April 1st, 2018.
As I start to write this new blog post I can’t help but notice the date. April 1st. April 1st, 2017, The start of the Appalachian trail a year ago. My mind is completely blown. How has a year already passed? If I said I didn’t miss it anymore, I would be lying. The littlest things remind me of the trail and my being still longs for it daily… However, now a year later, I am a Peace Corps Trainee sitting in my host families house placed in Ethiopia, Africa.
Life is quite the adventure.
In one week my Ethiopia adventure will change pace once again as I will have to say goodbye to my host family and embark back to Addis Ababa for some additional sessions and the grand Swearing In Ceremony to become an official Peace Corps Volunteer! A few days after that on April 15th I will be leaving Addis Ababa and heading to my new home for the next two years.
The past two and a half months have flown by. Truthfully, I am shocked that I have one week left of Pre Service Training and one week left with my host family. Am I sad about leaving them?
But first let me lay out how life has been since I last posted.
A few days after my last post the health group trainees spent a night in a current PCV’s house and were able to get a glimpse at a “Day in the life of a PCV”. Emma was a character, you just had to love her and her welcoming personality. Her compound was spacious where she held two rooms and landlord (family) opened up their house to us as well. What helped me the most with this whole idea of living here for two years was when she admitted that when she was first dropped off after three months of training, she was terrified. Fast forward two years later and she was in tears because she didn’t want to leave. She seemed almost scared to go back to America. How intriguing is that?
While at Emma’s site we helped her with a RUMPS class (Reusable Menstrual Pads) for her girls group and a nutrition class for mothers and children. I loved it, I seriously cannot wait to be doing these projects myself.
(Speaking of projects…In PST we have been learning more about the projects we will be working on such as setting up a permagarden to help gardens actually last and feed their families nutritious foods. In addition to breastfeeding (the importance of it and complementary feeding), the importance of washing hands in homes and schools, building mana fincanni (bathroom) (seen below), how to succeed in changing behavior and how to integrate into our communities among many other activities. While in PST we had a household intervention to practice teaching some of these activities and went to the manaberumsa (school) a couple times to practice teaching students as well. Each session makes me more excited to do these activities at site.)
Shortly after that was my 25th birthday. It felt loco to be celebrating here, but this one and I am sure the next two, will be just as crazy. Since it was on a Tuesday and we were in the midst of PST. No wild party took place but a couple small gifts and a couple beers with some good people, made my night just what it needed to be. (I still don’t feel 25, is that how it is when you get older? You always feel younger than the number that is labeled to you?) A funny cultural difference is Ethiopians do not track their birthdays. Birthday parties are big for the 1, 2, 3 year old and then they start to drift. Most younger kids will know their age but when you ask someone who is older how old they are, they kind of shrug their shoulders and give you a number that they think they might be. It is quite hilarious because some definitely look a little bit older than just 23. :’) Anyhow, I ended my night by calling back home to my wonderful grandmother in the states. International calling is expensive so I didn’t have a lot of time but my birthday wasn’t going to feel complete until I heard my grandmother telling me “Happy Birthday”, which she did after she got over the fact that I was able to call her. 🙂 Thank you my dearest Grandma.
Around that time in February it had been announced that the Prime Minister of Ethiopia had resigned and that a state of emergency had been put into place. I am sure you all back in the states had heard about this through CNN or another news outlet. Things have been pretty calm since and then a couple days ago it was announced that the new prime minister was elected and for the first time it was someone from Oromia! (The region that I am placed!) That morning walking around Terre was amazing. The excitement emitted from the people was palpable. The people are bayyee gammatan! (very happy) and that is a great thing. What an incredible time to be living in Ethiopia.
On Saturday, March 9th we had our site announcement ceremony in Butajira. My insides were turning inside out. I could not figure out why I was so nervous, but I couldn’t help myself. This place that we were to be given, was going to be our homes for the next two years. TWO YEARS. So yes, I wanted it to be a good spot therefore, I was nervous.
Site announcement started with a couple info sessions and then having us all line around an outline of Ethiopia with the main cities placed out. Next, they read off our name, site name and handed us a packet with all its information and directed us into the outline of Ethiopia, where we are located.
“Isabella Mullins, Oromia, Chime!”
Chime…It had a nice ring to it. As we stood and waited for everyone to receive their packet, I was itching to open mine and read the contents. We had a little dance sesh of each regions music and then it was break time. Everyone immediately found a spot to sit and read through their papers. I found out my town is a small town consisting of about 3,000 people. It is 9 km from a larger town that supposedly has a special education class with Deaf kids ( as well as a bigger town that is farther away named Jimma). As this was my one preference I had; working with Deaf kids. I am not going to have high expectations that I will be able to, but if it comes to fruition, I know I will be a happy camper. Anyhow, I found out I am allotted three rooms (SUPER unusual) and who my landlord is. I also found out that there is currently a PCV who is living at my site named Mike, who I will be replacing. (Score!) I was excited because then I could contact him and get the… you know…the inside scoop.
To my delight, a few weeks later Mike had actually come to our training’s to help teach a couple lessons. I was SO excited to be able to meet him! Turns out he is actually extending for a year in Jimma so he will be around. He let me know that my my three rooms were actually like a little house to myself ( I feel lucky) and told me that “Our site is the best site”. I am sure there was no bias in that comment. HA! He also let me know that my landlord, his kids, and their kids all lived in our compound. This meant there were about 17 people who lived in the compound. I laughed because this new site is going to be drastically different than how I live with my host parents and Cassidy’s. But, the more the merrier. Mike filled me in on the projects he had worked on, the ones that I could help continue and about my counter parts that I will be working with. I apologized for my continuous questions but he said he didn’t mind. With a couple weeks to go until I move in. I am nervous, excited, and READY!
As the weeks pass I feel like I am getting used to the lifestyle of hand washing my own clothes in a basin, filling up water jugs, filtering my water, and taking cold basin showers. It is strange how after doing things for a while they become your new normal without even thinking about it. This is a pic of a bayanatti and a machiato. The norms that we like to order at restaurants. It might be my new addiction…And no, this is not for one person… this is for the table and we all eat off the same tray. 🙂
I continue to run in the mornings but now Eli and I have attracted Jacob and his two younger host siblings. So the five of us run together throughout the farm lands of Terre. It leads us to look back at a beautiful sunrise coming up right next to this huge extinct volcano. One day the idea of running to the next CBT site and back slithered into my mind after hearing about other PCTs (Elliott and Anna) doing a similar thing. Luckily, Eli decided he would join. So we ran on the main road there and back while continuously waving to the countless people that stood, watched, and waved at us. We even had some cheering us on. We weren’t entirely sure on the miles but estimate it to be around 14 to 16 miles. I felt amazing afterwards, my body was itching for a nice long run. Many thanks to Eli for running his furthest distance yet.
In addition to exploring Africa through running, some of us also went to Tiya to see the popular “UNESCO Heritage Site Stones”. They were quite spectacular.
As for how Pre Service Training (PST) is going…
…. PST is hard. I understand now why people say it is the hardest three months of service.
You are constantly “on”. All day everyday. Whether it is at school learning or at home trying to understand your parents.. Your mind is constantly being stimulated. In addition to that, you are constantly being watched whether by your teachers, family, or community members. You continuously live the “fish in the fishbowl” lifestyle, everyone is watching the foreigner. Then, occasionally you sometimes feel like a child again because you have your host parents or teachers telling you what to do. You constantly have to tell your parents you are full and not to add more at every meal…EVERY MEAL. You have to repeatedly tell them you know how to cook and that you have lived on your own in America. You get extremely frustrated while riding this emotional roller coaster of learning a language where one day you feel like you are frolicking through a field of flowers as you are understanding everything that is being said to the low point of wanting to smack your head against a wall while your face contorts to a “what the hell did you just say” face.. You get sick and will get the random cases of diarrhea as your body adjusts to a new country and their food. Poop conversations with your classmates becomes the new norm. Some of us even drop things down the mana ficannii and know that welp…that item is gone for good. You may even catch sight of some open defecation, where the big alert in your head goes off “LOOK AWAY, LOOK AWAY!” You will fight with all 60 PCTs at a hotel for Wi-Fi access then IF succeeding, it’ll be just enough to alert you with your bajillion emails and messages to turning off again, therefor you cannot read nor respond to any. You will miss your family. More than you thought. The electricity will shut off mid charging a laptop and sometimes won’t come back for days. You will have to be a little extra stinky because the water hasn’t turned on for a couple days either. You get laughed at while being watched. You don’t understand how Ethiopians hear each other because they talk so softly, A PCT called it the Ethiopian Silent Whisper. You wake up to the call to prayer blaring from a nearby mosque and if its not that that wakes you up at the butt crack of dawn, it will be the dogs, roosters, goats, or donkeys yelling that will.
This is a picture of a group of people lining up in front of us and staring while we sit and rest from a walk.
But during PST as you are continuously “on”, your brain starts to make those connections. You start to understand more words and more about what you will be doing at site. You start to engage those people that are staring at you and surprise them by knowing Afanoromo. You learn how to say “Forengie Miti” (Not Forengie) or “Forengie Eessa?!” (Where is forengie?!?) as you turn your head around and look around scared while making the children laugh. You learn to appreciate your parents caring for you and learn that they tell everyone, even their spouses to eat more and double up. Everyone wants everyone to be full. “Full belly, Happy Life” is what I like to think. You learn to enjoy the high points of language and to accept the fact that we have only been learning for a couple months and well…we are doing pretty dang well. You realize that everyone poops, even if you never see your host parents go to the bathroom. And when you do drop something down the mana ficannii you learn to gasps and then laugh hysterically because your time for it to happen was coming sooner than later. You appreciate your people back home even more when you do finally get those opportunities to talk. Getting mail from home feels like a wonderful Christmas, every time. You start to learn that internet and social media is really not pertinent to live. Heck, even electricity isn’t. You learn that sitting around a lit candle, chatting while playing soft ukulele songs is all you really need for the night. You learn how to store water and realize how privileged you are to have come from America. You learn to be okay with embarrassing yourself because how else are you going to learn what is appropriate or not. You learn being scared to act silly isn’t going to get you very far here and if you can’t hear someone, well you let them know. You learn how to try, fail, and try again as you ask your parents to repeat how to say a word a thousands times. But once it sticks, that’s all that matters. Your body learns to wake up early and enjoy the early music played by the community as they come to life. Most importantly though, you start to make relationships with people. More than just a hi, you start to learn about people and what their lives are like and that…
that is more meaningful than I can explain.
Living with Ababo and Wes has been a blessing. A true blessing. While residing here and increasing my language skills, I have learned that both my parents come from big families. Ababo has 9 siblings and Wes has 11! They both come from the same town that is about 6 hours or so from Terre. However, they do not travel there very much. Ababo and I have spent countless hours together as Wes tends to be busy at work or at church. In those times we have talked about past lovers and the big news that she is currently pregnant at 5 months. (Which wasn’t noticeable at first, but as her stomach grows, she is turning into the cutest pregnant lady. 🙂 ) She tells me that she wants 4 kids, two boys and two girls. She adores children, and seeing her interact with our neighbors child, I know she will be a fantastic mother. She showed me family photos and told me about her family back home. I told her I would go with her to travel back home to see them and she happily said “Tole!” (Okay!) She told me about wanting to go to University but didn’t pass her 10th grade test to continue on. (You pretty much get one shot and if you don’t pass, school is done, just like that). I met one of her brothers that came to town who is attending university and found out he knew some sign language. We bonded over comparing our signs, I don’t think my smile could of gotten any bigger that night. Ababo has braided my hair a few times in the quite of the night and repeatedly stated “bayyee lalafa” (very soft) my hair was as we chatted and enjoyed each others company. We share countless laughs a lot of the time, the full belly kind as we talk and engage in culture differences.
Such as insects. Insects are different here and I swear…I SWEAR, this big half dollar size spider was sprinting across the floor, licking its lips to come eat the foreigner. The high pitched shrill that left my mouth was one I didn’t even recognize as I hiked my legs up onto my chair. AHHHHHHHHHH! Pure terror was pulsing through me. I was no doubt scared for my life. Ababo slapped a towel down on it just in the nick of time and we then remained hunched over in tearful laughter.
She is becoming one of my favorite people on this planet.
This experience with my host family has been amazing. Learning about each other’s cultures and how to live here has been everything I have wanted. It was a kick letting them try American candy. Ababo had a twizzler first and looked at me with a worried look and said “Hin beeku” (I don’t know) referring to not knowing how to eat it. 🙂 Then Wes tried an M&M first and ate half of ONE. Like bit one single M&M in half. (Don’t you know we eat those by the handful?) 🙂 I died of laughter. They thought they were good, more so the skittles and twizzlers than the chocolate, but they ate them super slow because they were SO sweet they said.
Leaving in a week is going to be very hard. Ababo repeatedly says ““ Izaabeelaa hin deemu, hin deemu” (Isabella don’t go, don’t go). But we both know the inevitable is going to happen whether we want it to or not.
Its interesting to realize that we humans don’t need to know each others language to live together. I walked into this house 2 and half months ago shaking in my boots because I did not know a lick of AfanOromo. But we are humans, no matter where we live, what our culture, what language we speak, we can make it work if we want it to. The world is good.
People are good.
The more I explore, the more I realize this. People everywhere want to be happy just like you and I. We all go through the same things no matter what our culture or language; people want their guest to feel special in their house, young children get upset when they break their toys, people still laugh at funny faces, you can still play with children even if you don’t know how to fully talk with them. Communication can come from your presence, from your ability to try. Yes language is power, but being a good person and feeling those good juju vibes, can happen with or without language. A simple smile can go a long way.
I continuously have these moments where I get thrown back and think wow…I cannot believe I have the privilege of doing this. I thank the staff always for the support and teachings.
I already know that if I was to come back now, I would be different. I am just living in such a different and unique world that is non comparable with the States. Not better not worse, just beautifully different.
I am so excited to see what these two years hold for me.
Iz and Oz
One Reply to “Life as a Peace Corps Trainee.”
AWESOME! Great to hear from you! This is a once in a lifetime, unforgettable, adventure! Have a fantastical marvelous next two years! You look so happy!