31 January, 2011

Travels With a Backpack

I've decided to start blogging at a new location since I'm finally back home from the Blue Nile area!

Check out my new stories about life in America and future travel plans here: www.travelswithabackpack.blogspot.com.

10 January, 2011

After A While

There are so many more stories I wanted to tell, but alas I must write this to say goodbye. I asked myself for a long time now “How do you say goodbye to a place you love, a life you created?” In retrospect it was a lot harder to think about than to actually do. The reality was that I had to leave, whether packed up or not, house full or empty, my time had come to sign out of Peace Corps. So my last days were mainly filled with box packing and coffee ceremonies.  Everything seemed sort of normal, and since I chose Ethiopian Christmas as my last half day in site, it was filled with celebration anyway, despite my leaving.
Saying goodbye to fellow PCVs.
There was a lot to do my last week and that kept me busy. I sold furniture, had final coffee/tea breaks with friends, did some last-minute painting on the internet cafe, gave away almost everything I had to both Peace Corps volunteers and Ethiopians. I never cease to amaze myself with the amount of stuff I’m capable of collecting in a relatively short period of time. It took days to sort through and ended with the culmination of a bonfire on Ethiopian Christmas morning to get rid of things I didn’t want anyone digging out of my trash pit in years to come.
The internet cafe, all painted!
I guess it seemed like it wasn’t really happening, like I was just taking the steps but couldn’t process the leaving.  Christmas morning I didn’t give myself a lot to do, only Aregach and the house of five girls were on the agenda; the two goodbyes I was dreading the most.  Just as Dominik and I awoke Aregach was there with a crew of people to carry away my bed, and last remaining piece of furniture.  An early lunch with the house of five girls included the holiday dish duro wat and an extra special coffee ceremony, because it was my last.  It started to feel real as we were taking pictures in the middle of the coffee ceremony and the mom of the house, Fentanesh, started to cry.
Me and Fentanesh
There are so many things I love about Fentanesh, my Ethiopian mom. It amazes me what little the whole family has and yet how happy everyone always seems. Fentanesh always wears dresses, always traditional, and has the traditional rural face tattoos.  She comes from such a different generation and yet has four daughters, the oldest of which is about my age, all of which wear jeans and fashionable clothes. It’s such a uniquely Ethiopian contrast showing the changing times.  The whole family loved Arbay, my dog, and yet at the same time were completely freaked out by her. They would pet her, but with any little movement would jump back. Fentanesh calls Arbay, “Baby” which always made me smile. And she would tell me to let Baby off her leash so that she could go play with her friends. During my last week Dominik and I went to their house to pour injera, traditionally a woman’s job. They all loved that Dominik was going to join in! After we made our injera Fentanesh sat us down inside to eat and a few minutes later she was calling my name from outside because she wanted her picture taken pouring injera too! It was the cutest thing.

So, now you see, that when Fentanesh started crying while pouring coffee on Christmas, I couldn’t stop crying either.  It’s not cultural to cry in Ethiopia. If someone cries in public, which no one would be shameful enough to do besides a foreigner (and believe me, I have) people simply say to you, “stop that!” But this morning as we all sat around drinking rounds of coffee, we all wiped away tears and no one told anyone to stop.  About an hour later the minibus arrived at my house and it was time to leave. Finally a hug and goodbye to Aregach, a quick stop at the house of five girls to drop off one last present which made us all cry again, and then we left, once and for all.

I signed up for two years of Peace Corps (27 months to be exact) but somewhere in the middle of that time you forget about months and years. You find yourself living in a country surrounded by new friends, cut off significantly from the outside world, out of touch with all things popular and new, and Ethiopia became my reality.  And now that it’s time to leave Ethiopia it feels weird, almost wrong in a way to leave all that I learned to love.
Saying goodbye to my work friends from HAPCO.

I’ve started thinking about all the things I’ve learned from Ethiopia, and though this doesn’t start to summarize my time, here is my list:
·         Learning this peculiar language where you raise pictures, drop urine and throw curse words.
·         Being able to sleep through anything: children, cows, birds, church calls…
·         The best anatomy lesson ever through countless sheep, cow and goat slaughtering
·         What a flea actually looks like and how to catch it, or at least try!
·         Fleas drown, ticks don’t (so don’t put them in a jar of water next to your bed, they just crawl out)
·         How to live day-to-day without running water
·         After dealing with hot peppers, DON’T touch your eyes! The only way to get the spiciness off your hands is to wash a load of laundry!
·         “Refrigerate after opening” is usually just a silly suggestion
·         The art of snail mail :)
·         A year and a half of sucking in dirt is just about all a laptop can take
·         Line-dried sheets are crisp and wonderful
·         Humility: tripping over rocks, falling into mud, biting it while running, speaking Amharic like a 2nd grader, and so so much more…

Saying goodbye to Aregach.
Saying goodbye to the house of five girl.

01 January, 2011

My Last Ethiopian Holidays

For my final three weeks of Peace Corps, including Christmas and New Years, my boyfriend, Dominik, is visiting Ethiopia. In a sense it has been strange introducing him to this place I’m about to leave. I’m trying to let him find his footing while I’m trying to figure out how to gracefully tip toe away.  It has been a wonderful opportunity for me to visit the places I know and love in order to say goodbye one last time. We were able to spend Christmas in Bahir Dar with other volunteers, visit Gondar, make a day trip to the Simean Mountains (my first time), and still have a week to spend in Dangila.

My favorite part of Christmas was our boat ride to see the hippos in Lake Tana and the source of the Blue Nile River. I invited my great Ethiopian friend Aregach to come up to Bahir Dar for the day to join our adventure. She has always told me she loves airplanes and boats, even though she’s never been in either, so I decided it was necessary that she try out at least one of the two.  She has only been in Bahir Dar once before for a wedding, so I was very happy to help her see a bit more of her own country.  We also invited a couple of the Bahir Dar high-schoolers Kyle knows to join our trip as well. We had such a fun time on the Christmas boat ride and saw at least five hippos, including one baby, who kept poking their heads out of the water for us to see.

For New Years we had a party at our friend Michelle’s house, a PhD student who we’ve known for a year and a half now.  She was packing up her house to leave early in the new year also, so we had a big bonfire to burn her and Kyle’s trash. Some travelers and some new PCVs joined us and we had a grand time ringing in the new year. Now just a week left in site to wrap it all up before finishing Peace Corps. It’s all happening so fast, it almost doesn’t seem real.