Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Signing Off

A while back, I came to the realization that once I left Ethiopia, my experience in the Peace Corps would not just suddenly end. It has been a strange journey that will be with me for the rest of my life. But in a very literal sense coming home would be, in some ways, just as big of adventure as leaving. This point was proven when I arrived home and time and time again people would ask, “What is it like being back in America?” I found that I had no real answer.

When I first arrived home, I would not delve to deeply into how it felt being back. My stock answers (sorry if these sound familiar) were, “America is weird” or  “seeing family is great”. If I felt particularly uninterested in talking about the storm going on inside of me, I would mention food, which without fail always brushed away the possibility of the conversation taking a serious turn.

When you join the Peace Corps, they give you a booklet that’s mostly for your family and friends. Among other things, it talks about the emotional process of coming home. I remember reading it and scoffing. It said that the Volunteer would likely be depressed and unengaged upon returning. I laughed and thought to myself, “if I ever manage to make it through 27 months in some far off country, I will be nothing but ecstatic when I finally come back home.” Peace Corps wins again.

When I came back home, I had no idea how I felt. There were huge highs and crippling lows. My flight home was Addis Ababa to Toronto and Toronto to Raleigh (where I stopped for a few weeks to visit my brother, sister-in-law, and nephew). When I touched down in Toronto, I felt so out of place. The process of going through customs was confusing under the best of circumstances. I was not able to smoothly find my terminal because I had forgotten the perks of English; I had perfected drowning out background noise (the overhead speaker giving important announcement) and did not even glance at items in print (helpful signs).  There were so many food options that I became overwhelmed. I ended up getting a bagel and finding an out-of-the-way corner where I could eat alone. I knew my time in Ethiopia was over, and yet was not ready to be back in America. Those feelings temporarily subsided when I arrived in Raleigh. Seeing my loved ones reminded me there were advantages to being back in America. And yes, the food is pretty incredible.

Those highs and lows were the tone of my first months back. It was amazing to see all the people I had missed, and yet there was a bizarre time limit within those meetings where once crossed, I just needed to get away. This left me unmotivated to see people.  Unfortunately, it’s hard to explain to someone you haven’t seen in two years that while you did indeed miss them, you are not ready to see them.  Because what happens when all the excitement dies down and you’ve reconnected with all the people from your past?  When you’re no longer someone who just came back from Peace Corps Ethiopia? When do you become just another unemployed 26-year-old living at your parents’ house?

Now, you might be thinking, this kind of sounds likes depression. And you would be absolutely correct. My first two months back, I was horribly depressed. I was stuck. I could not go back to Ethiopia, but I could not get my mind away from it. I was homesick. I missed Asella. I missed Tilahun. I missed Abel. I missed silly nights at Girma’s. I missed bayanets and coffee. I missed my teachers (well, some of them). I missed sitting in a café reading for hours. I missed shop owners and veggie ladies. Essentially, I missed my home. And the thought that crept into my mind as I was spiraling in this nostalgia was the harsh fact that I would never see most of those people again. That I could count on one hand the amount of times I would be able to return to a place that means more to me than I could ever express.

I tried to stay busy by looking for a job. I decided the best way to get over Ethiopia would be to charge ahead. As you might imagine, job searching was not the best way to fix depression. I very quickly reached a breaking point. Despite the face I was putting on for others and the lies I was telling myself, I simply could not move forward. Peace Corps offers three free sessions with a therapist once you get home to help with “readjustment”. As I started down that process, I realized that therapist or not, what I needed was someone to listen as I worked through the chaos in my head (I think the phrase I said most often my first two months back was “I am somehow feeling ALL the emotions”). So while my boyfriend, Eric, was probably just excited to see me after 27 months apart, what he really saw was a disaster. He deserves an award.

After a ridiculous amount of talking, I realized that in my mind, moving forward meant moving away from Ethiopia. If I was able to get a job and be successful, Ethiopia must not have meant that much to me. I would forget about it all and become the same person I was two and a half years ago. It would be like Ethiopia never happened. This manifested itself in delightful forms of self-sabotage. After all, I honestly believed a step forward was a step further from Ethiopia (seriously, Eric deserves a medal). Once I came to understand all this, I was able to genuinely start moving forward. I applied to jobs that created a similar sense of passion as Ethiopia. I put an emphasis and priority on specific skills I learned in the Peace Corps. And I’m pleased to say this week I start a job I am pretty thrilled about that would have been impossible without my last two years.

But the truth is, I still fear the day it will be as if Ethiopia never happened. Yet what becomes of my experience and the affect it has on me is entirely up to me. It can mean as much or as little as I want it to. It is up to me if I go back to visit (spoiler, I will). It is up to me how often I talk about it or make Skype calls to my loved ones back in Ethiopia. It is up to me to make Ethiopia an integral part of my life that cannot be ignored or forgotten. And that is what I intend to do.

As a result, I am finally at a point where I can write this blog entry. I know how silly that might sound, but this has been on my “to-do” list for three months. It became a representation of my time in Ethiopia truly coming to a close. But that’s okay. I am ready to move forward with my life and start a new chapter. That does not diminish or take away from Ethiopia. It does not mean it somehow didn’t mean anything to me. That I’ll forget it ever happened. I am more optimistic about my future than I ever have been. There is a mysterious path before me that I am excited to follow. When I think about where my life is now and where it would be without my time in Ethiopia, I would relive all the low points to be where I am today.

This is never how I envisioned my last entry. I assumed it would be a beautifully worded summation of my time in Ethiopia. It would detail everything the experience meant to me and wrap everything up in a nice little bow. But, as I’ve learned, the Peace Corps never really ends. While it will always be a part of my identity, at this point, I cannot fully fathom the affects this experience will have on my life.  All I can say is, I am a better person than I was two and a half year ago and that is thanks to the Peace Corps. It changed my career path. It changed how I see the world. It fundamentally changed who I am. I once said that the Peace Corps completely broke me and built me back up into a person I am much happier and prouder to be. That still rings true. It was the hardest and best thing I can ever imagine doing in my life.

To everyone who read this blog, I can never thank you enough for your interest and support. I hope it was mildly entertaining and that, maybe, you learned something about the very small section of the world I called home for two years. And if we ever meet up, I would love nothing more than to talk (until you literally have to stop me) about my time in Peace Corps Ethiopia. 

Thursday, August 21, 2014

2014 Camp GLOW

Last year, I participated in a week-long summer camp ran by Volunteers and Ethiopian counterparts to help young girls learn skills that would help them later in life. A full summary of 2013 Camp GLOW can be found here. This year, I was not incredibly motivated to participate again. While it was a great experience, it was a lot of work and would take place just a few weeks before I was to leave Ethiopia. I always envisioned the end of my service as mellow days filled with saying hundreds of goodbyes. But, I was eventually roped into doing it once again and I could not be happier about that. It was a great experience and one of the highlights of my service. It was my last project as a Peace Corps Volunteer and I am so thankful I was able to end my time in Ethiopia on such a high note. So, here is the Cliff's Notes version of the 8-day camp through pictures..

Peace Corps Volunteers know how to kill time with silly games like no one else. Here, Josh is beginning a game called "Human Knot"

And Cam leads a group of girls who are all pretending to be lions. Seriously, eight full days is a long time to fill.

The girls all participated in a gardening lesson and took a potted sunflower home at the end of the week.

At the "top" of Mt. Gelama

Girls' night where we painted our finger nails and talked boys and puberty. Oh Peace Corps!

A new addition to this camp was Grassroot Soccer (highlighted in this previous post). It uses soccer to teach kids how to make smart and healthy decisions in life.

Students dribble a soccer ball around while avoiding dangerous obstacles like "older partners", "alcohol and drugs", "multiple partners", and "unprotected sex".

Trust circles and how to support someone with HIV.


A discussion with an HIV-positive women's group leader


Board games- Malaria prevention edition!

Paper mache

A perfect representation of how all PCVs feel around day 3 of camp.

The girls learned to make RUMPS (ReUsable Menstrual PadS)

Talent Show
The girls picked four people to be judges. We took our job a bit too serious.

The final night we had a bonfire. Everyone went around to said what camp had meant to them. A lot of smoke seemed to get directly into most of the Peace Corps Volunteers' eyes during certain moments...

Pinata the girls had made

My homeroom, Team Ghana (it was a World Cup themed camp). I spent at least two hours a day with these lovely ladies.

The Asella crew- Belesuma, Mekdas, Laura, Rahema, and Hewan!

2014 Camp GLOW Bekoji

Thursday, July 31, 2014


With only a week left in Ethiopia and access to fast internet, I have a bit of a backlog of entries to pump out. Get ready! Recently, with five friends, I went to a town called Harar. Look it up, it is awesome. It was probably my favorite place in Ethiopia. It represented all my favorite parts about this culture without the negative things.

Basically, "for centuries, Harar has been a major commercial center, linked by the trade routes with the rest of Ethiopia, the entire Horn of Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, and, through its ports, the outside world. Harar Jugol, the old walled city, was included in the World Heritage List in 2006 by UNESCO in recognition of its cultural heritage. According to UNESCO, it is 'considered the fourth holy city of Islam' with 82 mosques, three of which date from the 10th century and 102 shrines".

A view of part of the city.

The guest house we stayed at for part of our trip

Hawks diving in for some meat. They could also catch some from midair.

We went to an Ethiopian Premiership football game. Team Harar vs. Team Bunna.

One of the many markets.

Jebena market

Street food!!

One of the biggest draws about Harar is you can feed hyenas... if you're a crazy person. 

We visited some rural towns in the area. The kids were pretty cute!
Camel market

Lisa with a camel (both of whom are smiling)

After we saw the camels, we ate come camel. When in Harar!

Monday, July 28, 2014

10 Things I'll Miss About Ethiopia

Being an Authority On Everything
Being an American, there is a strange and inaccurate perception that I know everything… Teachers and people all around town will seek me out to ask me questions I cannot even begin to answer. More serious questions like, “What is the role of a teacher within the Ethiopian context?” or “How can Ethiopia pull itself out of poverty and become a rich country like America?” are not that fun. I have become skilled at talking for five minutes without actually saying anything of substance. I can sidestep any question with the inquisitor walking away thinking I was genuine, thorough, and respectful in my response. But sometimes, being the authority is awesome. The best example was when my friend Tilahun bought a refrigerator. His wife tried making ice cream and finally felt she has a great recipe. She invited myself and one other PCV over because, “we know what good ice cream tastes like and can give feedback”. Anything to serve my country!

Rain Means No Work
Rainy season goes from April to October. There are some short breaks during that period and some storms outside those months. When it rains, the streets become swamps and it’s a hassle to do just about anything. Because when it rains in Asella, it rains. Perhaps it will rain for 12 straight hours. Perhaps it will hail. But more often than not, it is just a torrential downpour like I have never experienced in my life. I remember hustling to my house one day because I could tell a storm was coming. Soon, I heard this deep rumble. I had no clue what the sounds was and had never really heard anything like it before. At that point, everyone on the street started running for cover. The sound grew louder and louder. It turned out to be the sound of rain pounding metal roofs and as it became louder, it meant the storm was inching closer and closer. When this type of thing happens, there is a cultural understanding that no one leaves where they are, all appointments are cancelled.  I drink cocoa and call it a day.

Acting A Fool
When I visited America last summer, I needed a haircut. As I sat in the chair with a woman behind me giving me a trim, a song popped into my head. Naturally, I just started singing it aloud. It took about five seconds to realize that A. breaking into song is not normal and B. the lady cutting my hair was staring at me strangely in the mirror. I have stopped learning how to censor my weirdness in Ethiopia and I like it. I have learned to embrace being different from everyone else in my town (probably a little too much). This means I will sing on the street. Have little conversations with myself. Say hello to animals. Stutter step around crazy people to confuse them. The worst is when I see someone I know while walking down the street. I cannot count how many times I have thought, “Oh no! Did 'blah blah blah’ see me doing something crazy?”

Zero cares about cleanliness
Once again, because I am so different, I can get away with doing anything. I have stopped caring about being clean. And this is not to say I am a filthy, stinky person. I never allow myself to get too dirty. But being clean and showering on a regular basis is no longer a priority. Wearing a shirt for five days in a row is standard. Baby wipes are good enough to pass for a decent shower. Ethiopians are not a dirty people. I am not modeling their behavior and my lack of cleanliness has no correlation to the level of cleanliness of people living here. It’s just me. I have no one to impress.  I have embraced that classic Peace Corps Volunteer stereotype.

Camaraderie and Uniqueness
It is fun to meet other Volunteers and reminisce about our different experiences. This can go two ways: 1. Meeting another Volunteer or expat in Ethiopia. There is an unspoken understanding that allows us to be friends. We have lived through a lot of the same things. These are the people that can understand my PC experience better than anyone back home will ever be able to no matter how much I try to explain. 2. Meeting another PC Volunteer who served in different country. We can be a world apart but our experiences are so similar. The issues we face, the way we talk, the acronyms we use all boil down to a sense of family, even if you’ve only just met him or her. It is a fun community to be a part of, and actually, only gets better once you leave.

Silly Ridiculous Stuff
One of the best parts about living in a foreign country is that it is well, foreign. Things happen that are so out of the ordinary you cannot help but laugh. When the little girl on my compound yells at a monkey because it is stealing food scraps, I love this place a little more. When I have to chase a chicken out of my house, it gets a little harder to leave. The other day, I was walking down my road. About 30 yards away, I saw a dog happily walking towards me. He had a little strut going and if a dog can smile, he was doing it. I watched as he came towards me with a smile on my own face. As he got closer, I noticed he had something in his mouth. Ah ha! This dog found some meat; it is a good day for him. As we crossed paths, we looked at each other. He didn’t exactly have a nice piece of meat in his mouth. It was a hoof. He was strutting by carrying a hoof in his mouth. That will never happen back in America, and it makes me a little sad.

I have chronicled how much I love Ethiopian coffee. A majority of one of my suitcases will be coffee when I fly back to America. My goal for the next week is to see how much coffee the human body can withstand.

I have mentioned in passing that I have not been able to do as much work as I would have hoped for due to a variety of reasons. There are some benefits to that though. I was able to read 50 books during the last two years. I watched some classic movies and TV shows. I travelled around midweek when there was no work. I sat at cafés for 2 hours on weekdays reading, simply because I could. I have had time to reflect on myself and my future plans. I have learned to find self worth in small little tasks. All these things would not have been possible had I been working a traditional full time job.

I packed up my house 6 days ago. Once I did that, I was no longer able to cook any food for myself. I have not missed a meal. I have been invited into to people’s homes and offered as much food and coffee as I desire. This is just the latest example of two years filled with generosity. During my first three months, I lived with a host family who treated me better than I could have hoped. They welcomed me into their home and provided me with everything I could have needed. Upon moving to Asella, coworkers and strangers alike where happy to help in any way if it meant I would be more “settled in”. Friends like Abel and Tilahun have welcomed me into their homes and family more times than I can count. And truth be told, I am not that unique. Peace Corps Volunteers are not the only ones who get this generous treatment. Ethiopians share what they have with family, friends, and neighbors constantly and without thought.

Friends and family (Ethiopian and American)
One of the hardest parts of my entire Peace Corps service has been saying goodbye to so many different people over the last few weeks. For the Ethiopians here, it is pretty self-explanatory. They are amazing people and I will miss them. I owe my positive experience to them and they were the difference between staying and going. And though I am going back to America, in a weird way, I will miss the unique relationships I’ve had with family and friends while away. It will be amazing to see them in 8 days, but through the process of letter writing and monthly Skype calls, I feel like I have gotten to know a different side of a lot of people. When you are writing a letter, you have to fill up the space. If you don’t have a topic, you don’t know what might come out. And let me tell you, really interesting things come out.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Peace Corps Reading List

One of my personal Peace Corps goals was to read 50 books during my time here. That averages out to a book every two weeks. While it is not a break-neck pace, I am pleased to say I made it, just barely. It is a good thing Animal Farm is like 75 pages.

1.     Bossy Pants by Tina Fey
2.     The Best American Travel Writing edited by Bill Buford
3.     Long Way Down by Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman
4.     The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams
5.     The Devil’s Star by Jo Nesbo
6.     Sun Rise With Sea Monsters by Neil Jordan
7.     Life, the Universe, and Everything by Douglas Adams
8.     Stiff by Mary Roach
9.     A Long Way Gone by Ishale Beah
10.  July, July by Tim O’Brien
11.  Sacre Bleu by Christopher Moore
12.  Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
13.  Going After Cacciato by Tim O’Brien
14.  What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murskami
15.  The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
16.  Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson
17.  The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling
18.  Spice by Jack Turner
19.  Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? By Mindy Kaling
20.  My Life by Bill Clinton
21.  Eat, Love, Pray by Elizabeth Gilbert
22.  Nerd Do Well by Simon Pegg
23.  By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept by Paulo Coelho
24.  The Zahir by Paulo Coelho
25.  Decision Points by George W Bush
26.  Mrs. Kennedy and Me by Clint Hill and Lisa McCubbin
27.  Long Way Around by Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman
28.  The Plague by Albert Camus
29.  Lucy by Donald Johanson and Maitland Edey
30.  3 Miles Per Hour by Polly Letofsky
31.  The Gunslinger by Stephen King
32.  So Long and Thanks for the Fish by Douglas Adams
33.  Mostly Harmless by Douglas Adams
34.  The Drawing of the Three by Stephen King
35.  The Wasteland by Stephen King
36.  Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein
37.  Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela
38.  Wizard and Glass by Stephen King
39.  Beneath the Lion’s Gaze by Maaza Mengiste
40.  Wind Through the Key Hole by Stephen King
41.  In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson
42.  Wolves of the Calla by Stephen King
43.  The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
44.  Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
45.  Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer
46.  Gandhi: An Autobiography by… Gandhi
47.  Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller
48.  Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
49.  Machine Man by Max Barry
50.  Animal Farm by Orson Wells

Tuesday, July 8, 2014


One of my favorite projects I have undertaken in the last two years has been working on the Peace Corps Ethiopia website. Myself and three other Volunteers (seen working incredibly hard above) were the founding dream team responsible for creating and shaping this brand new website. It shares what PC Ethiopia is with the public and gives Volunteers in country every document and resource available.

In Ethiopia, progress is slow. In order to do anything, I normally need to meet with three or four different people. Then I need to get my plans stamped by some official who is inevitable out of the office. With the website, we decided to make something, and simply did it. If we wanted a page on Grassroot Soccer, we did it. There was no red tape and no purple stamp in our way. Instant gratification.

So if you’re curious, check it out. If you’ve ever had any questions about what Peace Corps Ethiopia is or does, all the answers are probably here, 

Monday, June 23, 2014


I realize that people who read this blog may be strangers so allow me to inform you of a poorly kept secret: I have tattoos. They are in highly visible places and have had a fairly large effect on my Peace Corps service.  

When I was applying to Peace Corps (what feels like a million years ago), they asked if I would be willing to “modify my appearance” during my service. While I like to think this relates to getting cornrows last year, it was a polite attempt to talk about my tattoos. I replied that as a teacher, I am very much used to wearing long sleeves. That seemed to satisfy my recruiter. As I packed to come here, I made sure that I had a lot of sweaters, jackets, and other items that would hide tattoos. When I was interviewed for what type of town I would want to live in for two years, I told them they better put me somewhere cold, otherwise the tattoos are coming out.

When I attend Peace Corps trainings, I try to look professional and cover up my tattoos. Once, my program director (an Ethiopian) pulled me aside to talk about how my tattoos might offend people in my town and they could never been seen.

But here is the truth about tattoos in Ethiopia: people here love them. They love them so much that I often keep my arms covered because if people see them, they want to rub my skin. Little kids will touch my arms and then look at their fingers to see if the ink ran onto them. I would wager that when I walk in Addis with my tattoos showing, someone comments on them once every two or three minutes. I recently took a trip to a hot town and while walking around, my arms were touched by a stranger every 60 seconds.

Many Ethiopian women from rural towns have tattoos as well. It is believed to help with illnesses and is always religious. The most common tattoos are small dots running across a woman’s chin line, or a cross on the forehead. Some of my favorite cultural memories have begun with comparing tattoos with 60-year-old women. All tattoos here are black. So not only are the style and placement of my tattoos completely foreign, the vibrant colors are a huge novelty.

But, there is one tattoo in particular that is my favorite in the Ethiopian context. It is the one I am so thankful I got before I came. It has brought me unspeakable amounts of joy. It is an ongoing joke with a majority of people I know. That tattoo is Frankenstein on my left forearms, or Frank, as he is lovingly referred to as. 

Why is this my favorite? Because no one here knows who it is. But they guess anyways. If they don’t guess, I make them.  And the result always brightens my day. Here are some of the people he has been mistaken for (and I 'm forgetting a ton)
Menelik II, Former Emperor of Ethiopia
Haile Gebrselassie, Ethiopian running god
Jay Z

My father
Joe- as he was standing next to me.
Zach- as he was standing next to me.
Meles Zenawi, Former Ethiopian Prime Minister
George W. Bush
Obama- actually 75% of the time it is Obama