Peace Corps 2018

The Little Bajaj That Could.

June 4th- July 28th

How sorry I am to have not posted in SO LONG. I could list off countless excuses but…. I wont. So here is the past month and a half of life! 🙂

It is June 22nd and I am sitting once again in Kings hotel in Addis Ababa that continues to be a place of reconciliation. Kings Hotel, the first building I arrived at after landing in Ethiopia. Kings Hotel, where I arrived after the intense Pre-service training and had our glorious swearing in ceremony and now, I am back at Kings hotel after having a training that is called “Reconnect”.

But first, back to around the time I last posted.

To preference this post…My home of Ciimmee has been quite the roller coaster. As you read I think you will catch this drift. There has been good…bad… tears of happiness…tears of sadness… but as always, as I look back even three months in, it is always, always, worth it.

I will start with the end of Ramadan, which was celebrated by my whole town (naturally). The health center, the schools, the small shops, everything was closed and the day was filled with galloping from one house to another….actually scratch that, I was being dragged into one house to another to eat and drink coffee all day. I went from coffee detox to coffee overload. Us PCVs like to call this “The Buna Sweats” (Coffee Sweats), ya know, where you drink so much coffee your body feels like it’s going into overload. I can’t tell you how many coffees I drank. 🤷🏽‍♀️

Anywho, Everyone was out and about, smiles emitted from every person. A day filled with a true sense of community which was so fulfilling. One gentleman had a bike he was riding around town and when he landed at my compound had asked if I knew how to ride. I laughed and said yes. “Ishi, natti argasisi” (okay, show me) he said. I was in a nice dress and cardigan but I was determined to prove to him that I could. So I took my marry self up on the seat and rode down the street and back. Who knew it was going to be a commotion. By the end of the day, not only did he know I could ride a bike, but the whole town had talked about it. Word spreads fast in the small rural towns of Ethiopia. :’)

The next big news that occurred was one of my compound “brothers” became married! Which means a new woman joined our compound and moved into his house. The Ethiopian Muslims of my town keep their marriage ceremonies very tame. There is no “wedding” but instead you go to the couples houses and eat food and drink coffee. They laughed at me when they told me that they were getting married and I immediately gasped with raised eyebrows and asked “When is the wedding?!” (Asking purely for selfish reasons…I was ready to put on a dress and get boogie to the electric slide). So this was a big cultural difference I ran across…But don’t worry, I still danced inside my house with the doors shut to celebrate in my American way. 😉

America….

Some days I lay at home and think about where I was a year ago and the Appalachian Trail appears in my mind. As this blog was originally my Trail Blog, I feel that it is only appropriate to let my little community know that around a month ago I read about my favorite trail angel passing away after a battle with leukemia. I read the words and felt my mouth drop to the floor. Tammy was mentioned in an older post and I feel like my small following would equally want to know about her. If you don’t remember which she was, she was the one who picked Planner, Alex, and I at the midway point. The one who was Deaf and I was ecstatic to be able to sign with her. She took us out for ice cream and dinner (which she wouldn’t let us pay) and gave us a hot shower, fed us trail information, and empowered us beyond imagination. I knew her for a very short time but could feel her support the entire time. I feel truly blessed to have met her. I find it amazing when you can have immediate connections with some people you meet in life even if that time is shorter than either wanted. People, are amazing. Rest in Peace Tammy. ❤

I know there are a lot of you that are curious about the work that has continued to blossom. Here in Ethiopia the work pace moves very slow. At first it was frustrating. I wanted to accomplish everything NOW and would go home feeling like a failure. I am so used to the American culture of Go, go, go, get things done immediately. But, I quickly realized that was a very unrealistic thought here, nor is it part of Ethiopian culture. Our part as a Peace Corps Volunteer, is to work yes, but it is equally our part to learn, adapt, and understand this culture as much as we can. One of those cultural adaptions is to be patient with time. Things take time. Even more so with us volunteers because we cannot do projects on our own (because of language proficiency). We have to find a counterpart that is willing and wanting to take time out of their day to assist me in translating what I am teaching or doing. Therefore, finding individuals takes time and then so does the work.

While feeling frustrated and wanting to complain about not being able to get things done like I want. I read a book called Extreme Ownership by Leif Babin and Jocko Willink… its a military type book but they relate it a lot with taking ownership about the different aspects of life and to not put blame on anyone else but ourselves. To simply… take ownership of our lives. Since reading that book, I felt a shift in my mind set. To the point where if one person doesn’t want to help me, then I go and find another that will. If I can’t find one, then just do it myself. I feel like I am holding my self more accountable than I was and I like that feeling. I keep telling myself if I want to make a difference then Do it and put myself out there. This service and what I accomplish will be up to me.

Each day I am meeting new people and I was lucky enough to meet one lady that works with the Womens Development Army, meaning she works with mothers and babies; Exactly who I want to work with. She has been a such a sweetheart and now my 3 houses that I have been visiting and teaching with has grown to 5 households and will continue to grow with her. These households make me happy as they stay curious about what I am teaching. Even better news is now two of these households now have a handwashing station outside by their mana fincanni (bathroom) built together with the mothers, Sitina, and I. This way it can be a great reminder and convenience to wash their hands. What was even better was visiting the households after installing the stations and seeing that the soap was smaller and water was low because they had actually been using it. Now That was a very, very satisfying feeling.

I am loving branching out. I am loving visiting new parts of my town and meeting new people however, there are still days where I struggle being the only Forengie in my town. Some days I want the simple American life. Somedays I want to go to my market and get whatever food I want, not only a minimal selection. Somedays I want to stand for hours in a hot shower, somedays I want to walk down the street and not have all eyes watching me, Somedays I want to boom boom in a western toilet while reading a book, Some days I want to watch a movie on my laptop without worrying about using up all the battery.

Some days are hard.

Some days are frustrating.

This being some of the lower points of this roller coaster life of Ciimmee.

But these days, these moments haven’t lasted. I find myself embracing my compound family more during these moments. I now call them my family as I think they equally consider me part of the family as well. When I have these lower moments, I go into the kitchen and sit with the girls, or I play with a ball with the neighborhood kiddos.

And everytime, at least it has not yet disappointed me, I feel better. We talk about this or that, they make jokes and now I equally do too. Sometimes I even help them make bidenna and they laugh at my “amazing” skills.

I am learning to be okay with just sitting and chatting and not rushing to do something. Its interesting to realize my internal shifts as this culture starts to seep into my being. Ethiopians are very communal like I said before and now, I find that if I am alone in my house for over a couple hours and no one comes to my door, I think something is going wrong. Which I never was like this in the States. I adored and thrived on my alone time and if no one came to my room all day I didn’t mind, but now it is starting to make me feel uneasy.

In hanging with the family more and more, I have now officially made the little baby Haasna no longer scared of me. At first she would look at me and cry. However, now, I can tell her “Kootu” (Come) and she will crawl her goofy one legged crawl and will let me pick her up and hold her. It might be one of my most cherished accomplishments so far.

She might also be the cutest baby I have ever seen… I didn’t think baby fever was a real thing until her. I want one!!! ;’)

And as the roller coaster continues. As the highs come, the lows come. And Another death a few weeks after Tammy happened in my small village of Ciimmee.

A death of an elder named Aba Dula. Aba Dula was one who actually was apart of my compound, he was my compounds father’s brother. He was at every coffee ceremony, always sitting quietly but would always greet me with a big half tooth filled grin that always made me smile. A man that I wish I had more time to communicate with. Aba Dula had been sick for a week and half and I was planning a trip to Jimma for an Education English camp. A couple days before I left I was working at the Health center and I see Dula being brought in by two other compound members helping him walk. He seemed in bad shape but still aware of what was going on. Dula and the family didn’t have enough money to go to the Hospital in the next town. So he was given medicine to help with the symptoms he was having. The night before I left for Jimma the compound family had coffee in his house and I walked in and asked him “Wayyu Qabdu?” which implies does he have health, is he better, and he smiled back that toothy grin saying “Wayya Qaba.” and I sat down next to him feeling happy that the medicine was helping.

While in Jimma I get a text from a couple of friends in Ciimmee letting me know that Aba Dula had passed. I wish I could explain my emotions but I am not sure I even know how to. I felt mad, because I wasn’t home to be with the family. I felt sad because he is gone, just like that. I felt frustrated because I wanted more time to get to know him better. I felt depressed because the “what ifs” came to my mind. It was a swirl of emotions. So when I headed home and I immediately went to find Aba Dula’s wife and daughter and hugged them tight and repeatedly expressed that I was so sorry and simply sat with them for hours, holding his wife’s hand for a while as she let her tears fall. Our time was short but Rest In Peace Aba Dula. ❤

To answer your questions of how funerals are, I will first say that I was not present for it but was told how it went. A reminder that this is a Muslim funeral that could just be exclusively done here. As I was told they  have the men only carry the body to a designated spot for the burial and then they have people from all over town come to their house for coffee and bidenna. The people coming to the house also lasts for a few days, so I was able to spend time with a some community members once I was back.

As much as the roller coaster low hit me, while in Jimma for the education camp, it brought me to one of my highs, like I said…. life has been up and down and twisting around.

The G15 Education volunteers in the southern region were holding an Education Camp for some of their students in their villages. They brought about 25 students to Jimma for a week to teach different sessions. One of these sessions was to teach the kids basic sign language. The woman who was leading is one who I met when I first came to Jimma and we quickly found out we both knew sign language and I am sure you can imagine what happened next.

We screeched and hugged it out excited that we finally had someone to sign with.

Sign Language is a language that is beautiful beyond compare. I may be bias, but…. am I right or am I right?

Anyhow, she had asked me to come help her teach her ASL class in the Education camp and boy was I happy I said yes.

The kids were naturally the top kids of each volunteers class and were beyond motivated to learn sign language which made me smile from ear to ear.

I was still on the search for meeting my first Deaf person but was happy nonetheless to at least have taught some kiddos some sign language.

Then.

The man upstairs worked his magic and I finally met my first two Deaf Ethiopians a few days ago.

It all started with a friend of mine, Cassidy and her sitting in a hotel in Jimma. The story goes (from the two Deaf guys) that Cassidy would not stop staring at them. She kept looking, watching, staring, like a typical Ethiopian does to us. HA. She was staring however because she, herself knows a little sign language and was trying to see if she could understand them. In the meantime I get a text from her (as I was in Addis) that was filled with a lot of “!” And “OMG there are Deaf people here!” She knew that I was on the hunt to meet some. (That sounds kind of weird). Then, she made the move and initiated conversation with them and was able to convey about me and my story. They were so excited to meet Cassidy and even wanted to facetime with me. I said okay but the connection only let us talk for a little bit but Cassidy let them know that I was coming in a day.

I arrived in Jimma and the excitement expressed from my fingertips traveled to my core. Here I was in Ethiopia signing away with two very proud Deaf Ethiopians. Life felt like a dream.

Their names are Abel and Solomon and they live in and around Addis Ababa. They came to Jimma to find and create a christian church for the Deaf people who reside here. Little did I know, there is actually a very big Deaf community here in Jimma. Big enough to also have a Deaf Association.

So I spent the first night going to dinner with these two and chatting for over three hours. I am sure you all are wondering if Ethiopia sign language is the same as American Sign Language and the answer is no. However these two knew both, American Sign Language and Amharic Sign Language. There is similarities between the two however! I had expressed intensely that I wanted them to help me get connected to the community here. So, the next day they led me to their church that they are trying to get started. We met the Paster of the church and found out this church is actually in partnership with a church in Virginia. (WHAT?!) Cassidy and I actually attended their very first Deaf class that they were holding. The class had about 12 people attend and Cassidy and I got up and introduced ourselves. They were beyond welcoming. So we took a seat in the back and watched the class take place.

The issue with a lot of Deaf in Jimma, and quite possibly else where in Ethiopia is that there aren’t the best teachers around. Here in Jimma they teach younger kids but after grade 6 or so, the Deaf kids have to go to hearing school, aka, they stop learning. So a lot of them have limited language and access. So when Abel and Solomon were teaching their first class they started with Genesis with Adam and Eve. However, they didn’t try to get very far because they wanted their audience to Understand, not just a little bit understand, they wanted them to UNDERSTAND. So they taught it in sign language, they acted it out, and they asked questions. They would not move on until everyone understood. It was extremely interactive and reminded me of going to church with my parents when I was younger.

It was beautiful. These two didn’t want to just glaze over things they wanted their information to soak in.

I sat in the pew watching and smiling with tears in my eyes.

Then at the end I looked over at a younger women who was beaming from ear to ear and signed. “I understood it! I understand!” as if it was the first time.

It was beautiful, the whole service was just beautiful and I have no other words to describe it.

After the lesson we all walked together, signing on the streets, people staring at us, and we were thriving. I felt like I already belonged… how interesting is that? The group led us to their Deaf Association Building so that we could come visit next time we are in Jimma. When we parted ways I truly felt sad. Especially because I am unsure when I will be able to see Abel and Solomon again although, we all have promised to stay in touch.

Its moments like these where I feel like everything happens for a reason… how was it that we both ended up in Jimma at the same time?

Timing sometimes is just too unreal.

Now back to the beginning as I have just finished a week of training in Debra Zeit with all my current G18 volunteers from July 15th to July 21st.

The 15th as you all know was the World Cup. That night proved to be one of my favorites yet in Ethiopia. A group of us arrived at our camp ground and immediately wanted to head into town to find a good spot to watch the game. Multiple people told us “The Bin” is where we needed to go. We trekked on down the road, curious if we were ever to find it and then BAM. There it was. The Bin was a hotel with a ginormous TV outside and as we approached we could see the abundant amount of people sitting excitedly in their chairs for the game to start.

Jackpot!

We went in and found an open spot, no chairs, but heck, we didn’t care. The game was phenomenal. We had a blast cheering with our friends and against some as well. Then, When the game finished a DJ came on the stage and started playing some music. Then an American song came on and us American’s ears perked up and we hit the empty “dance floor”. People watched and laughed but none of us cared. (We have been stared at plenty.) Then the DJ turned on a popular Ethiopian song and well… we started dancing in the Ethiopian style and well…The crowd went nuts. People came up and joined us and plenty whipped out their phones and recorded us. We all laughed and continued on. Needless to say, the night continued on and we all woke up the next day with possibly a slight hangover but smiles that expressed: “Last night was amazing.”

The week was great to see other volunteers that I havent seen in over three months and compare stories,pictures, and it was also nice to take a break in a beautiful place to explore.

Training was the normal 8 to 5 which was a lot some days but beneficial. It helped make me remotivated to do work at site.

After the one week of training in Debra Zeit, our Jimma loop had a malaria training in Jimma with counterparts from our site.

I had chosen to have Abeba come as my counterpart and it was amazing. I knew we were friends at site and worked well together. But being in a two day training solidified that. We were powerful, and I am SO excited to continue to do work together in Ciimmee.

It is a strange feeling to come back to my site after two weeks away but the smiles and hugs I encountered made up for a lot.

I feel positive for the future here and the work and relationships that will continue on. It has been an up and down ride and every time I am on that uphill I feel like a little Bajaj (the small blue cars) that struggles going up a hill with more people than it should be carrying, but nonetheless, it makes it.

The little Bajaj that could.

Be well my friends! And I will do my bestest to not wait so long to post again!

Much Love,

Iz and Oz

2 thoughts on “The Little Bajaj That Could.”

  1. Wow! So, I was sent here after interviewing to be a PCV myself, in Ethiopia. Long story short, I initially applied to work with the Deaf community in Ghana, and I ended up being interviewed for Ethiopia. My background is mostly in ASL and Deaf culture, so when the interviewer said someone found a Deaf community in Ethiopia, I was immediately intrigued!! I’m not sure how this work, but would you be willing to communicate more about this?

    Like

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