It is Saturday the third, 8:00 P.M. Ethiopian Time, which means it is currently 2:00 PM here in American Time. I am sitting at a small table in my host family’s house. To my left sitting on a thin floor mattress that acts like a couch is my host father Wasane, he is currently teaching himself how to play my Ukulele. He hums along to a tune that I do not know, but a tune that puts a smile on my face.
I could not ask for a better Saturday afternoon.
The feeling of pure joy surging through me right now is palpable.
It has been a total of two weeks here in Ethiopia and a full week here in my training community of Terre. It is a smallish town consisting of about 4,000 people (I think).
Let me start back to how I first met Wasane and the adventure I have been on since.
Paper given to me Friday afternoon about my Host family. (The jist of it)
Husband: 26 years old; Nurse
Wife:21; stay at home wife.
First time hosting Peace Corps Trainee.
That was it. Whoa! No kids and people my age, okay… hello new roomies! HA!
Saturday we rode a bus to the town of Bu-ei which is to be deemed our “Hub” town. Meaning all Peace Corps trainees (PCTs) will meet here on allotted days. Right now we are all split up into four different towns. In Terre there are 6 health trainees and 6 agriculture trainees. Terre trainees are different however because in Oromia they do not speak Amharic, they speak Afanoromo. Therefore, our language classes are different than the rest.
Anyhow, we arrived at Bu-ei and were led into a hotel to the top floor. We waited outside a room while our host families waited inside. We were to walk in and find the person that had our name on their name tag. All of us waiting in line had butterflies flying throughout our entire body. It was beyond nerve wracking and exciting. We were to meet and have lunch with our parents the best we could with one day of language training. (Nerve wracking am I right?!?!?)
I walked in and at the first scan didn’t see anyone, then boom! There he was, a young looking Ethiopian. He greeted me by shaking my hand and putting cheek to cheek back and forth a couple times and then led me to our table. Cassidy (another PCT) joined with her father (Terdesa). We found out they were neighbors in the same compound (area inside a fence). How cool! Cassidy and I connected first in Washington D.C. So I was pumped to have her as a neighbor.
Lunch was difficult while fun, however, I had pit sweat down to my elbows as I was trying to remember everything I could and trying to keep the conversation going. We were lucky however, because both men knew some English So we could get by. Although, certain points we both looked at each other with confused expressions and then laughed because we had no idea what was going on.
After lunch we took our luggage and all hopped on a different bus together to Terre and were dropped off at our houses. In the town…cows, donkeys, goats, chicken, dogs, and cats all roam around free. It is quite interesting and entertaining. My biggest question though is how does anyone keep track of any of these animals?? How does one know one donkey from the rest that all mingle together… (To be determined) My compound is on the edge of town and is beautiful. To be honest, I was shocked. Here are a few pictures of my house.
When I first entered I was met by Obabo (Wasanely’s wife-In the picture above) She greeted me and so did her friend Desho and then they both laughed when I tried to say something. I did the same. I am sure I sounded insanely weird to them and this scenario was crazy…Is crazy, This is something none of us had done before.
Wasane showed me around the compound and showed me the toilet. I looked at him with a raised eyebrow. “Do I pee in there?” He in returned looked, pointed, and said “Toilet” I could tell he did not understand my question and well…I didn’t feel comfortable trying to get an answer.. I laughed and then said okay, figuring that I do. I was curious though because on the AT we peed wherever, and only dug a hole when we needed to do that number two thing. But this toilet… is for all. (I think) 🙂
Holding a squat stance is easy like I thought it would be, but this time it is a little more complicated because this hole is unmovable and aiming that number two is just that much more trickier. Hahaha, but like everything, practice makes perfect. (At least I hope)
In the evening Wasanly and Terdesa gave us a walk around the town and showed the destination we are to be picked up at for hub days in Bu-ei. This is the first time that Peace Corps has been in this town so essentially it is the first time for most people to see foreigners. As we walked, people stared at us. Some kids ran. Some kids pointed and yelled “Ferenji!”. Some smiled. Some greeted us. But the majority stared, we stood out like a sore thumb. But what else can you do but embrace it and smile at it all.
Along the main road (where most shops and restaurants lie), across the street from us was a group of young girls. They started shrieking and smiling and yelling “Akkum!!” at us. Meaning “Hi”. They started walking down the road with us and clapping and yelling out a song. Cassidy and I were smiling from ear to ear.
Once home we ate “Irbata” (dinner) and tried our best to communicate.
At the end of the night Obabo pointed at me and mentioned to Wes that my feet were dirty from all the walking. They sat me down, got out their wash bucket and together washed my feet. To show me how they said.. It was the most gentle and sincere act..
Ethiopians and their hospitality is unreal. When you are a guest, they want to treat you as if you are a Queen. No helping, letting them take care of pretty much EVERYTHING. I have tried to put up my plate… throw out my dirty washing water… and put up my own bug net, but they refuse to let me.. “Ta’ii! Ta’ii!” (Sit down! Sit down!) I laugh and oblige.
Sunday we went to church. Their church here lasts over 2 hours. Totally unexpected. The first part was filled with songs that have a drum beating along. Everyone dances and sings. The small room is booming with music that makes you feel alive. I couldn’t help but sway my arms and hips back and forth with them.
Of course I didn’t know what they were saying but Wes had an app on his phone that converted the bible verses to English for me to let me have an idea what topic they were talking about. “Galatomii Wes!” (Thank you Wes!)
Later that day they told me it was time to shower while I was sitting down studying.
“Oh okay sure!” I said while laughing.
A shower consists of a large basin full of cold water and a pitcher to use to pour over your body. And yes soap too. It is so different, but it does the job. It is hardest for me to shower in the morning after my runs because mornings are quite chilly.
Monday was our first day of classes and the most common theme between us all was “How do we get them to stop feeding us?”
Most of us were eating just as much as they were feeding us because we wanted to be polite but our teachers told us it was okay to refuse. No joke they eat about four times a day, breakfast, lunch, after work pre dinner, and dinner around 8 and while you are mid eating they will say “Nyaadhu! Nyaadhu!” Simply meaning… “Eat! Eat!” I would just laugh and say “I am!!” Then once finished they would say it some more and encourage you to refill your plate. I finally had to draw the line and let them know that in America I did not eat as much.
Monday afternoon we had a culture fair of each region that we were placed. That way we could have a taste of them all. The last session ended with a group showing us each regions type of dancing. I watched with amazement. The last activity had them come down and teaching us all the moves. A common move was moving your shoulders and neck back SUPER fast. It is hard to explain, something you just have to see.(You could probably youtube it) It almost looks like it hurts actually. Not to toot my own horn, but I was close to having it. (At least in my mind) One of the young instructors kept watching me and giving me a thumbs up as she was instructing me. I take that as a win even though my neck was sore the next day. NO joke. 😉
This week has been filled with classes from 8 in the morning to 5:15 in the evening. Sessions over language, safety, our projects, our role as a PCV, etc. etc. Here is my language classroom, only three students per teacher which is perfect.
By the end of the day my head usually feels like it is going to explode. I have also started a habit of going on walks around the town with Cassidy to explore and practice our language. A couple times I have run into a group of young boys playing soccer with a tiny soft ball and have joined them. At first they laugh and then they see I am being legit and continue to play with me. A lot of laughs and “whooo’s!” Usually now when we go for walks kids somehow always see/find us and grab our hands and join along. No care where we are going, but just to walk along. They are the sweetest children I have ever met. As I am learning the language I am able to know their names when they come up and ask them simple questions like “Umuriin kee maaqaa?” (How old are you). They have started to not want to let go of our hands when its time for us to go in for curfew. Which naturally tugs at my heart strings. One of the little girls took my hand and gave it such a soft kiss on the backside. Such a gentle gesture that hit my soul harder than I can explain. My motivation to learn this language is running full force.
I eventually needed, Yes NEEDED to go running. Wasanly didn’t want me to go by myself yet because he wanted to make sure I knew the environment first. So he said he would try and go with me. We went out into the pasture behind our house in the morning and did some laps. When he tired, he stood and stretched until I was done. No complaints, just sincerely wanted to make sure I did what I needed to. I now have been running with another PCT named Eli who is wanted to get back into running So that Wasanly no longer has to worry. He was apprehensive at first and asked if I knew what to do if someone came at me from behind, “You must hit him in the scrotum” he said with all seriousness. I laughed and told him I will. Haha, I can surely appreciate his protectiveness.
That evening Jacob another PCT had a host brother(14) that wanted to show us a cool tree. Of course I said I was in, so we walked to the other side of town and was led to this astonishingly ginormous tree. It is said to be a sacred tree, and naturally I could not help myself but fall in love. Everyone thinks I will fall in love with another PCV, but I think this tree stole my heart already…. 😀
My first question was can we climb it? As soon as I asked I see Jacob pulling himself up, his host brother said other people climb it all the time. So yes. I pulled and swung myself up and was beaming.
Ahhhh, I already could tell it was going to be my new spot.
The next couple of days Jacob’s brother again wanted to show us (Eli, Kiya, Jacob, Me) a different spot and led us far away to the other side of town where there was a dried up river bed, that I think fills during rainy season. It was immaculate. Absolutely beautiful and I was happy to be hiking away even if I was in a skirt and sandals. It is as if Jacob’s brother knows exactly the kind of places I want to explore.
Both Wasane and Obabo are opening up more and more with me as I open up more with them. The more my langauge improves the more we can talk about different topics. Ethiopians are HUGE on community. Privacy is not really a thing, so if I was to go into my room while they were sitting in the living room they would think something was wrong with me or that I was not feeling good. So I sit in the living room and study and chat with them. Most nights are spent laughing and talking about anything and everything. Getting to know each other more and more.
Last night Wasanly asked if I played any instrument and I said no, but that I brought a Ukulele to learn. “No way?”
So I ran to my room and walked out of my room strumming and giving a walk like I was some superstar. They died laughing and wasanle’s eyes grew wide! He said he wanted to learn too so we are learning how to play together.
I also tried my best to explain the Appalachian trail to them as I showed them a couple pictures. I told them it was 2,190 miles and Obabo almost lost her mind. They both continuously said “Cimtuu! Cimtuu!” (Good job! Good job!) Which made me feel proud.
This morning I had language class and once home had told Obabo that she needed to teach me how to cook Ethiopian food. She let me do a little but has yet to let me try to cook “Badenna” The staple of most meals. As I said before it is a spongie like bread that you use to eat the other parts of your food. Essentially it is your silverware; we eat with our hands. (I secretly love it) Eventually, she said she will teach me and she wants me to teach her how to make American food.
I can tell Obabo is a humorous woman, so once again, I cannot wait to fully understand her and Wes.
It has now been a full three and a half weeks as I wrote the above before I had service and I cannot believe how fast this time has gone by. I know the following couple months of training are going to go just as quick. Naturally my emotions go up and down as I get frustrated with not knowing the language, to filled with glee as I laugh with community members and at this moment… I am happy… Truly happy to be here and having this privilege and opportunity to be apart of the Peace Corps. An organization that helps at the root level by being apart of the community first, and then collaborating to help make changes and sustainability. We are here to work ourselves out of a job which I think is the coolest thing. Make an impact and behavior changes that can sustain without you. How neat is that?
Iz and Oz
P.S. Some of you have asked to send me packages and/or letters which is not needed but I would appreciate so much… I think it would be SO fun to have pen pals! 🙂 Also, if you want my Ethiopian Phone number, send me a message! 🙂
C/o Peace Corps Ethiopia
P.O Box 7788, Addis Ababa