Tag Archives: packing

Some G8 Advice

28 May

It’s that time of year again, when the new recruits, with freshly delivered invitations start to invade the cyberspace with questions about everything from what to pack to what their last meal should be. Well, never fear newbies (that’s you G9), us G8ers are now seasoned peace corps volunteers, rounding on 1/3 completed. We also happened to all get together last week and talk about advice we wish we had had, so here you go: the most comprehensive and probably incredibly useless advice list for Peace Corps Ethiopia, as compiled by a bunch of health volunteers who miss cheese a little too much.

Pre-Departure Prep:

–          Make a “little black book” of everyone’s mailing address back home. You will want to send letters and Christmas cards etc and who doesn’t want to receive a letter with a stamp with Meles’ face on it? No one, that’s who.  It’s a pain to track down those addresses in country, especially during pre-service training when your internet ability will be very low.

–          Maybe get some sector experience before you arrive. For health, maybe look up what the heck an IGA is (you will be asked to do one, and you want to figure out how to avoid that). For environment, apparently gardening is a thing (food security shout out!). For education (what up G9), look into active learning techniques. You won’t be teaching, you will be teacher trainers.

–          Eat your favorite foods. Then run around the block, and eat them again. Especially the ethnic ones. You can find bearable pizza and beer here, but I’ll be damned if I wouldn’t kill someone for hummus, or pad thai.

–          Pack a care package for yourself. Or have mom send you one the day you leave. It will take at least 3 weeks to get to you anyway.

–          Get a hard-drive (terabyte recommended) and load it up! Bring us G8ers some good stuff please : ) special requests include: newest seasons of Arrested Development, Big Bang, Always Sunny, Parcs and Rec, any HBO, Showtime, and BBC (Homeland, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, Doctor Who, Sherlock etc), The Americans. Movie requests- Great Gatsby, new Star Trek, basically anything new!! We will be raiding your datas during PST. (Gotta love Ethiopia’s no copyright laws sometimes).

What to pack:

Take this with a grain of salt. Everyone’s site is different, and everyone’s priorities are different, but here are some basic tips for Ethiopia. Basically it’s cooking stuff, clothes, and things to keep you from going crazy or getting bored.

–          You can get everything you need to survive here. Clearly, people live here, but good quality cookware is hard to come by, expensive and only available in Addis Ababa. I was very happy I packed:

  • A good skillet
  • A good paring and chef’s knife
  • Vegetable peeler
  • Spices (see previous post)
  • A couple butter knives (expensive and bad quality here), forks and spoons are easy to come by

–          Pack a box of granola bars or some other such snack. You get some money at staging for the last night; most of us hit up the Whole Foods down the street. That first month in training with host families, you will be guaranteed to have a few “emergency granola bar” moments.

–          Pack clothes you want to wear. Don’t go buy a whole new wardrobe filled with cargo pants and T-shirts. Most of us wear basically what we would in America, maybe a little more conservatively (no spaghetti straps or mini-skirts, but jeans and normal tank tops are totally fine). Though normal for me is Boulder, Colorado chic- love me my Chaco tan lines.

–          On the clothes thought- bring things that will layer. Rainy season is cold, hot season is… well, hot. Bring a rain coat! Umbrellas aren’t enough during a monsoon. It can get down to below freezing in some sites, and as hot as 110 Fahrenheit in others. Sorry you don’t know where you will end up!

–          Flashlight! (or headlamp if your cool)

–          Little notebooks, like a pocket sized moleskin. You will be given notepaper up the wazoo for trainings, but something small to carry around has been helpful.

–          A computer. There’s always someone in every group without one… ya hippy.

–          A pillow. Unless you enjoy sleeping on something like the consistency of play-dough.

–          Pack some stuff in canvas bags in your suitcase, like reusable grocery bags. Then you have extra bags for overnights/short trips and market day!

–          Things to brighten your day- photographs from home (you’ll share these with host fam and compound peeps), nail polish, music etc.

–          DUCT. TAPE. It is useful for everything.

–          For contact’s wearers- I stalked up on about 18 months worth. Which is about right, because I don’t wear them every day here, probably about half the time and mostly when I’m in trainings. I may not have showered, but I did put my contacts in! Success.

Do Not Pack:

–          Books. The rumor is you lucky ducks get a kindle. There is also a file floating around with like 60,000 reads on it so don’t waste space and kilos with hardbacks. Even Ethiopia is in the digital age! (almost). And for you hardback lovers, the VRC (volunteer resource centers) in Addis and Bahar Dar have libraries.

–          Sunscreen or basic meds. You get a lovely medical kit with all that (and some not so basic meds). DO pack specialty over the counter meds like probiotics or vitamins.

–          A million shoes. Basics include: flip flops, sturdy/hiking sandals (Chacos or something of the like), sneakers (for exercise), a nice pair (stylish sandals for girls or dress shoes for boys are fine). I also packed a pair of chucks and hiking boots. Sometimes I wish I brought 1 pair of heels though, and then I face plant on the gravel…

–          Sheets or blankets. You can get them here, or get some fitted ones shipped later.

–          Any other kitchen items- pots, plates, bowls, cups are all available in hub town markets.

Take it or Leave It—The Items of Argument

–          Sleeping bag. I’m glad I brought mine, and people who have visited me are too. But I don’t really use it that much. I will be happy to have it when I summit Ras Dashen though! Depends if you like to camp or not.

–          A lot of chocolate. Have mom send it in a care package. Unless you’re an addict, like my friend Morgan, I say it’s an initial waste of space and weight. And don’t pretend like you’re going to share it with your cute little host siblings… you won’t. And it won’t be pretty.

–          Cards and other games. Glad I brought mine, but the volunteer resource center has all sorts of crap floating around. I ended up giving my SkipBo to the host fam. It was a good gift because there were memories attached.

–          High heels. I’m a shoe girl, but I didn’t bring any, but it kills my soul a bit. Still undecided on that one.

So there you have it, the most vague and yet comprehensive peace corps Ethiopia pre departure packing list. Feel free to ask specific questions in the comments or check out the Pre-Departure Group Facebook page for all sorts of useless advice. Good luck! See you in July!

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Cooking for Ethiopia Part 1

13 Jan

Different ingredients, super high altitude, and only a stove have meant a few culinary experiments as I adapt to my new life for the next few years. Mid way through our training we were issued a “Cooking in Ethiopia” Cookbook, put together by previous groups of volunteers. It has been helpful for some things (oh, that’s the bleach to water ratio to clean vegetables- oopsie), but other things are less helpful (a recipe for Hungarian Cocktail Sticks? Minden naw “what is that?” Or Fresh Fish with Coconut Sauce? What posh corps country do you live in?).

So drawing on my own experience in high altitude cooking, the spices I brought from home (thank you packing lists!), and a bit of daring I have created a few dishes of my own.

#1 – Breakfast for Dinner

Om nom nom eggs

Om nom nom eggs

Since I never buy meat (no fridge), I either get my protein at a restaurant, in the form of shuro powder (see below), or I eat eggs.  This is my version of a Spanish omelet. Tomato, spinach, and feta become tomato (yay same ingredient!), gomen (basically Ethiopian spinach), and laughing cow cheese (thank you care packages!). Then I make home fries with salt and olive oil.

#2 – The Sarah Waldorf Salad

Bleached Veggies! Om Nom Nom?

Bleached Veggies! Om Nom Nom?

This isn’t so exciting except that it’s fresh, uncooked vegetables! Food preparation is key here. Since I buy my vegetables from the ladies with the tarps on the side of the road, and they buy them off the trucks that come in from the fields, I can almost guarantee there was no FDA stamp of approval on those carrots. Chigerellum! (No problem!) Usually I cook down or boil my veggies, but if I want to eat them fresh there is a bit more of a process. I start with a bleach water solution (1 tbsp per gallon) and let them soak for about 15 minutes. Then I rinse them with filtered water (I put that in there so Peace Corps medical won’t get mad… sometimes I rinse with tap water, which I clearly never drink… cough couch). This salad features all sorts of local and care package ingredients: lettuce, gomen, avocado, tomatoes, carrots, raisins and crushed almonds and cashews (trail mix from a care package); and then the dressing is an olive oil, salt, pepper, and lime mix (no lemons here).

#3 Shuro with Rice

It's yummier than it looks

It’s yummier than it looks

Cross cultural dish! Shuro is a soupy spicy dish made from chickpea powder and berbere that you can find at any restaurant- sometimes it’s the only thing you can order. And at any time I would say 95% of Ethiopians are eating it for a meal. The other staple is misir wot (spicy lentil stew). Usually it is eaten with injera, but since I don’t have an injera maker, I make it with rice (pictured) or potatoes.  Shuro powder is available by the half kilo and you buy it like flour. You can get it with or without berbere mixed in. I bought some with berbere to cut out the middle step. To make it you chop onions and tomatoes, cook them down in a bunch of oil (I use less than the average Ethiopian, but then again my shuro doesn’t taste as good). Then you add about double the water you want for a serving (it will cook down) and add like 2 or 3 spoonfuls of shuro powder and whatever spices to taste (I like garlic and black pepper, since I’m a ferenji, Ethiopians will put in raw kariya peppers). It thickens up pretty quick, is packed with protein (yay chickpeas!), will last forever (my ½ kilo bag will probably last half the year because you only use a few spoonfuls per meal), and is super cheap (hey local recipes!). Probably going to be a staple for me. I usually wilt down some gomen as well to get a varied diet with some rough greens.

#4 Curry

Thank God for spice mixes

Thank God for spice mixes

Rice based dishes are going to a theme I think. Stir fries, curries, and pretty much any Ethiopian wot I will probably put over rice (so blasphemous). But again, rice is pretty cheap, lasts a long time, easy to cook and is a different carb than injera so I get a little variety. With all the dishes that are basically variations on a theme, it’s nice to mix up the spices. If the base is carrots, onions, rice and sometimes an egg or too, switching between a soy sauce stir fry and a shit ton of curry powder will get me through the next few months. What I wouldn’t give for some broccoli (and don’t even get me started on asparagus or bell peppers…) The point of this one is that recipes don’t matter and you can just experiment with proportions until it tastes good. This curry was made on the fly, probably couldn’t recreate it, but the moral of the story is that either pack spices (sacrifice space) or pick up some in Addis before you get to site (expensive).

Here’s what I brought with me (and am so glad!):

–          Curry powder

–          Italian mix (oregano, basil, thyme, rosemary etc.- like a grocery store brand mix)

–          Black pepper

–          Garlic powder (easy to find garlic cloves here, but sometimes nice to have powder instead of cutting up cloves every time)

–          Cumin (I put it in guacamole!)

–          Chili powder

–          Cinnamon (you can find sticks, but again, nice to have powder)

Other non- spice related things I brought and were very helpful to have that first week (and are better quality than what you could pick up here):

–          Non-stick frying pan or skillet

–          Good paring knife (which I basically use for EVERYTHING)

–          Good chef’s knife (just a larger knife)

–          A pot holder/oven mitt thing, which I use with a bandana in the other hand to handle my pots

–          Veggie peeler

–          Can opener (though probably not necessary)

–          Wine/bottle opener (you can get those here, but it was small so I threw it in)

–          Butter knife (wish I brought more than 1! Forks and spoons are easy to find and cheap, but knifes are hard and “expensive!”- for a volunteer’s budget anyway)

–          Zip lock bags

–          Measuring cup

Anyway, experiments in cooking to continue! Not pictured, I have also made a few tomato based sauces from scratch with pasta and garlic bread and whipped together a “mexican night” for the other Gondar volunteers with guac, salsa, lime rice and black beans (from another volunteer’s care package) and lentil fajitas. Cooking is fun here because it cuts out a lot of the day. The opposite end of the spectrum being that today for lunch I ate a handful of kolo (roasted barley) and a lollipop… so it depends on my energy level haha.

One Week to Go

25 Sep

As of this time next Tuesday I will be just about here:

On my way to Ethiopia!

That “X” is my most accurate drawing of a Boeing 787 Dreamliner. Ya, get jealous. Ethiopian Airlines knows how to do it in style. So this is the week before I leave for a 27 month commitment to serve in the Peace Corps as a Health/NGO Development volunteer in Ethiopia.

The most common questions I have gotten this week are as follows:

1. How are you feeling?

– How vague of a question in that?? I am nervous, excited, stressed, jittery, anxious, butterflies in my stomach, SO happy, and a bunch of other cliched but very real emotions for someone about to move to a new continent for two years.

2. What are you packing?

– Ha! I think the worst thing for my sanity was reading other Peace Corps volunteer’s blogs to death about what they packed. And then their very next post was to say- Don’t bring any of it! So I won’t give any advice whatsoever about packing… until I get there and discover what I definitely should have left at home (I predict the 10lbs worth of peanut butter) and the things I’m sure I forgot (always the toothbrush). I think one of the best things I am packing though is a photo album with notes from friends (useful info for future volunteers, I know).

3. Have you been stocking up on American culture before you go?

– If round-housing a double bacon cheeseburger counts, then yes, yes I have.

4. Will you have internet?

– We shall see I suppose. But this would be the place to keep up with me!

5. What does your mom think?

– Ummm… you should ask her. She’s really nice. In fact, if you set up an email chain with her about my possible whereabouts over the next two years, you could make a fun game out of it. Like where in the world is Carmen SanDiego, but with more coffee and less red hats.

So check back in every once and while over the next couple years to see what I’ve been up to, learn a bit about Ethiopia, and maybe laugh a little.