April 15th- May 9th
On Sunday April 15th, it was departure day. We had to say good bye to the new friends we had just made over the past three months and set out in small clusters with our counterparts to our new sites. Since the majority of us Oromio people were placed far away we all took a charter bus or plane to Jimma to stay the night. Jimma was something else. A little like Addis Ababa, but smaller and more personal.
Since I still had no voice it was frustrating to say the least, but enjoyed my time exploring the city and meeting up with Mike and a few other current PCVs.
The next day we were to split off from each other and head to our actual sites. I was fortunate enough that my counterpart didn’t want to leave before the sun was up so I was able to sleep in and explore a little bit more of Jimma in the morning.
From Jimma the goal was to head to Limu my “hub” town where there are more “shops” available than my small village. The ride from Jimma to Limu consisted of cramming into a small mini bus and riding a very rough, rocky dirt road. I sat in the back and was bouncing up and down, left and right into the people next to me and couldn’t stop myself from laughing every time. It literally felt like a roller coaster; my Kansas people that have been to Worlds Of Fun and have rode the Timber wolf… That is exactly what it was like. Shaky baky the whole time. I was all about it.
In Limu with Zelalem I purchased a mattress, gas stove, plastic flooring, the necessities for my house and then proceeded to my town of Chime with Sitina. The bus was bigger than the little mini bus but the amount of people they crammed into the bus was unreal. Naturally as soon as I walked on everyone was staring, asking who I was and if I was Mike’s sister. Once again, I couldn’t stop laughing at the stares and the ride. The only thing I could compare this bus ride with was Rock Fest. (Or a concert that is over crowded.) At Rock fest when you are towards the front everyone leans on everyone else and you hardly have any footing..sweaty bodies all pushing and squeezing past people…
That is exactly what it felt like. I couldnt wipe the smile off my face as I hung onto the ceiling bar for dear life as we jumbled down the road to Chime.
Once in Chime the bus stopped in front of my compound and I was greeted by a man named Nagash who is my landlord and his brothers. They showed me my house and I couldn’t help but have my grin grow even bigger. It was the first time I had my own little house. The little house that I have always wanted. Except I am in Africa and my house may not have running water, a toilet, or electricity that works 24/7 but it was mine. This little baby is all mine and that made me happy!
There wasn’t much day light left so Sitina, her friend Abeaba (who speaks English incredibly), Nagash, and I were busy away making sure everything was set up how I wanted it to be. I didn’t have much furniture but I was able to lay things out how I wanted them to be.
Sitina and Abeaba invited me over to eat dinner with them which was nice and when I got back to the compound, the family invited me over for Buna/Qawaa (Coffee).
The compound family is huge. There is the father and mother, their five sons and two daughters, and the older sons families. A handful of the children are around my age which is fun and then a few older adults that have little ones. Meeting everyone was semi overwhelming and enjoyable. However, I continuously thought how the hell am I going to remember all these names. Ethiopian names, at least now, are incredibly hard for me to pronounce and/or remember.
When I finally made it back to my house I laid in bed with a racing mind. Thoughts of “Oh my goodeness, what the heck am I doing?” to “This is crazy…this is SO crazy” to finally falling asleep after a high stimulating day.
The rest of my first week entailed getting my house set up, exploring the town, mainly the health center and school, and meeting as many people as I could.
Ciimmee is tiny, there is one dirt “main road” with houses, a couple suqqis (small shops), a couple mana nyaatas or mana bunas (House with food or coffee), and a few side paths with more houses.
A Small town, just how I like it.
However, This first week at site has been one of the most difficult weeks of my life. A gigantic learning experience.
Being a new forgenie…everyone stares…Yes, I was used to this in my training site but in Terre they stared at me and others. Here when they stare, I know that they are staring at me because I am the only “white person” here. In addition to staring, everyone is talking about me. With the language that I understood at the time, I knew just enough to understand that they are talking about me, but not exactly what about. Then when everyone laughs… its hard to not feel offended.
In addition to that. Having free time the first couple of weeks was near impossible. If I was not out with others, kids would be in my door way cramming to get in or simply stare and watch what I was doing inside.
Staring all the time, making me feel that everything I was doing was weird or incorrect. Even prepping or cooking my own food was a laughing matter, and I worked for two different catering companies in the US?!
Lets not even bring up the mana ficanni (toilet). That was a whole new learning experience on its own. Not only did I know which way to face…(which was a huge laughing matter for myself) I was scared to go number two for 3 whole days because if someone wanted to watch me through the hay walls, they sure could. 😂
I kept finding myself questioning why I am here. Can I make a difference. Does anyone care that I am here? Does anyone want me here?
But….its all about learning the lifestyle of my rural community. Its learning that changes take time and in my field of work, you can’t expect to see any difference in a day. That is why we are here for two years.
I always come back to a quote my high school basketball coach said to me in high school’
“Not everyone is going to work as hard as you, and not everyone is going to care as much as you”
I am not sure how others feel…but, I have to stay passionate even if no one else cares. I know why I am here and what I want to do and thats what I have to hold on to.
If I said these new changes were easy I would be lying…
It was hard. Really hard. I have been on the biggest emotional roller coaster of my life. Somedays when I felt like I was understanding a little bit more, my day went better. Then those days where I felt like everyone was talking about me and I didn’t know what about and couldn’t stick up for myself nor would anyone else I would come home upset, I couldn’t sit with Cassidy like in PST and vent and I hated not understanding.
I was quite frankly… alone.
Thats what makes Life SO different than training because I am by myself. There really are a few people I can speak english with and even sometimes we still get confused.
But I have slowly made improvements.
All good things take time.
I started to make posters in my room to keep my head straight. Such as:
“If you are not willing to risk the unusual, you will have to settle for the ordinary.”
I started to go for runs in the morning and yoga on the off days. I found for myself that getting into a routine of any sort is the best practice.
I go to the health center in the mornings till lunch and help out where I can and learn as much as I can about the health care system here. Also, the health center staff is beyond helpful, I wouldn’t be able to get anything done without them. Then I have a long lunch, I usually hang out with my compound family and go for walks to meet new people and in the evenings Sitina comes to tutor me.
Here, in Peace Corps, If you want to be successful, you have to put yourself out there. It is easier to shut your doors to your house and stay secluded. But these first three months are crucial for community integration. These first three months are all about figuring out about our communities and where we can lend a helping hand.
I have learned more than ever to be comfortable with the uncomfortable. As cliche as it sounds. It is true.
Sometimes sitting at the mana buna for hours and only understanding half (or less) of what they are saying is what you need to do.
You learn to just smile and laugh along when they start talking about you because if you let it get to you, it will ruin your day. Therefore, I have grown to not care and have thicker skin.
If I want to practice my language I have to actively be in places and surrounded with people to practice. Therefore, being comfortable with the uncomfortable.
You learn When someone walks into your house and asks you to walk to their house that is 20 minutes away during the hot hours of day to drink coffee, you say yes and go. To find out that her family was one of the sweetest families you have met and that her and her brother are eager to learn more English.
After a short time you start to realize that each region has their regional differences in how they communicate and you start to pick up on the words and sentences make a little more sense.
Your relationships get stronger, you may not be able to have deep conversations but you become close enough to some people that you can start making jokes with them and letting them see your goofy side.
I’m learning to just be myself and put myself out there because in the end hiding myself is fun for no one. I’m learning To appreciate who I am and to be gentle with myself in these first months of learning.
Sure there are days where I am not sure I can do this because I miss my people in America. But then when I think of that, I equally think that if I was to choose to go back to America now, that wouldn’t make things better. I am in no means ready to come back nor want to. This is a once in a lifetime and thats where I have to keep pulling myself back to.
Every week has gotten better. Every day is a new day where I get to meet new people and have new experiences.
Such as feeding a wild qamalee (monkey) pizza. (In Jimma)
Or having the compound girls braid my hair.
Or catching a breath taking view after a small hike to a water source.
Or having a Donkey trying to come into my house.
Or becoming besties with the compound three year old.
Or learn the methods of grinding coffee.
Or being called to come over and meets someones baby.
As the weeks have passed, I am smiling and laughing more everyday. As the weeks pass, I am truly starting to fall in love with this country, culture, and its people.
Like everything I try to do in life, if it is easy, I’m not interested. And this happened to be one of those things that leaned towards the difficult side.
I am looking forward to the day I have a more solid foot in this community and to teaching classes. Slowly but surely, I am getting there, one step at a time. Slowly but surely more people know who I am and thats a great feeling.
Iz and Oz