Peace Out Peace Corps

After months of consideration I have decided to go home. During my deliberation I went back and forth through a range of emotions. So many people back home were proud of me for being in Ethiopia and letting them down was no easy choice to make. Everyday I had to make the choice to stay here. Some days were great, some days weren’t but every night when I was alone in my house I wanted to leave.

I’ve been thinking back to why I joined the Peace Corps in the first place. Ever since I was a child whenever I heard about mission trips or service trips I was inspired to go out into the world and do something meaningful. The harsh realities of development have crushed a lot of that altruistic part of myself. Ethiopia in particular has been receiving large amounts of aid from various countries for decades. Yet development appears to be moving at a snails pace and the distribution of wealth is alarming. Just because this is Peace Corps it doesn’t automatically make this work meaningful. If anything this experience has been meaningful for myself and for educating my friends and family about life in Ethiopia.

A major reason for why I am leaving is my lack of job satisfaction. Gondar is an area of Ethiopia with a lot of money. There is a huge disparity between the have’s and the have not’s. The difference between a public school and a private school here is night and day. I understand why most NGO’s in Gondar work with the private schools, even though the public schools are in dire need of their help. The private schools have more resources and more people who know how to properly use the resources. Most private schools are full day classes and the teachers themselves want to be there. Public schools are half day and a lot of the teachers are there to do their job and go home. So many of the problems in the public schools are out their control and my ability to make an impact big or small was bleak. The public school curriculum sets children up to fail (I’d like to take this time to point out my face in the right hand corner where you should click and read the disclaimer that these views are mine and mine alone and not that of the Peace Corps). I’m sure other volunteers will be able to make changes and do great things, my heart is just not in it.

The next more serious reason is safety. I won’t be getting into it here and I was never harmed during my service. Simply put, this part of the world is very unstable and if you’d like to know more about my views on this you can talk to me in person.

This experience has taught me a lot about myself and what I want out of life. I know that I can live in a foreign land by myself, I can learn a language and I’m a lot braver than I thought I was. I know that whatever I do from here on out has to be fulfilling and meaningful to me. Being out in the world helping people in theory seemed like it would be the right fit for me but the task at hand wasn’t.

Leaving my compound family was possibly one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. They were the main reason I stayed as long as I did. If my job was to hang out with them for 2 years I could do that with no problem. I truly love each and every one of them. The night I left they made signs for me and a huge meal. They gave me two dresses and 6 kilos of berbere and shuro powder so I won’t starve in America. Needless to say I had to leave a lot more of my clothing than I was planning to accommodate all the gifts they gave me. I gave Abi and Meta all the silly bands I had which helped us to stop crying and have some fun before I left. At 6:30 in the morning Eden insisted I have some misir wat (my favorite wat) before I left. Which was very sweet of her, it had been a long time since someone had forced me to eat a large spicy breakfast however. I have their numbers and I will keep in contact with them and I told Abi if he works hard to graduate from high school I will work hard to save up enough money to see him do it.

I’m ready to move onto the next part of my life. Coming home is scary and exciting. I know that jobs are difficult to find, grad schools are hard to get into. I’m glad I tried this. It took strength just to get on the plane in the first place and in some respects more strength to admit I’m not happy here, this job isn’t for me and I’m not going to spend 2 years being miserable when I could move on. If I could turn back time I would have still made the decision to come here. It was a great experience. I will always have a special place in my heart for this country, the people I have met and the friends I’ve made.

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Just Pictures 3

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Step by Step

I make a total fool of myself every day at least once a day. Whether it’s tripping and almost eating the ground or accidentally saying Dehna nesh? to a man instead of Dehna neh? Mistakes however are great ways to learn and make friends. A lot of Ethiopians know more English than they think they do but are self conscious to try and speak it with me. Once they see me trying my best with their language they feel more comfortable to practice English with me. In Gondar most tourists barely know the word for buna let alone all the greetings and such that I know. I think it is easier for me to make Ethiopian friends because they appreciate me trying to speak Amharic. The women on my compound tell me my Amharic is perfect (it’s far from it) and when I bring a new ferenji friend over they brag about me, which is adorable. When I say a sentence or try a phrase I haven’t used before instead of giggling at me now they beam with pride and correct me if need be. I haven’t had language class since moving to Gondar and I haven’t gotten a tutor yet but in the past month or so my ability to speak and understand Amharic has seriously increased. I think the key to learning a new language is not being afraid to look stupid. We have another new IFESH volunteer, Shameka, and I took her down to Arada to help her buy some things. Not to be full of myself but I was a rockstar. Not only did I bargain I was able to understand the shop owners when they tried to spit numbers at me fast thinking I wouldn’t be able to comprehend. I got Shameka better prices on items than I got for myself when I first moved here.

Learning a new language was one of the scariest parts of joining Peace Corps. When we first got to country and they tried to teach us some survival phrases I thought there was no way I was going to be able to even say thank you. When I first got to my host family stay and listened to my host parents talk I thought there is no way I will be able to understand a conversation. But kas bi kas (step by step) I am understanding and speaking more and more.

Onto a different topic, Halloween is an extremely difficult holiday to try and explain. Especially since the only holidays here are religious. I made the mistake of trying to explain it by using the names of Ethiopian religious holidays and for a few minutes they thought Halloween was some Catholic holiday. I told the people on my compound when I first moved in that I was Catholic because explaining that I was raised Episcopalian would have been too much. Anyway so after I cleared up that Halloween is in no way related to a Christian holiday and a couple interesting attempts at sound effects later I decided it would be better to just show them. Liz and I are going to get pumpkins (yes there are pumpkins here! but they light green) show them how to make a jack-o-lantern and then watch The Great Pumpkin because it is the best Halloween movie ever. Pictures to come.

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Heather Says Relax

I’ve apparently become so relaxed that electrical fires cannot get a rise out of me. I was at Liz’s (the new IFESH volunteer who will be teaching at college, what’s IFESH you say? I say you have google :) ) apartment and we were making dinner. She bought an extension cord in Addis Ababa for 100 birr and unbelievably it could not handle making rice. Liz was out of the room getting some water when I realized the cord was literally melting and causing pieces of things it was touching to smoke. Instead of panicking I just yelled out to her, “Uh Liz, fire?”. We unplugged it, threw it away and managed to still cook dinner.

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Expectations vs. Reality

Before I came here I thought I didn’t have any expectations about what this experience would be like. The reality of that is I had many expectations and none of them have turned out to be true. I expected to be teaching a English class, the reality is I’m working with English teachers in many English classes. I expected to be in a tiny village with little electricity/running water/few English speakers/ no internet access/ and desert like conditions. The reality is I live in the second largest city in Ethiopia. Not only do I have internet access I can get free wireless internet when the power is on at a few hotels. While electricity isn’t always constant it’s never out (knock on wood) long enough for my cellphone to die. I’m nowhere near the desert. I meet a lot of people who speak enough English that we can communicate with my limited Amharic and their English. Water is on and off but never off for long enough that it’s a major problem. I make enough birr each month that I can treat myself to the occasional burger or pizza. Now they aren’t anything like an American burger or pizza but they get the job done. I expected that everyone in my town would know my name. There are people in Gondar who will never see me and the ‘th’ sound is impossible for Ethiopians to pronounce so those who know my name don’t actually say my name.

While I am pleasantly surprised by how this has turned out, I didn’t take into account how tough it would be to have internet access and be able to see my friends facebook pages and things like that. Seeing life back home, concerts, parties, weddings, etc., fun things makes me ask what am I doing here, why am I not home acting my age? I am the youngest PCV in Ethiopia, the average age of a Peace Corps Volunteer is 27. Now that I’m here that statistic makes more sense to me. Don’t get me wrong I am happy here, I just have some really awesome friends and family back home. The statistic makes sense because it takes a certain level of willpower to stay here. It also makes sense that I am the youngest PCV here and am 6 years younger than the average because I am insane. It also takes a certain level of crazy to stay here. Like my mother has said all of her children are extreme. Graduating college and moving to Ethiopia a week later I think counts as extreme. I expected this experience to be challenging, the experience itself isn’t the challenging part however, learning Amharic, building relationships, eating Ethiopian food is the easy part, the hard part missing my friends, family and cheese. The plus side of the internet is I get lots of encouragement from back home which helps me greatly to suck it up, there will be plenty of fun to be had when I get home in two years. Whenever I need a pick me up or a jump start to stay here all I have to do is walk outside. I always meet at least one person who makes me remember how awesome being here is and I always have the people on my compound like Abi or Selam to brighten my day. I am really lucky to have such a large extended family here.

Thoughts About My Current Life:

-My malaria medication has forced me to be emotional and deal with it.

-I still have no idea what happens with the trash and I need to solve that mystery.

-I bathe when I smell myself.

-I make up stories about the white tourists I see in piazza.

-I’ve been called teacher on the street almost as much as I am called ferenji.

-The mountain I walk up to go to school leaves me out of breath every time.

-I no longer dread blunt questions like what is on your face? Well that would be a pimple, not a bug bite. I now think the interest with me is humorous.

-Killing bugs with my hands, big or small is second nature.

-My voice is changing.

-The list of things I won’t eat has basically been eliminated, except for pickles.

-I have lived with a bed and small stool as my only furniture for over 2 months now.

-I have accepted bug bites as a way of life.

-I wear sunglasses no matter the weather to avoid eye contact with men.

-I am incapable of feeling embarrassed.

-Weeks go by faster and faster.

-The kids on my street have really sweet ninja moves and are now more interested in their karate fights than me when I walk by. Which makes me smile.

-I’ve watched season 1 of Modern Family 8 times and I still die laughing at it every time.

-Every time I get into a bajaj and speak Amharic to the driver, he is impressed and asks me where I’m from. When I say America, 99.9999% of the time they say “O! you killed Osama Bin Laden!” This cracks me up.

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Castles!

Proof that my site is the coolest site in Peace Corps world wide.
Please ignore the smudge that apparently was on my camera.


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Back To School

School has began. I could not be more thankful for this. I now have things to do! I observed 4 English classes today. 3 of which were taught by my dear counterpart Ato Fantahun (Ato means Mr.) He is hysterical and watching him teach has been a real treat. I also got to introduce myself to 4 classes of roughly 45 kids as Heather. I went over how to pronounce my name and explained that now when you see me around Gondar say Heather not ferenji, not anci anci, not you you you. In one classroom the spot where I was sitting a pigeon was hopping around on the rafters above my head causing rocks to fall down on me and I spent the 40 minutes trying desperately to take note of what was going on and make sure it didn’t poop on me. I got to see the 7th graders get their text books. This was one of the most heartwarming parts of my day. When the books were being carried in the classroom kids stood up and clapped. They were so excited. This was quickly crushed however when one girl decided she didn’t like her book and wrestled another kid for a better book. The other children quickly ratted her out and now she has no book until her parents come to the school to have a talk with the Head Director. Tisk tisk. I’m finally starting to see what the school system is like in action and not in theory and I’m getting excited about what I may be able to contribute.

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