gifts were given, and food was eaten. Always so much food.

this was the cow that was slaughtered for the feast. Clearly, she had to take a photo with it.

This was the cow that was slaughtered for the feast. Clearly, she had to take a photo with it.

It basically says Congratulation Robel and Morgan on your engagement with the date of the Ethiopian calendar (Ginbot 10, 2006 aka May 18, 2014)

It basically says Congratulation Robel and Morgan on your engagement with the date of the Ethiopian calendar (Ginbot 10, 2006 aka May 18, 2014)

so many people at Robel's house

so many people at Robel’s house

The priest blessed the rings and gave Morgan an Orthodox name - Wolleta Selassie

The priest blessed the rings and gave Morgan an Orthodox name – Wolleta Selassie

the rings

the rings – apparently they have to be gold to count in Ethiopia

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Me signing the betrothal papers as a witness, can't back out now!

Me signing the betrothal papers as a witness, can’t back out now!

After lunch, we headed to the Fasil Gibbi (the Gondar Castles) to take the oh so Gonderian castle wedding photos. Morgan is decked out in habesha libs, and Robel looks suave in his ferenji suit (they switched!).

waving off the kids

waving off the kids

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We had a big posse

We had a big posse

Engagement photos at the Gondar Castles

Engagement photos at the Gondar Castles

Morgan's family

Morgan’s family

awwww... their babies are going to have the highest cheekbones eva!

awwww… their babies are going to have the highest cheekbones eva!

So there you have it. Morgan is engaged. When she goes back to the states at the end of her Peace Corps service (she’s leaving me so soon!) she will start the process to be reunited with Robel through a fiance visa. It could take years, but these too can do it! Then they will have a civil ceremony in America and be officially married. Though, I’m pretty sure the events on Sunday were pretty Ethiopian official. I mean, I signed papers in Amharic – do you really think I read them?

 

 

Days in the Life

12 Mar

Recently my aunt suggested I do a “day in the life” post. The problem is, not one of my days are the same. I work by project, and if I have projects happening, it can be very busy. If I don’t, well 8 seasons of Bones on my hardrive look pretty tempting. So I figured I would highlight a few days from the past week, since they seem to hit most of the “types” of days I tend to have.

Friday, February 28, 2014 “My Life is Soooo Hard”

- 8:30 am – Wake up at and pack a backpack to head to Bahar Dar for a meeting
– 9:15am Meet Sandy for breakfast (special ful) at Enyame Cafe near the bus station
– 10:15am Get on a bus from Gondar to Bahar Dar
– 10:45am finally get out of Gondar after driving around the city looking for more passengers
-12:20pm Hand off medicine to a PCV in Woretta as the car is still moving, a perfect Habesha pass
-1:45pm arrive in Bahar Dar, lunch a Misrak
– 3:30pm lounge by the pool
-5:00pm Get a 20o birr ($10) massage
– 7:00pm Dinner at Desit, with beers on the lakefront
-10pm Go to bed

Sunday, February 16, 2014 “The Weekends are Busy!”

- 8:30am Wake up and contemplate making tea
– 9:00am Do an Insanity workout
-9:45am cold shower
– 9:55am Actually get around to making tea
– 10:00am finish last minute planning for today’s Girls Club Activity
-10:30am walk to Fasilides High School
-10:45am Arrive at Fasilides, be very surprised that some girls are early for the 11 o’clock club
– 11:25am finally start the club (that’s more like it), this week was about setting goals
– 12:05pm show a 10 min segment of the Girl Rising Documentary. We are working through each girl’s stories over 8 weeks.
– 12:40pm finish discussion and Girl’s Club, walk to Maraki (University Campus)
– 1:30pm arrive at Maraki and sit in the President’s office with free internet! Sorta kind of do work AKA plan India trip!
– 2:30pm Meet the ADMAS Leadership kids at the Makarki Gate, walk to Bridge of Hope School
– 3:00pm Play Jeopardy with African history
-3:45pm Introduce the Action for Gender Equality Summit and ask for applications
-4:15pm walk home (45 min)
-5:00pm Morgan makes me dinner, what a good housewife!
– 6:00pm Gossip
– 9:30pm Bedtime!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014 “Work is more than projects”

-8:30am Wake up
-8:45 am Insanity Workout – Recovery today whew!
– 9:30am Cold Shower, I will never get used to it
– 9:40am Make breakfast, peanut butter and banana
– 10:00am wash dishes in the bucket
-10:25am clean bucket for clothes
-10: 30am Do laundry by hand. This is a “3 load” day, basically the amount of times I have to change the water in the bucket.
-11:45am sweep and clean counters
– 12:05pm Make lunch, tuna on bread, salad
– 12:45pm Eat lunch and watch Leverage
– 1:30pm Just one more episode…. it’s addictive
– 2:15pm Take line taxi (minibus) to Nigat Hotel to meet Tewelde for coffee
– 2:50pm walk to Admas Science Campus for a meeting on developing a Sex Ed curriculum at the University
– 3:00pm guy who called the meeting doesn’t show… and he’s a ferenj! Rude. We wait around.
– 3:40pm walk from Admas to Piazza (45 min), when I have extra time I walk. There are a lot of hills in Gondar. I’m crazy.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014 “When It Rains, It Pours”

- 8am  Wake Up
– 8:30am walk up the hill to a meeting with Menna Food Project
– 9am Go to some of the poorest communities in Gondar to interview benificiaries about where they live, their families and the lives (video/photos to come!)
– 12pm Lunch with some site mates
– 1pm Working on Malaria logistics, scheduling a Soap training, printing Grassroot Soccer certificates and other random planning for the many projects I couldn’t say no to
– 4pm Walk to Arada (market area) to help set up Food Bank/Soup Kitchen (Wot Kitchen?)
– 4:30pm More interviews and Video
-5pm Serve food to needy
-6pm Walk home on the back roads, lots of little kids yell at me
6:30pm Buy tomatoes and potatoes at the mini market near my house (from the woman with their tarps)
-7pm Make dinner
– 8pm Transfer all my interviews and photos and video and start to catalog
– 10pm Read a chapter of Harry Potter
– 10:30pm BED!

So there are some “typical” days – lots of work, lots of life, and some #treatyoself moments. The one thing that is consistent in Ethiopia is inconsistency, but in terms of work that’s ok. I like not having a 9-5 job. I like having to be motivated to get up and do something. I like working on projects that I want to do. I like having time to exercise and read and be addicted to TV shows. But even when times are the busiest (last weekend I brought two girls to the Action for Gender Equality Summit in Addis…. 6am to 11pm days), it’s still Peace Corps: The toughest job you’ll ever love.

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