Forever’s a mighty long time

But that’s what it’s been.

I have to start off by first saying I’m sorry, I know that people did enjoy reading the crazyiness of life here in Ethiopia and I feel like I just dropped off the face of the world. I especially felt guilty when a new volunteer told me that I inspired her, she was reading my blog before she came to Ethiopia(I must admit I get amazed when people really read this thing). I can think of a thousand excuses, things became mundane/normal to me and so weren’t as exciting to write (true), I had no time (uhh not as true as I had to be home by 6pm, but come on I do enjoy having my dance parties by candlelight), I don’t enjoy writing, the longer you wait the harder it is to write (true but not an excuse)…but regardless, I should’ve wrote. As I have already appreciated the love and support I get, I forgot to update those who were supporting me. So let me start from where I remember, hopefully someone will remember to check this thing 🙂

South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe…
WOW!! I was able to see the place where Mandela was born and grew up, the apartheid museum, a lion (that almost ate us!), and meet women who had started their own business and most importantly inspired me for a project back home in Ethio. It was completely amazing to see where Mandela was born, to learn about a history so similar to ours (apartheid) that I had no idea about, especially now that he is no longer with us. It just moved me, the stark contrast between Johannesburg and Soweto. Parts of Soweto reminded me of my town in Ethiopia, rural, but with pockets of sadness that comes with so much history and continued unequal treatment; while other parts were closer to cities. I was fortunate to see the town during a bike tour, and it was amazing, unforgettable and indescribable. I must add that I was TERRIFIED before we started our tour as I haven’t ridden a bike in at least 12 years. I remember thinking “they say once you learn you never forget, so it must be true”, ten seconds later “they also said you step on a crack you break your mom’s back, I’m going to kill myself.” But, I made it ok! Didn’t even fall off!

Later, I even went on a safari. Do you know this was a bucket list thing for me to do? I’ve done so many things on my bucket list that I thought I would not be able to do until I was 45 or so, and I’ve already done them (skydiving, living in Africa, learning another language, going on a safari, parasailing)! Have to add more things, the pressure is on!

Anywho, went on a safari first on foot and later in a jeep. Saw antelope, buffalo, rhinos, zebras, giraffes, elephants! If you want to feel like you are in nature, go on foot! My goodness the elephants would smell us from so far away and they would run! From little ole me! But then, as we were standing on an termite mound, which are stark white so you know I stood out with my luscious brown skin, a LION comes running around the corner (uhh are there corners in the wild? Well maybe it was around the bush)..anyway, she is chasing the group of giraffes and zebras and was able to separate 3 from the herd (Thanks nat geo wild for the terminology). As she circles them, she comes like 100 feet from us! I did NOT need to use my binoculars to see her. One of the people on the tour, gets so excited he yells out “LION!” We promptly shush him, not helping the situation, it was like the library. The guide tells us to freeze, which you know for me meant slowly open my camera case so I could get a picture. I mean he kept saying ‘you will get a good picture’ I figured that must mean I need to get the dang thing out. Then the guide keeps whispering in our ears “he is so hungry, soooo hungry.” Uhhhh excuse me?? I don’t want to hear ANYTHING about a hungry lion in the wild, and wait a minute! You don’t have a gun? O no! Everyone knows I can’t run! They tell me I run like I have a purse under my arm! Plus, there were no trees, even if there were I can’t climb trees anyway! They seek out the weakest link, that was me! I quickly sized up the others and just hoped like hell they were slower than me. Thankfully, the lion went to another termite hill and sat and stared at us. After, awhile we finally got the courage to slowly walk away.

We also got a chance to see one of the 7 wonders in the world, Victoria Falls, locally known as the Smoke that Thunders. I brought my poncho, knew that thing would come in handy, and was still drenched! It was breath taking, made want to see all the wonders of the world. Just so amazing to be a part of nature.

Later, I met women who were local business owners in Zimbabawe, they each had their own nick and were able to sell their goods, from hand woven baskets, jewelry, and mats. They were hustling. It was something about these women and talking to other Peace Corps Volunteers that really inspired me and gave me the motivation to try another project. This time I decided to focus only on women. This trip really rejuvenated me, opened my eyes, and refocused my mind on why I joined the Peace Corps. I know I mentioned this before but I really just had to overcome myself and stop thinking about the boundaries that I felt were keeping me back. Instead I had to think of the things I could change within myself and ways that I could overcome any hurdles. With a new attitude I came back to Ethio.

Project!

After a bold attempt at an unrealistic project that involved 120 people who were supposed to benefit from an income generation activity, I licked my wounds, gathered the lessons learned, and attempted another project.

My counterpart and I went home to home interviewing divorced and HIV + widowed women. We explained to countless women that we didn’t have funding, but we would help give them training and seeds that would help them feed their family and diversify their nutritional intake. While not every single person was receptive to not receiving money, many women smiled and told us not to worry. They opened their homes to us and shared information about their family background, finances, gardening information, and challenges they have. After gathering the information, I called a PCV and together with our counterparts we again went home to home and gave a garden training and seeds to help them start their own garden.

One woman’s house stands out the most. Her husband is no longer around, for reasons she never revealed, and she is raising four children on her own. She has no family in town, not enough money to buy teft (used to make injera, a staple pancake like material eaten in every household with meals), and her children are constantly sick, but she has such a positive spirit and a tough soul. During this project, she became one of my closest friends. The day of her training it began to pour raining. Typically, programs are cancelled at the first drops felt, people run to the nearest cover trying to avoid the rain. But, she was so eager for the training that she grabbed a jacket, said “no problem”, and dove right in. Seeing someone that enthusiastic about the project, evoked feelings that I still struggle to explain. Gratitude, fulfillment, peace, love, acceptance… these words are just not enough.

So, I completed my 2 years (yes I did!) which was a huge accomplishment that could not have been done without the support of family and friends. It was sad to move, as I made a very close friend, Kidist, her and her children were just a big facet in why I enjoyed living in my town. She taught me how to make friends with people who don’t share the same language, if you really want to communicate with someone you will find a way, even play charades just to communicate with that person. I would see her just about every day, her kids would come play in my house, watch films, poop/pee (they didn’t have diapers), and the biggers ones would play uno and goldfish! One day I had an absolute terrible day and I told her about it and about 30 minutes later, she was knocking on my door handing me a plate of food, telling me not to mind those people as I have people here who care about me. It was always nice to return home and have her kids run up to me, give me a big kiss, and have flowers hiding behind their back. It was just these actions that really made me love her and her family.

Moving on!

About 3 or so months before it was time to leave, I started getting the wild idea to stay another year. And here I am. It was very difficult to see the people I came into country with, leave without me. As that really wasn’t the vision. Christmas was also a really tough time, and another low point in my service. It was difficult to feel surrounded by people and still feel alone. Especially for Christmas, I decided I’d rather stay at home by myself than spend it with people I didn’t really know. Christmas is for those close to you, and unfortunately, I couldn’t spend that time with them. The other tough situation lately is the sexual harassment. The loss of language (I don’t have the vocabulary to educate someone as I do in English) coupled with the bluntness of their remark, cuts. I remember walking down the street while a guy walks close and tell me “nice breast.” I screamed “Rude! Dog!’ in Amharic, trying to shame him, but the damage was done. I just wanted to cover up inside myself and crawl in a hole to hide. Then, I wanted revenge. I wished I had ran after him and beat him down until they had to pull me off that dog. (Not for kids—>)Wished I told him his mother raised a dirty %$*%@# and his %$)%! was so %*$)%$ that he couldn’t  %*%$ I cried, cursed, and cried some more. While I do not regret calling him a dog and shaming him and had every right to be angry, I realized how so many people lose themselves in moments. A situation can cause you to react in ways that you never wanted to, can cause to become a person you don’t want to be. I love Ethiopia, but I refuse to let anyone, thing, or place change me for the worse. I am trying to work on these moments, as I think I am tested more here because I’m more out of my comfort zone, I don’t want anything anyone does or says to me to every change who I am or how I react. They can say anything but they can’t take my right to decide who I am and who I will be. These moments are what help me grow, teach me who I am, and how to help myself through difficult situations. I also try and remind myself why I stayed. There are so many opportunities for Peace Corps Volutneers to work with NGOs/non profits here and I knew I could really grow professionaly in the nonprofit sector, as well as determine if I could live abroad in a professional career. I have extended as a third year volunteer as a Program Quality Officer focusing on gender, disability inclusion, and capacity building in Ethiopia’s Development Food Aid Program. They are working on improving the nutritional status of severe drought/food shortages and create opportunities to help communities provide food for themselves (some farmers are only able to provide for about 6-7 months out of the year and the rest of the time they resort to selling pertinent assets to sustain life that they need for the next year’s harvest, like their ox, which continues the cycle). It is amazing to be involved in these programs and I am really appreciating the work I’m doing here.

Now photo time(captions are below)!

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Victoria Falls (there is a photo with me in it but unfortunately that is is another comp) Image

Let’s be honest I was terrified to take that photo, as what if this little thing attacked!!!

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My birthday lasy year, top left was my friend taking me out to breakfast, top middle flowers Kidist picked for me, top right a long time friend joined us for food; middle left my students (we played volleyball), middle my friend’s son coming up the stairs to my house, middle right coffee ceremony prepared for me!, bottom left kidist and her son made lunch, bottom middle gifts and drawings from friends, bottom right students finally posing

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Preparing the traditional coffee ceremony

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The lion scared them !

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my closest friends’s  young children kissing outside my houseImageImage

Soweto

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My friend bunjee jumped, I decide to do the bunjee swing (off the victoria falls) instead,meaning I wasn’t upside down like her.

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Interviewing the women for the home gardening project

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Planting seeds and designing the garden for my closest friend (the one that grabbed the jacket that I mentioned earlier, during the rain, and said let’s do it!)

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seeds!

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Some of the women participants getting technical training

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Breaking Mental Boundaries

Coming to Ethiopia as a fresh graduate was my first time away from a structured environment. First time I had to just figure things out on my own. As much as Peace Corps tries to prepare you, until you step away on your own, it just doesn’t hit. I remember trying to adjust to the different experiences and looking to my left and right wondering why my projects weren’t working out as the others. Slowly, I began to realize that although there were many situations, unmotivated counterparts and a slow system, that may have prevented me from getting things started…there was more. I started to look within myself and realized that I was doing the best that I could with what I had to give. I was giving my all, as much as I could mentally handle. Maybe another volunteer would be able to do more, but I am…me. Simply speaking, I am me. All I could do was try. I had to respect my mental boundaries that were set in place to stay sane. 
As I continued to adjust and get used to my new surroundings, I started to branch out. Started to push my limits, create new boundaries…began teaching at a school, developing a food security project, forging true relationships. Looking back and seeing where I started, how far I’ve come, how many challenges I’ve stepped over, how much I’ve worked to fight mental boundaries…I can’t help but feel…proud, damn proud, of the person that I am becoming.  I am happy at the place I am right now, mentally, physically and spiritually.

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YOU!!!! Give me Money!!!!

Because I am a foreigner, I am rich and therefore should hand you birr.
I was told I should give money to him, the older man, because I am a foreigner and I am rich. Never you mind that I am 20 years younger than him, never mind that I just graduated from college, never mind that I just paid for his lunch for helping me with the surveys. I am a foreigner and I am rich, his words. A common thing heard as I walk across town, YOU! Give me money!, 100 birr!, or Money, Money, Money!!!!

Foreigners should not hand out money, coming to a country and giving things away creates nothing but dependency. The people begin to look for hand outs, not resources, not knowledge. Temporary solutions to long term problems. Giving aid creates a system in which people do not know how to save themselves, they think it is owed to them.

How Aid ruined a generation.

Many non profits, including religious based organization, enjoy coming to third world countries. They want to help out, their heart is in the right place. However, they give money away like candy and leave. Korean 7th Day Adventist members came to my school and gave away pens to all the students and 15,000 birr. Then they left. They didn’t stay to make sure the money will be well managed, there is no accountability. They signed a check and left. A large NGO (Non government organizations) came to Ethiopia, and other countries, and used to give large sums of money, I’m talking millions, to different government organizations and then left. No accountability. Now, NGOs come to rural areas and give trainings. They pay outrageous pier diem (pier diem is supposed to cover your travel and food expenses but they do not research the amount that it takes and sometimes it is more than what u would make in an entire month). Most of the people who came for the training, only came for the money. There’s no follow through. Other times NGOs try and start a project, they give a large sum of money to the government organizations, don’t require accountability and the projects fail due to mismanagmeent of funds.

How this effects me and other PCVs(Peace Corps Volunteers)? When we want to give a training or start a project, we don’t give financial support. Meaning we will not just hand you the money and leave, but instead we will give you the materials. Often times we make you match us with labor or donations to show that you are committed to this project. It is difficult to get support at times because as soon as you mention you will not be giving money they lose compelte interest

Let me give you two examples to show you exactly what I mean.
I was approached by a man who was a former PCV, he had all of the equipment to help improve the farming techniques in my area. Pulp machines, coffee drying beds, and other great equipment that would improve their coffee production and thus increase their income in the long run. He was prepared to give free trainings to show how to use the equipment. Giving knowledge, for FREE! I approached the Agricultural Bureau with this idea. You know what they said? That wasn’t enough of a benefit. Increasing the farmers knowledge wasn’t enough of a benefit, improving the farmers techniques wasn’t enough of a benefit. They wanted birr! For what? Everything is provided for, equipment, training but it…wasn’t…enough….of a benefit.

Today we were doing surveys for the women who have lost their husbands to HIV/AIDS. The design of the project is to have the women grow their own vegetables so they can feed their entire family, the other section of the garden will allow them to sell spices in the market and buy seeds from the profit. The idea is that seeds are cheaper than buying vegetables. We’ve been getting mixed opinions on the matter. As most of the women’s excitement dwindled as soon as we told them we would not be offering a financial assistance. We would not be handing out cash. Instead we would be supplying seeds that would allow her to feed her family.

While it drives me crazy that there is a cycle that is penetrating a country so much that these expectations of money are becoming engrained in the culture, I know that you have to fight through the challenges to get things done. I can focus on the people who only want money from me, or the people who were excited that I was even there to listen to them.

Blowing up condoms!

I had one of the best lessons with my students! Last week we talked about differences between a healthy and unhealthy relationship. One of my students ended the session with ‘you know what, I can leave them!’ Nothing brightens my day more than loud declarations of I have choices and I don’t have to take this crap!

This week we had a session on HIV/AIDS. Some of the myths/beliefs about HIV/AIDs:
You can get it from mosquitoes, deep kissing, and sharp objects.
You can get it from toilet seats.
Condoms are only 5% effective
If you have sex with a virgin you can be cured of AIDS
Holy water can cure AIDS
AIDS is a disease that Americans created to kill black people

I got great questions like “if HIV becomes inactive when it exposed to the air, how can you test for it.”

Rappers are Slaves

Another interesting conversation, my friend told me the reason rappers wear chains is because of when they were slaves they wore them to get on the ships. So they wear them now. Before, they couldn’t wear them in the 1960s,70s and 80s because they didn’t have free choice. He told me I didn’t know what I was talking about when I said that it is for fashion and that some people believe they are still chained as in the days of slavery. Tried to explain why they sagged their pants and failed!

I have another exciting photo post for you that gives information about my trip to South Africa, Botswana, and Zimbabawe but the internet connection wnt allow me to post photos today, until next time!

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What do u do?

O the random things

One we had an all volunteer conference and for all those wondering what I do, this quick video will give you a little taste. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=auBHtyTYcYw

Project

My project got permission! TACKLED THAT FIRST HURDLE like a boss! J I was approached to do a project that would help benefit widowed and divorced women. In the areas surrounding my town, if a woman is divorced she can only leave with her kitchen supplies. No furniture, no money, and no house. She cant even sell the kitchen supplies, not worth anything. So we want to do a small scale gardening project that will benefit the women. After my last big project attempt I was a bit nervous. Earlier, I was trying to do an IGA for people living with HIV/AIDS. But after coutnerparts changing jobs, deciding to open up coffee shops to make an income, fighting amonst co-op members, and just realizing how unrealistic it is (50 people for one business? I’d be lucky if they made 50 cents a week). Lately, I have been focusing mostly on students as I was tired of all the hurdles the government puts in front of people, and the lack of motivation of the community. But I’m ready to throw myself back in there

I’m realizing a big challenge I’ve had is redefining success. When I first came I felt like I would be putting together projects left and right. Didn’t really understand that there are other factors that can slow down projects, plus each volunteer’s experience is different. My new definition of it is as long as I continue to fight to make a project work and keep trying to put myself out there, I’m successful. I forget about goal 2 and 3, I’ve been a bridesmaid in Ethiopia, given a coffee ceremony, got together with the women of my town to help cook, held events at my school (right now getting ready for international women’s day). It’s something that I do believe I’ve been great at. Easy to forget about those tho. I think also I had to realize that I have my own limits as a person and I can stretch and try to work through them, but at the end of the day I have limits. It was difficult realizing that people have different limits and some people are able to go past my own. Does that make sense? But. I recently had a moment where I was so proud. There are so many bureaucratic issues that I face (which would happen no matter where I served), and when I first got here, I didnt
know how to work past it. Matter of fact, if I felt like you weren’t trying to do your job I would say “forget that! I’ll find somebody else or another project.” Basically, I couldn’t look past myself and the way we do things to understand that having this attitude would not
get things done. But, today I was faced with the same issue, people giving me the run around, and instead I decided to keep fighting. “I need to go to the mayor to ask permission to get a name of a co-op and a phone number? SURE! O mayor dude, you wont give me that info. you want me to go to my zone’s capital just to get the name of the co-op! I’ll be on the bus tommorrow!” lol! I just wont stop trying, ya know? My limits have changed, and while I still have them I’m growing. But it’s still a challenge. 

Habits

You know I have a habit that I find hilarious but others might get annoyed. I got it from my dad,J I like to sing people’s name

“ASHLLLEEIIIGHH” I would say when I was in the kitchen and she was in her room. “What” she would reply..

Nothing

And I would smile and keep going about my day. Same thing my dad did J I find myself having these same conversations in Ethiopia except in Amharic

“Mullleee!!!” I call to my landlord’s child

“Ahbet!” yes?

“Minim” NOTHING! J

He always gives me a strange look. Children are not used to adults (ha! Take that im an adult/elder) calling their name and not wanting them to buy a mobile card from the suk or grab some water, clean the shint bet or do SOMETHING J

A lil bit of cultural exchange, I enjoy calling their names!

Opportunities

On another note I have been selected for an opportunity to go to South Africa, Botswana, and Zimbabwe to experience the culture and observe the different challenges/ opportunities available in that area. I am so excited to be able to see another part of Africa and learn about different tactics they have used to overcome their own challenges and take that back to Ethiopia. I would really appreciate if you are able to contribute to this wonderful experience. I understand that times are difficult back home, so if you are unable to contribute I know that your good wishes are

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SHE DID IT!!! My Sister’s Charming Post :)

I know you want to get right into her story! But remember anything I add will be in (parantheses)
I’m guessing by now, most of you have read my mom’s post. Breanna has asked me a few times about doing this, and Bettye was the first one to “gently” encourage me…so Breanna and Bettye, this one’s for you! Surprise!!! J
 
For those of you that know me, you already know my post is not going to be full of rainbows and unicorns. LOL! So here we go…
I was so excited to see my mom in D.C.! We waited around for our flight eating 5 Guys and taking pictures with cardboard cut-outs of Obama that were all over the airport due to the upcoming election. The plane ride was much better than I imagined. As my mom mentioned, they fed us every three hours and made sure we were comfortable during the very long flight. I took sleeping pills to get me through!
Once we arrived, Breanna greeted us and we were clearly all excited to see one another! You heard all about the taxi fiasco, but Breanna worked it all out for us while negotiating the whole thing in Amharic. Wow!
 
You all know that I was very skeptical about this trip. Mostly due to reading all of these blogs and talking to Bre about her daily experiences. LOL! Also, I was sick for about 2 months straight from all of the shots leading up to my departure. I got every side effect that they warned us about – fever, chills, body aches, etc., etc. Not to mention, during that same time I also got pink eye, a staph infection, and was diagnosed with psoriasis! These last things were not associated with the trip, but I mentioned just to let you know, I was not in a good mood! J
 
So when we got to the hotel in Addis Ababa, I was pleasantly surprised. Everything looked pretty regular. There were a few exceptions: when you use the “facilities” you cannot flush any paper – you have to put it in a little trash can next to the toilet. Also, you can’t drink the water, so when you brush your teeth, you have to remember not to put your toothbrush under the water or rinse your mouth out with it. Trust me, it’s harder to remember than you may think. They did provide us with bottled water though.
Breanna had planned for us to visit her former host family’s house that day, but since we were late, we had to delay that visit. Instead, we left for Tanzania the next day. The flight there was about 3 hours and was fine, but once we got there….drama! We had to go through customs, which is where they started questioning Breanna about where her yellow fever card was. Ma and I had ours, but I think Bre’s was supposed to be just assumed since she’s been living in Africa for a year and had an Ethiopian visa.  They weren’t hearing it though. They had her in some 2×2 room, that smelled AWFUL having a “talk” with her about what how she was going to prove she had the vaccination. She’s explaining to them that she already had it, etc., etc., but they don’t seem to care. (They told me I either had to get the shot right there with the lady or get back on the plane. I kept thinking “I can’t take this shot! I already have the shot, who knows what two will do. You don’t look like a nurse Im going to die”) Meanwhile, another lady is ushering me and my mom to the window to pay the $100!!!! fee to get into Tanzania. WTH? $100!!! I didn’t wanna come that bad! LOL! Mind you, every other country had a much lower fee than the U.S…..imagine that!
While all of this is going on, I look into the room and see Breanna crying so now I’m mad and go over there to see what’s going on. At this point, I’m cussin’, but I’m trying to remember that I’m in Africa and if I show out like I normally do, none of y’all would ever here from me again! My main concern is making sure that they don’t try to give her the vaccination there!! So there’s a man and a woman in there and they’re telling Breanna “help us, and we’ll help you”. Breanna gives them all these suggestions as to how to help her – “call my doctor, maybe I can get the proof faxed to you”. At that point they tell her they don’t have the internet….*blank stare*. Breanna comes up with all of these other suggestions, but they shoot them all down. They just keep saying “help us, and we’ll help you”, to which Breanna yells “well I’ve given you 3 ideas, you don’t seem to wanna help me at all!”. That is the point that it becomes pretty obvious what kind of “help” they are suggesting. Meanwhile, I’m telling my mom, they don’t even realize they have the wrong one in there – Breanna doesn’t have any money! Ha! After a few more minutes of conversation and Breanna throwing in “Peace Corps” a few more times, they decide it isn’t worth it. We all pay our $100 and are granted entry to Tanzania.
Our stay in Stonestown was pretty nice. It was a great cultural area and had plenty of local shops and vendors to see. The hotel was pretty nice too. We sat on the roof for happy hour, had drinks and just hung out like old times. When we got to the room, the beds had the pretty netting you see on HGTV around the beds and you could flush paper down the toilet. Whew! Well the pretty netting is to be sexy in the U.S. but in Africa, it’s to keep you alive! Malaria nets! Ha! Still couldn’t drink the water though. J We spent a couple of days walking around seeing the sights and buying jewelry, art, going on various tours, tasting things, taking picture of monkeys, etc., etc.
 
Next we were on our way to Zanzibar. Again…..drama! During one of our tours in Stonestown, we met a driver that we really liked so we pretty much asked him to take us anywhere we needed to go. He agreed to take us to Zanzibar which was about an hour away. About halfway through the ride, he turned to us and told us that we were going to be stopped by the local police and the “tourist” police on the way there and that if they knew we were Americans, they were going to charge us. Instead we were from Kampala, a town in Uganda. They wouldn’t know, because in Zanzibar, they speak Swahili but in Uganda…I don’t know what they speak and the police wouldn’t either. LOL! So just as he said, we got pulled over a few times. Most of the times, he was able to handle it for us, but one time, the police officer came over to my mom’s side (with his machine gun) to ask her himself. At this point, I put on my sunglasses and Breanna decided to fake ‘asleep’. When he asked Ma where we were from, she said “uhhhhh, Kampala????” All I could think is Oh Lord, she’s gonna get us killed!! He seemed to be on to us, but he made a joke and let us go. As I mentioned, we got stopped a few times. Ugh!
Once we got to Zanzibar, I could finally breathe a sigh of relief! Ma had booked a GREAT resort hotel! As she mentioned, white sand beaches, drinks with umbrellas…the works! I was finally able to relax. This was more like the kind of vacation I am accustomed to! Still had the malaria nets though. LOL
 
Side story: On the way back to Addis from Zanzibar, my psoriasis was flaring up. As I mentioned, this was new diagnosis and it was causing my scalp to flake excessively. So I’m in the restroom trying to brush some of the flakes out and put vitamin E on my forehead, scalp and neck.
 
Bre: What’s going on Sis?
Me: I just found out I have psoriasis and my whole body is dry and my scalp is flaking like crazy!
Bre: Oh no! I’m sorry to hear that. Is it hereditary?
Me: Yes, they say it is.
Bre: Ohhh. Man, I really hope it’s not, cuz I don’t want to get psoriasis of the liver!
Me: *blank stare* Uhhhhh…that’s cirrhosis!
(hahah I was very concerned for my sister as I thought she must have missed me so much that it drove her to hit the bottle)
 
So we went back to Addis. We used my last day to go to Breanna’s former host families house. Before going, she educated us on various do’s and don’ts. Don’t refuse food or drink, don’t eat or shake with your left hand, hold your right bicep when you shake the hand of someone older than you, don’t wear low collared shirts, etc., etc. She also mentioned to us that although it would be nice, the “facilities” would be outside……I held it the WHOLE day! Too bad Ma drank too much coffee, and you know the rest! LOL! We were able to remember most of what Breanna told us, but the hardest part was probably for my mom because she is left handed. At one point, she sat on her left hand to make sure she didn’t use it. The host family was VERY nice and excited to see us. Only one spoke English but he and Breanna interpreted for us. They fed us and showed us around their town. I took a lot of pictures. Mostly because I was confused to see people in cars, people on horses, people walking donkeys and as my mom mentioned, they all had cell phones! They took us to their local market where Bre’s former host mom has a store. It was very crowded and they were selling everything from beans to cattle.
 
After a full day there, we returned to Addis as I was leaving the next day. My mom was staying another week with Breanna in her village, but as you all know…I’m not built for that!
 
I flew home alone, but with great memories to keep forever! I have a few more stories, and maybe one day, I’ll get to share them with you. Key words/phrases to help jog my memory “Oh, shout out to you too Lord!”, “Did you two guys adopt that baby? Oh, you’re not gay? Oops!”, “Hell no, I don’t want pizza with minced meat as the topping!”, “No, I don’t want to marry you, plus I’m much older than you think, so I’m not going to be doing all that stuff you want”, “Oh, you want me to step outside before I spray this industrial strength mosquito spray?”, “What the hell is all that tapping? Y’all don’t have iPhones???”
 
All in all, I had a great time with my mom and sister and would not trade it for the world. I’m so proud of the young lady Breanna has become. I tell her this as often as I can, but it REALLY takes a special person to do what she does! She and all of the people that she has met and helped will all be better as a result of her commitment and sacrifice. And by virtue of us knowing her, we all be better people as well.
I love you Bre! (just made my heart smile!)
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Guest Blooger Ma Describes Trip to Ethiopia

After threatening to not write a post until she did, ma finally wrote about her trip this past oct!  Although it lacks details about the Ethiopian part of the trip, I think its a great intro to our vacation. Please pester her to write more (as well as my lovely sister). My comments are in (parentheses). Without further ado, I present to you my guest blogger:

My Journey to visit my daughter in the Motherland

 I flew back in October 2012 more than 20 hours to see my little Breanna.  My preparation to go see Breanna in Ethiopia was with mixed emotions.   I had not seen her since October 2011 at the SFO airport when she left me and my heart dropped (it seemed as she had dropped off the face of the earth.)

 At that time,  I had no idea when I would be able to talk to her or even when I would be able to see her.   Fortunately, I had a few days after that where she went to Philly before heading to Washington DC and then to Addis Ababba, Ethiopia.

 My preparation to go to Ethiopia included bringing her southern belle sister VeLisa from Atlanta with me.  Although we booked our flights separately, we would later find out that my trip from SFO to Washington, DC would arrive at the same time her trip from ATL to Washington, DC was.   VeLisa and I met up at the airport in Washington D.C. early Saturday morning at 6a.  As we approached the counter to see if we could get our seats together, they told us that the trip had been delayed from our 9:30a departure and would be leaving at 3p that day. The flight attendant smiled and handed us vouchers for breakfast and lunch.   I looked at VeLisa puzzled as to what was going on.  After I arrived in Ethiopia, I learned when the “powers that be” decide it is time to leave/arrive; that is when I will leave or get there.  I learned what Breanna would often say to me about why it was taking so long for my care packages to get to her (4 weeks minimum)….”Mom, this is Africa.” 

 Our trip from Washington D.C. to Addis Ababba took approximately 20 hours.  Ethiopian Airlines was wonderful, they had new planes and gave us things such as blankets which had Ethiopia’s colors (which she stole and later tried to hide the ethiopian airlines stamped on the blanket so she could wear it as a wrap. Who you fooling? 🙂 ) , eye masks, socks, toothbrush and toothpaste…I think they fed us every 3-4 hours.  But, it truly was a long flight.

 When VeLisa and I arrived in Addis Ababba, we met Breanna who was smiling from ear to ear in only that beautiful smile and that giggly laugh that Breanna has (I almost burst into tears while waiting for them to arrive).  That night she took us to an Ethiopian Cultural Center where we ate traditional food and watched dancing from different regions of the country.  Let me say, Breanna has grown quite accustomed to the culture and food.   The food was good that night…but I was thinking…oh my goodness I only eat Ethiopian food once every six months…..how am I going to eat this for every meal? (VeLisa lost her appetite as she watched a cat climb across the ceiling of the restaurant hahah)

 Fortunately the next day, we were on our way to Zhanzibar, Tanzania.  The flight between Addis and Zhanzibar is approximately 4-5 hours.   I learned Zhanzibar is an area that is frequented by Europeans.  It has white sandy beaches and crystal clear water like bathwater.  We stayed in Stonetown initially which is the artisan area of the city.  There we took a spice tour, met with local artists….ate food from the local vendors….let me tell you….During our initial day in Zhanzibar, Breanna sees a vendor who is offering drinks to potential patrons.  Breanna says to me and VeLisa, “Oooh look….a cool drink….let’s get some!”  VeLisa looks at me and I look at VeLisa.   Breanna says “What?”  We say, we are not going to drink whatever he is selling.   We find the man is squeezing juice out of a sugar can by winding some kind of apparatus and the juice is falling into a bucket that you would use back in the U.S. to wash your car , except the bucket would have been cleaner.  He has 4-5 glasses that he uses and after each patron, I think he rinses the glasses off….but I am not sure.   I just remember looking at the man, the plastic bucket with dirt on the outside of it , his fingernails had dirt around the cuticles and Breanna has this huge grin on her face where she is happy to be getting a drink.  VeLisa whispers to me “Get me to the nearest Ruth Chris.”  On the other side of me is Breanna who has stepped up to the man’s table and is saying in her mind “forget both of you, I’m getting this drink”  Imagine me as the mother to these two wonderful young women; who at times are polar opposites. (the drink was DELICIOUS)  Although Breanna had never been to Zhanzibar, she was our unofficial African advocate and at times I put a huge responsibility on her to help me navigate through total unfamiliar situations.  

 For example, when we arrived in Zhanzibar, Breanna told us to not let the taxi drivers put our luggage in the trunk of their car- she had heard that sometimes they will quote a price for our trip and then change the price when we arrive at our destination to something higher.  So while we are “negotiating” our trip from the airport to the hotel, the taxi drivers were trying to take our bags and I remember my daughter had said to not let them take our bags.  Breanna negotiated the trip price and I am wrestling with the guy to not take my bag so I jump into the front seat only to realize I have jumped into the driver’s side as the driver’s wheel is on the right side….so, I am trying to get in the car with my suitcase and steering wheel in front of me and close the door all at the same time to realize how stupid I must really look. 

 

Breanna also got me out of another “hot water” situation where I am trying to negotiate a price on a couple of paintings….but I wanted to see if the offer I was being given was similar to another artist I was interested in.  So, I told the first vendor I will be back.  He said OK come back and I will give you a good price…I said “give me the American price!”  Breanna and VeLisa looked at me like “duh…Mom…don’t you know that Americans pay the most?”  The man responded, “come back I will give you better than the American price….I will give you the Swahili price!”

 Although Breanna does not speak Swahili….they thought she was Ethiopian and because of that she was able to negotiate a better price than I could have imagined…..But, I had to keep my other eye open as a few of the other local vendors where trying to buy my oldest daughter’s hand in marriage (VeLisa)  by offering me a few cows or other animals…..Boy my daughter’s are both something else.

Now I see why it is so hard for Breanna to blog…..I will  have to write more about my adventure to see Breanna again soon.

She how she leaves you hanging? Again please pester her into writing more, there’s definitely more to tell. Plus, I think you’d all benefit from hearing her attempts to use the bathroom, ride public transportation, eat at my host family’s house, and trip to the school I teach at. Right? Don’t forget to include VeLisa in on this badgering as she has her own stories

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Meskel- My Favorite Holiday

Meskel Celeberating:

Finding of the True Cross

Wednesday night marked the beginning of Meskel, the Ethiopian Orthodox celebration of the Finding of the True Cross. At around 5 o’clock I heard drums pounding and joyful singing, so I ran outside to join the celebration. I saw a few friends, dressed in traditional church attire, and joined in with them, clapping to the beat with a huge smile on my face. About 2,000 of us, stopped at the football stadium, where a stage was set up to begin the festivities. The priest began to sing and the crowd sang along. A cute girl taught me how to dance along with the words.

A friend who organized the celebration spotted me in the crowd and dragged me to the front of the ceremony. He had me stand amongst the priest as a guest of honor. I felt truly underdressed in my UCR hoodie, jeans, and hiking boots standing next to them in their beautiful robes. I just had to thank God I did my hair earlier that day. He then tells me to stand by this guy with a mike for something…wait what did he say?? All I caught was the word English. OOO NO he’s going to make me do a speech! I try and think of something to say “Uhhh Welcome…No! say it Amharic..T’ena Stillin! That’s better. This is a wonderful celebration. Batem Konjo now! I am new here and am enjoying participating in this holiday. Immasayganaolow!..Yea that’ll do! O.. wait…he doesn’t want me to do a speech. He just wanted me to stand next to a translator so I could understand what was going on. Phew!

After the dancing, the children from the Sunday School dressed in their robes, began a skit to reinact what the holiday means. Legend says that the cross upon which Christ was crucified was discovered in the year 326 by Queen Helena, mother of Constantine the Great. Unable to find the holy artifact, she set up long poles and set them on fire. Skyward raised the smoke and down it bent, touching the spot on the earth where the original cross was found buried. Queen Helen lit up torches heralding her success to the neighboring areas. In the middle Ages, the Patriarch of Alexandria gave the Ethiopian Emperor Dawit half of the True Cross in return for the protection offered to the Coptic Christians.

The eve of Meskel is called Demera. A huge bonfire is built, topped with a cross to which flowers are tied. The patriarch of the Orthodox Church leads the lightening ceremony. After the bonfire is blessed dancing and singing begins around it and an inner feeling of brightness spreads through all those around it. Little Demeras are built at individual houses and villages.

The direction in which the bundle of wood collapses gives room for interpretations about the harvest, if there is going to be peace and so on. At the end of the Demera a rain shower is expected to fall to help put the fire off. If the rain falls and the fire is extinguished by it there is a belief that the year will be prosperous. If the flowers do not burn (the top of the fire) it is considered to be bad luck according to my host brother.

The day after Demera is Meskel. The festival is colorfully celebrated and there is plenty of food. Believers make crosses on their head with the ashes of the bonfire as a sign of devotion to the cross. The festival coincidences with the mass blooming of yellow Meskel daisies, which are a symbol of a new beginning after the rainy season.

Pictures are coming in a week. Unfortunately, they arent letting me load them right now

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