Today while en route to the embassy in Addis to take the FSOT, I witnessed one of the strangest things I have seen in country. I was pretty nervous about line taxiing it to the embassy because it was in a part of town I have never really been to before. Sure enough I was trying to get a line taxi from the spot I knew they left from (loitering Ethiopians even kept assuring me it would come,) when a nice lady told me she was going to the same area and to come along with her. So we got on a line taxi and got off to transfer to another to reach the final destination. The lady had 3 little kids with her and an older woman I assume to be the Grandma.
While walking to our next line taxi we stopped and the Grandma said her goodbyes to the kids and woman, giving each of the children a kiss on the cheek. Out of nowhere a man comes up and gives one of the little girls, who looked about five, a long kiss on the cheek. The mother did not pull the girl away immediately so I was just like, wow where did he come from I don’t remember seeing him with us before. Only after we started walking did the mother make a horrified face and the poor little girl start tearing up, cringing, and wiping her face. The mother just kept telling the girl “izosh, izosh,” or to “be strong.” They did not know this man at all he was just some random (crazy) guy thinking it was okay to kiss a little girl.
I have kept coming back to this moment all day. When I think about how this situation would be handled in America I think about immediate police involvement or at least consequences from the mother. Either way something like that would probably not just be tolerated. I am definitely not saying it was negligent on the mother’s part for not taking action; it is truly a cultural difference that after a year of being here still shocks me.
One of the toughest parts of being a volunteer is the constant harassment. It gets better after a year but most days there is still at least one person asking me for money, trying to touch me, or just generally yelling at me from the top of their lungs. In cities it can be better as far as they are used to seeing foreigners and I don’t get harassed for being white, but much worse in terms of being harassed for being a female. It can be frustrating when I am with Ethiopian friends and they don’t stand up for me, laughing it off or just making excuses. It really makes me feel as though they don’t care about me or even just that I am asking for it by being a white female.
As terrible as I felt for the little girl today it was really a good reminder. The little girl’s mother obviously loved her and cared about her, I could see that from the few minutes I spent with them, and yet she still didn’t stick up for her. When I go back home to Agaro this week I am going to try my hardest not to get frustrated when I am walking with a friend and they do nothing to defend me against harassment. Instead of chalking it up to them not caring, hopefully this situation can help me remember the legitimate cultural differences.
Happy 1 year in country!
This past weekend we had Peace Corps All Volunteer Conference. It was the opportunity for all volunteers in Ethiopia to come together for 3 days of sessions and hanging out. I am definitely not the biggest fan of large groups but I have to admit it was pretty fun and definitely well organized. I am happy I attended instead of trying to get out of it.
I have mentioned in previous posts that my last few weeks at site have been going really well. I returned to Agaro to find the past few days to go equally well. My English club met as usual, I discussed some programs with my counterpart and the head of Education office and I am helping some high school kids with applications to programs. Tomorrow I have my 4th and final go at trying to get teachers to attend my English Teaching Methods program, but I am actually optimistic that it will happen this time (although I am, of course, mentally prepared not to be disappointed if it doesn’t.)
I never thought life in Ethiopia could be this good and this easy. Right now I am enjoying my work, I am enjoying my town, and day to day my life is full of experiences that make me feel like a real Peace Corps Volunteer, not just someone chilling in a developing country. All volunteers in any country experience highs and lows throughout their service. There is even a model that represents when volunteers stereotypically have their easy times and their rough times. According to this model for me it should be an easier time right now and that is actually spot on. Four months ago when I was in IST I was so frustrated with everything about living here. I honestly didn’t know if I could make it and if it was worth it. This time at the beginning of December, along with the time during training, was one of the most mentally challenging experiences of my life but now that I am at this point I am SO happy that I stuck it out and didn’t give up.
I am not naïve, I know I will have more lows in my service. I am going home in 2 weeks for a visit and I am sure that coming back will be a challenge, but I honestly know that I could not have chosen a better point to go home because I have so much to come back to. I have programs planned through the end of the semester, summer camp to prepare for in July and friends here that I would miss if I just bailed on them and stayed in America. Peace Corps is seriously an experience that tests you mentally but I am finding both the highs and the lows to be full of important, worthwhile lessons.
Grades 5-8 English Club and High School English Clubs plus the cutie who lives on my compound
So last week I had a plan and the plan actually went pretty well…this past week and a half has definitely been the most rewarding and successful time in Peace Corps so far. Here’s what happened…
In the morning I went to my cluster head where I have an office. My goal was to talk to my counterpart about locations for summer camp. She was absent and has been for the past week and a half. She is pretty sick but I have been calling her to check on her and I think she is getting better. In the afternoon I went to the Woreda Education Office to talk to my friend there about a possible program Saturday with English Teachers and confirm our program at the high school for Tuesday. He had gone to Jimma for the day but I texted him to confirm.the program.
I had two programs at the high school with grades 9-12 students for the International Creative Writing Contest. There were 95 total participants which was by far the highest participation for any of the programs I have had. The kids were super motivated and well behaved. That night an 11th grade student came to my house (which I usually don’t like) to express her interest in learning English. There are so many challenges here organizing programs and with lack of motivation that seeing how motivated these kids are was really inspiring.
Wednesday is Teacher’s English Club day. There are two programs at my cluster head so that any of the teachers in my 5 cluster schools can attend during their opposite shift. I had about 30 teachers total come and they also were able to participate in the Creative Writing Contest. Working with teachers can definitely be somewhat frustrating but this week it went okay.
I have English Club for grades 5-8 on Thursday mornings. This week I tried to do the International Creative Writing Contest with them but the 6-8 grade prompts were pretty difficult. Before and after the seriousness of the contest we played a few games which is always fun! I also got supplies from Peace Corps which were long awaited for, it was really exciting.
I had planned on going to one of the other schools in my cluster on Friday but couldn’t find the motivation. I ended of tracking down some books from Books from Africa that had been delivered to me during my regional IST and given to the wrong person. I was still very excited to actually get my books and it gave me ideas for new student clubs.
My program with English teachers on English Teaching Methodology was supposed to be today but when I arrived at school no teachers were there. It is extremely frustrating to make materials for a training and then not having anyone attend. Luckily my friend from the Education Office is super motivated to make the most of my time in Agaro and decided we will give them one more chance (not this Saturday but the next) and if they don’t come we will find someone else for me to work with. This was my 3rd Saturday program which teachers did not show up for. There is usually a random holiday or excuse they will use to try to put the blame on me. Luckily there are a lot people who really do support me and are trying to help solve the issue of lack of teacher motivation. Teachers have to be at school on Saturday anyway, so why not come to my program?
This was my week! I was really happy with increased participation in English clubs already established and the success of the programs at the high school. So far this week I have done English club for grades 5-8, at the high school, and tomorrow I have with teachers. I am also going to Addis this week for AVC!
Every week I have a plan of the things I want to get accomplished fr the week. This plan is usually only in my head and often the goals are broad but it is still a plan. As an education volunteer my workweek is Monday through Friday and Saturdays if there is a specific program I have planned. Because my job is as a teacher trainer instead of an old fashioned teacher in student classroom my hours are less defined and I usually come and go to the 5 schools in my cluster (3 of which I regularly go to) and the education office as I please. The problem with plans in Ethiopia is people often want to appease me and they think the best way to do so is by agreeing to things they have no interest in. This often leaves me frustrated and disappointed (a normal part of PCV life but not a deal breaker for me.) I thought it would be a fun idea for this week to write down all the things I am planning and by the end of the week see what actually gets accomplished, so here goes…
Go to cluster head and put up flyers about English Clubs for teachers and students
Talk to my counterpart about summer camp
Go to education office in afternoon to see about having a program on Saturday
I am pretty confident about achieving all of these goals
Go to the high school in morning and afternoon for the two different shifts to hold creative writing contest.
This will depend on whether high school administration actually told the students about this program or not…
Teachers English club in morning and afternoon.
Because the education head and I have planned to have around 60 teachers per session I am hoping at least 10 will show up…
English Club for students in the morning. We will do the creative writing contest.
This program is pretty reliable, however I would really like more kids to know about it. As far as creative writing contest the 6-8 grade prompts seem difficult for the skill level in my opinion so we will see.
No plan as of yet.
Hopefully I have a teacher training and do the creative writing contest for teachers.
Saturday programs have been difficult for me so far, the first one I planned ended up being the same day as an Oromia Cultural Celebration. The second one had to be canceled because of a holiday with about the same importance of Columbus Day has in America…
So there it is my plan for this week, I hope to…
1.Hold creative writing contest for primary and high school students as well as teachers.
2. Increase membership in my student and teacher English clubs.
3. Have an idea about venue for summer camp.
4. Hold a teacher training
So we will see what actually happens!!!
Similar to the post last week there are also things that I haven’t learned that I expected to while in Peace Corps. When you are applying for and join Peace Corps the first rule is have no expectations. A lot of times we can’t help but make some uninformed assumptions before we are even in country.
How to go without power and internet- When I applied for Peace Corps the general rule was that you probably wouldn’t have consistent power and definitely wouldn’t have internet access. The actual reality for me here in my community is that these things are pretty consistent. The power goes off more than it does in America, at least once a day sometimes for a few hours sometimes for a few seconds. The internet sometimes is out of service and is always painfully slow. The reality is though that I have not learned to live without these things at all. When the power is out or the internet is down it is not something I have just come to terms with like you maybe would expect, it is still an annoying inconvenience just like it would be back home. I am very fortunate to have such reliable access to these things throughout my service.
How to cook- Sure I have learned to make popcorn without a microwave and now know what to do with dry beans. There are lots of little things like this that I have become completely comfortable with. I have not, however, become comfortable making extravagant Mexican meals using only local ingredients, or even learned to make Ethiopian meals.
Master the local language- In Ethiopia the national language is Amharic but there are tons of other languages spoken throughout the country. In my area everyone speaks Amharic and Afan Oromo. They often even combine them in the same sentence. If you were ever to go shopping with me in my community you would think I was a master at Amharic. I know the names of all the foods, how to say how much I want, and to ask the price. I can politely greet the person who is selling the food and ask about their family. This is about the extent of my skills in either language though. I know a bunch of Amharic words, but not verbs and for the most part can’t put together a sentence. I know tons of Oromiffa verbs, I know how the sentence is supposed to look but often don’t have the vocabulary. Many Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs) often say they wish they had spent more time mastering their Peace Corps community’s local language and I know I need to study more in addition the practice I do around town. Maybe that will be a goal for my second year.
How to walk- I would love to be able to return in a year and a half and say that along with developing confidence (that comes with being a local celebrity,) I have also developed grace. But this just isn’t true, I am still just as clumsy as when I left America and now I often contend with walking on dirty roads filled with rocks and obstacles to trip me up. For awhile I was falling so much in public I was concerned my community would think I had a drinking problem…
Dear Person Contemplating Joining Peace Corps,
I imagine that you’re at a transition point in your life. Perhaps you’ve just graduated, perhaps you’re going through a career change, perhaps you have an itch for something more that can’t be scratched. Whatever…
I have been in Ethiopia for 8 months now and during this time I have had a lot of new experiences and learned new things. Here are a few…
How to light a match- I learned to do this in December after being here 6 months. I had never even tried in America.
How to be a doctor- When a PCV in Ethiopia gets sick the first step in getting well is to go to the local clinic. Whether it is logical or not I do not ever want to do this. In the past 8 months I have only been to a local clinic once (when I had a bacterial infection in Ambo) and it actually wasn’t that bad but I still avoid it. The last thing I want to do when I am sick is go to a crowded clinic and get stared at for hours, and it is always hours. Because of this I have become an expert at googling symptoms, I also give medical advise to my PCV friends whether they ask for it or not, because I am that confident of my new skills.
How to talk to kids/not be terrified of them- I am definitely not a kid person. Before I came to Ethiopia the volunteer work I did was tutoring adults and my experience with kids was minimal. When I got my invitation to be an English Teacher Trainer I thought great I don’t have to work with kids just adult teachers. While this is my primary assignment and most of the work I do is with adults I am around kids a lot! There are 3000 kids at the primary school I work at as well as kids hanging out all over town. As Education volunteers we are also expected to have English clubs for students. A lot are cute and sweet, some are not. Either way kids are not that scary and I am slowly overcoming my fear. My favorite kid is the 1.5 year old on my compound, although I have yet to actually pick him up and hold him…
How to pee in any position- Definitely tmi but I can pee in any position now without making a mess…
How to go without straightening my hair and wearing makeup- In America I ALWAYS straightened my hair, everyday for years. When I studied abroad in England I bought an English hair straightener and that is the hair straightener I brought here. Pretty consistently I straightened my hair for the first five months I was here until I was in Addis for IST and the straightener electrocuted (not shocked actual electrocution) me and died. So for the fast three months I have neither blow dried or straightened my hair. While this might seem like a give for a PCV it is a big deal for me. I still prefer my hair straight, but I don’t hate the curly as much as I used to. I also have cut back on my makeup mainly because its hot and I sweat it all off. Just today I decided to wear eyeliner and was weirded out about how much I looked like a raccoon…
There are tons more things but those are just a random few…8 months in and going strong!