Archive | December, 2012

PO Box

24 Dec

Just in time for nothing to arrive in time for Christmas, I have a PO Box!

Send all your love to:

Sarah Crozier

PO Box 479
Gondar, Ethiopia

I will update on the new site soon! Still settling in and figuring things out.

Habesha Time

22 Dec

In the rest of the world it is December 22, 2012, or maybe it isn’t if the Mayan rumors are true. But how is this blog post possible if everyone else perished in a fiery end of Armageddon proportions?  Answer: the magical Ethiopian Calendar.

For me, today is December 11, 2005. Yes, I am writing to you both from the future (time differences!) and from the past (sorta). Basically I have about 7 more years before the Mayan doom- so tell me, what happened that fateful day?

In all seriousness, the Ethiopian time system is one of the most interesting I’ve come across. It is a derivative of the Julian calendar, whereas the ferenji or “foreign aka American” calendar is the Gregorian system. The difference of about 7 or 8 years comes about due to a difference in calculation, by the Coptic Church, of when the Angel Gabriel announced to the Virgin Mary that she was pregnant with Jesus. Why couldn’t they keep proper records back then?

In addition to the year differences, there are 13 months in the Ethiopian Calendar. This is convenient for tourism as Ethiopia can truthfully claim 13 months of sunshine. There are 12 months of 30 days each and a 13th month of 5 or 6 days called Pagume [Pa-gu-may] which is stuck in there to make the other 12 work on the yearly cycle (the whole earth going around the sun thing). What that means is that the Ethiopian New Year falls on September 11th, (Sept. 12th in a leap year), just after rainy season.

If that weren’t complicated enough, the time is different here too. Although now that I’m used to it, it makes so much more sense. 6am or sunrise is the start of the day (0:00), noon (6:00), 6pm (12:00) and the night time starts over. So basically from 0-12 hours is from sunrise to sunset and the night is another 12 hours. Facepalm. What is this weird 4am in the morning thing Americans got going on? Nonsensical. Of course, this system works well for a country where sunrise and sunset are pretty much consistent throughout the year since we are close to the equator.

What this ultimately means is that every time I schedule a meeting we have to clarify bahabesha or bafereji sa-at? Meaning Ethiopian or foreign calendar/time? If that confusion isn’t a good excuse for missing deadline, I don’t know what is. So I keep my watch on Ethiopian time, and my cell phone on foreign time, just in case I need to switch back and forth. A lot of international NGOs and organizations work on the foreign clock system, while the local orgs clearly use the local time. If someone brought in the 24:00 European/military system right now I would explode.

Moral of the story is, send me your World Series winners  and lottery numbers from 2006-2012, I think I could make some good bets.

I Now Know What I Do Not Know

20 Dec

On Friday we finally finished our pre-service training and swore in as official Peace Corps Ethiopia Volunteers! After 10 weeks of language, technical, medical, cultural and safety training I can safely say that I am both prepared to go to site and also completely overwhelmed by my lack of knowledge.  They say that by the end of training you will know what you do not know, which is a big step from Day 1 when I didn’t even know what I didn’t yet know. Following?

The more I learn about this country, its people, its history, its (87!) languages, the more I have come to realize that I have only chipped away enough of the iceberg to make a couple ice cubes for my St. George’s draft beer.

Taking the Oath of Service at the American Embassy; Group 8- Health and Environment

Taking the Oath of Service at the American Embassy; Group 8- Health and Environment

But lucky for me I have two more years here to attempt to figure it out, forge some relationships, make a lot of mistakes, and hopefully leave a small mark of change for the better. Since swearing in I have gotten a (very) early flight to Bahar Dar in the Northwest of Amhara Region, driven across the country and back to get my things from Desie, and finally arrived in Gonder, my site, one week later.

Reflecting on training I came up with a list of things I now know, and things I need to learn.

What I Know:

– how to order a beer

– how to order other food (less important than beer)

– how to say “my favorite colour is purple”

– how to say “I don’t like kitfo because it will give me worms” (compound sentence!)

– a basic understanding of the health services in Ethiopia

– how to brew traditional coffee

– that time is very different here, both literally and figuratively

– how much I need to learn

What I need to learn:

– more Amharic

– better bargaining skills

– how to figure out when the water/electricity will come back on and when to stockpile barrels

– how to make a tortilla

– the layout of my city

– the fair price for things

– and a lot lot more

And so begins the actual Peace Corps adventure. Two years starts now, these past few months have just been a warm-up for the marathon. And considering this country produces some of the best runners in the world, I’d say that’s a pretty apt analogy.


A Small Ode to Iteya

17 Dec

As we leave our training sites to swear in as full volunteers, my site mate (and future neighbor up in Aykel, about 2 hours from Gondar) Morgan made a video from our time in training at Iteya. Enjoy!

It ends at 3:50 so don’t watch through all the extra black at the end.

Who were all those people? Those were the 9 trainees who lived in Iteya throughout training, our language and culture trainers, our host families and the cutest little nuggets (Mimilu and Misikir) who showed up at our language class every day and loved to copy our awkward dance moves. The last little bit was an inside joke- don’t worry about it, just know that you lost the game.


Ethiopian Gangnam Style

13 Dec

So Gangnam Style might be old news in the US by now, but it is just starting to sweep across Ethiopia. One of my fellow trainees made this awesome video staring volunteers, host families and locals in Hurruta, Ethiopia’s version of PSY’s k-Pop sensation. Enjoy.



The Bunna Ceremony

10 Dec

Even though I have only been living here for just over two months (has it really been that long already?), there is one piece of Ethiopian culture I think I have a pretty good grasp on: The Bunna Ceremony.

Legend has it that coffee was discovered in Ethiopia, in the south west of the country. True or not, coffee certainly has a large place in the culture here. I’m not talking “Ethiopian Roasts” from Starbucks, I mean the traditional coffee ceremony (called bunna in Amharic) that every Peace Corps volunteer has sat through at least 45 times by now.

Every special event, celebration, plain old 4pm in the afternoon, or 9pm at night calls for a coffee ceremony.  I will walk you through one as I got to help prepare the coffee from scratch. Now many of you who know me, are probably thinking how in the world did this coffee adverse girl get the luck of being assigned to the nation of the birthplace of coffee? She’s a waste a space. Never fear! I am officially now a coffee drinker. Not addicted yet, though I feel a slight headache coming on…

Though you really cannot compare this delicious concoction with an American cup o’ Joe. Therefore I am not a coffee “drinker” so much as I am officially a coffee “connoisseur,” and with such a now refined palette I will not bring my newly addict ways back across the Atlantic.


Ayu, one of our language trainers

Ayu, one of our language trainers

I think the best habit to come out of this ceremony is the presence of fandesha (popcorn). If you really want to get fancy and impress the neighbors you best make sure you have some popcorn (double points for kettlecorn done over the charcoal) ready. The other traditional accompaniment is a grass floor (not pictured). The “modern” version of this is a little straw mat died green to look like grass. I think this comes from the days when the floors were all dirt (most still are) and so only the fancy people could afford to put grass down—a sign of wealth.

bunna and fandesha

bunna and fandesha

Step 1- Wash the coffee beans that you picked out of your backyard, or if you’re a city girl like me (hey Gondar!) that you bought from your neighbor that picked it out of their backyard. Super fresh.

Raw Coffee Beans

Raw Coffee Beans

Step 2- Roast the beans over a traditional charcoal stove. None of you cheaters with your fancy propane burners! Be sure to waft the scent around the room (don’t know if this is traditional or because I smelled bad and my host mom wanted to cover it up).

perfectly roasted beans

perfectly roasted beans

incense- usually frankincense is traditional

incense- usually frankincense is traditional

Step 3- Grind the beans (by hand!) by crushing them with a mallet. While this is happening, be sure to “techawetchi” meaning talk about what’s going on in the town. Sanctioned gossip, all right! The word literally means “to play.”

Upper Body Strength is Key

Upper Body Strength is Key

Step 4- Boil the water in a jebenna and add scoops of ground coffee to steep. The jebennas are clay jug like things that considering I will not be brewing my own coffee anytime soon, will probably serve as beautiful flower vases. Machine espresso is also popular here (thank the Italians), but clearly everyone knows the best bunna bets in town are always jebenna bunna bets- the traditional way.

jebenna- I will probably bring back about 10 for souvenirs- hope you like it mom!

jebenna- I will probably bring back about 10 for souvenirs- hope you like it mom!



Step 5- Add three spoons of sugar to a tiny cup. Maybe this is why I can drink it black. A quirk of our training region (the ARSI region) is that most people traditionally prefer bunna ba wetat, or “with milk.” Apparently not as popular up north.

Residual Sugar

Residual Sugar

Step 6- After a very finely tuned sense of timing (for me, the jebenna boiled over), you know the coffee is brewed. Serve 3 cups. This is very important, it is rude to quit after the first 2 because each is drunk to a specific toast. Cup 1 is for family, Cup 2 for friendship, Cup 3 for health. Don’t worry, they’re small.

3 Cups of Bunna... someone should write a book

3 Cups of Bunna… someone should write a book

All in all a bunna ceremony can take from 1 to 3 hours, depending on how much news you bring to the table, or how tired you are.  Along with the gorsha (feeding someone with your hands), the bunna ceremony is another traditional sign of love and friendship.

So I’m taking orders for Ethiopian roasts- but I will only entertain requests that come with care packages. I should have a PO Box in about 2 weeks! Keep your eyes peeled coffee lovers : )

Peace Corps Currency

7 Dec

When we get mail, which is about once every 2.5 weeks, it’s like a mini Christmas. Cardboard and tape litter the floor, joyous gasps abound as beef jerky and Gatorade powder explode open (sometimes over every other item in the package- poor Nick), and letters with month old information are read aloud as mini time capsules (sounds like Hurricane Sandy was a big deal… and maybe there was an election or something).

But after the choice items have been inventoried, the coveted pieces of chocolate and dried mangos (thanks mom!) hidden from view, the training center becomes a mini-market.

Some of the trade items- GUMMY BEARS!

Some of the trade items- GUMMY BEARS!

When you’re living on 30 birr (about $1.50) a day, the barter system becomes very important. Granted I’m not actually living on $1.50 a day as all my meals and my housing is taken care of, but that figure was too hard to figure out and you get the point- M&Ms are worth their weight in gold. And so is tabasco sauce and taco seasoning apparently.

Besides food stuffs, magazines and books are passed around as well. With two copies of TIME magazine and the new JK Rowling book in a package last week, I basically had a waiting list going.

The other highly coveted item is of course toilet paper. Granted, we are handed way more rolls of toilet paper every week than we could ever use, but as our site move-in date creeps closer some volunteers have started to horde tp like squirrels before winter. I myself have a stack of about 8 unused rolls just sitting in my room. Don’t ask me how I plan to transport it to Gonder, the point is that I am flush with tp… pun intended.

Introducing Dr. Wahib

4 Dec

Pre-Service Training, or PST, as it is called because Peace Corps is an alphabet soup of acronyms, is the 10 weeks prior to actual Peace Corps that is a right of passage for every volunteer. It is 10 weeks of language training, technical training, medical training, host family living, safety and security training, general confusion, a lot of learning, and a bit of boredom. Into this mix steps our Medical Officer Dr. Wahib with the following presentation:

Truth bomb

Truth bomb

Followed by:

heheh- transubstantiate

heheh- transubstantiate

To get to this point:

The last point is especially poignant

The last point is especially poignant

Do you see why we love him?

Kidding aside, our medical team here is top notch. I have been lucky enough to only have been slightly incapacitated once so far. I’ll spare you the details (or you can read them here depending on your curiosity level). They are available 24/7 with all our tropical disease drug related needs. Though opening my PC Med kit was a bit of a pandora’s box. I couldn’t pronounce half the things in there; I don’t know if that makes me more or less assured.