Tag Archives: training

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:

“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.


IST Reflection

24 Mar

IST. In Service Training. The point where, after three months at site, everyone is going a little crazy. We have been researching, interviewing, data mining, drinking copious amounts of shay/buna, meeting new people, and forgetting our Amharic. We have been getting sick, getting harassed and getting to be known. We have been missing each other.

So Peace Corps brings us all together, with our Ethiopian counterparts, sticks us in 9 hour days of training, and then lets us loose in Addis Ababa at night. Sounds like a good time, and for the most part it is. I actually learned a few things about composting and food security. I visited the National Aids Resource Center and got a little jealous of their resources. I discovered my counterpart really likes his sunglasses. But most importantly I got to catch up with the family of volunteers I came in with. The volunteers who are going through the same emotional cycle as me. The volunteers whose support I couldn’t do without.

IST is also the time when I got to know better those volunteers I only said a few words to before. Whether because we never had the same trainings, they lived in a different village, or we simply didn’t have much common ground, we certainly do now.

Nobody’s experience is the same. Some of us are in small villages, some in towns, and some in large cities. Some of us speak Amharic, some Tigrynia, some Oromifa, and some are picking up second and third tribal languages down south. Some of us are working with health centers, rural outposts, English learning centers, agricultural offices, and tree nurseries. But what we have in common is the day to day trials and small victories that come with living in communities where we both belong and do not belong. Where we represent change and hope as well as materialism and charity. Where we live in a fishbowl, yet no one really know us.

Three months in site, six months in country, coming back together gives us the chance to reevaluate. Are we still here for the same reasons? Have our expectations changed? What does success look like now? It is still early enough in our service to shape these things.

Coming in to IST I was worried about the changes I was seeing in myself. I was more blunt, curt, quick to assume and ignore people. And while many of these are coping mechanisms for the day to day barrage, what didn’t bother me 4 months ago was getting under my skin 4 weeks ago.

I didn’t want to come back to site, or America for that matter, a bitter jaded expat worker. But everyone is struggling. What is rude? Where to set boundaries? How much Doctor Who is really normal to watch in one day? And I realized I wasn’t doing too bad. And then I had a small incident that was a little scary, and I realized I wanted to go back to site. I was actually excited to go back to site, to start work, and see the people I hadn’t seen in three weeks.  And it wasn’t about getting out of Addis (well, a small part of it was), but getting to Gondar.

So IST did it’s job. It got me out of the funk. It shook me awake to the bitterness that was sowing seeds. It gave me a jolt of ferenji food, and sent me back ready to create relationships, get shit done, and separate my self worth from the times when I don’t get shit done. The show must go on, as they don’t say here.

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.

It’s Not Peace Corps Until…

28 Oct

I hit a few milestones this week. Signs that I am a Peace Corps volunteer…

#1 I got my first violent vomiting, GI, Montezuma’s revenge, double headed dragon, whatever you want to call it sickness. But I survived and still want to be here so check that one off the list. Luckily it was only 24 hours. (If only I could have it once and be done, but I foresee many a crumpled on the floor weeping moment in the future).

#2  I have fleas in my bed. I remember reading volunteer’s posts before I came and seeing things like “you get used to it” and “it’s not that bad” and thinking I will never get used to fleas, that sounds disgusting. And yes, it is. And yes, you get used to it. At this point, if I’m not going to get malaria, dengue fever, typhus or some other crazy tropical illness I don’t care. Bring it on. Hours of itching and hundreds of bites all over my body? Child’s play. Refer to milestone #1.

#3 I can conjugate verbs! In Amharic!… sort of. If by conjugate you mean I kind of recognize a pattern on paper but still have absolutely no idea what anyone is saying-ever.

#4 I have chaco sandals tan lines. AND they are the double strap kind so that just makes it more legit.

#5 I ate ox stomach. I don’t recommend it, but if I’m going to keep a mental list of Anthony Bourdain worthy foods, I guess ox stomach is like the minor leagues. I’ll keep you updated as I get more adventurous.

#6 I pooped in a hole. Well, really this one came in the first week, but it was a milestone nonetheless. They say once you’re in Peace Corps all you talk about is pooping. Yup, that’s pretty much accurate. It’s also not very ladylike.

In other non-fecal news, I have switched language teachers because my first teacher is now teaching Oromifa (one of the regional dialects). My class is now 5 people, which is actually pretty large for learning a totally new language and new script. I like my new teacher as well, but 5 of us is really a lot to handle (especially when we are all suffering from #1) and I feel a bit of pity for her. Oh wait, unless she is suffering from #1, no  I don’t.

Drinking from a Fire Hose

18 Oct


I have been in Ethiopia for just about 2 weeks now- though it feels both like 2 days and a whole month at the same time.  As soon as we stepped off the plane we were in training and it has not let up since. This is good in that I have had no time to freak out, but also exhausting and I really have to try hard to give myself a few minutes each day to process and decompress.

They say pre-service training is like drinking from fire hose. You can only get so much in your mouth, and if you concentrate on how much you are missing you will be lost forever. The best advice is to get what you can.

Well that is a pretty accurate analogy, and this week has felt like a water cannon.

Since I have been here I have travelled around Addis Ababa, up to Debre Birhan, moved in with my host family in Itaya and shot down to Assela a few times. A whirlwind of medical, safety, technical, and language training has been mixed in with making new friends, navigating public transportation, and using charades to communicate with my host family. So how to break it down for all y’all back home?


Flew into Addis and the first few days were a lot of training sessions and workshops at the King’s Hotel. A few days later I took a mini bus with five other trainees up to Debre Birhan to visit some current health volunteers at their site and “demystify” Peace Corps in Ethiopia. Debre Birhan is 2 hours northeast of Addis in the Amhara region and a larger town of about 100,000. We visited a married couple there (who are so badassadely awesome), so I don’t know how close my experience will be to theirs as a single gal, but it was good to see the type of housing and lifestyle of volunteers. Other volunteers went all over the country for demystification, some going as far as needing to fly.

Coming back from Debre Birhan (on mini-buses aka the public transportation where you just have to fight for a seat), we stayed another couple nights in Addis and took a tour of the city. We went to the national museum and saw Lucy, the ancestor skeleton thing.  Since then I have moved in with my host family in Itaya, a small town of about 17,000 a couple hours Southeast of Addis in the Oromia region.  There are 8 other volunteers in the town with me.

Most recently we have been bouncing back and forth between Itaya and Assela, our training hub town where we get to see the other volunteers and get all sorts of vaccinations. I mention the shots because they gave me a Reese’s Peanut butter cup, and you need to know how exciting that was. (very).


Language training has been 2 parts fun, 1 part frustrating, and 17 parts exhausting. I am keeping hold of my small victories every day and considering how much I have picked up in the language over such a short period I have to remember to give myself a pat on the back. Or you can send me chocolate (or goldfish!), if you feel so inclined J I can almost sort of pretend to read kind of! And of course my host family thinks I’m very “gobez” (clever). If saying “good morning” and “I don’t understand” make me clever then in 1 month I’m going to be at Einstein status. I have class with 2 other volunteers, and our language and culture instructor is the bomb dot com.  He has also taken every awkward cultural question from me in stride- and if you know me you know I have asked a lot of stupid questions.

The food is pretty damn delicious. I was a little worried back in the States going to a few Ethiopian restaurants and not falling in love with the injera and wot they were serving. But as with everything exported, the original is always better. And thank goodness because I literally eat injera (a sponge like pancake sour bread) and wot (stew) for every meal. Peace Corps gives us a water filter that I use with boiled water also. So far so good! No sickness or stomach issues yet, though other volunteers have not been so lucky. I figure my health is half mental so if I am still enjoying myself my body will stay healthy. Fingers crossed.

Integrating into our host community has been an interesting experience. Kids are running around everywhere! And of course every single one of them wants to say hi and ciao and shake our hands. The best idea was teaching the fist bump- it’s cultural and clean! My friend and fellow volunteer Todd brought a slackline, and so we have been setting it up in the fields. Everyone wants to try it and so it has been a great way to meet community members and feel involved. The toll to try is to for the kids to teach us a word in Amharic (which I promptly forget).

My host family is really fantastic. It’s smaller than most volunteer’s families- I live with the mother and father and their 13 year old daughter. They are both teachers and the father’s English is very good. They like to watch the news in both Amharic and English and then have me explain what is going on. There may or may not be a napkin floating around Itaya with a scribbled map of Europe and a haphazard explanation of the eurozone crisis…  We have been playing card games like Skip-bo which help me with my numbers. They also like to watch movies and the first two I saw on TV with them were Tootsie and She’s the Man… so basically they think Americans like to dress up as the opposite gender. Thanks, Hollywood- that was fun to explain.

So it’s been a busy couple of weeks! I will try to update my blog more frequently as I get a hold of this schedule. I also hear a rumor we might be getting a “google bet” in town soon so I won’t have to travel to Assela for internet. Oh, the small things in life.